Will McChrystal Get the Boot? Should He?

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Photo: Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

On the one hand, the decision of Afghanistan general Stanley McChrystal and his aides to spout off about Joe Biden, President Obama, Richard Holbrooke, and others in a Rolling Stone article could be considered an unforgivable act of insubordination, one that demands his firing. On the other hand, now is definitely not the most convenient time for a leadership change in Afghanistan, with the military in the midst of a surge that could decide the ultimate fate of the nine-year war. So when McChrystal arrives in Washington tomorrow, will President Obama cut him loose?

James Fallows, Atlantic:

It's about civilian control of the military, respect for the chain of command, and the concepts of disrespect and insubordination. Every officer and enlisted person in every military branch is well schooled in what those concepts mean. If the facts are as they appear...with no contention that the quotes were invented or misconstrued, then Obama owes it to past and future presidents to draw the line and say: this is not tolerable. You must go.


Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post:

When McChrystal enters tomorrow's meeting (if he hangs on that long), he should have his resignation in hand. And the president should accept it. Some might argue that Obama shouldn't do so because there's a war on. But with this journalistic IED, McChrystal has stripped himself of the confidence Obama needs to have in him to trust that the Afghanistan war policy is being carried out faithfully."


Juan Cole, Informed Comment:

President Obama absolutely must fire McChrystal for subordination. You can’t have the office of the vice presidency disrespected in public by a general in uniform that way. Nor is it plausible that the Obama team has a prayer of getting Afghanistan right, assuming such a thing is possible, if the commanding military officer and the ambassador are feuding like the Baizai and the Ranizai....If Obama doesn’t fire McChrystal, he will never be respected by anybody in the chain of command that leads to his desk.


Peter Feaver, Foreign Policy:

The last time a senior military commander spoke this unwisely to a reporter, he quickly resigned, and rightly so because his bad behavior thoroughly squandered whatever confidence his chain of command had in him by that point. McChrystal has a stronger battlefield record and so may have started with a bit more confidence to squander. Moreover, President Obama may not want the painful confirmation hearings for McChrystal's successor that a hasty departure would generate. And the McChrystal interview accurately notes that other members of the Obama AfPak team are already on beltway insiders' short-lists to leave, opening up the possibility of widespread chaos at the top during the most critical year of the war so far. Obama might be wiser to bring McChrystal in for a tongue lashing and send him back into the fight as quickly as possible.


Mike Allen, Politico:

Allies hope that after McChrystal grovels and is publicly humiliated, the president will embrace and endorse him....McChrystal allies hope personal umbrage doesn’t get in the way of letting him finish the job. “There’s too little time left on the clock to let this stupid, ugly mistake jeopardize the mission,” the aide said.


Rich Lowry, National Review:

President Obama would obviously be fully within his rights to fire McChrystal, and it wouldn't even be unreasonable given the circumstances.


Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

It’s perilous for Obama to fire McChrystal now, with only a year remaining before the July 2011 date for beginning to transition to Afghan security responsibilities and consequently beginning troop reductions. But it’s going to be on McChrystal to repair the trust with the White House this profile has clearly damaged. If McChrystal keeps his command, that Rolling Stone reporter got the general’s last big interview.


Laura Rozen, Politico:

One early thought: does he want to get fired for insubordination before his strategy is shown to fail?


Craig Crawford, CQ Politics:

Pres. Obama and his White House war team have good reason to be angry about Gen. Stanley McChrystal's dumb comments in a Rolling Stone profile. But what we can surmise from the news of his work, McChrystal is making progress toward stabilizing things enough for us to eventually (or mostly) get out. Sure, make him grovel a bit, but keep him on task.


Eugene Fidell, National Institute of Military Justice:

"You cannot have a senior official saying this kind of thing," Fidell says. "It’s a democratic society, and you can’t have this kind of dissension at the highest levels. People have to get out if they feel that way.”


Marc Ambinder, CBS News:

Because, really, for Mr. Obama, the most important thing, at the end of the day, is winning the war. That's why McChrystal probably won't be fired. That's probably why McChrystal won't resign. And that's why all of the actors in this drama are going to have to at least pretend to get along: there are lives at stake -- American lives, which are being lost at a rapid clip, based on the premise that the decision to extend the war in Afghanistan is to our vital national interest.


Ed Morrissey, Hot Air:

Will Obama fire McChrystal? It’s hard to say, mainly because of the critical juncture we face in Afghanistan and McChrystal’s deep involvement in all phases of the effort. But after reading the Rolling Stone article ... it would be very hard to blame Barack Obama if he canned McChrystal over it.


Byron York, Washington Examiner:

Obama is in a bind with McChrystal. There’s no doubt Obama would be fully justified in firing his top general. But at the same time Obama has committed himself to a rigid timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Changing commanders could complicate that enormously. Right now, because of his own policy decisions, the president has no good choice.


Toby Harnden, Telegraph:

If Obama still believes that success in Afghanistan is possible then the ultimate display of genuine toughness, self-confidence and courage on the President’s part could be to stick with the man he chose to get the job done, despite the general’s reckless and insulting words.


Michael Cohen, Democracy Arsenal:

But in the end, this isn't really a close call, McChrystal screwed up big time. He disparaged the civilian leadership; he showed stunningly bad judgment and his slavish adherence to a failing COIN strategy — and the dubious assumptions underpinning it — demonstrates a lack of adaptability that should be deeply concerning....When [McChrystal] gets to the White House, President Obama will almost certainly fire him — and damn well he should.


Joe Klein, Time:

I suppose he will have to be sacked now. He is not irreplaceable. There are more than a few fine generals in the Army, including Lt. General David Rodriguez, a McChrystal deputy with vast experience in Afghanistan. But it is a terrible setback, a diversion from the business hand at a crucial moment in the conflict. And it is a real tragedy, because Stanley McChrystal is precisely the sort of man who should be leading American troops in battle.


Steve Clemons, Washington Note:

McChrystal has gone over too many lines. Obama needs to fire him. If he doesn't, McChrystal's brand will be validated and the environment of insubordination and unprofessional conduct will be reinforced. If McChrystal survives his White House encounter, then Obama will be diminished. That is what this has come to.


Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo:

The McChrystal situation places President Obama in an incredibly difficult situation. By almost any measure, public insubordination of this level demands he be fired. A president just loses too much face if something like that isn't clearly punished. And if he's not it will legitimize what amounts to a culture of insubordination. At the same time, firing McChrystal now would completely upset the president's Afghanistan policy at a critical moment — and it's a policy the White House seems to believe is going well.


Thomas Ricks, Foreign Policy:

My bet is that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be gone within a week or so. Defense Secretary Gates canned Admiral Fallon as Central Command chief in the spring of 2007 for less pointed remarks, so he will look like a hypocrite if he does less here in response to McChrystal dissing Obama, Biden, and the White House in a new article in Rolling Stone.