Why the Washington Post’s publication of General McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment was a patriotic act.
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In fairness to President Obama and his team, they are not complaining about the leak of McChrystal’s Afghan assessment to the Washington Post; the chattering classes, led by people like Feaver, are.
Feaver, for instance, complains that “the leak makes it harder for President Obama to reject a McChrystal request for additional troops because the assessment so clearly argues for them.”
Yes, it does, but that’s not because McChrystal is engaged in some Washington political game of the kind that preoccupies the chattering classes along the Potomac. Au contraire: McChrystal is faithfully reporting the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, which lead to one inescapable conclusion: If you want to stabilize Afghanistan and drive out from that country the Taliban and al-Qaeda, then you must employ a classic counterinsurgency campaign, which will necessitate tens of thousands of more troops.
As the commander on the ground who is responsible for the safety and well-being of young American servicemen and women who are now risking their lives in a combat zone, General McChrystal has a solemn obligation to report the facts as he sees them — and to do so without favor or prejudice, and without fear or concern for any potential political ramifications back home. McChrystal, remember, is a general, not a politician, and thank goodness for that.
Feaver’s argument, then, is with the facts on the ground, not General McChrystal. His complaint is with the message (or reality), not the messenger.
Yet, Yale University Law Professor Bruce Ackerman insists that McChrystal is engaged in a “characteristic [Washington] power play… to pressure the President to adopt his strategy. This,” Ackerman writes, “is a plain violation of the principle of civilian control” of the military.
No, it’s not — and it’s disconcerting that a Yale Law professor would try to justify squelching the thoughts and insights of a top military leader at a time of momentous national and international significance. Ackerman confuses free speech and open debate with executive control and authority.
General McChrystal clearly is not questioning the President’s authority; quite the contrary. He explicitly recognizes that, as Commander-in-Chief, President Obama has the final say about what U.S. policy and objectives will be in Afghanistan. But General McChrystal also recognizes that before the President makes his decision, the President, the Congress and the American people all ought to hear from the troops on the ground — and especially from their lead commander on the ground.
Far from somehow “boxing in” the President, McChrystal instead is informing the American people and their elected representatives about the facts on the ground and what, in his judgment, must be done in Afghanistan. This is a public service that warrants praise and commendation, not rebuke and scorn.
As for the President, well Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it well: “The President always has a choice; he’s the Commander-in-Chief.”
Policymakers like Feaver often don’t like public dialogue and debate because it can make their jobs more difficult; but again, that’s too bad. Welcome to America. Welcome to democracy. Welcome to self-rule, civic argument and civic discourse. Here the people rule, and thank goodness for that.
Thus, what some allege is a “breakdown in civil-military relations” is, in fact, a pure fiction. Conflict and disagreement are endemic to the American way life and to the American form of government. “We were born and bred to argue,” Fineman explains.
We were born and bred to argue because the American founding fathers recognized that argument is not insubordination, and disagreement is not disloyalty. Yet, we too often lose sight of this reality and thus sometimes try to censor dissent and free speech. Censorship is what happens when, for instance, government officials try to stamp out “leaks” — aka the sharing of information with the American people.
Stifling dissent and free speech is unwise because it denies us the free thought and analysis that are integral to sound decision-making. Again, none of us has a monopoly on wisdom; and so, truly, there is wisdom in numbers. There is wisdom in the cacophony of voices that result from free and open dialogue and debate.
Thus, the President will make his decision about what do in Afghanistan. General McChrystal will accept and salute the President’s decision, because that is what American Generals always do. However, if General McChrystal believes that he cannot execute the President’s policy with the troops and resources given to him, then the right and honorable thing for him to do is to resign.
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