In the constellation of op-ed writers it is hard to find a fainter star, or dimmer bulb for that matter, than Eugene Robinson. Today, however, he out does himself. In his effort to defend The One from all criticism, he not only criticizes General Stan McChrystal for something he didn’t do, he trashes some 250 years of the American tradition of civil-military relations and reveals himself to be a rather shameless liar in the process.
At issue, of course, is Barack Obama’s rather obvious intention to abandon any pretense at winning the war in Afghanistan. As I’ve noted before, Obama comes from a political tradition that is in equal parts deeply suspicious of American power and hostile to American strategic interests. He has stated that his is uncomfortable with the idea of victory in Afghanistan (though not as uncomfortable as I am with him thinking Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender document on the USS Missouri) and already his minions have started to walk back from the Afghan strategy he inarticulately articulated (in all seriousness, this speech would have passed as a computer generated hoax had he not been seen reading it) on March 27.
The administration has begun a whispering campaign, a campaign that will inevitably result in the ousting of General McChrystal, to lay the ground work for a withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan for no other reason than Afghanistan is a distraction from what Obama really wishes to do to us.
This brings me to Eugene Robinson and his pair of working synapses.
How to proceed in Afghanistan will be among the most difficult and fateful decisions that President Obama ever makes. But he’s the one who has to decide, not his generals. The men with the stars on their shoulders — and I say this with enormous respect for their patriotism and service — need to shut up and salute.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is entitled to his opinion about the best way forward. But he has no business conducting a public campaign to build support for his preferred option, which is to send tens of thousands more troops into a country once called the “graveyard of empires.”
McChrystal’s view — that a strategy employing fewer resources, in pursuit of more limited goals, would be “short-sighted” — is something the White House needs to hear. He is, after all, the man Obama put in charge in Afghanistan, and it would be absurd not to take his analysis of the situation into account. But McChrystal is out of line in trying to sell his position publicly, as he did last week in a speech in London.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was right to lay down the law. Gates said Monday that it is “imperative” that military and civilian leaders “provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately.” I believe that’s Pentagon-speak for: “Put a sock in it, Stan.”
Generals have a duty to the men they command to do a lot more than “shut up and salute.” To have a puss like Robinson tell a man like McChrystal his duty makes one want to gag. American generals, with some sad exceptions, have never been shrinking violets and have routinely dabbled in politics. Who, after all, was the Democrat candidate for president in 1864?
If Robinson had bothered to discuss his rather twisted views of current events and history he might have discovered that he was fulminating over the talking points spoon fed him by the White House rather than what happened. I refer you to Walter Pincus writing on page A-24 of today’s Washington Post. His story has the headline: Critics Don’t See the Nuance in McChrystal’s Comments on War
Commentators who say Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is pressuring the White House to accept his ideas or else didn’t pay close attention to his remarks last week in London. [eh?? I guess they’ve fired the editors in an attempt to stop bleeding cash because this paragraph is incoherent.]
“I’m certainly not going to circumvent any political leadership, because at the end of the day the political leadership are the people who I work for, and I’m proud to do that,” McChrystal told the International Institute for Strategic Studies last Thursday. Once a decision on troop levels is made, he said, he will carry it out.
Acknowledging that the White House and others are reexamining “our goals and objectives” in the Afghanistan war, McChrystal called the process “a very detailed policy-level debate” that is “incredibly important and incredibly healthy.” He said resources, including troop levels, should be based on goals: “I don’t think that if we align our goals and our resources that we’ll have a significant problem.”
And the impeccably coiffed Michael O’Hanlon, also writing on today’s op-ed page, further amplified on the subject, pointing out that McChrystal’s comments, to which Robinson so vociferously objects, were actually defending Obama’s own announced strategy:
The Obama/McChrystal plan is classic counterinsurgency and focuses on protecting the Afghan population while strengthening Afghan security forces and government. McChrystal was asked about a “counterterrorism” strategy that would purportedly contain al-Qaeda with much lower numbers of American troops, casualties and other costs. McChrystal did not try to force the president’s hand on whether to increase the foreign troop presence in Afghanistan. The general critiqued an option that is at direct odds with Obama’s policy and conflicts with the experiences of the U.S. military this decade. That is not fundamentally out of line for a commander.
Some might agree with all this yet say that McChrystal still had no business wading into policy waters at this moment. It is true that commanders, as a rule, should not do so. But when truly bad ideas or those already tried and discredited are debated as serious proposals, they do not deserve intellectual sanctuary. McChrystal is personally responsible for the lives of 100,000 NATO troops who are suffering severe losses partially as a result of eight years of a failed counterterrorism strategy under a different name. He has a right to speak if a policy debate becomes too removed from reality. Put another way, we need to hear from him because he understands this reality far better than most in Washington.
All of this leads Robinson to simply lie about his own record.
For the record, this would be my position even if McChrystal were arguing for an immediate pullout — or even if George W. Bush, rather than Obama, were the president whose authority was being undermined. In October 2006, when the chief of staff of the British army said publicly that Britain should pull out of Iraq because the presence of foreign troops was fueling the insurgency — a view I wholeheartedly shared — I argued that he ought to be fired. I wrote that I didn’t like “active-duty generals dabbling in politics, even if I agree with them.” If military officers want to devise and implement geopolitical strategy, they should leave their jobs and run for office.
While it is true that he said that, it is equally true that he did not apply that standard across the board.
The British general Robinson was criticizing was advocating abandoning Afghanistan back in 2006 when the American left, or rather the leftists who live in America, were declaring Afghanistan to be the only really important war. These are the same leftists who are now hopping on board Obama’s helicopter leaving the roof of the US embassy in Kabul.
He criticized General Petraeus for going for the win in Afghanistan:
Hello, everybody. Today’s the day we hear from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on why things are so bad in Iraq that we have to “pause” withdrawal of the troops sent in the “surge” — but so peachy that we should be proud of this open-ended occupation and continue it indefinitely. Maybe that makes sense in some parallel universe.
He also thought the infamous Betray-Us ad was fine:
That said, all this Republican blather is ridiculous. Rudy Giuliani said this an “unprecedented” attack on an active-duty U.S. general; he should go back and read, for example, what was said in the press and elsewhere about Lincoln’s generals, who were called cowards and worse. There’s never been a prohibition about criticizing U.S. generals, who are assumed to be big boys and girls.
He supports the testimony by General Shinseki, so beloved of the anti-warriors:
George W. Bush and his aides cited dead-wrong intelligence to convince the American people of the need to go to war. They botched the invasion of Iraq by creating a power vacuum that insurgents were happy to fill. They sent only a fraction of the number of troops needed to occupy the country, scoffing at professional soldiers who told them of their error in advance.
Clearly, Robinson believes generals should be heard outside the chain of command, like Shinseki, when he agrees with them and he believes they should be quiet when they speak with the authority of the administration, like Petraeus, or, in Robinson’s twisted little mind, against the administration like McChrystal.
Not only was Robinson happy to cheerlead for a US defeat in Iraq, now, shill that he is, he’s decided to change his view of the war in Afghanistan and shamelessly shill for a defeat there even if it requires him to personally attack men who have actually achieved something in life.