Generals sometimes become presidents.
Our nation’s first president became a full general posthumously. Eleven other generals rose to the rank of commander-in-chief. So I don’t have a problem with General Stanley McChrystal’s career aspirations if he is interested in making a run for the presidency in 2012 or 2016. But until he becomes the commander-in-chief, he needs to act like a soldier, which means he needs to quit giving interviews and take his orders from his commanding officer the same way he expects the troops to follow his lead.
I’m sure the “What Would The Founding Fathers Do?” chorus from wrong-wing Republicans and the Tea Party faithful will be chiming in on this for the next few days, pulling out their latest cut-and-paste versions of the Constitution to attempt to justify how the opinion of a military general outweighs the office of the president. FOX News is certain to pull out the bunting it was going to use for the Fourth of July early and anoint rogue general McChrystal as a bona fide hero of the conservative movement.
Firing a general, especially this one, shouldn’t be this hard, but even as I write this the political minds in the White House are trying to gauge how much this one simple act that any other sane president would have little problem executing will cost our nation’s first black president in public support and the Democratic Party in the fall elections. McChrystal is no national war hero like McArthur, and Obama is not in the kind of post-World War atmosphere that Truman struggled with, so you would think whacking McChrystal should be a piece of cake. But if firing him is the act that will coalesce a GOP that is fractured and weak and flailing under the weight of its own intolerances and a Tea Party that needs GPS to find its way back to reality around a common cause, then I guess the general will get to keep his job until the end of the year.
Inertia is a powerful phenomenon.
The good thing about the military is the way it is designed—whack one general and there are ten others ready to take his place at a moment’s notice. I’ve got a couple of buddies who went through general’s school—maybe they’ll get a shot. I can’t blame President Obama for the way he makes decisions, especially since his methodology seems to have worked pretty well for him so far.
But I bet he will figure out how to select a general more aligned with his political vision next time, instead of worrying about appeasing the unappeasable.