Who’s In Charge: The President or the Generals?

Increasingly Assertive Generals Throw Chain of Command Into Doubt

With President Barack Obama’s July 2011 timetable for beginning the pullout from Afghanistan already thrown into serious doubt less than a week after being announced, top Congressional Democrats are expressing growing disquiet over the increasing willingness of top generals to publicly question the president.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal

It concerns me when I see my president, the commander in chief, having to debate with generals,” noted Sen. Inouye (D-HI). Indeed, much of the criticism from the Republican opposition in the Senate is stemming from President Obama not going along with the very public demands of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for an even larger escalation.

So when Gen. McChrystal comes to testify before Congress later this week, scrutiny will be given not just to the status of the war (pretty much universally negative) but also to the general’s reaction to not being given everything he wanted by the president, and a sense of what remains of the chain of command.

And even though President Obama didn’t follow the general’s recommendations to a tee, it was a retired general, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, whose public criticism of McChrystal’s plans made much of the difference (to the consternation of McChrystal). It must be questioned how much of the Obama escalation plan is President Obama’s at all.

On the other hand it may be overstating the situation to blame the generals for undermining the July 2011 date as it was the president’s Secretaries of State and Defense who were the first and loudest voices insisting that the date didn’t really mean anything.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.