On McChrystal

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October 6, 2009 9:28 a.m.

In The New Republic, William Galston says that liberals should be wary of criticizing Gen. Stanley McChrystal because he may turn out to be the new Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff who became the darling of Bush administration critics for telling Congress that the United States would need many, many more troops to secure Iraq than President Bush was making available. (Shinseki now runs the Department of Veterans Affairs.)

Galston has a point; just not much of one.But before getting into that, let me flag another article on this issue.

It’s being widely assumed that McChrystal was criticizing the Obama administration. And that conclusion seems to have been implicitly endorsed by Secretary Gates himself. But take a look at this piece by Walter Pincus. He believes critics are misinterpreting what McChrystal actually said. I’m not sure what I think. But I have such respect for Pincus’ take on these things that I wanted to flag his argument. Because maybe the whole premise of this controversy is wrong.

Back to Galston though. I think it’s a good point that partisans need to be wary of finding insubordinate in some officers under one administration what they find brace and honorable under another. And I think there’s some of that afoot under Obama. But aside from having what strikes me as a pretty blinkered take on civilian-military relations on Galston’s part, the Shinseki analogy is simply off.

Shinseki didn’t give a speech. He also didn’t address a policy. In congressional testimony he was asked specifically whether he believed the Pentagon’s war plan for Iraq included enough military personnel to secure and pacify the country after the government fell. He said he did not and gave a much higher number. This is specifically the kind of operational advice generals are there to give, to the president and to Congress. But the debate we’re now having about Afghanistan, while sometimes articulated in terms of troop numbers, is clearly a fundamental policy question. And that’s very different.

More the Merrier Update: Sen. Webb calls McChrystal’s actions ‘confusing’ and ‘odd’.

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