For once, she has a point. Sort of.
“Let me say this about about General McChrystal, with all due respect,” Pelosi said, according to a transcript sent my way by a Pelosi aide. “His recommendations to the president should go up the line of command. They shouldn’t be in press conferences.”
McChrystal warned in a speech last week that pursuing a narrower mission in Afghanistan than the one he outlined in a recent assessment envisioning a broad counterinsurgency strategy would be “shortsighted.”
In the interview last night, Pelosi hit McChrystal for his public declaration. “I think that that’s not where this debate takes place,” she said. “The president gets the recommendations of the military.”
McChrystal’s speech wasn’t nearly as tough as his critics pretend, but even so, surely he realizes that by speaking out he’s creating political pressure on the commander-in-chief. The public’s more apt to trust a field commander’s assessment of troop levels than the far-flung D.C. bureaucracy’s in the first place, but combine that with the fact that The One, as a liberal Democrat, bears the burden of being presumed weak in military matters and McChrystal is throwing around a lot of weight here — which isn’t something a commanding officer should have to deal with from a subordinate. But if the answer is for him to kindly shut his mouth, how to address this incisive pushback from William Galston at TNR?
McChrystal is offering his professional judgment well in advance of a presidential decision. Yes, he’s doing it in public, but that’s something that small-“d” democrats should welcome. Combined with the leaking of his report, his London speech has triggered a public debate that is much more robust and better informed than it would otherwise have been.
Jones suggested that military advice should “come up through the chain of command,” while Gates chastised that it is “imperative” that military and civilian leaders “provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately.” How quickly we forget: That was the rationale used to muzzle General Eric Shinseki during the run up to the Iraq war. Wouldn’t we have been better off to have had a no-holds-barred debate involving senior military officials prior to the invasion about the number of troops it would take to stabilize Iraq after the invasion? Wouldn’t we have had the kind of public discussion that the American people deserved but did not get?
How do you protect the president’s prerogative as commander-in-chief while minimizing the risk that ideological/electoral considerations in the White House will trump valid military concerns? To some extent it’s a problem built into civilian control of the military, since you’ve got a political person atop the chain of command, but it’ll never be taken lightly again after Shinseki. One compromise solution is to give dissenting generals a public forum by having them testify before Congress about strategy, but that raises worries about separation of powers and has politicized clusterfark potential if Congress is controlled by the opposing party and is trying to use the dissenters to undercut the president.
No good answers. While you try to come up with one, here’s a double whammy of conservative grassroots all-stars: Liz Cheney defending McChrystal on “Morning Joe,” even in the teeth of Shinseki-related objections from Mike Barnicle, and Sarahcuda urging The One to stay the course on Facebook.
Update: America’s superstar general is more coy than McChrystal was by refusing to define his terms, but he knows how these comments will be interpreted. More military weight thrown at The One:
Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said that the situation in Afghanistan needs “sustained and substantial” commitment.
His statements echoed the assessment made by the senior U.S. general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal.
However, Petraeus, in his comments Tuesday to a convention of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), refused to detail what a substantial commitment means and whether it would translate to sending more troops into Afghanistan.