Loose lips sink generals — and wars

Cal Thomas's picture

The World War II slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” which was intended to encourage Americans to keep quiet about any information pertaining to that war, could also apply to modern generals and their staffs.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s mistake was not indulging in — and allowing his aides to indulge in — locker room guy talk; his “mistake in judgment” was allowing a writer for the far-left, anti-war magazine, “Rolling Stone” apparently unrestricted and prolonged access to him and his aides. A liberal White House won’t allow access by conservative writers to its deliberations and application of its Saul Alinsky-like redistribution of wealth philosophy.

Rich Galen was a press secretary to former Vice President Dan Quayle when he was a congressman and senator and to Newt Gingrich when he was House Republican Whip. In 1996, Galen then became the communications director of the political office of Speaker Gingrich.

On his “Mullings” blog, he writes of his “excellent association with reporters” because he says he adhered to three rules: 1) I have never sold out my boss to curry favor with the press; 2) I have never lied to the press to protect my boss; 3) If I don’t know an answer, I say so. I don’t pretend to be on the ‘inside’ of every discussion ever held in Washington.” Gen. McChrystal obviously disregarded rule one.

Galen thinks McChrystal deserved to be fired, even though only one rather innocuous quote was attributed to him in the Rolling Stone article. The rest are more serious comments by unnamed aides. The bigger question is: who set up this interview and what was that person’s motive? When will that person be fired?

McChrystal’s predicament is partially about the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which spells out insubordination as a firing offense. Mostly, though, it is about whether this war is winnable and the consequences for the United States and Afghanistan if it is not.

America’s failure to win the Vietnam War did not bring the consequences many had predicted, except to the Vietnamese. Today, capitalism seems to be growing in Vietnam, though other freedoms remain restricted.

Losing in Afghanistan, however, would have severe costs for America. The planning center for September 11, 2001 would be reinvigorated. Recruiting for more homicide bombers would be easier. The radical Muslim world would be convinced that “Allah” truly is on their side against “The Great Satan.” Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would see defeat as proof that his god wants him to proceed with his announced plans to usher in “Armageddon” by possibly launching a nuclear attack against Israel.

Are any of those plausible actions worth the risk of losing the war in Afghanistan?

It isn’t that McChrystal was the indispensible man. Replacing him with United States Central Command leader Gen. David Petraeus was the president’s best option after deciding to relieve McChrystal. But President Obama did select McChrystal to lead the effort to defeat the Taliban and so any “errors in judgment” should not be limited to Gen. McChrystal. If the president picked the “wrong man,” what does that say about his judgment?

All of these — and other — questions will be forgotten if the U.S. prevails in Afghanistan by establishing a sustainable democratic government that is relatively free of corruption (a herculean task) and can be converted from an opium-based economy to one that can take advantage of its enormous mineral resources.

To win in Afghanistan, and make such things possible, our “rules of engagement” must change. American casualties have increased because of self-imposed restraints when encountering Taliban who hide behind civilians. You can’t win a war by hesitating when the enemy is at a disadvantage. To paraphrase a familiar admonition: grab them by their throats and their hearts and minds will follow.

McChrystal seemed to be making progress in the shooting war. He failed by shooting off his mouth. But if everyone who has ever said a disparaging word about his or her boss were fired, no one would have a job.

[Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist, appearing in more than 600 national newspapers. He is the author of more than 10 books and is a FOX News political contributor since 1997. Email Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.] ©2010 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

justwondering's picture
Joined: 08/13/2006
Thank You General McChrystal

Now more people will realize Obama is an inept Commander-in-Chief of the military.I think the General knew exactly what he was doing, and he has outsmarted the Community Organizer.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Joined: 04/23/2007

We've had many inept Commander-in-Chiefs, too numerous to list here. McChrystal was wrong and he should have been fired. The fact that the President allowed him to resign was noteworthy and one of the few things that he's done right.

We can NEVER allow the military to openly defy the lawfully elected representative of our government. No matter what you think of the current President, the General was wrong.

Now, look for the General to run for some poltitical office, real soon.

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Joined: 10/30/2005
General McChrystal

More people will realize that Obama and the General were in agreement about the military strategy - as was/is General Petreas. The military has a very strict code of ethics regarding chain of command. . .it doesn't matter if it is between private and sergeant or General and Commander in Chief. There is nothing to wonder about here. A real tragedy – but this General will be remembered for the good that he accomplished – as was MacArthur.

borntorun's picture
Joined: 11/28/2005
General McChrystal

Whether or not the statements made by General McChrystal were accurate, Obama could not keep him in his position.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice explicitly prohibits the kind of statements that General McChrystal and his staff made.

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Under the terms of this section, General McChrystal could have been court-martialed. Seems to me that by allowing him to retire as a four star general rather than face a court-martial, Obama demonstrated that he respected what the General has done for his country over the course of his military career.

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