Do the words "commander in chief" mean anything?
That's not so clear anymore, after Gen. Stanley McChrystal publicly disagreed with President Obama over sending more troops to Afghanistan.
McChrystal made his remarks shortly after sending the president his request for 10,000 to 45,000 more troops -- without which, he warned, our mission in Afghanistan would fail. Addressing a forum of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies in London, the general not only repeated his demand for additional forces, he shot down the proposal by Vice-President Biden that our mission be changed from one of occupying Afghanistan to hunting down terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That would be nothing short of "Chaos-istan," McChrystal sneered.
Then, even though his recommendation had not yet worked its way up through the Pentagon chain of command to reach the president's desk, the general also slammed Obama for taking too long to make up his mind. "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome," he told his London audience. "These efforts will not remain winnable indefinitely. Public support will not last indefinitely." His words were clearly a direct criticism of the president's decision-making process.
Which raises a couple of important questions. First, what the hell was McChrystal doing in London in the first place? As commander of International Security Assistance Forces and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, his job is on the battlefield in Afghanistan, not hanging out in some swanky London hotel.
If McChrystal feels he needs more troops to accomplish his mission, fine. Let him tell the president that. In private. And let him put pressure on the president -- in private, not in a public speech, sure to be reported immediately around the world. McChrystal's boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, gets it right: "It is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president, candidly but privately."
Second question: Who's in charge here? Obama or McChrystal? The president or the general? It's a matter of command and control generals sometimes forget. As once, famously, did Gen. Douglas MacArthur.