Gates slaps down McChrystal

Advice is one thing; pressure is another.

The brass has an obligation to offer its best military advice to the President, and the President has an obligation to listen, though not to acquiesce.   But advice-giving must not degenerate into pressure.  A general who wants to dissent has to resign first. 

Robert Gates understands that; it seems that some of the generals don’t.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

7 thoughts on “Gates slaps down McChrystal”

  1. Sixty years ago, you'd fire the general involved, even if he had five stars, even if he was the proconsul of Japan.

    Of course, that was before the military went permanently off-budget, supra-constitutional, and beyond criticism.

    In those days we were only fighting Communism, not Islamoliberallfasocialism.

  2. Dissent from what? Our president can't decide on a strategy. Until he does, there's nothing to dissent from. Would you have all our generals adopt Obama's lack of resolve as if it were a position instead of an indication of the president's incompetence?

    What is Obama scared of? Let there be a full debate about what our strategy should be, with all voices heard. If Obama wants to stifle debate, he can fire the generals. Until then they should do their jobs.

  3. The military can't decide strategy for the very obvious reason Obama pointed out to Petraeus when he met with him in Iraq before the election: they are only looking at the part of the elephant that they are responsible for. McChrystal is doing a good job in that he's delivering a true report on the situation, rather than the pablum that was previously delivered, and the report isn't good. But it's not up to him to decide whether there's a goal there that's worth the cost. That question is way above his pay grade, and not something he should be discussing in public.

    I'm not a big believer in the "unitary executive" theory, but if it applies anywhere, it applies to the military.

  4. I don't have a problem with generals offering advice and being forceful about it. Maybe if President Bush had gotten the message from General Eric Shinseki about how many troops would be needed to securely occupy Iraq back in February, 2003 things would be different today.

  5. I assume that Bush got Shinseki's message, but Shinseki had only facts to offer, and Bush was not part of the reality-based community.

  6. Mark, I think this is actually a case of Gates overreacting to a media brouhaha (as diagnosed by Mark Grimsley), and that McChrystal is hardly in danger of drifting off the reservation.

  7. Ralph may be right about McChrystal's not being off of the reservation but he was (and probably will continue) straining the fence. Gates's response was restrained and appropriate and McChrystal still has a job, something that if he's clever might even surprise him.

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