Richard H. Kohn: Thoroughly Debate McChrystal’s Fate

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Richard H. Kohn teaches military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A specialist in civil-military relations, he was Chief of Air Force History for the USAF, 1981-1991.]

That General Stanley McChrystal committed egregious, unprofessional mistakes is beyond dispute: disdain for the vice president, unhappiness with the president and frustration and anger with crucial civilian colleagues — all to a reporter whom he welcomed into his headquarters in circumstances inappropriate for public display.

Equally unfortunate, he allowed to develop a culture of arrogance and contempt for the civilian leadership in his staff — an atmosphere and attitudes altogether unbecoming for serious professional officers waging a dangerous, difficult, ambiguous war — unacceptable in any military leader in peacetime or in war. If the Rolling Stone article is at all accurate, then McChrystal spoke openly of his vote for president. If officers choose to vote and risk partisan thinking and identification in their own minds, they ought at least to keep their voting and their choice strictly private. Otherwise, the military will not remain non-partisan and apolitical....

The United States cannot prosecute this war successfully if the president cannot trust and respect the judgment and motives of his commander on the ground. And that officer cannot command or advise his superiors effectively if he cannot trust and respect his president. War in general, and this war in particular, are uncertain undertakings. Much that is unexpected and uncertain lies ahead, with crucial decisions that will affect American security many years into the future....

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