General McChrystal has spoken to the press about his assessment and the resulting debate within the administration, saying that he welcomes debate of the way forward and is unequivocally not considering resigning. I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else. Remember, the specter of resignation was not raised by the General, but reportedly by officers close to him. If General McChrystal spoke of resignation, it would be repeating the same gaff that got another General fired in Korea lo these many years ago.
The General is not insubordinate. He’s not going to be insubordinate in the press, either. He’s not going to challenge the President’s authority to make decisions. He has made his assessment. He has made his decisions about the way forward. He has prepared any requests for further resources that he deems necessary. There is no reason to respond to any decisions prior to their announcement. He also recognizes that the President has to do his due diligence.
“A policy debate is warranted,” McChrystal told the Times. “We should not have any ambiguities, as a nation or a coalition. At the end of the day, we’re putting young people in harm’s way.”
What I can tell readers is exactly what I told them yesterday. There is a lot more to say, in detail, about the things that we have learned as a nation, as an Military, as an Army and as counterinsurgents about what we are doing in Afghanistan. At this point in the conflict, a decision has to be made. The public is playing a role in that decision. We are only as agile and strong as our slowest and least agile member, and once again the public is proving to be that weak sister. They do have influence, and they are exerting a negative influence at a critical moment. It’s as if the public were suddenly pressuring FDR to pull out of the Pacific in WW-II, urged by “thinkers” who prognosticate (mostly from civilian standpoints) that “island hopping” is a failed strategy.
It’s not all their fault. The public is like a crop of mushrooms; they are kept in the dark and fed fecal matter. The organizations whose jobs are to inform the public, the press and the rest of the mainstream media, cannot be relied upon to provide anything close to an accurate picture of the conflict or the conditions which result in an insurgency in a formerly failed state struggling to become a real nation. There is plenty of truth out there, but the major networks and news organizations will never present it. No one is painting anything like a complete picture of the situation on the ground here or the things being done to resolve issues.
General McChrystal is right; putting people in harm’s way needs to be thought through. He has done his thinking. It takes courage to face fire, but it takes another kind of courage to tell young Soldiers and Marines to go and face that fire. We need leaders with courage. They may not face the pain of a bullet’s strike, but they face another kind of pain. They need to to have the courage to face that pain. Leaders without courage are less than useful at a time like this. Those who advocate using “surgical” techniques in place of such risks are not demonstrating the kind of courageous leadership that is needed in such “interesting times.”
Al Qaeda and the Taliban are counting on just that trait. They are counting… betting their futures… on our less than positive national traits to come bleeding through the “colors that don’t run.” Those “colors that don’t run” are what we see. Many others see a purplish-pinkish smear that has all run together, because in their appraisal, those colors have run plenty.
We are judged by friend and foe by what we do, not what we say. Our colors are beginning to run as the people of the United States begin to listen to the wheezing fat kid in the backs of their skulls in growing numbers. We see the polls over here. The President sees the polls and his judgment is more affected by them than many previous Presidents. Some applaud that condition. I ask for courageous leadership to be shown here. If the weaker strands begin to fail, then the leadership need even more courage to make the decisions that will demonstrate that our word means something. It’s not a pride issue; it’s a trust issue. We have not proven ourselves trustworthy. We must prove that we have learned that once we begin a project, especially one of this magnitude, all excuses as to why it’s okay to quit and walk away only sway our own minds, not those of the rest of the world. Respect for our word is as important in the world as it is when you walk into a bank asking for a loan and they point out that you defaulted on your house. You wish that they would ignore that, but they won’t.
The rest of the world won’t ignore it, either. And out here, seven years is like ten minutes. That default doesn’t roll off of our credit report so easily. We can explain and explain why it’s not our fault, but the default on Vietnam will not go away until we have shown that we have learned the real lessons of that conflict. Not living up to our word is only one lesson we didn’t learn. If you read the rest of the assessment, you will find that a lot of lessons have been learned. Just as the new captain goes to turn the ship, everyone wants to man the lifeboats.
I stand shaking my head.
Perhaps I need more faith in the American people just like they need more faith in the unproven General and the behaviors he is enforcing here. Perhaps I need to have faith in the leadership who seems to waver, that there is real courage there inside, the kind of courage to face pain and risk loss. Perhaps there is greater understanding that refusing that pain and protecting the self is not smart, it’s failure. Perhaps there is broad understanding that another mark in the “L” column brands that “L” on the forehead of every American, just as the stain has not completely faded from the last failure.
In the meantime, there is a decision to be made. Ultimately, it falls on the shoulders of one man who desperately sought that mantle and now wears it. I would expect General McChrystal to say nothing else but what he said to the Times. He has cleared the path for courage to be shown, for our good faith and credit to continue to build. There are many who would cheer our failure, who plead for cowardice. Cowards have latched onto the words, “mission creep” that the President uttered this past weekend. They continue to pressure the President to turn from the hard, exhausting and painful; to embrace the softer, easier path to ruined credit. The President sees, on one hand, a General with a realistic appraisal of a tough situation and a plan to overcome the difficulties, but not without pain. On the other hand he sees the throng with icepacks on their heads, their feet clean of the dust of the ancient land, pleading for him to take that easy path to promised ice cream, to turn from responsibility.
A turning point is reached; the jumping off place. Tension builds as the one man who has taken on the mantle of leadership ponders our course as a nation and the letter we will all wear for decades. The General has spoken and stands waiting. The voices of the icepack-adorned throng grow shrill and strident, wailing and pleading for a man to ease their suffering by turning tail and fleeing from the pain. Advisers with plans of their own beg for the ear, promising less pain and offering mythic Rambos and robots to solve all of his woes, minimizing his pain while giving the illusion of commitment. Still, in the end, one man decides. Courage or cowardice? Risk or safety? Sweat or ice cream? Keep the national word or default and blame the previous signatory, convincing himself that the rest of the world cares who gave our national bond for it to be broken later? In this moment we either continue to redefine our national character or we admit that our weak character was not an anomaly but who we really are. It is now up to one man who sought that responsibility.
We, embroiled in the dust, each fighting in his or her own way, can only watch as our future history is formed before our eyes, our voices gelled into only one man who speaks for us all to the President.
I wouldn’t have expected for him to say, in this moment in time, anything else.