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Seamans: Chain of command

10/14/09 7:55AM By Bill Seamans
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(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans says that the debate about the need for more troops in Afghanistan is also about - military protocol.

(SEAMANS) Overwhelmed by the debate over the health care crisis and the worthiness of his Nobel Peace Prize, President Barack Obama - under extreme military and political pressure - is contemplating a truly historic decision on the course of our war in Afghanistan.  As we know, that pressure has been created by Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops and a new strategy or, he said, we face failure in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal's public statements virtually demanding  Presidential action have launched yet another background controversy that challenges the core of Army discipline and the cohesion and the integrity and the responsibility of leadership.  It's called the Chain of Command - known by lowly privates all the way up to the top Generals as the backbone of the Army - that enables the orderly passage of command up and down the links of authority - each link reporting to the noncom or officer immediately above him or her.  Breaking the Chain of Command has resulted in severe penalties as extreme as terminating the career of a superior officer.

Critics allege that Gen. McChrystal broke the Chain of Command by making public his request that sounded to some observers like an open challenge to his Commander in Chief, President Obama.  They say their opinion is in no way intended as an objection to what McChrystal said, but rather the way he said it.  According to the Chain of Command, it's argued that he should have submitted his proposal to his regional commander, Gen. David Petraeus to be passed upward to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen then on to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who could pass McChrystal's request on to President Obama.

It's noted that McChrystal has been supported rather than admonished by his immediate commander, Gen. Petraeus.  But he was wrist-slapped by Gates who said that is was imperative for civilians and military alike to provide our best advice to the president candidly and privately - and he denied that he was trying to muzzle McChrystal.  But critics add another question - was McChrystal's public statement intended to be political as well as military because of the acknowledged conservatism of the Army's top officer corps?  Some observers even saw the possibility of another Truman-MacArthur clash that reasserted civilian control over the military.

President Obama these recent days has had no alternative but to roll with the punch but we can anticipate that after this week's uproar over the health care vote - speculation over how he will decide on the Afghanistan troop question again will share the crisis spotlight.
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