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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

A modern-day Gen. George McClellan

Q: In confronting the issue of Gen. McChrystal's apparent insubordination, did President Obama have any choice but to remove him? Going forward, what can Gen. Petraeus do to overcome this dramatic shakeup and keep his troops reassured and on mission?

As one can imagine, there has been a flurry of email throughout the Army on the relationship between the Commander in Chief, President Obama and his senior military officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. This is only the second time that a field commander has been effectively relieved during a conflict since President Truman's exchange with General Douglas MacArthur during the Korea War. To replace that iconic and fabled officer, President Truman appointed General Matthew Ridgway to lead American and UN forces in combat on the Korean Peninsula.

General Ridgway had the challenge of holding together the command and the alliance for the international military operation. He had to determine what actions to take and when to execute them. Part of his leadership responsibility was to assess whether to relieve his subordinate officers.

From his autobiography, Ridgway offered this:

"But your first consideration must be not for the welfare of the officer in question, but for the lives of the men who are under his command...In time of battle, when victory hangs in the balance, it is necessary to put down any sign of weakness, indecision, lack of aggressiveness or panic, whether the man wears stars on his shoulders or chevrons on his sleeve...."

The president has to weigh similar factors in assessing the performance of his military leaders with respect to national policies and strategies. It is their professional obligation to execute. While Ridgway focused on the tactical realities of the battlefield, a president must embrace the strategic context with its attendant consequences.

A serving officer and former student of mine closed his email to me last night with another reflection on a past commander-in-chief from our American history. He wrote:
"The President, being well read on all things Lincoln, will be intimately familiar with that commander in chief's struggles with his successive commanders of the Army of the Potomac. Not all of those sacked or sidelined lacked talent or gumption. George McClellan comes to mind. He was a true talent, and one might argue his was essential in building the Army of the Potomac. But he had no sense of place, and this got him sacked. And so, McClellan forged the army into a fine instrument, but it took Grant to wield it in victory."

It is up to the president to determine the face of victory in our endeavor in Afghanistan and to select the team of civilian and military leaders to achieve it.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  June 24, 2010; 3:26 PM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Would like to point out that it was General George Meade who commanded the Army of the Potomac to victory. He was appointed to the army command three days before meeting Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. The outcome shows that even replacing a commander in the middle of a campaign can sometimes lead to victory.

Posted by: jhoran1 | June 28, 2010 11:23 AM
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"But your first consideration must be not for the welfare of the officer in question, but for the lives of the men who are under his command..." Gen Ridgeway

I would say Gen. McChrystal ignored the lives of the men and women under his command.

That his crack "Team America" was so undisciplined as to talk trash while drinking around a reporter speaks to the General's own discipline.

This attitude does in fact premeate the service. I know this from 24 years of military service and 6 in support of the military. Generals and officers of all ranks often become so removed from the reality of command that they forget they are not Gods striding the earth. Generals in particular are catered to at every turn. To even vocalize that he would rather be beaten up than meet with diplomates is indicative of this. I know a few soldiers, sailors, and airmen that would swap places in heartbeat. They would trade a stinking MRAP for a bar in Paris right this minute.

Gen. McChrystal's staff was arrogant, undisciplined, and ego-centric. Those are bad qualities. A General's staff should behave as if every move they make is observed (which is) and as if they when they speak they speak for the General (which they do). This Band of Frat Boys the General assembled followed his lead.

Poor judgement, bad leadership, ego.

Posted by: agolembe | June 25, 2010 1:33 PM
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Umm...the piece says "Truman". Hooked on phonics worked for me...

Posted by: mc16 | June 25, 2010 12:39 PM
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Grant had Sherman. Eisenhower and Bradley had Patton. Patreas and McChrystal...could be a good pair.

Posted by: Wizardsfaninexile | June 25, 2010 12:08 PM
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Shouldn't the headline have read: A Modern Day Douglas MacArthur?

Posted by: mbc1954 | June 25, 2010 8:15 AM
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Who the hell is President Thurman? How much thought went into this piece?

Posted by: kenneyrick | June 25, 2010 8:05 AM
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