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George Reed

George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

Treading on non-negotiables

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?

President Obama's removal of General McChrystal was indeed the right action, and it wasn't even a close call. Regrettable yes, but necessary as a reminder that it is the elected officials and their appointees that reign supreme over the military and not the other way around.

Civilian supremacy is sacrosanct in our system and for good reason. Our founding fathers understood that a standing military represented a potential danger to liberty and therefore sought to minimize its power. Politicians are accountable to the people through regularly scheduled elections. Generals do not stand for election. An obedient officer corps with a deep understanding of the Constitution and the role of the military in a democratic society serves as a safeguard so the American people never have to fear their own military. That principle is far more important than continuity of command in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is a widely respected and experienced soldier. His inner circle will surely grieve his departure yet the troops that have an understanding of American civil-military relations will appreciate why his removal was necessary. No soldier is indispensable in a well-trained Army and turbulence at the top is to be anticipated. General Petraeus certainly knows how to assume command, and I predict that his presence will be immediately felt in Afghanistan.

It pains me to see such an accomplished soldier leave his post under these circumstances. McChrystal has a lifetime of faithful service to his credit that we should all be grateful for. He served his nation well and many have benefited from his leadership. However, the comments attributed to him and his staff reflected at the least a stunning lack of situational awareness in the presence of a reporter and at the most a disturbing climate of disdain for the chain of command. His side of the equation has been dealt with but there is more work to be done.

Since leadership is a two-way street between leader and follower, and civil-military relations involves a relationship between civilian authorities and the military, the civilian masters in this scenario would do well to analyze their role in contributing to this situation. The loyalty and obedience of the military is absolute and non-negotiable but respect is earned. Relationships require effort from both sides and with some introspection the administration might find that some work on their end of the equation is warranted.

By George Reed

 |  June 24, 2010; 12:54 PM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: What matters now is Afghanistan | Next: A modern-day Gen. George McClellan

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