Because a significant number of veterans live in our Northwest neighborhood, I’m sure there’ve been many coffee shop discussions… not to mention bar arguments … about the firing of General Stanley McChrystal. With a significant portion of my own life in the military, I’ve followed it myself.

Though it’s sad to see a fine career end being relieved of command, there wasn’t much else the President could’ve done. Having pushed the discipline envelope too far on previous occasions, McChrystal was already on thin ice. While his senior staff seemed to be the source of much of the recent criticism of the administration and its war policy, the General was apparently a willing accomplice. Booze or no booze.

President Obama had other options to deal with the situation but he took the one that was bedrock solid. Up until the moment a military policy decision was made, McChrystal and other participants in the discussion were free to disagree, criticize or make a different argument. Flip charts, PowerPoint. Whatever.

But when a final order is given, the only acceptable response is clear. You stand straight, click your heels, render a sharp salute and say “Yes, Sir” in a firm voice. You may agree. You may disagree. But at that moment, unless required to do something illegal, you’ve got your orders. Discussion over. I’ve not attended West Point but I’m pretty sure obedience and discipline are introduced to plebes in the first 15 minutes. Maybe sooner.

My own military years were spent taking more orders than giving them. Because I’m a strong-willed individual, I know well the feelings of following commands I didn’t like. But I followed them. Anyone with an honorable discharge did, too. That’s the only way it works.

Unless you sit in the Oval Office, everyone in uniform … everyone … has someone sitting on a rung just above them. General or private, everyone answers to someone. Despite that questionable child-rearing advice, it’s not necessary to tell the person below you the “big picture” or how their following orders will advance the overall mission and make them feel good. Gen. Eisenhower didn’t stand in an English rain in June, 1944, telling each G.I. where they fit in the D-Day landing. And why.

McChrystal seems to share some similarities with another general: George Patton. Both were West Point. Both ascended the military ladder rapidly with battlefield promotions and shared the “right-place-at-the-right-time” fortune often leading to early command. They appeared to see the world in black and white with little use for shadings of gray in decision-making. Each was military to the core. Except.

Except each was outspoken; a flaw that tripped up both men. Outspokenness is not a character trait sought in military recruitment. Even the guy who ends up with five stars on his lapel is not free to publically criticize either his orders or the political system from which they come. Might be O.K. over a glass of brandy or a shot or two of JD with a trusted friend. But, in uniform and on duty, you carry out each order to the last period on each sentence.

The President had another option I favored. He could’ve told McChrystal to put his resignation in writing, seal the envelope and hand it over. The President could then put it on the corner of his desk, telling the general it would stay there unless there was a whiff of anything but absolute loyalty. At that point, McChrystal could finally accept the discipline he should’ve learned on his first day in uniform or he could’ve ended his career more honorably and stepped down. His choice.

McChrystal was not wrong to have his own strong feelings about the war or to express them to his closest staff. But I sense something else here.

Knowing he had a journalist embedded with his closest advisers and, getting to know the guy publically and privately over a four week period, I can’t believe someone as savvy as McChrystal would let his guard down so completely. My reporter gut tells me he saw an opportunity … using his own words and his staff … to say some things he hoped would change the direction of policy in Afghanistan. Maybe the President would listen.

Just a guess. But Rolling Stone? McChrystal’s career might have ended better if he’d used the Wall Street Journal.

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