Granted, NSA Advisor Ret. General James Jones used much more polite words (WaPo said he "chided" McChrystal) but the message was quite clear. Here’s Jones on Face the Nation today speaking about the McChrystal escalation request:
“It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of other elements of the strategy…” At one point he described Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation as “his opinion” of “what he thinks his role within that strategy is.”
And if that was not direct enough, Jones went on to say:
“The president should be presented with options, not just one fait accompli,” he said.
Jones also appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and once again delivered his message to McChrystal:
"Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command and I think that General McChrystal and the others in the chain of command will present the president with not just one option, which does, in fact, tend to have a … enforcing function, but a range of options that the president can consider," Jones said.
Jones was not the only one to push back on the McChrystal PR campaign this week and it seems that a number of informed voices seem to share my concern that McChrystal is “teetering towards insubordination.” Bernard Finel, senior fellow of the American Security Project has been involved in a rather vigorous debate on the issue with our own Attackerman who continues to sing the general’s praises and apparently thinks positions like mine are "hysterical." The decidedly non-hysterical Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, made the case in the Washington Post.
Noting McChrystal’s response at his recent speech in London to a question about the approach being recommended by Vice President Biden, Ackerman notes:
When asked whether he would support it, he said, "The short answer is: No."
As commanding general in Afghanistan, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements. Under law, he doesn’t have the right to attend the National Security Council as it decides our strategy. To the contrary, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 explicitly names the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the National Security Council’s exclusive military adviser…
News of McChrystal’s position had been leaked to Bob Woodward and was published in The Post early last week. But it is one thing for some nameless Washington insider to engage in a characteristic power play; quite another for McChrystal to pressure the president in public to adopt his strategy. This is a plain violation of the principle of civilian control.
Ackerman’s essay goes on to make the dangers of the McChrystal PR campaign quite clear – it’s definitely worth a read in full.
Col. Pat Lang has some interesting comments on the Ackerman oped and goes on to say:
He was not invited to the White House to represent "the other side" in the present deliberations on Afghanistan because there is no "other side." Admiral Mullen,for good or ill, is the president/commander in chief’s military adviser. McChrystal is merely a subordinate, one of many.
McChrystal was summoned from England to a 25 minute meeting with the president aboard Air Force 1. He showed up in field uniform? He owns a set of Greens (Class A uniform). He wore it in London to the IISS meeting. The man does not seem to know his place.
It will be very interesting in the coming week to see whether McChrystal is beginning to learn his place now that Jones has spoken. If not, let’s hope President Obama makes sure the message was received.
In other Afghanistan news:
Along with the McChrystal comments, Jones made a very important comment on the strength of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan when he was on CNN:
He said that the maximum estimate of al Qaeda militants operating in Afghanistan was "less than 100 … No bases. No buildings to launch attacks on either us or our allies."
Since we are supposedly in Afghanistan to prevent terror attacks by Al Qaeda, this certainly sounds like good news – and news that should lead away from a new escalation.
There was also news of a “complex” fight in Nuristan province in which 8 US soldiers were killed. Col. Lang notes that this battle sounds disturbingly similar to last year’s battle at Wanat – and points to the new report by the Washington Post and CBS on that earlier episode.
It’s worth remembering that, as the New York Times noted today, the Wanat battle was likely triggered by a US airstrike:
Locals in the area were furious with Americans for the killing of local medical staff in an airstrike the week before, and commanders believe that for that reason, they were more hospitable to insurgents.
Yet civilians continue to die:
Kandahar – Six children and three women were killed during a NATO air raid in the province of Helmand, southern Afghanistan. The new accidental killing of civilians was reported by Daud Ahmadi, spokesperson of the provincial governor. The raid, which claimed the life of 4 armed Taliban, was ordered as a reply to an attack against a convoy of NATO and Afghan forces in a village located in the Nad Ali district.
SHARAN: US forces shot dead a schoolboy on his way home in the southeastern province of Paktika on Monday, the victim’s father said.
Ghulam Shah, father of the 13-year-old Zeeshan, told Pajhwok Afghan News his son was returning home on a bicycle from school… adding that his son also worked with a mechanic in the main Sharan bazaar during his free time.
A Sharan Civil Hospital employee, Najibullah, confirmed receiving Zeeshan’s bullet-riddled body. The teenager was hit in the head by foreign soldiers. The ISAF press office in the eastern zone also confirmed the incident and admitted it was a mistaken firing incident. http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2009/09/28/us-soldiers-gun-down-schoolboy-in-paktika.html
Finally, the British Ministry of Defense released information from June 23:
A young Afghan girl suffered fatal injuries after a box of public information leaflets, dropped from an RAF transport aircraft over Helmand province, landed on top of her.
Update: Jim White has more on the CNN Jones interview here.