OBAMA McCHRYSTAL CRISIS SHOWS MILITARY ROGUES WHO'S IN CHARGE
• Command performance reasserts civilian control of the Armed Forces, revives a foundering presidency.
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Barark Obama became the U.S. commander-in-chief today, not just in title only.
His short Rose Garden pronouncement relieving Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his Afghanistan command may go down in history as one of the great declarations of a bedrock value of the American democracy: that elected officials -- civilians, not generals -- preside at the top of the chain of command, the ultimate authority over this nation's military and its national defense policies.
Obama's Declaration of Civilian Control stands right up there with Eisenhower's farewell address, in which the great World War II general warned the nation of the dangerous influence of the Military-Industrial Complex; and with Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and the Great Emancipator's incontrovertible truth, that "a nation divided cannot stand."
Yes, today was Barack Obama's MacArthur Moment, and his name will be forever tied to the necessary dismissal of a war hero, in the manner of Harry S Truman's famous firing of the hero general of the Pacific.
Obama's deliberate cadence, his steely countenance, reflected the forceful economy of his words -- a command performance indeed. This time, there were no unsure gesticulations, as in his disappointing Oval Office remarks on the Gulf oil disaster. Instead, a nationwide TV audience witnessed a calm, reasoned but passionate restatement of a fundamental American principle -- the unassailable requirement that those elected by the people have the last word in matters of national defense and military decision-making.
Obama's display of presidential gravitas could not have come a moment too soon for his embattled presidency, victimized by a cataclysmic Gulf oil spill disaster that may have resulted from criminal, even willful, negligence, not merely a product of fate or bad luck.
The McChrystal insubordination threatened to advance the narrative of a weak and seemingly ineffectual chief executive. Yet within a matter of a few hours, Obama did what all great leaders do -- he turned crisis into opportunity by seizing the moment.
His selection of General David Patraeus to assume McChrystal's duties disarmed potential critics of McChrystal's forced resignation. And by his acceptance of the assignment, Gen. Patrateus delivered the clear, unspoken message: The elected President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief, the supreme military leader of the nation, in both name and practice.
The one downside of this rapid sequence of decisions is that Obama may have boosted Patraeus' prospects as a potent political opponent, should the General decide to challenge Obama for the presidency in 2012. But given the stakes involved in the McChrystal affair, that possibility seems to be a small price to pay in exchange for the resurrection of the Obama presidency -- a presidency that until just a few hours ago seemed to be at risk of foundering in a sea of intractable crises, and serious doubts about whether Barack Obama possesses the mettle to function effectively as the nation's chief executive and commander-in-chief.
Today that doubt has been lifted, and the presidency of Barack Obama is reborn.
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