General McChrystal and General Lee

It is interesting that General Stan McChrystal recently admitted to getting rid of a portrait he had long cherished of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  One would think that McChrystal would have some sympathy for Lee, considering both presided over failed wars.  There is a world of difference between these two men and McChrystal does not benefit from the comparison.

Since his dismissal by President Obama, McChrystal has become an author in an attempt to trade on his celebrity status and high rank.  He has done well, with several popular books to his name.  At a recent book signing, McChrystal admitted his best advice was for the U.S. to continue to “muddle through” in Afghanistan.

Think about this for a moment.  McChrystal held the top command in Afghanistan for a full year (2009–2010) during which he was unable to chart a course to success.  He has had 9 years since he left command to reflect on his experience and the direction of the war.  After all this time, the best he can come up with is to “muddle through”?

No response could better encapsulate the professional failure and moral bankruptcy of our senior military leaders.  For the last 17 years, general after general has told a succession of U.S. presidents, “We can succeed in Afghanistan.”  McChrystal was one of them.  Afraid to be the one tagged with presiding over a defeat, each general believes the U.S. should stay the course, blindly hoping for a change of fortune which is unlikely to occur.  Doubtless no one wishes to signal all the sacrifice in blood and treasure has ultimately proven futile.  Unfortunately, that is the reality.  

McChrystal was a proud graduate of U.S. military schools.  He was carefully groomed for high rank and selected for great responsibility.  And he failed miserably.

It’s ironic McChrystal has decided to publicize his decision to give away a picture of Robert E. Lee.  Lee faced different challenges during the Civil War than did McChrystal in Afghanistan.  Unlike McChrystal, Lee actually had a plan to win the war he fought.  It may not have worked, but at least Lee knew what he was doing.  McChrystal cannot make this claim.  If Lee were alive today, he would likely get rid of McChrystal’s picture – if he were foolish enough to have one in the first place.