Thursday, July 8, 2010

McChrystal and Steele: Please Fire Me

The tendency of the professional press has been to focus on the content of speech rather than its context. I refer to the Stanley McChrystal and Michael Steele speeches – the General’s in a Rolling Stone story by Michael Hastings and the Chairman’s on amateur video. While quite different in the content of what each man said, the speeches have much in common. Taken in the context of what each man meant, each man effectively pleads “Please, fire me.”

It takes tremendous ego to hold jobs such as there’s. General McChrystal’s job was taking the fight to our enemies in hot pursuit with overwhelming firepower. Chairman Steele’s job was to conduct overwhelming fundraising for national campaigning. Egos notwithstanding, insubordinate opinion made public compromised their competence in each of their positions. The issue is not the content of what each man said. The issue is competence in their positions.

US Army Commanding Generals have command staffs. One of those command staff positions, G5 or S5, is called a Civil Affairs Officer, who is in charge of public or civil information. General McChrystal’s Civil Affairs Officer failed to keep his commander’s private opinions private. Additionally, McChrystal knew that generals get fired for insubordination, like General Douglas MacArthur did sixty years ago. That is incompetent command. Given what Stanley McChrystal has been through as a professional military bad-ass, his comments may be understandable. But it is the kind of behavior, as reported in the Hastings article, that one sees when witnessing burn-out. The General left the President no option but to relieve him of his command and replace him in that position.
The conduct of the War in Afghanistan, started under President Bush and inherited by President Obama, is now in the hands of General David Petraeus. As Tim Egan writes in the NY Times, General Petraeus is “perhaps the only public figure to emerge from the Bush years with his reputation for competence intact.” He took command over the 4th of July holiday, saying “we are in this to win.” That is something he is obliged to say. He has staff to see that he does.

The issue of having interviews and stories approved comes up from time to time, as it did when the US Army invaded Grenada and again in the first Gulf War. It will not under Petraeus. His boss, Secretary of Defense Gates says so. Besides, Petraeus knows how to successfully utilize command staff. For example his Civil Affairs Officer will not hesitate to step on an interview with his commander, like start coughing loudly or getting between the reporter and his boss. Reporters will hear the magic words, “That is all the time the General has for you” and the interview is over.

The Army is all about organization and structure. Not surprisingly, there is nothing magical about how things are to be conducted. There are field manuals like FM 41-10 that includes the topic of press relations in peace and in war times. There are rules and service schools that teach those rules. The Defense Information School (DINFOS) is where Public Affairs Officers are taught how to perform in their G5/S5 staff positions.

The Republican National Committee has an organizational structure that is headed by a Chairperson. Not unlike a CEO to a board of directors, the Chairperson serves at the pleasure of committee and is responsible to it for increasing the value of the RNC. The committee is responsible to registered Republican voters nationally for getting Republican candidates elected. Donations have decreased significantly under Mr. Steele’s chairmanship, a decrease in value.
CBS News reports that “donors who were once reliable RNC fundraising sources are now looking elsewhere, prompted by fears that Steele will not effectively manage their contributions.” While his contrary and inaccurate public opinions are interesting, devaluing the RNC is the result of poor stewardship. Mr. Steele has demonstrated that he is incompetent in that position.

The committee should have no choice. For Steele to remain as Chairperson is an example of the elite hypocrisy the committee has allowed. It is also quite cynical because it sets up Mr. Steele to take the fall for the results of the upcoming November elections. It is not the case that he cannot be touched because he is black. Affirmative action notwithstanding, incompetence knows no race, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation distinction. Incompetence is equal opportunity.

If being a party of business is supposed to mean something, the committee needs to behave like a business. Steele’s chairmanship demonstrates that the RNC has or is an incompetent board of directors who are not looking out after the best interest of their stock-holders, the registered voters I mentioned. To allow for Steele’s lack of competence in his position reflects poor governance. As such, the board needs to be replaced as well.
The November elections feature a cast of candidates endorsed by the tea party and Sarah Palin. They all denounce the President and blame the Obama administration for Bush administration failures. Many are as incompetent as Mr. Steele, like California millionaires Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman. Some are crackpots, like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Kentucky’s Rand Paul. They all appear to rally around Arizona’s Jan Brewer and pander to the white-right wing of the Republican Party over the immigration issue.

The problem is that they offer nothing in the way of platform and divide the GOP. As the Michael Douglas says in lines from The American President, “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.” With two substitutions the next line says, “And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, [the Republican candidates are] not the least bit interested in solving it. [They are] interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it.”
The mid-term elections will not be the referendum on the Obama presidency that the GOP proclaims for just that reason. The electorates who show up to vote want solutions, not platitudes. If there is a referendum, it will be on bigotry and hopefully the bigots will lose.

As to the future for the General and the Chairman, they will both be welcomed and probably quite competent as highly paid network television commentators. McChrystal is will be a retired General who may or may not keep his fourth star. Now he can eat more than one meal a day and get some therapy for the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he likely suffers. After reviewing the “War of Obama’s choosing” tape, Mr. Steele is well suited to be successful with a multi-level marketing company (MLM) such as Amway or Pre-Paid Legal Services. Imagine the down line he could create.

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About the author: I am a graduate of the Defense Information School. My last active Army duty assignment stationed me at Hunter Army Airfield in the Public Affairs Office of the 24th Infantry Division under the command of (then) Major General Norman Schwarzkopf.

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POST SCRIPT: General McChrystal has retired after 34 years of service. According to AP, "The White House is allowing McChrystal to keep his four stars in retirement, even though Army rules would have required him to serve another two years at that rank." (July 24, 2010)


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