Democrats and the mainstream media could not decide whether President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was “unprecedented,” or the second coming of Watergate. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer called it “an extraordinary moment in American history” — and he did not mean that in a good way.
No one seemed to remember when President Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal in 2010 — for much less, and with much more at stake.
At the time, McChrystal was the leader of the mission in Afghanistan, in charge of implementing Obama’s belated, time-bound “surge.” He was crucial to the success of a war delicately balanced between the need to push back the Taliban, on the one hand, and the need to pull back by the 2012 election, on the other. Thousands of American lives were at stake, as well as the lives of NATO troops, the future of Afghanistan, and the fate of the war on terror.
And then — just like that — Obama recalled McChrystal to Washington, where he expected — and accepted — his leading general’s resignation.
McChrystal had not failed in his job; he had made no major battlefield blunders. He was pushed out because of disparaging remarks about the president that were reported in a Rolling Stone profile by the late Michael Hastings. The remarks were not even attributed to McChrystal himself. He had done nothing at all.
Like the good soldier he was, McChrystal took responsibility anyway, and apologized to President Obama. “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome,” he said.
It was not enough to save his job. He was replaced by the estimable General David Petraeus — but for only a year, after which the mission struggled.
There was no need for Obama to fire McChrystal. But he harbored a long-simmering resentment of the general, who had publicly asked for more troops for the mission than Obama had been willing to provide.
It is well-known that Obama’s staff were suspicious of military leaders, and political aides micro-managed battlefield details. McChrystal’s stature was a problem for an administration incapable of delegating and unwilling to fight.
Still, there was little dissent or criticism, as journalists and pundits nodded sagely and spoke about high-minded principles. Here was Wired magazine, for example, in an article titled: “Why Obama Had to Fire McChrystal”:
IN THE END, it was Obama’s only move. Keeping General Stanley McChrystal in place would have shattered the chain of command, obliterated the authority Obama had with the military, and undermined any hope of waging a successful counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.
Today, of course, Wired has joined the rest in criticizing Trump for firing Comey — Watergate references and all.
And we are treated to articles on CNN calling Trump “the little boy president,” and arguing that he has a “first grade” temperament. Needless to say, a headline and story like that would never have run on CNN criticizing Obama for his thin-skinned and shortsighted sacking of McChrystal.
Unlike McChrystal, however, Comey had actually done things to earn his dismissal, starting with the extraordinary press conference last summer in which he laid out the case against Hillary Clinton and then declined to indict her. It was a usurpation of power, and the best that could be said about it was that Comey was a bipartisan offender.