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BP's Hayward and Gen. McChrystal: What were they thinking?

By Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor
  • Ed Rollins says BP chief Tony Hayward continues to show an absence of leadership
  • He says jetting off to a yacht race was a particularly insensitive move by Hayward
  • Rollins says Gen. Stanley McChrystal's remarks to a reporter were dumb
  • He says the wise course would be for president to reprimand general but not fire him

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He is a principal with the Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations firm. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New York (CNN) -- Two leaders have been called on to resign this week by critics and media analysts. Both men damaged their credibility by their own actions and no one else's.

One man, Tony Hayward, the embattled CEO of BP, has become one of the most despised men in America -- or at least in the Gulf region of the country. The inability of his company to react quickly and honestly to this enormous manmade environmental disaster makes him the obvious scapegoat for a company stumbling to find solutions.

His own inappropriate remarks about "getting his life back" infuriated the hundreds of thousands who will never get their old lives back. Because of his mismanaged company's desire for shortcuts and doing it the cheapest way, 11 men are dead and thousands more will suffer irreparable harm.

Getting hammered by Congress in a widely watched televised hearing and being removed from day-to-day responsibility of running his company's crisis is barely a slap on the wrist when many were calling for, in effect, a public hanging.

Hayward, on returning home to the United Kingdom, immediately jumped on his racing yacht, apparently not realizing that it would remind people of the contrast between the rich at play in the sea and the people unable to work because of the fouled waters of the Gulf.

There is a saying in my business -- all things communicate.

Hayward may be a very nice man and may even have been extremely competent. But you will be hard-pressed convincing Americans of that. The image of the racing yacht put up against the grounded fishing boats of the Gulf region make him a man who will never be able to lead a major corporation again effectively. Whether he resigns or is fired, no one here will really care.

The other person who made mistakes, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, deserves more attention. He is our most important general leading our most important war.

McChrystal screwed up big time! Bad-mouthing the boss is bad form. Allowing your staff to bad mouth the boss and the vice president is even worse form. Doing it in front of a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine is just plain dumb. It is a fire-able offense!

Every military officer, long before he gets his first star, knows the story of President Truman firing General of the Army Douglas MacArthur -- one of the greatest generals of all time and a Medal of Honor winner -- for insubordination. Of course, MacArthur's offense was greater than making unflattering remarks about the president and his team. The general questioned Truman's limited war strategy and argued for the invasion of North Korea after Truman said no. He also sent letters questioning Truman's war policy to the House Republican leader Joseph Martin, who read them on the floor of the House

Everyone who has ever watched "Patton" (and I have at least 20 times) knows how the four-star general was always getting into trouble by saying something inappropriate.

He was reprimanded by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower, but was reinstated and was one of the nation's greatest fighting generals. The Germans thought he was our greatest general.

President Obama now has a dilemma. Does he treat McChrystal's inappropriate remarks as insubordination and fire him? Or does he ream him out and send him back chastised and let him finish leading the battle plan that he designed for Afghanistan?

Firing the general makes President Obama look tough. Robert Gates, his secretary of defense, has fired several high-ranking Pentagon civilians and military.

The president's critics will charge that not firing McChrystal will make Obama look like a wimp. But in this case, the right thing is to be a leader and send the general back into battle warned and disciplined by the public embarrassment.

The message to the general, is similar to what I assume Eisenhower warned Patton: Shut your mouth and go win the war!

The lesson here is again, "All things communicate!"

Firing McChrystal shows strength. Sending him back shows wisdom. It's time for wisdom.

General, no more media interviews. And you and your fellow officers had better stand erect and salute the commander in chief -- and the veep too. That's the American way.

Unlike Hayward, you can remake your history. Instead of being the "Runaway General" as the Rolling Stone article called you, be the "Silent and Effective General."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.