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Who's the boss? It's not McChrystal

By Paul Begala, CNN Contributor
  • Paul Begala: General, aides displayed contempt for key administration members
  • Begala: President Obama should thank Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his service and fire him
  • Begala says the world is watching to see what the president will do
  • This is about civilian control of the U.S. military and national security, Begala says

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is an affiliated professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute.

(CNN) -- President Obama needs to thank Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his decades of brave and selfless service, then fire him.

The contempt the general plainly has for his civilian superiors cannot be tolerated. If a corporal spoke that way about a captain, or a captain spoke that way about a colonel, it would be curtains. The same standard must be applied to the general who is leading 94,000 American troops in combat.

McChrystal meeting with Obama as Pentagon lines up replacements

By now we all know the reckless and inflammatory comments: McChrystal and his team thinks Obama is disengaged, that Vice President Joe Biden's real name is "Bite Me," and national security adviser (and retired four-star Marine general) Jim Jones is "a clown." Afghan ambassador (and retired three-star Army general) Karl Eikenberry "covers his flank for the history books [so] if we fail he can say, 'I told you so.' "

Special envoy Richard Holbrooke -- a truly brilliant man whose helicopter was shot at this week in Marja -- is such an annoyance his e-mails don't merit reading. Our French allies are gay. It must be lonely at the top for McChrystal, surrounded as he is with idiots. How difficult it must be to be McChrystal, when everyone else is marching out of step.

And this from the general whose strategy the president adopted. You might expect some griping from a general charged with executing a strategy with which he disagreed. But the Obama strategy in Afghanistan is the McChrystal strategy. And yet McChrystal and his aides are withering in their scorn, their derision, their ridicule for pretty much everyone except The Boss. (Apparently "The Boss" in McChrystal-stan is McChrystal himself.)

Afghanistan Crossroads: McChrystal: In words and actions

McChrystal's admirers -- and he has many -- point out that he is a fearless warrior and a brilliant leader. No doubt. But so was Douglas MacArthur. They argue that no one else can implement the McChrystal strategy but McChrystal. But as another temperamental general, Charles de Gaulle, said, "The graveyards are filled with indispensable men." If the strategy is so delicate that only one man can pull it off, it's not much of a strategy.

This is about civilian control of the military, and it's about America's national security. Vladimir Putin will be watching the Obama-McChrystal meeting closely. So will Osama bin Laden. And that little psycho in Pyongyang. Our adversaries will probe for any sign of weakness. If the president blinks now, our enemies will be emboldened, and our allies will be unnerved.

iReport: Share your view on McChrystal controversy

Lincoln fired his share of generals, and Truman sacked MacArthur. Both of those presidents were hated at the time but vindicated by history. This is a time for clarity, strength and resolve. With the whole world watching, Obama needs to show McChrystal who The Boss really is.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.