Retired Benning commanders react to McChrystal's comments amid his meeting with Obama

lgordon@ledger- enquirer.comJune 23, 2010 

A former Fort Benning commander said Tuesday he believes Gen. Stanley McChrystal was wrong in candidly blasting President Barack Obama and top administration officials involved in Afghan policy in a Rolling Stone magazine article.

“I think the basic is a golden rule with general officers and that is you don’t criticize your superiors,” said retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza. “And if he said those things, then he violated the golden rule.”

McChrystal, who resigned Wednesday and was replaced U.S. commander in Afghanistan by Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, was summoned to the White House to explain derogatory comments he and his staff made about the commander in chief, Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials.

“Well, certainly that’s his prerogative,” said Cavezza, when asked whether he thought Obama should dismiss McChrystal. “He’s the commander in chief. I think McChrystal has done a great job over there. I think he’s the man for the job and he’s the man that can do it right. That’s not to say there aren’t other generals that can’t fill in. But that’s something obviously the commander in chief has got to make a decision on.”

Retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Leuer, who commanded Fort Benning in the 1980s, said he initially thought McChrystal’s comments were made off the record. But after reading more about it he realized the interview was handled properly by the reporter, Michael Hastings.

“I know Gen. McChrystal as being a very fine commander and of course he commanded the Ranger Regiment here,” Leuer said. “I was very surprised when I heard this, but it appears to be a legitimate interview. I was surprised because he’s been around for a while and he should know how to handle the press.”

Leuer said he expects there to be some fallout from the interview.

“I will be very surprised if this situation isn’t going to lead to some major changes in leadership in Afghanistan, and I’m disappointed to see that because I thought he was the right person to get the job done,” he said.

Another former Fort Benning commanding general, retired Lt. Gen. Robert “Sam” Wetzel, said he thinks McChrystal had every right to express his frustration with the Obama administration.

“The fact that he’s blasting the administration is perfectly right,” Wetzel said. “I think everybody should be blasting this administration. They are completely destroying this whole country. I’ve been around since the Depression and I’ve been through a couple of wars myself, but I’ll tell you something, this country is going to hell in a hand basket because of this administration. And if he’s criticizing, leave him alone. Let him fight the war. Quit interfering with it.”

Cavezza, meanwhile, questioned whether Obama could afford a leadership change at such a critical juncture in the war in Afghanistan.

“There are people capable of stepping in,” Cavezza said. “The problem is, aside from the remarks and the pros and cons of the remarks, is the timing. Here we are in a surge, which has really in my mind taken an awful long time to accomplish and obviously it’s very intense at this point. Having a change in a major commander I imagine would be very distracting, but again there are people who can step in and do it if necessary.”

Wetzel agreed that good general officers in the Army are plentiful and finding one who is capable of replacing McChrystal wouldn’t be a problem.

“Nobody is indispensable,” Wetzel said. “He knows how to do it, but we have other people that will know how to do it that can take his place if he gets fired.”

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