Do you mean to tell me that a man who knows more secrets than anyone else in the whole world was done in by a stupid decision to give an interview to a freelance journalist working for Rolling Stone? Not very many stranger things have happened.
Here, in the order of noxiousness, is the bill of the goods about Stanley McChrystal, who was relieved of his command today by President Obama.
1. The White House believes that the Rolling Stone article hurt the war effort itself and doubtless exacerbated morale problems among the troops.
2. The denigration of Vice President Biden, in the eyes of the world, was completely unacceptable.
3. Information and perception influence the outcomes of wars; the enemy -- the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- was allowed inside the decision loop. The comments by McChrystal's operations chief were particularly egregious.
Where some see a conspiracy to influence public opinion, President Obama, according to someone who has spoken with him, found McChrystal to be undisciplined rather than devious. Being undisciplined is a grievous sin in this White House (or any White House).
A bunch of different events, when pieced together, seemed to form a pattern of insubordination. If you connect the dots, the dots look connected. But they really add up to something less interesting but more consequential.
Knock one: McChrystal was blasted for a fawning 60 Minutes interview in the middle of the White House strategy review. Never mind that the interview had been taped much earlier, and that CBS News made the (profitable) decision to schedule the segment for the time it ran.
Knock two: After a speech in London, McChrystal was asked about an alternative strategy that had been proposed, one that focused heavily on the use of special forces for targeted strikes. McChrystal didn't think it was a good idea, and said so. His remarks were interpreted as a slap against the vice president, and the president interrupted a trip to upbraid his commander for speaking his mind. The White House wondered how someone as smart as McChrystal could be so ... so ... darn stupid about something so simple.
Knock three was the strategic leak to Bob Woodward of McChrystal's strategy recommendations. But it was given to Woodward a week after it had been widely distributed to Congress and across the executive branch. The White House at first suspected that McChrystal's team had leaked it, and then quickly dialed back; then they thought that someone on the staff of Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen was the culprit; but they soon disregarded that theory.
Arguably, one of these incidents was significant: the speech in London. The other two cannot be attributed to malevolence or strategy on McChrystal's part. Indeed, even the London remark was nothing other than McChrystal NOT thinking strategically about his options.
If there is any pattern here, it is not one of insubordination but of an acute deafness to institutional politics, a condition exacerbated by McChrystal's insular inner circle, which was used to seeing their boss being treated with complete deference. HE was the guy who went from colonel to four-star general in six years. HE was the guy who revolutionized terrorist hunting. HE was the guy who was not tainted by two taintable offenses: ignoring abuse at Camp Nama and for knowingly participating in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's death. The Pope was invincible. The Pope felt invincible. As the Secret Service agent who's sitting next to me on the Acela would tell you, a lack of discipline is the vice that pays tribute to invincibility.
The ramifications of the decision belong to the unknown categories. It isn't easy to move out a commander and replace him with a new one. The logistics alone are enormously challenging. It is hard to see how, in December, Obama can effectively sell the American people and NATO allies on the war's progress when he sacked his hand-picked commander.
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Marc Ambinder is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic.