Conventional wisdom advises that in a crisis it is best not to change horses in midstream. But to that I would add, unless the horse is drowning and the stream is on fire. The big news of last week was President Obama's change of horses leading the war in Afghanistan. On June 23, in the wake of an inflammatory article titled, "The Runaway General," that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command of American forces in Afghanistan and replaced by General David Petraeus, pending Senate confirmation.
In the article, the General and members of his staff were quoted making a number of contemptuous comments about President Obama, Vice President Biden and senior members of the President's national security team. Those comments left the President little choice but to summon McChrystal to the White House for a face-to-face meeting during which McChrystal offered and the President accepted his resignation.
President Obama's sacking of General McChrystal was a test of leadership that only a few other Presidents have had to face. President Abraham Lincoln fired General George B. McClellan because of disagreements the men had over the direction of the Civil War. And President Harry Truman famously dumped General Douglas MacArthur over policy differences during the Korean War. Both Lincoln and Truman asserted the Constitutional authority of a civilian Commander in Chief - a basic tenet of our democracy.
President Obama's dismissal of General McChrystal affirmed the fact that ultimate military control remains firmly in the hands of the Head- of- State, not his generals. The President's action was also supported by Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice which states: "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
I am sure President Obama meant it when he said he regretted having to make the decision to fire McChrystal, especially since the President, shortly upon taking office, had picked McChrystal to execute a new war strategy. But it was definitely the right thing to do. As the President said in his Rose Garden statement: "The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."
In June the war in Afghanistan officially became America's longest war. With casualties on all sides mounting and Al Qaeda and the Taliban waging a tough resistance, now is the time for unity up and down the chain of command. President Obama's decisive action was designed to make sure that General McChrystal's loose lips sank only his own ship and not our ship of state.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.