Top military man tells Aspen crowd McChrystal had to go |

Top military man tells Aspen crowd McChrystal had to go

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Lynn Goldsmith/Special to the Aspen TimesAdm. Michael Mullen told an Aspen audience Monday that Gen. Stanley McChrystal showed "poor judgment of a command climate."

ASPEN – The highest ranking officer in the U.S. military told an Aspen audience last night that Gen. Stanley McChrystal deserved to be fired for breaking a “sacrosanct” tenet of American democracy.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he fully supported President Obama’s decision last week to fire his commander in the Afghanistan war. No admiral, general or soldier can disrespect or question the civilian oversight of the military, he said.

“It is a sacred part of who we are, as a country, as a democracy. It is, as far as I’m concerned, sacrosanct,” Mullen said at the opening address of The Aspen Institute’s Aspen Security Forum. He spoke to a capacity crowd of 750 people at the Greenwald Pavilion.

McChrystal was dismissed after he and members of his staff were quoted in an article in Rolling Stone magazine making disparaging remarks about various civilian leaders, bureaucrats as well as elected officials. Mullen said comments in the article showed “poor judgment of a command climate.” Military commanders and rank-and-file soldiers must execute the president’s orders without question.

“We must ensure we are adhering to that in every way – publicly, privately, formally, informally, and to the degree that we don’t, to the degree that we tolerate [questioning] it even in private discussions, is corrosive,” Mullen said. The incident with McChrystal “really strikes at the heart of the criticality of this issue,” he added.

The top military commander also voiced support for the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Senate confirmation hearings start Tuesday.

The shake-up will have no bearing on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where the war has stretched into its ninth year, according to Mullen. “The policy hasn’t changed. The strategy hasn’t changed, nor should the focus,” he said.

The U.S. is following a counterinsurgency doctrine based on sending a large number of troops to Afghanistan, not only to destroy the enemy but also to win the support of the native people while working to rebuild their government. There is no purely military solution to the challenge of eliminating all the terrorists.

“You can’t kill them all. You can’t do that,” Mullen said. He labeled a political solution “the only solution.”

Mullen undertook a whirlwind tour of Afghanistan and Pakistan last weekend to assure U.S. military commanders and leaders of the countries that the United States was sticking with its strategy despite the McChrystal debacle. He then visited Israel and stopped in Washington, D.C., before jetting to Aspen. He received a standing ovation for honoring his commitment to attend the forum.

Mullen contended progress is being made on the goals to “disrupt [and] dismantle” al Qaeda and make sure the border area with Pakistan cannot be used as a base for al Qaeda, the Taliban or any other terrorist organization. But the effort will be a “marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

Mullen predicted that it should be apparent by the end of this year how the war effort is going, after a U.S.-led offensive on the Kandahar region is launched in the fall. Mullen noted he has testified before Congress that “as Kandahar goes, Afghanistan goes.”

Along with an important assessment of the war in December, the Obama administration has set a goal of starting to remove troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Mullen said that timeline will be honored, but he hedged on numbers.

“There is a certainty we will reduce a number of the surge troops, the 30,000 that have gone in,” Mullen said, referring to additional troops approved by the president after a request by McChrystal. “But how many and from where will be completely based on conditions on the ground.”

“A lot will happen” in Afghanistan by July 2011, he vowed.

The Aspen Security Forum continues Tuesday and Wednesday. Public events include an address Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Doerr-Hosier building by Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Tickets are available for $25.

Two events will be open to the public on Wednesday. Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will give a presentation titled, “The Terror Threat Picture and Counterterrorism Strategy” from 9 to 10 a.m. in the Doerr-Hosier building. Tickets are $20.

Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff will be in a conversation with Brian Ross of ABC News on Wednesday from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Doerr-Hosier building. Tickets are being sold for $30.

Tickets are for sale online at or by calling 920-5770.

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