Stan McChrystal: When a Sideman Wants to Be the Frontman

I've been asked to comment on the Stan McChrystal dustup and, in honor of the fact that Rolling Stone was the news outlet, I'll draw on my experience in rock and roll bands to do it. Here's the deal: Most rock bands can only have one front man at a time, with the other musicians acting as sidemen. (The "front man" and "sidemen" can be women, of course.) There are musical exceptions, like the Beatles, but when it comes to military policy our "band" lineup is clear: The President calls the tune and the generals are the rhythm section.

Gen. McChrystal's problem is that he's a sideman who wants to be the frontman. Every musician knows that kills a performance. This isn't really about civilian rule of the military, although that's critically important. It's about a sideman's ego run amok. It's about Keith Richards singing "Before They Make Me Run" while Mick's still singing "Under My Thumb."

Here's the real problem: They're both playing the wrong tune, and Afghanistan's the wrong venue for the gig. They'd be better off packing up their amps and going home. And listen: It's easy to make flippant analogies like I've just done. But it's hard to watch the loss of life and treasure continue, when even McChystal acknowledges there's no good ending. The hard truth is that some shows aren't worth the price of admission.

UPDATE: We now know that the President accepted McChrystal's resignation, and did so in a smart and savvy way. Replacing him with David Petraeus was a brilliant tactical move - Petraeus is highly credible, a potential GOP Presidential candidate, and a potentially devastating critic if Afghanistan turns out badly and he leaves the military.

Afghanistan is now Petraeus' war. If he does well there, so much the better for everyone. If not, he can't take potshots from the outside. (Am I the only one to notice, by the way, that this seems to be a demotion for Petraeus?)

As for our musical analogy, it's as if Mick fired Charlie Watts for insubordination ... and managed to persuade Keith to take over on drums. Try to upstage me from there, Mr. Cool Moves! (Historical note: Jagger once made the mistake of referring to Charlie is "my drummer," to which Watts replied: "I'm not his f***in' drummer. He's my f***in' singer." That seems to have been McChrystal's attitude, and it cost him his job.)