“Command climate” is what shapes a military organization. The preferences, priorities, and peccadilloes of the commander echo across its staff and subordinate units. Command climate functions as an organization's persona and it plays just as powerful a role in its behavior—and effectiveness—as an individual's personality.
For the sake of argument, imagine, if you can, an American foreign policy based on interest alone. To begin with, to use the current Wall Street phrase, it would need to overweight Latin America and underweight the Middle East. For whether the Obama administration believes it or not (in fairness, they are no worse than their predecessors, though they are no better either), crises are brewing in Latin America that pose potentially greater threats to the United States than those posed by Al Qaeda.
We do not know whether the president will accept General McChrystal’s proffered resignation as Commanding General. But that uncertainty does not at all detract from the real insights to be gained from this most recent contretemps between the Republic’s Commander-in-Chief and his subordinates in the field. There is a pattern here: Consider, first, the president’s leadership for the past two months, during an environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.
“When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them,” General Stanley McChrystal recently told reporters. “It’s a deliberate process. It takes time to convince people.” The remark, notable for its defensive tone, provides a small but telling indication that things are not going well in Afghanistan. If there were any doubts on that score, Rolling Stone’s profile of the “Runaway General” and his eminently quotable staff have quashed them. The wheels are starting to come off the Afghan Victory Express.
Anyone who doubts the role of “Black Swans” in shaping the course of human events should pause to reflect on the decade just past.
First, Entanglements. As we sat around searching for the right word, a friend remarked that Entanglements abraded even his own frankly coarsened sensibilities. Why? Entanglements, after all, neatly summarizes the foreign policy challenges to which one administration after another has provided no adequate response. But the word also has a toxic resonance. Casting a glance backward to George Washington’s farewell address, my colleague knew the admonition against foreign entanglements, and its historical abuses, all too well.