Bring me the head of Rick Hillier

Via Mark Collins at Daimnation! and Damian Brooks at The Torch.

I have a hard time believing the CTV braintrust when they tell us that General Richard J. Hillier, CMM, MSC, CD, BSc, is headed for the door and will not receive a contract extension when his 3-year stint as Chief of the Defence Staff comes to a close.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier is expected to be replaced as top military commander when his three-year term expires in February, Conservative insiders have told CTV.

Observers say Hillier, who is popular with rank and file soldiers, had hoped to stay on to oversee the war in Afghanistan…

But observers say the government seems determined to get rid of the charismatic general, blaming him for outshining his political masters and undermining former defence minister Gordon O’Connor.

— CTV.ca News Staff, “Hillier to be replaced when term ends: CTV“, October 3rd, 2007.

I’ve heard the general speak, and met him in person earlier this year.  If Hillier the man is tremendously popular with servicemen and civilians alike, it is because he is a genuinely likeable guy.  He comes across as a very humble, down-to-earth Everyman, free of artifice.  He’s also detail-oriented; General Hillier is intimately familiar with the current Afghan mission and also with the day-to-day concerns and troubles of the Average Joe serving his country at home and abroad.  The general’s obvious dedication and devotion to those in the CF has quite rightly earned him their love and respect.

While every CDS gets the official courtesies of rank and office, not too many are well-liked.  More than a few Chiefs of the Defence Staff have failed to live up their high calling within my lifetime:

  • General John de Chastelain [CDS 1989-1993, 1994-1995]: Presided over the military’s top job during the political disaster of OP DELIVERANCE (i.e. the Somalia affair).  Argued against but was unable to prevent the disbanding of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.  This despite the fact that only 1 of the regiment’s 3 company-sized Commandos had discipline problems.  In fact, CAR’s previous CO specifically requested that the problem commando not be deployed to OP DELIVERANCE.  But the whole regiment went into the trashcan to satisfy the politicians.  This is like dissolving a city’s entire fire department because one district made the force look bad.
  • General Jean Boyle [CDS 1996]:  His tenure also clouded by the taint of Somalia (and an apparent cover-up of same), General Boyle chose to do the honourable thing and accept no responsibility whatsoever.  He blamed the whole mess on subordinates.  Boyle ended up falling on his sword involuntarily, and took MND David Collenette with him.  Good riddance.
  • General Maurice Baril [CDS 1997-2001]: Baril prevously served as military advisor to Kofi Annan in the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) during the infamous 1994 Rwandan Genocide.  Yes, that’s right.  Not only did a Canadian general ineffectually command UN troops on the ground, one was trying to herd UN political cats as well.  We all know how General Roméo Dallaire felt about UNAMIR’s abject failure—one wonders if any of that guilt and regret rubbed off on his superior Baril.  Didn’t see Baril sleeping on too many park benches.

Looking over that list you might get the impression that CDS is a largely ceremonial office limited to fawning fart-catching for various political masters.  You’d be wrong, but the mistake is an honest one in light of the behaviour of some of the title-holders.  Which is why the affable, straight-talking General Hillier is such a breath of fresh air.

It’s plain that Hillier’s interest is in the Average Joe and Jane on the ground, not in his post-CDS career possibilities.  Sure, he’s stepped on some political toes to make a point, and that is regrettable.  Not offering Hillier another term as CDS will send a firm message to the men and women on the front lines, and that message is: we don’t care about your needs and wants; we want someone who won’t ruffle our feathers.

If you want to send that message, go ahead.  It’s yet more proof that politicians (and their hangers-on) are a species entirely divorced from truth, duty and valour.

UPDATED:  The Prime Minister weighs in with his thoughts, via CTV’s Roger Smith and David Akin:

Harper: First of all, the only thing true in these stories that I have seen today is that the Prime Minister does in fact appoint and designate the person who will be the chief of defence staff. That much is true.

But that said, the chief of defence staff is not appointed for a fixed term of office, not appointed for three years as some reports have said. There has been no discussion in my office or with me, with any senior officials about the possibility of changing the chief of defence staff and as a matter of fact, I think I just approved a pretty good rating for the chief of the defence staff.

Good work, CTV [and thanks to David Akin for posting the PM’s response on his blog].

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2 Responses
  1. Damian says:

    Good post, Chris. My only concern is your inclusion of DeChastelain in the ranks of the ineffective. My impression is that the man did an excellent job given the political situation he had to work with. Remember, part of Hillier’s success rests upon the fact that he’s not only the right man for the job, but he’s the right man at the right time.

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    I think de Chastelain was, in the main, a good officer and a good CDS up to his second term. But there’s another component to leadership, and that is doing the right thing even at personal cost. de Chastelain comes up short there.
    I fault him for 1) having subordinates that allowed CAR’s leadership to be replaced just prior to deployment, 2) permitting a sub-unit with well-recognised discipline issues to be deployed and finally 3) not moving heaven and earth to prevent the disbanding of the CAR.
    It was obvious (even prior to deployment) that a particular cadre of individuals within a particular Commando had started to go off the reservation. The regiment’s CO knew of that Commando’s disciplinary issues and specifically requested that it not be deployed.
    Under de Chastelain’s tenure, LCol Paul Morneault (who had identified the problems and requested that 2 Commando stay at home) was replaced and the “bad apples” went on deployment anyway.
    A pack of guys who used the CSA flag as their barracks emblem went off to a predominantly black, Muslim country to enforce a non-existent peace. I see some problems in that arrangement, no matter how storied the officer put in charge.
    de Chastelain is not the guy who gave the orders, I grant you, but it happened under his tenure — along with disbandment — and the senior officer takes responsbility.
    Then there’s the matter of disbandment. You have one problem company-sized unit, of which you have an even smaller core group of renegades who had serious problems with authority and military discipline. Those guys are the problem. Give them their separation papers. Replace the company commander, replace the unit commander if you have to, but to take down the entire structure of the regiment is asinine. By disbanding an entire regiment, he aided the Minister of the day in tarring the reputation of several hundred innocent men — who hadn’t done anything wrong.
    I would have resigned my commission rather than execute a order so heavy-handed, whose punishment did not fit the crime. I know de Chastelain did not agree with the decision and stepped down afterward. The right thing to do would have been to say “This isn’t going out with my name on it, I’m out” and let the more malleable succeeding CDS execute it. He didn’t have the courage to do that, and that puts him on the shit list.