What We Haven’t Heard About the McChrystal Fiasco


body language


…..all we’ve heard thus far in terms of the McChrystal fiasco is second and third hand background noise. There is an essential element of this mess still missing; General McChrystal’s own account of what he actually said, did, and thought; and in what context. … It seems as though Hastings wrote about an interview with the general that never took place.

I’ve listened to the apologists, assassins, pundits, and intellectuals blather about General Stan McChrystal. I’ve also finished reading Michael Hastings Rolling Stone article about ‘The Runaway General’. I am left with two thoughts. First; it is a true bit of American media culture that the cover of Rolling Stone hit the newsstands sporting a half nude Lady Gaga promising to ‘tell all’ while brandishing twin machine guns and the real money maker piece of journalism on McChrystal ‘telling nothing’ was relegated to an afterthought down by the barcode with a teaser about why HE is losing the war. Quintessential irony.

The second and more salient thought is that all we’ve heard thus far in terms of the McChrystal fiasco is second and third hand background noise. There is an essential element of this mess still missing; General McChrystal’s own account of what he actually said, did, and thought; and in what context. That will emerge when he writes his book. I will gladly fork over the cash for the hardcover. From personal experience, there is always another side to the story and most often the one who maintains their silence is the one who has the most pertinent information that sheds the broadest light.

Was it a hit piece? Not really. Was Rolling Stone a smart choice for the general to have following him and his crew around? No. Should General McChrystal have been relieved of his command? Yes. A USA Today/Gallup poll reports that a majority of Americans agree with the decision to relieve General McChrystal however one should not take from that an overall approval of Obama’s handling of our military.

The fact that he was relieved of duty is something that only one who has spent time inside the armed forces fraternity can grasp with a certain non-partisan matter of fact-ness. It’s just the way it is, you know – “the code”, and that makes the whole situation somewhat of a conundrum. 

Stan McChrystal is a smart man; spooky smart. One can easily construct a scenario whereby he set this whole chain of events in motion to achieve the exact result in the end. There are many ways to connect the dots that lead to a perfect storm with predictable results where ideologies, politics, personalities, and methods collided in a place where one party was emotionally entrenched with the welfare of his troops and a certain outcome while the other party was inexplicably detached. To a man like Stan McChrystal, life or death decisions to those that wear suits in Washington happen in terms of up or down votes, while they mean something totally different to those wearing helmets and desert camo; ergo his deep emotional attachment to a specific course of action and the necessary tools to get the job done and get his troops home.

The interesting thing about the Rolling Stone piece is that for all the brouhaha there is only one quote directly attributed to the general, and that in regard to Vice President Biden with only tepid rancor. The piece is heavy on ‘off the cuff’ derogatory comments made by McChrystal’s aides about administration officials and light on hard core evidence that McChrystal himself was overtly insubordinate. It seems as though Hastings wrote about an interview with the general that never took place.

The broader view is of one man’s confidence in another being slowly dismantled. Unfortunately this was happening to both parties at the same time and for vastly different reasons. In the end, the President always wins and General McChrystal had to go.

The view from the back row is that Barack Obama never appears humbled by the presidential power he has been given but rather seems to relish in it. He has shown little resilience to build bridges with those who don’t buy into his ideology or cult of personality. History will record that McChrystal (and staff) was sacked for violating a key element of leadership protocol however he will be vindicated when the paint is dry on the bigger picture of our Afghanistan effort. 

Rolling Stone published and many experts have quietly held that the civilian/military team in Afghanistan has been dysfunctional from day one. Onsite diplomatic appointees don’t see eye to eye with military leadership, the administration has wavered on manpower and strategy while openly disparaging the brightest military minds that developed the counterinsurgent strategy. President Obama has appeared distracted and distant to his battle field commander, Ambassador Eikenberry and Obama envoy Holbrooke became toxic with Afghan President Karzai and other locals in the arena, National Security Advisor, retired General Jim Jones often seemed to have his own agenda, and Vice President Biden has continued to be McChrystal’s most vocal strategy adversary. And this is the roster of players which President Obama assembled for General McChrystal to prosecute the “war of necessity”. I thought building an effective team was a prerequisite to Community Organizing 101.

So here’s Stan McChrystal, a proven warrior and political supporter of Obama with simmering doubt about his president’s ability to manage the military and the war he has been charged with winning. He also knows that the imposed July 2011 deadline to get the job done is self defeating, harmful, and antithetical to a COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy that the president has proclaimed he fully supports. What could have been a socio-military victory, albeit in the long run, is now a preordained retreat wherein McChrystal would bear the blame for Washington’s mismanagement. Have you heard of Viet Nam?

What would Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen think if Obama were to say “… our timeline to fight the BP oil disaster will draw to a close in September 2010 …. my intention is to begin pulling our assets from the gulf at that time…” –or- what would Sec. Clinton think if the administration announced “…I have imposed a December 2010 deadline for our peace process efforts in the Middle East. We will begin to draw down our diplomatic personnel as of that date”?

These are ludicrous thoughts however there are those that believe putting an artificial end date on our efforts to duplicate the Iraqi success in Afghanistan is somehow logical. One would have to think either we’re in it to win it, …in it to stop the leak, …. in it to gain peace in the Middle East – or what’s the sense?

Rolling Stone portrays a Patton-esque picture of a rogue general with a love for the mission and a disdain for political theater. He has a genuine affinity for his troops, talks their language, and embodies everything that comes with his difficult and dangerous lifestyle. He dislikes D.C., pomp and circumstance, people that only talk a good game and those that don’t understand or can’t stomach the relentless dirty work that is essential to winning a war. In other words; Stanley McChrystal and Barack Obama are polar opposites. General McChrystal has a right to dislike anyone on a personal level – even those within his chain of command. He simply can’t make it public, ala Douglass MacArthur. Rolling Stone failed to provide this evidence.

My disappointment in this sad state of affairs is with the comportment of his staff and their ‘too cozy’ relationship with a journalist whose magazine and agenda were never covert. His staff was comprised of career soldiers that had been around long enough to know that nothing is off the record, even in some bar in Paris, and one of their most important jobs is to protect their boss. The best way for them to have done that would have been to do what their boss is doing now; keeping his inner thoughts to himself.

We’ll have a much clearer picture when McChrystal cuts loose in his book. But then again, he’s probably too honorable to play that card.


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