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Stan McChrystal

If you read one magazine article on the war in Afghanistan this month, this is a good one to pick. It's a bit long, and filled with bias, but also very entertaining, interesting, informative, and thought provoking:


Earlier this week, before the article came out publicly, I heard that McChrystal was called into the Oval Office to defend himself and explain the article to Obama. My first thought was, "What is this, 5th grade? If you say nasty things behind the teacher's back, you get sent down to the principle's office... but I guess if you're a 4 star General and you get drunk with a bunch of guys from Rolling Stone and make a few inappropriate remarks, you get sent down to the oval office?" I hadn't seen the article, but I felt fairly sure Obama would just give him a stern lecture and send him back to Afghanistan to finish the job. I was surprised and had to re-evaluate my assessment when I learned a day or two after that the outcome of the Oval Office meeting was his resignation and replacement by General Petraeus. Now that I've finally read the article, I find myself questioning Obama's wisdom in replacing him again.

There were a lot of lines I considered quoting from the Rolling Stone article, but there's too much there to focus on any one thing. I'll just make some general comments.

I suspect that Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone constructed a lot of the narrative here, painting both McChrystal and Obama in a particular light deliberately, and selecting choice comments from him and his top aides that fed into the defiant "runaway general" narrative. But still, he provides enough anecdotal support for that narrative that it's hard to imagine it's not at least half true.

It sounds like Stan apparently has always been rebellious, and was quite the troublemaker at West Point... always having a bit of a problem with authority, and wanting to do things differently than his superiors wanted, modernizing tactics, etc. I found myself wondering whether that's the worst kind of person to have in the military or the best kind. Either way, it's pretty interesting.

Rolling Stone I think has traditionally leaned towards an anti-war stance, so a lot of the article seems a bit slanted towards criticizing the futility of the war. McChrystal himself, on the other hand, they actually paint as seemingly a pretty awesome guy. Reading the article, not only do I find myself admiring him for his rebellious spirit and his tendency for saying whatever is on his mind rather than being polite. But I also find myself admiring and sympathizing with him on doing what appears to have been a top-notch job on the very difficult problem of trying to minimize civilian casualties. Perhaps the most interesting part to me is hearing how hostile some of his subordinates are to him, because of his strict "don't shoot unless you're absolutely sure it's not a civilian" policy. According to a lot of his men, this policy of his puts all of their lives in danger. While I think there is something to be said for both sides there, I really sympathize with the difficult task he must face in having to convince them that it's worth it to be careful, even if it puts your own life in danger. I cannot imagine having a job that stressful, or having to walk that fine of a line every day while getting yelled at from both sides of the fence for causing deaths due to opposite mistakes. I also tend to suspect that the dehumanization effect tends to bias soldiers towards thinking it's more insane than it is to ask them not to shoot first and ask questions later... so *probably* McChrystal is in the right here. Of course, these are the kinds of decisions that you can never know for sure... you just have to pick something that feels right, I guess, and go with it.

There was a Rolling Stone article only shortly before this one, which attacks Obama and blames him for "causing" the BP oil spill. So Rolling Stone seems to be pretty hardcore anti-Obama lately. I still question Obama's wisdom in replacing McChrystal, because it sounds like the real enemy/critic of the Obama administration is Michael Hastings and Rolling Stone, not Stanley McChrystal. Hastings from what I can tell, mostly just used a few of McChrystal's frustrations to attack Obama and call into question the entire point behind the war. Nevertheless, I can see how having an article like that out calls for a definitive response. Perhaps politically, it was the only move he could make. Or, perhaps there is more wrong with McChrystal than we know about.

Actually, there was one big negative thing in there about McChrystal... his apparent active involvement in covering up a case of friendly fire. So if you believe Rolling Stone, perhaps his motivation for being so strict about rules of engagement is more to minimize negative *publicity* surrounding civilian casualties, rather than to minimize the casualties themselves. This is disturbing, if true. But again, it's hard to tell.

Maybe Rolling Stone is right, and the war in Afghanistan is, like Vietnam and to some extent Iraq, the kind of war we can never win... and it will just drag out longer and longer, needing more troops at each stage. But given their bias, I don't necessarily know whether to buy that. Maybe we have already made a difference. Maybe we have already made progress, despite their dismissal of the word "progress" as a poor substitute for "victory". And perhaps it is easier to pull out from there in a reasonable timeframe than it was from Iraq, because the region is not quite as unstable? I wish I knew more about this. I do feel a bit worried though, that maybe McChrystal is right, and Joe Biden is wrong... namely, that this is not a war we can "win" in a short time and then just go home. I really wonder what general Petraeus's thoughts are on this.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
Your 5th grade analogy is inapt; this is more like the teacher saying nasty things about the principle in public, where students at the school can hear. Running down the boss in public will generally get you fired from any workplace, but the implications are particularly severe for a general talking about his elected, civilian commander-in-chief -- See Fred Clark and Chris Bowers on why McChrystal needed to go.
Jun. 27th, 2010 10:31 pm (UTC)
You do realize you're sympathizing with a war criminal, right? What'd he do at JSOC?
Jun. 28th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
Didn't realize that, no. What would you say his "war crimes" are?

What'd he do at JSOC?

I don't know, do you?
Jun. 28th, 2010 03:51 am (UTC)
Yes. Remember, I'm a veteran - Airborne Infantry. I was *in* JSOC.

As for what he has been up to, I think I've asked this before, but don't you watch Democracy Now!?
Jun. 28th, 2010 04:20 am (UTC)

Yes. Remember, I'm a veteran - Airborne Infantry. I was *in* JSOC.

Actually I had no idea you were a veteran. And wow, you were *in* JSOC?? That is quite interesting.

As for what he has been up to, I think I've asked this before, but don't you watch Democracy Now!?

I used to listen to Democracy Now a fair amount on NPR... didn't realize there was a video version of it. Is that something you can order or does it air somewhere? (I haven't had a tv in years, but have been considering getting one lately.)

I have listened to several commentaries that Noam Chomsky has given recently, on Alternative Radio. And he did mention a decent amount about the war in afghanistan. Just a few nights ago, I heard him say that he suspected the real reason we were in afghanistan was to build a giant oil pipeline through there. Not sure where he is getting that from though.

Anyway, I have never deliberately sought out these programs, I just happen to have the radio on some times and they come on... so I'm not sure when they air. For some reason, I haven't heard Democracy Now come on since I was living in Santa Cruz (a little over a year ago)... although it may just be the times when I happen to be listening.
Jun. 28th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
It's available in most any format you might need: http://www.democracynow.org/
Jun. 28th, 2010 01:42 am (UTC)
I was thinking (from not having read the article) that Hastings really is the one that was being insubordinate here rather than McChrystal. But then I realized that since McChrystal hasn't publicly distanced himself from the article, it really is fair to attribute to him everything that is said in the article, including the attitude. And apparently for the military, it's very important to never publicly criticize or question your commanding officer, especially if you yourself are the commanding officer of other people.

I still haven't read the article (I don't really trust Rolling Stone's political reporting, though it can give an interesting sensationalist slant to various things), so I don't really have any thoughts on the substance.
Jun. 28th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
hmmm... interesting point about not distancing himself. Well, I think he at least said that doing the interview was a mistake. Although I can't remember where I read that, and I suppose that falls short of saying "this article is slander" which you'd think he would have said if it were untrue.

Boy do I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the oval office, though, when he had to face Obama. Perhaps that made a difference too... like, maybe Obama figured he would decide based on McChrystal's attitude when he came in, and on how apologetic he was. And if the article is even half true, McChrystal may have had too much pride to kneel down and kiss Obama's ring and beg for forgiveness. (Ok, I'm taking some liberties with that a bit!)

I still haven't read the article (I don't really trust Rolling Stone's political reporting, though it can give an interesting sensationalist slant to various things)

Yeah, that was my thought... the whole thing seems sensationalist and slanted, and it's more like you're listening to someone tell you a story with the occasional bit of fact here and there to link together the plot they're making up... as opposed to reporting a collection of facts. But it's a fun story nevertheless.

Also, I learned the word COINdinista from it, and other things about the military.
Jun. 28th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
As I understand it, McCrystal has a good bit of contempt for the civilian leadership of the military, and yet, his job in Afghanistan is to... build civilian leadership. That, in and of itself, is problematic, but civilian leadership of the military is one of the cornerstones of democratic society. Once the military is running the military, then all bets are off, because the people with the guns are no longer civilian. This is not 5th grade.

I haven't read the article yet, nor have I watched much news about this. However, ANY higher up in the US military who believes that undermining the President (any president) is a good idea is someone I'm alarmed by.
Jun. 28th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)

However, ANY higher up in the US military who believes that undermining the President (any president) is a good idea is someone I'm alarmed by.

If anything, I think the only complaint about the President himself he allegedly made (and this comes secondhand from one of his aides) was that when he first met Obama, Obama seemed kind of nervous and intimidated by all the military people. I got the sense that if he were to criticize Obama about anything, it would be that he wasn't actively engaged enough to know what's going on. No indication that he wanted to "undermine" him, from what I read. Very possibly some resentment, although mostly towards others in the Obama administration that he has to deal with rather than Obama himself.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 29th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
The War Is Futile, and Crazy
Jun. 29th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Re: The War Is Futile, and Crazy
So this guy thinks that the point of the war is to hunt bin Laden, and that we've forgotten the point and it now has no point at all? He doesn't seem to understand what the Taliban is or what they stand for.

This guy is scary. He says that he thinks the original invasion of Afghanistan was justified because it was about "retribution". Wow, that's incredibly disturbing. Retribution is making someone hurt because they hurt you. That may be a valid justification for punching someone in the face after they just slapped your wife, but it is never a valid justification for war! I can see how Bush may have tapped into some rightwing sentiments there to garner support for it, but that was never the justification from either party from the point of view of the actual people in charge.

Retribution would mean it's entirely driven by emotions, and has no rational justification. A rational justification would be that we're trying to reduce the amount of jihadists out there training terrorists and trying to encourage Muslims to take up fundamentalism, and to hate the West and take up arms against America and its allies. The Taliban does all of these things, whether or not bin Laden or the rest of Al Quaeda is still there. Is it possible for us to make much of a difference? That I don't know, but this guy is missing the point if he thinks it is all about retribution and hunting bin Laden. (Although Afghanistan certainly seems like a better place to look than Iraq if that was the purpose.)
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 29th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
Re: The War Is Futile, and Crazy
Fair enough, I should probably have used another word.

Is the word mujahideen any more appropriate or does that have similar cultural misinterpretation issues? I've never understood the subtle differences between those two.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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