June 22nd, 2010

Loose lips: the McChrystal article

General Stanley McChrystal, top guy in Afghanistan, was summoned to the White House with some splainin to do after an incendiary piece appeared in Rolling Stone in which the general and his aides criticized the US ambassador to Afghanistan, as well as President Obama and much of his administration, for its handling of Afghanistan.

I’m no fan of Obama. Nor do I have a military background. And yet even I know that what McChrystal did (or allowed to have done) in this piece is a no-no. Perhaps offering such public criticism is marginally acceptable once a military officer has retired, but certainly not while in the thick of things. Even afterwards, it can be controversial.

There are military codes of behavior and there are informal military traditions, and neither of them encompasses public criticism of a commander-in-chief, no matter what the disagreement. McChrystal could not have been so naive as to know that he did not risk being fired from his command and even further embarrassed and/or disciplined as a result, and blaming it on a civilian press aide (who already been fired as a result of the article) just doesn’t wash.

Disclaimer: I have not yet had time to read the Rolling Stone piece, just summaries and excerpts, although I certainly plan to read it later today. So I don’t know how many of the statements came directly from McChrystal and how many from his underlings. But it almost doesn’t matter; the article was written with his approval.

While I’m sure it was mega-frustrating to deal with Obama and his staff, McChrystal needed to approach this some other way. One wonders why he did not. Was he purposely falling on his sword, sacrificing a career that seemed increasingly worthless under the circumstances, in order to get the truth out about this administration (one he voted for, by the way)?

Was he driven temporarily insane by dealing with a president who seemed to understand nothing about the conduct of war, and who endlessly pondered, Hamlet-like, while McChrystal’s urgent requests for more troops went unanswered? Or did Rolling Stone end up slipping him and/or his aides a dram of sodium pentathol to make them talk?

[ADDENDUM: Here’s an interesting take on the matter from Blackfive.]

34 Responses to “Loose lips: the McChrystal article”

  1. Pablo Says:

    Blackfive nailed it: “Venting about this is part of the normal stress of war, and the remarks are in no way shocking or surprising.” His handlers simply let their guard down around the wrong guy…

    McChrystal is now damaged goods and this is his swan song in the Army. He has been a unique commander, almost monk like. He has made enormous personal sacrifice and led his troops from the front. He is the opposite of the political star fuc*er that characterizes the careers of many generals. I am sad to see his career end like this. Worst of all I think it will ultimately hurt us as a country and Afghanistan may take a few small steps backwards towards a safehaven for Islamic extremists. It’ll be interesting to see who the new guy is.

  2. Artfldgr Says:

    There are other generals and military men calling for him to step down, and tons of other such stuff…

    First bring to a tepid boil
    let simmer, carefully stirring the vegetables
    turn up the heat, drop in a bowling ball from the second floor
    its soup time!

  3. Curtis Says:

    I was a straight-leg, dog-face, ground-pounder for the 101st Airborne Division. What makes an American troop worth more than other soldiers is that he is a thinking soldier. He is cross-trained, up and down trained, and trained not to be a robot.

    That’s why the American soldier, sailor, marine, and flyer is the last and best guarantor of our freedom. He will sacrifice his freedom and life for his country and sometimes that may even mean doing the unthinkable like defying authority. Because our tradition does not demand the fighter relinquish one’s conscience.

    Our Commander in Chief refuses to prove his American identity. He pals around with our enemies. His conduct of the Afghan war is an impeachable offense. And we really don’t know what else. If McChrystal, either consciously or unconsciously, believed he best served his country by exposing Obama, more power to him.

    Most everyone will condemn him and say he stepped out of bounds, but history will recall it as his finest and most courageous moment. I hope he goes all the way with it.

  4. Artfldgr Says:

    General Merrill “Tony” McPeak, Senator Barack Obama’s military advisor and co-chair of his presidential campaign is a longtime anti-Israeli critic who has slammed Israel harshly during his career…

    “The military is supposed to be devoid of politics, in a sense. It’s very, very difficult for an active-duty military person to stand up alone and buck the powers that be in Washington when they are corrupt. It’s very dangerous and very difficult for a person in the military to do that, because you have a set of rules governing you, the UCMJ, which don’t govern the rest of the citizenry. You’ve given up some of your freedom, so to speak. The thing is, though, the military does take an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I never thought about that word domestic in the oath much until Obama came along.”

    the part that is not good is a president firing generals for not being the best general but for not letting Obama be the best general.

    ultimately it was Hitlers inability to let others take over in key points and forcing certain things that costed him the war. (like going after russia, and sukov).

    like the brain trust of woodrow wilson (greer commison or something liek that)
    then FDRs brain trust (called that)
    then came the bean counters of vietnam attempting to create metric inputs (which once created influence the outcome and have little to do with actual winning)
    and now obama.

    what obama wants is a military in service to his goals. a military who is beholden to the Grande Lider, not to the paper they are trying to get rid of.

    oaths are interesting things for people.

    though i do like what moonbattery pointed out:
    Remember, this is the guy Obama refused to meet with for over six months. But Bammy cleared his schedule to meet with a self-centered teenaged lesbian who became a progressive hero after getting her high school prom canceled.

    I have read their papers, and policy stuff and all kinds of stuff from way back in the early days, and there is oen common thread besides the ideology.

    that their actions do not plan for the usurpation of their actions by other states. just as china tried to grab indonesia when russia was about to facilitate the coupe (and ended up making it a free republic not a communist islamic stronghold), unlike russia failure, the game players will not stand to the side and wait.

    read cloward and piven… they actually think that one can do all this and make a net to cause the system to fall into, and there will be no interference.

    that if they collapse the economics, and prevent the ability to borrow they can reform the state. but at the same time, they make no mention or care that such funds are needed to fight to protect the state and its interests.

    ie. no borrowing, ie, no bullets to defend yourself
    ie, no reformation and catch after collapse, but collapse followed by heavy battle over how to divide up a country that has no oil for its machinery to move. limited refining capability that does what when a conflict starts?

    cloward pivin and others all through the past 140+ years, have not made any plans for the outsiders and gangs and others, who will take stage the minute the american military is no longer financially capable.

    they, as always, imagine that things they dont touch will just stand there the same and not change. (a symptom covered in cargo cult definition). raise taxes on wealthy, they imagine that teh wealthy will just sit there.

    too busy playing games on the world stage to make lots of cash… they belive that the others will help facilitate the game, when all they are waiting for is the idiots to disarm their selves to change leadership.

  5. strcpy Says:

    I personally feel that, given what he said, he is one that feels betrayed by Obama and is trying to correct or “die” (career wise) in the attempt. If he were simply falling on his sword then it would have been worse or if he truly felt that things were going mostly as planned I do not think he would be stupid enough to say that in front of a journalist.

    Were it an off the cuff one time remark then maybe he didn’t notice the reporter or something happened that made him say something he otherwise wouldn’t. But these were measured and deliberate words – someone of that rank doesn’t make that kind of mistake.

    Obama has a tough choice – Bush couldn’t have acted on that type of thing and, politically, I do not think Obama can either. Now if Obama can see that or not is another question, though I guess he his saving grace here is that as BP continues to spiral out of control this may be one of his lesser sins in the political world.

  6. vanderleun Says:

    Legal Insurrection asks: “Has Anyone — Including McChrystal — Actually Read The Rolling Stone Article?” and gives his reasons.


  7. Pablo Says:

    “Has Anyone — Including McChrystal — Actually Read The Rolling Stone Article?”

    Makes little difference, in my military mind.

    Neo states “There are military codes of behavior”; true statement. Military Commanders are ultimately responsible for the behavior and actions of their troops. Especially in their trusted inner circle of Executive Assistants. A poor Command climate results in a lack of discipline and ultimately, in cases like this one, the airing of information to the public that should remain private. McChrystal should offer his resignation – the problem is that BO will have a tough time accepting because he had relied so heavily on the General…
    There are, however many Pipe Hitting Special Forces guys out there that would love a chance to take his place…

  8. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    strcpy echoes an idea floated at Blackfive if you scroll down: that McChrystal is falling on his sword, not for Obama, but for the success of the mission, which he sees as imperiled. I have no knowledge whether this is consistent with the general’s character, but merely raise it as one explanation that does fit the facts.

  9. Artfldgr Says:

    Which rolling stone article?
    there is a GREAT one on the tea party just out…

    Rogues of K street…

    the game is about to get dirtier

  10. Pablo Says:

    I have no idea what that means. To fall on one’s sword for the success of the mission. Not a tactic I’m familiar with. We get the mission done – and go home.

  11. Curtis Says:

    So McChrystal is to blame! Sure. He’s a bad man. Obviously undisciplined and a poor example.

    I’ll tell you what. Let’s just hope he’s still around if The One ever tries to use the military as his own political tool. But why should we worry about that. Its not like he doesn’t respect the Constitution or anything. What’s Obama ever done to make us think otherwise.

  12. Artfldgr Says:

    Just read the article…
    what a hack job…

    the whole thing is short on interview, long on comments from aids, curses, the left cliche frat boy, etc.

    basically the left hacked at obama through McC..

    and i am thinking that he gave approval to a draft that was changed after approval.

    like the experts who gave a report on moratorium on drilling, and Obama admin changed it after they approved it..

    i cant see him approving that article if he saw it.

  13. Mr. Frank Says:

    In a perverse sort of way, Obama might serve himself better if he did not fire McChrystal. If the general retires he might really have a story to tell. Keep your enemies close.

    The fact that he voted for Obama makes one doubt his good sense.

  14. grackle Says:

    McChrystal allowed, seemingly even enthusiastically allowed, Rolling Stone access to the backstage of the military theater. Not an embedding in a front-line unit, mind you, such as has been done by the incomparable Michael Yon and other stalwarts, but watching and listening to the General’s staff and the General himself.

    I am suspicious of Boothby, the civilian press advisor that approved the Rolling Stone’s access. Where did he work before working for the military? What is his background? I have no professional experience at all in such work but it would seem to me to be a given that any article about the military coming out of Rolling Stone is guaranteed to be biased against the military and uncomplimentary toward ANY General at best and untruthfully vicious at worst. It HAD to have been done by Boothby on purpose, no professional could be THAT stupid.

    Of course, now that I know that McChrystal voted for Obama, I have to believe that McChrystal must be a type of idiot savant: very good in military matters, stupid in everything else.

    McChrystal must be fired, of course. Incompetence is as incompetence does and McChrystal has proven himself incompetent in carrying out the duties that are routine for any General in his position. He has reached his Level of Incompetence.

    While I am sympathetic to the views of commentors such as Curtis and Artfldgr, we cannot afford to have officers of high rank openly criticizing their civilian bosses. If you can’t keep your trap buttoned in front of outsiders you are OUT, plain and simple. Adios, McChrystal. Thank you for your service prior to your last promotion but your retirement is nigh.

  15. Artfldgr Says:

    and the phraseology is wrong. it sounds more like high school students than military anything.

    things like this opening sentence for the article.

    when barrack Obama entered the oval office, he immediately set out to deliver on his campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led us to invade in the first place…

    i thought the first thing he did was move to play with the census..

    and there are almost no quotes form McC

    no NAMES either…

    says an adviser to mccrystal… “Obama clearly didnt know anything about him, who he was. HER is the guy whos going to run the fckng war, but he didnt seem very engaged. the Boss was pretty disappointed”

    and my favorite, sure to inflame the old left, was to associate their current counter intelligence operations using the term COIN… with a term like COINdanistas… but how many but old guard remember the COINTELPRO espionage stuff?


    so counter insurgency gets the old label COIN…
    no wonder they are all up in arms…

    thats how that FBI agent can tell us today about Ayers group and other projects…

    so there is a LOT of games in this article…

    COINTELPRO began in 1956 and was designed to “increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections” inside the Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA). However, the program was soon enlarged to include disruption of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party (1967), and the entire New Left social/political movement, which included antiwar, community, and religious groups (1968). A later investigation by the Senate’s Church Committee (see below) stated that “COINTELPRO began in 1956, in part because of frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the Government’s power to proceed overtly against dissident groups…”

    and that was in on the third paragraph first page.

    and given that the article is over 13 pages long…
    and we dont do long…

    i have to stop here.

  16. Artfldgr Says:

    Weather Underground (organization)

  17. Artfldgr Says:

    “The generals staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators, and outright maniacs”

    and after that bizarro send off of propaganda and agitprop…

    there is a former head fo british special forces, two navy seals, afghan special forces cammando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots, and at least two dozen veterans and counterinsurgency experts.

    which is the outright maniac?

    they refer to themselves as Team America taking the name from south parkesque sendup of military cluenessness, and pride themselves on their can do attitude and their disdain for authority.

    which do that? the special forces guys?
    [my comments are sarcasm]

    McC banned alcohol and kicked out burger king AND OTHER SYMBOLS OF AMERICAN EXCESS…

    [the author claims to have spent a month with him. so i will guess approval came BEFORE the article]

    almost all the McC quotes are actually off the record comments from unknown aides.. and the term COIN which is COUNTER INTELLIGENCE not COUNTER INSURGENCY… dots the whole thing..

  18. Artfldgr Says:

    TIME’s Joe Klein tells CNN that Gen. McChrystal has submitted his resignation to President Obama.

    [personally i think McChrystal is getting the best out of the deal]

  19. Curtis Says:

    Yep. I’ve pretty much stated an emotional case based on nothing more than “I hope there’s something here to disgrace Obama.” I don’t know that much about McChrystal, but the fact that he voted for Obama! Tell me that’s not true. And although it is true that our last line of defense lies with our soldiers’ convictions against carrying out unconstitutional and immoral orders, obviously that’s not the case here.

    Or is it? I don’t think there is much of a chance that McChrystal’s insubordination is so motivated. Still, this event was planned, reviewed, and approved by McChrystal. Could he have a screw loose?

    I’m beginning to agree with “Powerline’s” diagnosis that our military branches have some corruption. I served back in the 1980’s. Just a two year enlistment (followed by six in the National Guard) for college money. I had the enviable job, as an infantryman, to be the company clerk and RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) and had alot of interaction with Company and Batallion Commanders. I never met a single one I didn’t respect and admire.

  20. Pablo Says:

    Screw loose – No. His “problem”: He’s a killer, not a freaking politician.

    First, look at Lincoln vs. McClennan. Then Truman vs. MacArthur. Then look at Bush vs. Fallon. Then Obama vs. McKiernan.

    President Obama only has two choices here – neither of which is good for the nation he leads.

    COA 1: Accept resignation. Recommended:
    – This is the action fully in line with precedence and is what must be done. A four-star general who does not have the good sense to have a staff that understands what a reporter is – and what his place is in a Representative Republic is – must be brought down, and brought down hard. I have no beef with McChrystal and I know that this will significantly hurt our STRATCOM in the short term; but this needs to be done quickly and publicly.
    —- Pros: In line with other Presidents’ actions. Firmly establishes the COC and the proper civilian-military relationship; Move on. Story will move off the front page earlier.
    —- Cons: Another Commander will need to do the Hill kabuki dance, but the domestic political opposition will not get in the way or make much political hay out of it; new Commander too soon, in the middle of fighting season.

    COA 2: Keep him closer. Not recommended.
    If there is no appetite for COA 1, then this is the only other COA ; there is nothing in between.
    —- Pros: Avoids the domestic problem of another General having to testify on the Hill. Keeps continuity of Command during fighting season and avoids another turnover of the in-theater Operational Commander.
    —- Cons: Both the CINC and McChrystal will have lost face in a public manner and will be looked at as weaker; McChrystal will have more enemies in the Administration’s National Security Structure; McChrystal has shown support for your only significant Democrat rival, SECSTATE Clinton. Worst part again is the CINC will also lose face to much of the world – especially with our enemies. In most of their cultures, a General Officer saying such things would be shot or have an unfortunate helicopter accident. They will not view keeping McChrystal on as a signal that President Obama is a firm leader.

    Both are bad options – but being CINC is often picking the least worst of two bad options. The CINC will be attacked for what ever choice he makes. My advice – look to what is best for the nation in the long run. Keeping the military in its box is critical.

  21. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    After reading the article I have to agree w\that there is little in there in the way of criticism of Obama or his policies by the General.

    Grim has it about right. People rag on the other levels of command. There are frustrations that are blown off that way. Especially in Muslim countries where a good grievance clearing drunken party isn’t possible.
    Much heresay tossed about, but no really insuborodinate quotes from the General himself.

    A similar incident occurred during Bush’s presidency. ADM William (Fox) Fallon was Commander of Central Command (3/16/07 – 3/28/09) when he gave an interview to Thomas P.M. Barnett that was published in Esquire magazine. It was very critical of the Bush policies in Iran. Bush did not make a fuss over it. Fallon was allowed to resign quietly and is now associated with the MIT Center for International Studies.

    Obama may want to establish his bonafides as an a** kicker, and may use the General as an example. We’ll see.

  22. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    A quick addendum:
    The Esquire article was an example of mild insubordination. This Rolling Stone article does not seem to reach that level.

  23. Curtis Says:

    The whole episode shows the wisdom of “hating the sin, not the sinner.” When Rush Limbaugh came out with, “I hope he fails,” it was this distinction that was lost. It’s a dance of bondage.

    I noticed I mispelled battalion as batallion. I did that same thing all the time 20 plus years ago. A mind IS a hard thing to change.

  24. Oldflyer Says:

    I suspect, given the content of the actual article, that there are undercurrents and cross currents in play.

    I have no idea whether McChrystal is actually a competent Commander, or not. The reporting from Afghanistan is so meagre, and so clearly biased in one direction or the other that it is impossible for the average person to get a handle on the situation.

    Obama clearly had no respect for McChrystal as a human being, much less as a Commander. He only met with him–very briefly–after being embarrassed in to doing so. He left McChrystal’s strategic plan twisting in the wind for an extended time; then cut his requested troop strength in half; and finally imposed an absolutely ridiculous deadline. He has kept an Ambassador in Kabul who is seemingly intentionally undercutting McC. I can picture McChrystal as a man frustrated beyond endurance.

    I think this may be another case where Obama lost control of the situation. I expect the WH could have dampened the R/S article if they chose to. Now, Obama has to make a tough decision–and we pretty well know how he handles that responsibility. McChyrstal is a loser here; but no question that Obama is going to be a loser either way. Everywhere you look, you see shambles.

    I have been wondering for some time how long McChrystal would last. I just hope that he does not grovel. (I am sorry to hear that he is apologizing. I hate apologies in this kind of situation). I would tell the General this. Resign. Don’t be talked out of it. Surely, you knew you were burning your bridges, so keep moving forward. After you resign, keep your mouth shut–unless the Dimocrat Congress is stupid enough to call you to testify before the TV cameras. In that case, choose your words carefully, but hit hard.

    Big question. We have heard from the likes of McCain, Lindsey Graham and a host of others. Where is Petraeus? After all he is actually McChrystal’s boss.

  25. Tom Says:

    I guess I get it: We must hold the General to a much higher standard of conduct, discretion, valor, service, and duty than his rotten, lying C-in-C.

    Give me a break.

  26. Les Says:

    I’m finding Michael Yon’s case that McChrystal is not competent more compelling now. Not only because of the article and the lack of insight in letting anything about the President be said (no, I’m not an Obama supporter), but also because of the court martial of Gen. Menard, the stalled offensive in Marja, and the delayed offensive in Kandahar.

  27. gpc31 Says:

    Two quick observations/conjectures:

    1) McChrystal just did the career equivalent of suicide by cop.

    2) The thin-skinned and vindictive Obama can’t stand being dissed (remember, his beef with Jeremiah Wright was not the content of Wright’s rantings but the fact that he dissed Obama in an interview). Obama will necessarily try to humiliate McChrystal. In a perverse way, the ability to call a general on the carpet and make him grovel will bolster Obama’s psyche. Hope McChrystal stands tall.

  28. Nolanimrod Says:

    Driven temporarily insane?

    Does being so annoyed, so disgusted, so frustrated that you no longer care count as that?


  29. Scottie Says:

    The fact the general voted for Obama is not quite so surprising to me – nor the fact that he may be disillusioned now after having dealt with him in his official capacity as C-in-C.

    I have never understood military/former military who were left wingish in their politics – but I do know they exist. Perhaps our hostess will be able to explain it one day…..

    At any rate, my gut feeling is the general finally wised up to the fact Obama was ignoring Afghanistan except for the occasional political advantage he could wring out of it – while the general had to deal with the reality on the ground on a day to day basis.

    Toss in Obama’s political choices regarding ambassadors and his approach to international politics, and I can see a career general getting very frustrated.

    He’s given responsibility/accountability for a specific task – yet is undermined by his superior in carrying out that task.

    That’s a perfect recipe for stress and frustration.

    Whether he’s good at his job or not, I am voting that this may have been a deliberate attempt by the general to force a change in the White House’s approach to the war – even if it did mean personally the end of his career.

    From what I understand, this was a fighting general, seemed to have the loyalty of his subordinates, was well regarded by the troops, and spent his career in an organization who’s main job could have ended up with him being ordered at any time to do something that could get him killed.

    Seems to me the simple end of a career is mild in comparison…..not painless, but definitely not on the level of tragic death or dismemberment in the line of duty.

    I wonder how many other military/former military are reconsidering their choice back in November of 2008?

  30. Adrian Day Says:

    I suppose its fair enough to fire the guy but what is all this all options are on the table crap. Fire him or move on. All options on the table seems to be standard with Obama. He portrays it as though he is a fair-minded man who will consider all perspectives, but my suspicion is that it is really about not being able to make hard decisions or take responsibiliy for them when he does. His fear is that dismissing the General is going to reflect poorly on him somehow, and HE is what its all about.

  31. Curtis Says:

    Stretch. Yawn. Gulp of coffee.

    Man, my world is easy. I don’t want to lose it, thank you very much. And the Afghan war is part and parcel of that weird coalition between muslims and statists to bring down the USA, hence, my easy world.

    There’s probably an inside story but Nolanimrod’s thoughts are what I’m going with for now. It will seem more likely if McChrystal tries to save his job. I heard on the radio that he only sleeps four hours a day, eats one meal a day, and runs seven miles a day.

  32. SteveH Says:

    Considering the coming crash of all things Obama, this General dissing him will enhance his own place in history.

  33. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Curtis said, “What makes an American troop worth more than other soldiers is that he is a thinking soldier. He is cross-trained, up and down trained, and trained not to be a robot.”

    So true! In 1942 when things were not going so well for the U.S., I asked my Grandfather if we might lose the war. His answer: “No, we’ll win. We’re having a bad time now because our boys haven’t got all the tools they need to fight. Once we get them the ships, tanks, artillery, airplanes and weapons they need they will start winning. They’ll win because they are not like the men from the dictatorships. They know how to think for themselves and how to take the initiative. If the sergeant goes down, the corporal will take his place, if the Lieutenant goes down, the sergeant will take his place, and so on. Not only that, our boys know they are fighting to stay free. Our opponents don’t even know what that means. Yes, we will win.”

    It’s nice to know that same wisdom is alive and well. Particularly when it comes from a straight-leg, dog-face, ground pounder who has been there and knows what its all about.

  34. Scottie Says:

    In the latest development, it appears McChrystal is out now, and is being replaced by Petraeus.

    Interesting, as has been pointed out by others already in other blogs, that Obama

    – who denigrated the surge strategy that was proposed by Petraeus for Iraq as unworkable,
    – and declared the Iraq war to be lost,
    – and specifically handpicked McChrystal for the role he has now been removed from,


    – handpicks Petraeus, who came up with the very surge strategy that worked in Iraq, DESPITE Obama’s backbench quarterbacking, to take command in place of his handpicked man.

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