Amidst the recent turmoil in the Middle East, General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the U.S. will benefit from the protest movement in the Arab World, while extremist groups like Al Qaeda will suffer most.
"I'm very excited about it," McChrystal said of the uprisings in the Middle East during a speech at the TED conference. "When I think about the great causes of frustration and extremism, I think [they] often [come] when people don't feel like they have a stake in their own governance. I think the degree to which countries can evolve and let generations feel like they're part of the country and part of the future...helps us in so many ways. I think the big losers are extremist organizations like Al Qaeda because they leverage that frustration."
Yet in the aftermath of the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, as well as ongoing unrest in Libya, Iraq, and Yemen, little is certain. Many are concerned that new dictatorships could replace the autocratic leaders that previously helmed Egypt and Tunisia.
McChrystal, who retired last summer, outlined in broad terms what the United States should aim to accomplish in Afghanistan, while also noting that the Afghan people "have a tremendous reservoir of goodwill for America."
"I hope that what is happening in Afghanistan is that we're trying to give the Afghan people the chance to craft their own future," he said. "I think that they want us to help them build their future. They don't want us to be their future. They don't want us to stay. They want a helping hand long enough to do it."
His presentation at TED, which received a standing ovation, centered on what he has learned from confronting new leadership challenges presented by new technology, personnel changes, and generational gaps that reshaped his interactions with his forces.
"We had so many changes at the lower levels with technology and tactics and whatnot that suddenly the things that we grew up doing were not what the force was doing anymore," McChrystal explained. "So how [do leaders] stay credible and legitimate when they haven't done what the people they're leading are doing?"
He described the difficulty of having to rely on email, phone calls, and video teleconferencing to command, communicate with, and inspire confidence in a team of people spread across 20 different countries. He also recalled speaking with a young ranger in Afghanistan who said he had been in sixth grade during the 9/11 attacks. Experiences such as these, said McChrystal, "forced me to become a lot more transparent, a lot more willing to listen, and a lot more willing to be reverse mentored from lower -- and yet, you're not all in one room."
He added that this novel set of challenges has helped him to see personal relationships as "more important than ever," serving as the "sinew that hold a force together."
McChrystal also shared the "eternal question" he poses to himself every time he jumps out of a plane: "Why didn't I go into banking?"