General Stanley McChrystal, who should have never been hired as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was let go yesterday for disparaging remarks he made about President Obama and his administration in an already historic Rolling Stone magazine interview. Although the General showed remorse, this was no slip of the tongue. What is baffling is that McChrystal doesn't provide one substantive reason for his contempt of civilian leadership and, if anything, it's the American people who should have contempt for Obama for trusting McChrystal in the first place.
One of McChrystal's assistants told Michael Hastings, the journalist from Rolling Stone, that the General felt President Obama was unengaged and ill-prepared during their first one-on-one meeting. The aide added: "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him."
To paraphrase another commanding officer - the great Colonel Nathan R. Jessup: "You're Goddamned right he didn't!" If President Obama clearly knew McChrystal, the General would never have even been considered for the position because of a shady record that included covering up the fact that former NFL player Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, so he could award Tillman a posthumous Silver Star for valor. Obama refused to heed the warnings of Pat's parents. Pat Tillman Sr. even said publicly about McChrystal: "I do believe that guy participated in a falsified homicide investigation."
Obama accepted the General's resignation "with considerable regret", but if he truly felt any it was fleeting because the White House turned this fiasco into a blessing shortly after by placing the war into the wiser, steadier hands of General David Petraeus - who now has his work cut out for him.
The only thing McChrystal is sorry about is this latest attempt to publicly extort the administration failed. Don't for a second believe that this was some "lapse in judgment" - Hastings was embedded with these boys for 30 days - which is a bloody long lapse.
If there's any doubt ask Hastings, who was interviewed on NPR yesterday and said there was no doubt the General knew everything was being recorded, there was no doubt they were trying to send a message to Washington and there's no doubt the story is accurate because McChrystal or any of his associates have yet to deny a word of it.
McChrystal has attempted to use the bully pulpit and the press to drive policy in the past. As Hastings pointed out in his article, last fall he lambasted Joe Biden during a speech in London because he didn't agree with Biden's counterinsurgency strategy. Even worse, a year ago McChrystal leaked an analysis to the press that was tantamount to putting a gun to President Obama's head. The report concluded that if McChrystal didn't get 40,000 additional troops, the entire Afghanistan mission was in jeopardy.
McChrystal's motives are somewhat unclear in this latest stunt as is his rationale for trashing the President. One gleans that the General didn't want diplomat types doing the work of diplomats. And there was some sense of frustration that perhaps he wasn't getting what he needed.
First of all, if he wants to see what it looks like when military leaders call the shots take a look at Pakistan. Secondly, Obama listened to the military and gave them near exactly what they wanted and look where that got us. Obama ignored all the pansy cultural and anthropological experts that said the effort was essentially futile - that the cost in blood and treasures wasn't worth the benefits. Now, on the eve of the Kandahar operation they've stalled it and now everyone is saying this conflict cannot be won militarily - only politically.
Whatever the reason, I wonder if McChrystal sees the damage he has done and the risks he has taken because of his ego. Troop morale is already low, and this international embarrassment isn't going to rekindle spirits. Not to mention that he has emboldened the enemy. According to Newsweek the Taliban are finding all of this amusing. A former Taliban minister under Mullah Omar said:
"What we are seeing is the mindset of a U.S. general and other commanders who are getting mentally ready for failure, so they criticize and make jokes about the president."
The most disturbing aspect isn't the amount of disrespect the General has shown for America's Commander-in-Chief, or the extremely poor judgment in nakedly displaying such disregard in front of a rock magazine journalist. Most concerning is the evident fomentation of this disgust among his direct reports, and the potential for these ideas and attitudes to have permeated the ranks. One wonders to what extent these opinions have infected the soldiers on the ground. Is General Petraeus going to have to first focus on winning back the hearts and minds of our own troops?