In the General-McChrystal-gets-his-ass-canned story there is an underlying supposition—that Stanley McChrystal is a moron.
I’m not buying it.
More likely, the Rolling Stone article served as a poorly worded resignation letter. General McChrystal hardly seems like a man to quit especially on something as important as the war in Afghanistan and the men who revere him. Yet clearly he felt Washington was failing to deliver the tools he needed to win the war and he ultimately feels this war in unwinnable (an assessment I share). How could he extract himself from a position in which he felt he was trapped into executing a losing strategy? And how could he do so in a manner that facilitated greater contemplation of his concerns?
Retired General Barry McCaffey has commented that “The policy surrounding [McChrystal] has been too unstructured, too incoherent, too little commitment.” Commenting on the roles of the major players in the policy development and implementation, McCaffrey asks, “What’s the responsibility of Ambassador Holbrooke, of Eikenberry, of the various free agents in this whole process?”
It was only eight months ago that McChrystal found himself in hot water for publicly advocating a broader strategy focused on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people but which would require an infusion of 40,000 more US troops. President Obama, in a speech at West Point, seemed reluctant when promising 30,000 more soldiers yet the Afghan war has not improved since they began arriving leaving McChrystal with the uneasy feeling that Afghan hearts and minds are not to be won, at least not in a manner facilitating a US victory in the region.
Bringing his concerns before the American people and raising them once again to President Obama and Congress required a new communications strategy. If forcing a policy review and public referendum on Afghanistan required him to commit hara-kiri then so be it. In fact, according to ABC’s Jake Tapper, it was McChrystal himself who pointed out to the White House that he had compromised the mission. Those aren’t really the words of a man desperate to keep his job.
There are, in fact, very few quotes directly attributable to General McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article. Most of he derogatory comments were overheard by its author Michael Hastings and came from the mouths of staffers and assistants. Why was Hastings allowed such access to private conversations and events where alcohol loosened lips in the first place? McChrystal’s PR advisor, Duncan Boothby–since sacked–is hardly a neophyte; and Rolling Stone’s reputation for immersion journalism is well known. There is significant plausible deniability in the context. Almost to a man, those quoted would certainly point out that if conducting a proper interview their words would have been more decorous and supportive of US policy. Rather, they’d continue, they were just venting and while this event is unfortunate, it certainly wasn’t insubordinate. At least, that would be my story.
Phase I of McChrystal’s plan is complete—he has removed himself from this debacle and done so in a way which preserves his integrity and paints him as a brutally honest truth-teller—no one’s lap-dog he.
Phase II—the President’s review—seems clearly to have fallen on deaf ears so far, though it was successful in providing the Obama administration an opportunity to carefully review its own policies in light of the current situation. While demoting another American hero, General David Petraeus, to McChrystal’s old job, Obama said, “This is a change in personnel not in policy. We will not a miss a beat because of the change in command in the Afghan theater.”
Phase III—a review of Afghan policy while Congress considers a new $33.5 billion supplemental appropriation bill—may yet be effective. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has denied a link between the bill and McChrystal’s ouster, but Kate Hunter, writing in Roll Call (June 24, 2010), comments that liberals are seeking a delay on the vote “until ‘serious questions and concerns’ about the war in Afghanistan that were raised in an explosive Rolling Stone article have been addressed.”
As McChrystal dusts off his resume and begins considering high paying consulting jobs, one thing is clear to me—this was a win/win/win/win strategy. McChrystal gets to leave with his reputation in tact, Obama has a chance to reflect, Congress has a chance to get involved, and the American people, from both parties, must pause and consider why such a well respected General is so concerned about US strategy in Afghanistan.
It makes more sense to me that this was a well thought out strategy with defined goals rather than a week-long exercise of poor judgment by a collection of ambitious, successful leaders. So, yeah, I’m not buying the moron-thing.