The McChrystal Mess

Today’s bombshell is the Rolling Stone article about Gen. Stanley McChrystal. In case you’re unable to have the web fed to you intravenously throughout the day, as I do — General McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, and his aides badmouthed the Obama Administration. In print.

I’ve been trying to understand precisely what’s wrong with General McChrystal, and my impression is that he’s an asshole. This could be wrong, of course, since I never met him. Alex Pareene provides a more nuanced overview. A consensus is forming that the General feared the President wanted to end the Afghanistan campaign, and McChrystal seems to have thought the interview would stir public opinion against Obama and toward continued military operations in Afghanistan. That was a really stupid thing to think, but there it is.

As Pareene says, “the story presents a counterinsurgency expert general who got literally everything he wanted from an initially (and understandably) reluctant White House, and who is still childishly peeved that anyone in the civilian leadership ever had doubts to begin with.” See also Marc Ambinder.

The military’s subordination to civilian authority is a time-honored principle in the U.S. going back to the beginning. Generals who forget that principle tend not to be remembered well. George McClellan and Douglas MacArthur come to mind, suggesting that we need a rule about not promoting anyone with a “Mc” name above the rank of colonel. And McChrystal needs to be relieved of command asap.

31 thoughts on “The McChrystal Mess

  1. I agree that McChrystal needs to go.
    However, this is a no win for Obama.
    They right will shriek, if he’s canned, “Obama stabbed the military in the back in Afghanistan by getting rid of McChrystal!” unless we “win” (which is highly unlikely, since victory has never even been defined).
    And if Obama doesn’t can him, they’ll say that he’s a typical Democrat, who as the civilian Commander in Chief, doesn’t know how to handle the military when he should take charge (whose protocol really does indicate that the General needs to get shit-canned).
    Obama as a sort-of Janus figure:
    ‘Chicago Gangsta Thug,’ if he cans him.
    ‘Obambi,’ if he doesn’t.
    See? It’s a conservative WIN/WIN.

    Too bad General McChrystal-meth didn’t keep his underling’s mouths shut. He really should have known better.
    PS: McChrystal was the guy behind the Pat Tillman cover-up fiasco, so, not enough bad things can happen to him, in my opinion.

  2. What an egotistical man. He sure is full of himself. He dosent seem to have any common sense though. Get rid of him Mr. president. Better still send um all home and end this bs war.

  3. I am amazed that McChrystal was so stupid. Not the usual behavior for a high ranking member of the military.

  4. “I’ve been trying to understand precisely what’s wrong with General McChrystal, and my impression is that he’s an asshole”

    Odds are you are right, In my brief military career (only 2 years, when I joined in ’81’ you could get a 2 year hitch and a pile of cash for college if you took one of two really crappy combat MOS’s) I learned quickly that few officers made it above the rank of lt. colonel without being a real backstabber. Hell most officers of any rank could have little to do with us lowly enlisted folk, but full bird colonels and up are treated like royalty and it goes to their heads rather quickly. So yeah I’d bet old McChrystal is real four star asshole. I hope Obama fires his ass.

  5. “I am amazed that McChrystal was so stupid. Not the usual behavior for a high ranking member of the military”

    Either excellent snark or you must have never served. Stupid is a reqirement for advancement and survivial in the miltary.

  6. That was a really stupid thing to think

    Which makes me think he’s been watching Fox News and listening to right-wing gasbags whispering in his ear. Too much time in the epistemic closure of the right-wing echo chamber, and he thinks he can best the POTUS in a public pissing match.

  7. Not to be a contrarian, but this information about McChrystal goes against what I thought of him. Anyone remember last year’s long profile about him in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine? He sounded like a really interesting man who wanted to stop killing civilians and actually re-build Afghanistan. The fact that goal probably can’t be achieved is beyond the point… I haven’t read the whole book, but in The Promise, Jonathan Alter makes it sound like Obama met McChrystal at the Olympics event in Denmark and liked him. I don’t understand why the heck he said what he did, Gulag understands Obama’s dilemma today really well. It seems to me that McChrystal probably has to go…

  8. The right wing may bleat about firing him, but being the tough guy is all they respect. It’s OK to be wrong as long as you appear tough (not that I think firing him is the wrong thing.)

  9. As a fleeting first impression (i.e., probably wrong), I sensed maybe McC and his staff were just used to dealing with simpletons (GWB, Rummy) who didn’t ask questions or, heaven forbid, make suggestions. When I read of McC’s exasperation with Richard Holbrooke, I figured, Well sure he pisses you off, Stan, because apparently he’s a lot smarter than you. Holbrooke has a skill for mending what’s been horribly broken, whereas McC’s career centers on “USA ANGRY! USA SMASH!” So I sensed the bully’s abuse of the nerd, as well as the warrior’s disdain for the diplomat.

    And I third Gulag’s suggestion that this is an unhappy Lose-Lose for Obama. So many things are these days. That poor guy.

  10. Gulag, if righties are going to go after Obama no matter what he does, he might as well do the right thing and accept the resignation.

  11. I am amazed that McChrystal was so stupid

    I’m not.. I knew how stupid he was when he tried to sell a repackaged hearts and minds pipe dream for Afghanistan. When you exist in an unchallenged intellectual environment without feedback like general McAnalrententive has…it’s inevitably going to result in a distorted reality… and I’d classify that as stupid.

    They should court martial him and bust him down to a Major, and then change his last name to Ego.. This way he can be addressed properly.

    Now his Spartan diet will have a new entree.. He’ll be eating a shit sandwich.

  12. Swami, I had the same thought. Obama says it’s about the war. So demote the guy at least one grade then send him back to do his job with his mouth SHUT. That should shut up the righties as well.

  13. “He’ll be eating a shit sandwich”
    Yeah, and drinking a Zima………
    Good ‘un, Swami!

  14. Another point to consider: the future of the presidency in its power relationship to the military. Obama needs to preserve civilian primacy, not just for himself but for those who come after him.

    Anyone who has ever taught school can tell you that if you are going to have control, you must be consistent on the rules. Hasn’t McC already had a mulligan on this type of thing once or twice? Even if he had thought he was off the record (which he hasn’t claimed), it would have been unwise to say these things. They would have come out sooner or later. And they do nobody any good. If he had brought up his ideas privately to Obama’s face, it would have been different. He has put himself in the headlines.

  15. Nah, I wasn’t commenting on his intellectual capacity. Just that McC didn’t seem to be thinking about his future career. As mentioned, it is the military’s job to follow orders, even if you are a big general. If you have contrary thoughts, you don’t publish them.

  16. If they were saying these things to a reporter, you have to believe they were saying much worse to other people, probably including allies and opposition (Republican) U.S. politicians. Stan has to go, no choice. Hoping there is somebody extremely competent to replace him. (Even to wind down our involvement will require extreme competence.)

  17. Dave S …I agree that Obama should bust him one grade and send him back. My thought is that McChrystal is looking to pull a Palin by exiting his pending failure as a victim of not having his genius understood. When we ultimately pull out of Afghanistan in failure, McChrystal will alway be able to claim that had we followed his superior knowledge we could have had a victory in Afghanistan.

    I think anybody who prides themself on 4 hrs of sleep a night, and being a workaholic should see on the surface that their life is seriously out of balance and they should seek a mental health counselor. Smell the roses, McChrystal… go out and get laid!

  18. Uncledad has made some comments regarding the military that show an amazing lack of knowledge and common sense.

    First, the free education that the students at the five service academies receive is as good as it gets. They certainly have to suffer because they cannot party and chase the opposite sex, they cannot show up to class in jammies and shower shoes, they have to learn how to budget their time and, and this a big AND, they are highly sought after as managers by the biggest corporations in the United States when their initial obligation is over.

    Second. It is not the job of officers to fraternize with enlisted folk. It is the job of officers to be planners and leaders. I absolutely never fraternized with the troops I led. I socialized with people of the same rank that I was.

    Third. Do you think that managers and executives in civilian companies do not backstab? Do you for one second think that the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, has a stellar and lily white record.

    Fourth. I thank you for your service. You made a deal with the gov’t. The gov’t made you an offer. You do a shitty job for two years and the gov’t will pay for college. You did it, they paid. Fair enough.

    But in your two years, which included Basic Training and AIT, just exactly how many officers above the rank of LtCol did you know well enough to know that most were back stabbers?

  19. Swami, you killing me. I see it all as a military ploy. Maybe think that President Obama is weak on defense security that seems to be a card that they still want to play.

  20. I have to wonder if he is flubbing things up like this when talking to people in Afghanistan. If he is a plotter and thinker and said this to a reporter, he must have had a reason. I too think he wanted to be kicked out so he could run for president. I say demote him and keep him in. I’ll bet if it cuts into his retirement package he will talk to the president and no one else.

  21. For COIN to succeed, one needs to be intelligent and not be an ass-hole. McChrystal fails on at least one of the criteria, and so does a good portion of the entire occupation. COIN does not work all that well in the real world with real human limitations.

  22. I was in the Navy (enlisted) and I have to agree with Chief. There are good officers and bad officers, and it’s a crude generalization to paint with such broad stokes.

    There are features about the COIN strategey that are commendable, fewer civilian casulties. It would help if the Afghan government wasn’t hopelessly corrupt. It might have worked 6 years ago, but it’s too late. McChrystal isn’t getting the trust or support of the Afghan people. He’s failing and he wants more time and politicos are the timekeepers, the opposition, to McChrystal. He wasn’t smart enough to remember that he answers to the civilian government and for that mistake, he needs to be removed.

  23. Can the C in C just reassign McC? Some wiseacre at wonkette suggested a weather monitoring station in Nome, Alaska, which would be perfect but for its proximity to a certain other infamous sh*t-stirrer. Too much opportunity to plot a coup with Lady Bumpit, I should think.

    I also heard this morning on NPR that Karzai supports McC, which to me is only confirmation of rotten apple-hood. (Oh, and some doof from a libertarian no-think tank, ditto. That makes me suspect the general is a complete loser.)

  24. So McChrystal is dissing Obama etal for incompetence, wrong-headedness…But it was Obama who had to ultimately approve McChrystal’s plan of action in Afghanistan. So are Obama etal incompetent and wrong-headed for approving McChrystal’s plan of action? If so, McChrystal has just shot himself in the foot.

    We used to, during Nam and Korea, say that the term ‘military intelligence’ was an oxymoron. We also were well aware that no military automaton type will ever willingly walk away from a war without complete and total surrender by the enemy. We also had the balls to call the Korean war and the Nam war not wars but police actions. Of course those were the days prior to America being the rogue military state it is now – which makes a good argument for electing McChrystal president in 2012.

  25. I hear that in the corporate world this sort of thing is called a CLM: a Career Limiting Move.

  26. Actually, we might have lost the war if McClellan hadn’t trained the AoP the way he did. He knew how to build an army, he just didn’t know how to use it.

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  28. “But in your two years, which included Basic Training and AIT, just exactly how many officers above the rank of LtCol did you know well enough to know that most were back stabbers”

    Well actually after being assigned the position of supply sergeant (I was an E-4, acting jack E-5) part of my responsibility was to be the XO’s driver (lt. colonel) and at least once a month I was assigned as the Battalion commanders driver (full bird) so I had quite a bit of interaction. I understand the fraternization rules, but that does not prohibit one from not acting like an elitist asshole which most did. I have had much more interaction with high ranking officers in my current job (we do DOD work quite frequently) and low and behold most (not all but most) high ranking officers still act like their shit don’t stink. So Chief I hope that answers your question!

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