The Night Beat: What the Heck Was McChrystal Thinking?

Good evening.

ROLLING STAN: What in the heck was Gen. Stanley McChrystal thinking? I mean, I know what he was thinking: he was tired of being the victim of what he believes is a concerted effort on behalf of Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and others to undermine everything he was given 18 months to do. He was tired of being perceived in the press as a neoconservative killer, Dick Cheney's hired assassin, or disloyal to President Obama and his staff. He was angry at being blamed for leaking the draft of his report to the President to Bob Woodward. (He did NOT leak the document). He was miffed that a large number of mid-ranking soldiers and battalion commanders and enlisted guys didn't support his strategy. 

What I don't know is which of McChrystal's aides thought it would be a good idea to let his senior staff speak on background to Rolling Stone (!), of all publications, venting McChrystal's frustrations and their own. 

Because if there was ONE thing McChrystal could do to reduce trust between himself and the National Security Council leading up to December's planned policy review, it was to allow a staffer to mock Joe Biden and call the national security adviser a "clown" ... and to put words in McChrystal's own mouth that denigrate Eikenberry.

I don't think McChrystal intended to do this. Nevertheless, he did. And as for whether there was some miscommunication about attribution, or whether McChrystal thought no one would really notice, or whether he thought a tick-tock like this would help his cause ... those questions are unanswerable right now. 

Eikenberry's beef with McChrystal goes back to the time when McChrystal was the Pope. The Pope is the head of the Joint Special Operations Command. The nickname goes back to an off-hand remark that Janet Reno made after failing to obtain information from JSOC after the raid at Waco. (JSOC operators were on the ground to keep watch on their equipment but did not assist in the raid itself.) She called JSOC the Vatican. And the head of the Vatican is ... the Pope.

At some point, I think in 2005, one of McChrystal's task-forces-that-didn't-really-exist did something in Afghanistan that angered Eikenberriy, who was in command of the region at the time. The two men exchanged words and built mutual mistrust. They have not worked well together ever since. McChrystal blames Eikenberry for trying to influence policy by leaking information and by impeding McChrystal's efforts to build better relationships with Afghanistan's fragile government. 

During the strategy review, Eikenberry didn't think McChrystal's surge could work. He told the White House that contractors would have to pick up the slack for years to come. McChrystal insisted that he could execute his COIN strategy with a heavy presence of special operations forces ... and be out in 18 months (i.e, troops would begin to be drawn down). The White House ultimately sided with McChrystal. 

But there were tensions. Even though McChrystal voted for Obama and told him so during their first meeting, he sensed that a number of senior White House aides didn't really believe that the former commander of the military's special missions unit during the Bush-Cheney years was suddenly on their side. National Security Adviser James Jones, who is a bit of cipher to McChrystal's team, may or may not have been one of these aides. No one in the West Wing bought all that liberal internet chatter about JSOC's alleged crimes -- but no one really didn't buy it, either. 

Within hours after today's Rolling Stone story broke, McChrystal was called by the White House, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not happy. 

Neither the Pentagon nor the White House would comment. 

BP BANKRUPT SOON?: The Atlantic's Derek Thompson spoke today with the president of an investment bank about what the banker calls the "reasonably high" chance that BP will file for bankruptcy at some point in order to limit its exposure to liabilities and other penalties. The banker called this outcome "an absolute horror" for the U.S. government. His solution for now? We need to stop treating the company like a pinata and give it space to find short-term capital to pay economic damages to the Gulf economy. More on The Atlantic Business Channel tomorrow.

PRIMARIES TOMORROW: In SC 03, Republican Rep. Bob Inglis is likely to lose re-election because he voted for the TARP, but note also his opposition to the surge in Iraq and the role that he played in Spartanburg County solicitor Trey Gowdy's campaign. In NC 08, Democrat Larry Kissel might catch a break if Republicans nominate Tim D'Annuzio over Harold Johnson. D'Annuzio is a loose cannon, to put it libel-less-ly. ... In South Carolina's gubernatorial race, Nikki Haley is expected to cruise to victory tomorrow night over Gresham Barrett, assuming there isn't a latent prejudice in voters that polls haven't been able to detect. ... With Republican Senator from North Carolina Richard Burr's approval ratings low for an incumbent (even in these times), Democrats nationwide are watching to see who emerges from the state's primary run-off: Elaine Marshall, the secretary of state, or Cal Cunningham, who is backed by the DSCC. This will be a low turn-out election; voters seem to know little about these candidates. ... In Utah, two Tea Party favorites, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, face off for Republican Robert Bennett's Senate seat.  Bennett has endorsed Bridgewater. ... The surprise of the night could be the defeat of Utah's Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat who faces Claudia Wright, a candidate that liberals recruited off of Craigslist. Matheson's district, which encompasses part of Salt Lake City, might be in danger of flipping to the Republicans if Wright wins. ... In South Carolina's first congressional district, Tim Scott, who is black, is facing Strom Thurmond's son. No further explication needed.

ATTEND THESE PANELS: At Symantec's Government Symposium tomorrow, two panels about cyber power feature an unreal assortment of speakers. The first, called "Cyber Warfare, Cyber Espionage and Cyber Crime: What's the Difference?", is hosted by General Dynamic's chief cyber guy, Matt Stern, and includes the cyber section chief of the National Counterintelligence Executive. Also: the senior adviser to the Air Force for intelligence and cyber operations. Another panel is about "attribution" -- who done it -- featuring Nadia Short of General Dynamics, Bruce McConnell, a legend in the cyber field who advises DHS, Jamie Gorelick of Jamie Gorelick fame, and Mark Bregman, Symantec's CTO.
Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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