Stanley McChrystal Faces the Unfamiliar: Retirement

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Three weeks ago, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was knee-deep in intelligence reports and battle logs, preparing to ramp up the tempo of NATO operations in Afghanistan ahead of a government-wide policy review that begins in November.

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Today, he spends his days on the porch of a well-maintained Victorian-style home for general officers on a small Army base south of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., his wife Ann preparing root beer for his guests.

Everyone from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to members of elite special forces units, to former aides and adjutants has stopped by to pay their respects to a man who revolutionized kinetic counterterrorism operations and had been hand-picked to turn around the war in Afghanistan. Just recently, a study by American economists concluded that his rules of engagement, far from hamstringing American soldiers, had helped to reduce the number of insurgent attacks.

McChrystal was recalled from Kabul and then fired by President Obama for interviews his staff gave to Rolling Stone magazine. The day before the firing, his staff had felt so invincible that they encouraged reporters to assign blame to them, by name, for some of the article's most controversial quotations.

Since then, many have quietly nursed grudges. Predictions that the floodgates would open -- that McChrystal would find a way to share his point of view, that he would find a way to embarrass the military -- have proven unfounded.

"That's not the boss," said an officer who counts McChrystal as a mentor. Indeed, McChrystal's chief aide, Col. Charles Flynn, sent word through McChrystal's informal network of soldiers, many of whom hold some of the most sensitive positions in the government, that they were to keep silent and stay loyal. Aside from a few attempts to dispute the claims of the Rolling Stone reporter about the ground rules set for interviews, they've been silent squirrels.

McChrystal does not watch much American television these days. His reads the Military Times and is fond of BBC's newscasts.

He has not figured out what he wants to do.

At 56, he is younger than most four-star generals, having shot up through the ranks like a rocket. He has turned down several job offers, including one from a Washington consulting firm that would have made him "senior vice president for special projects." McChrystal will not be joining a government contractor. He has let it be known that he will serve in any capacity that President Obama might want him to, but there has been no call from the White House.

UPDATE: McChrystal has apparently also turned down a $180,000 offer from Booz Allen Hamilton.

He retires, officially, today, in a ceremony scheduled for 6:00 p.m. EST. Security will be tight because Secretary of Defense Robert Gates plans to attend, as do most senior generals and admirals in Washington. The media will be allowed in. McChrystal wanted a pool of print reporters only, but the Pentagon prevailed upon him to reconsider. 

He did, but is still not expected to grant any interviews.

Wherever he goes, he will go quietly.

Photo credit: flickr.

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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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