I just got off the phone with a retired military man, with more than 25 years experience, who has worked with Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the Pentagon. His reaction to McChrystal’s performance in the new Rolling Stone profile? No surprise at all.
“Those of us who knew him would unanimously tell you that this was just a matter of time,” the man says. “He talks this way all the time. I’m surprised it took this long for it to rear its ugly head.”
The amazing thing about it is there’s no complaints from McChrystal or his staff about the administration on any substantive ground. After all, McChrystal and his allies won the argument within the White House. All the criticisms of Eikenberry, of Jones, of Holbrooke, of Biden are actually just immature and arrogant snipes at how annoying Team America (what, apparently, McChrystal’s crew calls itself) finds them. This is not mission-first, to say the least.
In fact, you have to go deep in the piece to find soldiers and officers offering actual critiques and what they offer is criticism of McChrystal for being insufficiently brutal. Everyone of them quoted here is a mini-Ralph Peters, upset because McChrystal won’t let them “get our fucking gun on,” as one puts it.
So far, McChrystal hasn’t earned enough leash by winning anything. Regardless of what one thinks of the current C-in-C, Obama is still the man elected by the people to run the executive branch and the military. The picture this article paints is one of a lack of discipline and respect, and the White House has every right to demand an apology and replace McChrystal with someone who understands better the subtleties of overall command and its politics.
The article is far more subtle than the tizzy lets on. And the tizzy ignores the real moral of the story, revealed after five pages of eye-popping revelations. McChrystal’s counter-insurgency plan is failing. It’s failing not because some of his aides said mean things about Biden, and not because he’s got a long-running spat with Karl Eikenberry, our Ambassador to Afghanistan. It’s failing because the Special Ops guys, whom McChrystal led killing bunches of people in Iraq, are not hard-wired to win hearts and minds.
Hastings obviously thinks counterinsurgency is a scam, and the real thrust of the article is not so much anti-McChrystal but anti-COIN. I did not feel Hastings made any effort to include arguments for the current strategy despite having conducted a lot of interviews...In a weird way, Hastings is making the argument to readers of Rolling Stone (Rolling Stone!) that counterinsurgency sucks because it doesn't allow our soldiers to kill enough people. What, pray tell, is Hastings' alternative to counterinsurgency? Disengagement from Afghanistan? Okay, but what would the costs and benefits of that disengagement be? I am frustrated by the reluctance of the legions of counterinsurgency skeptics to be honest about -- or even discuss -- the costs and benefits of alternatives. Some do, but not many.