With General Stanley McChrystal relieved of his command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the 55-year-old's career appears effectively ended. It's worth taking a moment to look back and ask how McChrystal, who also played an essential role in Iraq as the head of the special-ops umbrella organization Joint Special Operations Command, will be remembered. Here are the first takes on his legacy.
- Represents 'New Breed' of Military Commander The New York Times' Dexter Filkins writes, "McChrystal, a fellow at both Harvard University and the Council on Foreign Relations, brought a formidable intellect to the elusive complexities of Afghan tribal and ethnic politics. And he labored to explain the rationale -- through the press to a public increasingly weary of war and skeptical of the effort in Afghanistan -- behind his strategy based on counterinsurgency."
He emphasized the need to win over the Afghan public and focus the fighting on the Taliban heartland in the south. He withdrew troops from peripheral areas and publicly announced military operations well before they began. ...
He issued directives ordering his troops to drive their tanks and Humvees with courtesy, and he made it more difficult to call in airstrikes to kill insurgents because they risked civilian casualties. When his troops killed women and children, General McChrystal often apologized directly to President Hamid Karzai and to the Afghan people.
- Controversial Restrictions on Lethal Forces The New York Times' C.J. Chivers explains that McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy means less airstrikes and artillery, which makes things more difficult for his troops. "As levels of violence in Afghanistan climb, there is a palpable and building sense of unease among troops surrounding one of the most confounding questions about how to wage the war: when and how lethal force should be used."
- Creative Counterinsurgency Genius The Harvard Business Review's Bruce Nussbaum gets a little carried away. "Counterinsurgency is a creative act and McChrystal is the Frank Gehry of modern warfare," he writes. "McChrystal spent his entire career in the most creative sphere of the military, its Special Operations. First as a Ranger, then as head of the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, McChrystal moved in the edges of military circles where an approach and package of methods and tools was developed that corporations and consultants recognize as Design Thinking."
- For Afghans, Just Another General Foreign Policy's Thomas Ruttig sighs, "For most Afghans who usually do not read Newsweek or the Rolling Stone, The General was just another general saying what other generals have said before. What reason could they have that he would actually change things?"
- Liberal, Gay-Friendly Special Forces 'Ninja' The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes, "McChrystal was a hard core operator, aggressive as hell, a JSOC ninja -- but he was also a social liberal who tolerated, nay, welcomed gay people into his inner circle, who disdained Fox News, and who grew increasingly frustrated with his reputation as Dick Cheney's hired assassin. ... If you think about it, the special forces is the quintessence of democratic (and maybe Democratic) ideals -- rank and position based on merit, guaranteed health care, labor protection for civilians. And acceptance of gays."
- Ended the Reliance on Air Strikes Wired's Noah Shachtman explores the "radical shift in the approach to Afghanistan." "McChrystal issued strict guidelines forbidding air strikes except in the most dire circumstances. The number one priority in Afghanistan, he declared, was to secure the population so normal life could resume. The US needed to rob the militants of popular support, he argued. Dropping bombs only disrupted lives and drove people into the arms of the Taliban. So civilian casualties from air strikes had to stop -- immediately." This "hasn't been easy."