Posts Tagged ‘General McChrystal’

Was General McChrystal right?

May 12, 2011

General Stanley McChrystal was fired last year from command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after Michael Hastings, a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, quoted some of McChrystal’s aides are saying insubordinate things about top figures in the Obama administration.  For what it’s worth, the Pentagon has cleared McChrystal of insubordination.  Their investigators couldn’t verify that the comments were ever made.  McChrystal himself was never quoted as saying anything critical of President Obama.

As a general rule, when somebody is fired from a high-profile job for speaking out of turn, there is a deeper underlying reason for which the comment provides an excuse.  I think this was the case with General McChrystal.  Far from being fired because he was a wild man, I believe that he was fired because of his policy of “courageous restraint,” which was unacceptable both to the troops and to the administration.

Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article laid out the problem.  It began by establishing that that General McChrystal was a hard-charging, tough paratrooper, not some squeamish pantywaist humanitarian. This established his credentials for asserting that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by firepower alone.  McChrystal said the war in Afghanistan could only be won by winning the allegiance of the Afghan people.  He said this could only be done by understanding Afghan society and, more important, by valuing the lives of Afghan civilians as highly as those of American soldiers, because every killing of an ordinary Afghan means more recruits and more sympathy for the enemy.

He tried to prevent innocent Afghan civilians being killed by mistake at roadblocks.  He asked U.S. troops to exercise “courageous restraint,” to hold their fire when in doubt even though that might endanger their lives and the lives of their comrades.  Without such restraint, American troops will create more new enemies than they kill existing enemies.

The problem with this is that McChrystal asked more than was humanly possible for most human beings.  He had an admirable philosophy of leadership that is well described in the video above, but the troops were not willing to follow his leadership on this.

Hastings’ Rolling Stone article describes a sergeant who challenged McChrystal to come on patrol with him, and see what conditions were like.  McChrystal actually did go on patrol with him, and it was a real patrol, not going through the motions. I don’t think many generals would have done that.  The sergeant was unconvinced.

After President Obama replaced General McChrystal with General David Petreaus, no more was heard of  “courageous restraint.”  Use of drone warfare – flying killer robots – spares the lives in American troops in the short run while unavoidably killing more Afghan bystanders, which, even if you think an Afghan life is worth less than an American life, will increase the number of enemies of the United States.

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Loose lips sink careers

June 24, 2010

General Douglas MacArthur was fired for trying to undermine President Truman’s policy.  General George B. McClellan was fired for lack of aggressiveness against the enemy. General Stanley McChrystal was guilty of neither of these things. He supported President Obama’s announced goals and was unstinting in his effort to carry them out.

He was fired for a different offense – his inability to hold his tongue and make his staff hold their tongues in the presence of a reporter.  If you read the Rolling Stone article, you’ll see that almost all the controversial remarks were made by unnamed aides of General McChrystal, almost were about McChrystal’s political foes and bureaucratic rivals within the government rather than Obama and almost all were off-the-cuff and not in the context of a formal interview.  Nor did McChrystal or any of his staff write the sub-headline about “the wimps in the White House.”

If there is a justification for firing McChrystal, it is that the newspaper article has made him a political embarrassment and also made it impossible for him to work with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and National Security Adviser Jim Jones.

Why didn’t General McChrystal tell his staff to curb their tongues?  Probably Michael Hastings, like many good reporters, had the knack of blending in so that people forgot he was around, and spoke as if he weren’t there.  More importantly, McChrystal and his staff were probably used to dealing with beat reporters who dealt with them on a continuing basis and didn’t want to burn their bridges.

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