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Is McChrystal Going to Fallon his Sword?


This strikes me as an exceedingly unwise media strategy for General McChrystal:

(AP)  WASHINGTON (AP) – The top U.S. war commander in Afghanistan told an interviewer he felt betrayed by the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.An article out this week in “Rolling Stone” magazine depicts Gen. Stanley McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.A band of McChrystal’s profane, irreverent aides are quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden and Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.McChrystal himself is described by an aide as “disappointed” in his first Oval Office meeting with an unprepared President Barack Obama. The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.“I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.”Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan only after months of study that many in the military found frustrating. And the White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.

The profile, titled “The Runaway General” emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with McChrystal’s tight circle of aides this spring….


If this story sounds eerily familiar, it is.

The general has a reputation as a straight shooter and a workaholic commander who is 100 % committed to his mission. Anyone even casually paying attention to Afghanistan is aware of the strain between McChrystal’s HQ and the US Embassy in Kabul under Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, himself a retired lieutenant general with tours of duty in Afghanistan in charge of state and military building programs. The leaking of a confidential cable from the Ambassaador that was extremely critical of US strategy under McChrystal most likely poisoned their relationship for good ( though the leak could easily have been from State Department, White House or NSC officials eager to engage in slimy intrigue and ingratiate themselves with the MSM, rather than from the Embassy itself).

I also agree that the timetable and resources that McChrystal must labor under have been deliberately mismatched to the strategic objectives by the Obama administration to a degree best described as “asinine”.

That said, frustrated, straight shooting, honest to a fault and zealous Army commanding generals should not be encouraged to vent their grievances on the record to reporters. Especially about their civilian political superiors. Good things are not going to happen.

Still less should their intensely loyal inner circle and brain trust staff officers come across as “A band of McChrystal’s profane, irreverent aides ” mocking the Vice-President of the United States. While there’s no shortage of things to mock about Joe Biden, active-duty military officers should not be doing it in major media publications. These are the guys who should be running interference for their boss with the press, not making him look worse.

I have sympathy for General McChrystal. There are people in DC who do not have to be accountable as he does, but possess enough authority to get in his way, demand information, waste his people’s time, leak criticism, impose restrictions or whisper in ears and they do not have to accept any responsibility whatsoever for the results of their machinations. It must be intensely aggravating.

But going out and handing these folks knives ain’t smart.


Danger Room reports McChrystal has issued an apology.


SWJ has a round-up.


Rolling StoneThe Runaway General


Tom Barnett says this interview is not like what Admiral Fallon did


Dr. James Joyner is reporting this morning that General McChrystal is out after his meeting with President Obama.

35 Responses to “Is McChrystal Going to Fallon his Sword?”

  1. Miscellany: Fallon Angels « The Committee of Public Safety Says:

    […] Zenpundit: Is McChrystal Going to Fallon his Sword? […]

  2. T. Greer Says:

    When I first saw this article I had trouble believing it. McChrystal is too smart to fall into this trap.

    But then again, many an anonymous official was calling for his head long before this story broke. Absent visible and unambiguous gains McChrystal was doomed to get the axe. I suspect this was simply his attempt to get his side of the story out into the public sphere before the axe came crashing down on his neck.

  3. Eddie Says:

    I doubt he’s done for though. The O Admin doesn’t need that kind of headache now, and I gather Gen. Petraeus would spend some degree of capital to keep him in charge if it came down to it. He is but one piece of the puzzle anyway; the whole AfPak theater is a mess because of our inability to be honest about Pakistan, our military’s own failures (as the profile shows through the relatively honest and insightful eyes of Gen. McChrystal himself and his aides) and the still barely existent ability of our gov’t beyond the military to get "COIN/SysAdmin".

  4. zen Says:

    According to WIRED’s Danger Room, the JCS, Gates and the WH have already made their displeasure known and McChrystal has unreservedly apologized.

  5. Purpleslog Says:

    What a mess. The General is toast. The president has to fire him.

  6. Eddie Says:

    A lot of people are calling for his head or saying he has to be fired, esp. given the Fox Fallon example. Thomas Ricks thinks Gen. Mattis might be put in charge after McChrystal is gone..

  7. democratic core Says:

    As we call upon the military to perform "sys-admin" functions that do not resemble traditional warfare, I wonder if some of the concepts we have had about the role of the military vis a vis civilian leadership have become outmoded.  Perhaps we should move towards more of a Hatch Act view of what the military can do (i.e., stay out of partisan politics), but at the same time, encourage military leaders to speak openly about policy issues.  In the media-saturated world in which we live, I think we ought to hear from the people who actually know what they are talking about.  McChrystal’s remarks, especially about Biden, were intemperate, but I think an apology ought to suffice and that there is no need that he be fired.  The true mark of leadership would be if Obama took some of the criticism to heart – especially about Jones and Holbrooke – and started to focus on the problems that our Pakistan-centered regional strategy have created for any prospect of a long-term solution.

  8. Purpleslog Says:

    "Ricks thinks Gen. Mattis might be put in charge after McChrystal is gone.."

    That would be a pretty darn inspired choice – sounds good to me.

  9. Lexington Green Says:

    Thought experiment:  McChrystal let this story be investigated and written and even saw and approved it in advance for a reason, not because he goofed, or because he was tired or frustrated.  Assuming arguendo that to be so:  What was the reason?  What goal does he achieve either for himself or for some other constituency or plural constituencies by allowing this media event to occur now and in this way?  By doing a "half-MacArthur" (alerting the president’s opponents that he disapproves of the political handling of the war, but not being so insubordinate that he gets fired), does McChrystal get greater flexibility to do as he wants?  Does he create an atmosphere where Obama’s political enemies can push things in a direction that McChrystal thinks will be better?  Does he shape the battlefield so that he or a successor can insist on a longer time-frame to prosecute the COIN-type campaign?  The main thing is not to assume that McChrystal blundered.  Assume that he is a deep thinker and a stone killer who has a strategy of his own.  Assume he is playing five dimensional chess, and just made a major move.  Why that move?  Why this way?  Why now?  To what end? 

  10. J. Scott Says:

    DC, In a perfect world I would agree with your conclusion, however given the temperament of POTUS, "taking criticism to heart" is highly unlikely. As a former military man myself, I see no way for McChrystal to remain, but you may be right. As for Mc’s critics, Michael Yon has been beating the drum against him since April; however, I find it improbable that McChrystal is that incompetent, and that tone deaf w/respect to the media—it seems more likely that McChrystal did this with purpose; a purpose only he knows (and given the piling-on he allowed by his staff, perhaps they have insight). I suspect he was telling the truth in the interview which reinforces ideas many had that the administration was not focused on victory as much as an exit date. Regardless, once relieved, McChrystal will be a thorn in the side of the administration.

  11. T. Greer Says:

    @Lexington Green:


    Yours is a good approach. But when I read the Rolling Stones piece I have trouble using it. The entire article is a thinly veiled assault on America’s efforts in Afghanistan. What has McChrystal to gain from an article that bombs everyone – including himself?

  12. Lexington Green Says:

    I have printed it and will read it.   In human affairs various underrated factors include stupidity, laziness, boredom, bureaucratic inertia, thoughtless improvisation, attempts to look tough, and other ultimately incoherent and irrational factors.  It is hard to imagine that McChrystal is primarily in the grip of any of them.  However, frustration, anger, mental and physical exhaustion, disdain for the people you are stuck working with and for, all may have led to this.  But I tend to think McChrystal is working some strategy of his own.  That makes more sense to me, at least before I read the article.   

  13. Purpleslog Says:

    From http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YTQ4YWZkNzY4YTE1NDE1NGM2NGViNDZjMmJjMTViZmU=

    "As an aside, surely officers in Afghanistan should know that the purpose of Rolling Stone magazine is not to emphasize either their competency or their insight. And as a general rule, anytime a liberal journalist wishes to empathize with a frustrated officer, it is usually to exaggerate the officer’s unhappiness and use it for his own political purposes, which rarely if ever are those of the military.

    If an officer cannot figure out Rolling Stone, how can he understand the Taliban?"

  14. Purpleslog Says:

    Lex: If this is subtle move by the General, it might be to force something like:

    1) President Obama has said in the past that the Afgan war is the necessary war and a priority
    2) The General sees the administration not acting that way currently.
    3) This could be just to shake things up and get attention/focus back on Afghanistan (even if it means his head).


    1) The General knows the US strategy needs more time then the current US plan.
    2) He knows a sudden change in the commanding general will delay things even more…while a new commander comes in and sets up…
    3) During this interim, the fight continues…
    4) …the new commander would likely use a similar strategy
    5) …this would stretch out the time-line and give more chance for US success (even though the General goes off into retirement).


    1) He knows he’ll get fired…
    2) …but he figures the odds are good he’ll take out (or at least weaken big time) General Jones and the Ambassador with him.

  15. democratic core Says:

    The choice of venue is a mystery.  Not only is RS a leftish publication – it is really a music publication but it has somehow achieved a status as a serious magazine in our politics=entertainment society – but the author is on record as a critic of COIN.  If McChrystal had a plan, his plan had to be to promote a story that he had to know was going to bash not only Obama and his advisers, but also the Afghan War, COIN, and McChrystal himself. 

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  17. Schmedlap Says:

    Can anyone actually quote the passage from the article in which McChrystal says something contemptuous of the President, VP, or NSA? I think people are attributing the alleged words of unnamed staff officers to McChrystal.

  18. Ed Beakley Says:

    With all due respect to a lot of folks who know the playingfield much, much better than I, I’ve RS, read Barnett, SWJ, a bunch of blogs, and Schmedlap’s post makes by far the most sense. I think we’re being played, boys and girls.

    IMHO the article is a tapestry, woven well, woven from many truths and observations and perspectives, from many levels, but in the end a "creation." 

    You know, Doc Rivers knew without doubt Kobe Bryant would attempt to take the Lakers on his back and planned accordingly.  Kobe played his role well, for awhile.  I suspect this author guessed pretty well how the left, the right, the blogoshere would react and is having a cool one on us all.
    Just a thought, but I’m not in the market for a bridge today.

  19. Eddie Says:


     I agree with you. Certainly the unnamed staff come across poorly but not him so much. Several military law experts, including this one (1) agree that it was not insubordinate.

    (1) http://prospect.org/csnc/blogs/tapped_archive?month=06&year=2010&base_name=insubordination

    How about the delicious reality of the stark similarities of what Cheney wanted for Afghanistan and what Biden wants for Afghanistan? Given our Pakistani "partners" and Karzai’s craven corruption, is that not what we will be heading towards anyway?

  20. Purpleslog Says:

    CNN says he has submitted his resignation:


  21. Purpleslog Says:


    Having read the full article [1] now I agree with you that the article does not portray The General the way the press around the article has suggested it did.

    I agree…we’ve been had.


  22. zen Says:

    Sorry, I disagree. I don’t think we’ve been had. 
    No, McChrystal isn’t personally ripping the president and his top civilian officials but he’s presiding over an atmosphere where his inner circle feel free to do so to a basically hostile reporter present to do an in-depth profile. You know, it is not ok, for diplomatic reasons, to have your staff state to a reporter that meeting with a French minister of government is "fucking gay". Or describe how Karzai is as useless as he actually is. Or for protocol reasons to refer to the Special Envoy of the POTUS as a "wounded animal". Or the juvenile "bite me" comment.
    Does this really require explaining as to why senior government officials can’t do that?
    Now that kind of alcohol fueled bitch session is understandable, in private. I’m sure Westmoreland, Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Nimitz, Pershing and Grant all had or enjoyed similar tirades from aides regarding the incompetencies of superiors, bureaucrats and allies. They didn’t have it published at their invitation and with their reviewed approval.
    There’s a lot to admire in McChrystal and his career and that should not be obscured. Not this incident though and that shouldn’t be minimized.

  23. “I guess I picked the wrong day to avoid the internet. Or exactly the right day…. « OnParkStreet Says:

    […] But this comment by zen says it best, I […]

  24. MM Says:

    First assume that McChrystal is not playing the game under the table( vs. the public game) and that this is not push back at the White House.  It looked like there was some of that in the last episode a few months back.                                                                                                                                                               McCrystal is a warrior by all accounts and seems to be the right person to fight the war.  Then did he get "Punk’d" by RS and this reporter?  If you assume that is true then you have to question if he should lead the fight in Afghanistan or just support it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Afghanistan is an intelligence war more than anything.  Having intelligence and using intelligence is key to American success.  If McCrystal – and his staff- were taken in by an amateur intelligence operative for a rock and roll magazine then who else is playing him/them?  Karzai came out and endorsed him today.  That is a kiss on the cheek from the dark prince that is suspicious no matter what.                                                                                                                                                   Either McCrystal is being played by defense politicians against the White House or he was duped by a reporter in the middle of a war where politics and intelligence are critical.  Either way he is no Eisenhower and may be in over his head.    

  25. Karaka Says:

    I find it depressing that I can’t tell if this is just terrifically bad judgment on the part of McC, or a real attempt at gaining some traction in the US for Afghanistan, a la Purpleslog @14. Either one seems appallingly fatalistic.

  26. Schmedlap Says:

    I agree with your post #22, with some qualifications, but my earlier rhetorical point still stands. Less than a quarter of this article actually quoted, mentioned, or described any statements that were or could be deemed insubordinate or contemptuous. Of those, none were made by McChrystal. In spite of that, this story, in less than 12 hours, became McC’s MacA moment. Facts aren’t facts anymore. Facts are what the media tells us they are. I don’t believe for one moment that half of the people freaking out over this have actually read the article, in whole or in part. They just "know" what it says from reports.

  27. zen Says:

    Hi Schmedlap,
    You’re right about that; the McChrystal story has entered the 24/7 news cycle zone where most partisans and media ppl inhabit and there will be increasing commentary by ppl whose first (or only) concern is how this impacts Dems vs. GOP wrangling on the hill on totally unrelated issues.

  28. Eddie Says:

    Of course, sometimes the politicians don’t act in accordance with our lowered expectations. Exum points out the good behavior and grace of McCain and a few other conservatives who could have played politics on it immediately but instead stated the obvious.

    Also, its worth noting how the SECDEF and WH statements on this point towards a swift meeting, some degree of chewing out, and then moving forward… not "we’re gonna fire this insubordinate know-it-all" as was done with Adm. Fallon.  Tom’s thoughts about the parallels with Fallon are worth reading, and so is the reasonable defense of McChrystal from Fred Kaplan.

  29. Chris Says:

    One item from the article that leads me to believe that this was simply a mistake, not a clever double game from the general is the bit about Gen McChrystal having spent about 30 days a year with his wife since 2003.  Say what you will about him, but the man has fought this war.  

  30. Ed Beakley Says:

    Not saying there’s not truth and problems here.  But this thing reads way too slick for my tastes – everything fits perfectly to get everybody all a twitter.  Rolling Stone and Hastings sure seem to have been given one hell of a lot of credibility. The writing just rubs me the wrong way – the discussion on his staff – fighter pilots, maniacs, just off a bit.  Maybe just me, but it seemed like I was reading fiction about snake eaters/spies/fighter pilots, whatever from someone who didn’t really know what really goes down.  Mix in some truth and who knows what’s really real?

    I would have expected a lot more skeptics.

    Not a bad example of system disruption is it? 

    But then again I always trust the media, ever sense that good looking honey – reporter – traveling with the Bob Hope Show onboard USS Midway in Singapore Harbor Christmas ’72 moved up real close and asked if I didn’t really think the POW wives were making up stuff.

  31. Dave Schuler Says:

    The scuttlebutt on this is apparently that McChrystal is pushing back on President Obama’s deadline for beginning to withdraw from Afghanistan.  Obviously, I can’t testify to that.  

  32. zen Says:

    Hi Ed,
    It is bizarre that the general would give the Rolling Stone reporter that kind of access, even the reporter himself doesn’t exactly know why, except to say "circumstances" which is a weak explanation at best. I am not a regular reader of RS but it has always been Leftish and given to culturally conspiratorial beliefs about the military, the CIA, the GOP, the "establishment" my entire life. It’s not a publication that I’d choose to give that kind of access. The dude didn’t force his way in to McChrystal’s circle, he was invited. Very weird.
    Hi Dave,
    I think there is a little pushback because we can’t do a fast-food version of COIN – at least not over a country the size of Afghanistan. The troops we have are enough to wipe a few provinces clean of Taliban but not all or most of them. moreover, Eikenberry is right about Karzai, his provincial and district appointees excel only at alienating the Afghans and driving them into the arms of the Taliban. As with Diem in Vietnam, Karzai’s officials are picked for personal loyalty or are put in areas of a different ethnic/tribal population where they can’t build a power base and consequently, they loot the place.

  33. J. Scott Says:

    Hi Ed and Zen, I’m guessing McChrystal picked RS because he guessed the venue was more likely to be read than Michael Yon/WSJ/IBD…he could have picked the NYTs/LATs and achieved a similar effect.

  34. Purpleslog Says:

    Zen #22: Re-reading…I see your point.

    This is a mess thought. I suspect the USGOV is now looking at how to declare a "mission complete" and just get out. I don’t think the political leadership class of the US has the will to see this through or to have done what need to be done to win this. They want no errors, no causalities no upset press folks. I suspect deep down, most of Obama’s National Security team does really want the US to have a victory (the US is the bad guy and needs to lose).

    Re-reading the the RS article…have the Taliban really convinced the Afganis that the the 9/11 attacks were really an attempt to counter an upcoming US invasion? If so…then the Afganis will see the US as the invader and the Taliban/Al-Qada types as the scrappy underdogs fighting back against the superpower like the ant-Soviet forces. That means the Afgani people want the US to lose (along of course withthe anti-west leftist elements in the West). The US has lost the influence war once again. I don’t see how that loss can reversed. We had the moral high ground. We blew it. They beat us at it.

    If the influence war has been lost, then the 4GW/COIN has been lost (there is no chance that US will bring over whelming firepower/3gw/hama-style-4GW to bear to achieve victory for the US political class doesn’t have the will for that for the most part

    It is the Taliban/Al-Qada who are now just waiting for the US to realize it and leave. Victory is in their  grasp. They just need to strategically wait us out and keep up some pressure while avoiding any major destruction events.

    This sucks for the US. This is a good day for the bad guys.

  35. Seerov Says:

    Alcohol and hostile media don’t mix.  I was only an enlisted person, but I figured that they taught people with high security clearances to always be careful about espionage and intell collection in spaces where alcohol is served?  Especially in foreign counties?  Loose lips sink ships. How much would have a foreign government paid to learn the General in charge of theater of war (and his staff) have such low attitudes of the civilian leaders? 

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