UPDATE: Obama fired McChrystal (h/t beloved Fellow Anon).
Toby Harnden, the UK Daily Telegraph’s man in Washington, reports that General Stanley McChrystal has offered his resignation to Obama “after he was summoned to the White House to explain derisive comments he made about the US leader and his administration” which were published in the magazine Rolling Stone. What remains is for Obama to accept or reject his resignation.
Actually, most of those “derisive” (but true!) comments were made by McChrystal’s staff. Indeed, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana told Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that all the quotes dissing Obama and his administration came directly from members of McChrystal’s inner circle — people who have been very close to McChrystal for a long time. “These are high level people in McChrystal’s inner circle,” Dana says. “It’s a very close knit group. They see themselves as a real team. They are connected like an offensive line in a football team. These are people who have been loyal to him.”
Here are the relevant excerpts from Michael Hasting’s article, “The Runaway General,” in the July 8-22, 2010 issue of the Rolling Stone, which will be on newsstands this Friday, June 25:
The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict. Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile.
…[McChrystal] and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?” “Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”
The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.
…this tight-knit group represents the most powerful force shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan. While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side.
…In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.” Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.” Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” says an adviser. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’ ”
McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. “The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” says a member of the general’s team. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He’s a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can’t just have someone yanking on shit.”
What should disturb the American people are not the “derisive” comments that puncture the egos of some politicians. What should concern us is that the media blew this all up into a pseudo crisis that distracts from the really important issues discussed in the Rolling Stone article — which is that the Afghan war is not going well for America. From the article:
When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny…. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan…. Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says.
…After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over – the Afghan people – do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive….
Today, as McChrystal gears up for an offensive in southern Afghanistan, the prospects for any kind of success look bleak. In June, the death toll for U.S. troops passed 1,000, and the number of IEDs has doubled. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population, whose attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile. The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a “bleeding ulcer.” In June, Afghanistan officially outpaced Vietnam as the longest war in American history….
The Telegraph‘s Foreign Editor Adrian Michaels thinks that the Rolling Stone set up McChrystal:
There isn’t very much in the Rolling Stone article requiring an apology from General McChrystal…. If he does resign, it should not be because of perceived slurs against the White House. They’re not there.
…[McChrystal] has been the victim of journalist hype. It is the magazine’s editors that call the White House “wimps”, and it is the author that uses almost every f-word in the piece, gratuitously, gratingly, and not while quoting anyone. The only f-word used by someone else is a Brit saying how much some people love McChrystal’s habit of showing up on patrol.
Let’s be clear: Barack Obama may still want McChrystal to resign. The general gave long, close and after-hours access to a journalist and also apparently made no complaints when Rolling Stone sent him a pre-publication copy. That this represents poor judgment, and that this is not the first instance of his poor judgment, is indisputable.
But of the inflammatory quotations and asides, I think it is safe to say they’re mostly ill-judged wisecracks. One in particular from a McChrystal aide about Joe Biden is specifically meant to be a joke. McChrystal also laughs about not wanting to open an email from Richard Holbrooke, and exhibits a reluctance to have a posh dinner in France. Some aides need to wash their mouths out. That really is about it.
There is very little in the piece that would back up the “runaway” angle. There is almost no difference in policy mentioned between the army and the White House. McChrystal comes off as one of the few people actually building bridges properly with Afghanistan’s difficult government. And it would hardly be the first time that a general and a president have not got on like a house on fire.
With McChrystal gone, our soldiers in Afghanistan are in even more peril, especially given the demonstrably incompetent administration in Washington and a Commander-in-Chief who can’t even properly pronounce the word “corps.”
Pray for our soldiers….