McChrystal's Tragedy

Where to start? Here’s is an update on the entire mess.

He Had to Go

1) McChrystal, in fact, is a brave and heroic figure deserving our respect. But among friends and with a mole in his midst, he still himself deprecated the commander in chief. His staff took care of the VP, the national security team, and most of the diplomatic personnel involved in Afghanistan. All came close to conduct unbecoming of officers: "In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama's top people on the diplomatic side.” And here in McChrystal’s own words: “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?" And the general creates a climate in which his staff reduces his superiors to fools: "It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed." That’s right out of George McClellan's frequent caricatures of Lincoln. What was more worrisome than the general’s own remarks was the ease in which his subordinates thought they could quite graphically trash their superiors -- to a reporter, no less.

2) Is it smart to be in Paris within a mile of any creep from Rolling Stone? How dumb is that? Such tag-along groupie folk exist to trash the military, and only get close to officers by being disingenuous in a manner that most teenagers would not fall for — much less a four-star general supposedly adept in insurgency trickery. What was the motivation? An accident? Ego? An effort to send a shot across the diplomats’ bow? Worry that the war is going south and a cry from the heart to get attention?

3) Who wasn’t trashed? We get jokes about meeting with a French diplomat — at a time when we want the French to stay in the war. Why should we know that McChrystal voted for Obama? To this day, speculations about Petraeus’s political ambitions are always predicated on queries like: “But what party would he run with?” How did that come up? Do generals now self-identify as left or right — and if so, for what purposes other than careerist advancement?

4) If McChrystal were not fired, then what would have happened if a dissident colonel or major gave the same sort of trash interview about McChrystal himself, or if such an officer's subordinate captains and majors dished the same dirt on McChrystal to the press that his team did about their president? McChrystal has a reputation for not tolerating any untoward conduct. Yet within hours he let into his innermost circle a creepy sort, and then all poured their hearts out to him. To whom wouldn't they have talked trash?

5) The story was vulgar.  We are introduced to Gen. McChrystal in the piece as he flips off his polite his chief of staff (e.g., "The dinner comes with the position, sir," says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn. McChrystal turns sharply in his chair. "Hey, Charlie," he asks, "Does this come with the position?"). The point is not that officers talk tough, but that generals talk that way with outsiders in the room, and among lower-ranking officers.

And Then There Is The Politics of All This

1) Petraeus was a wise choice. He will face far less criticism from the media and politicians than during 2007-8 (e.g., there will be no more "General Betray Us" ads or "suspension of disbelief" ridicule, or someone like an Obama at the confirmation hearing sermonizing nonstop on why Petraeus’s efforts will fail), because his success this time will reflect well on Obama rather than George Bush. Consider the further irony that Obama is suddenly surging with Petraeus. Not long ago he was declaring that just such a strategy and commander were doomed to failure in Iraq (see below). Of course, then he was running to take office on what was wrong rather than trying to stay in office on what’s right.