Maverick McChrystal out of line again

Gen Stanley McChrystal looks bemused at the sight of President Obama in a bomber jacket during a surprise visit to Afghanistan in March, 2010.

A Rolling Stone profile of Gen Stanley McChrystal due out on Friday “was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and it should have never happened,” the commander of US forces in Afghanistan now says.

It was a mistake to say what he and his staff said, or it was a mistake to make these remarks in the presence of a journalist?

The incident reveals the ambivalence Americans feel when it comes to the institutional power at the center of American democracy. Whatever keeps the wheels of Washington working smoothly, it isn’t candor.

Coming as I do from a country that has a real and ancient monarchy (for which I have little respect), during twenty-some years in the United States I’ve always viewed this country’s republican credentials with a certain measure of skepticism.

If at its conception America cast aside regal authority because of an unambiguous faith in the power of the people, why is it that so many Americans have such a gooey-eyed fascination with British royalty? Why the obsession with another form of royalty: celebrity? Why, in a supposedly egalitarian society, is such a high value attached to very visible displays of social status?

Americans seem to have had less interest in completely abandoning rule by a monarch than in modifying regal power and repackaging it in the quasi-regal institution of the presidency.

Having been crowned, a president always remains a president — even once out of office. He lives in a little palace, can never move around without being surrounded by a huge entourage of somewhat venal and sycophantic characters. And as in all forms of palace politics, those individuals who have wormed their way close to the center of power will do whatever they can to protect the status of the institution as they make frequent expressions of obeisance to the king-president.

But the concentration of power always involves the consolidation of power and so a president, just like any king, always needs to be on his guard, aware that one of his dukes or generals might pose a challenge.

Enter, Gen Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal isn’t trying to stage a coup but he’s a repeat offender when it comes to upholding the most important principle in regal politics: never undermine the authority of the monarch or his highest officers.

National Security Adviser, Gen James Jones is a “clown.” Senior envoy Richard Holbrooke is a “wounded animal.” Joe Biden is “Bite me.” This is not language that can be uttered louder than a whisper in any palace.

As McChrystal heads to Washington for yet another dressing down, there’s one thing we can be sure of: President Obama won’t be wearing a bomber jacket when he lectures his top general. He’ll simply relying on the power of his throne — the Oval Office.

In his Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal, Michael Hastings writes:

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

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris [in mid-April], McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he 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?”

When Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, he immediately set out to deliver on his most important campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led us to invade in the first place. “I want the American people to understand,” he announced in March 2009. “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He ordered another 21,000 troops to Kabul, the largest increase since the war began in 2001. Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn’t know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “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 fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

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6 thoughts on “Maverick McChrystal out of line again

  1. A.Jurgensen

    Terrific piece! And on spot. We do adore our monarchy as well as England’s. It doesn’t take very long for a president to feel ‘kinglike’ and proceed to show it. I am not enamored by the military and I do not trust the Pentagon which is manipulating this president just as it has several of the preceeding ones. Will Obama show his independence by ending the charades in both Iraq and Afghanistan and not forget AF-PK? I doubt he will. After all War is the Health of the State (Randolph Borne).

  2. omop

    The USA the true victim of the so-called clash of civilization. Its much vaunted military under the spell of the myths of a grand design formulated by zionist neocons likePerle, Feith, Netanyahu, Wurmsers, Bolton et al, titled “A clean Break … to save Israel and expand American purposes in throughout the Muslim/Arab/Asian world. In one corner.

    In another corner a tribal society living in the era of of the 1100 barefooted, mostly illiterate, practicing the same mores thousand years old defeating several more advanced nations on several occasions in an environment that allows them advantages in repulsing strangers has again withstood foreign military forces.

    And a US General by the name of M the nation he representscChrystal happens to become the wrong man, at the wrong place, at the right time for no good reason. The only comfort he might get is that the nation he represents will in time come to realize that it too is in the wrong place, for no good reason at a bankruptcy fate.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    It seems that warfighting has been impeded more than assisted by the modern plethora of communications — both electronically and by jet. In the US it’s the Democrats who manage to involve themselves in more of the fiasco. The debacle of the abortive Iran hostage rescue involved too much micromanaging from Washington — sure the men on the spot screwed up royally, but competent leaders should be able to revise plans and keep going to success. Not when the commander in chief is staring over their shoulders.
    How successful would Marlborough or the Duke of Wellington been if Whitehall had a direct communication link to them on campaign? Patton — very much a soul mate of McChrystal in temperament it seems — achieved most when he ignored higher command. What would his reaction have been to a presidential visit? Likely he’d have started an operation that prevented him from attending. Stan cannot get away with that, so he will probably receive his lashes and be put on a shorter leash — or else be promoted to AfriCom.
    As the MacArthur – Trueman fight showed, the man in Washington has only two choices — surrender to the other’s ego or send him packing. Perhaps Obama does have a better choice — send the whole army packing to come home.

  4. delia ruhe

    “If at its conception America cast aside regal authority because of an unambiguous faith in the power of the people, why is it that so many Americans have such a gooey-eyed fascination with British royalty? Why the obsession with another form of royalty: celebrity? Why, in a supposedly egalitarian society, is such a high value attached to very visible displays of social status?”

    American jingoism has completely emptied the word “freedom” of its meaning. It must be very frightening not to know what your country’s most important political idea actually means — and fear has a habit of driving people into the arms of despots.

  5. Richard Parker

    Jeff Huber, who writes a website called Pen & Sword and at and is a scathing satirical writer with unimpeachable military experience.
    ‘Stan the Man’ has been one of his major targets for months; I specially recommend: General McCrackers (April 7 2010)
    This nutcase has ‘won’ and lost Marjah, and put off his ‘absolute winner’ campaign against Kandahar for the time being, because it just ain’t possible to get people who hate you, as a foreign aggressor, to suddenly trust you and turn to Kabul for governance.

    If Obama doesn’t quietly sack this man today, he will be shown, yet again, as a Chicago pol bending like a handful of spaghetti to whoever can exert more power than he can, as President.

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