There’s plainspoken, and there’s just plain rude.
The recent resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and his subsequent decision to retire from the Army, is a blow to the war. McChrystal had served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was widely respected by his commander in chief as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other world leaders. His calls for more troops in Afghanistan drew the ire of many politicians because it was seen to preempt the White House, but for many in the rank-and-file it only increased his popularity.
His willingness to say what others refused to say took McChrystal far, but when his unflattering personal views of President Barack Obama and his inner circle hit the pages of Rolling Stone magazine, he crossed a line that no soldier should in a nation where the military takes orders from a civilian authority. In the profile piece, McChrystal is shown to be disappointed in Obama — a sentiment with which many Americans will identify — but the general’s aides go even further, mocking senior members of the administration in crude terms that distract from the vital mission in the Middle East.
McChrystal’s abrupt fall from grace is not the first chink in his armor. As the head of Joint Special Operations Command in 2004, he recommended Army Ranger Pat Tillman for a posthumous medal for valor in the face of enemy fire in Afghanistan — even though he already knew the former ASU and Arizona Cardinals football player was really the victim of a friendly fire incident. He also warned presidential speech writers to keep that recommendation out of any statements then-President George W. Bush might make, fearing the consequences if the true circumstances of Tillman’s death became public — as they eventually did. A Pentagon investigation recommended disciplinary action, but the general emerged unscathed.
In 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported, lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee held up McChrystal’s nomination to the Joint Chiefs of Staff over questions about abuse of detainees by the elite forces under his command in Iraq and Afghanistan. McChrystal’s successor as war chief in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, faced no such delay as he sailed to confirmation in Senate hearings that began Monday and ended Wednesday. Even one of Obama’s fiercest critics — 2008 campaign rival Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain — praised the choice:
“For those who doubt the president’s desire and commitment to succeed in Afghanistan, his nomination of Gen. Petraeus to run this war should cause them to think twice,” McCain said.
Similar statements were made when McChrystal took the reins. Why did it all fall apart like this, and why now? Maybe McChrystal decided he had enough of a thankless job running a war most Americans are starting to forget, and this was his exit strategy. Maybe he didn’t want his name to be the last one to be associated with what could be a disastrous premature exit from a region still threatened by the shadow of terrorism.
Or maybe something was weighing on his conscience and he just slipped up.
Either way, McChrystal is going to have plenty of time as he heads into retirement to gather his thoughts about Barack Obama, Pat Tillman and the troops he leaves behind on the battlefield at a vulnerable time. He should have some interesting things to say.