What the heck was he thinking? I’m sure you already know this but Gen. Stanley McChrystal decided to disconnect the shut off valve between his brain and his mouth to in an interview with Rolling Stone (you can apparently find a copy of the article here).
Assuming that link is to an accurate copy of the article one can only be left in shock at the complete…hubris?…lack of awareness?…incompetence? of McChrystal and his staff on this one. To cross the boundary of acceptable military behavior in terms of speaking publicly and to be so indiscreet really boggles the mind.
I have no idea if the little details in the article are true or in the proper context. Although if true, one has to wonder at the frat boy outlook of some of his staff. With McChrystal going to talk to a French minister in an attempt to keep that country in the coalition, one of McChrystal’s aides can only say: “It’s fucking gay.” Really? What, is he 12 or something?
Andrew Sullivan pulls out another part I thought was interesting
“Bottom line?” says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers’ lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing.”
“Every real soldier.” You see: there are real Americans and fake Americans; and there are real soldiers and fake ones. Let’s just put it this way about the legacy of McChrystal’s JSOC: you cannot imagine a soldier who had worked for Petraeus for a long time saying such a thing.
Abu Muqawama has a nice roundup of the article and it’s potential implications.
In a weird way, Hastings is making the argument to readers of Rolling Stone (Rolling Stone!) that counterinsurgency sucks because it doesn’t allow our soldiers to kill enough people. What, pray tell, is Hastings’ alternative to counterinsurgency? Disengagement from Afghanistan? Okay, but what would the costs and benefits of that disengagement be? I am frustrated by the reluctance of the legions of counterinsurgency skeptics to be honest about — or even discuss — the costs and benefits of alternatives. Some do, but not many.
In fact, you have to go deep in the piece to find soldiers and officers offering actual critiques — and what they offer is criticism of McChrystal for being insufficiently brutal. Everyone of them quoted here is a mini-Ralph Peters, upset because McChrystal won’t let them “get our fucking gun on,” as one puts it. I have a lot of respect for Michael Hastings, the author of the profile, but there are many greyer shades of on-the-ground military perspective than that, and I’ve seen them up close.
This is why I disagree with those who say that the troops ‘get it’ when it comes to COIN. I don’t think we’ve done the proper integration of the doctrine into our training and operations. As the article points out, that lack of understanding means that COIN theory from on high ends up getting distorted into exercises in CYA or just plain misunderstandings of what the doctrine is.
This has bad mojo written all over it and, I fear, may have serious consequences for the whole project. McChrystal probably has to go and whoever replaces him is going to have to reestablish confidence in the whole effort quickly (an almost impossible task).
I find the timing of the article interesting given we’ve just seen some tussling over the July 2011 draw down date. The military was just starting to seriously push back publicly about a firm date to begin withdrawing and this may end that discussion. After all, we’ll be seeing the quote “I was selling an unsellable position.” any time someone advocates putting more resources into Afghanistan.
For many months now I’ve avoided stating an opinion about our larger effort in Afghanistan because I’ve felt I was too close personally to the conflict. I’m going to continue that and wait a bit to see how this shakes out. I am, however, finding it increasingly difficult to not see that light at the end of the tunnel as an oncoming train.