In a story to be published Friday in Rolling Stone, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his aides are quoted as being highly critical of civilian leaders in Washington, including President Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain.
Two former high-ranking generals now in civilian roles, National Security Adviser James Jones and Ken Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, apparently come in for the harshest criticism. (The article has not yet been posted; the account here is patched together from various news accounts.)
Jones, a retired four-star general and former Marine commandant, was apparently dismissed as a “clown” by one of McChrystal’s aides. Eikenberry is a retired three-star Army general. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Vice President Joe Biden are also targets of criticism among the general’s circle. The only major figure to be lauded by the general and his staff is apparently U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
According to the article, McChrystal has seized control of the war ”by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.” It also recounts frustration from his own troops over restrictive rules of engagement imposed at McChrystal’s orders.
McChrystal has already issued an apology, which is telling for what it doesn’t say:
“I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.”
Note the absence of any claim that the reporter of the piece, Michael Hastings, misquoted anybody or got anything wrong.
An already difficult effort in Afghanistan just got tougher. Tensions between those in the field and those in Washington are normal in any war. Privates grumble about sergeants, sergeants grumble about captains, captains and majors grumble about generals and generals grumble about Washington. Everybody at every level is groping a different piece of the elephant, and wondering why others don’t see it as they do.
What is not normal is expressing those tensions frankly to a reporter. McChrystal may very well not survive this, although it might take a couple of months to name a replacement. (UPDATE: McChrystal has reportedly been summoned back to Washington for a Wednesday meeting.) In fact, the behavior is so self-destructive that you have to wonder whether this wasn’t a way for the general to extricate himself from a place that he didn’t want to be. While McChrystal doesn’t seem that type, what other result did he and his staff expect?
UPDATE II: I just finished reading the piece in question. Its descriptions of disrespect toward civilian leadership will draw the most attention, and will likely get McChrystal fired. But that’s not the major thrust of the article, which is that the war itself is unwinnable and unlikely to end well.
It describes a military leadership that hates the thought of losing and that wants desperately to believe that with more resources, a better plan and more time, it could achieve something close to victory.
It also describes an Afghanistan that has doomed such military dreams for thousands of years, and will almost certainly do so again. Here’s the most telling quote, from an officer who probably didn’t mean to sound as pessimistic as he does:
“It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,” says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. “This is going to end in an argument.”