28. June 2010 · Comments Off on McChrystal McMysteries · Categories: Fun and Games, General, Media Matters Not, Military, Politics, War, World

So, as expected General McChrystal resigned last week; a terribly drastic way to get an instant face to face attitude adjustment session with the boss, I must say. I skimmed the original Rolling Stone story, and I have to also observe that I am still mystified as to how and why a freelance reporter with no particular track record of being a friend of the military even got let through the door – or even was allowed by the General’s Public Affairs officer/advisor to ingratiate himself so thoroughly that they seem to have forgotten that said reporter was there. I mean, there are reporters and there are reporters . . . and as a public affairs professional, I completely internalized certain things; like being always aware that the outside media was present, and anything he or she saw had the potential to be on the record. In fact, most likely would be on the record, so a certain degree of circumspection was required. I would have thought that anyone savvy enough to have made any rank north of light colonel would also have absorbed that kind of situational awareness. Officers who have been promoted to general rank most always are pretty sharp. The military is a ruthless meritocracy, perhaps the most so of any of our various establishments. Even the political generals, promoted on account of who, rather than what they know – usually possess a high degree of low cunning. Was General McChrystal just arrogant enough to think that he, as Obama’s chosen general for Afghanistan, could treat with a supposedly sympathetic media outlet and get away with it. Arrogance I could buy – but not stupidity.

I read some comments and posts on OS and elsewhere, where the degree of pearl-clutching shock and horror over the disrespect reflected towards the civilian element in the chain of command by those comments from General McChrystal’s staff – as quoted in the story got to be rather poisonously amusing. If a military officer lets fall a derisive comment in private about VP Biden – and no reporter is there to hear it, does it make a sound? See; there is a difference between the private sphere and the official, duty sphere, the one where you follow the legitimate orders given by your superior – even if you privately disagree. Granted, sometimes the border between the two is blurry – especially at the levels where historians and reporters might be expected to take an interest, but it does exist. Official is when you put on the uniform, when you go on shift or deployment, when you release statements or make speeches in your official capacity as a member of the forces. Everyone in service has had it pounded into them repeatedly, about not bringing discredit on the service in your public actions; so did McChystal openly disobey any such orders given to him in securing Afghanistan? Or does failure to closely police the private comments of your close subordinates and staff in the manner of a grade school teacher with a classroom of fractious third-graders constitute an offense against the UCMJ? Apparently, under this current administration it does, although I suspect under the previous one, the parties in question might have been lauded for their courage in speaking “troof to power, man!”

Frankly, this is not the first administration in my lifetime to be held in something less than complete affection and respect among the military, even as they followed orders and kept a stoical public silence about their personal opinions. Jimmy Carter’s inaction following the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran had many of us grinding our teeth, and Bill Clinton’s games with interns excited considerable contempt – especially since any military officer or NCO proven guilty of playing hide-the-salami with a subordinate and lying about it would have been disciplined and discharged. One standard for me, and another for thee, y’see.

It has been suggested by a milblogger or two, and a neighbor of mine with a background in Special Forces – that General McChrystal spend a lot of his military career in sort of a Special Forces cocoon, doing – and developing the habit of speaking bluntly – rather than having to deal much with those on the outside. I could tentatively accept something of that hypothesis, save that Special Forces is a ruthless meritocracy on steroids. Certain milboggers are speculating along the lines of General McChrystal deliberately setting off the explosive bolts on his career. What if he was going spare with frustration at the constraints and his civilian counterparts in Afghanistan are operating under, with zilch support from the current administration. What if he could already see the writing on the wall – or the helicopters taking off from the roof of the American Embassy and came to the conclusion that the military was going to take the blame for ‘losing’ Afghanistan?

To this day that ‘other America of defense’ as written about by Arthur Hadley – is haunted by Vietnam. There was the losing of it by failure of the political machine to support South Vietnam logistically after the withdrawal of American troops, and also by the fact that there were generations (in military terms) of able and creative officers who served there, knowing very well what needed to be done, but felt their efforts were stymied at the very highest levels, to include the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. I began my own service when the services were still thick with NCOs and officers who remembered Vietnam vividly, but fairly quietly – and to a man (they were just about all men, then) they despised McNamara with a passion that fairly made them incoherent. McNamara had a toweringly high estimation of his own and his ‘wiz kids’ abilities when it came to overseeing the war in Vietnam, and relative contempt for the uniformed military; a contempt returned in spades. Now and again it was bruited about that it might have been better all around – that McNamara be brought to see the light about the true effect of his policies with regard to Vietnam, if the generals on the Joint Chiefs of staff, and those others who disagreed with him had resigned their commissions in protest. Interestingly, one of those officers who did spectacularly criticize the war – on Sixty Minutes, no less – was an army colonel named David Hackworth. Almost 25 years later, I edited an interview that he gave to AFKN-TV, where he cheerfully acknowledged that yes, he had indeed thrown himself on his own sword, over policy and accepted the consequences more or less gracefully. He finished up as a best-selling author, and military journalist for a major national magazine, along with the awed respect of the next generation of military, so it all ended rather happily for him.
Is the McChrystal McMystery a repeat of this? Same song, slightly different verse. Discuss.

Comments closed.