Michael Hastings on General Stanley McChrystal
Update: Rolling Stone posts Michael Hastings’s full profile of General Stanley McChrystal online.
The big story of the day, perhaps the big story of the rest of the month, will be Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal’s recall to Washington to explain remarks he made about President Obama and his administration in a forthcoming Rolling Stone profile. The profile was written by Michael Hastings, who has blogged for True/Slant since shortly after the site launched in 2009, sharing his abundance of insights on international affairs that come from lengthy experience covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This isn’t the first time Michael has written about the tense relationship between General McChrystal and Obama’s defense and security team. Back in October of last year, Michael looked at the growing tensions between McChrystal and Obama, likening them to the conflict that arose between President Harry S Truman and General Douglas MacArthur that led to the latter’s sacking, a benchmark moment in modern civil-military relations:
I don’t know what McChrystal is up to here, either. Has he overplayed his hand? I assume he must be really worried that he’s not going to get what he wants because he’s basically running around telling everybody that the war is going to be lost if he doesn’t. If he had more confidence, wouldn’t it be wiser to shut up?
Anyway, according to the always reliable British press, Obama’s people aren’t too pleased with all the public pressure the general has been putting on Obama. It might be a bit out of line, too. The story quotes constituional law expert Bruce Ackerman: “As commanding general, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements.”
BONUS HISTORICAL PRECEDENT? I’ve been reading about the relationship between General Douglas MacArthur and President Truman lately–this is a much smaller version of that. The photo op thing, in particular, reminded me of MacArthur’s anger at Truman for a meeting they had in Hawaii right after Inchon in 1950. Truman called MacArthur to the meeting; Mac didn’t want to go, and he had refused to come to DC. MacArthur thought Truman was wasting his time, just playing politics–making the great general fly from Japan for a picture in the press to help in the upcoming elections! MacArthur was right about the politics parts, but Truman was also correct to eventually put the general in his place.
Before that, Michael suggested that McChrystal and company in “shaping the debate” over Afghanistan had gone as far as to “bully” the new president:
The threat from the McChrystal camp seems pretty significant to me. It’s really sending the message to Obama that ‘hey, you got no choice.’ One could even say that Obama is being bullied, and it’s unlikely he’s going to choose this moment to stand up to his generals.
And in May when McChrystal succeeded General David McKiernan in Afghanistan, Michael suggested that he was General David Petraeus’s ‘guy’, which leads to the question of whether Obama’s potential sacking of McChrystal for insubordination could have ramifications higher up the chain of command.
I’m not sure we’ll be hearing much more from Michael on this story on his True/Slant blog, but do watch Rolling Stone for when his story goes online, possibly tonight or tomorrow morning.
Bonus more recent analogy: In keeping with Michael’s habit of affixing ‘bonus’ analyses to the end of his blog posts, I thought it might be worth considering another parallel beyond the Truman-MacArthur dyad – that of Admiral William “Fox” Fallon. Admiral Fallon was the head of US Central Command – now General Petraeus’s post – and was removed from his position in 2008. Some speculated that his military career came to an end because he opposed elements within the Bush administration who wanted to step up military pressure on Iran. They pointed in particular to a profile of the Admiral in Esquire magazine written by Thomas Barnett, in which he expressed some criticisms that are not entirely unlike what Hastings apparently got out of McChrystal.
Of course, the difference is that Fallon stepped up his criticisms of Bush while that commander-in-chief was on his way out, in contrast to McChrystal whose CINC is in the middle of his first term. But you really just have to wonder: do these guys want to be martyred by their presidents? A review of Douglas MacArthur’s “old soldiers never die” speech made it clear that he had a political case to make for sustained American military engagement in Asia that transcended his military service. Perhaps McChrystal has the same intentions. Of course, maybe he wants it to come out that way – after all, MacArthur’s dissent from Truman may have formed the basis for the ‘dominoes’ theory of US foreign policy in Asia during the early Cold War – McChrystal after being struck down may prove more powerful than he is as commander of forces in Afghanistan.
Update: Politico’s Mike Allen posts a PDF of the full Michael Hastings Rolling Stone feature for your perusal.