“Loose lips sink ships,” goes the old World War II warning about speaking in public in any way about defense-related matters, even about the most elementary levels of weapons production.
And indeed that warning goes today as president Obama has relieved his top commander in Afghanistan four-star Army general Stanley McChrystal over unflattering comments McChrystal and his aides made about the administration in an article by Michael Hastings called The Runaway General soon to be printed in Rolling Stone magazine.
The article title is an apparent reference to the comic Runaway Bride story of 2005 about Jennifer Wilbanks who fled Duluth, Georgia to avoid her impending marriage.
McChrystal, who was appointed to the Afghanistan post on June 10, 2009, will be replaced for the time being by Iraq surge hero general David Petraeus, who also was McChrystal’s boss.
McChrystal, who voted for Obama, is a highly capable war fighter who even is reported to have participated in special-ops missions in Iraq even though he was the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, considered by some to be the most secretive force in the American military.
Obama was angry about McChrystal and his staffers being quoted as repeatedly disrespecting the military’s leaders, including Obama himself, even calling national security adviser and four-star general James Jones “a clown” who is “stuck in 1985”.
The article said the following:
‘The general (McChrystal) first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass.’ (end of excerpt)
Following McChrystal’s first one-on-one meeting with Obama, the Rolling Stone article reports:
‘“It was a 10-minute photo op,” the adviser said. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him (McChrystal) who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his [expletive] war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”‘
Or this about a dinner McChrystal was asked to attend with a French minister to try and keep French support in the Afghan conflict:
‘”I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner,” McChrystal says.
He pauses a beat.
“Unfortunately,” he adds, “no one in this room could do it.”
He’s out the door.’
“Who’s he going to dinner with” I asked one of his aides.
“Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.”’ (end of excerpt)
Of US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, the article says:
‘At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke, he groans. “I don’t even want to open it.” … “The boss says he (Holbrooke is) like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”‘ (end of excerpt)
Obama gave McChrystal a chance to defend himself by recalling him to Washington where McChrystal offered his resignation and Obama accepted it.
The question is: Did McChrystal get blinded by the media light? Did he let his guard down to somehow get connected to an audience – Rolling Stone readers – who usually are seen as anti-military? Did he perhaps want to seem ‘hip’ like the anti-authority figures who routinely are touted in publications like Rolling Stone?
If so, it was a mistake. Because McChrystal is infinitely cooler than all those people put together.
But still, general, it IS Rolling Stone… What else did you really expect?
Or did this article just finally give us some plain old insight into the real way that military men think, the way we knew they do anyway? After all, some of this stuff is pretty funny, like one top adviser who referred to vice president Joe Biden as “Bite Me”.
Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and McCain of Arizona were described in the article by a McChrystal aide as figures who would “turn up, have a meeting with (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.”
This is awesome stuff and certainly the musings of genuine military men with justifiably low opinions of the political goons back home, particularly someone like Kerry. Perhaps we should thank McChrystal for the interview, the type of insider chatter that deflates some of the massive egos in Washington.
In accepting McChrystal’s resignation, Obama said, “The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.” Which is true.
In a worsening situation in Afghanistan, Obama had a choice to make. Some observers guessed that the president would retain McChrystal as the do-all guy in a difficult situation. But the other side of the coin is Obama’s reputation for a thin skin, common knowledge of which should have alerted McChrystal before taking on such an interview.
Republican congressman Peter King of New York reflected the thoughts of many saying, “General McChrystal’s recent comments were entirely inappropriate.”
McChrystal himself said, “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”
Indeed “Loose lips sink ships”. And McChrystal has sunk his own. That he has been relieved of his command is no real surprise.
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