If you read the now famous “Runaway General” piece by Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, you (like most in the media) will very likely experience a Scooby Doo/Shaggy “Zoinks!” moment. “What in the world was General “Special Forces” McCrystal thinking?” But perhaps we should be the ones to rethink the issue…
“The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts…
“He carries a custom-made set of nunchucks in his convoy engraved with his name and four stars, and his itinerary often bears a fresh quote from Bruce Lee. (“There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”) He went out on dozens of nighttime raids during his time in Iraq, unprecedented for a top commander, and turned up on missions unannounced, with almost no entourage. “The fucking lads love Stan McChrystal,” says a British officer who serves in Kabul. “You’d be out in Somewhere, Iraq, and someone would take a knee beside you, and a corporal would be like ‘Who the fuck is that?’ And it’s fucking Stan McChrystal.””
In short, the general doesn’t sound like a blowhard. No doubt he is the wrong man to pick a fight with in a bar, but at the same time, he doesn’t strike me as a fool who rushes into any old fight unless he’s ready for bear.
So how do we interpret his possible resignation? The answer is simple… Do you remember Marshall McLuhan’s quote, the medium is the message? Well, forget today’s sound bytes. Forget the hanging apologies. Look at the medium: Rolling Stone magazine. The general chose to vent (over the course of several weeks, by the way) not to the NYT, not to the Washington Post, not to The Christian Science Monitor, nor to any other newspaper of any repute. No. He choose Rolling Stone, for God’s sake! Now, let’s see what else Michael Hastings has to say about our General:
The son of a general, McChrystal was also a ringleader of the campus dissidents – a dual role that taught him how to thrive in a rigid, top-down environment while thumbing his nose at authority every chance he got. [Emphasis mine.]
If I had to guess, Rolling Stone was just one more way for McChrystal to “thumb his nose” at an authority figure he couldn’t respect.
So what lies ahead? Well, here are the options as I see them.
- Gen. McChrystal hands in his resignation and the President accepts. That probably would be a cataclysmic mistake on the part of Obama, because without McChrystal, the tenuous war in Afghanistan may be lost. (At least General Stan could go off and write one whopper of a book, lecture, appear on TV and radio, and become a zillionaire. Beyond that, politics might have promise down the road for “Mr. Four Stars”.)
- Gen. McChrystal hands in his resignation and Barack does not accept… Welcome to “The Wimp Commander in Chief, who undermines the fact of civilian authority over the military
- Gen. McChrystal refuses to resign and the President forces the issue. (See bullet point #1 above.)
- President Obama demands the general’s resignation, and McChrystal balks: coup d’etat?
In short, I haven’t seen a leader being played like this since Dubya peered into the soul of Putin… Hey wait a minute, wasn’t Putin a Special Forces guy too?