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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Has Anyone -- Including McChrystal -- Actually Read The Rolling Stone Article?

The Rolling Stone article, The Runaway General, is generating extreme buzz and indignation based on descriptions in the mainstream media that in the article Gen. Stanley McChrystal harshly criticized Obama and others in the administration.

Indeed, I relied on these reports for my post, Shinseki Hero, McChrystal Bum. McChrystal has issued a groveling apology based on the article. Politicians are furious, the nutroots are having their best day since they coined the phrase "General Betray Us," and even right-pundits are upset that McChrystal breached protocol.

Question: Has anyone actually read the Rolling Stone article?

Answer: Apparently not.

The article has very few direct quotes from McChrystal, and almost none that could be termed criticisms. There are a lot of "flavor" quotes, such as this:

"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."

But when it comes to actual criticisms of Obama or the administration, there is almost nothing attributed to McChrystal.

There is a statement about Joe Biden, but it's of a joking nature by McChrystal and the negative comment is by an aide (emphasis mine):

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond.

"I never know what's going to pop out until I'm up there, that's the problem," he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"

"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

The really incendiary comments all are attributed to others, almost always to anonymous sources (emphasis mine):

According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the roomful of military brass.

Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn't go much better.

"It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his fucking war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."

The specific criticisms of specific administration officials are not attributed to McChrystal (emphasis mine):

But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama's top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a "clown" who remains "stuck in 1985." Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, "turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it's not very helpful."

Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal's inner circle. "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review," says an adviser. "She said, 'If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.' "

McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. "The Boss says he's like a wounded animal," says a member of the general's team. "Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he's going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He's a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can't just have someone yanking on shit."

There is one quote about Holbrooke attributed to McChrystal, but again it is of a joking nature and the inflammatory comment is by an unnamed aide (emphasis mine):

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." He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

"Make sure you don't get any of that on your leg," an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

McChrystal's comment about Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was defensive, mild, and limited to responding to Eikenberry's criticisms of McChrystal:

McChrystal and his team were blindsided by the cable. "I like Karl, I've known him for years, but they'd never said anything like that to us before," says McChrystal, who adds that he felt "betrayed" by the leak. "Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.' "
There is no stinging criticism by McChrystal of Obama or other senior administration officials. It's just not in there.

So why is McChrystal apologizing?

For allowing a reporter bent on a sensational article to follow him around? That's a fair criticism, but hardly justifies the reaction. For the fact that McChrystal and some of his team use profanity? For the assessments anonymous sources attribute to McChrystal but McChrystal himself does not state?

If ever there were a trial as to whether the media and our politicians had gone mad, the controversy over the Rolling Stone article would be Exhibit A.

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  1. I was wondering the same thing. All of the juicy comments come from aides or sources. Oh well, don't let the facts get in the way of denigrating a member of the military.

  2. We need to come to a conclusion here. What is more important--the lives of the troops and success of their mission? Or the image of the White House administration?


  3. Having just read it, it's not nearly as inflamatory or as critical of the administration as the pull-quotes make it seem.

    I suspect that McCrystal will publicly eat some crow, be told not to talk to reporters, and sent on his way.

  4. 10 years as a US Naval officer and one thing I learned was "Praise in public, criticize in private" when dealing with subordinates ...

    Another was never ever utter what you think about a superior officer in front of another person besides your wife … never … nothing good or bad … just keep it to yourself …

    Obama has been nothing but disrespectful of the military since entering politics and even more so since becoming President … that said you salute and respect the office and eventually you respect the man/woman holding the position … In this case Obama will never earn that respect, he's too lazy and he hates the military …

    McCrystal should resign, retire and tell everyone below Obama to f**k off in an op-ed …

  5. I read it. It's apparent that Hastings lucked out as a result of the volcano ash stranding McChrystal, his staff and Hastings in Paris, and Hastings was able to coax a couple of aides (never clear how low or high-ranking) to say indiscrete things. Various media comparisons to Truman and MacArthur are absurd in that MacArthur openly and repeatedly ignored and defied US policies and direct orders, while McChrystal is, at worst, guilty of failing to recognize the danger of associating closely with any reporter in a casual environment (all the more so with a Rolling Stone freelancer!).

    It would be tragic if this resulted in McChrystal's being fired. McChrystal must offer his resignation but Obama would be a fool to accept it.

  6. Yup - I've read your assignment - the article and I have written a term paper on it LOL. My two main points:

    McChrystal's primary lapse: allow his inner circle to know his raw thoughts about the Administration and its policies. They then went forth and talked freely. It says McChrystal's leadership style needs to be less permissive.

    Second point: McChrystal and Fergie should not dine and drink with people with whom they are not overly familiar and over which they have no control over and NEVER TALK WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL OF DAMMING INFORMATION.

  7. Why on earth would any military man talk to a reporter from the Rolling Stone? And the general is apologizing because he was there and knows what was said. Even if he himself said nothing controversial, he has to answer for the actions of his aides. He should resign, or Obama needs to replace him.

  8. I have read the article and have written a blog post on it that does not even get into what McChrystal and his staff said. The focus is on the fact that McChrystal trusted a reporter for over a month and that he shared his inner thoughts about the Administration with his staff - not a good leadership style.

    My article is tongue and cheek in comparing what the press did to Sarah Ferguson and McChrystal by way of underscoring that one really has to be careful of casual circumstance and talk but also points to the pernicious ways of the present-day press. It is not good for our enemies to see disarray on this side (see Stones analysis of the McChrystal group over against the administration people who "function" on the diplomatic side). In the rush to get a scoop, a country and a marriage are in the balance. It isn't free press; it's opportunistic press.

  9. Why would ANYone in any roll with ANY responsibility talk to ANYbody from Rolling Stone?

    Shouldn't the whole batch be fired just for entertaining the idea, let alone following through?

    This administration is way too interested in cosying up to all forms of media - so maybe the General thought this was what is expected?

    He's probably on Twitter too...

  10. While I agree that Obama may rank right up there as the worst Commander in Chief ever, I agree that McChrystal showed extremely poor judgment here. I don't care if he's battle fatigued or tired of the politics, when you're the guy in charge you... and everyone under you... had better spout the party line.

    Sadly, it's good that McChrystal is out.

    Now let's see what the Commander in Chief will screw up next...