PR blunder costs 'Runaway General' McChrystal job
The dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal has left many of his colleagues deeply shocked. Many had assumed, as I did implicitly when writing on Tuesday, that either president or general would blink before it came to a sacking.
Some think that this has happened simply because of the feature on McChrystal in Rolling Stone, others that there must be another agenda.
"He was badly let down by his people, allowing that clown from Rolling Stone anywhere near him", says one Washington political/military insider.
His argument is that the magazine's journalist set out to turn over the general and the PR minders should have spotted it.
Others assume the disrespectful remarks in the article - attributed mainly to McChrystal's staff, not the man himself - cannot be the reason for his ouster.
"The punishment simply does not fit the crime", says one of McChrystal's former special ops officers from Iraq.
Certainly the general was regarded with awe by many of those who served with him in the 'black' world of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq.
When researching my book Task Force Black, I heard many stories about 'Stan': that he went on raids against al-Qaeda hide outs as a two star general; that he pursued a relentless policy of raids against that organisation that caused it to collapse; or that he ran eight miles every morning before starting work.
"The only people who didn't get on with him", one senior US special operator told me, "were the ones who weren't good enough".
Arriving in Afghanistan, MChrystal had to change his game dramatically. This was war in the full glare of publicity, and having to accomodate the sensitivities of a great many different coalition partners.
Even so, he galvanised Nato headquarters in Kabul and managed to forge a good working relationship with President Hamid Karzai - whose quirks have wrong-footed many other westerners.
With doubts growing about what Nato forces can achieve before President Barack Obama's deadline of July 2011 for the start of a US withdrawal, it will hardly help having a new commanding general, even one as widely admired as Gen David Petraeus.
"It's a crucial time with an awful lot of chips on the table", says one senior Washington figure, "and Stan had the greatest knowledge of what's going on".
Those who believe the dismissal cannot be explained by a magazine article alone feel that the power struggle between Commander in Chief and military may be part of a blame game in which each side seeks to blame the other for failure in Afghanistan. Perhaps.
Sacking a general because he wants to invade another country (China in the case of Gen Douglas MacArthur, fired by Harry Truman), or because he has shown gross military incompetance (like those Union generals sent packing by Abraham Lincoln in the civil war) is one thing.
But it is a strange thing for a man of Gen McChrystal's record to be fired for what is essentially a PR blunder.