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PR blunder costs 'Runaway General' McChrystal job

Mark Urban | 10:33 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010

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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.


  • Comment number 1.

    is the ability to run 8 miles a substitute for skill at strategy? The difference between a great general and an average one must be the ability to discriminate what is good in the whole? I doubt Napoleon could run 8 miles every day before breakfast but which would you prefer leading the fight in battle?

    He is being sacked for a character flaw? That of vanity and not having control over his team who made the comments? Which is a pretty fundamental collapse of command and control? Unlike in the uk The President is C in C and in the military chain there is no backchat outside of procedures?

    didn't the Director Special Forces not want Task Force Black published? Why the 'rush' to publish recent ops? Who benefits? History and historians can wait 30 years? They have time.

    what now for the 'churchill's choice' policy? ie dumping human rights, democracy etc and just working through the tribes and letting them sort out their social arrangements? No one in UK govt have yet admitted this is what the afghan policy is. why?

  • Comment number 2.

    "But it is a strange thing for a man of Gen McChrystal's record to be fired for what is essentially a PR blunder." (Mark Urban)

    I think both you and ex-General McChrystal need to go away and read the US Constitution. The President is Commander In Chief. Never forget that.

  • Comment number 3.

    You don't need to read the US Constitution - you just need to sit down and watch the numerous Hollywood films about rogue US Generals attempting to stage a coup.

    'Seven Days In May' when Kirk Douglas discovers his boss, Burt Lancaster, is staging a coup against Fredrich Marsh's Presidency is probably the most gripping.

    Lancaster did it again in 'Twilight's Last Gleaming'. There are numerous others.

    I have to say that whilst watching the news items on General McChrystal he did remind me, in his looks, of the rogue US Special Forces Colonel in the second 'Die Hard' film.

    That photo of him standing in the Oval Office listening to Obama speak is very interesting isn't it?

  • Comment number 4.

    I believe that General McCrystal acted in an emotionally immature manner. As the commanding general in Afghanistan he had to act like a mature adult at all times. Adult discussion and disagreement is important. Juvenile comments about public figures in a magazine is self-defeating. Adults talk and reason and plan together. Children call other people names and put them down. Privately to express put-downs would be tolerated as letting off steam. Publically putting down the President and other American officials is immature.

  • Comment number 5.

    here is the article by Michael Hastings

    the portrait he paints is someone who would be better as an operational special forces commander rather than the more complex and nuanced overall commander role responsible for strategy?

    having said that the latest plan seems more modelled on the ottoman army success of when they planned to invade a place they first gave out bread to the locals. Which makes more sense. but then that is empire building. or what you end up with. Seems odd no one uses or are aware of the character of muslim army tactics in muslim lands? But then the military and their training schools seem dominated by hard line christians which weeds out the open minded commanders?

    the troops should leave and if AQ come back to make camps they should just be bombed. In this way we become the insurgents and the taliban the government. the only policy we objected to [enought to go to war about] was them allowing AQ bases. We can control that from the air and special forces ops.

    Basically the Taliban are an extension of Pakistan's foreign policy which means this is a proxy war against Pakistan. So that is where the pressure should be.

    if we invade every country with AQ training then we are going to be busy bunnies. we can't stop AQ recruitment in the UK never mind Somalia, Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or wherever.

    we are fighting an idea and you beat an idea with a better idea. They have a society building plan and science we do not. They value 'virtue' we do not. As long as the Taliban can say 'let the infidels in and they will turn your daughters into painted whores and you sons into kffrs then the west isn't going to win?

    as for the article it shows the pen can be mightier than a daisycutter?


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