Twinkle, Twinkle, Four Star General

Posted on Wed 06/23/2010 by


By Alan Caruba.

Max Boot, posting on Commentary’s online site, was apoplectic about the Rolling Stone article that has the three-star General Stanley McChrystal on the carpet, mostly for things his aides said.

“What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders,” wrote Boot, “when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hasting’s animus against the war shines through every inch of his article.”

What, indeed! The Pentagon public relations consultant who arranged for the article, Duncan Boothby, immediately resigned, despite the fact that he was well respected for his work. Boothby served Gen. David Petraeus during the Iraqi surge that ultimately turned the tide of the war there. The writing, however, was on the wall. Boothby made a quick exist.

Just about everyone involved in Afghanistan, the ambassador, et cetera, knows it is a bad assignment. The fact that Gen. McChrystal signed off on the article may be one more way he has tried to convey his frustration. When you have “rules of engagement” that are likely to get soldiers killed, conducting a war is uglier than usual.

Some heads will roll, but there is already a great deal of speculation about the general’s fate. Given a withdrawal date of July 2011, replacing him might prove a worse choice than returning him to the field, chastened and determined to shoot more journalists than Taliban.

Modern wars are conducted as much by maintaining public support as by defeating the enemy. This is a lesson learned in Vietnam. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the war in Afghanistan, now the longest war ever fought by the United States, is the total absence of public protests. This may reflect the fact that it began with the attack on the homeland on 9/11.

Gen. McChrystal was born into a military family in 1954. He graduated from West Point in 1976 and distinguished himself in various conventional and special operations posts. He assumed command of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command in September 2003. Under his command, the JSOC forces captured Saddam Hussein and killed the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The military is a meritocracy. You don’t move up through the ranks by failing. That said, it is like all big organizations. You need to function well politically within it and at the highest levels you have to be attuned to the internal and external events, issues, and personalities involved.

I suspect that the leaders of the U.S. military were less than thrilled when Barack Obama replaced a war-time president, George W. Bush, who trusted them and their judgments. Obama has zero experience regarding military affairs.

Unlike most previous presidents, he never served a day in the military. The only uniform he ever wore was that of an Indonesian Boy Scout. He campaigned saying that the war in Iraq was a mistake, but that the war in Afghanistan was the “real” one. He’s spent his first year and a half in office blaming everything on Bush.

When Gen. McChrystal wrote, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse the insurgent momentum in the new year…risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” he was telling the truth, but not one that Obama wanted to hear. “Additional forces are required.” Obama took him to task for his blunt assessment.

The president spent three months consulting with his military advisors before deciding to provide 30,000 additional troops. He did so, however, with a pledge to start withdrawing them in July 2011. This is not how a nation wins wars. Graduates of West Point are not taught how to lose wars.

Gen, McChrystal has since apologized to everyone from the President to the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and anyone else available. Secretary Gates said in a statement that he had exercised “poor judgment”, but it was a Pentagon PR consultant that arranged for a Rolling Stone journalist to spend time with the general. That’s poor judgment.

My guess is that Gen. McChrystal knows that his “real” job in Afghanistan was to wind down the war there with some appearance of success in a no-win situation. He probably shares the view of the top military that Obama was and is a bad choice for the job of Commander-in-Chief, but he is a soldier and his job is to follow orders.

He’s going to take a beating for the Rolling Stones’ article. Max Boot is right. It was a very bad public relations decision. It literally gave aid and comfort to the enemy. What it revealed, though, is less about Gen. McChrystal and more about a president who has demonstrated that an extreme leftist domestic agenda has always had more priority than a shooting war in which real soldiers are wounded and die.

© Alan Caruba, 2010

Alan Caruba writes a daily post at Warning Signs. A business and science writer, he is the founder of The National Anxiety Center.

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