Flying at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic is about as detached from earthly concerns as one can get. Seat bound and strapped in found me staring at Lady Gaga's two gun M16 brazier photo on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, reminding me that the world below is full of strangeness and requires a reality disconnect from time to time. Michael Hastings' article in Rolling Stone, "The Runaway General", also requires the previous description pulsating off the front cover.
The article, and General Stanley McChrystal's outing by President Obama, is history. Having spent the last three summers at the US Army War College's invitational strategic seminars I have been privileged to meet and discuss our national and international strategic thinking with the cream of our warrior officer elite. Recently, I attended an assembly to hear retired General David McKiernan deliver a speech on civilian/military counter insurgency operations (COIN) in theatres of conflict the very day Gen. McChrystal was relieved of command by Mr. Obama. An ironic moment indeed, considering Gen. McChrystal replaced Gem/ McKiernan in Afghanistan last June 2009. The ripple of mixed emotions concerning Gen. McChrystal's pending fate was palpable and as varied as Hastings' piece. Some did not see how Gen. McChrystal could stay in command of the ISAF, others felt Mr. Obama would be foolish not to keep the best anti-terrorist war fighter doing what he does best. Many were less concerned over Gen. McCrystal's fate than they were over the morale of the troops under his command and the fact that many in the audience would soon be deployed to Afghanistan in the middle of a struggle between the White House and the war zone's top field commander. The bad news for Gen. McCrystal came after 12 noon. Mr. Hastings' article pointed out a litany of less than flattering comments about certain White House fat cats, chief among them Vice President Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry and retired General Jim Jones. Gen. McCrystal's staff made the ribald statements about the Obama insiders where war fighters commonly blow off steam off the record; in bars and pubs. Hastings sucked up the banter of fighting men who have felt the sting of battle, killed their enemy and witnessed their comrades die because civilians decide if we fight where and how long.
Listening to Gen. McKiernan, the ground force leader of the Army's 2003 invasion of Iraq, was a study in the contrasts between a "big picture" commander and Gen. McCrystal's hands-on approach. Mr. Obama approved the 2009 McKiernan change, but for what sensible reason? Gen. McKiernan did nothing to foster a lack of leadership after taking Baghdad and continued to solder on until Gen. Petraeus took command in Iraq.
Gen. McChrystal was naïve to let Mr. Hastings get that close. Mr. Hastings is a liberal whose motives to churn things up serve Mr. Hastings and the Rolling Stone readership; President Obama included. Mr. Hastings saw no ethical boundaries of consequences for men in uniform voicing their private feelings about how to run a war and set up the chess pieces. In World War Two, Gen. George S. Patton was called on the carpet more than once because of his unthinking public comments, but he retained his command because he was the best at what he did. When Gen. MacArthur was fired by President Truman, we lost the strategic initiative in Korea, and Gen. MacArthur's mystique, to hold the Chinese until they pushed us back to Korea's 38th parallel, and a 57-year stalemate.
Gen. McChrystal's outing is an illustration of Mr. Obama's thin skin and easily ruffled feathers. More so, it shows how a liberal publication and kindred writer can influence a president who never wore our uniform, never heard a shot fired in anger, never saw his comrades die and doesn't understand the difference between blowing off steam and the mindset of military warriors.
If Mr. Obama assumes the Rolling Stone article to be honest and factual, then Mr. Hastings' description of Gen. Petraeus as "a dweeb, a teacher's pet" begs the question: why would one select a "dweeb" to lead men into battle? Gen. Petraeus is no "dweeb"; he is a proven, battle-tested leader.
It is our president who is the dweeb. And Michael Hastings exhibits his real motives to mark his territory using the arena of war to sell his story. In the grand scheme of things Gen. McChrystal fell prey to his staff's openness. But a president's pride was at stake, albeit at the expense of those whose lives are on the line no matter how strange or disconnected our president may be. Maybe he should consult Lady Gaga.
Anthony N. Lambros, Bel Air