Fire McChrystal

Fire McChrystal

The insurbordinate general commanding the war in Afghanistan goes off the reservation—way, way off the reservation—in an interview with Rolling Stone.


It’s possible that General Stanley McChrystal, the COIN freak who runs the war in Afghanistan, might be fired today by President Obama, not because of his fuck-ups in the war itself but thanks to a brilliant profile of McChrystal by Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone.

It’s been clear for a long that McChrystal was an insubordinate, power-hungry general who sees Afghanistan as the place to prove himself and his theories right, and everyone else wrong. For some odd reason, President Obama has refused to fire him, even after his openly insubordinate political activity last summer and fall, when McChrystal orchestrated a campaign to pressure the White House to escalate the war. (I wrote about that for Rolling Stone last October, in a piece called “The Generals’ Revolt.”)

In the new Rolling Stone profile, Hastings hoists McChrystal and his aides—one of whom has already resigned—with their own arrogant petards. McChrystal and his staff tell Hastings that Obama was unprepared to be president and that Obama was intimidated by the military brass. They say that General Jones, the national security adviser, is a “clown.” They laugh at Richard Holbrooke, and McChrystal jokes that he doesn’t even want to read his e-mails. When Hastings asks about Vice President Joe Biden, an aide makes a third-grader’s pun on his name, calling him “Bite Me,” to general merriment. And McChrystal slams senators such as John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain for making publicity-stunt trips to Afghanistan.

McChrystal has been summoned back to Washington for a meeting with Obama, which could end in his dismissal. Let’s hope. 

The aide who resigned, Duncan Boothby, was McChrystal’s PR flack. It isn’t clear whether he’s out because he allowed Hastings unparalleled access to McChrystal or because it was Boothby who was responsible for some of the most outrageous comments to Rolling Stone. Both are valid. Either way, he’s a goner.

Speaking on MSNBC, Eric Bates, Rolling Stone’s executive editor—who (full disclosure) was also my editor on the piece last fall—explained the background to the piece this way:

Well, we got a really unprecedented access with him. We spent—we reported this story over the course of several months. We were with him on a trip in Europe that wound up getting extended because of the volcano in Iceland. So our reporter was kind of trapped with him for about two weeks in Paris and traveling from Paris to Berlin. They couldn’t fly, so they had to take a bus. So, we really spent a lot of time with him and really got to look behind the curtain, and hear how he and his men, top men, talk among themselves on their own.

Bates added that McChrystal and his aides knew that what they said was on the record

And Bates says:

What’s most surprising about that, he was preparing for a speech in Paris. It was [during] a speech in London that he got asked about Joe Biden’s counterterrorism strategy that resulted in his first act of insubordination, when he dissed the vice president and say that would result in Chaos-istan and got called to Air Force One for a meeting with the president.


So, here he is again, preparing for a question-and-answer session, imagining questions about the vice president.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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