This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.
He was “an ascetic who… usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness. He is known for operating on a few hours' sleep and for running to and from work while listening to audio books on an iPod… [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists… [He is] a warrior-scholar, comfortable with diplomats, politicians…" Those were just the descriptions New York Times reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti themselves bestowed on General Stanley McChrystal in May 2009 soon after he had been appointed the new U.S. Afghan War commander. They had no trouble finding interviewees saying even more extravagant things.
He was “the most influential general of his generation,” “a celebrated soldier with extensive knowledge of intelligence gathering in both Afghanistan and Iraq… [with a] reputation… so formidable, officials said, that it was difficult to rotate him to another military post” and a “biographer who is keeping his name in lights.” That was Bumiller on General (later CIA Director) David Petraeus and, given the press he ordinarily got in Washington, her reportage could almost be considered downbeat.
For both men, though, those were the glory days when things were going spectacularly. Okay, maybe not in the wars they were directing, but in the personal image-making campaigns both were waging in Washington. What about after both went down in flames and shame, though? Once a “celebrated soldier,” it seems, always a celebrated something or other.
As Bumiller had been on the generals beat in the good times, she evidently ended up on the generals-in-shame beat as well. And you know what? They turn out to be whizzes at shame, too. In May, she found McChrystal teaching a course on “leadership” at Yale. He was, she reported in a charmingly soft focus piece, a spellbinding professor (willing to go out and drink with his students, just as he had with his military colleagues). Judging by her article, the former “warrior-scholar” had held onto the “scholar” part of the label—and a knack for (self-)image making, too.