McChrystal overruns the civilians (updated)

by | Jun 22, 2010


The McChrystal Rolling Stone article is a fascinating read.

Sure, there are plenty of insults – the piece opens with the General being forced to dine with a French minister (“It’s fucking gay,” complains an aide), while McChrystal’s team is brutal about how underwhelmed their boss is by Obama and his administration.

But there’s meat too – the mismatch between military and civilian power is a recurrent theme:

While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side… This diplomatic incoherence has effectively allowed McChrystal’s team to call the shot and hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan.

Most interesting is the tension between counter-insurgency (slow, messy, only likely to ever deliver a partial result) and more aggressive forms of war fighting, especially as they play out among troops on the front line.

“This is the philosophical part that works with think tanks,” McChrystal jokes at one stage, “But it doesn’t get the same reception from infantry companies.”

I assume McChrystal will now be forced out – if not immediately, then after a few months or so. Can’t see that will resolve much though. It’s Obama’s war now (Cameron’s too, soon enough) and it’s hard to see him winning it.

Update: McChrystal was picked by Gates (Robert, not Bill) and I suspect it will be Gates who determines whether he survives. This is not exactly a rousing vote of confidence:

I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine.  I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case.  We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world.  Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions.

Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well.  I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person.

Update II: Well, well. Turns out McChrystal was just one more victim for Eyjafjallajökull:

Hastings says he stumbled onto unprecedented access with McChrystal. After McChrystal’s press advisers accepted a request for the profile, Hastings joined McChrystal and his team in Paris. It was supposed to be a two-day visit, followed up with more time in Afghanistan.

The volcano in Iceland, however, changed those plans. As the ash disrupted air travel, Hastings ended up being “stuck” with McChrystal and his team for 10 days in Paris and Berlin. McChrystal had to get to Berlin by bus. Hastings says McChrystal and his aides were drinking on the road trip “the whole way.”

“They let loose,” he said. “I don’t blame them; they have a hard job.”

Author

  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.


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