Prematurely Popping the McChrystal (w/ Updates)

Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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36 Responses

  1. Koz says:

    Obama’s problem isn’t the “neocon hawks”. It’s the reality that the President is disengaged with every major issue in his purview and the perception that creates among the Establishment and the American people. The neocon hawks will try to leverage this to their advantage like the rest of the world.

    It’s plausbile, maybe even desireable, that Obama use this as a pretext to ending the Afghan theater altogether. In other circumstances it would be plausible as a pretext for changing theater commanders but I don’t see how it works here. The President has no credibility in Afghanistan or counterterror issues in general except through his association with McChrystal. The support for the President is already very low, he can’t afford to let it go lower.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    My dear friends who are ex-military tell me that there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to complaining about The Gummint: Don’t.

    That said, folks is folks and folks will complain. If you don’t follow the rule of thumb, follow the following rules:

    1) Only complain to people who are pretty much your peers. You don’t complain about the government to your XO. You certainly do not complain about the government to your CO. You can, however, complain to your bud in the chair next to you when your XO (and certainly your CO) is out of earshot.

    2) Never, never, never to a civilian. Never. Never never never. Never.

    This guy did that.

    One of the things I happen to dig about the US style of governance is the fact that there is civilian control of the military.

    When a General mocks, publically, the C-I-C?

    That’s a very roundabout way to submit a resignation. He should be given an opportunity to provide one in a more straightforward manner.Report

  3. North says:

    Jay touched on it and I agree. McChrystal tendered his resignation via Rolling Stone. You do not publicly disparage the civilian commander in chief when you’re in active service. I’d have said it if McChrystal had been on record (accurately) calling Bush Minor a brainless incompetent. The civilian oversight culture of the US government over the military is important and you simply can’t let it be undermined by this kindof foolishness.

    Which is a damn shamed because by all accounts McChrystal is a competent commander if not very media savvy. Why one of his handlers didn’t prevent this fiasco is beyond me.

    Much as I hate to agree with Koz on anything; if this could be turned into an excuse to dump the Afghanistan Theater then that’d be some sweet lemonade to make out of this lemon. I doubt it though, Obama cares what the hawks squawk for some indecipherable reason and he’s controversy shy so I expect he’ll just keep muddling on through.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to North says:

      @North, You and Jay are probably right. We’ll see. The line about Obama is pretty harsh. I just can’t get over how f’in stupid the guy is to have himself quoted to this effect in Rolling Stone.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        @Chris Dierkes, I just can’t get over how f’in stupid the guy is to have himself quoted to this effect in Rolling Stone.


        I talked to a handful of my buds who worked on base and asked them. They said that this guy is either trying to resign, trying to get fired, trying to make sure he never gets promoted ever again, or asking for the most shit assignment the military has to offer.Report

      • North in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        @Chris Dierkes, Maybe it’s harsh Chris, but I’m just calling it like I see it. I can’t think, off the top of my head, when Obama has put any capital on the line for something controversial. He’s gone into the political fray only reluctantly and as a last resort. I used to worry that Obama’s hope-change-above it all schtick was just an act. Now I’m beginning to fear it’s something worse; that he actually believes that nonsense.

        And I say that as a supporter, albeit an unenthusiastic one .Report

  4. Michael Drew says:

    I agree on the merits of *this* story, though it’s by no means innocuous. But I also think the London affair was a very serious breach that got papered over and excused because they were in the middle of trying to launch the strategy. That was a warning that itself had preceding indications that should have raised eyebrows. If this incident was the only one of its kind in his record, it would be mistake to can him. But this is simply undeniable confirmation that the guy is completely out of control, and incompetent in information management in an information war. He has to go if only to protect the prestige of the office of president, but for other reasons as well, not least that he’s losing the war.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew, That said, I’ve predicted on Twitter he’s not going anywhere. I’m looking pretty bad on that at this point, I’d say.

      I will say, if this is a resignation-by-journalist, it has to be one of the least flattering ones in the history of the play. Totally dishonorable and beneath him. I don’t believe he is base in that way. I just think he’s stuck in 1972.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew, Bottom line, I just don’t see how this can stand as an example of conduct, or even of the right of mind for soldiers whose lives are in danger every moment in a war zone. Not that such thoughts aren’t inevitable. But you can’t have the CINC highlighting and promoting them, not to mention willingly giving the public appearance of insubordination, and damn near if not quite undertaking the actual act. Can you? I guess I’m wavering on how I see this one — because of how deliberate it seems it had to have been.Report

  5. Bob Cheeks says:

    I thought our nearly documented Muslim president was going to bring the boys home from Iraq and win Afganistan…whas up wid dat. My guess about the general is that he really doesn’t want to take orders from a rather dim witted south side Chicago thug. He should’ve resigned, then gone on TV, or something, and spoken the truth of things…this shit’s just like Vietnam and Korea, all over again. One gets tired of it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a heavily armed combat team headed down Pennsylvania Ave. in the direction of the White HOuse.Report

  6. Pat Cahalan says:

    It’s not just a matter of bad politics (don’t badmouth the President when you are a political appointee of any stripe), or bad interoffice politics (don’t badmouth your boss).

    It’s actually an offense for which you shall face a court-martial (not “can face a court martial”, discretionary, but “shall face a court martial”). Now, in practice, you can probably dodge this sort of thing like you can dodge a lot of military protocol, but not when you’re the front cover of Rolling Stone.

    If you want State (or, less generally, the CIC) to maintain credibility, McChrystal’s resignation ought to be refused. And then he probably should face a court martial under Article 88 of the UCMJ, get a dishonorable discharge, and lose his pension.

    Will that happen? Probably not. But if you’re going to get in a pissing match with the President over leadership, you’ve pretty much put the guy into the position where he can’t win unless he *does* cut you down and destroy you utterly. Ruthless, so not really Barry’s style.Report

    • Koz in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      “It’s actually an offense for which you shall face a court-martial (not “can face a court martial”, discretionary, but “shall face a court martial”). Now, in practice, you can probably dodge this sort of thing like you can dodge a lot of military protocol, but not when you’re the front cover of Rolling Stone.”

      Yeah, that doesn’t quite fly.

      I think it’s an exaggeration to say he did nothing wrong, but the contempt/insubordination provisions of the UCMJ are intended to police offhand remarks. Among other things good luck on finding a officer jury to convict on that.Report

      • Pat Cahalan in reply to Koz says:


        Gee, Frum, the first person I saw that blogged about McChrystal violating 88 wasn’t a liberal, he’s pretty staunchly nothing of the sort.

        The point isn’t whether or not he ought to be convicted, mind you, it’s whether or not it qualifies as grounds to try him for it (insubordination). And I really don’t see how Frum can claim offhand that it doesn’t.

        Of course, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m certainly not a military lawyer.Report

        • Jim in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          @Pat Cahalan, This isn’t even controversial. any @LT knows beteer than this. And it may even be worse that McChrystal allowed his underlings to make the kind of comments they did.

          Out of control. Hand him the dagger.Report

        • Koz in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          First of all, it wasn’t Frum but a contibutor to his website.

          Whether there’s grounds enough for him to be charged is probably not very important. It’s very unlikely to pursue a marginal court-martial against a general. The President needs generals, and he can relieve them of command any time he wants without a court-martial.

          The real problem is that McChrystal has torn away yet another layer of plausible deniability for Obama supporters .Report

  7. A.R.Yngve says:

    Sometimes, people speak against their conscious reason, because deep in their souls a cry for help manages to escape.

    And who wouldn’t do so, being stuck in what is essentially a hopeless fight to save a heroin-infested hellhole from itself, a futile quest for a blurring goal…

    What was the goal again?
    Find Osama bin Laden?
    Stop the Taliban (who are now trying to take over Pakistan instead)?
    Prove to the world that America is not a “quitter”?

    If you want to prove something to the world, put a man on Mars. The way this war is going, sending people to Mars is less expensive.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to A.R.Yngve says:

      @A.R.Yngve, Exactly!

      What does “victory” look like?

      I don’t think I’ve yet received a genuine answer to this question. At what point will we be able to declare victory and go home?

      Sometimes people point out that we still have bases in Germany and Japan. Fair enough… at what point will our operations in Afghanistan be functionally identical to Germany or Japan?

      I have yet to see a description of what “Victory” will look like.Report

      • Rufus in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, Sure, the bases are expensive, but look at how long it’s been since we’ve seen a Japanese kamikazi attack.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Rufus says:

          @Rufus, I have not forgotten, nor forgiven, the Japanese for the movie “Gung Ho”.

          Never forget.Report

          • Rufus in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, Oh, right! I vaguely recall, in the mid-80s, protesters in parking lots breaking Japanese products because surely they would own the country by the year 2000. Then they had a real estate bubble, economic crash, and, well, we dodged a bullet on that one.Report

            • Barry in reply to Rufus says:

              @Rufus, Seconding everybody on this thread – I wonder if he figured out that There Is No Victory Here, and figured that being fired would be politically far better than sloooooooooooow failure.Report

      • Jim in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, well let’s go way back to the triggering event. The situation was that the Taliban government of Afghanistan was harboring enemeis of the US, al Qa-ida. Fine. Pakhtunwali provides for a repsonse in cases like this – attacks on the hosts harboring the enemies. Punitive raids, reprisals, that kind of thing. Obviously the US couldn’t do that under its own laws and Euroepan legal norms. So we fabricated another one of our “make the world safe for democracy” adventures to sell these repisals to to ourselves. It turned into liberating Afghan women and nation building and building democracy and a whole bunch of other irrelevancies.Report

      • Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        Have an Afghan government that has the power to sustain itself and keep Al Qaeda out of the country, and that opposes letting Al Qaeda back into the country.

        I don’t know if such a victory is achievable or not, but cold-blooded realpolitik suggests that IF we stay, that should be the limit of our goals. We can’t force an entire nation to treat women decently if they don’t want to.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

          @Katherine, it strikes me that we could achieve those goals with minimal effort:

          1) All poppy growth is henceforth legal. Hook up the government as middleman to Bayer and Glaxosmithklein and sell them as much opium as they can. The government gets a piece of the money to divvy (bribe) as they see fit.

          2) The US government screws a gold plated plaque to the desk of the president. The plaque will read in the appropriate language: “Pretty sweet deal, huh? Don’t make us care enough to come back.”

          This strikes me as fairly sustainable and requires little effort/presence on the part of the military.Report

          • North in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, b-b-but Jay, those jobs growing opium should be kept in America. Plus you’d be rewarding o-o-opium traffickers! *swoon*Report

          • Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

            Works unless Al-Qaeda puts people in the opium-growing business, in which case we’ve given them an excellent new source of funding paid by America.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

              @Katherine, if they’re bad for business, the government will take care of the problem.

              If they’re good for business, they will no longer be particularly Al-Qaeda-ey. It will no longer be “death to America!” but “death to America, later!”

              The latter, if sustainable, is an acceptable level of insurgency.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to A.R.Yngve says:


      > Sometimes, people speak against their conscious
      > reason, because deep in their souls a cry for
      > help manages to escape.

      Yeah, that’s true. That gets you some sympathy. Not so much when you’re leading people in combat. This isn’t Jerry Maguire writing a missive about how the company ought to change direction and getting canned, for Christ’s sake.

      > And who wouldn’t do so…

      I’m not saying the guy’s not a sympathetic character. But let’s not bullshit, here.

      He’s a four star general, a career military man. This isn’t a frustrated private who enlisted to qualify for the GI bill and didn’t realize how over his head he was going to be. This is a freaking special ops general. If he doesn’t have the balls to stand up in front of the President and refuse a command that he believes is doomed to failure… but instead accepts that command and then does something like this… that’s just messed up.

      (And let’s be clear, he honestly believes that we can win in Afghanistan, so don’t adopt him as a fellow member of the, “What the hell are we doing there in the first place” brigade)

      Refuse the command. Resign your commission – you’ve done more than your twenty – and go on the talk show circuit, and blast the Administration. I’ve got *no* problem with that. Resigning in protest and talking about the President being a dumbass is fine by me. Lots of military personnel resigned under GWB. That’s their prerogative.

      Hell, talking crap about the Joint Chiefs when you’re in a meeting with your subordinates to build camaraderie, that’s fine too.

      Guardiano’s being an idiot. This isn’t anything about “informing the public”. McChrystal didn’t sit down with a reporter and discuss the strategic shortcomings of the ROE, or the limitations of American military strategy in Iraq or Afghanistan, or logistics, or even tie any of the above directly to specific policies that he believes should be changed. *That* would be “informing the public”. Heck, taking a bunch of top secret documents with you when you resign and handing those over because you believe that they’d show the public the war is unwinnable, that would be *commendable* and I’d be the first to back the guy when he got called up on charges.

      What did “the public” learn from this? They learned that the top general in Afghanistan doesn’t like the civilian command, and generally holds them in contempt. That doesn’t tell you anything about *why*, or even give you credible evidence to judge whether or not the general is correct in his personal feelings.Report

  8. Rufus says:

    Other people have pointed out how silly it is to demand his head. Having spent the last week or so with my nose buried in an old (1813) unpublished travel journal, I am, as always, struck by how overblown the reaction is and how much it misses the point. Okay, so the guy should apologize. Then could we discuss whether or not there’s any hope of a not-bad outcome in Afghanistan?Report

    • Rufus in reply to Rufus says:

      @Rufus, Obviously that rant is not aimed at Mr. Dierkes, who is saying the same thing.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Rufus says:

        @Rufus, please Mr. Dierkes is my father.

        It’s spiraled in the media-sphere well beyond what I think it ought to have. So I guess at this point I think he probably should resign. But I’m not sure either way it will help. The damage, it seems to me, has been done.Report

    • Jim in reply to Rufus says:

      @Rufus, You don’t get it. You really don’t see what the problem is, do you? This is an example for you of a situation that your experience does not prepare you to understand.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    The deed is done. I wonder if there had been other stuff going on in the media if this story would have gotten buried?

    Like an apocalyptic sized oil spill, the worse unemployement rate in half of the workforce’s experience, possibly on the brink of another war with (pick one: North Korea, Iran, Gaza) and the victorious (and twice as often drawing) American team in Vuvuzelapoluza 2010? 🙂

    This would be hard to bury in any case, because the current media environment already had Afghanistan on the radar screen as a somewhat greater blip than it had been for long time now (and the way that Iraq is no longer on that radar screen). Plus every story about the story had the picture of Obama talking to McCrystal on Air Force One a few months ago which reminded everyone (esp those immersed in the media environment) that the now former COMISAF commader had already been allegedly warned once to rein it in.Report