In the modern day work place where posting drunk pictures of yourself on Facebook can get you fired, why would someone as smart as a General running a war think that he could get away with allowing a reporter to follow him around for even a day, much less a month?
Imagine if you had a reporter following you around for almost a month with a notepad and a tape recorder in their hand? If this reporter went with to your job, what would he see? What about if he hung out with you and your friends at your favorite watering hole after work? Ever do anything embarrassing at a bar? Me neither.
On June 23rd General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, was fired by President Obama because of an interview that was going to be published in the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone magazine. This was the first time in 50 years that a top general had been relived of his post since Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been fired by Harry Truman during the Korean War. The story broke nationally two weeks before I even received my subscription copy of the magazine in the mail. This could be one argument for why print magazines are obsolete, but I’ll save that for a different time.
In the interview, Gen. McChrystal told Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings that, “I was selling an unsellable position,” when discussing the fact that the General had asked Obama for 40,000 more troops, which was then leaked to the press. Obama supposedly felt cornered because of the leak and said he wanted to wait three months and have the plan evaluated. McChrystal got his first ass-chewing from the new President after the press leak. So they had some history by the time this interview incident rolled around.
In the article, one of McChrystal’s aides said that when the General first inherited the war in Afghanistan, Obama met with McChyrstal for, “…a 10-minute photo op. Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”
If you were McChrstal, would you want your friends talking to someone who was going to go back and tell your boss everything he heard? If it would have been me I would have instructed all of my aides that, “This is a reporter. His job is to report things. Assume everything you say is going to go in his report. If you don’t want your name attached to it, don’t say anything to him.”
If you read the whole Rolling Stone article you would know that McChrystal did not say any one thing that could have gotten him fired. When speaking of Karl Eikendberry, a former general and now the ambassador who’s involved with the war in Afghanistan, McChrystal started off by saying, “I like Karl, I’ve known him for years,” but then he goes on to say that he felt betrayed by him. In today’s 24 hour news cycle, the sound-bytes that get played on the air aren’t the nice words about the former General but the parts that come after that which basically sound like, He doesn’t know what he’s doing. And by the way, I’m in charge.
McChrystal and his aides also did a lot of trash-talking about several other key leaders from Joe Biden, to the President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, but not one of the things they said should have gotten the General fired. I think it was the way that McChrystal was portrayed as an alcohol swilling, trouble-making, bad ass who runs around with his troops kicking open doors and who said, out loud, that we don’t have a clear objective to winning this war, that we are going to be here for the long haul, like for the next 20 years, and that no one is paying attention to this war anyway, so I’ll run it how I want to. That’s what got him fired.
So the next question becomes who do you want running a war? Do you want someone who can look good in front of a camera and knows how to hold his tongue? Or do you want someone who is trying to lower civilian casualties, because in McChrystal’s words, “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” Do you want an ass-kicking cowboy who tries to inspire his troops by getting out and literally kicks in doors with his troops and personally answers their emails? Or do you want a General who leads from the back, who could probably relay his commands over the phone from some room in Washington?
In my opinion it was absolutely moronic for General McChrystal to have allowed a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine into his inner-circle and to have given him full access to himself. Hasn’t he heard that these days’ people get fired for updating their Facebook status with, “At the ball game drinking a beer,” when they called-in sick.
I would think that that having a reporter from Rolling Stone, one of the most liberal magazines in the United States, around you for a month when you’re the General running the war, should have been looked at like a moderately hungry man eating his pet dog when there was a McDonald’s right next door. Could you do it? Yes. Do you think that’s a good idea? Probably not. That is unless he’s smarter than we’re giving him credit for.
What if the General wanted to bring attention to the war in Afghanistan? Because of this article, Afghanistan is now talked about more in the media than it has in a long time, even if it was at the General’s expense. Was it his intention to get fired? Of course not. There’s no way anyone could have predicted how much coverage this story was going to get. But as far a bringing attention to the war, the conversation did explode like a mortar shell in the American dialog. And for the people who read the article, its message is loud and clear, there is no set strategy for ending this war and we plan on being here for a very long time. You want our attention General McCrystal? Message received, sir.