McChrystal ‘Stitched Up’ by Rolling Stone?

Are we making too much of Stanley McChrystal's remarks?

Rodney Dill has forwarded a very provocative, contrarian article from Telegraph group foreign editor Adrian Michaels titled “General Stanley McChrystal has been stitched up by Rolling Stone.”

There isn’t very much in the Rolling Stone article requiring an apology from General McChrystal, the man in charge in Afghanistan who has been summoned to the White House. If he does resign, it should not be because of perceived slurs against the White House. They’re not there.

There was a copy of the article available online until recently, which I’ve read, and some excerpts and a news report about it here and here. Basically, the general – or “THE RUNAWAY GENERAL” as he is hysterically referred to – has been the victim of journalist hype. It is the magazine’s editors that call the White House “wimps”, and it is the author that uses almost every f-word in the piece, gratuitously, gratingly, and not while quoting anyone. The only f-word used by someone else is a Brit saying how much some people love McChrystal’s habit of showing up on patrol.


But of the inflammatory quotations and asides, I think it is safe to say they’re mostly ill-judged wisecracks. One in particular from a McChrystal aide about Joe Biden is specifically meant to be a joke. McChrystal also laughs about not wanting to open an email from Richard Holbrooke, and exhibits a reluctance to have a posh dinner in France. Some aides need to wash their mouths out. That really is about it.

I was immediately reminded of Marion Barry’s infamous line, “The bitch set me up!”

Now, I agree that Michael Hastings is an exceedingly hostile reporter, which makes me wonder all the more why McChrystal agreed to grant him so much time and access.  But the idea that he said nothing particularly objectionable is, well, absurd.

It’s true that the opening exchange, wherein McChrystal grouses about having to go to some fancy dinner in Paris, is unobjectionable.  The “fucking gay” remark was made by an aide after McChrystal had departed, so no foul there.

This is sophomoric and not something he should have said in front of a reporter:

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

This, too, is problematic:

The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “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.”

The words aren’t McChrystal’s but they’re a pretty clear insinuation that he was belittling the Commander-in-Chief in front of his staff, probably routinely.  That’s unacceptable.

In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.” Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.” Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” says an adviser. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’ ”

McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. “The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” says a member of the general’s team. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He’s a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can’t just have someone yanking on shit.”

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,” he groans. “I don’t even want to open it.” He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

“Make sure you don’t get any of that on your leg,” an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

I could live with any of this were it not made knowing that a reporter — and not one they could trust to ignore their locker room talk — was right there recording every bit of it.  It’s simply unprofessional.

That’s just in the first three pages of an eight-pager I haven’t had time to complete.

Hastings makes things seem worse by interspersing his own editorial commentary and including lots of damning quotes from people outside McChrystal’s team.  But make no mistake:  McChrystal didn’t cover himself in glory here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    Okay, I am willing to bet there was a lot of talking behind Obama’s back and what they did and didn’t like about the way he was running things. I can’t help but think if there were tensions over the course of action that there would be discussions and some of it not so flattering of the CiC. And frankly I don’t care if they were discussing Obama and his leadership or lack thereof, or interest in getting to know the general or lack thereof. Rules or no rules, I have a hard time believing no general or high ranking officer has complained and discussed amongst some high level aides frustrations with commanders.

    I think the problem is that what was said in private was trotted out in front of the media. I would just think somebody who has moved that far up the chain of command would know when to say certain things and when not to, and I don’t understand why he consented to this interview.

  2. tom p says:

    Here is the part about all this that bothers me: The man at the top sets the tone for those around him. McCH allowed this kind of commentary to flourish within the command.

    If it were him and one other guy he depended on grousing while having a late nite tip… I would not complain. But for him to allow this kind of grousing without ever saying, “Hey! That is your CiC you are talking about!”

    Well, it makes me think he lost all contact with reality and his place in the Chain of Command… hence, when a reporter showed up, they didn’t think twice about it (especially him).