McChrystal Summoned to Washington

General Stanley McChrystal has not only likely ended his career but seriously damaged the already dimming chances of success in Afghanistan.

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been ordered home by an angry president after several intemperate remarks made in a Rolling Stone interview.

In “General McChrystal Crosses the Line,” Doug Mataconis has already outlined the basics of the case and why McChrystal’s insubordination will likely lead to his being fired.

In my New Atlanticist piece, “McChrystal’s Loose Lips May Sink Afghan Ship,” I outline why he’s not only put his career but the mission he’s been assigned in serious jeopardy.

Key excerpts:

Even professionals occasionally say things in private about their bosses and peers that they wouldn’t want repeated in public.  When they are, smart bosses weigh the totality of the circumstances in deciding the appropriate action.

McChrystal’s allowing his representatives to go off half-cocked in an interview with a hostile publication was incredibly foolish.  And so is belittling the president’s hand-picked national security team.    Say what you will about Joe Biden and Jim Jones but they’re no amateurs; indeed, both have far more high level experience than McChrystal.

As I noted in this space last October, McChrystal has a habit of pushing the envelope on insubordination.  And it seems to stem from an arrogant belief that he’s not only the smartest guy in any room but that everyone else is an idiot.  Which was likely MacArthur’s downfall, too.


As Harold MacMillan famously noted, “Events dear boy, events” are what tend to blow governments off course.   With the mission already unraveling, this is the last thing Obama needed.

Thirteen months ago, when General David McKiernan was fired to bring in McChrystal and his “A team”  — largely, ironically, because McKiernan was considered much less skilled at the Washington politics game — I observed that “it simply doesn’t make sense to change horses at this juncture. While McChrystal is by all accounts a rising star and likely to be superb at this assignment, another change in command is another period of adjustment at a critical time. “   Now, it seems we’re about to change horses yet again at an even more dire time for the mission.

Much more at the link.

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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. PD Shaw says:

    James, I’m not sure I can square your (a) initial caution against changing horses in mid-stream, (b) general pessimism about military successes, at least that achievable in the given time-frame, and (c) the assumption that McChrystal nonetheless must go.

    I don’t know if I want to defend these gaffes, but I can’t see them as egregious enough to compromise the entire mission over.

    How ironic that a case of verbal diarrhea involving Biden might decide the Afghan War, and this time he’s innocent.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I just don’t see how you can allow a highly visible subordinate to keep mouthing off like this. Not only is it a criminal offense but it seriously undermines confidence in the team.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    The timing of this speaks to the poor progress in Afghanistan. McChrystal is frustrated and floundering and lashed out at others. He put a lot of eggs in Karzai’s basket and the administration went with McChrystal’s view rather than really challenge the outcome of the sham election. Given Karzai’s recent behavior, Obama must really be questioning McChrystal’s judgment.

    James’ comment about McChrystal thinking everyone else is an idiot is revealing here. I’ve learned over the years in my personal life never, ever to trust this type of guy. They are often wrong, and when they a) attack the messenger, b) blame those who trusted them, and then c) wipe their hands of any responsibility and move onto their next tirade.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I simply think in war, you’ve got to use whatever tools you can to fight it, particularly if you are under a self-imposed deadline. Otherwise, you’re doing the equivalent of stopping clean-up crews in the Gulf to check for permits. Priorities have to be set.

    As to crimes, too many of the statements come from McChrystal’s staff, not from the General himself. I don’t think all of the statements are contemptuous, as opposed to perhaps sophmoric. And I don’t think Holbrooke, Jones and Eikenberry are covered by Article 88.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    The general sets the tone. His staff wouldn’t be mouthing off unless he established that mentality.

    I cut a whole lot of slack to guys doing impossible jobs, and I cut more slack still to guys with a chest full of medals. But I think Marked Man has it right: McChrystal is a loud-mouth who is failing at his mission. He was given all he asked for. He said he could do it. Obama backed him in the teeth of a barrage of criticism from right and left. And McChrystal’s gotten nowhere. So now he’s pissed and he’s looking to blame someone else for his own failure.

    McChrystal is no Petraeus.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    According to this Fred Kaplan article he wrote back when there was discussion of Generals being contemptuous of Rumsfeld, the Manual for Courts-Martial states:

    “If not personally contemptuous, adverse criticism of one of the officials or legislatures named in the article in the course of a political discussion, even though emphatically expressed, may not be charged as a violation of the article.”

    Kaplan asked the Defense Department for a definition of contemptuous and was provided this:

    “‘Contemptuous’ means insulting, rude, disdainful or otherwise disrespectfully attributing to another qualities of meanness, disreputableness, or worthlessness.”

    Frankly, the only person that seems to me to be ‘contemptuous’ is whichever aide called Jones “a clown” stuck in 1984. But apparently the NSA is not protected from contemptuous remarks.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***He was given all he asked for.***No he was not and how long did it take?

    Face it, what he said was wrong to say, who he said it to was stupid, but it was the truth and everyone one with half a clue knows it.

  8. tom p says:

    “Face it, what he said was wrong to say, who he said it to was stupid, but it was the truth and everyone one with half a clue knows it.”

    GA: as to whether it was the truth or not, I have not a clue, and seeing as you were not involved in any of the behind the scenes happenings, I feel it safe to say you don’t either. Given that fact, you should leave it at:

    “Face it, what he said was wrong to say, who he said it to was stupid.”

    Which leaves us with the question of, “Do we want somebody that STUPID, running the war in Afghanistan?”