Stanley McChrystal Retires

General Stanley McChrystal retired with full honors while being lauded by the Secretary of Defense.

General Stanley McChrystal retired from the Army yesterday afternoon.   Given the ignominious end to his last command, some had suggested he might be forced to retire at his permanent 3-star rank.  Instead, he was sent off with all the pomp and circumstance that an impressive career

Spencer Ackerman reports:

His tenure in command of the Afghanistan war hasn’t had time to show definitive results — either successes or failures — making him the rare commander not to be dismissed for his wartime performance. Accordingly, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, relayed from Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, that McChrystal “laid the foundation for our final triumph.” Not much more could be said.

But McChrystal, who showed up to the ceremony in his combat uniform, said he didn’t want to let his remarks grow awkward. He actively joked about his situation, warning those in attendance who were inclined to contradict his war stories that he had files and photos on some of them, “and I know a Rolling Stone reporter.” He kept joking about issuing a Tactical Directive to his wife, Annie, about his famously spartan lifestyle of early morning physical training and eating one meal a day. Alas, she represents an “insurgency of one woman,” McChrystal continued, hamming it up, but the enemy is “uninterested in reconciliation.” He turned to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and said that subduing her would take “at least 40,000 troops.”

But he grew more serious and reflective. McChrystal’s voice caught once while delivering his remarks: when he honored the comradeship of his fellow warriors, “the greatest honor in my career.” While he was perceived to be disrespectful to the Obama administration in his Rolling Stone profile, he paid his tribute to the “civilian and military leaders of our nation… beginning with President Obama.” When it came to Afghanistan — after Jawad awarded him the country’s highest medal — McChrystal said his tenure in command convinced him “the Afghans have the courage, the strength, and the resiliency” to prove “equal to the task.”

Gates honored McChrystal as a “consummate Ranger,” honoring reputation as a scholar and as a warrior. “No single American has inflicted more fear and more loss of life on our country’s enemies than Stan McChrystal,” Gates said. In Iraq, when McChrystal led the Joint Special Operations Command, “night by night, intercept by intercept, cell by cell, [he] first confronted and then crushed al-Qaeda in Iraq, a campagin well underway before the surge ,when violence seemed unstoppable.” His performance made McChrystal Gates’s choice to lead the Afghanistan war when President Obama decided on his new strategy last year.

General George Casey, the chief of staff of the Army, noted that McChrystal’s official Army record shows nearly 34 years of dwell time between deployments — an indication of just how secretive McChrystal’s career has been. According to Casey, when McChrystal led JSOC to a successful manhunt for al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, McChrystal had Zarqawi’s corpse brought to his headquarters for personal inspection.

McChrystal was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal by Gates and the (Army) Distinguished Service Medal by Casey.   The only higher awards are the Medal of Honor and the (Army) Distinguished Service Cross/Navy Cross/Air Force Cross, honors for extraordinary valor under fire.

To put it another way:  Had McChrystal not been relieved for cause from his last command and conceived a counterinsurgency strategy so brilliant that the December review of the Afghanistan mission determined that, to everyone’s surprise, Afghanistan was more prosperous and democratic than Sweden, he would have received exactly the same medals.

My guess is that those black ops were even more impressive than we’ve been led to believe.

Ackerman reports that McChrystal’s future is “uncertain.”  He’s turned down a lucrative offer from defense consulting behemoth Booz-Allen-Hamilton.   It’s a virtual certainty, though, that his next job will require that he pays more in taxes than a four star general receives in salary.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Had McChrystal not been relieved for cause from his last command and conceived a counterinsurgency strategy so brilliant that the December review of the Afghanistan mission determined that, to everyone’s surprise, Afghanistan was more prosperous and democratic than Sweden.”

    Satire? Jim you’ve been in the military, you know what these rituals mean. You’re literally on the money about the salary though.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Satire? Jim you’ve been in the military, you know what these rituals mean.

    Yeah, I get that these are awards that 4-stars get at the end of their tour. A DDSM is essentially a general’s ARCOM. But, sheesh, it usually requires the successful completion on the tour!

    You’re literally on the money about the salary though.

    Yeah, I borrowed the line from a friend who retired as a 2-star and took a vice presidency at a very well known defense contractor, simultaneously getting ridiculously less responsibility and ridiculously more money. Not surprisingly, he cared more about the former than the latter and soon quit to take the presidency of a contracting firm most haven’t heard of and what I suspect was a substantial pay cut.

  3. L L Smith says:

    I have a Marine in Afghanistan. I was mad as heck at the circumstances when Gen McChrystal was re-called to Washington and sobbed in object despair and sheer terror for my son when he was relieved of his duty. Thank you, Gen McChrystal, for your service to our country. God bless you and your family as you look to your future! May it be prosperous and as peaceful you want it to be!

  4. steve says:

    It’s a free country, so he should do what he wants, but I kind of hope he decides to teach. His reputation should be able to get him a fairly prestigious academic position.

    Steve

  5. I agree with Steve. He should teach or some similar job. He’ll one heck of a pension and should plan on spending some time sitting by a pool.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    James Joyner says:
    Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 14:25

    “But, sheesh, it usually requires the successful completion on the tour!”

    Not really from what I know. There’s a lot of talk about educational grade inflation but it’s minor by comparison with medal inflation.

  7. James Joyner says:

    There’s a lot of talk about educational grade inflation but it’s minor by comparison with medal inflation.

    My personal experience is now quite dated, although I do still work with senior field grade officers on a regular basis. It’s long been the case that, unless you really screwed up, your “end of tour award” was based on your rank and assignment. So, a lieutenant would get a Commendation Medal, a captain or major would get a Meritorious Service Medal, a colonel a Legion of Merit, and generals a Distinguished Service Medal. Those in joint assignments would get the Defense equivalent, which is technically higher in precedence but essentially equivalent.

    Typically, though, those relieved from command would get nothing or a lesser award, depending on the rationale for the relief.