Wednesday, June 23, 2010

General Thoughts

Sorry I didn't get to the subject of General McChrystal's Rolling Stone interview yesterday, but real life intruded.

Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more questions it raised:

1. Why in heaven's name would a seasoned general, one in fact bitten by the press before, agree to an in-depth interview with Rolling Stone magazine of all media outlets? That, in and of itself, reveals a serious lapse in judgment.

2. Frankly, insofar as the piece is accurate and a fair representation of the principals, and to this point that has not been challenged, it makes the general and his aides look somewhat juvenile. If you've ever been in the military, you know that it absolutely teems with inside jokes and gallows humor of the sort that invariably look fairly ridiculous and tasteless when witnessed by anyone from the outside. Still, even if he wasn't a general, McChrystal is 55 years old. At some point you leave that part of your life behind.

3. Up-close and in-depth, no one either appears or is that good, that smart, that decisive, that handsome, etc.. Honest scrutiny always reveals our shortcomings, our pettiness, our vanity. CBS's 60 Minutes became famous in part because of their practice of signalling who they had decided to make the villain of the report by focusing their cameras close in on his or her face. The print medium achieves the same effect when a reporter is allowed more or less full access and actually reports what he sees and hears. If they're either star-struck or just friendly with the subject, ideologically or otherwise, they'll withhold the unflattering aspects. But rest assured, the unflattering aspects are always there to be reported. Is there any doubt about Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hasting's biases?

4. Although numerous McChrystal supporters from within the military have made their way into print or onto the airwaves over the last couple of days, that support is not anything like universal. The current, extremely restrictive, ROE (Rules of Engagement) in Afghanistan are a very sore subject for most of the soldiers serving there. Byron York reports, in fact, that McChrystal's "real offense" is just that. If McChrystal is the warrior general some insist he is, then he ought to know better than to tie his troops hands in a fashion that exposes them to unnecessary harm and ultimately frustrates and jeopardizes mission accomplishment. This war without casualties is the dangerous dream of dilettantes. Perhaps he's following orders. But if so, then he needs to protest,...privately. If to no avail, then he should resign and then do so publicly.

5. President Obama is fully within his prerogatives to replace the general. Frankly, under similar circumstances, I think if I were president, I would. At any rate, I, for one, do not think either McChrystal or anyone else indispensable. And particularly so if the strategy has slowly become the avoidance of offense rather than the pursuit of victory. You don't need stars on your shoulders to manage that enterprise.

6. I just don't get it.

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