Fact checking Rolling Stone’s McChrystal profile

I have to begin by saying: “I hate war.”

While I am not dogmatic about it, I truly believe there are some instances where intervention – in cases of human atrocities, etc. – may be the right thing to do.

On that note, we are in two wars.  Like it or not … we are there.

But, what is difficult for me to stomach is a profile, steeped in opinion,  unattributed, and with something as complex as war and its strategies – providing absolutely no complex comparisons.

While reading Hastings’ story “Runaway General” for the GAZILLIONTH time, it was not that easy to find things to fact check … as there weren’t that many facts.  However, let’s begin at the beginning.

“Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn’t know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.”

“Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect.”

  • It is just kind of rude to consider including a political bent as per fact check request: “IMPORTANT — PLEASE DO NOT INCLUDE THIS — THIS IS PERSONAL AND PRIVATE INFORMATION AND UNREALTED [sic] TO HIS JOB. IT WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE TO SHARE. MY REASON FOR THIS IS IT WOULD PRESENT AN UNDUE COMMAND INFLLUENCE [sic] ON JUNIOR OFFICERS OR SOLDIERS WHO SHOULD MAKE THEIR OWN POLITICAL DECISIONS. THERE ARE VERY STRICT RULES IN THE MILITARY ON SEPARATING CHURCH AND STATE ON THIS SORT OF STUFF – HAVE TO KEEP OUT OF POLITICAL PREFERENCE AND PERSONAL CHOICE.”

“From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency.”

  • Well, that’s debatable as per Hastings’ own source:“If you go back to this report that General McChrystal submitted to the President – this is the one that was leaked imprudently as you’ll recollect – he didn’t write that report. “

“Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population … “

  • This may be nitpicking, but there’s no source for this.  International Monetary Fund in the current Wikipedia listing says the country is 13th poorest; the CIA says 10th.

” … it’s precisely the kind of gigantic, mind-numbing, multigenerational nation-building project he explicitly said he didn’t want.”

  • Is it? “During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama spoke about using diplomacy, nation-building and other non-military approaches to promote U.S. interests abroad. According to this world view, advancing living standards abroad could enhance security at home.”

“The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a ‘bleeding ulcer.'”

  • “Before McChrystal got into trouble for remarks made to a Rolling Stone magazine reporter, he raised eyebrows with a remark about a key NATO operation in the country’s south — to restore Afghan government control at Marjah. He said the effort had turned into ‘a bleeding ulcer.’  By that, he meant that ongoing clashes with Taliban fighters and mounting coalition casualties were making the initial success of the Marjah offensive look like a longer-term failure.”
  • In the original story:  “The military shares the blame for generating great expectations about how fast the Marjah campaign could turn the tide against the Taliban , expectations that defense officials in Washington , speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration was eager to embrace.”

“McChrystal banned alcohol on base … “

” … kicked out Burger King and other symbols of American excess … “

” … expanded the morning briefing to include thousands of officers and refashioned the command center into a Situational Awareness Room …”

  • Again, not really as the person fact checked iterated:  “WHEN WE ARRIVED THE COMMANDERS MORNING BRIEF HAD BEEN RESERVED ONLY FOR SENIOR STAFF AT HEADQUARTERS – ABOUT 30 PEOPLE – HE MADE IT OPEN AND AVAILABLE TO ANYONE IN THEATER, AND IN THE UNITED STATES OR EMBASSIES ABROAD WHO WANTED TO DIAL IN. WE ESTIMATE NOW ABOUT 4000 + PEOPLE PARTICIPATE EACH MORNING”

“… a free-flowing information hub modeled after Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s offices in New York.”

  • Nope, not really:  “WELL NOT MODELED AFTER BLOOMBERG’S CITY HALL – BECAUSE HE WAS DOING THIS AT JSOC BEFORE BLOOMBERG WAS MAYOR. YOU COULD SAY SIMILIAR [sic] TO BLOOMBERG’S OFFICE, OR A TRADING FLOOR, OR A NEWS ROOM. FLAT, FAST, EFFICIENT.”

“By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men … “

  • Just how surprising is this information?  Dec. 2009:  “Eikenberry won friends among professional diplomats for his easygoing manner and quick understanding of their problems – and for his open irritation at McChrystal’s imperious manner. ‘McChrystal came in and he just thought he was some kind of Roman proconsul, a [Douglas] MacArthur,’ an Eikenberry colleague notes. ‘He was going to run the whole thing. He didn’t need to consult with the State Department or civilians, let alone the ambassador. This was not only the military’s show, it was his show.’

“The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal’s influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. ‘In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight,’ says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations. “

  • Yet Eikenberry publicly praised the choice:  “With a multinational coalition like that in Afghanistan, Ambassador Eikenberry said, it is essential to have non-Americans in leadership posts. ‘That’s a very powerful signal that this is a true alliance,’ he said, adding that Mr. Sedwill was an ‘absolutely superb diplomat.'”

“Cadets repeatedly trashed the mess hall in food fights, and birthdays were celebrated with a tradition called “rat fucking … ‘”

  • Nothing new. Ratfuck and Rat Fuck are Nixonian terms as well as military and more.

“In the late 1990s, McChrystal shrewdly improved his inside game, spending a year at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and then at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he co-authored a treatise on the merits and drawbacks of humanitarian interventionism.”

  • Yes. He did.  It is here. And here’s a crucial bit:  “We must, however, remember images cut both ways.  As images of suffering or injustice call us to intervene, images such as Americans or Somalis dead in the streets of Mogadishu or the unintended civilian casualties that accompany every conflict act as powerful counterforces.  We must keep both images in mind, tempering our desire to help and willingness to sacrifice with realism born of experience.  We do well to remember that for every monument erected by the grateful citizens of a nation we have aided, there are countless graves in Arlington and other hallowed ground marking our sacrifices in failed and fruitless efforts.  Intervention is never easy and, regardless of the price paid, is ultimately futile.  Failure in ill-considered actions can produce their own images that drive us inward.  Those images can haunt future, more pressing tragedies, preventing our needed intervention.  There is fodder enough for those who would recoil from the terrible costs of intervening to help others.  We must use our maturity and judgment to prevent the power of images from controlling our policy … we must recognize that power in and of itself is amoral.  Applied recklessly or with too little forethought, it enables the powerful to do harm as well as good.  We possess unequaled potential to cause  death, damage, and unintended evil … Our actions, particularly interventions, can upset regions, nations, cultures, economies, and  peoples, however virtuous our purpose.”
  • The GOP member who Obama supposedly echoed? Hastert.

Hastings didn’t get too far when reading the Wiki entry on counterinsurgency, he writes: “When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975).”

This last bit kinda gets to me:  “Whatever the nature of the new plan, the delay underscores the fundamental flaws of counterinsurgency. After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack.”

  • It has been contended for a long time that Taliban are not going anywhere, that those the military is after are Al Qaeda.  I don’t want kill the Taliban as an overall goal … and neither does the President … and neither does Afghanistan … and neither DID McChrystal: “Perhaps McChrystal’s most intriguing idea is his belief that he can persuade large numbers of Taliban to change sides. Coaxing insurgents back into the fold was, after all, one key to pulling Iraq back from the brink of apocalypse. Beginning in late 2006, tens of thousands of Sunni tribesmen, many of them former insurgents, agreed to stop fighting and to come onto the payroll, usually as policemen. Almost overnight, the Iraqi insurgency was reduced to Al Qaeda fanatics and a handful of others who could be targeted by McChrystal’s commandos in JSOC. This shaky — very shaky — arrangement is still keeping what peace there is in Iraq today.”
  • I must note, that it is not a so-called ‘surge’ that seems to be keeping a measure of piece … it’s talking to the Taliban.
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1 Comment

  1. […] going on in this war were astoundingly correct, and had more to do with what is going on than any Rolling Stone profile ever […]


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