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  • If I could read Stanley McChrystal’s mind …

    Posted by Lexington Green on June 25th, 2010 (All posts by )

    … I think I would find that he set himself up intentionally to let the Rolling Stone guy get quotes that would end his tenure.

    Gen. McChrystal is anything but a stupid or careless man. He is a cold and calculating strategist, both against the enemy, and in terms of his career and his rise to three star rank. He was also a warrior who would expend lives as needed to destroy the enemy and to win. And he was willing to take personal physical risks as well. Sacrifice was something he was willing and able to demand from himself and others.

    The article tellingly notes that, over his career, he had a genius for knowing exactly where the lines are, and how much he could get away with. Yet, here, he stepped firmly over that line. We are supposed to believe this was inadvertent? That is not plausible. I cannot conceive of Gen. McChrystal making the Homer Simpson “d’oh!” noise.

    He had to know he was doing that.

    But why?

    Here is the logic I see.

    1. He and Obama had agreed to a plan.
    2. In practice, the agreed-to plan was failing.
    3. There was an increasing awareness that the plan was failing.
    4. McChrystal did not want to preside over a failure.
    5. But he did not have the standing to request a changed plan.
    6. He could stay in command, and fail.
    7. He could resign. But then he would have to say why he was doing so, including explaining that the plan was not working, and why. This would embarrass Obama and the others who were involved in appointing him. This would also likely lead to abandonment of the war and failure.
    8. Or he could cause himself to be replaced in a way which, on its face, was unrelated to the existing plan, and would not cause a public reexamination of the existing plan, so that the focus of his termination would not be the failure of the current plan.
    9. A replacement commander would have a clean slate and be able to demand and get a new plan, without going back and having recriminations about the old plan.
    10. The possibility of a new plan that might work, not a doomed plan, could only come to life with a new commander.
    11. McChrystal had to take himself out in a way that allowed a new commander to come in and to insist on a new plan.
    12. McChrystal set himself up to get taken out.
    13. While he was at it, he did it in a way that leveled criticism at others whom also wanted to take out, who would be reduced as obstacles to the success of the new commander and the new plan.
    14. McChrystal hit the self-destruct button.
    15. Obama acted according to McChrystal’s script.
    16. The war continues under new direction, with the potential for success.

    McChrystal wanted to win in Afghanistan. He was in a strategic box. He needed to break our war effort out of the box. To do that he needed to sacrifice a chess piece. You cannot be sentimental about sacrificing chess pieces. It became apparent that the chess piece he had to sacrifice was Stan McChrystal.

    He made the move and took himself off the board so the game could go on, directed by someone else, possibly to a win.

    We will never know. He will never tell us. He may not have told anybody. But that is my theory.

    If you cannot put pure speculation on a blog, where can you put it?

    UPDATE: Our colleague Joseph Fouche makes a good case that this was a botched play by McChrystal.

     

    13 Responses to “If I could read Stanley McChrystal’s mind …”

    1. Richard Says:

      I concur, and feel my intuition has been validated. Thank you for the post.

      McChrystal is not a fool. He must be presumed to have intended the natural consequences of his actions – and that his aides where not off on a frolic of their own invention – it was orchestrated to get the stone rolling. McChrystal surely knew who would succeed him – “Bush’s general.” So, Obama eats his criticism of Patraeus’ Iraq strategy, and now Patraeus has him by the short hairs, ready and willing to endorse and marshal support, and slip his premature declaration of a withdrawal deadline Meanwhile, the Veep and the Dips also are discredited, muzzled, vulnerable and must perforce conform. McChrystal meanwhile retains his rank, and reputation. Secure in knowing that he has have saved country from defeat, and dispelled the thrall of a cabal of bungling incompetents. Those that know – know, those that don’t chortle inanely among themselves in the salons of D.C. – the “District of Confusion”

      Sweet!

    2. MM Says:

      Hello Lex,

      Loved your comments on Zen and came to see what there is to see.

      Two theories about McCrystal. One he is an arrogant jerk who was a golden boy with Rumsfeld and has no respect for Obama, or, he has been living in his rarefied little adolescent world for so long that he believes it is the real world and lost his hold on what was outside his bubble. When I read about his carrying monogramed nunchucks and quoting a drug overdosed actor, Bruce Lee, any respect I might have had for him evaporated. In any case I agree that it was a self inflicted act and most likely the second part is true and he just forgot that his world is only a tiny part of the real world.

      I do feel sorry for him too, because he did seem to be somebody who worried more about managing down and looking out for the people who worked for him, than the people above. I know I have made really dumb mistakes doing exactly the same thing and forgetting that my world is not all the world.

      The best may come of it because it wakes up a lot of people that the US is bogged down in a war with no exit strategy and no win at the end of the tunnel that is “worth a pitcher of warm spit.” To steal a metaphor from a past that nobody who went through it when the general was named “Waste-more-land” wants to ever see repeated. And here it is again.

    3. Sgt. Mom Says:

      I lean towards the ‘deliberate act of blowing the explosive bolts on his own career hatch’ … I am wrestling with my own essay about this, but basically it boils down to “this was a deeply stupid move” and “stupid people to not rise up to being three-star generals” in the brutal meritocracy of the military. They just don’t. I was only a lowly E-5 in my time in, but I worked in a job that took me doing interviews/and or/working with higher-ranking people … and just about all of them were very, very sharp. As in hypodermic-needle sharp. So – there is something very suspicious about all this, but I don’t suppose we will know for sure for another couple of decades, until the secret stuff is declassified and everyone involved can write their memoirs without feeling the repercussions.

    4. Pawn Says:

      I completely agree with this explanation. Quietly falling on ones own sword for the sake of your honor-bound duty to those that serve you is beyond the grasp of many. The true “genius” of the move was the manner in which he baited Obama.

      Obama’s vanity is his ultimate personal weakness. The General exploited this weakness as he would against any enemy. The selfless vs. the selfish. The selfish always win in their eyes and the eyes of those drawn to them.

      It’s a huge personal gamble in a lose-lose game. If victory ever comes, it is the ultimate test of selflessness to accept the fact that any glory is quietly theirs alone. All blame will be laid at his feet either way.

      I know.

      It’s what he’s done.

      Bitterness in old age awaits us.

    5. cjm Says:

      1. Patton and FDR had agreed to a plan.
      2. In practice, the agreed-to plan was failing.
      3. There was an increasing awareness that the plan was failing.
      4. PAtton did not want to preside over a failure.
      5. But he did not have the standing to request a changed plan.
      6. He could stay in command, and fail.
      7. He could resign. But then he would have to say why he was doing so, including explaining that the plan was not working, and why. This would embarrass FDR and the others who were involved in appointing him. This would also likely lead to abandonment of the war and failure.
      8. Or he could cause himself to be replaced in a way which, on its face, was unrelated to the existing plan, and would not cause a public reexamination of the existing plan, so that the focus of his termination would not be the failure of the current plan.
      9. A replacement commander would have a clean slate and be able to demand and get a new plan, without going back and having recriminations about the old plan.
      10. The possibility of a new plan that might work, not a doomed plan, could only come to life with a new commander.
      11. Patton had to take himself out in a way that allowed a new commander to come in and to insist on a new plan.
      12. Patton set himself up to get taken out, by slapping a soldier
      13. While he was at it, he did it in a way that leveled criticism at others whom also wanted to take out, who would be reduced as obstacles to the success of the new commander and the new plan.
      14. Patton hit the self-destruct button.
      15. FDR acted according to Patton’s script.
      16. The war continues under new direction, with the potential for success.

      works for me.

      you watch to many james bond movies.

    6. Lexington Green Says:

      Ha. Pretty good. Problem is, we know the facts about Patton. This does not fit. McChrystal and the situation he was facing were nothing like the situation with Patton in Sicily. We were not losing when Patton hit the soldier, we had just won in Sicily. The slap occurred in the heat of the moment. McChrystal allowed the RS reporter to hang around a long time. Patton was impulsive, and his superiors were always worried about that. He came up on the small interwar Army, and Marshall had too few officers to go around, so he stuck with Patton and worked around the personality conflicts. Patton would never get to the senior ranks today.

      And you don’t have to be thinking in James Bond terms to think that Generals fighting wars engage in political calculations when they take actions, of any type.

      Still, a funny response. It highlights the bottom line of my post, which is that what went on in McChrystal’s head will probably always be pure speculation, and we will never know.

    7. sol vason Says:

      Hastings wrote his story before he ever met McChrystal. The 30 “fact check” questions are worded in such a way that it obvious they are derived from rumors about McChrystal, not from personal observation by Hastings. Hasting’s article “Hack: Confessions of a Political Reporter” shows that he uses interviews not for fact finding but rather to give speculative fiction the appearance of authenticity.

      The McChrystal Affair is an elegantly conceived, planned and executed operation designed to aid Iranian control of the Middle East and to facilitate rebuilding the Soviet Empire. Its principal goal was to replace Petraeus in Centcom with some one who was anti-Israel and who accepted the legitimacy of a Soviet Sphere of Influence.

      Notice that Obama (who suffers from Decision Deficit Disorder) read the RS article, fired McChrystal and transferred Petraeus so quickly that opposition never had a chance to form. The article was read and the reaction taken before the magazine issue even reached the RS website, let alone the newsstands.

      Watch for changes. The US will no longer store weapons in Israel. Stalin’s statue will reappear in Georgia. Russia and Iraq will sign a pipeline deal. Predator flights will no longer be newsworthy. Obama and Medvedev will have hamburgers.

      In a few years we will read in Pravda about how Obama regained control of his foreign policy and how Petraeus is still bogged down in Afganistan.

    8. sol vason Says:

      Here is a COIN analysis:

      COIN recognizes that wars are fought in 3 levels
      – on the battlefield
      – in the head of the commander. If the commander is misled he will lose. If he is killed or removed, he will lose. If he can be convinved he cannot win, he will flee or surrender.
      – in the leadership of the commander’s government. If the government is killed, confused or simply believes it cannot win, then the war is lost.

      The Taliban recognize that the US ALWAYS wins on the battlefield. Therefore the Taliban fights to confuse the US government. The Viet Cong showed how to confuse the US government. The Taliban seeks to confuse US government decision-making by by controlling its sources of information about progress on the battlefield as reported by reporters.

      Mc Chrystal was competing with the Taliban for control of Rolling Stone vis-a-vis Afghanistan. He lost. The Taliban blew him off the battle field. Now they will sing of this victory around their campfires for years to come. Perhaps RS will record the video and post it on youtube alongside the children singing “When we die as martyrs”.

    9. cjm Says:

      LG: glad you took it in good humor :)

      From Michael Yon’s postings, General McChrystal was doing a bad job and was starting to lose his mens’ support. That is what makes me think your analysis doesn’t fit this situation. Also, it seems like McChrystal was something of a leftie and he might have been drawn to Rolling Stone out of vanity — thinking they would do a puff piece on a fellow traveller. All in all I think it was to everyone’s benefit that he screwed up and got bounced.

    10. Lexington Green Says:

      “All in all I think it was to everyone’s benefit that he screwed up and got bounced.”

      Way too soon to say.

      By 2050, we will probably know.

    11. Tatyana Says:

      CjM and Lex: here’s another speculative comparison, this time to firing general MacArthur.

    12. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Patton was a special type of general. It may well be true that he would not have come up in today’s army. It has long been a theory that very effective small unit commanders do not get stars. Evans Carlson is one example. Merritt Edson and Sam Griffith may be exceptions due to post-war enthusiasm. Certainly Bull Simons was never considered for general.

      Patton is widely considered to be the best of the WWII commanders. Bradley damned him with faint praise in the movie. Bradley failed rather spectacularly in the Huertgen Forest. There are other, lesser known, great commanders like Geiger but Patton deserves his reputation. Even today, men who hated him in 1944 will say “I served with Patton” instead of giving a unit designation.

      Aaron Bank lived a half mile, from me for many years. He is another example of how the combat leaders often do not get the stars. I have a brother-in-law who is in a similar situation, having been passed over for general by the Marine Corps although he is legendary in the Corps as a fighter pilot. His error was answering honestly when asked by a Congressman, “Do your men need anything else to be ready for this war,” on the eve of the Gulf War I. He has the last laugh as he just sold the company he founded after leaving the Corps for eight figures. I think he would have chosen the stars.

    13. Harold Says:

      “Patton would never get to the senior ranks today. ”

      Which is part of the problem with senior ranks.

      Peacetime Navies and Armies fail continuously to promote wartime leaders. Part of the process of going to war in the intial weeks after Pearl Harbot was clearing deadwood from US Navy senior ranks.

      We’re not enough at war to really clear out deadwood, though we can see who the best combat commanders on a junior level are.