Did media-savvy general stray deliberately into hostile territory?


ANALYSIS:No one has asked how such a blatant mistake by a top general came to pass, writes PATRICK BURY

WASHINGTON’S BLOGGERS have gone into overdrive on the political and military implications of General Stanley McChrystal’s disparaging remarks about the Obama administration, and his consequent dismissal as US commander in Afghanistan.

Despite all the hyperbole of generals overstepping their constitutional role, no one has asked how such a blatant mistake by one of America’s top generals came to pass.

Gen McChrystal is an extremely intelligent and dedicated professional soldier. He is a fellow at both Harvard University and on the US Council of Foreign Relations. As a former special forces officer, he has almost 35 years of experience leading elite soldiers in hostile environments around the world.

Furthermore, he has commanded the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 – 2008, where he was largely credited with masterminding the killing of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the subsequent attrition of al-Qaeda’s capabilities in Iraq.

As a four-star general who has commanded special forces, McChrystal has an acute understanding of the political implications of military action, from the tactical to the strategic level. Although shielded from the media’s glare through much of his special forces career, McChrystal would have an innate understanding of how the media can affect military operations.

Indeed, his background should have made him more media wary than most of his non-special operations peers in the military.

As Nato’s force commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal also consistently displayed that he understood that communications technologies and the media represented a battle space in which he could potentially lose the war, whatever the military situation on the ground.

His interviews represented those of a media-savvy general who understood implicitly how the media worked.

Added to this, McChrystal had a team of civilian media experts advising him on the day-to-day lines to take when dealing with the media.

This is not the kind of man that makes unintentional mistakes like those about to be published in a Rolling Stonemagazine article entitled “The Runaway General”.

It is, perhaps, the action of a man who feels unsupported (both politically and logistically) by his political masters and their draw-down dates; who is at odds with many of the US’s civilian Afghanistan team; who is seeing his operations in Marjah and Kandahar struggle, and who is losing the support of many of his own soldiers. Maybe it is also the action of one who sees the writing is on the wall in Afghanistan.

The facts seem to suggest that he did not control the Rolling Stonereporters’ access and didn’t check what they were writing down – basic practice for most officers in the military.

Nor, it seems, having been given the transcript of the article by Rolling Stone’s editors, did McChrystal attempt to clarify his position, or that of his team, or stop it from being published.

He then issued an apology before the article was even published. And when it was, he immediately offered his resignation.

I wonder did Gen Stanley McChrystal want this?

Patrick Bury is from Wicklow and served with the British army in Afghanistan. He is the Trust Medal winner for academic performance at The Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and delivered a dissertation on Military-Media Relations for his Masters from King’s College, London. His book Callsign Hades, based on his experience leading patrols in Afghanistan, will be published in September