The much discussed Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, it turns out, hasn't been much discussed. What has been talked about is a handful of quotes made by McChrystal and his aides about the civilian leadership, namely President Obama and Vice President "Bite Me" Biden. But half of the piece is a straight-forward discussion of McChrystal's military biography, along with a small detour into his rather remarkable married life.
Rolling Stone's reporter managed to do what the bumblers at BP did: spring a leak after driving a hole into McChrystal's life. Like oil in the gulf, the portrait despoiled the general's reputation, or, rather, confirmed it, since McChrystal has had a long history for stepping out of line, letting his personal opinions be known far and wide. McChrystal and his entourage or posse let loose in Paris was the Ugly American abroad, Frat Boys from Rube City, but Frat Boys with guns, or, worse, Frat Boys with any weapon imaginable.
Eruptions on earth continue to play a role: the Iceland volcano which shut down air travel over much of Europe was responsible for McChrystal's lengthy stay in not so Gay Paree. It's hard to believe that one of the general's aides says a private dinner McChrystal is forced to go to with a French Minister is "fucking gay." These guys have watched too many movies, because they come off as every cliche walking of Bud Light Lime Killers. By accident, it appears, McChrystal's wife comes to Paris, because it is the general and her 33rd wedding anniversary and to celebrate McChrystal takes her and some thirty of his boys to the most non "Gucci" bar they can find in the city of light, Kitty O'Shea's. The group proceeds to get as smashed as they can.
The reporter, Michael Hastings, most likely couldn't believe his luck to be included in this bizarre celebration, the whole stay in Paris, since most of his best quotes seem to stem from it. But to get to interview the wife, too, is definitely the icing on the cake. Hastings learns that since 2003 McChrystal and his wife have spent "less than 30 days a year" together. This may, or may not, be the typical upper Brass military marriage, but it seems to suit McChrystal. He confides to Hastings late in the evening that he would "die for them, " the men in his inner circle, as they would for him. Whatever McChrystal is, he's the type of guy who is only comfortable around other men.
One of McChrystal's past sins is his participation in the cover-up of former football star, Cpl. Pat Tillman, who died in Afghanistan by friendly fire, but that fact wasn't a savory one for the upper-ups and they put out months of disinformation about it. McChrystal's military history has been mainly in black ops, so he was well suited for this smoke and baloney. And his high tolerance for torture techniques, which became another black mark, all of which was, in Congress's normal fashion, overlooked in his confirmation hearings for the post he has now been relieved of.
McChrystal might be bright. He's certainly brave, given most of the definitions of the word. But his personalized set of nunchucks is enhanced with a quote from his favorite philosopher Bruce Lee (or Bruce Lee's scriptwriters): "There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." Well, McChrystal discovered there are limits, and the limits are what you can say – or show – for attribution in front of a young, hungry reporter. Whether one wants a general who extols Bruce Lee is another question entirely.
It was an aide who supposedly quoted the general about Obama, calling him "uncomfortable and intimidated" when Obama met with the top brass. That was most likely the fatal blow, the word intimidated. The last two Democratic presidents were uncomfortable with the military, since they had no military background themselves. But the military thought Bill Clinton more hostile than intimidated. That was an uneasy relationship. But the use of the word intimidated can be seen as a compliment to Obama, though not a compliment by the man who used the word. It seems clear Obama is not wholly sold on his various military strategies, since they ape George W. Bush's. But, for a set of bad reasons, he's going along with them. I'm sure he's embracing them with some timidity. He seems far from gung-ho. But that's a sympathetic reading. Because he's also going along with Wall Street, big banks, big insurance, etc. The question and problem is not whether Gen. McChrystal believes in civilian control of the military, it is if President Obama really believes in it.