On that Rolling Stone article …

I had the ironic fortune to meet Michael Hastings, the author, on the military side of Kabul International Airport last week on my way to Helmand. We were both cooling our heels waiting for MilAir flights to other parts of the country, and had a couple of hours to chat. Nice guy, and interestingly, he told me about a story he’d just researched on McChrystal and his staff, mentioning that he was “surprised at some of the things they said” to him. He soon caught his flight to Kandahar, and I hopped on mine hours later. After a few days of travel during which I had almost no Internet access, I discovered the story had been published and blown up, and in retrospect I marveled at his understatement.

Regarding the recent dispute over whether Hastings and Rolling Stone violated the ground rules of any interviews: Hastings’ expression of surprise about some of the quotes offered to him seemed quite genuine, and therefore I tend to believe he did not consciously violate any established ground rules. I of course can’t speak to the details of what those rules were, but it’s my impression that he was nonchalantly confident he came by them openly.

On a different note, I noticed this Huffington Post interview with Hastings, headlined “Troops Are Happy That General Was Ousted,” in which he says: “Over here, soldiers were happy that [McChrystal] got fired.” While I’m sure that some troops are indeed glad McChrystal is gone, given that the famously restrictive counterinsurgency rules of engagement were unpopular in significant quarters, a blanket characterization like that is not accurate.

I’ve casually spoken to a number of civilians and Marines in Helmand and Nimruz provinces, and reactions range from apathy to confusion, with none expressing outright satisfaction that McChrystal is out. If I had to characterize the dominant sentiment, I’d say it’s split between suspicion that it may have been the general’s way to publicly tender his resignation, and bewilderment that any military officer would say such things to the press. And it’s pretty low on the list of things anyone below field grade is spending a lot of time thinking about out here.

In fact, the only reaction I’ve heard approximating joy came from a senior civilian adviser who works with a gamut of military personnel. His short take when the article first broke: “Everyone thinks it’s funny. Most folks out here like McChrystal, and can’t stand Obama.”

Would I say that this reaction is the way the military in Afghanistan views the scandal and subsequent firing? No, not at all. There are certainly those who have a different take, and that’s the point. Opinion is far too diverse in a diverse military for Manichean categorizations about what the ‘troops think,’ Huffington Post headline writers to the contrary.

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  • T Ruth says:

    To call McChrystal the Runaway General was both inappropriate and unfair.
    I’d rather call him The Rock and Roll General. Bottom line is he’s brought focus and attn to the key issues which were taboo only a few days ago.
    He will be remembered for precipitating this strategic inflection point. The question now is whether Obama is going to rock n roll or runaway?
    Indications are that he’s playing to the ‘boiling frog’ story which is:
    “The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.[1] According to contemporary biologists the premise of the story is not literally true; an actual frog submerged and gradually heated will jump out.[2][3] However, a variety of 19th century research experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true, provided the heating is gradual enough.[4]”
    or put more simply…
    “If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”
    Now Obama may be astute and savvy enough a politician to boil/carry the American public through a second term. The question is will he be able to boil the Taliban frog to death and to a categorical US victory? Ravi at orbat has a good loooong take at that

  • Gerald Anthro says:

    I wonder if this has more to do with Obama never
    having served in military and his not understanding
    that brotherhood. Just what did the General say?
    Not much, the WWW blew it out of proportions preemptively.


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