What Was he Thinking? Stanley McChrystal’s Political Future
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You don’t get to be a four-star general in the U.S. Army by being undisciplined. Men who attain this rank – and so far they have all been men – tend to be hyper-smart, educated, focused, dedicated, and driven. Ability counts, but so does the political savvy needed to climb the greasy pole of the military bureaucracy. By all accounts, Stanley McChrystal exemplifies the breed. So what was he thinking when he allowed a Rolling Stone reporter unfettered on-the-record access to his inner circle, a decision that led directly to his dismissal?

I don’t buy the idea that this was a lapse of judgment or the product of intolerable stress from his job running America’s war effort in Afghanistan. It beggars belief to think that someone who has never put a foot wrong in a 30-year military career would implode in such a spectacular fashion. Instead, there is good reason to suppose General McChrystal acted deliberately, in full awareness of the probable consequences.

Having failed to achieve a decisive victory in the battle for Marja, completely stymied in his plan to kick the Taliban out of Kandahar, and increasingly frustrated by the Afghan President, who has publicly stated he does not think the U.S. can win in Afghanistan, and by the intransigence of Pakistan’s Army chief and head of intelligence services, who want Afghanistan to become a Pakistani satrapy, General McChrystal may have concluded that the war is, in fact, unwinnable. He couldn’t just quit in the middle of a critical mission, so he contrived to get himself fired.

There is more to it than just that. Generals are strategists, and getting fired may be the first step in the General’s new life strategy. In many circles – the Republican Party, for one – being sacked by President Obama is more a badge of honor than a disgrace. It gives the General immediate credibility with the Tea Party movement and a Republican Party desperate to find a credible candidate who can beat Obama in 2012. Less than six months before the 2010 mid-term elections, this is an ideal time for McChrystal to hit the campaign trail in support of Republican Senate and Congressional candidates, thereby setting himself up for a run at the Presidency.

As far as I know, General McChrystal has never expressed any clear political views, but that need not be a liability for a retired general. Both the Democrats and the Republicans would have accepted Dwight Eisenhower and Colin Powell as their Presidential candidates, and it is a function of political calculations more than deeply held convictions that both became Republicans, even though Powell ultimately decided not to run. A distinguished military career can often overcome a lack of ideological purity. Whether it’s sufficient to win him the Republican nomination or the general election is anyone’s guess. But don’t be surprised if, later this summer or in the fall, General McChrystal starts popping up on Fox News and at Tea Party rallies, political fund-raisers, and campaign events.

Posted 07-07-2010 10:54 AM by Charles Krakoff