McChrystal Situation Hurts Nation, Retired General Says
An article in Rolling Stone magazine cost America's top military commander in Afghanistan his job and probably his career - but it may cost the nation even more, according to a local retired four-star general.
William F. "Buck" Kernan served as supreme allied commander, Atlantic, as commander in chief of U.S. Joint Forces Command and as commander of Fort Bragg. He knows Gen. Stanley McChrystal and most of the other top generals well.
He said he had hoped President Obama would have found some other way to deal with the embarrassing remarks attributed to McChrystal and his staff in the article.
On Tuesday, Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation and appointed Gen. David Petraeus as his successor. McChrystal has been there since 2001.
"It was a very unfortunate event that occurred," Kernan said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Personally, I was disappointed with the outcome. I was hoping there were other options available to the president that I was hoping he was going to take, but that did not occur."
The report went viral in the media before the actual article itself could be read by the public. It appears in Friday's edition of the magazine but is available on the Internet now.
"I've known Gen. McChrystal throughout his career," Kernan said. "I respect and admire him very much. To say I was disappointed that the incident occurred is an understatement. It is out of character with the man. What I hoped would happen would be he would have the opportunity to make his apologies."
At the time of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, McChrystal, as Pentagon spokesman, was often criticized for the way he backed the administration.
McChrystal defended then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and supported the president's "Mission Accomplished" position. He helped spread the false report that former Ranger star Pat Tillman was killed by Taliban fighters when actually the result of "friendly fire" from his own troops.
"Given the importance of the mission, and the fact that he had been personally deployed since 2001 fighting this terrorist organization and his experience in counter-insurgency, the relationships he'd established with President Karzai, Minister of Defense Wardak, Afghan corps commanders, division commanders and his obvious personal awareness of the situation on the ground..." he said, "I'd hoped the president would have looked at that and said, 'That's more important,' given him a good blistering so to speak, told the public, 'Gen. McChrystal offered his resignation. I refused to accept it. The mission is more important. I'm sending him back.' That's what I hoped would happen. That did not happen."
A new head of Central Command will now be needed to take Petraeus' place there.
"Other than having relationships with people on the ground that he will develop, he (Petraeus) will move out smartly," Kernan said. "We will move forward."
Kernan doesn't see this as in any respect analogous to President Truman's famous firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean conflict.
"This was not insubordination," he said. "As I said, this was out of character. There were some very careless remarks made. This was not a challenge to authority. Gen. McChrystal was not questioning the strategy he was charged to execute."
It's a tough strategy: training and building a national police force in the Afghan nation, training and supporting Afghan troops, according to Kernan.
"We are trying to establish a robust security policy in those provinces out there while trying to train and legitimize the military and police of Afghanistan at the same time," he said. "Legitimize a very fledgling government there at the same time, not only at the national level, but at provincial and local level.
"The Taliban are more of a religious organization. Al-Qaida is a terrorist organization. When you have a very, very immature military and police, you have a real challenge on your hands."
Kernan said things were moving along fairly well the last time he was over there. Developing the Afghan military and police takes time, he said.
"You've got to recruit these people," he said. "You have got to train them, develop leaders, equip them with the right weapons systems and mobility. You have to gain their confidence, embed some of our military coalition forces with them to give them the combat enablers, show them how to fight properly. That all takes time. When we rebuilt our military, particularly our Army, coming out of Vietnam, that was a generational thing. It takes a long time to develop a platoon sergeant, a battalion commander, to gain the experience. It takes a long time to develop a competent military and police force."
The McChrystal event, the loss of such a seasoned wartime commander with eight years of experience combating terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, will have its effect on morale, according to Kernan.
"Will there be some disappointment?" Kernan asked. "Sure. I think with them relieving him of command, there is little likelihood of them retaining him on active duty. I think in all probability he will retire. What they have to look at is, can they embrace him? Can they find a place for him? Can they use his years of experience for the good of the nation?
"I think that's questionable that that will occur, simply because this has been such a serious incident. You relieve a four-star commander of a wartime command, you have really marginalized his effectiveness. There is his side, too. Would he want to stay on?"
McChrystal, if asked to stay and given a job where he could be of service to his nation, would do so unquestionably, Kernan said.
"His father is a retired general officer," he said. "There is no question that if asked to serve in some capacity, he would do so. But I think it is unlikely."
The end result will chill reporting from embedded reporters and other news writers covering the front, Kernan said. It is likely, he feels, to make military in the field more cautious.
"It is going to cause people to clam up," he said. "And that's unfortunate. This reporter got a great news story. I hope he and Rolling Stone are proud - but, in hindsight, I think they may regret this."
He said the whole thing hurt the country.
"We lost a good man, a good leader," he said. "Think about what Stanley McChrystal has done for this nation since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan. This guy has given 100 percent and then some to this nation and in defense of other people."
Contact John Chappell by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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