The future of General Stanley McChrystal's military career hangs in the balance today after his meeting with President Obama in the wake of a controversial magazine piece that many say exposed McChrystal's "insubordinate" attitude and that has reportedly incensed the president. But McChrystal's remarks to Rolling Stone should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the general's year overseeing U.S. forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal has never hidden his disagreements with the White House over its Afghan policy, as the following timeline makes clear:
'Taliban now winning'
August 10, 2009
Less than two months after he takes command of NATO forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal is quoted in a Wall Street Journal interview headlined "Taliban Now Winning": "We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It's a very aggressive enemy right now." Pundits express their dismay at McChrystal's bluntness. "That's the kind of assessment better made privately rather than publicly," says Afghan expert William Maley in the Christian Science Monitor. The general later complains that the newspaper headlined his interview misleadingly.
Another grim assessment
A "grim" 66-page report on the war in Afghanistan penned by McChrystal is leaked to The Washington Post. "Failure," he writes, "to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months)...risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." The report warns that more troops are essential. There's no question that McChrystal's bombshell puts Obama in an "awfully uncomfortable spot," said Michael Crowley in The New Republic. But the president is reconsidering whether a "major escalation" is wise if the government we're supporting is widely seen as "illegitimate."
A threat of resignation
Sources close to McChrystal tell McClatchy that the general is frustrated by a perceived lack of White House support for his request for up to 45,000 additional troops in Afghanistan and would "resign before he'd stand behind a faltering policy." One senior official tells the newspaper: "He'll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far... he's not going to bend to political pressure."
Addressing the rumors
As rumors of a split between the military and the Obama administration grow, McChrystal is forced to publicly address gossip that he will resign. "I believe success is achievable," he tells The New York Times. "I can tell you unequivocally that I have not considered resigning at all." He does not deny requesting additional troops. "I have not been limited in any way in identifying resources that might be required," he says.
McChrystal's controversial London speech
Speaking before an audience of military strategists in London, a terse McChrystal makes his feelings known on Vice President Joe Biden's plan to scale back American troops in Afghanistan. Asked if he would support such a proposal, he says: "The short answer is: no." and adds it would be "a short-sighted strategy" which could turn the country into "Chaos-istan." The White House is later said to be "shocked and angry" at the bluntness of McChrystal's speech. Fred Kaplan in Slate raises the question of "insubordination": "Was McChrystal exercising his right to free speech and his obligation to express his honest military judgment—or was he broaching the military chain of command?"
The president summons McChrystal to an "awkward 25-minute meeting" on Air Force One to discuss his behavior. In a public rebuke to the general, National Security Adviser Jim Jones tells CNN: "It's better for military advice to come up through the chain of command" — sentiments that The Wall Street Journal interprets as, "the general should keep his mouth shut."
More troops announced
Obama announces a timeline on Afghanistan which includes a "surge" of 30,000 new U.S. troops from December 2009 to July 2011. The president "appeared to reference" McChrystal's August report, says Mark Sappenfield at the Christian Science Monitor, "using some of [the general's] language almost verbatim." By meekly agreeing to McChrystal's "demands," writes David Sirota at Salon, Obama let Americans know that "when it comes to foreign policy, the rogue general — not the popularly elected president — is in control in the White House."
'Nobody is winning' in Afghanistan
May 1, 2010
After a few months of relative silence, the general makes headlines with his latest, brutal assessment of the war. "I think I'd be prepared to say nobody is winning at this point," he tells PBS. But he concedes that the momentum has gone out of the Taliban's efforts to destabilize the region.
The Rolling Stone debacle
In "The Runaway General," McChrystal and several of his advisers are quoted making derisive remarks about President Obama (characterized as "intimidated" and unengaged by the war), the vice president, and other senior administration figures. While pundits debate the general's "appalling violation of norms of civilian-military relations," he reportedly offers his resignation.