President Obama has relieved General McChrystal of his command and replaced him with General Petraeus. This was a result of an article written by Michael Hastings and published in Rolling Stone Magazine. It was an incredibly stupid blunder by a man who should have known better. Yet, to my mind at least, it is very easy to see how it happened.
Mr. Hastings is a reporter who has been embedded with American military forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. He was well known and respected. He asked for access to the General in order to write his article about the pressures of commanding troops in this war. He was given permission to “tag along.” He was taken into the inner circle and “tagged along” during times when the General and his staff were “off duty” and relaxed. The most damning comments quoted in his article were made at a pub in Paris where the General and his wife were celebrating their anniversary with some key members of Generals top staff. They forgot he was a reporter. They thought of him as a friend whom they could trust with their most personal opinions while they were “shooting off steam.” They were wrong, terribly wrong.
Military people have a slightly different mind-set than many civilians. It is an almost childlike naivety when it comes to things like duty, devotion and honor. Simply put, when they say the “Pledge of Allegiance” it is an oath, when civilians say it, it is a recital. In this case, they made the mistake of thinking that, because this man had shared hardships with the troops, he also shared a sense of honor. They forgot that while some journalists do have that quality, many do not, especially those from liberal media organizations such as The Rolling Stone. They just saw this man as a friend sharing drinks in a pub while off duty. The General should have known better and his staff failed him. They simply did not have his back.
What Michael Hastings did was not the kind of treason for which you can be arrested, tried and shot. It was not the kind of betrayal that winds up in court. He will probably receive bonuses and awards for his treachery. The only consequence for him will be an end of his ability to gain the confidence or trust from anyone who has served or supported our troops. His days as an embedded journalist are effectively over. Even if he continues reporting from the war zone, without the trust and friendship of the troops he will find it difficult to get information or interviews.
As for the war, that will go on as before. General Petraeus is an excellent officer who was instrumental in helping General McChrystal develop the strategy being employed in Afghanistan and he understands it thoroughly. He has a different way of doing things, but he is every bit as capable, if not more capable than General McChrystal.
I am writing a piece about the war in Afghanistan, which I hope to get up on the blog shortly, in the meantime, enjoy this: