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The General who spoke too much




A round-up of the issue of the week as reported in the media.

He spoke out of turn and was shown the door. We're talking about the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. The man in uniform took on the White House in an interview published in Rolling Stone, and President Barack Obama was not in the least amused. The General apparently questioned the wisdom behind some of Washington's decisions and has been replaced by General David Petraeus. The issue has been discussed threadbare in the US and Western media, with most commentators agreeing that this time the General went one step too far.

Leslie H Gelb in The Daily Beast thinks that it is more a clash of values rather than insubordination. He wrote: "The US military, officers and enlisted ranks don't like and don't trust Democrats and liberals. The bad feelings are mainly about values, style and constancy more than policy. The military feel the Democrats come at common problems from a different place and don't stick to agreed plans when the going gets rough ... Perhaps most importantly in wartime, the military feel that Republicans are much more likely to stay the course than Democrats. Most Democrats were war hawks on Vietnam, only to become doves as the war dragged on and costs mounted. "

Meanwhile, Peter Beinart, in the same publication wrote, "It's not the insubordination, stupid. It's the war. Behind all the indignant huffing and puffing, what Stanley McChrystal actually said about his civilian superiors in Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone profile was fairly mild...What matters isn't what McChrystal said about Obama;it's what he believes about Afghanistan. That's why he should lose his job."

Lea Carpenter in his blog Think Big posted this on June 22: "Kurtz, having lived too long among them, with no rule or distraction, becomes a kind of God among the "natives" (in the novel, in Congo;in the film, in Vietnam). He is a standard symbol for someone in power "going rogue. " Conrad's novel was an excellent selection as metaphor for America's Vietnam story... But today is not that. Today is only another chapter in one larger story of this war: the failure of various constituents to communicate. " Tim Mak wrote in the National Post on June 23 that the General's error could have been a result of either arrogance, frustration with the Afghan situation, or a plain old PR blunder.

McChrystal had the support of the Germans though. AFP reported on June 23 that Germany, which has about 4, 400 troops serving with the ISAF, the third largest contingent after the United States and Britain, wanted him to stay as did Afghan president Hamid Karzai, with whom McChrystal shared a great rapport. Taking a step back in history, David E Sanger wrote this in the New York Times on June 23: "It was 59 years ago that President Harry S Truman had his showdown with Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the midst of a frustrating, slogging war that ended up with no victor and no real end. History does not repeat itself, of course - as Mark Twain said, at best it rhymes. How Obama will come off is important."

Lyse Doucet of the BBC wrote, "When the annals of this year's volcanic ash cloud crisis are written, this article may count as another consequence of the Icelandic eruption: the writer, Michael Hastings, ended up spending more time than expected with the general and his closest aides. They were stuck in Paris when flights were grounded for several days."

Simon Tisdall of the Guradian thought that the real problem was with the way America had started thinking post 9/11. He argued on June 23 that "perhaps the main reason why Obama's problem with the generals is bigger than McChrystal is the continuing impact of the post-9 /11 legacy. George Bush defined the US as a nation perpetually at war. The Pentagon produced a theory to suit: the Long War doctrine postulating unending conflict against ill-defined but ubiquitous enemies. Unquestioning patriotism became an official ideology to which all were expected to subscribe."

There was another note to the whole affair as well, a sideshow that came to be called "Lady Gaga versus the general" - Gaga was on the cover of the issue that carried the interview. Carolyn Davis of the Inquirer summed it up well: "You say you're rushing out Wednesday to get the new Rolling Stone when it goes on sale, to read about Gen. Stanley McChrystal dissing Veep Joe Biden. But we know what you'll really do: ogle Lady Gaga on the cover showing a lot of flesh (the weapons on her chest could kill), then turn to the Gaga story, titled "Tells All".

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