The Corner

2016 Watch: Stanley McChrystal’s Political Future

The publication of General Stanley McChrystal’s memoir, My Share of the Task, has spurred plenty of talk about him in recent days. Though noticeably circumspect in the book, McChrystal has been surprisingly forthcoming in recent interviews. Jim Geraghty took note of this in yesterday’s Morning Jolt, and over at Hot Air they’re speculating about whether McChrystal will become the Democrats’ alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

By way of background, McChrystal told the New York Times this week that he voted for President Obama in 2008, but declined to say whom he voted for in 2012 — suggesting, presumably, that he voted for Mitt Romney or didn’t vote at all. 

Having read McChrystal’s book and spoken to him about it, my sense is that he felt the war in Afghanistan was underfunded and, as a result, agreed with many of the arguments then-senator Obama made on the campaign trail in 2007 and 2008. Working with President Obama, it appears McChrystal began to feel that neither the president nor the people around him understood what our mission in Afghanistan was or should be. And, to put it mildly, the general wasn’t overwhelmed by the president’s determination to live up to the lofty promises he made about devoting America’s energy and resources to the fight in Afghanistan, or by his grand strategic chops. 

So, even setting aside the fact that President Obama fired him, it seems likely to me that McChrystal would have voted against President Obama or simply not voted for him. 

Now the general is wading into other political issues, too. He discussed his support for gun control yesterday with Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “I think serious action is necessary. Sometimes we talk about very limited actions on the edges, and I just don’t think that’s enough,” he said. MSNBC appears to be pretty much playing those remarks on a loop today. 

McChrystal is also backing Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. He told U.S. News and World Report, “If President Obama trusts him, I think Senator Hagel has the experience — he certainly has that quality as a person. The real matter is whether the president has that level of trust.”

This is a position many might find surprising, but it concords with the outlook I found expressed in McChrystal’s book. McChrystal disagrees with a policy Hagel may support — that is, removing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan after 2014 — but he finds that preferable to keeping an insufficient number of troops on the ground there, which could result if the president had nominated somebody more hawkish. The lesson from Vietnam, he writes, is this:  ”[F]aced with two politically toxic but militarily sound options – withdrawal or full escalation – they chose to pursue other policies for political reasons, even though analysis told them these policies were likely to fail. It was a chilling thought.”

I think McChrystal views the Hagel nomination less through a political lens and more through an institutional lens. He’s somebody who believes that collaboration among between and among institutions is essential to waging war, and he worked tirelessly to improve collaboration between enlisted soldiers and his special forces and between the intelligence community and the military, for example. McChrystal also recounts a deterioration of trust between the White House and the Pentagon that ultimately damaged the war effort. Given McChrystal’s statement, I think he sees Hagel as somebody who, because he sees eye-to-eye with the president, could help build a closer relationship between the White House and the Pentagon that would be beneficial.  


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