The Culture of Exposure

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal shows our troubling emphasis on private over public performance in public officials.

Comments: 125

  1. ..."General McChrystal was excellent at his job. He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise."

    It is clear, David, that you are a huge fan of General McChrystal's! Okay, but let's get real! This man may be a great warrior--a terrific strategist, but his maturity level is that of a macho adolescent who thinks he is hot stuff! His mouthing off in such a disrespectful manner about our President, VP and other top aides shows that he feels superior to them, and constrained by their authority!

    McChrystal clearly thinks he should be running the show. I wonder: did he ever talk to Greg Mortensen who knows more about Afghanistan than any of our military leaders--and who speaks the language as well? I am betting not! Men like McChrystal think they know better, and do not need advice from non-military, wusses!

    The big question is: will General Petraeus work to convince Obama to keep our troops in Afghanistan indefinitely? Or can he already see the handwriting on the wall. I hope so! If there is anything that would be helpful to the Afghan people, it would be to help them build drug rehab centers to treat the 1.5 (at least) million Afghans who are addicted to heroin and have NO treatment centers available. And we could also advise them on mining their trillion dollar mineral deposits to help them deal with their horrendous poverty and privation.

    What we do NOT need to do is to stay in collusion with the warlords, whom we have been buying off in record numbers! And we do not need to support Kharzid and his brother, who are both intent on enriching themselves and ripping off their people. Hmmmmm.....this is beginning to sound like Wall Street and BP! Maybe this unregulated, free-market war is much the same for the Afghan people as Wall Street and BP are for the "small people" right here in the US of A!


  2. In the case of elected public officials, it is not the kvetching of the press they fear. It is the attack ads they will face in their next election should they not do the safe, politically correct thing. (An more often than not, that means the politically correct conservative thing.)

    And why do they so fear these ads? Because there will be so many of them, financed by well funded, powerful groups that do not have the public interest at heart.

    And hence, the honest and freewheeling will continue to flee public life, and the cautious and calculating will remain. Another unfortunate outcome of the Supreme Court deciding that money and speech are the same thing.



  3. Petraeus hasn't accomplished any more than McChrystal, the only diff is he hasn't been busted for dissing the Boss. Both men were given impossible tasks and, being only human, have failed to achieve their goals. And we have sweet Prez Obama still standing up there and perpetuating the lie that we have national security interests that can be addressed by killing and being killed in Afghanistan. He's got to know that's baloney.

    But the issue I never see anyone address is this: what Obama also knows is he can't bring home the troops and contractors to dump them in the unemployment lines, nor can he idle the factories that make the instruments of war ($4 million a pop for a drone, for starters) this early into a recovery -- if recovery it be -- and this close to an election. It's a sick, cynical calculus, but it's one that political leaders have been performing since time began.

  4. Oh please! Stop apologizing for this inexcusable behavior. This man is a creation of this culture, and a creator of it. He knew what he was doing. Anyone who stands before a reporter and mouths off as he did, and who allows his aides to do the same, is doing so deliberately, and on the record. If you argue that he was unaware of the "culture of exposure," which is basically the air we breathe in this country, then we have to wonder what else he's clueless about that could really matter. Sure, this offense might not be such a big deal, except that we have to have military leaders who are always subordinate to civilian control and leadership. This was a blatant act of disrespect, not only for the president, but against the people who serve in the military. As a wise old man I used to know often said, "If the head of the fish stinks, it stinks all the way to the tail."

  5. General McChrystal has not been asleep for the last 50 years. He has to understand the difference between blowing off steam with a friend over a beer and peacocking for a reporter. The former situation if caught off the record on a concealed device is excusable behavior, and the reporter guilty of exposure; the latter is grandstanding, insubordinate and unacceptable, and reporting it reveals General McChrystal's concerning lack of decorum, judgment and subordination to Presidential authority. This behavior in a first year Cadet would be severely chastised; it is not to be condoned in a General.

  6. Well this certainly rings true and it has cost the nation an apparently excellent, dedicated and highly experienced warrior. This the complete opposite of yesterday's disdain and frankly, trivia, from Collins, but in a fight I am sure I would want McChrystal on my side rather than her.

    After the first blush of "how could he let a lefty journalist hang around and expect to get a positive profile?" one then comes to the question of "sounds like the reporter exposed a lot of smoke" in the form of grousing about lousy leadership on the civilian side in our ambassador, Holbrook, et al. (although they respect Hillary for her experience and hard work..).

    How much real fire is there there?? Do those guys who received the disdain of our "best and brightest" military officers need to be looked at carefully and perhaps replaced?? Getting rid of McChrystal and replacing him with the man who trained him is obvious, but a real manager would want to know what was the underlying cause for the unrest.

  7. Brooks most important point in this fine article is that we are now more interested in the tabloid-style exposure of personal foibles than in real policy issues.

    Obama missed a chance here to say essentially what Brooks did--the General made some unfortunate comments, but everybody including Obama makes mistakes. He is doing a good job, so he stays put but will be on a short leash with the media for a while.

    Instead Obama fires him, sending the message that only yes-men need apply in his administration.

  8. David,
    As the lowest of low drafted sailor in the late '60s, it was a god-given right to kvetch (not the word we used). Everyone knew, everyone did it. It only took me one day in bootcamp to learn unequivocally that one doesn't kvetch about the brass in their hearing. Sure we all had opinions on everyone from the DI to the president, but you never ever said it in front of them.

    While I agree completely that this should of been private whining that all military personnel engage in, he should have learned as a plebe that there is the proper time and place to exercise one's god given right to complain. He forgot this and the cost is that neither this nor any president can let it slide. Would that we could as a nation remember to focus on what people actually do not just what they say off-handedly to their own people.

  9. The summary overview of the last 50 years of the growth of inside-baseball journalism is pretty much spot on. However, I think rather than bemoaning the end of the era when journalism looked the other way at the character issues of political leaders, I like the fact that the bar is being raised. We need leaders with character to lead us through some pretty amazingly rough waters these days. The body politic and its leaders from both parties, generally, has become untethered from common everyday values and sound judgement. I believe Obama is an exception to this trend, thank god.

    The general showed amazingly poor judgment in allowing the reporter into the room during exchanges between the guys in uniform. He may have many fine qualities as a military leader, technically speaking, but to give free reign to a journalist from RS magazine to write what he sees and hears from these exchanges, is just plain mind-boggling. With that kind of lapse in judgement, how could Obama trust the guy?

  10. “Run-of-the-mill complaining” by a Senator or other politico is not the same as a senior military officer making derogatory remarks, in public or private, about those in authority. Regulations against that sort of behavior—regardless of rank— are prohibited in the code of conduct.

    “General McChrystal was excellent at his job.” I suppose, providing that participating in the Pat Tillman friendly-fire cover-up and tacitly condone the torture of prisoners under your watch qualifies as being excellent. “Lucky to get away with it,” however, might be more appropriate phrasing.

    The military in any country always thinks it knows best. That sort of thinking has brought about successive military governments in Pakistan and the abhorrent gang that runs Burma. Really, there is something seriously amiss in the United States when reporters—regardless of their political persuasion—condone insubordination by top military brass by calling it “kvetching.’

  11. The "good old days" when public figures could do whatever they wanted while the press remained complicit and looked the other way (think: JKF and his mistresses, Rock Hudson's real life, etc) can no longer be taken for granted. The reporter from Rolling Stone didn't owe McChrystal anything. McChrystal, on the other hand, owed it to his country and to his boss, President Obama, to know when and where to kvetch and when and where to behave like an adult.

    It's too bad that he didn't get the free pass to yap as much as he pleased, but McChrystal took the bait and ended up munched. And maybe that's what he wanted. If so, he got out of Afghanistan by way of a slimy trick. If this is not what he wanted, then he's dangerously naive and/or just does not care any more about the chain of command and where his duty lies; either way, it is conduct unbecoming.

    McChrystal isn't the victim here. The troops are, and those on the ground in Afghanistan, especially the women, the children, and the aged.

    Cali S.

  12. Way to go David.

    I don't think they take this stuff too seriously in Europe and it's just here maybe because we have so many better-than-thou evangelists running around saying what things are supposed to be like. These folks don't seem to accept that we all live within an envelope of behavior that is uniquely ours and simply not the same from one person to the next. Look at the bandwidth across your high school class.

    We call this envelope individual difference and for the most part we net out people and don't toss our wives and friends because of a few quirks.

    Jack Keane, Retired Assistant Secretary of the Army, was on Charlie Rose this evening and he dished out accolades over General McCrystal and said that among his peers “he is seen as a brilliant general and will come back to serve our country in some good ways.” "His life and career are not over," he said.

    But he admitted that he groaned when he heard and saw what McCrystal and his team had said.

    So it gets down to our being able to dig out that What Makes Sense Scale every now and then and testing to see if each of us are still able to take a dozen things and net them out and conclude -- all things considered, what is the most important.

    Some call this looking at both or all sides of the story.

    Your remarks about our information culture are true? I wonder if such happenings have simply become a part of our entertainment mix and the writers and moaners are artists in disguise?

    The good news is that our generation Y folks -- those just coming of age have seen the Bernie Madoffs, financial meltdown, and legislative dysfunction and realize they have to do something about it.

    What if this whole super-heated information system, including campaign advertising, were suddenly to fizzle out just like other entertainment fads?

  13. McChrystal wasn't the victim of an "exposure ethos" among modern American journalism. He breached military protocol and in so doing challenged civilian control over the military. His comments and the comments of his staff would have inappropriate for any man in uniform regardless of the era in which they were spoken. That made them newsworthy. You seem to imply that the Rolling Stone reporter should have kept his mouth shut, but when a top general bashes the commander-in-chief the American people deserve to know.

    It's unprofessional and counterproductive when civilan officials vent in public, but it's not a threat to our democracy. When military officers vent in public, it is.

  14. What a distortion of reality Mr. Brooks presents us! Public officials, other than the military, do not have the capability of carrying out a coup d'etat. They can not merely kvetch but may sling mud freely without endangering our form of government. The military is an entirely different matter.

    McChrystal is no fool. He had to have known when he gave an interview to Rolling Stone that his words would be published. For a military officer to denigrate his elected, civilian superiors in a widely-read publication is akin to mutiny and is inexcusable. A politicized military is at least as great a danger to the American republic as a foreign enemy. No Brooksian sophistry can hide that danger.

  15. But it wasn't just the General kvetching in private.

    The General had tolerated, and thereby cultivated, a culture of "kvetching" among his larger circle, which thereby became a culture of disrespect. The line between this disrespect and flat out insubordination is far too thin to tolerate.

    Our democracy's ability to employ a military for our physical protection, while remaining free from its domination, depends on a culture of respect for civilian control: From the top, down.

  16. It is amazing to read Brooks's take on the McChrystal situation. The core of his fantasy is that the general 'missed the fact' that everything said in a front of a reporter will be REPORTED, perhaps with an evil spin.

    That is a complete nonsense. For some reason, people blast McChrystal for being 'stupid', having a 'lapse of judgment' and so on. Nothing like that happened.

    McChrystal realized (as all people with a minimum intelligence here do) that the war is not winnable using ANY definition of victory. He wanted out but to resign for policy reasons or his own private evaluation while young people were dying was not an option. I may have looked even cowardly.

    So, he manipulated cleverly (he did not become a four star general for being stupid or out of touch) a situation when his position became untenable for kind of secondary but sufficient reasons. He and the President expressed their mutual admiration, almost a love. With heavy heart the President got rid of him (another nice PR trick on the President's part) and demoted his superior to get 'the job done'. Petraeus had no choice but to accept, he is the Wizard of Surge (or so we were told) after all.

    And Obama is going to loose Afghanistan. Very encouraging news from Pakistan, for a change. A commanding general there is going to 'negotiate' reconcilliation with Taliban - perhaps encourage Karzai to make them kind of 'national guard'. Following that, Karzai will thank us from the 'bottom of his heart' for all our help and ask as to get out, pronto.

    Other Presidents 'lost' China, Cuba and Vietnam and lived. So will Obama, I am sure.

    The best outcome we can imagine if we got any brains. McChrystal made it possible with his clever Rolling Stone ploy but, perhaps, his goal was purely personal. No general wants to loose the war.

    The Tea Baggers will declare him their hero and may try to get him to run for President in 2012. Not a bad idea - for a change, we may benefit from a Master Manipulator in the White House after somewhat 'challenged' Bush and an unrealistic idealist like Obama.

    Certainly better choice than Ms. Palin. I may even vote for McChrystal - I surely appreciate devious people.

  17. It is surprising that a conservative like yourself would write a column essentially letting a serving general off the hook for trashing the concept of civilian control of the military. I cannot imagine that any of our founding fathers, most especially General Washington, would have tolerated an officer the likes of Stanley McCrystal.

    After his London speech last year this was surely the last straw for President Obama, who really had no choice but to relieve the gentleman of his duties. We ask our leaders, but alas not our press, to hold themselves to a high standard of performance and professionalism. Drunk and disorderly is not how we expect a commanding general to behave.

  18. I agree w/the statement that "[...]the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important." At the same time, I find it very hard to believe that a general would not know the difference between speaking on or off the record. A person with his military record should be aware -at all times- of who is around him, who to trust, or not. General McChrystal is portrayed as a shrewd military leader, but a naive man who did not understand that his 'venting' would be construed as criticism of his civilian leaders. Again, hard to believe that a general would not predict possible outcomes of his actions (verbal or otherwise). If he is really that careless, or naive, then it is not so regrettable that he no longer be in charge of important decisions that affect people's lives. With power come responsibilities: knowing when to open one's mouth -or not- is one of them.

  19. This is a profound piece of writing and I really appreciate this viewpoint. I hadn't considered these factors -- the need to blow off steam, the development over time of the culture of exposure and the ultimate reversal of focus from policy and practice to pettiness and peccadilloes. I see General McCrystal in a different light and have replaced my indignation for his (and the reporter's) carelessness with a sadness for the loss of his crucial and dedicated service. Such a waste. What are we doing -- there and here?

  20. "But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched."

    True. That's why you can be fired when they snoop onto your Facebook pages (I heard the firing rate upon discovery is about 30%). Last I heard there is also no law for protecting one's privacy while checking emails and web surfing at work.

    Rolling Stone is just another Facebook for the general McChrystal. The impeachment trial of Clinton was his Facebook pages. There were plenty of kvetching there at the old boys' club then.

    You just have to look at the Chinese history to see how many generals were executed for silly things, let alone kvetching. The code of conduct in the military is indisputable to the point of being shot at point blank.

    I find the electronic media distasteful as posts for the Most Wanted - even if the guy is a good guy wanted for prime time sound bytes. It's ability to spin sensationalism results in hype and mass entertainment at the expense of truly defining character, something it cannot do and never will. Our culture loves to laugh, more so than we like to admit our fault and say we are sorry.

    I wonder if the general said "I'm sorry to the President?"

    Even in it's most wretched form of kvetching, there is a peer to peer definition of what is acceptable characters. This is more than just conveying the context or words, but by observations of attitude and demeanor that are often metaphors of truth much more than blasphemous and satirical rhetorics.

    The last stand of character took place in the White House between the President and his general. Character is a two way street. I respect the general. Unfortunately the President will have the last word here, as well as the burden to put out the public's fire (which has been more about Afghan than character).

    The general's last words to the President - we will never know. That also marks his true character, at the very least, paying his final gesture of respect towards the President as his commander in chief.

  21. 2 problems here:

    Unlike with rival politicians in the various (or indeed common) civilian branches of government, a culture of disdain for civilian leadership among military officers is not acceptable. We all knew it existed; in this case, unlike aong politicians (where I'd agree with Brooks' lamenting the exposure ethos) the fact that it has been exposed constitutes an important and necessary check on the excessive extent to which it had come to dominate military attitudes. That McChrystal forgot himself and allowed this state of affairs to be seen in unvarnished form by an uncompromising reporter he had chosen to allow in his midst merely demonstrates that the problem had progressed to uncontrolled proportions. The fact is that the military carries a political bias: that will not be changed. What cannot be accepted is official endorsement of that in public conduct (which McChrystal, by choice, made his conduct to be vi this reporter). The effect absent correction would have been to discourage respect for civilian authority throughout the ranks.

    Second, it is not at all clear this wasn't a salutary change from an operations standpoint. While I don't believe the record would have justified McChrystal's removal from this command based on performance, I think the trends in the war were moving in the wrong direction, and a change in leadership clearly isn't on its face an unwelcome development (though by no means will it certainly improve the situation either). Brooks' endorsement of McChrystal, like so many others', clearly stems from the consensus view of this man among Washington arm-chair (if previously active) military affairs commentary, not from any actual authority to speak to such matters. It's clear that the opinion couldn't stem from an assessment of Mcchrystal's performance in this actual war, because there is very little there to have a positive opinion about. From early on, despite all the accolades, i questioned McChrytal's suitability for this assignment. He made his name as a manhunter - Saddam, AQI leadership, etc. It doesn't seem intuitively likely that he is also the foremost American military practisioner of the building of societies, though perhaps it is possible. But he always seemed to me to lack intellectual nimbleness, making up for it instead with a certain willed studiousness regarding the latest vogue military application: COIN. A Petraeus clone he was not, it seemed to me. I might have been wrong; we'll never know. But the early returns weren't tending to suggest I was.

  22. McChrystal's fault is a common one as he sees the corrosive aspect of the culture in others but believes it has left him untouched.
    This blindness, nourished by a bathetic culture, seems to be common in the military, and fosters a belief that the military is made up of exemplary soldier citizens who rise high above their fellow citizens when it comes to honor, duty, courage, and all the rest of the manly virtues. This results in the military's sense of superiority when it comes to their civilian counterparts, and produces a perceived gap between military and civilian life. One filled with honor and duty, the other with a lack of discipline, and rife with crass opportunism. That we already have a mercenary military, much to the delight of free marketers, this sense of difference when coupled with the unbelievable vulgarity of modern media makes for a potentially explosive situation. Added to the list is the belief that our vital institutions can be shaped, and molded, without risk, to fit whatever is the fashion of the day. That this belief is largely hokum, and the military is as much at risk of succumbing to the worst aspects of modern life only adds to the risk. McChrystal not only suffered a serious lapse of judgment he also revealed his sense of superiority to the wider culture, while at the same time showed just how identical he is to his despised civilian counterparts. President Obama was right to fire him.

  23. Mr. Brooks writes: "The culture of exposure has triumphed, with results for all to see." The result here is that the U.S. army has lost one of its most experienced COIN experts.

    I have long opposed U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, yet say what you will about General McChrystal, here was a soldier instructed by Obama to perform a Herculean task: stabilize with a skeleton fighting force over 650,000 square miles of foreboding territory, harboring a hostile population of almost 30 million warring tribesmen, in a year and a half. No, it couldn't be done, it still can't be done, and it is horrifying that in recent days the total number of U.S. fatalities in this country went over the 1,000 mark.

    Faced with the article in Rolling Stone, Obama was required to make a no-win decision: No matter how he opted, he would not come out smelling like roses. But having already noted my opposition to the Afghanistan War, I still think Obama chose incorrectly.

    How many persons who will read or comment upon Mr. Brook's op-ed have ever toted an automatic rifle and sat in silent ambush in the middle of the night, hungry, cold, exhausted and eaten raw by mosquitoes?

    Question to those who have served in combat units and watched their comrades killed or maimed: Do you ever recall voicing "displeasure" with those who sent you on your mission, but don't have the slightest notion of your physical and mental suffering? I do.

    Sure, there are different expectations from generals, but McChrystal is a commanding officer who made a point of going out with his soldiers on their most hazardous missions. If I were again in the field, this is an officer I would want beside and over me.

    Sure, McChrystal may have insulted Biden, and his staff voiced nasty utterances about certain Obama administration officials, but at the risk of sounding trite, war is not a pretty thing and does not elicit verbal niceties. Perhaps this was indeed an instance where Obama could have brought Biden and McChrystal together to air out their differences.

    Has Obama proven himself tough to his Republican opponents by firing McChrystal? I don't think so.

    I would prefer to see Obama demonstrate his courage by removing U.S. forces immediately from Afghanistan and shouldering the blame for this fiasco upon himself - where it now squarely belongs.

    Also, it need be noted that Obama is also quite capable of demeaning others in private. In 2008, Obama said at a private California fund-raiser, "[Pennsylvania residents] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Obama got away with this off-the-record snub of working class Pennsylvanians; McChrystal, however, goes unforgiven.

    http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/

  24. Oh, so now it was the journalist's or the media's fault.

    The article did a pretty good job of showing that McChrystal was trying to thwart the diplomatic/infrastructure mission that was key to us being able to ease the Taliban hostility enough that we could leave.

    The key to this operation was a military commander who would work well with the diplomats and accept the military role as secondary. The role would only be used to keep the Taliban from chasing off the diplomatic effort and economic and infrastructure development people.

    The first flaw a manager would see with General McChrystal is that he doesn't work well with others. He's always been a loner. Is this the sort of person you'd put in charge of the military force that must work closely with, and even showcase, the diplomats?

    Entirely proper relationships with civilian partners in the State Department and beyond? Really? Cutting assigned and necessary diplomats out is a proper relationship?

    He had a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise? What evidence do we have of that?

    Another scalp on the wall? No. Another Rumsfeld-Bush II hold-over who was appointed because they liked his reckless behavior, who has caused a problem for President Obama. Just like the reckless, drugs, sex and ignore the rules culture of the Minerals and Management Services employees appointed during the Bush II years.

    I often worked with general officers in the military and senior executives from industry. I was with them publicly and privately. I never saw or heard anything that came even close to what this article portrayed.

    We might drink a beer or some wine but then we'd discuss military matters or history. They were always mentoring us - great leaders are also teachers and take it seriously. They want to leave behind good organizations. One one occasion, on a flight back from a major operation, with about twenty of us aboard, the Lieutenant General had wine passed out and we sang Alouette, gentille alouette, led by the general. That put a smile on our faces and then we went back to writing our notes.

    The one time I was ashamed was at the funeral for Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen. The Vice President and a plane load of Senators and Congressmen flew into Peoria, Illinois. To the astonishment of all of us in the military, several of the Congressmen and Senators got off the plane carrying cocktail glasses with drinks, which they took into the limousines waiting to take them to the grave site.

    Right. Some example. But, given the juvenile, reckless and irresponsible fashion in which the House and Senate failed to support the changes the American people need in this Great Recession, well, you know, I don't doubt members of the House and Senate do act the way you described.

  25. McChrystal knew what he was doing. He knew he is unable to bring a military victory to Afghanistan, so he found a way out without having to admit defeat and resign in disgrace.

    If he indeed didn't mean to do that, then the way he acted, he is unfit for military service. Loose lips sink ships! If the general in charge of a difficult war is so careless with his conversations, how careful is he on the battlefield?

  26. While you negatively conclude,"The culture of exposure has triumphed, with results for all to see," governmental transparency remains the best preventive acting to reduce corruption and back room dealings.

    Mr. Brooks, which best serves the public interest?

  27. Why was it impossible for President Obama to retain General McChrystal? It wasn't the reporter who elevated kvetching to a national crisis, it was President Obama and his closest advisors. Why couldn't President Obama see this kvetching for what it was? Is he just not smart enough? Unlikely. Or did he want the drama to distract from oil spewing in the Gulf of Mexico and a crippled economy? Probably.

  28. The American public has a right to know what is being said by our employees. We don't need reporters to decide what we should and should not hear, we need stenographers who will publish what our servants do and let us decide how to proceed. It is fantastic to watch the frustration of the old media as their role as mediators and gatekeepers crumbles and along with it the power to define the stories. Just tell us what you see and hear, Dave, let us decide what it means.

  29. There are as many op-ed articles and comments and blogs and twits and tweets about this subject as there are journalistas looking for the latest expose, instead of reportage, but none so cogent as this one. It nails our culture for the drama queens we all have become. On to the next thriller.

  30. Mr. Brooks, the General spoke "on the record" with similar thoughts more than once. The General put the administration on the spot needlessly, and as many offers have suggested, he may have made these comments strategically as a way to create his own timetable for withdrawal from the front.

    I would proffer that most of us in the workplace know that if we went to the media and offered similar observations for publication our positions would be in jeopardy as well.

    In regard to emphasis on private versus public performance for public officials, are you wanting to go back to the "wink and nod" unspoken agreement between the media and officials prevalent before Watergate? If so, do you think you can take the blue-nosed blowhards who populate many of the GOP flanks with you on this detour into the past, so they do not spend our money on additional voyeuristic expeditions like we had with the last Democratic President?

  31. Exactly. A simple reporter figured out how to push the President's button and Obama fell for it.

  32. When a public official makes his private persona public, it is he who is at fault, not society.

  33. The General's mistake was not in allowing himself and his staff to talk trash about the suits: It was in failing to accord a civilian the power journalists wield in a democracy. Apparently, in his eyes, and that of his staff, the Rolling Stone reporter was probably an object of tolerated bemusement, and not worthy of circumspect treatment.

    Big mistake.

  34. So the reporter should have been more discreet? Sure; why not. But I see a much more tragic salience here. This talented and tenacious general did worse than kvetch carelessly in public. He failed in his duty to respect his commander in chief. This brings to mind Joe Wilson's inexcusable outburst of "Liar!" The 2 incidences suggest a decay of respect for this highest office, and at a time when it's most needed.

    Thanks a lot, jerks.

  35. Gimme a break. Anyone in public life -- and the commander of US forces in Afghanistan plainly falls into that category -- who gives unhindered access to a reporter writing for Rolling Stone is either a cretin (in which case he should go) or entirely implicated in the result.

  36. Mr. Brooks,

    I agree with the broad premise that our culture is partially defined by an obsession with exposure and that this obsession comes at a price. However, in an article ostensibly about McChrystal's miscues, you wave them away in two sentences.

    You write, "But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter."

    Frankly, your explanation is glib at best, given that McChrystal is only 55 years old. You are of the same generation as the General. I sincerely doubt that you would even dream of bad-mouthing your current boss on the record to a national magazine, and your superior is not the President! Gen. McChrystal was not merely out of touch, or a bit too blunt; he was irresponsible to the point of jeopardizing a trillion-dollar foreign endeavor because he could not keep his trash talking off the record.

    I have some difficulty believing these outbursts were accidental. Our culture may have shifted in that reporters will gladly run with such material instead of sweeping it under the rug. Yet, most of us manage not to provide such cannon fodder. Our culture will always change for the better and the worse. Responsible adults have to operate within whatever social environment they find themselves in. I certainly want someone responsible managing 100,000+ American soldiers in a protracted war.

  37. Excellent article, but generals are also political animals. I don't mean Dem/GOP political, but they must be political to rise so high, just like anyone who rises to the top in any organization is political. What's amazing is why he thought his kvetching to a Rolling
    Stone reporter was going to be simply put on a shelf. No matter what, unless he made sure that everything was off the record, it was a blunder. Having said that, you are correct that we now live in a culture where "gotcha" items are the big news stories. News organizations and their reporters have a service to perform. We need them to dig for news, analyze it and report. There are enough big stories that gotcha items don't need to be what's reported. I don't have much hope, however, that news organizations will curb their appetite for sexy, little gotcha stories. It's what sells.

  38. I read an account of this saying that Rolling Stone showed Gen. McChrystal the article about him, asking if it was right and I think also asking if he had any problems with it, and he said fine, run it. Apparently also there was a sense from McChrystal that he wanted to shake things up, according to this account and from commentary I've seen on cable news, I think. It seems to me McChrystal isn't a man to ignore a threat in his area and he will defend and hunker down to keep what he wants to keep confidential, quiet. He pushed this story. He wants respect. I think he tried to make noise and hoped he would get it. This article's reporter is a slime, maybe, but his General McChrystal is the push behind this article's material. This General is smart and strong enough to keep his opinions clamped. He intentionally didn't.

  39. Thanks, Mr. Brooks. Hastings generated the appearance of substantive error where there was little to none. Our citizens, our Coalition partners, and even the President do not understand who we just kicked to the curb. Even a superstar like Petraeus cannot fill the shoes of McChrystal. It will take another generation of military officers to find someone as talented.

  40. Perfect!

    At last a correct analysis of this lamentable episode.

    Unfortunately, once more substance loses to appearances.

  41. It never ceases to amaze me how conservatives make such an issue about following the Constitution strictly, and yet here we have a general who did what he did, and we hear about the culture of "exposure", and shame on the reporter who just reported what he heard. Where is the strict reading of the Constitution that deals with exactly what the general did? Why can we not just accept the Constitution, which is very clear, in dealing with General McChrystal?

  42. Amen. However, part of being a 4 star (or whatever) general is knowing how this stuff works. And for whatever reason, he chose to either ignore the dynamics of the press or flaunt them.

  43. Amen, and the current decline of the print press in favor of "everybody can be a journalist" online media adds to impression that all information has equal value.

  44. If he had established ground rules, like for certain times and areas all comments are off the record, there would have been no problem--journalists typically respect those rules. No need for cutting off access, no dire end of insight into the workings of our government/military--just the need for someone who has to have good political skills to be where he was to exercise a modicum of common sense and judgment. That need will never go away. Does make you wonder what other blind spots he had.

  45. I completely agree with your sentiments David. General McChrystal has dedicated his entire adult life and sacrificed more than most can imagine to protect our freedoms. He has done more good than the vast majority of the population will ever know. For him to go down like this, over banter that everyone is guilty of as it relates to their boss, is immensely sad and completely undeserving.

  46. What a bunch of hogwash David. This general knew exactly what he was saying and who he was saying it to. And it wasn't the first time. I'm guessing if one of his underlings would have said similar things about him, the punishment would have been equally as swift.

    Blaming a reporter for the downfall of an arrogant general is misplaced David. If there are two things the military preaches, it's discipine and following chain of command. General McChrystal needs a refesher course in both.

  47. The General probably has not 'missed the last 50 years of cultural history' as much as he has learned from it. The General is nobody's fool. He wanted out of this utterly incoherent, God awful mess that is Afghanistan. What better way than to be relieved from the job for a press gaffe - which can also be seen as speaking truth to power!

  48. While I agree with most of the gist of this piece, I don't know to what extent it really applies to General McChrystal. Yes, the media age - with its emphasis on gossip - is hurting politics and public service. But really now, the reason McChrystal was canned was that - media age or not - he was a total idiot to mouth off like that in front of a reporter. Since you used one Yiddish word, kvetch, let me introduce another, seychel, the wisdom and ability to do and say the right thing at the right time. McChrystal, whatever his talents, definitely lacks seychel and as a result of that flaw has no business holding a position that requires exposure to the media or public.

    I also can't believe that those in the know didn't realize that McChrystal lacked the discipline to keep his thoughts to himself. Either someone didn't tell Obama this was the case before he appointed McChrystal or Obama just decided to take the risk. Either way, it was clearly in hindsight a bad decision to give McChrystal this job. I don't like this gossipy age we live in. But it's likely that in any age, McChrystal would be best suited to working behind the scenes. He isn't prime time material.

  49. The general may have been venting, but he apparently allowed it to occur in front of an open mike. Why did he sabotage himself in such manner?

    Did he feel it would be more honorable to be fired by politicians for trash talking them than to continue the pursuit of a failed policy and possibly lead his fellow warriors to defeat?

    In other word, had McCrystal had lost faith in the ultimate success of his mission as currently constituted and did he subconsciously want a convenient out? Its important to know the answer. It may be time to fundamentally rethink the plan.

  50. I don't believe anyone has captured the very essence of this issue the way David just did. In addition, this griping is used so many times to undermine colleagues and good people. A lot is insinuated about others abilities in those close quarters - ruining so many promising people.

    Maybe our leaders should start setting the tone as to what is fair and good to say about people we disagree with. We can disagree without holding in contempt.

  51. A ridiculous apologia for McChrystal's indiscretions. Do we really need a politically (and culturally) inept individual running an enterprise of this magnitude, one where the capacity for nuanced judgment and intelligent decision making and leadership is all?

  52. That take might seem accurate if this was an isolated incident, but it wasn't. It's been widely reported that he's shown similarly poor judgment in the recent past.

  53. I would prefer a Superman General to one that is an average Washingtonian "kvetcher". Then, maybe, the US could bring this war of hubris to some logical conclusion, perhaps by bringing the military home, whereby, they could kvetch until their little hearts desireth nothing else.

  54. McChrystal was "excellent" at his job?

    Was his job not to implement a counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan? Marja was not a success. Kandahar was/is supposed to be the next big push but that had already been put off until September. And lest we imagine that Kandahar would be possible to "pacify" or "take," or whatever the relevant verb is, one should read Sarah Chayes' "The Punishment of Virtue" which begins in Kandahar, where she lived, in 2002. By her account, the gig was up from the beginning when Karzai's brother was allowed to become governor. Read it and weep or gnash your teeth or tear out your hair.

    Further, McChrystal was the officer at the head of the cover-up of Pat Tillman's death. Lying is not admirable and not "excellent."

    Whether Gen. Petraeus can succeed where McChrystal did not is an open question. How can there be a successful "counter-insurgency" program when the level of linguistic ability and cultural knowledge about Afghanistan seems abysmally low among almost everyone on our team?

    We need seriously fresh thinking, not just a new face.

  55. Great article David. I felt a little miffed by the whole thing at first, but this puts it in perspective. Thanks.

  56. Brooks, it appears, is saying that the nation would be better off if the media would act as the tact monitor for everyone with whom they have press relations, and of whose behavior they are to keep the public abreast, editing out any information irrelevant to what the public actually needs to know. The question is was the public better off then, when the press acted as such, than it is now? I don't believe so. While everyone has a right to privacy, including private opinions, it is up to everyone to maintain their own privacy. If individuals air their dirty laundry in public, it remains their responsibility for having done so, and should not be considered the media's responsibility to censor intemperate behavior and remarks that may shine a needed light into whether or not an individual is fit to hold their position. What Brooks appears to be arguing for in this piece is censorship; however a free press does not censor itself.

    Insofar as General McChrystal is concerned he knew that the lack of professionalism reflected in the Rolling Stone article was tantamount to gross dereliction of duty, being a four-star general, which is why he had a letter of resignation prepared before meeting with President Obama. McChrystal exposed himself, and he used the media to do so. One can only speculate as to why, however his intent remains clear, and there was no honor in his intent. What has happened to McChrystal is thus what was needed. The media, Rolling Stone in particular, bears no responsibility for that.

  57. The unacknowledged actor in this drama is the media, some manifestions of which in the U.S. have taken on a particularly virulent form. Stanley McChrystal is only the latest fresh kill. Perhaps he thought the war in Afghanistan was a war on the ground. Wrong. It has become, increasingly, a war of ideologies, a war of words, and now, a casualty of propaganda. Here you have a talented, committed military professional who clearly built a connection with president Karzai, a key player and not an easy mark. Yet all that has been disposed of in a single night of trash talk at a bar. Had the reporter in question kept those remarks to himself, there could have been continuity of leadership in Afghanistan, clearly the preferred option for those on the ground there or their loved ones. But now, due to a toxic combination of stress, misplaced words, and carrion journalism, those lives on the ground in Afghanistan are more at risk today than they were yesterday. Clearly, the media have engineered this latest catastrophe, but not without help. I believe that what lies at the heart of this event is failure of leadership, and the media simply sniffed out a weakness and then went for the jugular. Why are we Americans so self-destructive?

  58. The problem with this explanation is that we are not so clear that General McChrystal was all that well suited for his position as a military and diplomatic figure. That he has done excellent work in purely military tasks is well-established, but this position was a very different matter. It is rare for wars to be ended by military men. They may pacify an area, but they rarely have the skills or patience to devote the long months and years of effort to craft a diplomatic resolution of the conflict. That task is normally left to diplomats, the same one's the McChrystal's staff seemed contemptuous of.

    Nor does it take any great intelligence to sort out what a bad idea it is to let an investigative journalist imbed himself in a military command. That suggests the General McChrystal is tired and had begun to make flawed decisions, this just being an obvious and very public one. What we cannot see, but can assume may be happening, is that some of his decisions that we can't see may be equally flawed. This is not the first time McChrystal had gone public with opinions that caused difficulties for the President. Some of his previous gaffes seemed intended to lobby for a certain approach, based on information he spoke about in public. This was, as some have suggested, a "third strike".

    On this one I must disagree with Mr. Brooks, this being one of his less well thought out columns.

  59. It seems you can only blame the writer if he violated any agreements he had with the people he interviewed for certain things to be off the record. If the general and his aides didn't have the good sense to tell the writer that certain things should be off the record, then how can you blame the writer for writing about them? It's his job, it's his livelihood, and it's in fact his professional responsibility and purpose to expose. Frankly I'm glad he did. i'm not all that comfortable with the trash-talking, hard-drinking ways of some of these characters whom the general felt so endeared to (wouldn't their time be better spend reading about the history of Afghanistan?). Are these really the kind of people we would want leading a war that has life vs. death outcomes for our young soldiers and sucks up countless billions of dollars of taxpayers' money? I'll take the studious and wholesome General Petraeus instead please.

  60. Brooks writes,"By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him." Right!

    David Brooks has have completely fulfilled my expectations. He is blaming the reporter who was welcomed into the General's inner circle and who was allowed to remain there for nearly a month. Never mind the fact the Michael Hastings did not put one word in the mouths of the General or the staff members he quoted. The General said what he said and his staff spoke for him as well.

    The General's main problem was his Chief-of-Staff. The Chief's job is to protect the General from exactly what happened to him and he failed to do so. He allowed Hastings to be the fly on the wall. Anyone who has ever served on a Flag Officer's staff knows that the General or Admiral sets the tone and attitudes of his staff. And when a staff member speaks, he speaks for his Boss whether that Boss knows his subordinate is speaking or not. It is the way it is with such staffs. I know, I served on one for two years.

    First, McChrystal's Chief-of-Staff should have had a stern briefing with the entire staff and admonished them not to betray what the General really thinks. Second, he should have sent Michael Hastings packing after the original two-day gig had expired.

    General Stanley McChrystal did not have a sterling record when he assumed command of the Afghan War. He lied through his teeth about the death of Pat Tillman and he leaked the dispatch from Ambassador Eichemberry that embarrassed the Ambassador and the Administration. He should never had been given that job. Even so, it wasn't Michael Hastings that did McChrystal in. He had met the enemy and as Pogo so eloquently put it was himself. It certainly was not the reporter from the Rolling Stone!

  61. So, what? Shoot the messenger? That's your solution?

    You sound a little like Nancy Reagan complaining to Mike Wallace that the media only reported the bad news. Mrs. Reagan, like Mr. Brooks, didn't understand the purpose of journalism, which is to shine a bright light on the truth. When it comes to power politics, the truth -- as even you suggest -- isn't all that pretty. The Happy Face College of Journalism shut down, if not with Vietnam, with Woodward & Bernstein.

    As Chief Justice Earl Warren once said, "I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people's accomplishments; the front page nothing but man's failures." (Sports Illustrated, 22 July 1968)

    Maybe you should become a sports reporter, Mr. Brooks. And, by all means, steer clear of those "agony of defeat" stories.

    The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com

  62. If President Obama's own hand-picked general, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has such disdain for him, imagine how rest of the military feels. Obama then was forced to choose President Bush's general, David Petraeus.

  63. My Dear Mr. Brooks, I joined the US Army on September 30, 1970, the first thing they told us was that under NO circumstances are you to disparage your Commanding Officers and at the risk of Court Marshall will you EVER disrespect the President of the United States of America! There were no allowances for “kvetching”, as you call it. Simply put, they said “Shut your “blankety blank mouth and keep it shut as long as you are a GI period!” GI means Government Issued or property of the United States Government!

    The problem I have with you and people like you is that you magnify the transgressions of those you disagree with and you minimize those same transgressions when it suits you. That’s called being a hypocrite…Sir! General McCrystal did not make the mistake of “missing the last 50 years” he committed blatant insubordination and he licensed his low level staff members to do the same. They, in their perpetual state of cockiness, following their Commander, decided to disobey something aptly called “The Uniformed Code of Military Justice”. That is the civilian equivalent of a felony in the armed forces. You, Sir, having never wormed a uniform, may consider this nothing more than gossip that should have never been made public. For those of us who have worn the uniform it is considered second only to TREASON!

    This is so much more than “another scalp on the wall”, that doesn‘t begin to describe how big this is. For us who have served it is heartbreaking to witness such an honorable man as General Stanley A. Crystal fall. To have to painfully apply the rules that we were sworn to honor, till death, to one of our own leaves us devastated. It does us no favor for you to diminish the rules we honor just so that you can find a way to give a free pass to General McCrystal. He has not asked for a political pass, he knows these rules and he knows he has violated them. You, Sir, are not a part of this Military family and you never have been. You would do us a great service if you would simply butt out of our business and let us mourn in peace! It hurts bad enough to know that General McCrystal had to go in this great dishonor. Let us face our truth with honor, please. Members of a family may talk about one another but strangers do not enjoy the same privilege! Find another subject to write vacant political spin about! This subject is above your pay grade but I bet you don’t know what that means either!

  64. The constant prying into our politicians' personal lives and the exposure of their misdeeds is robbing this country of its best and brightest! JFK was a womanizer. FDR had a mistress. And who knows what Lincoln did!! All of a sudden, Mormon politicians have the huge advantage of not screwing up their personal lives and humiliating themselves out of office. Now born again Christians can moralize their way into Congress. We're doomed!!

  65. What culture of exposure are you referring too? According to your point of view, the reporter for Rolling Stone was at fault here. This is ridiculous and it just goes to show that you are no more than an apologist for the government, and mostly the Republicans.
    It seems that Rolling Stone is the only magazine dedicated to investigative journalism and the NY Times just print government press releases.
    It's a good thing you did not work for the Times during the Watergate and Pentagon Papers era.

  66. A brilliant piece of writing Mr. Brooks.

  67. Mr. Brooks: There is a big difference between kvetching and insubordination. You make the good General sound like an innocent who walked into a den of wolves. I don't think so.

  68. David, you are right about all of this and funny, too. But Kool and the Gang should have known better than to get wasted and run their mouths like that with a reporter in the room and a tape recorder running. Sheesh.

  69. Mr. Brooks, Isn't that a very naive view of the whole situation? The General very well know what he was getting into. If he wasn't, good for him.. he doesn't deserve to be there anyway.

  70. ah, please... If the general was so smart and professional, he should have kept his crew slang where it belongs - with his inner crew. At least his PR guy knew what was going to roll off the press, if not McChrystal himself.

    By allowing this to happen, Gen. McChrystal put the president (his boss) into an awkward position and with no choice. Therefore, he jeopardized his own mission and lives of people under him. He had to go because he apparently lacks professionalism that is necessary for the job.

  71. Your description of the change in journalistic (and cultural) attention is interesting. And it is true that everyone who has an ego and holds a stressful job, sounds off about "the boss" now and then.

    What's shocking in this case is that this particular general had so little sense about when it's NOT OK to make disparaging comments about the boss (like when a reporter is taking notes on what you say). Or that the general had such limited self-control that he couldn't stop himself despite the note-taking journalist in his presence.

    Almost any adult with any sense at all would know better than to sound off the way the general did in the presence of a note-taking journalist. And the general knew this was all goingto be part of an article to be published in a well-known national magazine. Where was the guy's brain? Where was his common sense? Where was his discretion?

    If he hasn't got common sense or self-control when being interviewed for a national magazine article, who knows if he has it on the battle field or at command central?

    If I hadn't watched this whole absurd thing play out over the last couple of days, I would have thought some Internet fiction writer was pulling our leg with the tale. It's that unbelievable to me!

    sunnylockwood.com
    http://bit.ly/EQbWb
    scribd.com/luddite

  72. Having grown a bit weary of David Brooks' convoluted thinking and meandering style of writing, I welcome this well-written, logical, and sensible piece of expository prose.

    The answer to his implied question is:
    "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    There is a fine line between the exposure of private vs. public performance and the uppermost consideration to be given will always be a close examination of the consequences that will evolve from the exposure. How one makes that decision will be a matter of character, of common sense, and of common decency. The same criteria can be applied to the recipients of the revealed information.

    Oh yes, and there is that bit of advice about walking in another persons shoes. Judge not less thee be judged.................

  73. Amen.

  74. So David, are you suggesting that the media should have let General McChrystal get away with covering up the Pat Tillman 'friendly-fire' murder, as well?

    You always seem to have a double standard about exposing people's bad decisions and indefensible actions, based upon the political persuasions involved. What a terrible standard.

  75. To all of you (Brooks included) who moan and think it's appropriate to do so. Don't. Just do it with your significant other and/or family, friends not your co-workers. No excuses. No legitimate reasoning to do otherwise despite Brooks saying it "blows of steam." Those of you who moan about others in public are no better than TMZ, the Papparazzi, and gossips. Act like adults

  76. Sorry, this was not about the "culture of exposure." This was about insubordination. How sad that Mr. Brooks hasn't a clue.

  77. If you are saying that the pen is mightier than the sword, perhaps we should add that to the West Point curriculum. Shooting yourself in the foot, a good soldier does not make.

  78. Thank you. Finally some sense has been spoken about this matter. That being said, prepare yourself for the infinitely predictable responses that are sure to come. This new brand of journalism has many proponents, chiefly people under the age of 35 and leftists. The destruction is the goal, not the byproduct. This is a major win for that camp.

  79. wonderful op-ed. Thanks. The General could have benefitted from the history lesson of Harry Truman and a recalcitrant general. I think grousing and grumbling among peers is one thing, but never with your subordinates and particularly about your bosses.

  80. Mr Brooks, I have a lot of respect for you, most of the time. But this time I think you got it wrong. As I read your column, you believe that what McCrystal did wrong is get caught. I can only imaging the conversations he had with his officers and lower ranking men, in private, if this is what was said in public. He had no right to talk about the people who are his superiors in the manner in which he did. He especially had no right to go to a very popular magazine with this "kvetching". What he did was wrong, and he got nailed. He deserved his punishment. He was acting in a way that was treasonous, not just foolish or stupid. He was the one who overturned the priorities, by publishing his thoughts before the world.

  81. David, hasn't this been pretty much the same since the administration of John Adams?

  82. David, you are being willfully naive.

    You cannot live in the world you imagine or in a past world of your idealization.

    Gen. MacArthur didn't have Rolling Stone to complain, too. But he was probably not stupid enough to spill his guts to The Nation or The Daily Worker.

    If McChrystal didn't know that Rolling Stone is a hippie, sex, drugs and rock and roll magazine, then he knows very little about the America that his soldiers grew up in and will be lucky to return to someday.

    No wonder he had such contempt for the Obama crew, he apparently had no idea where they came from or were coming from.

    Was he like the Bubble Boy raised in isolation from his own society to protect him from being infected by it?

    Meanwhile, back in here on planet earth, sex scandals, inappropriate comments, physical abuse of the weak by the powerful, eggheads of the power elite and Ivy League showing their disdain for the middle class, these are the issues that drive our politics.

    Like it or not.

    If you live in a perfect world where none of these issues are issues, please send us your location, I'm sure a lot of people would like to join you there.

    In the meantime, we are stuck with this world as it is.

    Planet earth, David, you are here.

  83. It's amazing that Brooks bemoans the Rolling Stone writer's "exposure" of McChrystal's comments while acknowledging that the general spoke on the record. As a journalist Brooks knows (or should know) that anything an interviewee says on the record can and in most cases should be used by the writer to whom it is said. The journalist is not McChrystals's friend or confidante, so for him to pass up those statements to protect the man would have been unethical. For the general's part, he was either reckless, stupid or lulled into complacency by years of the sort of overly-friendly journalistic laxity Brooks prefers.

  84. For the most part, I strongly agree with your article. I do agree that it was casual complaining and not a direct attack on the authority of the president. I also agree that the Rolling Stone reporter was irresponsible and part of a larger pointlessness, vacuousness and viciousness of much of American media.

    But what I disagree with is your implied premise; that the general was a victim. Gen. McChrystal is a very bright man exceptionally so. He is also extremely good at his job. However, his downfall was a naivety about the press. Did he and his staff think the reporter was a pal? A good buddy they could open up to? Gen McChrystal should have known better than to open up to a reporter, let alone a Rolling Stone reporter.

    He's not a victim in any sense.

  85. McChrystal's predicament is an inevitablity of our schizoid approach to military solutions of what ultimately are civil problems. When a nation fails; its basic and necessary institutions non-existent or held captive, and the enemy anything but conventional, we hire career warriors who excell at killing and expect them to both kill and build. Killing is appropriate for the enemy when the sides are clear cut, and even appropritate when unconventional conflicts require the nerves of a killer, but the other half of the equation require a kind of maturity that our best warriors just don't typically have nor should we expect them to. It's something to think about; the re-organization of the military into two parts; one part composed of young, energetic warriors focused on surpressing the military and another composed of those who have seen how war destroys and understand what needs to be done to re-establish the peace and preserve it through an appreciation for authority and expertise.

  86. Very nice David. We want "Instant-Lincoln" just like we want "Instant-Soup". This is not inane, it is rather where we are today on the Darwinian arrow of time. We can not go back So, we are going to be figuring out how we adapt in this new world of instant "everything".

    I think it will take some time, because it will only be the younger generations that this "instant-everything" and by necessity, will strip it of extreme moralistic views, to a more homogenously centered agnostic and factual perspective. Check back in 25 years.

  87. You write that "He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise."

    Huh?

    Outstanding relations with the White House? Remember the London speech?
    And have you read your own newspaper's accounts of the dysfunctional, backstabbing mess that was and is Team America in Afghanistan? So you think this general magically floated above it all except for a little after-hours banter?

    If the kvetching had been isolated to a few late-night drinking sessions, your premise is almost plausible. However, from all accounts, one of the central problems of this war effort has been the failure of any one faction to work effectively with the others, and McChrystal was a key player in the middle of the mess.

    Having solved that problem, the only thing we have left to worry about is the hardened, ruthless, and determined enemy being sheltered and nurtured by our Pakistani ally.

  88. Mr. Brooks, I enjoy and respect your columns, but it's astonishing that you're turning this on the reporter. You lament that higher walls will be erected. They won't. Thousands of similar outings haven't made the walls higher. Politicians want the attention, and McChrystal is a politician as well as a general. McChrystal knew what he was doing; he just thought he could get away with it. It seems to me you took the easy way out with this column.

  89. Generals who live in glass houses shouldn't throw rolling stones.

  90. This is an interesting perspective, and I agree with much of what you have to say. Except the part about McChrystal being good at his job.

  91. The reporter did his job. I do not see why he is being painted as a villain in this piece. President Obama could have ignored the General's kvetching, if kvetching is an integral part of life.

  92. David: You have speciously, in my view, made excuses for Mc K. What would he, the Gen., do if a Colonel bad mouthed him publicly or even privately. We know the answer to that. If the military does not respect the chain of command, who will? The General and his minions were stupid and got what they deserve. The President and me do not deserve this stupidity. I am surprised at your excuse making.

  93. Excellent analysis David.

    The major irony is that if you actually read the "exact" words spoken by the General as reported in the has-been-doper magazine article, he really doesn't put down the President. It's all implied or quoted by some of the aides. The President showed thin skin and insecurity by accepting The General's resignation. There's no such thing as freedom of expression for men who watch their comrades die and who risk their lives daily for their country? Obama would have shown more class by extending some manly understanding and letting this pass. While the General has been risking his life everyday, our President has been golfing and hosting fancy dinners. Don't you see?

    Even more classic is how the lockstep media celebrates the appointment of General Petraeus when just two years ago, in THIS newspaper in fact, there was a full page ad/article with the headline "General Betray-us".

    Don't you see? The irony? The hypocrisy?

  94. Shooting the messenger, Mr Brooks? General McChrystal owed his authority and the tremendous power he exercised to a man he clearly disrespected. This isn't gossip bit news the president and the people who elected him have every right to know.

  95. The General had to go, if he had stayed the President would have seemed even weaker then he really is. That said, exactly what in the article was inaccurate or even less then common knowledge around the country? The President is letting his staff and the other bureaucrats fight it out over policy in almost every area. That's change you can believe in isn't it?


  96. Even a neophyte knows that when dealing with the media nothing is off the record. If you say something, it is reasonable to assume it will get published. So why did McCrystal say what he did?

  97. Not only do we have the ethos of exposure...we're now in the era of the rise celebrity and the Facebook/Twitter culture of exhibitionism where the new normal is to blab every banal detail of one's thoughts, feelings and actions (like what they had for lunch) in a running self absorbed commentary of 'myself'.

    I can foresee a day in the not too distant future where our government will elected in a type of "American Idol vote by calling" candidate smackdown...

    Ugh.

  98. I don't think you read the article. There have been big problems with McChrystal, and you characterize his work as perfect and his character as sterling, which obviously could not be further from the truth.

  99. I almost always like your columns, and then there are times when you hit the sweat spot and write a very fine column. This one was just right. Hopefully something new will emerge, because really how much of this stuff can we put up with. Surely we will get tired of the lack of substance and the terrible consequences for the common good. Thanks.

  100. Excellent piece, David.

  101. Nice point. But McChrystal was an example of a political takedown by the Rolling Stone. Of course, Fox and its ilk -- and the Republican leadership in Congress -- spend 95% of their time trying to do the same kind of winning politics on the Democratic majority instead of trying to work to inform the country about important social issues (like global warming, reason why shortterm deficit spending is good in a depression, while longterm deficit spending a la Bush is really bad for a country, etc (Fox)) or trying to work on passing and improving needed legislation in a compromise form where they don't like many of the comprosises (Republican leadership) instead of being the ideologically pure and divisive party of no. But the Rolling Stone article shows that all parts of the media can plan at this corrosive game. Good job guys, now you've got your scalp too.

  102. You're kvetching. Shame on you, taking so many words to blame the media. The General was showing off, over a prolonged period of time, to a reporter from Rolling Stone? The President should have rejected his offer to resign, then gone on to fire him.

  103. I think Marshall McLuhan said this some time ago: "The Medium is the Message". Too bad Gen. McChrystal apparently didn't read it.

  104. Hey, you're right. The real issue is the war, why we're there, what can be accomplished that would make such a great expenditure worth it. All the rest about who said what about wqhom matters very little.

  105. As you yourself so eloquently stated David:

    "So every few weeks I find myself on the receiving end of little burst of off-the-record trash talk. Senators privately moan about other senators. Administration officials gripe about other administration officials. People in the White House complain about the idiots in Congress, and the idiots in Congress complain about the idiots in the White House — especially if they’re in the same party. Washington floats on a river of aspersion."

    And a lot of your readers trash you at the NY Times because you're stating ... ummm, usually, in a condescending and patronizing tone, the obvious.

    General McChrystal needed to be fired--and yeah, he's stupid.

  106. To reach the level of General McChrystal, one has to be very politically savvy. I also cannot believe that anyone does who has even the slightest interest in popular culture hasn't heard of Rolling Stone magazine and its political orientation.

    My opinion is that McChrystal knew exactly what he was saying and had political motives in doing so, namely to diminish Obama's credibility as a Commander and Chief. Maybe he will write a book close to the 2012 election that will really hammer Obama more as a leader. I don;t think a person as self disciplined as McChrystal would let these political bombs slip from his mouth. This man is no attention seeking novice.

    When Admiral Mullen spoke at a press briefing today he made very interesting remarks about McChrystal, Besides expressing his personal admiration and friendship for him, he also said, and I am paraphrasing, that this man has fought in places and in ways that we could never imagine. It seems to me that McChrystal was a super commando, "black ops" leader, a real life "Rambo" who has endured the most secretive and dangerous of missions over his career. Another colonel, and former medal of honor winner, described the general and his team as "hunters."
    We can only imagine the subtext of that description.

    I can genuinely see how a man of that kind of personality make up and that type of very special military experience would have disdain for an overly intellectual and cautious Obama, in addition to his having no military background and being an anti Iraq war president. As an ordinary Joe Blow citizen, and a person who voted for the president, I myself am maddened at Obama's inability to be a stronger leader, oppose political adversaries more fiercely, on top of being so overly cautious and refuse to take strong positions on anything. I can only imagine what emotions a man of Obama's manner and style would be aroused in a man like McChrystal.

    I think he knew perfectly well that Rolling Stone would print what he said verbatim and not cut him any slack, as you might for that matter. I think he wanted the public to know his feelings about Obama and his team, perhaps even his patriotic duty to do so. This was not the first time he has been publicly outspoken about Obama, Biden or Afghan policy. I cannot imagine his being so disdainful and insubordinate to John McCain.

    I also am very thankful for the Internet, cable, and the delving into personal lives of out politicians. I think it is wonderful when homophobic opportunists and holier that though hypocrites like Larry Craig, Senator Vitter, the closeted gay homophobic pastor and political activist all get exposed. I want to know that John Edwards is a moral hypocrite. The public has a right to know about Governor Sanford, another moral hypocrite, Elliot Spitzer, congressmen who prey on young male interns, Sen. Ensign's life of double standards etc. etc. This all reflects on their character, fitness for office, and credibility. I also think that my parents would have liked to have known that general Patton was a vicious anti-Semite for that matter.

    I guess you would have been one of those journalists to give JFK and his brothers all the slack they needed despite their distasteful treatment of women and their wives for that matter. Maybe if a journalist had the courage to expose this, Marilyn Monroe might have lived out a normal life span instead of being passed from brother to brother like a towel.

    I think that the new breed of journalism will in the long run keep corrupt and morally hypocritical politicians from seeking office and seeking a political career as a means to wealth, influence and largess. If you got something to hide, then stay out of the spotlight!

  107. As you yourself so eloquently stated David:

    "So every few weeks I find myself on the receiving end of little burst of off-the-record trash talk. Senators privately moan about other senators. Administration officials gripe about other administration officials. People in the White House complain about the idiots in Congress, and the idiots in Congress complain about the idiots in the White House — especially if they’re in the same party. Washington floats on a river of aspersion."

    And a lot of your readers trash you at the NY Times because you're stating ... ummm, the obvious, usually, in a condescending and patronizing tone.

    General McChrystal needed to be fired, and yeah, he's "a warrior God" moron.

  108. I think your own newspaper's reporting suggests that it is hardly credible the general didn't understand what he was doing. Moereover, I remember the politicking orchestrated by this same officer when he engineered the dismissal of his predecessor.

  109. Mr. Brooks - while your cautionary points about public life resonate, they are niether new or unknown. As you noted, these depresing changes in public scritiny evolved over decades.

    The issue is judgment. As a journalist, you realize that public figures and their staffs almost always know the bright lines. McChrystal didn't adequately instruct his staff about them. The contracst between McChrystal's well-publicized personal asceticism and the personal indiscipline within his circle is troubling and, unfortunately, precedented. As Hunter Thompson always said, buy the tickt, take the ride.

  110. David Brooks brushes off Gen. McChrystal's and his aides' complaining about their bosses in the White House as just harmless "kvetching" that should never have been reported. This fails to take into account the fact that all the quotes were checked with the general before publication and, according to Rolling Stone -- and with no contradiction from the general -- approved by him. In other words it was OK with McChrystal to have it known that he felt that his boss, the president of the United States, seemed "uncomfortable and intimidated" at a meeting with Pentagon brass; that it was OK for an aide to criticize the president for not knowing enough about the general when he put McChrystal in charge of the war in Afghanistan; that McChrystal could joke about Vice President Biden by saying "who is he?" and in the general's presence an aide could make fun of Biden's name by calling him "Bite-me;" that it was OK for an aide to refer to the head of the NSC as a "clown" and special envoy Holbrooke as a "wounded animal." Gen. McChrystal gave the OK for all that, and some other disparaging remarks about his civilian leaders, to be printed. And Brooks, instead of being critical of McChrystal for rubbing all this nastiness in his commander in chief's face, criticizes the reporter for making all this public. McChrystal and Brooks share at least one trait: each is totally lacking in judgement.

  111. Of course it is ridiculous that a first rate soldier is axed for flippant words between buddies over a beer in a pub.

    It was probably not called kvetching in the days of the Minutemen but they surely, already at Bunker Hill, had bitter words about the leadership, not to mention at Valley Forge. SNAFU (situation normal, all fouled up) was coined to expedite bellyaching in WWII. The water cooler was practically invented to facilitate griping about the boss in civilian life.

    But those are bubbles down the tank. Unexposed is the fact that a capable commander who attained his rank by proving his mettle across thirty years of soldiering was fired by a politician who attained his rank without experience or achievements, and who never retained a job long enough to be judged by the results.

    Moreover, the real reason we are in Afghanistan needs exposing. It is not because al-Qaeda longs to move back to Tora Bora. Our Special Forces, drones and Daisy Cutters easily chased them out of there, with devastating losses after 9/11. They much prefer to stay in Pakistan where the govt protects them against us, and if they have to leave those badlands they havens in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, etc.

    The real reason Afghanistan was into a major war goes back to the 2008 presidential campaign. Then the Democratic candidate found himself with egg on his face. He had won the nomination as the foremost anti-war candidate, the first and loudest in declaring Iraq militarily unwinnable and he then denounced the surge as only making that debacle worse.

    The way Obama dealt with that embarrassment was to attack the Republicans on Afghanistan. Bush had under 30,000 men there, he had reduced that theater to a mere holding action. If elected Obama promised to make Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror and to give it all the combat battalions required to win that fight. It was a political gambit by a politician needing to appear hawkish. In short, he obscured his bad judgment of military and strategic matters, made in public, with a political trick. But now he punishes a good soldier for politically maladroit words uttered in private.

    At this point, the problem is not too much exposure, but too little.

  112. The US military public affairs community has, within the Pentagon, a television studio and a standard media training course required of all senior military and DoD civilians when they are appointed. I know because I was one of those involved in the training -- for more than 15 years -- often conducting what is known as the 'hostile interview.'

    The whole point: if the newly appointed senior leader is not careful, he or she can self destruct in the course of a single interview. Among points stressed: you never, never joke; you never say anything that would cause embarrassment to yourself or your service; you always assume you are being recorded. Even if the interview is 'off the record,' you always assume the reporter will violate the agreement. The one rule we observe: there are no rules.

    Usually, before any interview of consequence, the senior leader is prepped: every nasty question we can think of, particularly those that might catch the leader off guard, we ask, impersonating the reporter. We know what the reporter has written, his/her style. The whole point of the prep session is to recall the training, and make sure that the leader does not get 'blindsided' on a current, specific issue: command of yourself and of content mean survival.

    McChrystal’s mistake isn’t about disagreeing with this boss, but insulting him; the military actually encourages dissent up to the point when a decision is made; then you follow the decision, or you resign. Such differences, when rationally discussed, can speak to the integrity of the process even if there happens to be political fallout which, when managed, can speak to positive points on either side. Had McChystal been as smart as his staff and other claim, he could have turned any disagreement to his and Obama’s benefit, refreshing in Washington: afterward, Obama could have said, “Of course we’re going to disagree, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Disagree is different from disobey.”

    So, after blanking up, McChrystal fires his public affairs officer for his -- McChrystal's -- own mistake, while he congratulates himself for his own professional integrity. Most of us would just as soon as not have this latest example to make our training points for us, but then, neither does McChrystal need a hand when he does such a fine job all by himself.

    As for McChrystal’s ‘brilliance,’ there were officers before him, and there will be officers to follow as technically capable if not more so. Arguably, nine out of 10 Americans would not be able to name the officer Colin Powell succeeded or the one following him who were both probably his equal. The system is intended to produce fine officers and for the most part does. Not all become famous or last more than a week in the public consciousness following their exit from public life.

    The more disturbing lapse than the comments made in Rolling Stone, if true as reported, is the revealing issue regarding McChrystal’s lying and cover-up of the Pat Tillman affair supposedly endorsed, if not requested, by Bush and Cheney. For this he was promoted when he should have been fired, which speaks not only to his failure as a military officer, but to a civilian leadership more interested in the opposite of integrity; and they apparently found compromise of this quality in McChrystal.

    The social research included in professional military coursework establishes a simple fact: that those who are led will accept just about any failure from a leader save for one -- dishonesty. And, speaking to that point, if McChyrstal were looking for an honorable way to leave his post, as some have suggested, rather than using the Rolling Stone interview and comments made as a ‘clever strategy,’ he would have said, “The president and I disagree on points x, y, and z and cannot reconcile our differences. On that basis, I have tendered by resignation.” The president then might have seen his way to change his mind based on the conviction to a course of action different from his own as inferred in the offer of resignation; or, the president could have accepted the differences an honorable man’s decision. McChrystal apparently lacks that integrity, judgment, honor. Leaders differ from bullies based on those qualities.

  113. I like David Brooks, but, on this issue, he seems to acting the part of an apologist. For whatever reason, General McChrystal demonstrated questionable judgment. Blowing off steam is one thing: But what the general did violates military protocol. In fact, he is at least in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, having committed an offense that is punishable by courts martial.

    The text of Article 88 states that:

    “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

    But even a laymen can discern such actions were, in fact: 1) grievously insubordinate to the Commander and Chief; 2) destructive of already flagging troop moral and, 3), completely devoid of anything other than what appears to be pure hubris -- with a touch of megalomania thrown in.

    This latest kafuffle over leadership raises a rather more salient point, however: Why are we in Afghanistan in the first place? We know we were in Iraq for the oil. ExxonMobile and the other hundred or so transnational defense contractors are doing quite well thank you. No need for bailouts among that lot. So, could it be that the mineral wealth "recently discovered" in Afghanistan is what compels our military action there? -- under the pretense of, you know, ridding that country of the evil Taliban? I say a resounding maybe.

    In fact, I think we should look at this McChrystal affair in order to see what our country has become: The bully on the block. We've evolved into a jingoistic nation driven by some sort of weird amalgam of corporatism, militarism and the ill-conceived imprimatur of American Exceptionalism. In short, we believe ourselves to be better than the rest of the world. (Which is why, I guess, we have to fight, kill and torture any who believe otherwise. Or, alternatively, co-opt their oil and mineral resources as part of our sanguiness march across the Middle East in search of the global utopian dream.)

    Doesn't a single one of you feel this all has malodorous stench of transnational corporate supremacy? Let me put it another way: Is there an even a semi-comatose American out there who actually believes that the aforementioned Afghan mineral find (known about since at least 2007) is not, in fact, the precise reason we are maintaining our military presence there? This is Iraq all over again, folks, only then it was oil. Now, it's rocks.

    According to President Obama, however, the Unites States is engaged in a grave mission to eliminate the ultimately horrific terrorist threat to the United States represented by the Taliban. Please. Terrorism (even according to our own N.I.E) was never more than a statistical, albeit tragic anomaly (17 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers were Saudi Nationals for Christ's sake -- why didn't we bomb that country?)

    Ok, back to McChrystol. He's gone. We thank him for his service. But, far more importantly, our country is still being torn apart by unbridled Capitalism, congressional lobbying, a complicit, corporatized media driven by rightwing ideology. And a peculiar failure of the human genome, which has not yet selected the warmongering and greedy among us for extinction from the common gene pool.

    Terrorism is an idea. It is nihilism personified. You can't bomb an idea out of existence. But, lots of corporate entities are profiting from that effort.

  114. Imagine this sort of behavior in an office situation. Of course workers kvetch about their bosses. But if their supervisor were to join in, that takes it to a different level. It begins to feel less like the normal sort of workplace complaining and more like something is systemically wrong.

    Or imagine this sort of behavior in a difficult school situation. Teachers complain all the time, but if they take their complaints to the principal and all he does is join in the complaining in a disrespectful manner, morale sinks.

    The battlefield is a place where morale is extremely important and day to day life is much more stressful than in most civilian workplaces. Even if McChrystal believed the situation was systemically wrong, he owed it the troops to keep morale as high as possible while his men remained in danger. There is a way to acknowledge the complaints of those who work for you without undermining belief in the entire system, without making them feel they are part of a something that is bad and cannot be changed. It starts by maintaining respect, if not admiration, for those in charge or, at the very least, the system that is in place. If McChrystal were to have gone to the president to advocate for his troops, claiming they were losing their lives for an impossible mission, that might have been admirable, but by joining in the kvetching about the dolts in charge, all he did was undermine morale. That's inexcusable.

  115. "The basic view was that human beings are sinful, flawed and fallen. What mattered most was whether people could overcome their flaws and do their duty as soldiers, politicians and public servants. Reporters suppressed private information and reported mostly — and maybe too gently — on public duties."

    So if the past was too greatly steeped in a culture of suppression of public officials' private indiscretions; the present, too much reveling in such, waiting to taking anyone and everyone down: for example JFK's undocumented womanizing versus Clinton's impeachment, the question is: are we being served? Or have we become so focused on form that we've lost sight of substance?

    The modern reality is, of course, "political correctness" carried to the logical extreme, with us all wearing a rice-paper thin veneer all that is too easily pierced before we cry "victim" and moan the injustice of our treatment at the hands of the cruel media. We've become too intolerant
    and have forgotten how to laugh at the all-too-human foibles we share, never mind the human condition in which we all are a part. "All in the Family" wouldn't stand a chance of production now, though the show lambasted every group imaginable. And that was the point, they didn't discriminate.

    Now that we have this horrid addiction to the worst in human behavior, the Jerry Springer Show and similar ilk being examples of pandering to the most base of human activity; the internet with broadband speed delivery of anything and everything; enough political cynicism in the body politic to echo The Beatles, "you say you want a revolution," amongst the "Tea Party" set, (though if they couldn't protest the illegal war, how they plan on revolutionary foment is still something of a mystery), where do we find the middle ground? Where do we regain trust in an age of cyber crime and rampant paranoia? Where do we regain faith in a world that has merged news and entertainment producing "infotainment," as long on promise, and as short on delivery as any late-night "infomercial?" How do we reclaim the best of the past, without losing the future? Suggestions welcome.

  116. 1. The general, despite his competence and record of merit, had to go.

    2. His blunder is enhanced because it was with a Leftist publication unsympathetic to the military and our Afghan deployment--what WAS he thinking?.

    3. Senior military seem to me far better educated and trained, as well as better managers and leaders, than most senior elected officials--I wish the politicians deserved the sacrifices of the military--but civilian control MUST be maintained.

    4. Brooks' only touches on the major news problem: the decline of journalism and the change of news to trivia, gossip, expose, self-importance, cult of personality, promotion, and slant. Entertainment is news, and news is entertainment. Foreign bureaus have closed, and most of the world is obscure to American audiences except for spectacle, conflict, or titilation. Americans are largely uninformed.

    5. The underlying problems of poor leadership and management by Obama, continuing harmful rifts among both military and civilian leadership, and a politically-based half-in half-out policy relying on unreliable Karzai rather than strengthening an Afghan federalism system remain.

    6. The ultimate issue is not winning or leaving, but how to resolve the situation in a manner that will cut our losses, cause least future harm, and bring the best possible outcomes for our foreign relations.

  117. Mr. Brooks' article, while thoughtful, seems to miss the point: each of us is responsible for choices and the consequences that flow from those choices. For whatever reason, the general made the decision to publicly denegrate his command-in-chief, the President, and his staff and did so, apparently, repeatedly over the course of a year. By doing so, in addition to breaking his military oath to protect the constitution and to respect and obey his appointed superiors, he gave succor to the enemy. I am sure that the Taliban leaders have shared the general's remarks with their followers as encouragement to fight harder against our soldiers, marines and airmen. The stupidity of the general's acts at a minimum raise serious questions concerning his judgment; at worst, it could be considered down right treasonous. In any event, the general made his choice and he alone is responsible for the consequences. I find it surprising that a voice of the "moderate" right would imply that society is somehow to blame and that the general is simply another victim of a modern "tell-all" culture.

  118. Entirely wrong analysis Mr. Brooks. The war is not going well---among other things---in case you hadn't heard. Gen. McChrystal simply found an exit strategy, since America has not. Your elitist viewpoint confuses "letting off steam" with what every politician, bureaucrat, and journalist should know by know: our goose is cooked.

  119. Excellent description of the political realities of our country today. However was General McChrystal not naive to be on the record when military vs civilian political culture has had a record of abrasive relations historically ? The outcome for the President came down to the chain of command structure and the General simply had to suck it up and take his medicine from the CinC. Sadly, in warfare, a General too is expendable. General Petraeus who successfully implemented the surge in Iraq, championed by Senator McCain and President Bush, and adopted by President Obama since, is certainly the right man for the job. Perhaps MoveOn.Org will now see fit to take a full page advertisement in the NYT to congratulate General Petraeus for accepting this difficult assignment so as to atone for their outrageous slur on his good name and character in the past when MoveOn.org described him as General Betrayus.

  120. "General McChrystal was excellent at his job." He just "apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history..."

    Now he'll probably have a lot more time to decide which (if either) of those conflicting statements is entirely true.

  121. Wow! I almost never agree with conservative Republicans and rarely agree with David Brooks. HOwever, in this article I think Brooks shows some understand of the problem and makes the best argument that I have heard yet about why the Rolling Stone piece is damaging. Generally, I am in favor of an unfettered press that serves no master. HOwever, that is an ideal impossible to realize. Also, the article shows the effects of that unfettered access. To be honest, I have yet to read the entire article word for word (I just skimmed it) and some of the things I've read sound like minor gripes and paint a picture of a general who was blowing off some steam.

    Once the story broke, Obama was right to fire McChrystal. However, it sounds like McChrystal was just about the best man for the job and it is a shame that he had to be fired. But really, he HAD to be fired given what was made public. Still Patreus is no slouch and hopefully he can put a plan in place that leads to a withdrawal in 2011.

    In the end, it was stupidity that McChrystal's people didn't know what Michael Hastings might print.

  122. Brooks -- I usually disagree with you, but must admit that what you say here today makes good sense. Excellent. Thanks.

  123. "The most interesting part of my job is that I get to observe powerful people at close quarters."
    To the discerning readers, Mr. Brooks, you may have "exposed" in that sentence more than you meant to. Namely the explanation of why so many of our most popular op-ed scribblers stuff their article with names - big and small, celebrated and obscure: They, the journalists, get paid to do so by the owners of those names. Cross my palm with silver. Only make it gold. Under the table, please.

  124. Mr. Brooks

    You've either forgotten or chosen to ignore two extremely important considerations:

    1. The General's totally out of line PUBLIC speech in London in the midst of the Administrations Afghanistan strategy review.

    2. The opportunity he was given to review the Rolling Stone article - which he did - and, as part of that process, to make changes - which he did not.

    What what you refer to as the emphasis on private over public performance is, as you point out, hardly a new phenomenon, and that's all the more reason the General was either extremely stupid or unbelievably arrogant in giving the Rolling Stone reporter the unfettered, unfiltered access he had to him and his staff over such an extended period.

    On this occasion you are really out to lunch.

  125. "Brooksian sophistry" says it all. Thank you commenter #22!!