A special March Readers' Review: Diane and her guests discuss why fiction matters. A recent study indicates that fewer than half of all Americans are reading novels today. It suggests that those who do read fiction are better able to understand the emotions of others. A conversation about the social and personal benefits of reading fiction.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Born the son and grandson of Army officers, there was little doubt that Stanley McChrystal would become a soldier. The West Point graduate rose through the ranks to command a special forces team in Iraq, which captured Saddam Hussein and killed top al-Qaida terrorists. In 2009, Gen. McChrystal took command of NATO operations in Afghanistan. But a controversial profile in Rolling Stone magazine the next year suggested he was at odds with the White House, and he resigned. In a new memoir, Gen. McChrystal writes about his military life, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and why Rolling Stone got it wrong.
- General Stanley McChrystal co-founder of the McChrystal Group and former commander of NATO coalition in Afghanistan.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “My Share of the Task: A Memoir.” Published by Portfolio/ Penguin. Copyright © Stanley McChrystal, 2013.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. As commander of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal led more than 100,000 troops from 46 countries. General McChrystal hoped to build on his success in Iraq where his special forces turned the tide on al Qaida.
MR. TOM GJELTENBut a 2010 profile in "Rolling Stone" magazine led to the general's resignation. In a new memoir titled "My Share of the Task," McChrystal writes about his storied career in the military, what he's learned about the war in Afghanistan and his side of the "Rolling Stone" story. And General McChrystal joins me in the studio. Good morning sir.
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTALGood morning, Tom. How are you?
GJELTENGood. We welcome everyone to take part in this conversation with General McChrystal. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us with your comments and questions via Facebook or Twitter. I want to say, sir, first, thanks for your extraordinary service to the country over your long military career.
MCCHRYSTALYou're very kind, thank you.
GJELTENIn your case, this was a family, this has been a generational commitment, hasn't it?
MCCHRYSTALIt has, my father was a soldier and his father was a soldier. My brothers all were soldiers at some point and my sister married to a soldier. My wife is the daughter of a career soldier and her three brothers were soldiers.
GJELTENHow does that happen that this commitment to serving in the military gets passed down along these lines?
MCCHRYSTALI think it's unlike other fields people work. I've gotten to know some New York policemen and firemen and it tends to be a family affair, there's a tradition. You tend to look at people you respect like your parents, you see them doing something that gives them a great sense of satisfaction and so you have a tendency to do that.
GJELTENAnd when did you know you wanted to be a soldier and what specifically did you want to do in the military?
MCCHRYSTALIt's interesting, I always wanted to be a soldier. My earliest memory I wanted to be like my father. I still want to be like my father and so from the age when I thought that I would go to college I never thought of anything but West Point. About a year and a half ago I was speaking at a high school or junior high school and I had a young girl say, "Do you think you made a mistake not ever considering anything else?" And it was a very thoughtful question and the answer is, I probably should of but the military turned out to be something I loved.
GJELTENThe military turned out to be something you loved. Was it a sense of servicing the country, I mean, or was it sort of the community that you, the community of people, men and women that you had been introduced via your father and your grandfather?
MCCHRYSTALIt's very interesting and I think that I am probably similar to many other soldiers. You enter because there's a sense of adventure. You enter because it seems like that might something the actions that you would find interesting. You then become addicted to it by the relationships to other soldiers and their families and it becomes a tight, almost a sports team or very committed group, this sense of teamwork.
MCCHRYSTALBecause soldiers fight for other soldiers and they fight for their leaders. As you get more senior it becomes different, yes, then it starts to have a sense of responsibility to the soldiers but also to the nation. And it takes a while to go through this evolution and, you know, soldiering gets harder when you get older but you start to have this sense of commitment to something really, really larger.
GJELTENNow, you open your book with a very poignant story about another young soldier who followed his father into war. Can you tell us that story?
MCCHRYSTALI sure can. It was Christmas Eve on 2009 in Afghanistan and as is tradition I was visiting as many remote outposts as I could by helicopter to wish soldiers a Merry Christmas. A small team and I went to this very remote location in southern Afghanistan, sort of obsequies looking fort on windswept terrain and we got there late in the evening, well dark.
MCCHRYSTALWe went inside and this rough base of about 70 Afghan and American soldiers and we go inside the huts inside where they lived and you see some Christmas decorations and whatnot. And it's typical, what we do is we talk to the soldiers, we thank them for what they're doing, we give out some awards for those who'd been, had done great things.
MCCHRYSTALAnd then at the end as they become more comfortable, they're always stiff when you first get there, four star general and young soldiers. They ask to take pictures and they want to send those pictures home. so we're in the process of doing that and I look at, I try to address everybody by name, I looked at one soldier's name tape on his uniform and it was a very familiar by non-typical name.
MCCHRYSTALAnd I asked him if his father had been a soldier and he said that he'd had. And then I asked him if his father had been a Ranger and at this point the young man knew what I was asking and he said yes and in fact he confirmed that his father had been a Ranger with me, a non-commissioned officer, for many years and then had gone on to an elite commando force that I commanded and he had been killed in a very difficult period in Iraq in 2005.
MCCHRYSTALAnd now his son...
GJELTEN19 years old.
MCCHRYSTALThat's right, he was a private, had decided to serve on the edge of the war, taking up, in my mind, taking up the mission that his father had lived so long and it was really very moving.
GJELTENAnd this is what you wrote General McChrystal after that, "On the flight north that night, I absorbed the continuity of war. I knew from history that war comes with frightening regularity often fought over the same ground and similar causes as previous conflicts. Wars often begin with enthusiastic vigor but typically settle into costly, dirty business characterized for soldiers by fear or frustration and loneliness."
GJELTEN"There's also continuity in soldiers, in the young soldiers on outposts, in the sergeants and junior officers who led them, in particularly in the team of professionals." You go on to say, "Like the generations they followed and those they now led, these soldiers came forward when called and sacrificed when needed. They did so quietly, often in shadows with no expectation of reward. They were no better than their grandfathers and not a bit worse."
GJELTENThere's something in that section, General McChrystal, that suggests that war, almost the universality of war, and it is the special mission of a group of our population to rise to that occasion. Was that your point, that war is just a given that societies have to deal with? And that certain members of society will rise to take up?
MCCHRYSTALIt seems to be something that we haven't been able to eliminate and there is a group of people who accept responsibility, to be a part of war. Often, as I mentioned earlier, they do it because it seems like adventure. But once you're there it doesn't feel like adventure, it feels like responsibility and they, then they serve with a deep sense of commitment to each other.
GJELTENAnd you went to West Point, sir, during the Vietnam or at the very end of the Vietnam War and that was a war, of course where your father was deployed. And yet you just didn't necessarily follow by rote the, sort of the guidance that led us to Vietnam. You actually wanted to read about that war, this is something you got from your mother, you're interest in history. Tell us how you approached as a West Point, how you thought about the war in Vietnam?
MCCHRYSTALI think I probably had a little bit of different upbringing almost contradictory influences. My mother was very interested in reading the classics and she passed me this series of books from Roland, Beowulf and stories of Greek and Roman leaders. But at the same time she was very, very liberal and although she never talked about it even when my father was in Vietnam, I thought that internally she opposed the war.
MCCHRYSTALAs I came up into my career, I wanted to be a soldier and I very much liked the idea of serving something that felt important to me, but also serving with soldiers, but I also like to understand things. I like to read history, I like to see what it was, really happened and why that really happened. And so I as studied because my father was in Vietnam, I studied French Indo-China, the French and Algeria. I studied the Americans in Vietnam as much as I could and tried to understand it so that when I came into Iraq and Afghanistan I think I had a certain foundation and maybe biases from that.
GJELTENWell, you wanted from an early age to be not just a soldier, but a combat infantrymen and, in fact, you served at the very sharp pointy end of the spear, as people in the military say, in Iraq, first in Iraq and then Afghanistan as, what's called a special operator.
MCCHRYSTALThat's correct. I was, I grew up first as an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division, a paratroop lieutenant, which was a great background. I went into special, Green Berets, as a senior first lieutenant. Later served many years in the Ranger regiment and ultimately had the opportunity to command that regiment.
MCCHRYSTALBut then as I entered the sort of corps of United States special operating forces, the counterterrorist forces, which I commanded for five years, I very much appreciated the opportunity to serve alongside really long service committed professionals, very different from the stereotype that you see in video games or in some cases movies.
GJELTENDid we realize the extent to which operations in Iraq, first in Iraq, later in Afghanistan, let's begin with Iraq, would depend on the very kind of elite commando operations that you directed?
MCCHRYSTALI don't think that we did. I think we had an appreciation for the potential for special operating forces but we tend to view them as effective for very niche operations requiring great precision, to go after the highest to high value targets as we called it or terrorists leaders. I think once the wars became much wider we found that special operating forces had utility on a much wider range but also they became critical to the prosecution of the campaigns.
GJELTENAnd of course, much more so in Afghanistan.
MCCHRYSTALWell, both places, that's right.
GJELTENAnd we're going to take a short break here. When I come back I'm going to ask you about some of the specific missions that you undertook in Iraq, for example, the operation that ended with the capture of Zarqawi and of course of Saddam Hussein as well.
GJELTENMy guest this morning is General Stanley McChrystal. He is the author of the new memoir, "My Share of the Task." He is now teaching at Yale's University Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. He was formerly the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.
GJELTENWhen we come back we're going to be taking your calls. You can reach us at 1-800-433-8850, you can email us at email@example.com. You can, of course, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And we're going to be getting into the "Rolling Stone" magazine profile of General McChrystal but General McChrystal after resigning from the army has had a very distinguished career, ended up now teaching at Yale University. So please stay with us, we'll be back after a short break.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm today. And our guest is General Stanley McChrystal. He is the former commander of U.S. forces -- all international forces in Afghanistan, previously former commander of special operating forces in Iraq. And he is the author of a new war memoir called "My Share of the Task." General McChrystal, that strikes me as actually a very humble title. I mean, you don't say my share of the war. You don't say even my share of the mission. You say "My Share of the Task." The task is a pretty specific little thing.
MCCHRYSTALTom, the phrase comes from the Ranger creed, which is a six-stanza creed that the Ranger regiment says every day. And it's really a promise to each other. And it's really part of a statement in that creed that says I will always do my share of the task whatever it may be and then some. And I was trying to capture the fact that each of us has a responsibility to do our part but none of us is preeminent. None of us is on top of the pile responsible for everything.
GJELTENNow your share of the task in Iraq was to be --to command special operating forces. And we mentioned before the break that those units were responsible for the capture and killing of Zarqawi who was the head of al-Qaida in Iraq. And then of course special operating forces later found and captured Saddam Hussein. Then you go to Afghanistan. Your task in Afghanistan is much large. You are a special operator but there you're commanding all U.S. forces, regular Army troops as well as special operating forces. How do you think your background as a special operator influenced the way that you commanded operations in Afghanistan?
MCCHRYSTALI think that's a great question. First in Iraq because I was one component of the effort, very focused against destroying al-Qaida in Iraq's network. That was my forces task. When I transitioned to Afghanistan I brought a couple of things. One, I brought the experience of doing that and the importance of that part of it. But I also had seared into my mind the importance of an effective counterinsurgency effort that tried to protect the people, Because just doing the directed action attacks we had done for a number of years in Iraq without being strategically successful, it was only really after the beginning of 2007 when we focused more on counterinsurgency the whole force that my force actually had more effect.
MCCHRYSTALI'd also studied, as we talked earlier, an awful lot about counterinsurgency. So when I went into Afghanistan I remembered that during the Soviet war of the '80s, 1.2 million Afghans had been killed. So the idea that you are going to kill a number of Afghans that mathematically reached victory was absolutely specious. The idea that you weren't -- you were only going to get an outcome when the Afghans supported it, when the Afghans decided that it was in their interest to me was fundamental. And so that was the basis of the direction.
GJELTENNow in 2009 you, of course, were the architect of the surge of U.S. forces into Afghanistan. What was the argument you made for that at the time in the context of what you just said, that it was so important to get Afghans to support. Because one of the things that we've seen over and over is a large military footprint doesn't always endear you to the local population.
MCCHRYSTALWell, that's exactly right and we had to balance that. When I went to Afghanistan in 2009 I didn't think we needed more forces initially. But I went back to my first experience. I first got there in 2002 and the country was devastated physically, but it was also traumatized emotionally. Between the fall of 2001 and 2009 when I arrived to take command what had happened was there was a gap between the expectations of the Afghan people and reality for lots of reasons. The West didn't put enough effort in there and the Afghans had missed many opportunities.
MCCHRYSTALSo what had happened is the Taliban had been able to rise as this looming threat, like a series of rainclouds, storm clouds in the future. And the Afghan people were terrified and they were not willing to support their government because nobody wants to be on the wrong side of an insurgency if the government loses. So the intent was -- I was very hesitant to ask for troops because I knew that politically it was going to be difficult but I also knew that the Afghans had to accept responsibility for their sovereignty for their security but they just weren't ready.
MCCHRYSTALSo in the fall of 2009 I came up with the conclusion that we needed to bring additional American forces as a bridge or gap to give us enough security in 80 key districts out of 364 in the country to give us time to build Afghan's security forces, police and military, and to get their government to make improvements on their legitimacy so we had an opportunity. We shouldn't have had to do that, what we did in 2009 but the reality is from 2001 to 2008 we missed some opportunities as did Afghans that, in my view, made it the only course of action that I thought would work.
GJELTENWell, surging American troops into a combat zone was not a popular idea in 2009. We had a new president who had just been elected, largely opposing the war in Iraq. How was it to convince President Obama of the need to surge troops into Afghanistan? What can you tell us about that?
MCCHRYSTALWell, the president, as a candidate, had talked about Afghanistan as the war of necessity. And then as a new president he had talked about, in a number of statements, the importance of the Afghan mission, Afghan sovereignty and of course keeping al-Qaida out. Still if you go in context, here's a new administration comes in, faces a very large financial crisis, faces all the challenges of building a new team, as all administrations do, and then immediately has on their desk a request for more forces.
MCCHRYSTALFor people who probably were students of Vietnam or students of the Bay of Pigs and whatnot, it's easy to believe that some would say this is a bad thing. We just don't want to be put in this position right now. And we don't want to have to make the decision quickly. We want to have time to digest and analyze it. The problem was the initial forces had been requested a few months earlier by General McKiernan in September of 2008. And so in January of 2009 when president Obama's administration took over that request was already running into time challenges if those forces were going to be there in time for the August, 2009 Afghan elections.
MCCHRYSTALSo it's this pressure. It's -- you take over, you want a chance to get sorted and suddenly you've got what looks like Defense Department pushing you for an escalation, if you go back to the Vietnam term. And there's some concerns about that. That would be natural. I can't say what was in everybody's mind but that is what I would expect the perception was.
GJELTENAnd during that time you had some differences with top members of the administration on the way forward. And of course some of your subordinates -- not you but some of your subordinates were quoted talking a little bit too freely about their differences with members of the administration on the way forward in Afghanistan. And those comments got reported in the Rolling Stone.
MCCHRYSTALThey did. What happened is we did a strategic assessment in the summer of 2009 at Secretary Gates direction. We submitted that to D.C. right at the end of August, 2009. And after it got back to D.C. it leaked and that created pressure. And it had been with us for more than two months and it certainly hadn't leaked, and we didn't leak it. But it created a little bit of political pressure.
MCCHRYSTALThen there was the decision-making process in the fall of 2009 which is complex by its very nature. It's got a political component and it's also hard to participate in from thousands of miles away. Because you have the video teleconferences, which was the major part of our participation in the information we sent in. But there are conversations back here, I'm not involved and whatnot that, you know, can't the full insights.
MCCHRYSTALWhen the Rolling Stone article came out in June, 2010 it was after a reporter had had periodic interaction with us. And when the article came out I was completely surprised based on his demeanor and his interaction with us. He was one of many imbeds we had, many media things we'd done. I would have never guessed that he was going to write with that tone and I didn't think it was accurate or fair, but when a media...
GJELTENHe called you the runaway general.
MCCHRYSTALRight. When the media controversy arises, as you know, media controversy is like a flash fire. It burns -- it burns itself out at a certain point. But while it's burning there's not a lot of time for rational discussion. There's not a lot of time for deliberate decision making. And yet we had a war going on with a force that I was responsible for. So I made the decision to offer my resignation to the president. I also offered to stay in Afghanistan if that's what he thought was better for the mission or to accept my resignation, because the most important thing at that point was the mission.
MCCHRYSTALAnd the key thing about command and the simple elegance of being in command is you're responsible. And you don't point fingers and you don't say, yeah but. When something happens, whether you think it's fair or not, you accept responsibility and move on.
GJELTENAnd is there something in the climate that you create as a commander that sort of implicitly gives guidance to the people under your command about how they should behave in certain situations? And I ask that because I'm wondering if there's any personal lessons that you learned reflecting on that. Anything that you would've done differently, any guidance that you perhaps would've given that could've prevented that from happening?
MCCHRYSTALThe commander's always responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen in a unit, to include the climate. You set a tone and an environment. The team that I worked with was extraordinarily loyal. Most of those guys had four and five years at war, which is a pretty good measure of loyalty. I knew them personally to be committed to the mission the president had given us and how they executed it. So I had no doubts about their core loyalty or their respect for leadership at any level. But the commander's always responsible. And when it's called into question whether it is accurate or not, the commander's responsible.
GJELTENNow you resigned voluntarily. Did anyone from President Obama to Secretary Gates on down try to convince you to stay, that the mission of Afghanistan was so important? Can you tell us about that?
MCCHRYSTALI wouldn't feel comfortable relaying discussions that I had either with Secretary Gates or the president in detail, because those were between us and I want to respect that privacy.
GJELTENYou, of course though, went on and have had a very successful post-Army career. You're now teaching at Yale. You've got a very successful memoir out. What are you focusing on now, you know, that sort of builds on your Army experience? What are the lessons that you're trying to communicate now, for example, to your Yale students?
MCCHRYSTALLeadership. I teach leadership at Yale because it's what I'm passionate about. And we use a case study process to study leadership, not just military but all aspects. When I wrote my memoirs I wanted to write a leadership book and that's what I made the attempt to do. If someone is looking for a score-settling political tell all, this is not the book. We made a decision -- I made a decision from the very beginning that I wanted to write a book that would stand the test of time that would be used the way I said.
MCCHRYSTALMy real goal was to have a book that would be taught 20 years from now at West Point and not to be tripping over today's political arguments because in my mind they're not really very important. And so leadership is what I'm passionate about.
GJELTENGeneral Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. His book is "My Share of the Task." It's a war memoir. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The -- that encounter with the Rolling Stone writer and then with the administration and now your work with students at Yale must have given you some insights about civil military relations. The subordination of the military to civilian control, the relations between the civilian sector of our population and the military sector.
GJELTENI mean, we talked at the beginning of the program about how generational the commitment is to the military. There might be some problems with that, right, because it's only certain -- it seems that certain regions of the country or certain sections of the population really feel this connection. What have you learned about the relation between the civilian sector of our society and the military sector?
MCCHRYSTALIt's a very important point. I like to study history and then I try to put my personal experiences in the wider context. The military is a culture. The more insulated it is the more guild-like it can become and there's challenges to that. But other parts of our government and society have similar traits. And so what you're trying to do, you come together -- and I like to study President Lincoln's time at the beginning of the Civil War -- you're trying to build a civil military team where people come from different backgrounds. They sometimes come with very different experiences. Nowadays they even use different words and language.
MCCHRYSTALAnd although you both speak English, you both are Americans you come together and it's amazing how hard it is to bridge that initially. It takes time to build trust. I think when you're going into a complex endeavor like fighting a war or making difficult policy decisions, we can't assume that someone from agency X and someone from another place and the military get together and they automatically can do this very, very effective understanding. I think it takes time.
MCCHRYSTALAnd it's easy when you're dealing with -- like in Afghanistan if I'm dealing with a individual in a turban with a big beard and he speaks Pashtu, I know there's a cultural gap. It's clear. And so I factor that in my mind. But if I'm sitting across the table with someone who is an American, speaks clear English like I do, there can be a cultural gap but we don't always give it enough respect. We don't spend enough time trying to respect that gap and bridge it to make -- to become a good team.
GJELTENI'm curious about -- and maybe I'm only curious about this because I am a reporter, but I'm curious how you feel about the need for transparency in the U.S. military leadership and the willingness to include reporters, you know, in your operations. You got burned or you feel you got burned in one instance. There has been, I think, in recent years some restriction of access to military operations by reporters. How do you feel about that and how do you feel about the place of transparency for military leaders?
MCCHRYSTALYeah, I think transparency is remarkably important. And in Afghanistan I was very transparent. And I think most of the media would say that I was, maybe to a fault. But I think that the military leader has a responsibility to explain to the fathers and mothers who contribute their sons and daughters to the effort, what's going on. And I don't think the overall government to include the military does that well enough, if you think about it. I think the American people, something as big as a war, they deserve constant updates of what the strategy is, how it's going, what we think. So I think that's a responsibility.
MCCHRYSTALNow on the other side of the coin -- and I know that you're a reporter, Tom -- I think the media is going through a period which is difficult to operate as well. I think that the media has no barrier to entry anymore. Anybody can be media who's got a computer and a blog. And so there is a challenge to having thoughtful reporting. And I'm not saying controlled reporting but thoughtful reporting and responsible. Because almost anybody can take any shot from any direction. And that can make -- that can skew the discussion.
GJELTENI'm curious whether you found a big difference between U.S. and reporters from other countries. That's a small question. A larger question is commander of NATO forces, did you find any difference between sort of the U.S. view of the Afghanistan War and the NATO view of the Afghanistan War?
MCCHRYSTALI didn't find a big difference between media from different countries. I found in every case that you had to understand what their domestic environment was and you would understand their line of questioning. It was inevitably directly linked to that. I think that when we go to a place like Afghanistan we need to understand that our NATO allies, coalition partners are largely there because we're there. They're not there because they would've gone to Afghanistan alone. They're there because we asked them to. And that relationship's very, very important.
GJELTENGeneral Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan. His new memoir is "My Share of the Task." We're going to take a short break now. When we come back we'll be going to the phones. Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Our guest is General Stanley McChrystal. He's the author of a new memoir "My Share of the Task," and of course, he's the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and before that the commander of Special Operating Forces in Iraq. And, General, tons of calls from questioners, listeners. Let's go first to Ramie who's on the line from Florida. Good morning, Ramie.
RAMIEGood morning. Yes, thank you for taking my call. Firstly, I wanted to thank the general for his service and his sacrifice. What he does really makes this country the shining beacon that I as an immigrant would strive to be a part of. And I want to thank him and all the veterans that do that. I have a two part question for the general. The first one is his opinion on the nominee Hagel vis-a-vis the Iran and Israel situation.
RAMIEAnd secondly, as an immigrant of Palestinian origin, I want to get his opinion of the situation in Palestine Israel and if that's the crux of the symptoms that we're seeing in the Middle East, and if that's get solved, what kind of reaction would we have in the greater Middle East area.
GJELTENThank you, Ramie.
MCCHRYSTALGreat. Thanks for your question and kind words first. I would say on the nomination of Senator Hagel, he's certainly got a great background. Of course, I like the fact that he served in the military. I like he's obviously thoughtful. I don't know him well, met him once. A lot of people are focusing on things that he said in his potential policy positions. My personal concern -- or my personal position is I don't worry too much about his policy positions. I think that the most important thing is he's going to be a policy implementer under President Obama.
MCCHRYSTALI think that they're, as a group, a cabinet and as a wider government, they're going to have to deal with a lot of very difficult issues in the next four years. The reduction of the defense budget. There's clearly going to be some development of our relationship with Iran, North Korea. I really want to make sure that they've got a tight team that can navigate that and other unexpected things. So my tendency would be to say that if President Obama trusts him and he's willing to do it, that my default would be to support that request.
MCCHRYSTALOn the second issue on the Mid East region, I do think the Palestinian issue's extraordinarily important. I used to be able to go to remote places in Afghanistan and ask an Afghan villager about the situation in Palestine and they would be very, very opinionated on it. But then if you asked them where it was, they really didn't have much concept. So it's an important region or issue to the people right close to it in Palestine, but it's also one of those issues that has resonance far from it.
MCCHRYSTALBut I'm not sure that's the biggest issue in the region right now. I actually think that if we look at what's likely to drive events in the Mid East and the wider Mid East over the next 20 years, I think the Sunni, Shia divide is likely to be something that we are underestimating right now. If you see that, if you watch what's happening in Syria, there's a serious component to that there. And then also the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, I think that they're going to be a player bigger than some people expect. Egypt of course is the most obvious location right now. But their role and their evolution as a movement I think is going to be very, very important.
GJELTENAnd of course there you spend a lot of time fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I think we have to conclude that al-Qaeda as a generalized foe has not been vanquished. We see what's going on in Mali right now where al-Qaeda linked Islamist militias have been making great inroads. And just this morning some very concerning news from Algeria where Islamist militants have apparently taken hostages, including some Americans, from a foreign operated gas field in Eastern Algeria. Your thoughts about the state of al-Qaeda right now, particularly in North Africa.
MCCHRYSTALYeah, it's dangerous and it's growing. The thing about al-Qaeda is I've always viewed al-Qaeda as a political movement wrapped in a religious cloak. It's also a flexible movement if you go to al-Qaeda in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Horn of Africa, al-Qaeda in Maghreb. The local elements can fit that to their particular desire. So people who have aims for one thing or another can grab the al-Qaeda banner, they can use that, they can get a certain amount of legitimacy from that and then go forward. I think Mali, Algeria and other areas are going to be a difficult struggle, as much a war of ideas as anything else, but it's going to be -- it's going to be difficult.
GJELTENLet's go now to Jonathan who's on the line from Bloomington, Ill. Good morning, Jonathan. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JONATHANGood morning. General McChrystal, it is an honor to talk to you. I have -- I'm a former military officer myself, having served in Iraq as well as having served and been close friends with one of your charges that you've had a relationship with. I won't say his name, but his first name is Anthony. His last name starts with a Z. I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. And at any rate, I'm not sure that there's an appreciation in the broader, general public of the subculture that exists within the Special Operations community.
JONATHANIf you could talk a little bit about that, having been close to people who served in that elite community, how those relationships span over assignments and time and how that trust just builds up. I'd be very interested in your perspective on that, sir.
GJELTENThank you, Jonathan.
MCCHRYSTALWell, Jonathan, thanks for your service. And I remember raising Anthony as lieutenant on up and then served many years with him after that. But you're right, there is a perception of particularly the Special Operations part of the military as this shadowy, heavily muscled, cynical killer. And that's absolutely different from the reality. Most of the Special Operating Forces we have are in their 30s and 40s. I went on an operation once with about 20 years, a helicopter operation. It was led by a sergeant major. And I was 50 plus years old as a general going with them. And I was the oldest, but not by much. And he joked to me, he says, we're not as much worried about the enemy as we are as one of us falling and breaking a hip.
MCCHRYSTALThe reason I say that is they are not this cynical group of mercenaries. What they are is they're family men. They have mortgages. They've got wives. They've got kids off and in college. They're not bullet proof. A 19-year-old soldier tends to think that they are until they've been close to combat. But when you're 35 and half your unit has been wounded in combat before and is back in the fight, you have a mature view of courage. You have a mature view of responsibility.
MCCHRYSTALAnd so this force has been in the fight now since 9/11, and many doing things before that. And they've made these extraordinary commitments, but they do it because they believe it's important. They don't do it to get promoted. They also do it because they had these very strong ties to their comrades. My nephew is -- well, he's now in college getting his degree to go back into the military, but he was a Special Forces sergeant he was going to get out after his first enlistment. And then at the last minute, because his team was going back into combat in Afghanistan, he reenlisted for four more years.
MCCHRYSTALIt's that -- he just couldn't face the idea of them going without him. Those bonds are so strong that they keep the unit together, but they also make losses very, very painful, because when you lose someone you've worked with for 10 or 20 years, it really has an impact on you. Thanks.
GJELTENGeneral McChrystal, I have to ask you, this is an email from Donald in Texas. And this of course refers to another loss that you felt I'm sure painfully and one that you've had to deal with. This was actually before your rolling stone incident. And that is the death of Pat Tillman. Donald writes, "Could the general address questions regarding the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman?" Of course, Pat Tillman was a former NFL player who was shot in Afghanistan and, as it turned out, by friendly fire.
GJELTENDonald asks, "Was the attempt to hide the details of his death by friendly fire an attempt to stoke support for the war?" You were involved in promoting this idea of Pat Tillman as a hero. Was there -- and you subsequently had to answer questions about whether the military knew more about how he died than it disclosed at the time.
MCCHRYSTALYeah, thanks for your question. First off, there was not an attempt to hide the fact that Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire. I found out about 24 hours after his death that, in fact, the suspected cause of death was fratricide. That's the word for friendly fire. For a military unit, that is the worst admission you can make. It means that you got it wrong and you killed one of your own. And this is one of our comrades. So about 24 hours after he was killed, I went up the chain of command and said, preliminary investigations tells us it was fratricide. So there was no attempt to hide it because the first thing we did was report it. And we reported it up the chain.
MCCHRYSTALThere are two chains of command for a unit in combat. There was the operational chain which I was responsible for in the fight. And then there's an administrative chain which handles all of the things around the disposal of the remains, handling of the family and whatnot, notification, whatnot. I was not part of the latter. And so the interaction with Corp. Tillman's family is not something that I was a part of directly. But I assumed that as the investigation -- and you have to do a full investigation on fratricide.
MCCHRYSTALAs it was going along, I assume that the family was being kept informed, because, in fact, Corp. Tillman's brother was in the platoon when the fire fight occurred. And I suspect he had pretty good knowledge of what had happened. There subsequently grew the perception that there was a -- that there was a cover up or an attempt to deny the fact that he was killed by friendly fire. I didn't ever see that personally. I didn't ever know anybody that did anything that I thought reflected that. I didn't see everything. I can't speak with full knowledge, but everything I saw was not that. And I can say that unequivocally.
MCCHRYSTALHe was awarded a Silver Star because he was maneuvering in a situation which he thought he was maneuvering against one situation. It took courage to do that maneuver. When I signed the Silver Star recommendation, I did that knowing that he was likely killed by friendly fire. But the fact he was killed by friendly fire doesn't in any way take away from his courage in my view. Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, was killed by friendly fire. He was not -- it did not make him any less of a hero in my mind. General Lesley J. McNair, the Four Star in World War II, was killed by friendly fire. Didn't take away from his service.
MCCHRYSTALAnd so it was important to me that we not take away from Pat Tillman, what he had earned and done, because there was a mistake made. Again, a mistake -- a grievous mistake, but an honest one by fellow rangers.
GJELTENOkay. Let's go now to Henry who's on the line from Yellow Springs, Ohio. Good morning, Henry.
HENRYGood morning. Yes, please. I'm retired Air Force. I'd like to -- I'd like to check my facts and also get your opinion on a Army criticism. My understanding is that in the late '80s that the U.S. Army decided that it would no longer get into a counter-insurgency war and so stop teaching counter-insurgency at West Point and other places. And so we're rather part flat footed when Iraq became a counter-insurgency. Is that true?
MCCHRYSTALIt's not completely true, but it's largely true. What happened is at the end of the 1970s and we went into the early 1980s, and I was a young officer at the time, you could see that the Army wanted to move away from Vietnam and they wanted to focus on Europe and there was a new doctrine for air land battle. So the primary focus of the force went to fighting in Europe, fighting in the Mid East, fighting armored warfare and whatnot. And most of the focus on counter-terrorism went to very low levels. And so you're exactly right, the effect was the Army's understanding of it, familiarity and preparation for it was pretty weak. And it had to be relearned. And we were relearning lessons as much as learning.
GJELTENGeneral McChrystal, we have an email from Sam who, first of all, thanks you for your services, so many of our listeners have. He says, "Given the future threat perceptions from China and terrorism and our national debt, would you comment on whether cutting the budget to 2010 levels within the next ten years is a good idea." I don't know if he means defense budget or federal budget, but let's zero in on the defense budget.
MCCHRYSTALSure. There have been already been moves to cut the defense budget. Secretary Gates began the implementation. Secretary Panetta included it. And I think those cuts, reductions are rational and I think they're responsible. The U.S. budget overall has got to come down because of our fiscal situation. And I think the defense department is absolutely part of that and understands it.
GJELTENGeneral Stanley McChrystal. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, of course, another big issue, General McChrystal, President Obama is speaking today at this moment on gun control. What are your thoughts as a former combat infantryman? What are your thoughts about who should own guns, how they should use them, et cetera?
MCCHRYSTALI'm not an expert on the Second Amendment. I'm not someone who has got a political view on gun control or many other issues. But I do have experience with military style weapons and what they do. And I've seen them. The carbine that we carry in combat, the M4, is remarkably lethal. Fires a 556 round at 3,000 feet per second. And when it strikes flesh, it has horrific impact. And it should. That's what we want our soldiers to carry. I've also seen what happens when our soldiers are hit by assault weapons carried by the enemy.
MCCHRYSTALMy position is fairly simple. I don't want to put our school children and I don't want to put our police and I don't want to put people that I care about on the streets of America at any more risk than they absolutely have to be. So I am hoping that we'll have a very mature discussion on any and everything we can do to reduce risk to the people we care about.
GJELTENIt sounds like you don't see a need for ordinary Americans to carry what we call assault weapons.
MCCHRYSTALI don't have, you know, a position where I want to put out, but I don't want those assault weapons producing the effect that I've seen.
GJELTENOkay. One last call, Ron is on the line from Denver, Colo. Ron.
RONHi, General. Listen, we served together in 2005, 2006. I was the FBI rep (unintelligible) with JP and Company. And it's good to talk to you.
MCCHRYSTALRon, it's good to talk to you. Thank you for all you did.
GJELTENQuick question, Ron...
RON(unintelligible) I wanted to ask you about, as you know our primary focus, General, was on RC East and the border areas. And during my time there, I was always a little bit puzzled by the intransigence and unpredictability of the Pakistani military and government. Could I get you to look at the crystal ball and tell me what we can expect from Pakistan when we draw down to the numbers that we're hearing?
MCCHRYSTALYeah, I think the first you're going to see is Pakistan is always going to see everything through their lens. And sometimes we get confused because we wonder why doesn't Pakistan get it. But they do. They get it from their lens. I think when we draw down, they're going to do a calculation on what they need to protect their interest in the region. If President Obama's offer of a strategic partnership with Afghanistan is credible, if they believe that America will be a partner in the future, not with thousands of forces, but someone that Afghanistan can rely on, then I think Pakistan -- that will positively affect how they interact. I think that would be the best thing that could happen.
GJELTENCould I ask you very briefly how you feel about the president's plan for Afghanistan going forward now as he talked about recently?
MCCHRYSTALI don't know all the details, but I think the key part is that strategic partnership. The Afghans are scared. They want to believe that America is their ally and that we won't turn our backs, so that's the key point.
GJELTENGeneral Stanley McChrystal's former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, all NATO forces in Afghanistan, before that commander of Special Operating Forces in Iraq. He's the author of an acclaimed new war memoir "My Share of the Task." I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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