What McChrystal’s Yale Perch Really Means
When Stan McChrystal lost his job as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in July 2010, his landing was pretty soft. He was able to retire with his four stars and at a four-star pay grade.
He started a lucrative consulting business and because of his authority and influence, he leaped to the top of Washington’s teeming Beltway Bandit industry. Instead of troops, he reportedly now commands $50k to $60k a pop in speaking fees, and he’s doing a lot of speaking.
None of this should be a surprise, nor should it shock you to learn that McChrystal has taken his now one-man show to the Ivy League. Yale University, which hosts a flagship Grand Strategy Program funded generously and run by Big Idea neoconservatives, has given this freebird a fancy perch.
Complete with off-the-record lectures (how does that work, exactly?) and beers afterward with the prof (hopefully not reminiscent of the wild nights and loose talk by Team McChrystal that got him fired in the first place), the ex-general is now teaching a course on “leadership” at Yale, as charted in this cheerful report by The New York Times last week.
The article, written by what appears to be a besotted Elisabeth Bumiller (she writes: “style is loose: he wears khakis and open-necked shirts, insists the students call him Stan, prods quiet students into talking and invites them all for runs with him and on overnight field trips to Gettysburg”), has drawn sporadic fire for its lack of balance: she seems to suggest that the only opposition on campus to his hiring is from anti-military professors who disparage his lack of a union card and Ph.D. and “are uncomfortable with his history of driving the secret commando raids that killed so many people in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
There’s no mention that he also commanded secret interrogation camps in Iraq where prisoners were reportedly beaten and tortured. Nor any word about his role in covering up the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman (Tillman’s mother, on the other hand, called McChrystal’s seminar at Yale “insulting”).
Nor does it question why and how McChrystal was able to secure a gag order on the 20 students (reportedly out of 200 hopeful applicants) lucky enough to get into his class. Bumiller says it’s because discussion sometimes “wanders into anecdotes about sensitive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (If so, shouldn’t his students hold security clearances?) Others wonder if, as with the war, McChrystal won’t be held accountable for what he says or does. In a 3,200-word panegyric to McChrystal by the Yale Daily News in January, writer Emily Foxhall explained that “he has bound their group together in their own relationship of trust” and that he has to classify the classroom because it’s the only way to convey “how the sausage is made,” in other words, “the secrecy of government workings.”
Sounds a lot like McChrystal has been given a duty-free soapbox and Yale is sacrificing academic integrity by surrendering to the dictates of a celebrity general who is not so much teaching “leadership” as he is reinforcing the cult of personality. According to Bumiller, it’s all the rage at the Ivy Leagues now, where retired four stars like David Petraeus, Mike Mullen, and former Special Operations Commander Eric Olson are brought in to give speeches and teach courses in military strategy and “diplomacy and military affairs.”
But what does it really mean?
Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, who in early 2010 was given rare access to McChrystal’s increasingly insulated staff of “killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs,” wrote “The Runaway General”, which outed the team’s low-regard for the civilian leadership in Washington — including President Obama — and immediately got McChrystal fired. He then wrote a broader account in The Operators, which suggested McChrystal was part of a new military mindset, “a new kind of military elite, a member of the warrior class that had lost touch with the civilian world.”
Asked about McChrystal’s Yale gig, Hastings said it was all part of rehabilitating the ex-general’s image, including, “whitewashing his record, which is a very dark one.” McChrystal, former head of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), “knows where all the bodies are buried,” and was able “to call all his chits in” to secure the post, Hastings added.
But it’s clear there is something more important going on, and we should all get wise to it. This comment from Peter Mansoor, former executive officer to Petraeus (who was, in effect, the reason McChrystal got his command in Afghanistan) says it all. Mansoor spent 26 years in the military but catapulted to the position of chair of military history at Ohio State University after serving in Iraq (he’s written one book since 1999, an account of his own brigade command, which upon publishing was positively “blurbed” by a hefty band of COINdinistas, including Petraeus himself). He tells NYT in regards to McChrystal at Yale: “In the wake of the Iraq and Afghan wars, academia realizes that warfare is not going to go away, and it’s better to understand than ignore it.”
And succumb to it. The elaborate multimillion dollar funding for these Grand Strategy Programs (this 2011 investigation by Steve Horn and Allen Ruff is a must-read), for which someone like McChrystal is considered a top mind, is not enriching military history in the traditional sense that students are learning how and why war has been waged throughout civilization. That would demand constructive thinking and perhaps a look back at what has gone wrong in our own wars.
To the contrary, it is being used to insulate and foster support for the military establishment and for the broader National Security State — not to mention the perpetuation of the Long War — by seducing and then training civilian students and future cadres for careers and aspirations that uphold these institutions.
McChrystal is perfectly suited to this cause, thus his “reconnection” to the civilian world in the guise of professor. Referred to as “the Golden Boy” in Petraeus’s tight-knit group of counterinsurgency acolytes, McChrystal was born into military brass and has been shepherded through one auspicious (non-combat) post in the military to another. He never had to answer personally for the war in Afghanistan, which he left foundering in the summer of 2010. Now, he flourishes in this new narcissistic world of academia, as the “warrior scholar” with “a lean but brawny physique,” the “piercing blue eyes,” and the aplomb with which he announces “beer calls” to students via email.
Why would Yale’s James Levinsohn, head of the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, tap McChrystal almost immediately after he was fired by the White House if there weren’t an emergent mission to “militarize” higher education?
Think about it, McChrystal is any recruiter’s dream.