Stanley A. McChrystal
Stanley Allen McChrystal (born August 14, 1954) is a retired United States Army general best known for his command of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the mid-2000s. His last assignment was as Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, United States Forces – Afghanistan (USFOR-A). He previously served as Director, Joint Staff from August 2008 to June 2009 and as Commander of JSOC from 2003 to 2008, where he was credited with the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but also criticized for his alleged role in the cover-up of the Pat Tillman friendly fire incident. McChrystal was reportedly known for saying what other military leaders were thinking but were afraid to say; this was one of the reasons cited for his appointment to lead all forces in Afghanistan. He held the post from June 15, 2009 to June 23, 2010.
- Service in this business is tough and often dangerous. It extracts a price for participants, and that price can be high. It is tempting to protect yourself from the personal and professional cost of loss by limiting how much you commit, how much you believe and trust in people, and how deeply you care… If I had it to do over again, I’d do some things in my career differently, but not many. I believed in people and I still believe in them. I trusted and I still trust. I cared and I still care. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
- Retirement ceremony, Friday, 23 July 2010, as quoted in The New York Times.
- "It became clear to me and to many others that to defeat a networked enemy we had to become a network ourselves."
- I spent a career carrying typically either an M16 or an M4 Carbine. An M4 Carbine fires a .223 caliber round which is 5.56mm at about 3000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed for that. That’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America.
- From McChrystal's appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe program, on January 8, 2013
- With weeping and with laughter
- Still the story is told
- How well Horatius kept the bridge
- In the brave days of old.
- Dedicated to those who kept the bridge- and those who made it possible.
- Dedicated to those who kept the bridge- and those who made it possible.
- "Never shall I fail my comrades... I will shoulder more than my share of the task, whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some."
- From the Ranger Creed, on the left inside flap of the book's dust jacket
- As visible symbols, soldiers often receive praise or condemnation, and both reactions feel curiously undeserved.
- p. 13
- Punishment of cadets had been artfully crafted. In the early nineteenth century, West Point officials deemed manual labor an inappropriate punishment for a cadet: It would have been an ungentlemanly task for a future officer. But they could make him do something that was tiring, embarrassing, and, most excruciating, accomplished nothing. So cadets ever since have been awarded "Area tours," each representing an hour- two hours on Friday afternoon, and then three on Saturday- walking in our dress gray uniforms with rifles across the Area. As my bemused father explained to me, the Area does not make you smarter, braver, or more expert; even trench digging would offer some tangible benefit. At the academy, where we hoarded free minutes, walking the yard meant wasted hours.
- p. 14-15
- When I entered West Point, some Americans still believed the Vietnam War might end honorably. By the time I graduated, South Vietnam did not exist. As cadets, we watched the war teeter and implode, and the historical sweep was not lost on us.
- p. 17
- On Wednesday, June 2, 1976, I graduated and my father commissioned me as a second lieutenant. Our graduation ceremony was where we'd begun our cadet experience, at Michie Stadium. As I sat with 834 other members of my class, out of an original 1,378, waiting to receive our diplomas, I realized I was very different from the seventeen-year-old boy whose friend had dropped him off a few years earlier. I wondered if I could, or would, be the kind of military leader I admired, and I was eager to try. When the ceremony ended, in accordance with tradition, we launched our hats into the air and congratulated one another. I rapidly looked for Annie- and the exit. As quickly as possible, I threw everything I owned into the used Chevy Vega I'd bought and set course with Annie down the hill away from campus. As we neared the last bend before the academy gates, I turned to her. "Hey, look back at West Point." "Why?" she asked, twisting in her seat to look at the tips of the parapets getting smaller behind the hills. "Because that's the last time we'll ever see it."
- p. 22
- Better pay, better recruiting, and a difficult economy all helped improve the quality of the force. While I'd struggled as a young lieutenant in the 82nd to persuade soldiers to reenlist for a second or third tour of duty, by the early 1980s we held boards to select which soldiers in the battalion would be allowed to reenlist. The conditions were set for a renaissance.
- p. 38
- While I had enjoyed other jobs, I loved command. I had been in a command position for ten of the previous twenty-six years. But each new position was initially daunting. As I suspect many leaders feel, I was never sure if I could command at the next level until I actually assumed the job. I remembered how Douglas Southall Freeman, in Lee's Lieutenants, had described Lee's challenges in determining which brigade commanders could actually handle the responsibilities of a division or corps. The most aggressive brigade commanders often lacked the intangible qualities required for more senior leadership. Of course I often wondered about myself. As the demands of the positions differed, I found that I had changed as a leader. I learned to ask myself two questions: First, what must the organization I command do and be? And second, how can I best command to achieve that? Experience taught me that many factors would shape my "command style," and it would be some time before I had settled into it.
- p. 95-96
- At the heart of the story is Afghanistan itself, a complex swirl of ethnic and political rivalries, cultural intransigence, strains of religious fervor, and bitter memories overlaid on a beautiful, but harshly poor, landscape. Without internal struggles or outside influence, Afghanistan would be a difficult place to govern, and a challenge to develop. And there have always been struggles and interference. But it's not just that. In her beauty and coarseness, in her complexity and tragedy Afghanistan possesses a mystical quality, a magnetism. Few places have such accumulated layers of culture, religion, history, and lore that instill both fear and awe. Yet those who seek to budge her trajectory are reminded that dreams often end up buried in the barren slopes of the Hindu Kush or in muddy fields alongside the Helmand River.
- p. 277
- When I arrived to take command of the war in June 2009, in addition to the rising violence and sense of insecurity, I found a creeping, fatalistic pessimism, as though the fight were over, the effort failed. Some pointed to history and declared the country intractable. Few countries or NGOs were leaving, but many wanted to. There was growing unease with the viability of the mission. Indeed, in those early days, as I assessed the war, I wasn't sure the mission could be done. Although I'd known it would be difficult, the situation was even worse than I'd anticipated. I was further cautioned by the fact that I would be the twelfth commander to lead the NATO effort in Afghanistan, the latest in a succession of experienced professionals. Any solution would not only be a military one; it had to encompass much more. But as we looked closer and considered a range of strategies, I concluded that it was possible. The intimidating specter of Afghanistan as an impossible challenge belied the reality. The obstacles were numerous, but the accrued problems were not insoluble, just incredibly difficult.
- p. 277-278
- As the story unfolds many things appear: extraordinary sacrifice and teamwork, often alongside an atmosphere of mistrust, uncertainty, media scrutiny, and politics. There is a temptation to seek a single hero or culprit- a person, group, or policy- that emerges as the decisive factor. This makes for better intrigue, but it's a false drama. To do so is to oversimplify the war, the players, and Afghanistan itself. Because despite their relevance as contributing factors, I found no single personality, decision, relationship, or event that determined the outcome or even dominated the direction of events. Afghanistan did that. Only Afghanistan, with her deep scars and opaque complexity, emerged as the essential reality and dominant character. On her brutal terrain, and in the minds of her people, the struggle was to be waged and decided. No outcome was preordained, but nothing would come easily. Few things of value do.
- p. 278
- On May 19, 2009, I was taken to the White House to meet President Obama. We'd met once before when he'd visited the Pentagon during his first week in office, but as DJS I'd been in a collection of other civilian and military leaders, so it was unlikely he remembered the man who would soon command his military effort in Afghanistan. I'd been in the Oval Office before with President George W. Bush, but the atmosphere in the West Wing in the final and opening months of administrations differed perceptibly. Although it was four months into Obama's term, there was still a feeling of newness to the people, who moved with an air of excited purpose through the hallways. When the president was available, the door opened and Obama walked to the entrance to greet me into the room. The meeting was short, but cordial. The president offered no specific guidance but locked his eyes with mine and thanked me for accepting the responsibility.
- p. 288
- It was a lot to ask of Annie, but I never had to. There was no cautious conversation in which I broke the news to her, or asked her permission- I didn't need to. I knew that for as long as I wore the uniform, whatever I had to do, Annie would support me.
- p. 288
- For a boy who'd grown up on stories of legionnaires, it was easy to feel the thick spirit that filled this small outpost, home to the parachute battalion that had this corner of the fight. I had come to thank them for their service and their courage. Talking to young soldiers, some already seasoned warriors, who had purposely selected a life of expeditionary service, I thought of their predecessors in Indochina and Algeria. I looked over at two of my aides, one a German officer, another an Afghan. How different wars could be, I thought, but the soldiers seemed the same.
- p. 385
- Leaders are not necessarily popular. For soldiers, the choice between popularity and effectiveness is ultimately no choice at all. Soldiers want to win; their survival depends on it. They will accept, and even take pride in, the quirks and shortcomings of a leader if they believe he can produce success.
- p. 392
- People are born; leaders are made. I was born the son of a leader with a clear path to a profession of leadership. But whatever leadership I later possessed, I learned from others. I grew up in a household of overt values, many of which hardened in me only as I matured. Although history fascinated me, and mentors surrounded me, the overall direction and key decisions of my life and career were rarely impacted by specific advice, or even a particularly relevant example I'd read or seen. I rarely wondered What would Nelson, Buford, Grant, or my father have done? But as I grew, I was increasingly aware of the guideposts and guardrails that leaders had set for me, often through their examples. The question became What kind of leader have I decided to be? Over time, decisions came easily against that standard, even when the consequences were grave.
- p. 393
- All leaders are human. They get tired, angry, and jealous and carry the same range of emotions and frailties common to mankind. Most leaders periodically display them. The leaders I most admired were totally human but constantly strove to be the best humans they could be. Leaders make mistakes, and they are often costly. The first reflex is normally to deny the failure to themselves; the second is to hide it from others, because most leaders covet a reputation for infallibility. But it's a fool's dream and inherently dishonest. There are few secrets to leadership. It is mostly just hard work. More than anything else it requires self-discipline. Colorful, charismatic characters often fascinate people, even soldiers. But over time, effectiveness is what counts. Those who lead most successfully do so while looking out for their followers' welfare.
- p. 393-394
- Self-discipline manifests itself in countless ways. In a leader I see it as doing those things that should be done, even when they are unpleasant, inconvenient, or dangerous; and refraining from those that shouldn't, even when they are pleasant, easy, or safe. That discipline that causes a young lieutenant to check soldier's feet for blisters or trench foot, will also carry him across a bullet-swept street to support a squad under pressure.
- p. 394
- In the end, leadership is a choice. Rank, authority, and even responsibility can be inherited or assigned, whether or not an individual desires or deserves them. Even the mantle of leadership occasionally falls to people who haven't sought it. But actually leading is different. A leader decides to accept responsibility for others in a way that assumes stewardship of their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes their very lives. It can be a crushing burden, but I found it an indescribable honor.
- p. 394
- When the ceremony ended Anne and I stayed on the field to greet friends, many of whom had traveled to share the ceremony with us. In one respect it was a difficult day at the end of a difficult month. But in the broader view of life, it was a magical evening at the end of an incredible journey we shared. We walked back over to the quarters we would move out of a few days later, and found friends in the yard and almost every room. At one point I saw Mike Hall, Charlie Flynn, Shawn Lowery, and Casey Welch standing in the fading summer light. I thought of my father, of my first day at West Point, and of our cold Christmas Eve flight over Afghanistan seven months before. The final words of my last speech in uniform, spoken just an hour before were repeated in my mind: "If I had it to do over again, I'd do some things in my career differently, but not many. I believed in people, and I still believe in them. I trusted and I still trust. I cared and I still care. I wouldn't have it any other way... To the young leaders of today and tomorrow, it's a great life. Thank you."
- Closing words, p. 394
- Commentary in an ABC News interview, which led to an article published on the ABC News website on 30 December 2018. McChrystal specifically praised Jim Mattis' resignation, criticized Donald Trump, and said he would not take any position in the Trump administration if one were offered. 
- I would guess that Secretary Mattis took a long time agonizing over writing a letter that was as direct about his feelings as that particular letter was. He knew it would be very public and it would make a very strong statement that was much broader than the Syria issue. It was about America's role in the world.
- I personally think it was valuable. I think maybe it causes the American people to take pause and say, wait a minute, if we have someone who is as selfless and as committed as Jim Mattis resigns his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces, and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, OK, why did he do it? We ought to ask what kind of commander in chief he had, that Jim Mattis [had], that, you know, the good Marine, felt he had to walk away.
- What I would ask every American to do is, again, stand in front of that mirror and say, what are we about? Am I really willing to throw away or ignore some of the things that people do that are pretty unacceptable, normally, just because they accomplish certain other things that we might like?
- If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn't do a business deal with because their background is so shady, if we're willing to do that, then that's in conflict with who I think we are. And so I think it's necessary at those times to take a stand.
Quotes about McChrystal
- Amid all the bad news of 2006, we did have one bright spot. In early June, Special Forces under the command of the highly effective General Stanley McChrystal tracked down and killed Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq. For the first time since the December elections, we were able to show the public a dramatic sign of progress.
- George W. Bush, Decision Points (2010), p. 365
- McChrystal takes a final look around the suite. At 55, he is gaunt and lean, not unlike an older version of Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn. His slate-blue eyes have the unsettling ability to drill down when they lock on you. If you've fucked up or disappointed him, they can destroy your soul without the need for him to raise his voice. "I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says. He pauses a beat. "Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."
- Michael Hastings, in his article for Rolling Stone on June 22, 2010, "The Runaway General".
- After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over – the Afghan people – do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. "Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem," says Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan. "A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we're picking winners and losers" – a process that fuels resentment and hostility among the civilian population. So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word "victory" when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.
- Michael Hastings, in his article for Rolling Stone on June 22, 2010, "The Runaway General".
- On June 23rd, McChrystal entered the Oval Office. According to a source familiar with the conversation, Obama told the general, "You've done a very good job, but . . . " and then informed McChrystal that he would accept his resignation. Afterward, the president held a meeting of the National Security Council. "I've accepted Stan McChrystal's resignation," Obama told those gathered in the room, according to a senior administration official who attended the session. There was a shocked silence. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had all lobbied hard to keep McChrystal onboard. In the end, it was the president himself, heeding the advice of Biden and National Security Adviser James Jones, who had decided that the general had to go.
- Michael Hastings, in his article for Rolling Stone on February 2, 2011, "King David's War".
- McChrystal makes for a good story; he feeds the desire among the public to have a hero arrive to save the day in a war that looks increasingly hero-less.
- Michael Hastings, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan (2012), p. 71
- That night, I thought of all the dead, and what adding Bin Laden's name to the list actually meant. I thought of Ingram, and I thought of Arroyo, who would never sleep peacefully again. I thought of the thumbs I'd seen hanging off barbed wire, the pools of blood, like oil on concrete, in small outposts I could barely remember. The memorial services with grown men crying over empty boots. The memorial service with me crying over an empty coffin. The explosions in hotels and government office buildings. I thought of the operators, all of us who'd made our careers off Bin Laden's horror show: McChrystal, Petraeus, Duncan, Dave, the Flynns, Lamb, Starkey, Hoh, Hicks, the twenty-three Navy SEALs who killed him, and even the president himself, who'd ridden to power on an antiwar tide. I thought of the harsh judgement history was going to one day render on us all.
- Michael Hastings, The Operators (2012), p. 379
- In the summer of 2010, Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Army general and Afghan war commander, reportedly trashed the U.S. civilian military leadership, in effect forcing President Barack Obama to ask him to resign. The display of disrespect was striking, but more telling were the details about McChrystal's handling of smaller matters. According to one story, McChrystal was once apprised by his chief of staff that he was obliged to attend a dinner in Paris with NATO allies- if not to shore up flagging support for the war, then simply because, as the chief of staff put it, "the dinner comes with the position, sir." McChrystal held up his middle finger, retorting, "Does this come with the position?" For brazen disregard, McChrystal pales in comparison to another general, Douglas MacArthur. During the Korean War, MacArthur was a law unto himself, in matters both big and small.
- Aaron James, in his book Assholes: A Theory (2012), p. 1
- Teamed up with General Dave Petraeus (Commander Central Command and responsible for the entire region), America now has two generals who understand how to fight on the battlefield, as well as in Washington for resources. Stan McChrystal made an assessment of the situation he inherited and immediately saw the mission/resource mismatch. His request for thirty-thousand additional troops, while not a political best-seller in Washington, came at a critical time to reverse the trend he found in Afghanistan- a growing insurgency, a reemerging Taliban, and a loss of confidence by the Afghan people, which undermines the confidence the international community has in Karazai. Today, it appears that Generals Petraeus and McChrystal (Commander U.S. Forces Afghanistan) are starting to turn things around. Only time will tell if the U.S. effort, as a part of NATO, will be able to leave behind a stable Afghanistan with a more sophisticated infrastructure and systems resembling today's more modern nations. For sure, it won't be easy or fast. But if we remember the conditions that led to 9/11 and take into consideration the possible outcome of an al-Qaeda-controlled Afghanistan that already has a toehold in Afghanistan's next-door, nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan, we just might conclude that the effort will be well worth it.
- Hugh Shelton, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (2010), p. 510-511