Monday, June 28, 2010

Gen. McCrystal and the art of being stupid in public

Gen. Stanley McCrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan got fired last week.

And deserved it.

McCrystal's offense was essentially being stupid in public. In a profile written for Rolling Stone, the general and the circle of frat boy sycophant junior officers he maintained around him were captured making derogatory comments about the nation's civilian leadership.

Their bosses.

So McCrystal had to go. This wasn't even a matter of military discipline. You or I would get fired for making public statements like that about our boss too.

McCrystal wasn't the first casuality of the incident. Even before President Obama called McCrystal to the White House and kicked him to the curb, the civilian public relations person who set up the interview with Rolling Stone was let go.

Right, because it was his fault that McCrystal and his cronies decided to tank up in front of a reporter and let their inner macho wannabes out.

First, never drink in front of a reporter. What you actually think might come out of your mouth.

Second, the problems apparently stem from McCrystal and his circle being senior military men who are obsessed with what tough "warriors" they still are. I've been in the military, there are some legitimate warriors in the U.S. military. None of them wear a general's star. In fact, most of them aren't officers at all. For a 56-year-old man to still be trying to impress some journalist with how "tough" he is, is rather pitiful.

Apparently McCrystal was never the right man for the job in Afghanistan. He and his circle considered diplomacy with our allies, "gay." Diplomacy, both with our allies and our enemies, has been part of a U.S. general's job description since at least the Civil War. That's particularly true for a commander engaged in the kind of anti-insurgent warfare we're unwisely waging in Afghanistan.

McCrystal's replacement, Gen. David Petraeus, understands that. He's widely credited with turning the course of the war in Iraq. Largely he did that by swaying some of the insurgent leaders we had been fighting to our side, at times through bribery. That might not work in Afghanistan. Petraeus might have better luck sending special forces into Pakistan to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden and then declaring victory. Killing Bin Laden is what most Americans think we're there for anyway.

It's interesting that the public relations person got fired because it's part of a trend where talking to the media is seen as the mistake, rather than saying something idiotic to the media.

Another proponent of that theory was in the area this weekend. Sarah Palin was at a Republican rally in Virginia Beach that also featured former Sen. George Allen.

Palin, former Alaska governor and failed Republican candidate for vice president, has become known for her attacks on what she wittily calls the "lame stream media." She's convinced the national media repeatedly has attacked her. For the most part, they've done this by reporting exactly what she said.

So the new Palin tactic is to exclude the media whenever possible. Hard to do that and still get the message out. Also hard to do that without going overboard and making mistakes.

Palin's folks made one over the weekend, shutting down a live blog of the rally that was underway on Bearing Drift, when it came Palin's turn to speak. Bearing Drift is the largest Republican blog in the state. It's also probably been the most favorable to Palin. One of the two bloggers covering the event for Bearing Drift gives every indication of having a crush on the former beauty queen from Wasilla.

So, because they could, her folks shut down the media outlet that was probably most likely to report her speech in a favorable light, while the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot continued to report the speech. That led her biggest fan on Bearing Drift to say Palin had acted "like Nixon in drag."


The point is not to never appear before the press. The point is to be on  your best behavior and give the best public account of yourself possible. That's particularly important if you hope to claim the leadership of one of our political parties and run for president in 2012, as many conservatives hope Palin will. The media takes  your message to the people.

Her attitude toward the press is one of the reasons I don't think Palin is serious about running for president. If she had  been she wouldn't have quit as governor of Alaska, unless it was to run for the U.S. Senate. She wouldn't have taken a job as a Fox News talking head. She wouldn't be shopping reality shows around Hollywood. Just like when she used the Republican Party's money to go on a shopping spree at Neiman-Marcus during the campaign, Palin is currently engaged 24/7 with trying to squeeze the maximum amount of money out of her run in the national spotlight.

She's doing that well. It doesn't require much interaction with the "lame stream" media. Fairly soon, surely by 2013, Palin will be just another minor celebrity. Then she'll only have to deal with People and Us and Entertainment Tonight. You know, the responsible media.

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