Gen. Stanley McChrystal's took his punishment like a proud soldier. He didn't point fingers or claim that he was unfairly ambushed by Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone journalist who he allowed into his inner circle. But now, after the President Obama summarily relieved Gen. McChrystal of duty, the military command is contending that Hastings quoted conversations that were off-the-record.
According to the Washington Post, a senior military official said that the "salacious political quotes" in Hastings' article were made off-the-record. Of course, that doesn't excuse the remarks or the carelessness of making such disparaging remarks in front of a journalist.
In a press conference following Gen. McChrystal's resignation and the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to succeed him, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, "I cannot excuse his lack of judgment with respect to the Rolling Stone article or a command climate he evidently permitted that was at best disrespectful of civilian authority. We do not have that luxury, those of us in uniform."
However, the offending remarks in the Rolling Stone article point to a fissure between the military and civilian authorities. As, "The disparaging comments that Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff made about civilian members of the President's Afghan team revealed real divisions about Afghanistan. You don't have to go all the way to Kabul to hear military officers complain about the bull-in-a china-shop ways of Richard Holbrooke, the President's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan."
New York Times columnist David Brooks offers some perspective on Gen. McChrystal's rapid exit from the running the Afghan war.
"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."
"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. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile."
Rolling Stone denied the military's claim that Hastings' took advantage of the situation improperly. And, the author was undeniably given the raw materials to fashion a blockbuster story that exposes a fault line. Whatever the case, the military will be far more cautious in giving unguarded access to journalists.