Here I was, settling into my morning, preparing for the Petraeus/Eikenberry testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brewing coffee, when a comment on the last thread inclined me to push an idea a bit further.

McChrystal expressed “regret” to the Senate Armed Services Committee for what he said was an inadvertent and unintended perception after his London speech to the IISS that he was trying to inappropriately skew the Afghanistan debate. I thought it was a forthright way of putting an unfortunate episode behind him. That speech, as I believe I have demonstrated, was a case of media-FAIL, in which the substance of McChrystal’s actual remarks was ignored and the atmospherics overplayed, yielding a breathless narrative of a general boxing his civilian superiors into a corner. Within days, Bruce Ackerman (no relation) wrote that McChrystal was borderline insubordinate. People’s assumptions that McChrystal leaked his own strategy review — something that’s been asserted a hell of a lot without any hard evidence — congealed into another piece of “evidence” for that narrative. (My guess: the culprit was a Pentagon civilian who thought s/he was doing McChrystal a favor. But I don’t know either.)

Well, if McChrystal really were out to shank Obama, then his behavior yesterday makes absolutely no sense. The general declined every invitation by every GOP congressman and senator to chide Obama for not giving him 40,000 troops; for setting a date to begin transferring security responsibilities to the Afghans; and for taking a couple of weeks to come up with a revised strategy. He fended off one such attempt by interpreting it as an attack on his integrity. The guy gave a definition of “defeating” the Taliban that would get a civilian lambasted on Fox News as a DFHer. When Republicans said that the July 2011 “inflection point” was a sign of Obama cutting and running, McChrystal implicitly compared that misperception to a Taliban information operation. I could go on.

But I hope I don’t need to. I suppose someone could construct a retrograde-motion narrative whereby Obama caved into McChrystal so much that McChrystal is just playing his– no, that would still not be the behavior of an insubordinate general. E Pur si muove. I guess I would end this by saying that it makes more sense to listen to McChrystal’s actual statements than to presume the motivations behind them. You might be surprised by what you hear. The Republican Party sure was.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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