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Michael Yon’s criticism of McChrystal deemed prophetic

by Kay B. Day

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Aug. 20, 2009): Col. David Haight, commander of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (left), briefs Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of International Security Assistance Force, on the progress of Task Force Spartan's area of operation and the efforts of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams at Forward Operating Base Shank, Aug. 21. (Photo by Spc. Matthew Thompson; courtesy Dept. of Defense.).Rolling Stone’s advance of an article with controversial remarks by Gen. Stanley McChrystal about President Barack Obama’s prosecution of the war will be on the screen for days to come. Apparently the general opened up to a freelancer and held little back when it came to deriding vice-president Joe Biden and ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry. Eikenberry retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant General.*

But war correspondent Michael Yon had begun to ask questions about the leadership in Afghanistan weeks ago.

The Washington Post said McChrystal “is quoted in an upcoming profile in Rolling Stone magazine as saying that Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, had ‘betrayed’ him by sending a diplomatic cable to Washington last fall dismissing Karzai as ‘not an adequate strategic partner.’ The cable came as McChrystal was recommending that President Obama increase U.S. forces and ties with the Afghan government.”

Long before Rolling Stone published the story, war correspondent Michael Yon had also levied criticism at McChrystal. Yon came under fire from some milbloggers for his dispatches, and at least one military blog came close to character assassination because of what Yon wrote about McChrystal.

Yon has consistently turned out major stories about the war that others missed, such as the Canadian Brigadier General who not only fired his weapon negligently but also was accused of having an affair with a female staffer. The military and media lagged in that coverage.

Yon also pinpointed a serious blunder that left a vital bridge unsecured in Afghanistan, leading to deaths and injuries for soldiers and civilians.

In a dispatch on Yon's Facebook Fan Page where approximately 35,000 fans read his posts, he wrote: “If a Colonel under General McChrystal's chain of command publicly dismissed General McChrystal in a major magazine, McChrystal would be forced to fire him or appear weak and not in control.”

The military doesn’t take kindly to public criticism that runs bottom to top.

Apart from Yon, however, many conservatives have been troubled by the prosecution of this war in accordance with demands from the left and from media, and complaints about the dilution of the Rules of Engagement have been raised in some quarters. Troop deaths rose sharply this year in Afghanistan, but national media, sympathetic to Obama, rarely make note of that. When President George W. Bush was in office, however, troop deaths were noted daily and above the fold.

A general feeling among national security conservatives is that even before Obama took office, leftwingers and allied media had actually prolonged the war and endangered troops just as they did during the Vietnam era. Another general feeling is that Obama lacked the experience to manage the war, even if his Democrat political base would permit it. The president is already behind the timetable he claimed he’d meet on troop withdrawal during his campaign.

Perhaps as a result of the attention Yon receives from branded media and from fans, it’s fathomable why some bloggers would launch personal attacks.

It appears Yon’s criticism of the general was prophetic. Yon also wrote on Facebook: “Unless McChrystal basically denies the article, he must be fired. If he is not fired, I will start calling him President McChrystal because Obama clearly is not in charge.”

Obviously Yon was ahead of the curve.

Yon’s embed was recently canceled and he has been filing dispatches from Thailand. His widely acclaimed book ‘Moment of Truth in Iraq’ has just been released in paperback.

[Ed. Note: Yon actually began to crit the general sometime in April.]

[Correction: Thanks to my readers I have corrected Eikenberry's rank! Sorry about the unintentional demotion.]

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Reader Comments (18)

Lieutenant General Eikenberry was previously COMISAF.

You will want to correct the error in rank for him.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandman

I have been following Michael for years.
He announced the success in Iraq before any other news media puppets.
He can be trusted.
The vast majority of politicians cannot (duh).
Donate to his cause, whatever you can afford.
We need the truth, and like freedom it is not free.


June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob

This must be a new low. The man, Michael Yon, is seriously unstable and you call him prophetic? The guy attacks everyone and everything that does not buckle under to his rantings. The fact is this war is going bad, not because of this or that person or even policy, but because for 7 years it was ignored. Can you say, George Bush. If the Obama Administration now fires McChrystal, then the war will only get worse. But Yon doesn't care about the war or our our military, he cares about Yon. Just the other day he risked the lives of journalists in Thailand by posting pics online and asking for viewers to identify them -- which can place all journalists in danger during another disturbance. But that doesn't stop Yon. You need to reevaluate who you are talking about.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStewart

Stewart , I'm very comfortable with my assessment of Yon.

Sandman, I actually checked that attribute. I appreciate your expansion on the info, but I'll let it stet. I didn't elaborate on him because he wasn't the focus of the story. Here's the statement related to his military service, apart from his serving as deputy chair of the committee (that is of course in his bio as well). As per his government bio: "He retired from the U.S. military with the rank of Lieutenant General on April 28, 2009."


Addendum to Sandman: So sorry--I thought you were only referring to the committee chairmanship. I now see the error of my ways and I thank you (and others) for pointing it out.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKay B. Day

Kay: There is a big difference between a Lieutenant General and a Lieutenant Colonel. You really need to fix that.

Stewart: You echo the B5 song and dance about Michael Yon's instability. Also, I never realized that journalists in Thailand needed their identities to be classified as 'Top Secret'. You might want to check your stability first before you start trying to discredit another man.

Michael Yon has spent more time on the ground with British and American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other journalist/photographer/blogger out there. He was never disembedded for Operational Security violations. I think the milblog community has some jealousy for a guy who has gotten it right way before the news became mainstream.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEl Rey

Kay, it's "Lieutenant General" (as correctly stated in the bio excerpt that you quoted) not "Lieutenant Colonel" (as it says in your article). Minor difference ;-)

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMinorPoint

El Rey and Minor Point, thank you for pointing out my error. Fingers flew ahead of my brain on that one and it has been duly noted.

I apologize for my civilian demotion of a Lt. Gen. to a Lt. Col. :>)

best, KBD

June 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterKay B. Day, Editor

I had a funny feeling after Michael was "dis-embedded" abruptly and without much information, he had finally hit a nerve with the leadership over there. It's a shame that his reporting, which I've read for years, and I have a first edition of Moment of Truth in Iraq at home, was now going to be censored for being too correct. I hope the US Military reconsiders, especially after the CINC will have to relieve McChrystal. While he's moved on to bigger and better things, I believe it would be appropriate to get GEN Petraeus back in direct command, and if anyone can fix this, he can. Give him what he wants, when he wants it, and maybe we can make some successes, and hold our gains in the AfPak war.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

During my time in Iraq, Michael Yon joined us on patrol on multiple occasions. I can honestly say his assessment of these two wars is backed by hard evidence and he is very commited to reported the truth.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterD. Jabs

Petraeus cannot "fix" Afghanistan without solid commitment from the top. Petraeus was able to "fix" Iraq because Bush doubled down on Iraq and was committed to doing what was necessary to win there.

I do not feel the same about Obama. Just this morning a guest on Bill Bennett's Morning in America program, Fouad Ajami I believe, made the following important distinction: "Obama is not fighting to win Afghanistan, he is fighting not to lose there." (My paraphrase.)

Unless Obama is willing to do everything necessary to win in Afghanistan, neither Petraeus or any other general officer will be able to win that conflict, which is no easy task to begin with.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

YON, MCCHRYTSAL and most importantly, OBAMA....shut your mouths with this quarreling and infighting and lack of consensus and support for out troops!!!! Our sons are FIGHTING over there. How asinine that you three are duking it out about who knows what, who said what, who did what.....you are making a MOCKERY of this war and YOU are endangering the lives of our sons. I KNOW because my son is there! McChrystal was hand-picked for this job by the Obama administration, which then duly IGNORED his needs and requests for more troops for months! They left him out there without support. McChrystal, in his frustration, submits to and participates in an inappropriate interview with a pop culture magazine, of all things!!! And, on top of all that lack of leadership (Obama) and immaturity fueled by lack of support (McChrystal), Michael Yon decides he needs to scold and hang McChrystal in his blog, regarding his leadership, not even ONCE pointing out that McChrystal was directed by and summarily dismissed by his BOSS, President Obama, the ill-prepared Commander-In-Chief of our troops, Troops, who are OUT THERE, day after day, toiling under adverse conditions to carry out the orders of their superiors (OBAMA and MCCHRYSTAL), both of whom cannot make a rational decision or reach consensus between them. WHAT A MESS! Shame on ALL of you, Obama, McChrystal and Yon, for putting your personal interests first and NOT the interests or support of the combat troops. Every damn thing you are all doing is feeding the spirit of the insurgents and the Taliban, who are KILLING our troops daily. You all sicken me.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBecky Kahler

Becky, thank you for your son's service. But it appears the troops are actually grateful to Hastings for the article. Here's a followup link to a piece at Newsweek: Rolling Stone Author Discusses General McChrystal Interview

We've also written about concerns about the ROE here at TUSR--Those can be accessed by clicking the 'Index' link at the top of this page and clicking the 'Military' category.

Thank you for commenting. best, KBD

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKay B. Day

I do know, quite well, in fact, that the troops have been frustrated with having to deal with the ROE in Afghanistan. My next question is: who is responsible for these rules of engagement? How do we, the civilians, know whether this policy is McChrystal's invention, or if it a response to orders from the CIC about how this war is to be waged?
But, that is not the point of my post, above. My point is that Obama, the CIC, and McChrystal, the general in charge, are publicly carrying out a power struggle, for all the world to see. This should not be happening on the world stage, making our mission and leadership look weak and directionless when we have so many troops over there. It diminishes the mission, it diminishes the respect of the players in this game of one-upmanship, and most of all, observing this in-fighting and discord between the two most powerful leaders in this war, who, incidentally, are supposed to be on the same side, must give immense satisfaction and renewed energy to the Taliban and other insurgents who are killing our troops every day. It must feed their resolve and will to fight harder and longer, because they can see, hear and read about cracks in the leadership. Now who does it appear is losing their grip and cracking under the strain of war? For all the world to publicly observe our leaders pulling in opposite directions in the middle of waging a dangerous and deadly war is outrageous! McChrystal spills his frustrations to a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine? Obama summons McChrystal to the White House like some school-aged kid being called into the principal's office? It is embarrassing that our leadership is airing their discord for the whole world to see. It splinters unity and consensus among the leaders from our allies, and opens up our mission to criticism and mockery by the enemy. It sends a message of weakness and lack of direction in our leadership, and parades it out for everyone to see. Then, on top of all that, Mr. Yon has been hammering McChrystal publicly on Facebook ever since he lost his embed with the Army. He has gone way overboard and has been using name-calling and making childish comparisons of McChrystal and his staff, calling them monkeys, among other things. He is gloating over the fallout of these recent developments between Obama and McChrystal, posting, non-stop, the same opinions and scoldings, and 'I told you first' claims. In my opinion, that kind of behavior is immature, and divisive. In the process, he has lost me and a number of readers as fans of his coverage of the war. He, too, is aiding and abetting the enemy by providing them with a sense that they have the upper-hand, and that ISAF is directionless and weak. He, too, is responsible for giving the enemy a source of renewed energy and purpose to hold on to.

June 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBecky Kahler

Becky, thanks again for your commentary and for your son's service to our country. best, KBD

June 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKay B. Day

KBD, in taking issue with McChrystal and not Hastings you state "The general missed an important element in the Russians' defeat," yet I assume you have only the context of the McChrystal comments that Hastings decided to include in the article.
I'm sure there was probably more to the Hastings/McChrystal conversation(s), but McChrystal's further comprehension of the Russian actions in Afghanistan was likely deemed uninteresting to RS readers, or at a minimum unimportant/unusable for Hastings' planned narrative. Why would Hastings make a sensational general with plenty of anecdotal material for his rock star eccentric obsessed readership (e.g. eats one meal a day) seem more intelligent and calculating and perhaps boring? Hastings refers to Petraeus as a "dweeb". Sniping McChystal based on data gleaned from Hastings isn't particularly objective.

The world had momentary insight to McChrystal's inner circle through a soda straw with a pop-culture lens attached, and McChrystal's media relations / strategic comms team let the story fly to the apparent detriment of his career and potentially the campaign. Whether this action was ill-advised, blissfully ignorant, or deviously savvy we may not know just yet.

June 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermcx

MCX, thanks. Please note I never meant to demean the general. And the quotes may well have been truncated, though my impression of the author---he's a known liberal and I'm a self-avowed center conservative so I'm deliberatedly objective here--is that he wouldn't have deliberately truncated to make someone look bad.

The general's remarks about Afghanistan and Russia were true---I hear the same remarks from other very intelligent, well-read people. But I rarely hear anyone point out the covert role the US played in the Russian defeat. I didn't know about it myself until I read 'Charlie Wilson's War'. That book is very well sourced and documented, a much better experience than the movie. And I believe Americans still don't realize the impact a single Democrat congressman could have on the evolution of world events, as Wilson did.

At any rate, I can't really judge any of those involved in this because I wasn't there. So I tried hard to report events and the backstory and sort of left it at that.

I appreciate your well-thought commentary. best, KBD

June 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKay B. Day

Yon is a slimy dishonest scumball. He is not Pro Troop. He has lost it and it is unsafe to have him as an embedded reporter/journalist or what ever he deems himself. He used to write good stuff. Now, he just wants you to hit the pay now button and support his God complex. He is a poser that cares nothing about our troops.

June 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Mary, I obviously disagree with you.

June 26, 2010 | Registered CommenterKay B. Day, Editor
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