The Nine Lives of Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal

Not long ago, the host of a small gathering about radical Islam tangentially spoke of Afghanistan’s rugged terrain. This led to a mention of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger and former NFL standout who was killed in 2004 in the region in question. Unsolicited, our host described what he observed and mentioned in passing that it was unfortunate the Tillman affair had ended the career of the best officer in all the services for leading special operations and all possibly operations in Afghanistan — very high praise.

That spec ops guru discussed was none other than Army Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the recent pick to head U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

Though confirmation is almost assured, McChrystal and his favorite lawmakers (not to mention the media and the Tillman family) probably will relive the details of Tillman’s death by U.S. fire, though initially it had been reported as a hostile fire incident. There will be discussions of the misleading information that characterized the investigation. Especially embarrassing for McChrystal is the Silver Star he approved despite his concerns that Tillman had been killed by his own people. Reports that McChrystal warned President Bush about the possibility of friendly fire might make for a less-than amicable meeting with lawmakers. (“General, you could not get the facts on Mr. Tillman’s death right, but you think you can lead in Afghanistan?” Brutal.)

It was an untidy incident made more emotionally charged by a grieving family and a high-profile soldier. We heard from one source the misinformation began with a misunderstood first report. Regardless, it looked like McChrystal would toil in obscurity.

McChrystal successfully entered Special Forces just a few years into his career and there he stayed, save for that stint at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy’s School of Government. He headed the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008.

On the upside, McChrystal is credited with the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. On the downside (or up, depending on your views), his units might have been involved in questionable interrogation practices. But the big downer is Tillman’s death. Though McChrystal made his third star, he could not get picked up for any four-star gigs. It looked like he’d toil away in obscurity as director of the joint staff at the Pentagon, et voila! He lives to fight another day.

Not sure who broke him lose. Lesser purported leaders would have allowed him to languish despite the knowledge he might bring to Gallipoli.

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