In his 2009 speech in London, which set him on a course of altercation with the White House, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said, “When I am asked what approach we should take in Afghanistan, I say ‘humility.’ ”
That lesson may have been sharpest for the former Special Ops ranger himself. McChrystal was forced to retire last year because of comments he and his aides made to a Rolling Stone reporter about the Obama administration and its handling of the war in Afghanistan.
For the first time since his dismissal, McChrystal returns to public service, helping to oversee a program supporting military families. Accepting the invitation, the four-star general said it showed that there were no more hard feelings, for him or the White House.
“It sends a strong positive message that this is about taking care of our people,” McChrystal told The New York Times.
President Obama invited McChrystal to take part in the initiative, despite the general’s role in the cover-up of the Pat Tillman affair. “The president is very aware, having worked with him for some time, of General McChrystal’s résumé,” Jay Carney, White House press secretary, told reporters. Tillman, a former football star, was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The U.S. military initially claimed that he died in combat, which even McChrystal knew was not true at the time, but information eventually surfaced that Tillman was killed by friendly fire.
The invitation also helps mend the civilian-military divide that erupted during McChrystal’s leadership in Afghanistan. He takes the helm of a program spearheaded by Jill Biden and Michelle Obama, the spouses of the vice president and president whom McChrystal publicly disparaged. In the June 2010 Rolling Stone profile, McChrystal is described preparing for a speech and wondering aloud what question he might have to field about Vice President Joe Biden’s opinion on how the war in Afghanistan should be executed. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal asked, “Who’s that?”
McChrsytal was summoned to a terse meeting aboard Air Force One following the controversial London speech where he also criticized Biden’s proposal to use more drones and special forces rather than increasing the number of U.S. troops. He very publicly wished for a surge, a move seen as leaving Obama little choice but to eventually agree to send 30,000 more troops.
Next came the magazine article and McChrystal’s quick dismissal. Since then, he has retired from the military and traveled the lecture circuit. For Tuesday’s event at the White House, McChrystal sat several rows from the front, in civilian attire, and did not address the room.