Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings turned the American war in Afghanistan upside-down today with his profile of General Stanley McChrystal. After he and his staff were quoted attacking President Obama and members of the administration in "The Runaway General," McChrystal has reportedly offered his resignation.
We reached Hastings in Afghanistan, and the connection made some of his remarks hard to decipher. What follows, after the jump, is a very rough transcription of the interview.
MADDOW: Michael Hastings, thank you so much for your time. Mike tell me what kind of access you were allowed to General McChrystal and his inner-circle for this article?
HASTINGS: I basically ended up with unprecedented access to General McChrystal on my trip to Paris and then to Afghan…it was actually unprecedented access (inaudible:I was sitting inside?) the room with General McChrystal and spent time with him in his downtime.
MADDOW: And in terms of his inner-circle and the degree to which they spoke freely in quite impolitic terms about other people involved in the war effort and in American leadership, did they know it was on the record? Were they comfortable voicing those things knowing you were a reporter?
HASTINGS: There were no permissions set before I began the profile and it was my understanding that it was all on the record. And that's why I continued to report on them for the following number of weeks.
MADDOW: Michael, I know that in the piece, I mean General McChrystal comes across as incredibly impolitic but not in an unflattering light. You definitely portray him as a true believer in counter-insurgency. But counterinsurgency means military force combined with a lot of non-military force and he and his inner-circle talk complete smack about everybody on the nonmilitary side, so how does that make sense? How do they reconcile that?
HASTINGS: Well I think one of the things about General McChrystal and whether or not he's impolitic: just look at his public statements. What he said recently about Marja which was an operation in southern Afghanistan, was that it was a 'bleeding ulcer'. he's saying in public about the war effort or he thinks he's saying in private. I think that that's a big issue in terms of counterinsurgency, the relationship between the civilian military side. I think that's always very tricky in terms of the operation, and i think part of the problem is that there's a military says they actually buy into these political solutions, they're the most preferred solution, the one to use is to use force, which is sort of what they're inherently good at.
MADDOW: It's sort of a hollowed out insurgency idea that you talk a lot about military force but maybe it's not as important a part of it when it comes down to it. You describe Michael that the hardcore proponents of counter insurgency of COIN as having a sort of cultish zeal. The COINdenistas, which is something we've talked about in the past. Is there something about the idea of counterinsurgency that essentially requires people to be disdainful of outside views, about the wider impact of it of it, about the difficulty of selling it politically?
HASTINGS: I was just rereading David Halberstan's "The Best and the Brightest," and one of the things described is Kennedy in his 1961 being very excited about these new theories of counterinsurgency. I think what anyone has to look at it is where the counterinsurgents here draw their inspiration from and most of the examples they draw from are not very promising. the French in Algeria in 1962 and then the us in Vietnam in 1965 --both ended in defeat. Now they claim that they were military victories but if they were just victories outright they all would have worked but in fact there's not really too many promising examples that they can really point to.
MADDOW: Michael so far a civilian press aid to General McChrystal has resigned in the light of your article, um, right now I know you're in Kandahar you're in Afghanistan with plans to be there for some time do you have any expectation of what the other fallout from this might be?
HASTINGS: I've been surprised quite honestly about the fallout that's happened. I mean the story just actually got published a few hours ago, I think, online. I've been quite surprised by it. I'm not sure what the actual fallout's going to be um. I think the way it's been playing out, I mean, has yielded some interesting interesting questions.
MADDOW: Of course the way that General McChrystal got this job is because General McKiernan was rather summarily relieved of his responsibility um in Afghanistan the previous top commander in country. Does the counterinsurgency doctrine and strategy survive another change at the top if it has to happen? Are there enough true believers just among the ranks of soldiers and officers who you've been dealing with there while you've been reporting?
HASTINGS: "I think counterinsurgency is the only solution that they've come up with that they really want to do. It seems like there's not much stomach for actually changing our strategy, drawing down to say 50,000 and doing more counter-terrorism mission. I think you change the top, but the problem remains. I mean, I think the counterinsurgency was set in motion and I believe even if you change the top, it's not going to make too much of a difference because I think the problems of these things --one of these things I'm talking about -- in terms of long protracted conflicts that democratic societies wage usually in, you know, developing nations, is that they take on a momentum of their own. We went into Afghanistan after September 11 with the explicit goal not to get stuck in a quagmire. Anyone who even used the word "quagmire" was mocked mercilessly. Some years later, we're exactly where we set out not to be -- in a quagmire, and it's a quagmire we knowingly walked into.