The Cable

Exclusive: McChrystal was shocked by controversy over Rolling Stone article

Stanley McChrystal, the retired general and former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was shocked by the Rolling Stone article that led to his firing, he reveals in a soon-to-be-published memoir.

"Sir, we have a problem," McChrystal aide Charlie Flynn told McChrystal upon waking him up at 2:00 in the morning one night in Afghanistan. "The Rolling Stone article is out and it's really bad."

"'How in the world could that story have been a problem?' I thought, stunned," McChrystal wrote in the memoir, which is set to be released Jan. 7. (The Cable obtained a copy of the book independently from a local bookstore and was not a party to a publisher's embargo on the information contained within.)

McChrystal was referring to the article "The Runaway General," by Rolling Stone correspondent Michael Hastings, in which Hastings details his time with McChrystal's staff on a stay over in Paris in 2010. In the article, Hasting documents McChrystal staffers insulting top Obama administration officials including Vice President Joe Biden and the late Amb. Richard Holbrooke. Obama recalled McChrystal to Washington and demanded his resignation shortly after the article's publication.

McChrystal does not mention Hastings by name, but he does describe the Rolling Stone affair as a failed attempt to give the reporter an insight into the brotherhood of his soldiers.

"I was surprised by the tone and direction of the article," McChrystal wrote. "For a number of minutes I felt as though I'd likely awaken from a dream, but the situation was real. Regardless of how I judged the story for fairness or accuracy, responsibility was mine. And its ultimate effect was immediately clear to me."

McChrystal said he was called back to Washington that night, but he already knew his career in the military was over and decided to resign right away.

"From the moment I'd seen the article, I'd known there were different options on how to act, and react, to the storm I knew I would face," he wrote. "But I knew only one decision was right for the moment and for the mission. I didn't try to figure out what others might do; no hero's or mentor's example came to mind. I called no one for advice."

The Rolling Stone article was not the first time McChrystal had run afoul of the leadership in Washington. He also reflects in his book on the angst following his October 2009 speech at London's Institute for Strategic Studies, where he rejected the idea of a counterterrorism-focused mission in Afghanistan, right in the middle of the White House's internal policy review.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen woke McChrystal in the middle of the night to communicate the administration's concerns over his remarks.  But McChrystal wrote that neither he nor President Barack Obama raised the issue of the speech when the two met the next day for a previously scheduled meeting aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen.

"My response (to a reporter's question in London) was reported as a rebuttal of other policy options for Afghanistan and as criticism of the vice president's views," he wrote. "It wasn't intended as such, but I could have said it better."

Overall, McChrystal's book paints a portrait of a commander who was not well-suited to handling the intense media spotlight that come with being the leader of a controversial war during a period of domestic turmoil. He was also taken aback that his strategic assessment in the fall of 2009 calling for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan was leaked to the press as well.

"In retrospect, I never felt entirely the same after the leak of the strategic assessment and then the unexpected storm raised by the London talk," McChrystal wrote. "I recognized, perhaps too slowly, the extent which politics, personalities, and other factors would complicate a course that, under the best of circumstances, would be remarkably difficult to navigate."

In his book, McChrystal also defends his actions related to the death of Army ranger and NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2010. McChrystal led the process of recommending Tillman for a Silver Star, which included reporting "devastating enemy fire." Later it was revealed that there was no enemy fire and Tillman had been killed by accident by coalition forces.

"[McChrystal] deliberately helped cover up Pat's death and he has never adequately apologized to us for doing that," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, told ABC News in 2011. Pat's brother Kevin testified to Congress that Army leaders including McChrystal misled the family, altered witness statements, and printed incorrect details on Tillman's Silver Star commendation, all as part of a campaign of "deliberate and calculated lies."

McChrystal has said before that he failed to properly review the Silver Star recommendation and that it was not "well written." In his book, McChrystal insists that there was no intentional cover-up.

"Five investigations were conducted and accusations of intentional deception, cover-up, and exploitation of Corporal Tillman's death for political purposes were propagated. Sadly, truth and trust were lost in this process," McChrystal wrote. "Genuine concerns over slow and incomplete communication with the family increasingly became mixed with suspicions of intentional misconduct."

McChrystal said he intended to be forthright with the family and assumed they would be notified that fratricide was a possibility in Tillman's death. But he stood by the decision to issue the Silver Star commendation with incomplete information.

"In the citation, we thus sought to document what I believe was his heroism, without drawing official conclusions about friendly fire that were still premature," he wrote. "Any errors, which I should have caught, were not the result of any intention to misrepresent or mislead."

Getty Images

The Cable

Obama expected to pick Hagel as opponents prepare for a fight

President Barack Obama is expected to name Chuck Hagel as his choice for defense secretary as early as Monday, as critics of the former Nebraska senator prepare to go to war to fight his expected nomination.

White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president's choice to be the replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process said have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick. Decisions about the timing and logistics of the announcement are being finalized now.

The Cable had previously confirmed that Hagel successfully complete the vetting process, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.

Meanwhile, Hagel's detractors are moving forward with their campaign against the nomination, which has been expanding ever since The Cable first reported in November that Hagel was in consideration for the Pentagon post. That campaign has included anonymous Senate aides calling Hagel an anti-Semite, the Washington Post editorial board writing that, "Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary," and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which counts among its board members Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, running a television ad criticizing Hagel's opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran. "For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option," the ad claims.

"Even if one left aside Chuck Hagel's dangerous views on Iran and his unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews, a dispassionate analyst would have to conclude that the case for Hagel is extraordinarily weak," Kristol wrote in an editorial Friday, in which he urged Obama to choose Carter, Flournoy, or Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

The Log Cabin Republicans took out a full page ad in the New York Times to oppose the potential Hagel nomination. Following the publication of the ad, the leader of the group, R. Clarke Cooper, resigned in what he stated was a previously planned departure. He had previously expressed support for Hagel. Cooper and Hagel are both combat veterans.

Three Senate Republicans have come out firmly against Hagel's potential nomination, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Tom Coburn (R-OK). Cornyn said he can't vote for Hagel due to Hagel's "problem with Israel." Coats said Hagel "has had so much disrespect for the military." Coburn said Hagel "does not have the experience to manage a very large organization like the Pentagon."

Other GOP senators have expressed reservations about Hagel without committing to a no vote. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who previously praised Hagel as a close and dear friend, suggested recently that Hagel is not a real Republican. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said on Fox News Sunday, "There would be very little Republican support for his nomination. At the end of the day, there will be very few votes."

Today's Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) gave the following statement about the potential Hagel nomination to The Cable:

"I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel's record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran," Kirk said. "While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his past record and statements, particularly with regard to Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Should he be nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a rigorous examination of these and other issues of concern." 

Hagel's supporters, a loose conglomerate of former staffers and friends, have been working hard to defend Hagel from the onslaught of criticism, despite a lack of White House support that would come if the nomination materializes. They point out that Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served as the deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration during the Reagan administration and as the head of the USO. Hagel also co-authored the 9/11 GI bill as a senator.

They also note he has served in many private and public sector management roles, including as  chief of staff to Rep. John Y. McCollister (R-NE),  deputy commissioner general of the United States for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, and chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7 Summit) in Houston, Texas.

Hagel has also been president and CEO of the Private Sector Council, a nonprofit organization formed to assist federal government agencies, chairman of the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan think tank, co-founder and president of Collins, Hagel & Clarke, a marketing and communications firm, co-founder of Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc., one of the nation's first non-wire cellular telephone carriers, and president of McCarthy & Co., an investment banking firm in Omaha, Nebraska.

Hagel is also currently co-chairman of Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board, a member of the secretary of defense's Policy Advisory Board, and chairman of the Vietnam Veteran War Commemoration Advisory Committee.

A bipartisan group of former senators and national security officials wrote to Obama last week to express support for Hagel's nomination. That letter was signed by former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and others.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker also weighed in this week in support of a Hagel pick.

"Mr. Hagel would run the Defense Department; it would not run him," Crocker wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "And as America's wars abroad wind down, it is clear from his record of service to veterans -- and his own experience as one of them -- that they would receive the support they deserve after they have put their lives on the line for the country."

Alex Wong/Getty Images