Vetting McChrystal’s Defenders

by Joshua Foust on 7/15/2010 · 3 comments

Marc Ambinder finds something fascinating:

In the Rolling Stone article that kiboshed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s career, writer Michael Hastings notes that longtime confidants of McChrystal who were with him in Afghanistan under the NATO/ISAF force referred to themselves as “Team America,” an homage to South Park’s balls-out parody of special forces. (The SOF guys love South Park.) …

Not only is Hastings’ vignette true, but the “collection” of people who identified themselves with Team America had a special patch made for their service. (It was created for them by a small company somewhere in Missouri.) Here, for the first time, is an image of the patch that cemented the camaraderie of Team McChrystal. I discovered it on Twitter and verified its validity.

Go there for the picture (not sure he’d take too kindly to my reposting it). This is interesting for two reasons: one, it may or may not say a lot about how irony-friendly our top military advisors are (and I don’t know which answer is actually scarier), but two: it pokes holes in how McChrystal’s defenders took to the press after the Hastings article came out. For example:

In the e-mail, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post by a military official sympathetic to McChrystal, Boothby is asked to confirm the makeup of McChrystal’s traveling staff on the Paris trip and the communications equipment they brought with them on an earlier visit to London. “They don’t come close to revealing what ended up in the final article,” the official said.

“Does McChrystal’s staff joking refer to themselves as Team America?” the fact-checker asked. “Not really,” Boothby replied. “We joke that we are sometimes perceived that way by many of the NATO forces” under McChrystal’s command.

A certain Army patch—if true!—would like to disagree. This gets at a deeper issue in the whole McChrystal flap, which is how the media tend to cover these things. It’s a much bigger discussion that this post can allow, but the paragraph immediately following spokesman Boothby’s denial of the whole Team America thing is very revealing:

In the article, Hastings wrote that McChrystal and his aides “jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.” In other passages, Hastings took what appear to be similar minor liberties with the facts as Boothby described them.

That’s Karen DeYoung and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, both of whom I deeply respect (and I consider Rajiv a friend) badly missing it, implying fabulism where the facts don’t support it, and getting played. The military-media relationship is deeply dysfunctional, and I really don’t know how to fix it.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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TJM July 15, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I think it boils down to chicken vs the egg. Did they call themselves Team America because the foreign Coalition members referred to them that way? Or was it vice versa? I suspect the former. In that case, buying the patch is a joke, acknowledging the perception held by our allies. It would be humor, rather than bravado.

Joshua Foust July 15, 2010 at 11:45 pm

True. That would resolve the irony question. The bigger question is… what’s with all the media doing the flacks’ jobs for them?

Corsair8X July 18, 2010 at 11:01 am

These patches were not made for them. They were designed by a guy named Mil-spec Monkey and have been freely available to the general public for years. The fact that the reporter has had this pointed out to him and has not altered his story is irritating. Registan is great for bs-checking stories, and I’m telling you the patch is pure bs. Go google mil-spec monkey, go to his designed patches and you can see and puchase them there. Then you too can be part of McCrystol’s inner-circle 🙂

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