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Gen. McChrystal Talks Recent Controversy on NBC's TODAY
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May 29, 2014
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This morning on TODAY, Gen. Stanley McChrystal discussed the details about how he resigned after a controversial profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which he and his advisers were quoted making some disparaging comments about the President and key administration officials.
In the interview with Matt Lauer, Gen. McChrystal admits he hoped that the president would not accept his resignation, saying, "I wanted to stay in the job, but I wanted to do what was best for the mission."
To watch the interview, click here.
A full transcript on the interview from NBC News TODAY Show follows:
Matt Lauer, co-host: Good morning.
Matt Lauer: Retired General Stanley McChrystal was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan three years ago. He resigned after a controversial profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which he and his advisers were quoted making some disparaging comments about the President and key administration officials. Now General McChrystal is breaking his silence about that and some other things in his new memoir. It's called "My Share of the Task." General, it's always good to see you. Good morning. Nice to have you here.
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Thanks, Matt.
Matt Lauer: Chuck Hagel, is he qualified to be Secretary of Defense?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Matt, let me start by hijacking the show and wishing my wife, Annie, a happy birthday.
Matt Lauer: Smart move.
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Yeah.
Matt Lauer: Okay.
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I-- I know to avoid controversy.
Matt Lauer: Exactly. How about Chuck Hagel, should he be secretary of defense?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Well, if President Obama trusts him, I think Senator Hagel has the experience. He certainly got the quality as a person. The real matter is whether the President has that level of trust.
Matt Lauer: He-- his outspoken stance against the war in Iraq, his comments about Israel and Israel's influence over Congress, those disqualifiers?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I don't think so. I think which you're going to find is you have to predict the future. And they're going to face very complex problems many of which we can't predict. And I think that level of trust and relationship between those people and with other members of the cabinet are the most important.
Matt Lauer: Not to put you on the spot, is there another name that jumps out? Is there someone you would have turned to immediately that you would vote for?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: No.
Matt Lauer: Okay. Just figured I'd try it. Let's go to your memoir. Okay. There's-- there's a point in the book where you-- you have a quote and you say that, "As you were dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, there was an emergence of an unfortunate deficit of trust between the White House and the Department of Defense." Was that distrust a two-way street?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Yeah. My-- my book, and I outline this in a fair amount of detail, is about leadership because that's what I'm passionate about. What I've learned over years is building trust takes time and it's the essential ingredient of ever solving difficult things, whether it's a marriage, whether it's educating kids, whether it's fighting a war. You have to build trust between people and organizations and so that's something that I focus on.
Matt Lauer: Did you distrust the people at the White House? Did you distrust key members of the Obama administration when it came to their policy in dealing with Afghanistan?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I think what's most important is we spent a lot of time sharing information to try to build trust. Trust comes with time, trust comes with cooperation, trust comes with compromise and I think that's what we worked through in that really detailed program.
Matt Lauer: With all due respect, you didn't answer my question. Did you distrust the President and key members of the administration in terms of their handling of the war in Afghanistan?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Yeah. I still believe that the most important thing we can do is build that trust. And overtime that's-- that's--
Matt Lauer: You're being a good soldier here. I want to take you back to the Rolling Stone magazine that led to your resignation from your post. There were several demeaning quotes attributed to your staff members, even to you about the President and about key members of his staff. Was that article accurate? Was that the way you and your staff members felt about those people?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: It's interesting, in my book I outline that in about a page and a half, of a four hundred-page book, because that's-- it's level of importance. We were fighting a major war and in the scope of my career there was a lot of things in leadership I dealt with. One I would say is most important is the positive things and I don't think we need another book where we are finger pointing and--
Matt Lauer: But were the quotes in that Rolling Stone article that were attributed to your staff members and to you accurate? Because otherwise then you should be coming out against Rolling Stone Magazine. Were they accurate?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: The most important thing is that's past. I accepted responsibility. I was in command. And the elegance in command is you're responsible for everything bad that happens and everything good, and I accept that.
Matt Lauer: Of the President, you talked of-- one of your staff members said this about your first meeting with him where he said he didn't seem to be very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed. On national security adviser, Jim Jones, one staffer called him a clown. On the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, you were attributed to saying that he wanted to cover his flank for the history books because he opposed the counterinsurgency, true?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Well, as I outlined in the book what I really try to do is give the big picture and so what I've tried to do is show the holistic relationship with people and generally it was very good.
Matt Lauer: That last meeting you had with the President when he accepted your resignation, did he demand it or did he simply accept it?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I walked into the room with the resignation in my pocket. I offered the President my resignation, but I said I would do whatever was best for the mission.
Matt Lauer: Was there a part of you that wanted him not to accept it? I mean did you want to stay in the job?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I wanted to stay in the job, but I wanted to do what was best for the mission. And I felt that whatever the President felt was best for the mission was what I needed to do, so I was happy to go with whatever decision he made.
Matt Lauer: Let me be a fly on the wall. Was he furious a-- about what had come out in that Rolling Stone Magazine? Did he express his displeasure with you?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I think what is said between the President and I in the Oval Office really needs to be between us. But I would say it was very professional. We had a good relationship before that. I think we still have a good relationship.
Matt Lauer: After he accepted your resignation, he said this in a public statement, "War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that is the right strategy for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be met by a-- set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system." Do you agree with that?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: The President's statement that war is bigger than any single individual is absolutely correct. And, so when I accepted responsibility, I felt it was important that I do what as a commander is best for the mission at that time. I'm very comfortable with that.
Matt Lauer: You said this. This is your quote, "The best leaders are genuine and they walk a fine line between self confidence and humility. When you graduated from West Point, you wondered if you would turn out to be the kind of military leader that you admired." Did you?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I think you work on that every day. I think there are days when I did very well and there are days when I didn't. But the key is on the days when you didn't, don't let that become the new standard. You have to push yourself back up to where you know you ought to be every single time.
Matt Lauer: Any regrets?
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Not really.
Matt Lauer: General Stanley McChrystal. General, it's nice to see you.
GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Matt, thank you. I appreciate it.
Matt Lauer: And again, the book is called "My Share of The Task."