What exactly is Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s exit strategy?
He got some rare good news Tuesday when President Obama announced that the former Afghanistan commander will be able to retire with his four stars intact. Such a smooth landing will allow the gabby general, who fell on his sword following a devastating Rolling Stone article last week, to retain a yearly pension of $149,700.
But surely, after 34 years of service in the Army, the Special Ops expert might be looking to make a little more coin. First stop for McChrystal would likely be a visit to a Washington muckety-muck like lawyer Bob Barnett, to secure a lucrative book deal. No one would be surprised if the general grabbed a seven-figure deal like the kinds that have gone to George W. Bush, Laura Bush, or Sarah Palin in the last few years.
“His main goal should be the rehabilitation of his image, which took some pretty tough shots. He should hire a PR expert—not me. I’m too busy,” Howard Rubenstein says.
Next stop would be enlisting with a heavyweight speaker’s bureau. Public-relations panjandrum Howard Rubenstein said that McChrystal could command $100,000 for every corporate pep talk or chicken dinner spiel.
“His main goal should be the rehabilitation of his image, which took some pretty tough shots. He should hire a PR expert—not me. I’m too busy,” Rubenstein says.
• Full coverage of McChrystal’s firing Once accomplished, the corporate world would embrace McChrystal with open arms. According to a report published in 2005 by the headhunting outfit Korn/Ferry, CEOs with military backgrounds “delivered higher average returns in the S&P 500 index over the one, five and 10-year horizons.” While McChrystal made a premature departure from the military, uniformed men have demonstrated staying power in the corporate world, according to the report, remaining atop companies longer than their civilian peers.
“He could work for a major corporation in the role of a former American hero that might take him on as a spokesman in national and international forums. He would draw enormous crowds and could earn any number he wanted—$2-$3 million a year,” says Rubenstein, who represents Rupert Murdoch and George Steinbrenner among others.
If the past is any indication, McChrystal may choose a less public future career.
“My guess is that General McChrystal will, as the saying goes, ‘fade away,’” says American historian Alan Brinkley.
What future might lie ahead for McChrystal in the political arena? The political cognoscenti aren’t ruling anything out, despite the general’s inelegant exit. His politics, however, may land him in a pickle.
“If he runs as a Republican, he'd have to explain why he voted for Obama, and why some troops complain his rules of engagement tied their hands,” says Democratic strategist Paul Begala, a Daily Beast contributor. (McChrystal, as Rolling Stone reported, voted for Obama in `08.) “If he runs as a Democrat, he'd have to explain why he dissed Team Obama. But in time this will fade. Americans are a forgiving lot and we have short memories and deep respect for the military.”
Political scientist Larry Sabato says he’s already heard rustlings among Republican activists who see McChrystal as an attractive vessel for anti-Obama sentiment.
“But I doubt they know that McChrystal says he voted for Obama in 2008. That may reduce the ardor of the GOP base at primary time, should McChrystal be so inclined to run. And why would Democrats nominate him? He was fired by Obama and that will hurt with the Democratic base,” Sabato says.
Real-estate honcho and publisher Mort Zuckerman says McChrystal needs to do a few things before penning that book deal or joining corporate board-dom.
“Here are the things he really owes the country,” said Zuckerman. “Now that he is no longer there, he should give us an honest assessment of what he thinks we should do in Afghanistan and why. With all the conflicting views of everybody, we should get a sense from him of how it’s working on the ground, and what he perceives of as the lack of good dialogue and support from the administration—this being a war in which we have over a thousand deaths and $300 billion, and looking at a lot of Americans still in harm’s way, and we need to know what he thinks we should do going forward.”
Zuckerman says McChrystal should not reserve his thoughts for a paid speech or a book, but should share them with the country for free. “It should be in some serious format—maybe a long interview on one of the major news programs… He’ll get plenty of money if he wants to go on a speaking tour. But this is an honest man who was perhaps too outspoken and now he owes us an understanding of what we are up against. Is this winnable or not?”
After he discharges that responsibility, McChrystal “should go on a speaking tour and he ought to think about what he wants to do, and he could do any number of things with the assets he has to work with. He has given a huge part of his life in the service of his country and performed brilliantly in war… and the country owes him a lot,” Zuckerman says.
Washington lobbyist Lanny Davis echoes Mort Zuckerman’s advice.
“McChrystal is the premier expert on why this isn’t working, and now that he’s out of it, he doesn’t have to toe the party line. So I suggest that he be hired as a talk-show host, and start speaking the truth—like Glenn Beck,” says Davis, a former special counsel to Bill Clinton.
Davis says McChrystal should stay clear of his current profession: “I don’t think he should be a lobbyist—a military guy shouldn’t be advocating for money—and I don’t think he should be an Amway salesman… Some prestigious university like Yale should hire him as a teacher.”
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.