Former General McChrystal Speaks About Complex World By Torsten Ove


DeM Banter: need to find the transcripts as the article seems a bit shallow, but could not agree more with the General … “It’s the tsunami coming.” Drones are an issue and our education system is well beyond “in crisis.” More than anything we need Strategy, Vision, and Leadership…still…wondering where the lions are…..thoughts?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
October 6, 2012

A top general canned by the president for inflammatory comments he made in Rolling Stone magazine about the administration’s conduct of the Afghanistan war spoke Friday about the need to build relationships in a complex, dangerous world.

Addressing students and academics at Carnegie Mellon University, Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. Afghanistan war commander until President Barack Obama fired him in 2010, said events halfway around the world have an increasingly profound effect on the United States.

“What happens in Baghdad matters in Baltimore, what happens in Pakistan matters in Pittsburgh,” Mr. McChrystal said in a wide-ranging speech about America’s security challenges. “The world is that way now.”

He said Americans need to realize that people in other parts of the world view the same events much differently than America does, and person-to-person contact is critical to resolving conflicts.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, are examples of how the U.S. largely ignored that human understanding in its war on terror.

He cited several other examples of how the U.S. makes simple mistakes on the foreign stage, often unintentionally, that undermine its credibility.

One is the fact that most ambassadors are asked to resign when a new administration takes over. As a result, countries are left without an ambassador for as long as nine months because the process of appointing new ones takes so long.

“We let our process get in the way of relationships,” said Mr. McChrystal, who teaches leadership at Yale University and lectures around the country.

In an example from his own experience in Afghanistan, he said tribal leaders in 2006 asked coalition forces to build a school for their children. So, Mr. McChrystal said, the school was built in between two villages about three kilometers apart.

But when the building was done, the Afghans destroyed it.

Why? Because, it turned out, the people in the two villages had hated each other for 100 years, even though they were part of the same tribe. In addition, Mr. McChrystal said, the U.S. brought in an outside contractor to do the work instead of giving the job to the Afghans.

Even though the U.S. was trying to do the right thing, he said, the effort backfired because of a lack of understanding.

Another example he cited was the use of armed drones to conduct “surgical strikes” on enemies.

While drones have their place, he said, their use also has a lasting impact — much as real surgery does on a human body — that U.S. leaders must consider before deploying them. He said the U.S. favors such weapons because they are antiseptic and don’t risk American lives, but people on the ground see them as “arrogant.”

Addressing other topics in a question-and-answer session, Mr. McChrystal said the growth of social media around the world is a security issue because it “moves faster than we can think.” Social media can generate a movement before anyone has time to consider its implications, he said.

He also echoed the concerns of many leaders in decrying the eroding U.S. education system. While American universities are still top-notch, he said, public education is in “crisis.” The high school dropout rate is at Third World levels, he said, and America’s future is in peril because the workforce of the future will not be able to compete.

“It’s the tsunami coming,” he said. “We’ve taken our eye off the ball.”

4 Replies to “Former General McChrystal Speaks About Complex World By Torsten Ove”

  1. Bill,

    Food for thought on the education issue… Ponder this… “Everybody” thinks Facebook is cool. You can do cool things with it, so can business. Business now moves at the speed of social media. So do events that cause trouble for law enforcement (flash mobs) and international security. What only a very few people get about this is that Facebook has solved a huge computer science problem. Imagine what it takes to keep track of over 1 billion Facebook users, their posts etc. and also analyze that information for other business consumers. You can’t buy that database capability in a box…. This is bleeding edge capability and likely makes these guys and gals the “rocket scientists” of this generation. If our country’s education system can’t prepare people with the tools to think about those kind of issues in a manner flexible enough to adapt to whatever opportunity shows up in the future, then we surrender the initiative to the rest of the world. Worse, as the global economy gets more technical, those unfortunate souls that lack requisite skills will be left behind at the speed of the Internet.

    The real problem as I see it is that the US Education System is solving the 1970’s problem, not the next generation’s issues. Don’t get me started on the debates about certain politically charged subject matter either…. It is about how to think and evaluate information placed in front of you. That thought training process ought to include as fair game any topic out there, including topics some may consider controversial. After all, we should be preparing students to live in the real world. That real world can be very messy at times.



    1. Ben: You are spot on! Take politics out of this… it’s just too important to be bogged down and boy does it get bogged down. Just left Catalyst where Geoffrey Canada (Waiting for Superman) spoke:
      Talk about a guy that will make you a believer in the lack of support in the system… WOW! I gather the POTUS is looking to replicate the system he created in Harlem in 20 other cities…my fear: What will that do? Is it a Fed problem to solve? And we have all seen Fed programs that start for good and become… well, you name it.
      What is really needed is a concerted effort from the Fed, State, and community level… to focus on schools, but also to focus on family. There is a piece in here for community groups as well…. churches for one… this has to be an all out attack to fix the system. Not sure I see it coming… we are still looking for “quick” election cycle fixes.
      A bit passionate about this one…
      As always Ben… thank you for the comment… always thought provoking.

      1. Bill,

        One follow – up thought here. Like DoD’s acquisition problem, the education system has a very long lead time before tangible results are realized. While the education budgets are typically programmatic in that the system needs to just run year to year as opposed to creating and deploying new weapon systems, there are similarities. One similarity is that both systems require planners to forecast what the future needs look like 20+ years from now, and then plan a system that can meet those needs. Certainly the 3-R’s are still very relevant, but the current public education systems are a bit behind when it comes to technology and the sciences. This is not to say that public schools are a total failure. There are many examples where students rise to the challenge and excel, my son is one of those examples. Colleges tend to overcome that technology gap, but there are issues there as well. Engineering schools are one example where the universities tend to employ a sink or swim attitude when what is really needed is a more focused attempt to mentor future engineers — a skill area that our country is sorely short of.

        Of course, private schools are very good at addressing the shortfalls of the public school system. I think that the private school option is a valid choice, but as a taxpayer, I am disappointed at being forced to have to pay twice to get what should only need to be paid for once. Clearly there are other factors at work that enable the private schools, and in some cases charter schools to do well. This gets to the schools approach to student responsibility to get the work done and be present for class, the family environment, the faith environment, and other demographic factors you mentioned. There is a model for success there, it is too bad that many of those factors are beyond the control of the education system at large, or that the education system refuses to address those due to politics.

        From that I conclude that Darwin is alive and well and success is dependent very much on enabling support from family and others outside the school system itself. The unfortunate thing is that as the global economy becomes more technically advanced, the entry price gets higher, and that can become a vicious cycle begat by one or two generations of misses in education.

        FWIW, the trades offer a great opportunity for someone to learn a skill, grow their own business and succeed. The good news here is that you can’t outsource the plumber or the A/C repair crew. The bad news is that small business acumen is required in addition to the skills required of the trade, and from what I see, schools aren’t training that small business acumen either.

        I would like to see a few changes to the qualification system for teaching in schools as a way to address some of the technology, science and small business issues. For example, I know several PhDs in fields such as Physics, Engineering, Computer Science, Math etc that are technically not qualified to teach in schools because they don’t have an education degree or other teaching credential. Never mind the CV from the university, or the real life experience solving real world problems and running a professional firm while they are at it. Similarly, trade programs need to bring in more than just those that can teach you how to turn a wrench. The business part needs more attention than it currently receives. Many of these folks would like to teach when they retire, or perhaps teach part time, but they can’t. What an extravagant waste of talent and opportunity.

        I’ll get off the soap box now….



      2. Ben: great points and frustrating…this has to be part of a bigger plan…I don’t know, perhaps we should call it a STRATEGY!

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