In September 2009, General McChrystal allowed a "Washington Post" reporter to accompany him and a seven-member NATO fact-finding team to the otherwise closed-door meetings with German troops and Afghan officials investigating a deadly Bundeswehr-ordered US airstrike on two Taliban-hijacked tanker trucks. Jumping on this golden opportunity, the "Post" promptly published an insider's account of the on-going NATO investigation in its Sunday edition, just two days after the air strike had happened, relaying estimates concerning the associated Taliban and civilian casualty figures, etc.
political leaders and senior military officers were outraged at
decision to bring a journalist to these internal, classified briefings,
took place just hours after the air strike. "It stinks to high heaven,"
unnamed Bundeswehr officer told the "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung"
also reported that German commanders accused the US
army of "deliberately leaking misinformation about an ongoing
Chancellor Merkel was certainly not happy about the "Washington Post"
either and sharply criticized those who immediately pointed the
finger at Germany's military leadership, stressing that she opposed
premature judgments and jumping to conclusions before all the results of
investigation into civilian casualties, etc. were known.
In the months following the Kunduz air strike, General McChrystal was able to repair strained relations with Berlin and also seemed to have established a good personal connection with German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. However, the bottom-line is: The "Rolling Stone" story is not the first time that General McChrystal has mishandled the media by giving a journalist unwarranted access to internal meetings and discussions. The first time around, of course, there were no immediate negative consequences for McChrystal, who may have wanted to use the "Washington Post" story to "reprimand" the Germans over the Bundeswehr's perceived violation of his zero civilian casualties policy. Whatever McChrystal's ultimate motivation, what goes around comes around and last time I checked, the term "Schadenfreude" was German.
Ulf Gartzke is a Visiting Scholar at Georgetown University's BMW Center for German and European Studies. This article reflects his personal opinion.