Steve Walt's attack on our professor is way off base.
In recent days, Colonel Gian Gentile at The Atlantic and Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy have written items alleging that retired U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, who currently teaches at Yale University, is limiting academic freedom through a "non-disclosure" policy within his classroom. Colonel Gentile and Professor Walt further insinuate that this policy was created as an unseemly inducement to bring General McChrystal to Yale. These accusations are both irresponsible and inaccurate.
The authors of this rebuttal are all Yale students who took General McChrystal’s course, "Leadership in Operation," last spring. We would like to begin by setting the facts straight. General McChrystal’s students do not sign a non-disclosure form. Nor is it the case, as the New York Times recently reported, that the course is "off the record." Rather, the course follows the usual, voluntary conventions of non-attribution that allow Yale’s frequent guest speakers to speak candidly to an academic audience. Colonel Gentile and Professor Walt are simply wrong to assert that any special arrangement was made for General McChrystal. Non-attribution is the standard practice when sensitive topics are going to be discussed by responsible officials.
We also take issue with Colonel Gentile and Professor Walt’s baseless assertions that General McChrystal’s teaching suffers from a lack of accountability and open discussion. In fact, the course is wholly devoted to open debate among a group with diverse experiences and views. As the Times reported, General McChrystal "insists that the students call him Stan" and "prods quiet students into talking." The class takes on a discussion format by design, and General McChrystal successfully facilitates spirited debate by encouraging dissent.
Like the fictional non-disclosure form, the notion that General McChrystal uses class time to promote his views on counterinsurgency doctrine is wholly imaginary. In fact, the course is not about Iraq, Afghanistan, national security, or even about policy. The class is about leadership. To that end, we used case studies taken from settings ranging from education and business to the histories of apartheid and the American Civil War. General McChrystal’s experiences enter the discussion only sporadically, to tee up much broader questions about effective leadership.
A further factual error is Colonel Gentile’s assertion that "students have little personal knowledge of the true nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan." This reflects an ignorance of the background and experience of the students in the class that borders on offensive. In fact, the course this past spring contained four veterans of these wars and a photojournalist who has embedded with American troops in Afghanistan on multiple occasions.
General McChrystal’s class brought together a diverse group of graduate, undergraduate, and professional students to discuss under-studied issues of character and leadership. The overall message is that a leader’s character — qualities like integrity, loyalty, empathy, and humility — matter. General McChrystal illustrates these principles through robust intellectual discussion and by the examples of numerous guest speakers who shared their own experiences with us. Consistent with academic custom, non-attribution ensures that these perspectives are made available in an environment sheltered from the forms of outside scrutiny that too often militate against candor.
Colonel Thomas Boccardi
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |