Professional media handlers can sometimes do good work, I guess. But they’ve got their limitations. And, as Hastings sharply describes McChrystal, he may be more than any press handler can handle:

In the late 1990s, McChrystal shrewdly improved his inside game, spending a year at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and then at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he co-authored a treatise on the merits and drawbacks of humanitarian interventionism. But as he moved up through the ranks, McChrystal relied on the skills he had learned as a troublemaking kid at West Point: knowing precisely how far he could go in a rigid military hierarchy without getting tossed out. Being a highly intelligent badass, he discovered, could take you far – especially in the political chaos that followed September 11th. “He was very focused,” says Annie. “Even as a young officer he seemed to know what he wanted to do. I don’t think his personality has changed in all these years.”

Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at holly.yeager@gmail.com.