Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Essential Michael Hastings

As everyone in this universe knows, Michael Hastings has published a major essay in Rolling Stone chronicling how a runaway general Stanley McChrystal seized control of the war by never taking his eye off his real enemy: The wimps in the White House.

I have excerpted and re-arranged Hastings epic essay, shortening it to its essence in 1,275 words.

....Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States.

Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany's president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.

.....Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan."

.....From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency. COIN, as the theory is known, is the new gospel of the Pentagon brass, a doctrine that attempts to square the military's preference for high-tech violence with the demands of fighting protracted wars in failed states. COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation's government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps. In 2006, after Gen. David Petraeus beta-tested the theory during his "surge" in Iraq, it quickly gained a hardcore following of think-tankers, journalists, military officers and civilian officials. Nicknamed "COINdinistas" for their cultish zeal, this influential cadre believed the doctrine would be the perfect solution for Afghanistan. All they needed was a general with enough charisma and political savvy to implement it.

.....As McChrystal leaned on Obama to ramp up the war, he did it with the same fearlessness he used to track down terrorists in Iraq.....After arriving in Afghanistan last June, the general conducted his own policy review, ordered up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The now-infamous report was leaked to the press, and its conclusion was dire: If we didn't send another 40,000 troops – swelling the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by nearly half – we were in danger of "mission failure." The White House was furious.

McChrystal ... was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president's ass ..... In the end, however, McChrystal got almost exactly what he wanted....

Today ..... the prospects for any kind of success look bleak. In June, the death toll for U.S. troops passed 1,000, and the number of IEDs has doubled. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population, whose attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile. The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a "bleeding ulcer." In June, Afghanistan officially outpaced Vietnam as the longest war in American history – and Obama has quietly begun to back away from the deadline he set for withdrawing U.S. troops in July of next year. The president finds himself stuck in something even more insane than a quagmire: a quagmire he knowingly walked into, even though it's precisely the kind of gigantic, mind-numbing, multigenerational nation-building project he explicitly said he didn't want.

When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal's side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn'thampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France's nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose.....

Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it's going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal says
It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument.
In a classified cable Ambassador Eikenberry wrote in January was leaked to The New York Times warned,
We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos.
Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal says,
The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people. The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.
McChrystal may have sold President Obama on counterinsurgency, but many of his own men aren't buying it.....

..... facts on the ground, as history has proven, offer little deterrent to a military determined to stay the course. Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn't begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. a senior adviser to McChrystal says.
If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.
Such realism, however, doesn't prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further.

But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region, says
It's all very cynical, politically. Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there's nothing for us there.
..... After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over – the Afghan people – do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan, warns,
Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem ... A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we're picking winners and losers.
[And that's] a process that fuels resentment and hostility among the civilian population. So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word "victory" when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible....

Michael Hastings did not do a hatchet job on Stanley McChrystal. The creeping mission Afghanistan is his real target. And he nailed it.


  1. Exactly.
    It was not about Mc Chrystal. It was, and still is about our endless war in Afghanistan.
    Obama's policy stays the same.
    Replacing Mc Chrystal with Patreus will only lengthen the war further.
    Patreus knows which chains to pull to get what he wants.
    Obama raised a white flag to the MIC, and the Pentagon with this move. They will now get what they want, and when they want it.
    Kandahar will be the pivot point.
    There is no Sunni Awakening in Afghanistan that Patreus can temporarily bribe to buy time.
    Patreus wears the watch, but the Taliban have the time.
    If Patreus refuses to have a pow wow with all of the Taliban, including Mullah Omar. All of his saber rattling and creative destruction will be a failure. We will be hearing more of the W mantra now. ---Conditions on the ground-- When they stand up, we will stand down-- Stay the course--- Our lost soldiers must not die in Vain----on, and on.

  2. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn'thampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny.

    Ain't no school like old school.
    Sorry couldn't help myself, but I think the point is valid. But since we Americans had not quite yet fallen to that point that leaves us only one option.

  3. http://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/2010/06/british-afghanistan-government

  4. It's an interesting point, Beach Bum.Genghis was a social worker compared to the Playstation generation of drone operators and 'death by laptop' merchants.

  5. Funny, isn't it, that the hapless and often maligned Mr. Biden was the only one who actually knew what he was talking about?......Also, to Mr. McChrystal, what do you think that we should call that frigging shit-hole "country" now; "DeadAmericansoldiers-istan"?

  6. Khan aside, it's just so fucking stupid to be conducting any kind of war effort other than the war on BP! (Pardon me irish skipper) ... How does the White House defend the price in humanity and now precious energy / finances to try and restructure our Gulf coast and soon, my own seas? It's unconscionable~! (did i spell that right?) this is a FB repost.