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Firing McChrystal Isn’t Enough. Fire the War.

| June 23, 2010

Drum and drummer: Stanley McChrystal and David Patreaus are strategic twins who reinforce what's wrong with American involvement in Afghanistan. (Bradley A. Lail/U.S. Air Force)

Gen. Stanley McChrystal should never have been the top commander in Afghanistan. He’s a rogue and a bully, politically and militarily, and he’s dishonest in the most dishonorable way: he signed off on the cover-up of the killing by his own troops of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who became an Army Ranger. McChrystal falsified the documents that lied to Tillman’s family. “The false narrative, which McChrystal clearly helped construct, diminished Pat’s true action,” Tillman’s mother, Mary, wrote.


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Tillman was one victim. But McChrystal has been falsifying the narrative in Afghanistan since becoming commander there, pretending and preaching, like Gen. William Westmoreland in Vietnam 40 years before him, that more troops and more resolve can win in Afghanistan as no foreign army has won there since Gengis Khan. More troops and more resolve have killed more troops and more civilians while sapping soldiers’ faith: Some of McChrystal’s biggest doubters are his own troops.

I’m not saying this because McChrystal was just fired. I’m a McChrystal doubter of long date. McChrystal, I wrote last Oct. 1, “with his chat-and-snub strategy of outflanking Obama through the press while rebuffing Congress, appears to be choreographing his own political pressure tactics. The last thing the Afghan debacle needs is a neo-MacArthur presuming more than his command warrants.” It was a debacle then. Obama worsened it by letting McChrystal lead it on.

A general in love with the wrong kind of attention. (Kenny Holston/US Air Force)

In October, McChrystal was planting stories in the press, leaking a 66-page memo that all but made Obama look like a coward if he didn’t put up at least 40,000 more troops, and refusing to testify before Congress. What finally brought McChrystal down was the sort of locker-room behavior that was no secret to anyone who knew McChrystal and his entourage since his middling and drunkard days at West Point (he’s reformed, and imposed his teetotaler ways on troops under his command): making fun, in that now notorious Rolling Stone article,  of Joe Biden and speaking contemptuously of Obama and every member of the president’s foreign-policy team with the exception of, amazingly, Hillary Clinton, the weakest non-entity in Obama’s foreign policy team.

The contempt is deserved. Obama’s foreign policy team is as fractured and arrogant as the French national soccer team. But the contempt isn’t deserved from McChrystal, whose strategy in Afghanistan was itself predicated on the lie that there is something winnable there or something useful to win. Neither is the case.

Which is why his firing speaks more ill of Barack Obama than it does of McChrystal. Not because the firing was overdue, but because McChrystal should never have been hired, especially not in the hurried, uninformed way Obama hired him: on the advice of Pentagon brass, the last place a new president should have looked for advice on how to run Afghanistan after eight years of Pentagon failures there. Afghanistan required a more rational analysis of what’s possible, exit strategies included, and who’s best equipped to carry it through.

McChrystal, predisposed to worship the impossible as a reflection of his exceptionalism, was a man out of the Bush administration’s playbook, not Obama’s: McChrystal seconded Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld foolishly described the falling apart of Iraq as “stuff happens,” and he seconded Bush’s own “Mission Accomplished” declaration that all major combat operations in Iraq were over by May 1, 2003, when they had barely begun. Obama picked him anyway, and wedded his Afghan fortune to McChrystal’s idiotically acronymed “COIN” strategy—for “counterinsurgency.” The strategy, a form of community policing with extra-lethal weapons and boots ready to kick down any door, was little more than the re-application of Iraq’s pacification campaign to Afghanistan, as if the two countries were one and the same. They’re as different as, say, New Jersey is from Nepal. But hey: they’re both Muslim nations, they’re both in the Greater Middle East, so how difficult could it be to fit them under the same Pentagon acronym?

Even after picking McChrystal, Obama in October and November had a chance to make his break with the Bush administration and come up with a new strategy in Afghanistan—one that recognizes that there are no Afghans who want to blow up Americans (although there will be), that there are no American interests in Afghanistan, that the Taliban is not America’s fight, and that al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, and hasn’t been in Afghanistan for nine years. The strategy could have also recognized that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a corrupt incompetent more interested in his palace power than in running a country, let alone cooperating with the Americans beyond getting his hands on American aid. Most critically, Obama could have stopped pretending that a bankrupt America abandoned by virtually all of its allies can still rebuild a country that even God had little left for. (The old Afghan story goes that when God was finished making the world, he took all his leftovers, threw them together, and that was Afghanistan.)

Instead, Obama took up where Bush left off, added more troops, threw more money at the folly, and called it a new strategy. McChrystal was his cover. Bad choice. McChrystal blew it? Not so: McChrystal was an improvising explosive diva waiting to blow. He did. He would have anyway.

McChrystal’s firing is the latest cover-up of a failure far larger than McChrystal’s, a failure that Obama now owns entire, and that will only increase the number of American and Afghan deaths to no purpose. This month, June 2010, the Afghan war became America’s longest in history. It is also America’s most futile. Vietnam ended. Afghanistan has no end in sight. Worse, despite the lessons not learned of October and November, despite the lesson not learned of the McChrystal debacle, despite the lesson not learned of the winter’s failed Marja offensive in southern Afghanistan—the offensive that was played up as the Obama administration’s turning point in the war, with McChrystal in the lead—despite all that, Obama on Wednesday announced  that nothing will change in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is gone. The strategy remains the same. All that was needed to accent the madness was that famous phrase of the Bush era (and the Westmoreland era): stay the course.

Obama didn’t have to use the phrase. He appointed it. The man replacing McChrystal is Gen. David Petraeus, which is a demotion of sorts. Petraeus was McChrystal’s commander, and Bush’s designated architect of the Iraqi escalation of 2007-2008. Petraeus is now the 10th commander in nine years over the Afghan theater, or the latest custodian of that indestructible hammer nailing America’s coffins.

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16 Responses for “Firing McChrystal Isn’t Enough. Fire the War.”

  1. [...] Good riddance. Of course, what we really need is not a new general, but to get the hell out of Afghanistan. [...]

  2. dlf says:

    The fact is; we are in a war that was voted and approved by all branches of the goverment. Obama has in fact increased the number otf troops in this war. To try and blame one man, who we have never walked in his shoes is unfair and unjust. After 9-11 most Americans were in favor of this war and now we want to tuck our tails between our legs and run, make excuses and blame one man. What about all the elected officals who voted to go to war, what about our current and past commander in chiefs r and what about us, shame on all of listed. I guess when you elect a community organizer you get what a true solider views as a coward, right or wrong. Again Mr Tristram produces what we are to beleive our facts without any source listed just like he did for the News Journal where he ONCE worked

  3. Bob K says:

    Wait a minute…..wasn’t the left screaming that we diverted our attention from Afghanistan by focusing on Iraq? They were screaming Afghanistan was where we were supposed to be. Now, that’s all changed. While I have little appetite left for yet more years in Afghanistan, the bad news coming from there certainly CAN be placed at the feet of the chosen one. Obama was told we could win there but it would take 60,000 troops. He waited four months (I guess he couldn’t locate the “present” button behind the Oval Office desk) to decide to send half the troops requested. Doesn’t it make sense that if you go into an endeavor half-baked you’re not going to get the desired results?

  4. Rick G says:

    Oh dif…. if that truly is your name… You are so misinformed. The facts stated in Pierre’s artilce are all over the various sources of news… Although you may not see it on Fox…

  5. BR says:

    dlf says “what about all the elected officials who voted to go to war ?”. Officially we are not at war, and no elected official ever voted to go to war. This operation in Afghanistan has been an Executive action run by the White House since day one.

  6. Van says:

    Obama has owned this war since the early days of his campaign, when he called it “the right war at the right time”, and he really hasn’t done anything right since dispatching 35,000 more troops (the “surge”, aka reinforcements) and digging his heels in the quicksand of this misbegotten imperialist adventure. He truly seems no more capable of learning anything from past mistakes than McChrystal or any of the rest of the warmonger class, in Washington and the Pentagon. Even though calling them “mistakes” isn’t quite right either. It’s all part of the pattern this misguided country has followed for 45 years, since the idiocy of Vietnam, where the “best and brightest” invariably commit us to one war after another under the entirely phony rationale that we’re bringing freedom and democracy to these backward, unstable countries. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the truth is poisonous to these policymakers and generals, and it’s just as toxic to our hollow puppet of a president. What they’re really determined to achieve is total control of the entire world for US-based transnational corporations, and that can’t be done without military conquest, as about 500 books have argued over the past 30 or so years. Those guys don’t read those books.

  7. dlf says:

    BR: if we are not at war why does Pierre want to ” Fire the War”?, his words not my words

  8. dlf says:

    Rick G, if that is your real name, I guess we are to beleive everything that you say “is all the news”. ABC CBS CNN and Fox always repotr the truth correct, get your head out of the sand . Of course the current band of crooks in Washington would not lie to us and why would not want to beleive our community organizer?

  9. Van says:

    Maybe if dlf could write a coherent sentence and at least learn how to spell “believe”, it might be possible to take him or her seriously. dlf sounds like a tea party type, or Obama apologist, who has had Pierre in his sights for a while. Pierre wasn’t giving Congress a pass in his article, he was calling attention to Obama’s failure to pay attention to McChrysal’s record when he appointed him commander of the Afghanistan fiasco. Or, if not his failure to do so, his agreement with McChrystal’s methods and “vision”, an even worse indictment.

    Congress didn’t appoint McChrysal, Obama did. But yes, they’re equally to blame for our policy of unending war in the Middle East, and Pierre knows this. What dlf can’t understand is that Pierre is writing an editorial, not a report from the field of battle. He doesn’t need to cite “sources” for his opinions and observations, as no editorial does unless it lends support for some contentious point. dlf writes as one who simply refuses to “beleive” anything he reads.

  10. Kevin says:

    HI Van,

    It is good to see you again. Take care.

  11. dlf says:

    Van must be of the left side of the party , right away he starts by name calling and assigning tags to people who question his view point. If I read anything in the paper or a web site such as this I would hope the CEO is writing with some base of fact and truth, Just like I would on any large news source, is that to much to ask? As Pierre states in his lead article today,” there are two side to every story”, I would like to hear both sides and the truth, which may mean there are three sides to every story, the left the right and the truth. I hope this site is not turning into name calling, pointing out the errors in ones writing in place of good two way discussion. Just because one makes an error in their spelling or is trying to be concise are they wrong.

  12. Van says:

    Nowhere did I resort to “name calling,” dlf. That’s just a tactic for dismissing what another has said, in this case about your inability to WRITE, not merely about spelling errors. If you’re going to criticize a journalist like Pierre for not satisfying your criteria for “facts”, you might at least try sounding like you got through the 5th grade. Pierre isn’t a “CEO”, by the way. He’s a journalist, and in this case an editorialist, as I tried to make clear before. You don’t understand what an editorial is. When Pierre describes McChrystal as “a rogue and a bully, politically and militarily,” and that he’s “dishonest,” he doesn’t need to cite sources. He’s offering his opinion, which is very well-informed.

    Trying to tell you this isn’t a form of “name-calling.” It’s instructive, which instruction you obviously reject. That isn’t my problem. What you call “some base of fact and truth” is simply a demand that opinion conform to your views on these matters. Disagree with Pierre or me or anyone else if you’re so inclined, but don’t pretend you’re adhering to some higher principle of truth-seeking when it’s obvious you merely want Pierre to make his opinions conform to your own.

  13. Van says:

    OK, I stand corrected. I just read Pierre’s story on FlaglerLive’s board and see that he is the CEO. But first and foremost he’s a journalist. I doubt FlaglerLive will be among the Fortune 500 any time soon. And as Pierre says to dlf in his comment on that thread, he’s an admitted liberal, though that doesn’t mean he’s committed to some “left” agenda. Still, he isn’t going to celebrate the depredations of the Right, as they proliferate all over corporate media. dlf claims he wants all “three sides” to every story, the left, the right and “the truth,” but we all know know what “the truth” nearly always means: My truth. In any news analysis, and especially in editorial writing, the truth is as subjective a category as “left” or “right.” No mortal is the living embodiment of The Truth. Not even dlf.

  14. dlf says:

    Well I am glad to see you have the courage to admit when you are wrong and see that Pierre is the CEO. Don’t know which role comes first; CEO or journalist, my guess, since his site is for profit that his decisions and remarks may lean towards CEO. I stiil think that facts and the truth should stand in the way of any news reporting that is done and in SOME cases Pierre is doing just that, reporting the news, he states that in the top of his site”your news source for Flagler Florida and beyond”. If we do not agree that the truth,and facts must be consider in any news reporting why would we read, or listen to the media. The truth is not just what I think it should be, but what it is. My fear is that some of us do not want the truth because it will shed a negative light on what we want to think is right or left. The media will write what ever they think will sell or increase their ratings, in some case with out regard for the truth of facts.

  15. Pierre Tristam says:

    dlf, official titles aside, Van was right the first time. The title of “CEO” is just like those presumptuous nameplates people put in front of them when everyone knows who they are. I have the title only because that’s what the structure of the company requires, but believe me, it’s a ridiculous title if you knew who I am (as Van does and has for years). Besides, names and titles mean nothing. It’s the writing and the ideas that matter. And no, this is not a for-profit company.

  16. dlf says:

    Pierre, thanks for taking the time to set the records straight I did not know this was a not for profit site, You and your team are doing a great job and it is all free. I agree wth you on the subject of titles and was only using your remarks about being CEO. This may be a better world if we did not have so many titles and tags attached to someone. You are corrct in your thinking that it is the the writing and the factual ideas that matter in the end. Again, keep up the good work and lets hope we can keep this an open discussion site, unlike the old New Journal site of name calling and tag attaching.

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