When asked by PBS Newshour what General Stanley McChrystal could have been thinking when he mouthed off to Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, retired generals Dan McNeill and Merrill McPeak appeared genuinely baffled. They alluded to McChrystal’s no-nonsense, gruff and blunt manner and pointed out that he had evidently spent insufficient time in situations requiring tact and diplomacy. However, it was pretty clear that they were not convinced that this was the whole story. McPeak, who appeared stunned throughout, referred to McChrystal twice as a “Warrior,” hesitating a moment before he uttered the word as though he wasn’t sure how that word, so loaded, would play in the modern world outside gaming circles.
I have no doubt that McChrystal is a Warrior . . . one with a capital W. Joe Klein describes him as an extraordinary soldier, but one who is pathologically incapable of not speaking his mind. However, I’m not sure McChrystal . . . or it . . . is that simple.
Let’s review the history of our engagement in Afghanistan. Bush plunged us into this war in retaliation for 9/11 and to get Osama Bin Laden dead or alive. I’m actually not going to fault him for that. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Probably we should have looked before we leapt . . . and realized that Afghanistan defies military occupation and has for millennia, that the words that greet visitors as they arrive at the Kabul International Airport might properly be those that greeted sinners entering Hell in Dante’s Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Instead, we came, we saw, we thought we conquered, we declared premature victory and off we dashed to Iraq to destroy that country. Having accomplished Operation Iraqi Ruination, we turned our sites back on Afghanistan to discover that it had – OMG! – metastasized. What to do?
What to do, indeed?
That was the conundrum with which Obama had to deal when he took office (conundrum in the sense of a logical postulation evading resolution): 1) how to slink out of Iraq while saving sufficient face to show ourselves on the world stage after that particular embarrassing and devastating debacle; and 2) how to get out of Afghanistan without looking like a bunch of tribal yahoos whopped our technologically superior asses. In an earlier blog, I referred to the war in Afghanistan as a tar pit – easy enough to clamber into, hard as Hell to get out of, and virtually impossible to emerge from not besmirched.
What are Obama’s current options in Afghanistan? The Left wants him to bail; the Right wants him to hunker down and win. The Left wants out yesterday. The Right doesn’t care how long it takes, so long as we WIN, goddam it! Of course, this is all hypothetical because victory in Afghanistan is impossible. This isn’t a conventional war, after all; it’s a police action and, boy, are those bad guys are winning! Worse and much more conclusive, they’ll be there long after we leave and, possession being nine tenths of the law, that’ll be the end of that.
So, what’s a President to do? After a lengthy review of the war effort and much consultation with generals, Obama decided to compromise. (Was this a good idea? How the Hell do I know? Can you have a good idea when it comes to Afghanistan?) He nearly triples the force he inherited as Commander in Chief, giving the Generals and the Right more or less what they wanted; then, to appease the Left, he promises to start drawing down troops in July 2011, to, in effect, end the war at a more or less specific point in time. In other words, he gave the Generals what they said they needed to win on their terms and then he’s getting us the Hell out of there, no matter what. He’s ending the war and trying to put the best face on it that he possibly can.
Oh, now, stop your fulminations!
Lefties, remember the scene in Saigon when we all of a sudden pulled out of Vietnam. Do we want to a repeat of that in Afghanistan? I don’t know if I’m prepared to sit through a performance of Miss Saigon set in Kandahar.
Righties, stop foaming at the mouth. We’re losing! Sometimes America loses! No, really. Suck it up.
As for the military brass. . . .
Well, that is where McChrystal’s very public insubordination comes in. As McPeak pointed out, McChrystal is a Warrior. He’s not a police chief. He’s not an administrator. He sees that our offensive is on the defensive, that our “war” effort is circling the drain, that our attempts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people are offset by their desire to keep their heads. And, as a Warrior, a proud Warrior, he can’t stomach it; for sure, he doesn’t want to be associated with it. I don’t believe for a nano second that McChrystal did not fully intend for his remarks and those of his closest aides to appear in print. I don’t know whether he knew he’d be fired, but I suspect he did. After all, that way there could be no question that the unspeakable nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan is Obama’s war and not McChrystal’s.
Move over you three Afghan officers who, as reported by Time, shot yourselves in the foot when your battalion’s combat tour was extended so that you could get medevacked the Hell out of Hell. Make a little room on the heli for Stanley.