The war is in its ninth year now. The recent dismissal of General McChrystal still bothers me. So, I have been reflecting a lot about our involvement in that country over the past couple of days. Specifically, on where I see our mistakes and opportunities, things we have done right and wrong.
Right. Going in. There is no question President Bush acted appropriately by sending US troops in response to the Taliban’s open distain for the US by proclaiming themselves a safe-haven for al-Qaeda following Osama bin Ladin’s orchestrated attacks on September 11, 2001.
Wrong. Invading Iraq. Equally, there is no question that Bush’s “Captain Ahab” to Saddam Hussein as “Moby Dick” hurt us in Afghanistan. First of all, the invasion of Iraq was unwarranted, it was based completely on fabrication, bordering on dereliction of duty as commander-in-chief. It was a personal vendetta of Bush against Hussein, an abuse of power. Secondly, it obviously took every priority over Afghanistan, which took our eye off the ball. Al-Qaeda took advantage of Iraq to misdirect the application of American force while slowly rebuilding their position.
Right. President Obama has refocused our priorities back to where they should have always been – in Afghanistan. The de-escalation of Iraq and the build-up in Afghanistan was not only appropriate, it was necessary. Unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan is now more problematic with a resurgent Taliban and a weak “domestic partner” in President Karzai. The original objectives of our mission in response to the September 11 attacks are virtually forgotten. This is both a consequence of our Iraqi occupation and the simple fact that Americans don’t like protracted wars. Our own weak willpower over time numbs us to the motivating force of the World Trade Center being destroyed, killing and injuring thousands of innocent civilians.
Wrong. Dismissing General McChrystal. This is a highly contrarian view, I know. Just as we took our eye off the ball with the Iraq occupation, we have allowed a public relations nightmare to take precedence over winning a war. It is a ridiculous situation and shows, once more, how weak and confused Americans can become about what is more important – the seemingly sacred display of showy professionalism or kicking the enemy’s ass.
Obama has removed from command the general who spearheaded (despite the fact that we should have never been in this situation to begin with) the capture of Saddam Hussein, killed al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, as well as – in 2007 – killing and capturing dozens of other important al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq. In effect, the special forces leadership of General McChrystal put al-Qaeda out of business in Iraq. But, instead of benefitting from that proven track record in the “real” war in Afghanistan, Obama sent him packing on an issue of professional decorum. That is one screwed up sense of priorities. The fact that most Americans can not see that only shows how lost we are as a culture, whether the war is lost or not.
Right or wrong? Enter General Petraeus. Obviously, Petraeus has the credentials to lead. He turned the war around in Iraq. McChrystal, however, was Petraeus’ hand-picked man in Iraq. McChrystal’s covert experience, solid leadership skills, ability to galvanize rapport with both Afghanistan’s political hodge-podge and our soldiers serving in-country, understanding of the situation on the ground, and – bluntly – his “take no prisoners” cut-throat nature is exactly what we need in Afghanistan. Certainly, in terms of strict professionalism McChrystal can’t hold a candle to Petraeus. But, our enemy is not professional. They are a ruthless rabble with boundless élan.
David Petraeus is an astute practitioner of modern military art but I don't think he is an ass-kicker.
Politically, it was next to impossible for Obama to leave the general in command after the Rolling Stone article. Yet, at the same time, the fact remains that Obama allowed a magazine to dictate his war effort. That does not bode well for the future in my opinion. It is a reflection on our own superficial nature as a people. There might well be a comparable price to pay for this. Often, the most vivid test of leadership is to do the unpopular.
Keeping McChrystal would have cost Obama dearly at a time when he has cashed in his political chips on a pointless economic stimulus and health care reform. The president is bogged down in a bad economy and major environmental disaster in the Gulf. The McChrystal article unfortunately arrived during “the perfect storm” so he was dismissed, much to the glee of Islamic extremists. One measure of how sound a decision is by the way the enemy responds to it.
We will get what we ask for as a weak consumerist society of convenience. Our leadership will appear more professional but there are serious rifts. The underlying McChrystal frustration was not based on a fairy tale. We are a society where reality TV means that we no longer watch television, it watches us. And where journalists no longer report the news, they make it. The McChrystal story was basically nothing more than a report about private jokes made by staffers reflecting frustration. In that sense the media of our society has become the worst joke of all. Hastings chose to elevate the common, flip attitude of precision military killers over and above the importance of the mission they were setting up. Hastings reported the trivial at the expense of the critical.
There is a lot of blood here on a lot of different levels, physical to poltical to practically philosophical. And most of it is on Michael Hastings hands.
How much more screwed up can things get than that? McCrystal is a killing general and he takes out what he wants to one piece at a time. Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a few more, then dozens at a time. At the same time you endear yourself to their cultures as much as possible. That is how you deal with the terrorism. This is why McChrystal could not tolerate Biden's view of counterinsurgency.
Who knows? We might get to see how Joe's way would work yet.
Sitting on our porch in the dark, listening to tonight's sounds, Jennifer summarized the situation well after we discussed it. "It's all about how good you look." Amen to that. And too bad.
Late Note: This article appeared the next day, after this post.