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When Rolling Stone Calls the Shots, It’s Time to Negotiate

Posted on Jun 30, 2010
AP / Gerald Herbert

By Fred Branfman

(Page 2)

Petraeus’ record since becoming head of Central Command, however, gives little reason for optimism. The general’s aura of success from the Iraqi surge is such that he has escaped blame for the fact that it is his policy even more than McChrystal’s that has failed in Afghanistan. And there has been virtually no discussion of his even greater incompetence in escalating the war into Pakistan, which threatens a long-term foreign policy disaster dwarfing Vietnam. (See two of my earlier articles in Truthdig, “Replace Petraeus” and “Unintended Consequences in Nuclear-Armed Pakistan”). His perceived success in Iraq—achieved with the help of bribed Sunnis and McChrystal’s targeted assassinations of al-Qaida and other extremists—has little relevance to Afghanistan, where the Taliban is a far stronger and more cohesive force, the Karzai regime is a government in name only, and its army and police force are far less motivated and functional than their opponents. A U.S. inspector general study, according to The New York Times, has just found that “despite spending by the United States of $27 billion on the training of Afghan security forces since 2002,  even top-rated Afghan units could not operate independently,” and that “the 50-page report ... details drug abuse, heavy attrition, corruption and illiteracy among the Afghan security forces.”

Whatever happens, however, one thing is sure. The fact that it required a Rolling Stone article to relieve an ineffective commander atop a dysfunctional team has dramatized the bankruptcy of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

The case has never been stronger for the U.S. allowing Karzai and the Pakistanis to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban that includes their refusing to allow al-Qaida to operate in Afghanistan. Karzai clearly wishes to negotiate such a settlement. But, as the New Statesman reported, “Barack Obama certainly opposes it. In this, he is supported by the notably undiplomatic US envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, described by one senior British diplomat as ‘a bull who brings his own china shop wherever he goes.’ ”

This is a serious mistake. Most observers believe the Taliban would agree to a negotiated settlement that includes enforceable provisions that would not allow al-Qaida to operate out of Afghanistan, thereby fulfilling the main reason the U.S. claims to be there (even in the unlikely event that al-Qaida would wish to return from Pakistan).


Square, Site wide

Of course, such a negotiated settlement would embarrass the Obama administration at this point. But, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, negotiating a settlement now is the worst possible solution except for all the others. If it is more difficult today to negotiate a settlement and withdraw than it was a year or two ago, it will be even more difficult to do so a year or two from now—in the midst of a presidential campaign.

Fred Branfman is a book author, journalist and anti-war activist. In addition to being published in Truthdig, his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s, Playboy, the New Republic and other publications.

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By 3Eric3, July 18, 2010 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

huckleberry, not only has nothing changed, but what really comes through is how the wagons have circled.  McChrystal should have been brought before a military tribunal to defend himself against treason.  Military personnel are strictly forbidden to speak ill of the President, Vice-President, etc.  Instead, we heard about what a great military commander McChrystal is/was and that this was just mistake.  What this really indicates is that the military is becoming so powerfull that it can denegrate the civilians it is supposed to take orders from.  I sometimes wonder if Obama truly isn’t in over his head.  This trying to get along with everyone is only weakening his presidency.  Sometimes, the bastone (the stick) has to be used.  Our military officer corps is 97% Republican.  How does that represent our society?  It doesn’t.  It represents the military-industrial complex.  Period.

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By huckleberry_finn, July 18, 2010 at 8:25 am Link to this comment

Well, it’s been quite a while since the whole story unfolded and where did we get? General shift of strategy or any great achievements? I doubt.  Seems that author of this article was right — Petraeus-McChrystal story was about trading bad for worse.

Except probably for discovering mineral deposits — but this has nothing to do with Petraeus and has been probably known even by Bush administrations.

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By SteveL, July 5, 2010 at 9:46 pm Link to this comment

Should U.S. war policy be made by Rolling Stone? As opposed to Fox News?

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By 3Eric3, July 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment

Question:  is the news media embedded with the U.S. Military or ‘in bed’ with them?  I always get that part confused.

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By dihey, July 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

The overwhelming majority of so-called journalists that report from/on Afghanistan completely overlook the fundamental fact that we, the American taxpayers, are their employers inasmuch as we fund the war that they are reporting on.

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By REDHORSE, July 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment

Outside the “hook” title, this piece had some meat on its’ bones. It at least attempted, to get the entire landscape into the shot.

      The fascist Bushite/Cheney slime dealt the mess and, they’re still raking in the $$$$$. Comparisons to VietNam as instructive history, is perhaps applicable to sane Americans, but not, to the psychopaths in Washington. A decade of war w/no end in sight. OUR LEADERSHIP-($$$$$$$$)-COULD CARE LESS!! (Want to wake up? Do a little volunteer work at the spinal cord injury unit of your nearest V.A. Hospital or check out the number of Vets living in their cars or homeless on the streets.)

      “Oh say can you SEE—-”?  May God bless America and strike dead the fascists who are destroying her!

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By AmishEcstasy, July 4, 2010 at 5:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maybe if the rest of the major media outlets would do some honest reporting for a change the leaders of our government leaders would think twice before getting us into these adventures all over the world.

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By politicky, July 3, 2010 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

NOBODY can hide behind a PR curtain any more.

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By the worm, July 3, 2010 at 9:37 pm Link to this comment

‘We’re at war!” “In this time of war….” “A war-time President”

For Presidents, one of the great things about Congress giving up the power to
‘declare war’ is that ever President can be ‘at war’, serve in ‘a time of war’ and
be a ‘war-time President’ and a ‘real’ Commander in Chief.

The President has all the latitude to trample on civil rights, kill, maim, destroy
lives, spend into oblivion, etc. with virtually no constraints.

Like Congress, which cannot stop the President from ‘going to war’, citizens can
stop neither Congress nor the President. It’s basically up to the citizens to put
pressure on Congress and the President to end the insanity, but, of course, that
cant happen.

Perhaps, we are consigned as a nation to continual ‘war fare’, to constantly
being ‘at war’, ‘a time of war’, etc.

Because the President can do what he or she choses - as with the Iraq and
Afghan wars.

So, it is not only McChrystal who owes Obama ‘an apology’, it is McChrystal and
Obama who owe the nation ‘an apology’.

Obama appointed a man who was behind the cover-up and then the lies about
Pat Tillman’s murder by ‘friendly fire’ (so we know what kind of a ‘man of honor’
McChrystal is); the man who was appointed turned out not be a ‘man of honor’
(really?, but a double-dealer and double-crosser).

The President who appointed such a man is a ‘war time President’, and - like all
Presidents since we invaded Grenada and the Panama Canal), and, so on - ‘we
must support him’.

This whole scenario is absolutely bizarre.

Before the decision was made to send more troops into Afghanistan, McChrystal
and other top US military men met for weeks with President Obama.

During months of agonizing closed-door ‘analysis and reflection’, we’re asked
to believe neither Obama nor any General said “We’re entering an insurgency,
fewer than a dozen of our men and women speak the language, fewer than that
know anything of the culture, we’ll be going directly into citizens’ homes, farms
and villages, we’ll be heavily armed with high-tech lethal weapons, and we wont
be able to tell friend from foe. What do you think the chances are that we will
be facing continued guerilla warfare and civilian insurgency, similar to Iraq, and
that our men will continue to be placed in untenable situations in a losing
effort, similar to Iraq?”

America has ‘civilian leadership’ of the military, in part, so the military wont
make decisions in its own interests and the interests of America’s formidable
‘military-industrial complex’. But, instead, the civilian leadership (read ‘the
President’) is supposed to make decisions in the interests of the American

Obama has failed: Not in conduct of the war in Afghanistan, but in his initial
decision to escalate, rather than leave Afghanistan.

Well, yes, you can say ‘he campaigned on it’, but if the die was cast, why all the
agonizing prior to the decision? Why all the closed door sessions? Why all the
‘debate’ within the administration?

Of course, politicians and Presidents frequently don’t do what they’ve
campaigned on and even alter their decisions when new facts are revealed.

But Obama appeared to consider all options, agonize and then clearly make the
wrong decision.

Obama owes the American people and the Afghan people an apology. To the
extent McChrystal - and Patraeus -  were instrumental in contributing to the
disastrous decision, they, too, owe the American people and the Afghan people
an apology.

It will undoubtedly take more and more articles like Rolling Stone’s to bring to
light all the disasters resulting from this decision.

What will it take to end it?

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By RiverRat2U, July 3, 2010 at 7:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The main characters in this undeclared war that made millions off of the Viet Nam WAR are doing it again.The Political Elite of our beloved country funded and supported the Taliban and Ossie Ben in pushing out the Russians. Whoopie! The in crowd made millions providing arms and material to the freedom loving natives. Now the loyal natives have turned on the U.S. as they did the Russians.
The Rolling Stones did the common man a favor by exposing the farce going on in Washington. This is Viet Nam all over again without the Draft.
Oh, don’t forget it was the Kennedy Clan that sent advisors and that lovable Democrat L.B.J that sent our youth to die for the excesses of the Military Industrial Complex and their friends in Washington. Now this is Obama’s and the Democrats War. Now lets see how soon our troops are pulled out.

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By Mark @ Israel, July 3, 2010 at 7:31 pm Link to this comment

It seems that the problem in Afghanistan is a hopeless case. If Gen. McChrystal who has been incompetent in dealing with the problem is replaced by another not-so-competent general, then we can’t expect that there will be any solution. Hopefully, it will not make matters worst.

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By berniem, July 3, 2010 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

The reason we haven’t made the “corrupt, unpopular, and undemocratic” government in Afghanistan functional is because it is modelled on our own corrupt, unpopular, and undemcratic government here at home! And those of you who can’t figure out why it took Rolling Stone to expose McChrystal, all I can say is that you haven’t paying attention. Civilian control of the military only applies if said civilians are understood as the corporations who may now be said to enjoy civilian “personhood”; our duly elected “government” is nothing more than a front organization that ensures suitable laws are enacted to legalize whatever the corporatocracy wishes. Of course, if any legislation is passed interfering with corporate prerogatives, the SCOTUS is there to squelch any such heresies! My great fear is how long will it be before the likes of Rolling Stone, Link-TV, The Nation, Harpers, among others become too annoying to the powers that be and start becoming victims of the “Free Market”?

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By Peter Knopfler, July 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm Link to this comment

THE WHOLE WAR IS A SHAM A BLACK HOLE THAT SUCKS UP LIVES AND LOTS OF MONEY: Rolling Stone was correct to turn over the Rock, and discover Stinkin thinkin! Great journalism, now lets get the heck out of Afghanistan, go home and redue Americas infrastructure, roads bridges dams etc. A Trillion Dollars spent for nothing! Wake up America and stop paying taxes!

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By John, July 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If the prez truly cared about Rolling Stone, he would have pushed to ban naked credit default swaps after all that stuff Matt Tiabbi has been writing about.

Perhaps he only cares about those things he knows the masses can comprehend.

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By 3Eric3, July 2, 2010 at 11:16 am Link to this comment

There is another point we have to consider about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that is the needs of the military-industrial complex.  In many ways, the military-industrial complex is like the oil industry.  They keep selling us the idea that we cant’ live without them.  Especially now with the high unemployment rate.  Soon you will see a frontal assault on so-called entitlements (safety net programs for the poor, the old, and the young)and no mention of corporate welfare, the enormous military budget and, if we really want to get serious at addressing our deficit, raising taxes on those who can best afford them.  No, the only problem in this country according the the right wing spin machine, are the poor, the old, and the young.  Is this a great country or what?

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By Aarky, July 2, 2010 at 9:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with the few posters who suggest that this article makes an absurd connection between McCrystal and his staff’s sarcastic remarks and Afghan policy. I believe that Petraeous has been coaching him from behind the curtain for a long time, including all those public exhortations for more troops. Did that make him so over confident and arrogant that he didn’t offer his resignation to the Prez? There were two reported quips that came back when a reporter asked him if he was going to resign? the first was, “As If” and “No, you know me better than that”. That recent report about billions in cash being shipped out of the Kabul airport will probably have a bigger impact on Afghan policy than McCrystal getting canned.

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By gerard, July 2, 2010 at 9:44 am Link to this comment

The free press (as represented by Rolling Stone in this case) might be better at “calling the shots” in Afghanistan than the Pentagon with its trillion-dollar investments in death and destruction.

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By omygodnotagain, July 2, 2010 at 8:10 am Link to this comment

The only reason we are in Afghanistan is that Pakistan is a nuclear armed Muslim country. Why doesn’t the media and the politicos admit this..
And So what if it is… India is, North Korea is, so is Britain, France and Israel
the real questions start with in whose interests is this war being waged.

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By Trailing Begonia, July 2, 2010 at 7:28 am Link to this comment

So, would you rather that FAUX News call the shots?

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By Eric, July 2, 2010 at 7:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You can’t blame the messenger for bringing the truth.  In this case, Rolling Stone did a truly patriotic deed for Americans.  The other problem and one that needs to always remain in the back of our minds is, if Karzai negotiates with the Taliban the Taliban carry a lot of baggage from their past behaviour.  They went after other tribal groups with the intent of genocide.  How do you bring peace to an area that would bring in the old fears?  The real problem was W. Bush.  He decided to go to Iraq instead of stabalizing Afghanistan.  I’m sure oil had nothing to do with it.

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By anomar, July 2, 2010 at 5:54 am Link to this comment

Rolling Stone as investigative journalism doesn’t bother me.

The fact that the major media are all in corporate hands does.

This article is absurd. 

Especially, considering the name of this site.

Get it together.

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By tronski, July 2, 2010 at 5:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The author of course expected us to glimpse the irony in his title—without the RS piece the general would still be there, wouldn’t he—but most important is our complete neglect of spending 33 billion more dollars on a stupid war, certainly as stupid as Vietnam if not more so, while people in this country are desperate and going down economically. The issue has nothing to do with the advertising for why we’re there, to save America or because of 9/11. It’s the same BS from the past 100 years, the need to establish Amerika as the NUMBER ONE power in the world, baby, and better believe it, maybe we come knockin’ on yo’ door! (And that means you, Iran, in particular, and don’t you fohget it, honey). Arrogance, I believe it’s called, and it is our undoing. Time for Amerika to wake up!

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By kerryrose, July 2, 2010 at 4:43 am Link to this comment

It’s pretty simple.

If Rolling Stone is the only press that can get a story, then I guess they call the shots.

Corporate MSM kisses butt, and fears controversy.

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By PatrickHenry, July 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment

The Taliban are nothing more than Afghani Republicans.

It’s refreshing to see some semblance of a “free press”.

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By David Ehrenstein, July 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm Link to this comment

“Of course the Mormons had nothing to do with 9/ll”

But they had PLENTY to do with Prop 8.

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By gerard, July 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment

The bizarre disarray in our Aghanistan policy is truly shocking.  Some officials want to do this.  Others think something else might work better. Still others are convinced that no kind of force will work. 
  Some want to admit defeat; others can’t bear the idea of even making a compromise agreement. 
  Some blame Karzai and the warlords.  Others blame Islam for “jihadism” and that amorphous group “the Taliban” which according to this article seems to have the upper hand with a lot of the people there.  Why?  I read somewhere it’s because they do a lot of social service work—food, clothing, shelter while we are serving up bombs from drones and bullets from soldiers, kicking in people’s doors and using torture to get information.
  We are a huge, egotistical, rich, relatively educated, “modernized”, powerful nation. They are a small, loosely associated country of mountain tribes and clans with little access to education, trying to survive in very meager circumstances, predominantly without modern conveniences (except opium poppies). The gap is stunning—and shameful, if you look at it in terms of any kind of human justice.
  It’s like 48 or so of our States suddenly deciding that, because of their backwardness, their religion, their resources (whatever) the State of Utah, because it is run by Mormons who are bigamists and send young people into middle class neighborhoods, recruiting membership, carrying The Book of Mormon and riding bicycles, are “trying to destroy our way of life,” and must be blasted by a US “coaiition” army for six or eight years, “brought into the modern world” and “forced into democracy” and “private enterprise” so that they can be like us?
  Of course the Mormons had nothing to do with 9/ll—but then again, neither did the Afghanis or the Taliban. But what if the Mormons had mountains full of precious metals and owned the only place in the world where salt was easily available?
  The confusion I set out here is only a little more wildly improbable than our reasons for killing ourselves and others in Afghanistan.

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By T. A. Madison, July 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

“War is just a racket.  A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people.  Only a small inside group knows what it is about.  It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. 

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else.  If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight.  The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns six percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent.  Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. 

I wouldn’t go to war again as I a have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers.  There are only two things we should fight for.  One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.  War for any other reason is simply a racket. 

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to.  It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism. 

It may seem off for me, a military man, to adopt such a comparison.  Truthfulness compels me to.  I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps.  I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General.  And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. 

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time.  Now I am sure of it.  Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service.  My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups.  This is typical with everyone in the military service.” 

~Major General Smedley Butler (1881-1940)
He twice received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for bravery given by this country and was the most highly decorated Marine in U. S. History

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By David Ehrenstein, July 1, 2010 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

I’ve heard this “that was deliberate” memebeofre. A high-ranking military officer doesn’t arrnage to have his career end in disgrace.

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William W. Wexler's avatar

By William W. Wexler, July 1, 2010 at 10:56 am Link to this comment

Do you mean the band or the magazine?

I’d go for Matt Taibbi as SecDef.

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By Hammond Eggs, July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

(McChrystal) was ousted because he allowed the public to find out

And that move was deliberate.  Now it’s Petraeus who can start eating Afghan shit three times a day.

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By Steve E, July 1, 2010 at 10:10 am Link to this comment

Yeah, it’s now official, The USA has not learned from it’s mistakes made in Viet

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By Mike3, July 1, 2010 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

When General Shinseki together with his staff was fired by Rumsfeld and Cheney I cannot remember such uproar. Actually, Rolling Stone did not fire Mc Chrystal the president did. But it does show that (as news) it’s more important than the Washington Post or the New York Times. Which means, that both the press and the military are F****** useless.

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By David Ehrenstein, July 1, 2010 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

Not cool and hip “FiftyGigs,” COMPETENT!

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By Inherit The Wind, July 1, 2010 at 8:10 am Link to this comment

Insubordination at this level IS fundamentally a public matter.  McCrystal is entitled to think anything he wants of his CIC. Soldiers have been grumbling and making up insulting names about their superiors since the weapons were stone and wood clubs. That’s no big deal. He’s not entitled to show that disrespect to make it impossible for the CIC to do HIS job.

The fundamental premise of this article is absurd.  Rolling Stone is not making policy. Rolling Stone is merely allowing an office to make an ass of himself.  McCrystal and his staff didn’t have to do that.  They CHOSE to make their disrespect public.  And, like a grunion on the beach, RS was there to scoop them up.

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By SusanSunflower, July 1, 2010 at 8:10 am Link to this comment

One of the things that has impressed me about “our military,” which like most Americans, I have always heard is the “most professional, best trained and equipped in the world,” is just how unprofessional and cowboy like they un-self-consciously appear, again and again in our media. Again and again, on Frontline—in the notorious Wikileaks Apache Helicopter video—in news items that Karzai finally “got” the US forces in Kabul to observe local traffic laws (apparently they were cowboying in Kabul as they had in Baghdad—running folks off the road, endangering pedestrians, general menacing of the civilian population from their Humvees) ...

I thought the Rolling Stone article—despite the fact that many of the most-incendiary quotes were vaguely attributed and did not issue from McChrystal’s lips—showed this rotten juvenile behavior extends to the upper ranks of our Afghanistan force.

This sort of cowboying is basic to the two-steps forward one-and-one half steps back “progress” we seen. Ditto, we complain about corruption, while we (and/our our contractors, subcontractors, etc) still throw money at problems—as was also cited in the Majra reporting—$2000 for a child, $100-200 for a wall. I suspect that failure to meet deadlines also results in some attempted “throw more money at it” solution. (the cycle of bribery and extortion is self-expanding when such behavior is rewarded by capitulation).

The Holbrooke/Eikenberry versus Clinton/McChyrstal/Karzai divisions, whether some badly run good-cop/bad-cop ploy or genuine undermining of the latter by the forner speaks volume—particularly as it is ongoing and Karzai was just reelected (he’s our bastard, regardless and we bolster his impotence as we complain about his ineffectiveness—yeah, that’s a winner) We also undermine American popular support for the Afghanistan “mission” at a time when it is being ramped up—too fucking stupid for words, regardless at this point of how ineffective and corrupt Karzai—alternatives? solutions? the suggestion box is by the door.

It seems to become clearer that we are in Afghanistan to “save” Pakistan—a third war/occupation is likely be hard a hard sell after all these years.

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By FiftyGigs, July 1, 2010 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

“If the Rolling Stone piece had not appeared…”


Because the author wasn’t the least bit concerned
about Afghanistan. Articles about Afghanistan weren’t
selling, were they, Fred?

That’s why you now need a provocative headline
including the ultra-hip “Rolling Stone”—hey, RS,
do you REALLY turn paid-up subscriptions over to the
Collections Department?—instead of one explaining
why Afghanistan and Pakistan is “one of the most
sensitive arenas in which the U.S. has operated since
the end of World War II”.

The truth is Afghanistan fell “off the radar” because
Fred and the other media moguls took it off. Now,
it’s back, because Fred and the other media moguls
want to polish their “pretend” self-image as being as
cool and hip as the status quo Rolling Stone.

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By last_boy_scout, July 1, 2010 at 3:15 am Link to this comment

I actually support Obama’s decision. Military is a
military. All the civic statements about stress and
circumstances have nothing to do with the military
code and subordination. What McChrystal has done (in
a non-political sense) is a shame for any officer.

I also wonder if Obama is doing the right thing,
appointing the W’s man to what seems to be the most
important military post in the country.

Btw, given all this situation with McChrystal’s
retirement, Petraeus appointment and the whole shift
of the Afghan strategy, I wonder what would happen to
the MI-7 deal. U.S. military planned to purchase few
Russian utility helicopters, as long as they were
proved to be much more suitable and reliable in
Afghanistan, than the Blackhawks (and cheaper as

Senators Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala., ex D.-Ala.) and
Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), lobbying the interests
of Defense Solution group, however, questioned the
necessity of this deal (source —, having
offered to give the contract to some “good ole
American guys” rather than Russians with their
“doubtful democratic identity”. The decision-making
process should be up in the air by now. I kinda
wonder how it all would turn out.

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By diamond, July 1, 2010 at 1:46 am Link to this comment

Should US war policy be made by ‘Rolling Stone’? Gee, I don’t know. But since it’s presently being made by Krusty the Clown it can only be an improvement.

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