After the brilliant Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings, President Barack Obama has no valid option other than to fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Not because of the dozen outrageous anti-administration verbal gaffes which have been reported, but rather because this definitive piece on the “Runaway General” establishes the man in charge of the Afghanistan misadventure as an egotistical flake whose half-baked Afghan war-fighting strategy should never have been endorsed in the first place. It is McChrystal’s policy of counterinsurgency (COIN) that must be fired more than the man who exemplifies its irrationality.
It was the 66-page McChrystal Report that provided Obama with the justification for escalating rather than ending the decade-long Afghanistan war: winning the hearts and minds of people who have no intention of opening either to our tender mercies. They don’t like us or trust us and probably think we smell funny and our food tastes awful. Such profound cultural differences are what make the world an interesting place, but the continuing arrogance of centuries of U.S. imperial policy insists that the rest of the world wants to be just like us.
More important, winning the affection of Afghans and turning their society into a model of Western-style secular democracy have nothing to do with the original purpose of the Afghanistan invasion — to react to the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaida has moved on to safer havens than the Taliban could provide, most significantly in Pakistan, and “victory” in Afghanistan no longer has a serious U.S. national security purpose. We are embroiled in a civil war — indeed, according to the McChrystal Report, several such wars — and all we are accomplishing is backing one gang of hopelessly corrupt and venal warlords against another.
The Taliban are not necessarily the worst of the lot, and their former allegiance to al-Qaida has been effectively severed. There was nothing in the McChrystal report to indicate that the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan are now anything but homegrown in their preoccupations, and the appeal of the insurgency is a matter of local grievances. As McChrystal stated in his original report: “Afghans are frustrated and weary after eight years without evidence of the progress they anticipated.”
The Rolling Stone article makes clear that the frustration has only increased with each civilian casualty and poignantly captures McChrystal’s own dilemma of attempting to hold down that death toll without increasing the risks for the troops that he dispatches:
“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 [Hamid] Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. ‘Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem,’ says Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan. ‘A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we’re picking winners and losers’ — 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. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.”
Hats off to Rolling Stone for doing the tough, on-the-scene reporting that the mass media increasingly avoid. The lionization of McChrystal in much of the reporting which ignored his egregious role in the cover-up of torture in Iraq and his key role in distorting the facts in order to politically exploit the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman, a true hero, has been a journalistic low point.
No better was President Obama’s embrace of this man who has now betrayed him. One hopes that Obama now responds to the serious concerns this article raises about his failed policy and not merely to the barbs from the general he once so admired. An indication that he will not do so was provided Tuesday by his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who relayed that the president will say “it is time for everyone involved to put away their petty disagreements, put aside egos, and get to the job at hand.” If that job is tantamount to anything but quickly getting out of Afghanistan, they might as well keep McChrystal in charge, for he remains a true believer in sinking deeper into the quagmire.