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June 22, 2010

Comments

I think he needs to be fired (or allowed to resign). Yes, that is a huge distraction, and it's a close call. But you just can't accept this type of disrespect, PARTICULARLY from someone who has a history of aggressively maneuvering behind the WH's back.

I think that's right.

Wait -- are you suggesting that us having a new counter-insurgency strategy won't lead us to a clean victory? Because that seems to be what I hear every year or so about Iraq or Afghanistan, and everything keeps getting fixed.

Actually, it will!

All they have to do is surge - again - in Afghanistan, or rather surge the surge on top of the surge, and then sparkle magic ponyland.

Obama should send McCain to Kabul so he can try out his Cut The BS Strategy.

Either McCrystal is out (just like MacArthur -- except that MacArthur actually had an alternative on offer, however misguided), or Obama's Presidency will never recover. Which probably irritates Obama more than just a little, since he essentially gave McCrystal everything that he asked for in Afghanistan. But he's got to fire him.

It needs to be remembered that the lesson you heard in childhood ("if you cannot say something nice, don't say anything at all") is an imperative in the military with respect to superior officers. And McCrystal just trashed it big time.

Problem is that firing him seems to run counter to Obama's entire MO. But I think it's necessary for him here -- just unacceptable on so many levels. And, more importantly, it will sharply limit the WH's power over military strategy if they let it go, IMHO

John Cole has a good point, but if it were me I think I would fire him or get him out of the way some other way. There are other competent generals in the Pentagon.

Civilian control of the military is the keystone of American democracy. It's the only condition under which we could possibly tolerate large, well-organized groups of men & women roaming around with incredibly powerful weapons paid for by the citizenry. So insubordination is not a joke, and among the high officer class it just cannot be tolerated even in what I agree is really a fairly mild degree. On top of which, McChrystal has already screwed up on this front and been reprimanded.

This was as true under Bush (or whoever) as it is now. Military officers can offer criticism through channels, or they can resign in protest, but they don't get to go to the media and make their case there. The one exception is when the government is doing something plainly illegal and attempts to remedy it through channels have failed, but there is no indication that that is the case here.

Part of me is wondering if getting fired wasn't McCrystal's plan here. Afghanistan clearly isn't proceeding along the lines that he projected, even though he was given the resources he asked for. Either the captain goes down with the ship, or he connives to get himself relieved of duty.
Either that or he's got a political agenda.

Regardless, Id like to see him get more than fired (since I think that's what he wants, or at least expects, from this stunt). Knock a star off of his sleeve and retire him.

Civilian control of the military is the keystone of American democracy.

I'd say "essential to" rather than "the keystone of", but yeah, the military is responsible to the democratically elected civilian leadership.

I'm not a McChrystal fan but he appears to be a sharp guy and an all-around bad*ss (and I mean that in a complimentary way). It's not, however, his job to get into the policy debate other than to provide an expert opinion.

The Vietnam parallels are getting eery. I see the techniques to build the same necessary right-wing narrative: when the inevitable less-than-hoped for results occur, the "stabbed in the back by evil/ignorant/disloyal civilians" is all set to roll out. And just in time for fall of 2012, too -- what a nice coincidence!

What I'd like to see is a Rolling Stone interview with some subordinate of McChrystal's in which the subordinate speaks contemptuously of McChrystal and his aides. It would be interesting to learn how the bad*ss general deals with that subordinate.

--TP

Gotta love the fact that the General and his subordinates dish in Rolling Stone. The counterculture and the military:together at last.

To a reporter, over plenty of drinks.

"What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans, man? That he had wisdom? Bulls#it!"

"I should have been a pair of caged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas."

For Cleek's sake, I hope President Obama forgoes the professorial deliberation on this and tears new ones for the General and his aides. I mean:

"No maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, fractions -- what are you going to land on -
one quarter, three eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialetic physics."

Fire the general.

And tell the cowardly Right, who have never lifted a hand to defend this country because of boils on their asses and deferments to go f#ck themselves.

Digby has a take on this that I think is also pertinent here:

No president can afford to let the military run roughshod over them. And yet, Democrats seem to have this problem fairly frequently, since Roosevelt at least, because the officer corps is rife with right wing Republicans who simply don't feel they shoulod have to answer to a DFH. It's one of the great underlying dangers of our political system and one which has, so far, been handled fairly deftly by each president who has confronted the threat . . . If McCrystal has any integrity he will resign and Obama will accept it. If he doesn't then Obama should fire him. This habit of running end runs around the president as he did last fall with his words in London and now this makes it imperative that he go.

And it's also imperative that the US Military get its act together. Something's gone very wrong when you've got a General and a cabal of backstabbing aides running their mouths to Rolling Stone Magazine. If they speak that way to the press, what in the hell are they saying to politicians and foreign leaders they deal with overseas?

And tell the cowardly Right, who have never lifted a hand to defend this country because of boils on their asses

As an aside, does anyone know if Limbaugh is still on Armed Forces Radio?

For Cleek's sake, I hope President Obama forgoes the professorial deliberation on this and tears new ones for the General and his aides

as long as we're talking about my sake, after he perforates the General, Obama should order all troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq immediately.

and then he should propose to cut the military's budget by 50%.

enough's enough.

Only positive I see about him staying is that (maybe) Obama can get his full-throated support (through words and actions) for the July 2011 drawdown (or maybe even earlier).

Otherwise, buh-bye.

Speaking as someone who is reconsidering his opinions on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the role of the US Military in general... Isn't this weird? I'm not very old (early 20s), so am I just too young to remember other conflicts between military and political leaders like this? (I'm guessing people will point to Vietnam.)

I guess what I'm trying to ask here is, how much of this issue is a new one. Is this a sign that our military's culture in general is changing? Or is this just the traditional response to attempts to scale down the military/actions the military is involved in?

There was some pushback from the brass on Iraq too - both before (Shinseki, Zinni) and during/after (Fallon).

It seems to be growing in frequency and boldness, however.

It is possible that Carleton has the right of it; that this was, in fact, an attempt to get fired -- perhaps in order to build a base for a (probably Republican) political career. If so, this suggests that McCrystal is ignorant of how that worked out for MacArthur, who (when he got himself fired) was already a man with a far greater and more widespread reputation than McCrystal. Or he thinks that this time is different somehow.

Well, if nothing else, it may get him off the hook for the fact that his strategy, even given everything he said would be needed, hasn't been working out. If he's fired, he can always contend that his successor messed it up, not him.

Kyle -

I'm 53. In my experience it's pretty unusual, and kind of a big deal, for the general in charge of US troops in an active theater of war to go on the record as mocking civilians responsible for policy related to that war.

By "pretty unusual" I mean I can't remember a similar example.

There are always folks in the military who don't think the civilian leadership "gets it", but at the level of somebody like McChrystal, they usually (and correctly) keep it to themselves. Certainly in the context of speaking on the record in a national publication.

For comparison, imagine Schwarzkopf going on the record to say, during Gulf I, that Bush I and Cheney were knuckleheads for not pressing on to Baghdad and finishing off Hussein. In the pages of Rolling Stone. With troops on the ground and under fire.

So no, it's not just business as usual.

this was, in fact, an attempt to get fired -- perhaps in order to build a base for a (probably Republican) political career.

If that's his game, I hope we see him debuting as a mall cop someday soon.

"And tell the cowardly Right, who have never lifted a hand to defend this country "

This is a little too general....

As some here may have realized, I am no great fan of the President. However, I will be even less happy with him if he doesn't replace McChrystal tomorrow, now, period. Even if I think he's right. that level of disrespect of the President is unacceptable.

Fire him.


I guess what I'm trying to ask here is, how much of this issue is a new one.

Abraham Lincoln got a lot of grief from his generals, in particular Joe Hooker, who told journalists that the situation required a dictator. Lincoln merely pointed out to him that generals don't usually get to be dictators without winning a battle, something Hooker had signally failed to do.

Some tension is inevitable. Wes Clarke's account of the Kosovo campaign, "Waging Modern War" is quite interesting.

looks like he done fired himself.

Personally, I should rather have been ragged claws, but there's no accounting for taste.


As an aside, does anyone know if Limbaugh is still on Armed Forces Radio?

http://myafn.dodmedia.osd.mil/AFNRadio.aspx

09:00 PACIFIC TIME U.S. MON - FRI
00:00 AP Newscast LIVE
03:00 Sporting News Radio Sports
05:00 Command Info
06:00 Rush Limbaugh LIVE

Well, since the spill, the claws were caged for safekeeping.

Also, quit confusing yourself with the Right I reference ... please.

That last sentence was for Marty .... whose ragged boils I know nothing of ....

Well, he could take the route of George B. McClellan: Be insubordinate, get fired (looks great on the resume), and then run for the presidency against the guy who fired you on an ANTI-WAR platform.

Maybe this time it will be different?

Posted by: John Thullen | June 22, 2010 at 03:28 PM

I love it...Rolling Stone playing Dennis Hopper to McChrystal's Brando.

Hollow men, indeed.

The Lincoln/McClellan contretemps might be dispositive.
McClellan never had enough troops/horses/mules/trains/guns/supplies/bullets/earthworks/support/whatever to mount an offensive. So he didn't. A frustrated Lincoln fired him, correctly.
McArthur was the opposite. Didn't he go public in favor of actually nuking the Chinese? Truman, to his credit, fired *him*.
McCrystal's (and his staff's) problem seems to be a simple lack of respect for the chain of command, and a lack of discretion to go with.
I generally agree with Eric that the war is unwinnable on its current terms. Shrub fncked it up for himself and his successor (it would have been just as bad for McCain - probably worse) by not capturing and destroying the AlQ leadership when he had the chance.

Thullen bait: Why do all these guys have names that start with "Mc"? Is there a subtext here?

Efgoldman:

Thullen bait: Why do all these guys have names that start with "Mc"? Is there a subtext here?

Before Thullen can jump in, let me just point out the simple fact that you can never trust a Scotsman. Oh, people go on about how evil and shifty the Jews are, or the African Americans, or the Italians ... and don't get me started about Russians or the Chinese. But man, you have to keep your eyes on the Scots. They can't even agree what a real Scotsman is like! I say, round them up, burn their kilts, and boil the lot in a great vat of haggis-infused broth.

I'd be happy to see the General removed from his current command and reassigned to practice his counter-insurgency expertise dealing with the insurgent separatists in Wasilla. Perhaps he can start by patrolling ANWR, on foot. I hear the insurgents are planning some kind of drilling operation there.

I must say, having read the Rolling Stone article, that I have a hard time seeing what all the fuss is about. If you see the article as part of a pattern, as Carlstrom does, then the problem is the pattern, not this particular article.

Regarding the Civil War examples, which I hadn't considered, I would point out that Lincoln's general stance on generals was "If you're winning, do whatever the hell you want", which is a very difference stance from the one we have today (not arguing it's a better or worse stance, just stating.)

Thanks for the very helpful replies, especially Russell. That leaves me with another question. I frequently hear from rightwing sources that Obama is mis-handling the war. What's the consensus around here? Obsidian Wings has always been my center-left outlet of choice, but I'm afraid I dropped out of politics for about a year, and don't have the time to track through dozens of old comment pages. I know Eric personally opposes the war completely, but what exactly is the end goal? Just pull out and let whatever happens happen?

Problem is that firing him seems to run counter to Obama's entire MO.

Actually, a fair number of generals and admirals have been fired since Gates took over at the Pentagon, both before and after Obama's election: notably McChrystal's predecessor, Gen McKiernan. (Another Mc!!)
See here:
http://attackerman.firedoglake.com/2010/06/22/mcchrystals-gift-to-biden/

Kyle, for myself, I'd say that the original decision to go into Afghanistan was not unreasonable. The execution left something to be desired, but the decision itself was not wrong. (Note that Iraq is a whole different issue. I'm assuming that by "the war" you just meant the Afghan theater.) The goal, again originally, was to deal with bin Laden's training camps and the leadership of al Queda.

By the time Obama came in, the original goal was pretty much moot. The training camps were gone (or moved to Pakistan). bin Laden and friends had likewise decamped over the border. What was left in Afghanistan was a running battle against various Afghan factions, including the Taliban (who had been running the country when we arrived). And supported (more or less) on our side by various other Afghan factions. As for the goal at that point, I'm not sure anyone has articulated a coherent one -- unless you count "getting out without losing too much face."

What Obama had there was a war with no good options. The one he selected as least bad was to try and push back the Afghan opposition long enough and far enough to let the Afghan government actually take charge and govern. And to do it fast enough to let us to at least start departing in 2 years. General McCrystal
said he could do that job, given certain resources, which he got. It hasn't worked out, for a variety of reasons.

P.S. I'd say that on average Obsidian Wings is closer to center-right than center-left. The only way the folks here could be seen as center-left is to assume that the current Republican Party is slightly center-right. That was true of the Republican Party arguably as recently as 1990. But today? Not on any definition of "conservative" that makes sense to me.

Today's Republican Party is a very different story. It would, from what I am seeing, denounce and eject such prominent leftists as Ronald Reagan -- at least, anyone else with his track record. I mean, how do you think they would react to someone who raised taxes, actually worked together with (and personally got along well with) lots of liberal Democrats, and rarely if ever went to church? RINO would be the kindest thing said.

What war has McCrystal actually won lately? (crickets) And he gets to undercut his boss?

I know Eric personally opposes the war completely, but what exactly is the end goal? Just pull out and let whatever happens happen?

I'm not sure this is entirely accurate. I'd say I'm pretty close to what WJ articulated: supported the war initially, feel that we have suffered massive mission creep, don't see any prospect for escalation, and favor a gradual disengagement.

I favor continued counterterrorism missions, as needed and on a limited basis (as that is certainly all that would be required in Afghanistan), but think that the strategy of treating the Taliban and al-Qaeda as inseparable is an enormous blunder that dooms any mission in the region.

Better to probe negotiated settlement with the Taliban, make known our position that hosting al-Qaeda would be perceived as an act of war, encourage coalition/power sharing, and then, generally, let the Afghans decided what Afghan politics/the political state will look like. I'm not opposed to maintaining some level of support for Karzai and his allies, but would have to analyze that in the context of conflict perpetuation and possible hindrances to negotiated settlements.

There is really no feasible alternative.

Today's Republican Party is a very different story. It would, from what I am seeing, denounce and eject such prominent leftists as Ronald Reagan -- at least, anyone else with his track record. I mean, how do you think they would react to someone who raised taxes, actually worked together with (and personally got along well with) lots of liberal Democrats, and rarely if ever went to church? RINO would be the kindest thing said.

Reagan raised taxes 7 different times. Grover Norquist would have run a primary challenger.

In terms of foreign policy, Obama's START treaty is a replica of Reagan's, and the GOP is having a tantrum about it. Not to mention that Obama's rhetorical opposition to torture matches Reagan's and, again, is derided by the GOP.

Further, the realists in Reagan's orbit are now in Obama's, whereas the neocons that used to criticize Reagan (for START, for engaging the Soviets, etc) are now absolutely dominating the GOP's foreign policy.

But man, you have to keep your eyes on the Scots.

Maybe I'm missing part of the joke, but I've always understood that Mc is predominantly Irish, and that Mac is predominantly Scottish.

Reading wj's last comment makes me wonder, given the resources we've expended in Afghanistan over the last 8+ years, how many times over we could have gone in and simply wiped out AQ in Afghanistan and paid off the Pakistanis to kick them out of Pakistan. And I intend "how many times over" not just to illustrate the scale of what we've spent in blood and treasure, but to address the somewhat dubious "but they'll come back after we leave" argument.

And I intend "how many times over" not just to illustrate the scale of what we've spent in blood and treasure, but to address the somewhat dubious "but they'll come back after we leave" argument.

We should consider something: our counterterrorism officials hope and pray that al-Qaeda "comes back" to Afghanistan if and when we leave.

The fear, and it's a legitimate one, is that they stay in Pakistan, where getting at them is much harder.

If they come back to Afghanistan, conducting armed raids and tactical missile strikes against them is far less complicated than doing the same in Pakistan.

Not to mention that Pakistan's relatively modern infrastructure offers much greater connectivity and other similar advantages of convenience.

Guess what: al-Qaeda recognizes this, and thus is in no rush to get back. We should only be so lucky.

wiped out AQ in Afghanistan and paid off the Pakistanis to kick them out of Pakistan.

Unpossible.

Pakistan's government :

- has essentially no control or recognized authority in the rugged Pashtun-majority north west provinces.

- has about the same amount of control over its own intelligence and covert ops agency, the ISI, which I understand to be rife with Taliban sympathizers.

So the government of Pakistan would be very happy to take our money and make any promises required to get said money, but is utterly incapable of carrying through on those promises (just as Karzai in Afghanistan is incapable of governing much of that "nation").

The root problem is that Afghanistan is not a nation-state, and never has been , and Pakistan is only slightly closer to being a nation-state.

We should get the hell out as quickly as we can, because there's no achievable mission other than killing lots of people who may or may not have shot at us first.

So the government of Pakistan would be very happy to take our money and make any promises required to get said money, but is utterly incapable of carrying through on those promises (just as Karzai in Afghanistan is incapable of governing much of that "nation").

You may be right about that, joel. But (pretend I'm writing this in late 2001 or early 2002) whether or not Pakistan's government has control now or can govern those areas, and whether or not they can trust the ISI, they do have a military, and we do have ways of finding out what's going on (without having to go in with our own troops). Or maybe we can just pay them off to let us go in, ourselves, with our own troops and intelligence and wipe out AQ just as we would in Afghanistan. I'm not the most politically astute guy, so maybe that's just not possible, either, if only for purely political reasons within Pakistan.

We should get the hell out as quickly as we can, because there's no achievable mission other than killing lots of people who may or may not have shot at us first.

I agree. My proposition was one of a do-over (which is impossible now regardless of whether or not it would ever have been possible), not a forward-looking proposition.

Think more about, if we simply assume we could have made little to no headway on the Pakistani front, it's a moot point, and the rest of the proposition holds. How many times could we simply have gone into Afghanistan and wiped out AQ with the equivalent of the resources we've now expended?

hsh: Your faith in the capabilities of our Army is touchingly naive.

The northwest of Pakistan is Viet Nam with bigger mountains -- our enemies would dissolve into the civilian population, and that same insular civilian population would unite to repel us, the foreign oppressors. We could "win" battles without end and never achieve any defineable victory.

Wiping out ill-defined "insurgents" who are indistiguishable from the general populace proved an impossible mission in Viet Nam, even when we fielded half a million troops. Your proposed incursion into the Pashtun homelands, with today's smaller force, would be much more difficult.

hsh: Your faith in the capabilities of our Army is touchingly naive.

Aw, shucks. Anyway, again, you may be absolutely correct. The only thing I'm wondering, in my admitted relative ignorance, is whether or not AQ, who are not primarily Pashtun, could have blended so well and would have been so well protected by the populace, whom we could have easily bought off, considering what we've spent. I'm not talking about going after the Taliban, but AQ.

Eric -

Thanks! That actually clarifies a lot that I probably missed. I read back about a month when I came back to this blog, but I clearly didn't go back far enough.

As always, my favorite part of this blog is the commenters. Tons of really helpful people here, and a surprisingly small number of trolls!

hsh :
You're right that AQ is possibly still more Arab than Pashtun, and Wahhabi-ism is not part of the Pashtunwali.

But in a land of nested family, clan, tribal, ethnic, and religious loyalties, our troops are not even Muslim, not part of the Umma, while almost all Pashtun have the traditions of Sunni Islam in common with AQ. I think they'd repel us as they've handily repelled foreign invaders for a millenium.

Why Kyle, I am deeply offended that you are not well-versed in my policy positions!!!*

*(actually, would pity you if you were)

;)

a surprisingly small number of trolls

That "voice of moderation" thing in the front page header has multiple meanings.

Why do all these guys have names that start with "Mc"? Is there a subtext here?

I am of Scottish descent. It is a troubling pattern. But it's broader than the "Mc" thing. It's the "M's". Martin, Milzoy, Mublius, Mon, Meb. All of them.

There's a martial, head-strong thread in Scottish history, and as an ethnic group it's over-represented in the American military for a variety of reasons. James Webb wrote a book, Born Fighting, on the Scots-Irish in American history that talks about some of the backstory for this.

I have a bookmark about a quarter of the way into the book and it's been parked there since before Webb became a Senator, so this isn't a review. But what I did read was interesting.

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