Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rogue Warrior?

Reading the Rolling Stone piece on General McChrystal, a PDF version of which was for a time at this link, but has now disappeared*, I got that feeling you get when channel surfing, and end up on one of the myriad reality shows that pry into a family's private life. For those of a more literary, and/or Catholic bent, it felt like a low intensity analog of the predicament that Augustine's friend Alipo fell into as he attended gladiatorial games in Rome.

I had the strong feeling I should not be watching or reading the goings on, but nevertheless did. All along I asked myself the same sort of questions I ask myself when I run into those reality shows: Don't these guys realize that they are being watched, recorded, written about? Don't they realize that the embeds are from Rolling Stone? Wasn't there a pre-embed meeting of some sort discussing what would be said in front of the Rolling Stone dude?

All the political deftness of a sledgehammer. This flap makes General Macarthur look like a master 'diplomatist' vis-a-vis his civilian leadership. Whew!

The general and his staff, opened up, to understate things. Among the opinions expressed:

President Obama seemed intimidated by military brass at his first meeting with all his commanders, and at McChrystal's second and one-on-one meeting with Obama, the President engaged only in a photo op and appeared to be under informed about McChrystal himself. In general the President doesn't give McChrystal much time, and he now regrets voting for him.

Vice President Biden's counter terror plan would lead to "Chaosistan", he's an accomplished political operator, and the butt of a bad pun.

Sen. McCain and other politicians visit, talk with Karzai, and then criticise him on Sunday talk shows. That's not helpful.

Ambassador Eikenberry is jealous of McChrystal's position, and resents being effectively 'under' him, or out of the power loop having not been appointed as a 'viceroy' of Afghanistan as he believes he should have been. Instead, a Brit was put in the position.

Eikenberry thinks Karzai is not an effective or legitimate partner, and consequently our continued reliance on him puts the COIN strategy in great danger of failure. McChrystal thinks this is 'unhelpful'.

Richard Hollbrook is smart but incompetent, and holds on to his job only because the administration is afraid he'll write a 'tell all' book if he is replaced.

Secretary of State Clinton backs McChrystal 'to the hilt.' He likes her.

The story of McChrystal's life and career is also told in the piece, his Special Ops background, experience in Iraq, role in the Tillman mess, his bravery, and his difficulty in selling COIN. In regard to the latter, the writer makes abundantly clear that he believes COIN is a fraud, and cites a few expert opinions to that effect. All in all the story is pretty typical fair for Rolling Stone, peppered with F bombs, S bombs, some from the writer, some the salty language of his subjects.

This is a mess on so many levels, but one in particular should worry. The apparent lack of elementary judgment here borders on the incredible. McChrystal must have known that Rolling Stone has an agenda, template or narrative regarding U.S. wars, and Afghanistan or Iraq in particular, and will use disgruntled military officer's opinions to further that agenda template or narrative. The sympathy they show for their subject is tempered toward that purpose. Surely McChrystal knew this. That raises the question: was this in fact a lapse in judgment, or a purposeful move in a political game?

That raises another issue that has recently been, for lack of a better term, 'festering.' It also explains why I feel like I'm watching one of those reality shows.

This sort of public airing of disagreements with civilian command is bad form. It happens far too frequently. Such outbursts will either be portrayed as bravely speaking truth to power that needs to be replaced, (as during the Bush years) or as the actions of a loose cannon who himself should perhaps be replaced (as this piece seems to portray). But the fact remains that it is inexcusable. The "revolt of the (mostly retired) generals" during the Bush years was wrong, and this present bit of blustering is wrong.

The growing trend, now becoming damn near default, amongst higher echelons of the military, the intelligence community or the diplomatic cadre, to run to the media, be it the Washington Post, the New York Times, or Hippy Lettuce Weekly, in order to air disagreement, in hopes of forcing policy change, or settle political scores is unseemly, unprofessional and, in military settings borders on insubordination, while certainly setting bad precedent for junior officers.

All these higher echelon need to remember some basics they should have already learned. Being a maverick is good. Disagreement is the father of good strategy. Be trenchant, and fight like hell for your position with all due might and mane. But, go through channels, keep it in house, salute and do your damn job once the decision has been made. If things are so egregiously bad, resign, then state your reasons for doing so. That's the moral course of action. And the retired folks need to remember they set an example as well.

And, while on active duty, keep your voting record to yourself!

McChrystal should probably be relieved for this. Shame too, because the article makes clear that he is brave, and does care tremendously about the men under him.

*Looks like the article is HERE, at least for now

UPDATE: Here is the article from the Belly of the Beast itself, Hippy Lettuce Weekly