Calhoun’s Cannons for June 25. 2010
“. . . A penny for the Old Guy”
T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
I understand. His war’s going badly, his men are getting killed in greater and greater numbers, and with every mistaken drone strike that takes out another wedding party a thousand clan members in a country of Hatfields and McCoys rise up as new enemies. It’s a tough job. Impossible, really, to nation-build in a corrupt, fundamentalist-ridden, narco-state, run by tribal war-lords, a country that not even Alexander The Great managed to subdue. Or the British. Or the Russians.
And maybe he and his small adoring wannabe staff of groupie-Aides have watched 300 too many times -- “This . . . is . . . SparTA!” – in between running 7 miles a day and eating like an anorexic runway model. It’s the warrior’s ascetic aesthetic. Way cool. I understand.
But Rolling Stone? That magazine’s always been bold and edgy and with Mat Taibbi’s recent breathtaking takedown series on the little piggies of Wall Street, that is the last magazine anyone in a position of power should sit down with to share a bottle of booze and have a gab fest. The story that results will surely rip your head off and hand pieces of it to you in 12 point type.
And a . . . general? A four-star one at that? Gossiping and sniggering with cronies, all dissing their civilian bosses like a 7th grade Mean Girl cat-party? What was he thinking?
Apparently, this was nothing new for General McBlabby, who used the press and very public venues before to break the chain of command and let the world know that he disagrees with civilian policy and that only he and he alone has The Way to solve the unsolvable. And if his civilian bosses aren’t listening to him, well, he’ll just up the ante in a way that can’t be ignored. After all, he’s . . . General McCrystal!
Which makes me think that maybe it’s time that we institute a new rule: Mandatory weekly attendance by ALL elected officials and government appointees and military brass in some sort of 12-step program, one designed to help people Get Over Themselves. Perhaps then we wouldn’t see this constant star-fall of bloated egotists blown off their lofty perches and crashing and burning all around us. It’s getting so the public can’t go outside nowadays without a hard-hat due to the constant rain of falling politicos and now a four-star general.
On the other hand, there was speculation that McCrystal had gone all Colonel Kurtz and was way, way up the dark river. Lord knows it would be understandable in the Mad Hatter Kingdom where killing al Qaida and Taliban allied with al Qaida has now morphed into killing plain old hard-core, bat-shit crazy Taliban who throw acid in the faces of young girls attending school, to killing angry run-of-the-mill Afghan patriots who only ally with the Taliban in order to get foreigners out of their country, joined by Pakistani-supported fighters sneaking across the border to play a deadly dual game for their own purposes. It’s all turned into a nightmare stew in a failed state run by tribal thugs. Dark river, indeed.
The President decisively settled McCrystal’s hash by removing him. He’s free now to go on the lucrative rubber chicken lecture circuit, get a fat book contract, and enjoy a luxurious retirement, even though it is a shame such an outstanding career ended so badly. Afghanistan is not only a human graveyard, it’s also the graveyard of careers as well as nations.
As General Petraeus will likely find out when he takes McCrystal’s place. Petraeus wrote the playbook McCrystal was using: COIN, [Counter Insurgency] a form of district by district “nation building” that can be costly to American soldiers and at this point is not going well in a country that (unlike Iraq) never really had a “nation” to build on in the first place. And if COIN is bogged down now, it remains to be seen whether the new General or his civilian bosses will have the time and will to figure out that Afghanistan is not Iraq and be able to change policy quickly enough to avoid a growing disaster.
One thing is for sure, Colonel Petraeus, a Spartan in his own right, will not be talking to Rolling Stone.