by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado
My reaction on reading reporter Michael Hastings’ nasty little expose, “Stanley Mc Chrystal: The Runaway General” in Rolling Stone was amazement over how a four-star general who was supposedly so intelligent could be so stupid as to permit a reporter to accompany him and his traveling staff to what was reported to be a drunken party in a Paris pub. Not that I necessarily disagree with all of the opinions expressed regarding the dysfunctional civilian team that President Barack Obama has put in charge of the stumbling Afghanistan campaign. Rather I wondered how anyone careless enough to let his guard down in the presence of a reporter, especially from a publication, which I wouldn’t use to wrap fish for fear of spoiling the fish, could possibly have made four stars.
The press may not be the enemy of the military, but neither is it its friend and confidant. Today’s embedded reporters are not the Ernie Pyles of World War II, eager to cast the military in the best light. Scandal makes better news than building schoolhouses and winning hearts and minds, especially now that the public is wearying of this interminable war.
Mc Chrystal deserved to be fired, less for what he or his staffers might have felt than for letting it all hang out. Did they think that Hastings would somehow glorify or dignify their views in his piece? Did they think that he was just one of the guys? Were they actually surprised when they were referred to in the article as, inter alia, a handpicked collection of killers, spies, political operators and outright maniacs who pride themselves on their disdain for authority? This is “Team America?”
No one, of course, should question the patriotism, bravery or military accomplishments of Gen. Mc Chrystal and his fiercely loyal staff, even if, in this instance, they behaved like participants at a frat party. They are warriors and they have to let off steam. When doing so, they don’t usually talk like choir boys. But not in front of reporters or in public, for that matter. For that, McChrystal deserves the blame. Four-star generals set the tone. They are no longer supposed to act like platoon leaders. Perhaps his judgment was dulled by the cumulative effects of insufficient sleep that he seems to believe is a virtue. Perhaps eating only one meal a day has robbed him of essential brain nutrients.
Gen. Mc Chrystal is the second Commander of U.S. and NATO Forces in Afghanistan to be sacked. For Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, it couldn’t have come at a worse time with public support for him and the war waning and our NATO allies bailing out. Or perhaps not. Perhaps Gen. McChrystal has done us a favor by calling attention to the deep divisions among those in charge of prosecuting this “righteous” war. For this to be the case at this stage of a nine-year war, Mr. Obama must take the blame. Without a civilian-military team reading from the same sheet of music, it will be Vietnam all over again. The confirmation process for Gen. Petraeus, Mc Chrystal’s successor, is the right time for a new assessment. What exactly are our objectives in Afghanistan? What constitutes victory? How will we know when we achieve it? What are the consequences of not achieving it? (Please don’t tell me that failure is not an option. This is no time for slogans or unrealistic “can do”.).Finally, are the objectives worth the cost in human lives and treasure, particularly when a majority of the people, both here and in Afghanistan, think we should get out?
Civilian leadership must answer these questions. If we are to continue to pursue the current strategy, then competent military judgment must determine the resources necessary for success and the time table for accomplishing it. It cannot be done on the cheap or reduced to compromises. Gen. Petraeus, who unlike Mc Chrystal is politically astute and tactful, needs to be candid and blunt with Congress and the administration about what it will take to achieve our objectives. Mc Chrystal asked for one-third more troops than Obama finally agreed to. If Congress and Mr. Obama are not willing to devote the full resources needed or to make the time commitment required, then we should declare our mission accomplished and commence an orderly withdrawal now. A majority of Americans already favor that. They are tired of a war that has lasted so long and cost so much with so little to show for it.
What are the consequences of withdrawing now? Afghanistan, its government corrupt and dysfunctional, will continue to host terrorists, just like it does now and probably will however long we stay. It won’t be the only Muslim nation to do so and we can’t invade them all. There are other ways to deal with terrorists and we have the technology to do it when required.
copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr
J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.