See Ya, Stan

June 29, 2010

Last week, Mr. Obama unceremoniously dismissed Lt Gen Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US military operations in Afghanistan. The reason publicly given was for insubordinate and cheeky remarks made by McChrystal and his inner circle in the presence of Michael Hastings, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine.

Although Hastings’ story, “The Runaway General” does recount some impolitic remarks by McChrystal and his staff regarding various members of the Obama administration, I do not believe they were Mr. Obama’s real reason for dumping McChrystal.

Read “The Runaway General” and you’ll learn that McChrystal is a Pattonesque figure—competent, irreverent, impatient, and most of all, naïve and intolerant of politicians. I believe it was the content of Hastings article, an incisive and pessimistic assessment of our presence and prospects in Afghanistan, that was the real impetus for McChrystal’s firing.

Hastings likens our involvement in Afghanistan to our misadventure in Viet Nam: an unwinnable encounter reminiscent of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The harder we hit, the more stuck we become, the more impossible it becomes to withdraw. The parallels to Viet Nam are more than coincidence:

  • Like Lyndon Johnson, Barak Obama inherited a military mess from a previous administration.
  • Like Johnson, Obama lacks the military savvy to prosecute all-out war.
  • Like Johnson, he also lacks the courage and common sense to get the hell out.
  • Viet Nam was run by a corrupt regime that milked American largesse to the maximum.
  • As in Viet Nam, the top-level men in Afghanistan are lining their own pockets, being careful to stash their money outside the country. They will hang on until either the Taliban or the Americans unseat them and then live out their lives in comfortable exile.
  • As in Viet Nam, the issues in Afghanistan are not freedom, democracy, or economic stability and growth. What is foremost in the minds of the people is getting rid of the “foreign devils,” whoever they might be.
  • The Vietnamese got rid of the French and inherited the Americans. The Americans supported a corrupt, pliable, inefficient puppet government. From the perspective of the average Vietnamese, life under the Americans was about the same as life under the French. Their country was occupied by a foreign army that might never leave.
  • Same in Afghanistan. The Afghanis got rid of the Russians with our help. (We supplied weapons and training to Afghani freedom fighters opposing the Russians. The freedom fighters, now known as the Taliban, ousted the Russians). Then, after 9/11, which had almost nothing to do with the Afghanis themselves, the country inherited American invaders who were looking for a needle in a haystack named bin Laden. We’ve been there ever since.

Afghanistan now has the dubious distinction of being the longest war in American history. Our nation’s only ‘blessing’ in this mess is that we’ve lost 1000 dead vs. 58,000 in Viet Nam.

I defy you to define what a “win” would look like in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal is gone because his boss couldn’t define a win either.