You Talk A Mite Too Much, General

I am all in favor of the White House and the military being at odds over policy and politics. I have this notion that the elected civilians need to remind the officers that in our country, at least, the elected civilians are in charge. It’s that respect for the concept of democracy deep within my little cowboy heart that gets alarmed whenever I sense that the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are too much on the same page.

A military that forgets its place and decides that it should make the decisions on where to fight comes too close to a dictatorship to protect a democracy. There are far too many countries run by Generalissimos, Supreme Commanders and Sergeants, countries whose people have been disappeared, tortured and imprisoned because they don’t share the enlightened vision of their military.

The recent history of the United States illustrates just how important it is that the civilian authority are in charge.

During the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the top military were aghast at Kennedy’s unwillingness to risk war with the Soviet Union by invading Cuba. After Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev found a way to stop at the brink of nuclear catastrophe, both saw more clearly than ever a mutual interest in preventing another such occurrence. This led to a sustained back channel dialog from which the JCS were excluded, and of which they were highly distrustful.

“When all that you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” The military approach to conflict is to effect a military response, to use the tools of war. However, the defenders are not in charge of the republic. If they were, we would be in a perpetual state of war. The military would be used for more than defense; it would be a tool for expanding the empire. We would be preemptively striking against countries that might, in the future, mean to harm us. As we all know, this is not what the United States is all about. We are a peaceful, freedom-loving people who only attack to defend ourselves and our allies’ interests.

In Iraq, for example, we have fought for seven years and three months to prevent the terrorists from invading the United States. Since the start of the Iraq War, there have indeed been no invasions by the terrorists and so the strategy is working. There have been some foiled terrorist attacks on our soil, but the terrorist on the plane to Detroit and the terrorist in Times Square bungled their attacks because of our presence in Iraq. This is a simple matter of reviewing cause-and-effect, people.

In Afghanistan, we are there for a different reason. We sent our troops there to unseat the Taliban, a truly horrific organization of misogynists. These men find any excuse that they can to kill or disfigure women for violating societal norms that keep women in their place. Women under the Taliban’s government were not allowed to see gynecologists because they would then have had to disrobe before a male that is not their husband. Women were not allowed to be doctors. Girls under the Taliban were not allowed to attend school, to learn to either read or write. Schools for girls were burned with children inside them. Girls on their way to school were splashed with acids to permanently disfigure them, to teach them and the women around them that learning is only for boys and men and that their purpose is solely to bear and raise children for Allah’s glory. The Taliban clearly needed to be ousted.

We have also been in Afghanistan for other reasons. We have been there to assist in creating a democracy, a western-style democracy to restore Afghanistan’s rich parliamentary history. We removed the Taliban, but now what? The Afghanistan government is not in control of their country seven years later. Our military is asked to keep things in order until a freedom-respecting government is in place and in control. And our leaders do not know what it will take to achieve such a goal.

I think it is clear that a military mission in Afghanistan is not able to strive for much more than temporary truces, respites that will only last as long as our military is there being asked to surge and strategize indefinitely. How can our generals be asked to do what no other world power has ever been able to do, how can our military subdue Afghanistan? We can’t and we shouldn’t expect them to do so.

General McChrystal has a big mouth. He and his drinking buddies openly mocked the civilian leadership (their bosses) to a reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine. But that is not the problem. It is the reason that McChrystal’s resignation has been accepted by President Obama, but it is not what he is truly guilty for doing. His cadre told the truth about Afghanistan:

McChrystal’s closest advisors speak openly in the article that they do not believe the war in Afghanistan is winnable. Here is how McChrystal’s Chief of Operations told Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings that the war in Afghanistan is going to end: “‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win’ said Major General Bill Mayville, ‘This is going to end in an argument.'”

As Hastings writes: “So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war.” And that is what key figures in the military have in mind, notwithstanding the president’s commitment to begin withdrawing US troops in July of next year. According to a senior military official in Kabul: “There is a possibility that we could ask for another surge of US forces next summer if we see success here.”

Another surge? Without a clear exit strategy from Afghanistan – and 96 Members of Congress are demanding one by co-sponsoring legislation sponsored by Jim McGovern in the House – senior military leaders are conducting operations in Afghanistan as if escalation, not withdrawal, could very well be in the cards. And why not? McChrystal backed the administration down before, why not again?

This makes a vet with head trauma feel better

This makes a vet with head trauma feel better

Obama fired McChrystal and people applaud, and say that Petraeus is the great choice to replace him in Afghanistan, to turn things around and get some victory going out there in that quagmire that is starting to look increasingly like Vietnam.  It is an unwinnable war, which is something that the military likes because they get to keep on fighting and it keeps them from getting bored. The patriots like it because it gives them more reason to cheer on the troops and put yellow ribbon magnets and stickers on their cars.

We aren’t supposed to allow the military to dictate policy.  After eight years of a Bush/Cheney administration that was more than happy to drop bombs and drag our allies into war to protect us from people who “hate us for our freedom,” we had expected a president who would work towards ending our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and we are not seeing that happen. Instead we are seeing renewed calls for more, more, more money and troops to fight a war with no clear objective.

I am not a fan of McChrystal by any means.  He thought he was the tail that could wag the dog, to tell the President how high to jump. I do think that he is not in charge any more in Afghanistan because he and his drinking buddies spilled the beans about an unwinnable war.

You talk a mite too much, General.

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6 Responses to “You Talk A Mite Too Much, General”

  1. June 24th, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Alden says:

    Interesting that McChrystal is probably the only US General who understood that civilians shouldn’t be shot, and that random collateral damage wasn’t acceptable. Interesting also that the RS article contains no anti-Obama quotes from McChrystal. I think you have a point, that the main issue is an open disagreement about Obama’s strategy.

    I think he was removed because Obama is incredibly insecure, and doesn’t want anyone to know that he is not really in control. I’m sure that Petraeus thinks even less of Obama than McChrystal does, but there’s no chance he will let some kid from RS hang out in his office. He’ll play politics, at least in public. They’ll go back to bombing civilians, and all will be well.

  2. June 24th, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Interesting comment re: Obama from someone who “likes” Sarah Palin on FaceBook. Sister Sarah may not be insecure, which is an illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  3. June 25th, 2010 at 8:34 am

    NewEnglandBob says:

    “It is an unwinnable war, which is something that the military likes because they get to keep on fighting and it keeps them from getting bored.”

    This is a nonsense statement, painted with a brush that is broad by miles.

  4. June 25th, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    What would the Generals and Majors do without war, Bob?

  5. June 25th, 2010 at 9:53 am

    NoAstronomer says:

    “It is an unwinnable war, which is something that the military likes because they get to keep on fighting and it keeps them from getting bored.”

    I’m sorry, that statement is so totally bogus and flawed I don’t really know where to start.

    To answer your question above directly: prepare for the next one. It may well be true that Generals and Majors like war. It’s almost certainly true that they often times lack the ability to determine whether a war is winnable or not. But to say that an unwinnable war is something that the Army wants is just bizarre.

    The circumstances of McChrystal’s firing in fact puts the lie to your statement. Remember he’s been sacked because he did, in fact, say the war is unwinnable. Perhaps you thought he sounded happy about that?

  6. June 25th, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I am not saying that “The Army” likes unwinnable wars, but there is a sizable group that lacks a distaste for war. Yes, it is a broad brush, similar to the theme of “Dr Strangelove.”

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