The “ambitious new strategy” they’re referring to is the one that National Security Adviser James Jones and his White House war wonks trotted out in March. It’s a compost heap of aphoristic piffle about how we’re going to disrupt terror networks, and establish stable democratic governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how we’ll get people all over the world to join hands on a love train “to actively assist in addressing these objectives.”
The strategy discusses “breaking the link between narcotics and the insurgency,” and proposes “crop substitution and alternative livelihood programs,” and focusing on “high level drug lords,” measures that have worked so well in South and Central America that illegal drug trafficking in the U.S. has all but disappeared. If we were serious about rubbing out the narcotics industry in the Bananastans we’d firebomb all the poppy fields, but we won’t do that. It might work, and then how would Stan the Man explain that after going through all the trouble of eliminating narcotics in the Bananastans we still have an insurgency there.
The new strategy—the one that Shanker and Schmitt label “President Obama’s new strategy”—talks about the Taliban, but it doesn’t discuss visions of “stepped-up attacks” on them. In fact, from the sound of his testimony to Congress, McChrystal plans to take the opposite approach. “The measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.” McChrystal also told the SASC that the Bananastan war is “winnable,” but he failed to mention how many shielded Afghans would constitute “winning.”
According to Shanker and Schmitt, the SASC’s approval of McChrystal’s appointment only came after Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, went to the floor to make an “impassioned plea” for “Republicans to allow the action to proceed.” “Republicans,” in this case, consisted of John McCain, who Pat Tillman’s mother accused of “playing dumb” about the cover up surrounding the circumstances her son’s death. But according to J. Taylor Rushing of The Hill, McCain supported McChrystal’s appointment. So what gives?
According to the Times story, Reid got a phone call from Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, who told Reid “that there was a sense of urgency that General McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night.” Mullen reportedly told Reid that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to fly to Afghanistan. The source of this information, as you might have guessed, was Harry Reid. Shanker and Schmitt put the waiting-by-an-airplane remark in quotations. That’s the first time I’ve noticed the New York Times make a direct quote from hearsay. I’m sure they’ve done it before.
The story contains another dicey Mullen quote: “Admiral Mullen said that he personally told General McChrystal that ‘he could have his pick from the Joint Staff. His job, the mission he’s going to command, is that important. Afghanistan is the main effort right now.’” I can’t tell for the life of me if Mullen actually said that to one of the Times reporters or if they got it from “Almost a dozen senior military officers” who “provided details about General McChrystal’s plans in interviews after his nomination.”
According to Shanker and Schmitt, these almost dozen officers “insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the effort, and insisted that their comments not be used until the Senate vote, so as not to preempt lawmakers.” I’m still trying to figure out why, if their comments couldn’t be revealed until after the Senate vote, their names couldn’t be revealed either. I’m also wondering how many senior military officers “almost a dozen” comprise. Three? One?
However many or few senior military officers it took to plant this story in the New York Times, the message got through. McChrystal “has been given carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates” including many anonymous “Special Operations veterans.” It will take a metric ton of research to discover when “Special Operations” became a proper noun. Maybe it happened in early 2007 when Tom Ricks gushed suds over how many one-armed pushups General David Petraeus could do.
Whatever the case, special operations has become to the new American century of war what airpower was to the old American century of war: a panacea that promises to reduce the horror of armed conflict to a tightly focused contest played out by living, breathing comic book characters against minions of evil, a struggle that the rest of us can more or less forget about because superheroes are taking care of it for us. Barack Obama named McChrystal to take over the Bananastan debacle, the Times collapsed on itself to make the general look like a two-eyed version of Nick Fury, Agent of Shield. An “ascetic,” they called him, “who is known for operating on a few hours’ sleep,” and who “usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness.” That story came from Elizabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazetti. Liz and Mark didn’t mention how many dozens of senior military officers told them that, nor did they postulate on how seldom McChrystal goes to the bathroom. How many dozens of permanent latrine orderlies would have to spill the beans on that score before the Times would publish such a figure?
As best I can discern, zero senior latrine orderlies told Shanker and Schmitt about the “corps of 400 officers” who will ably assist McChrystal in doing that voodoo that he apparently does do so well when he finally gets on that airplane he’s been standing next to for what, days by now, and soars off to his next tour of duty to unleash that “ambitious new strategy.”