Monday, October 26, 2009

Stan McChrystal’s Flying Circus

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander in Afghanistan, has put on quite a show of insubordination in the past month or so in an attempt to cram his escalation plan down the throat of the America public. He has waged open information warfare in the media, right wing and otherwise, against President Barack Obama. I wonder how much longer Obama will up with it.

More to the point, I wonder if he can stand up to it.

The main thing to remember about McChrystal is that he’s part of the “King David” Petraeus court, and Petraeus is now a de facto Praetorian governor as head of Central Command (CENTCOM). McChrystal was his handpicked choice to replace Gen. David McKiernan, who apparently didn’t spend the night in Petraeus’s tent often enough.

About halfway through Sept., media leaks suggested McChrystal might resign if he didn’t get his way on the Afghanistan escalation. Then he leaked his grim assessment of Afghanistan to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post that warned the mission in Afghanistan would fail if he didn’t get more troops assigned there.

He did his 60 Minutes gig, a puff piece designed to make him look like a thoughtful, sensitive superman (he barely eats or sleeps, he runs six miles every morning, and he’s a great guy). In the 60 Minutes infomercial he cried that since he took command in Afghanistan he’s only talked to Obama once. That’s how things are supposed to work; Petraeus is in between Obama and McChrystal in the military chain of command, something you need to use in the military to avoid rampant chaos. Petraeus, of course, is used to ignoring the chain of command. It barely existed in the Bush/Cheney administration.

As commander in Iraq, Petraeus consistently went behind then CENTCOM chief Admiral William Fallon’s back to get what he wanted directly from the White House. The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the Middle East assassination team that McChrystal ran as a three-star, appears to have been taking orders directly from Dick Cheney, who as vice president had no legal standing in the military chain of command at all. Journalist Seymour Hersh called the JSOC “an executive assassination ring.”

McChrystal has gotten a near total pass on his involvement with the Pat Tillman cover-up, as well as for his involvement in torture. This guy is used to getting away with anything and everything he feels like doing. No wonder he doesn’t care what his boss, the president, thinks about him.

At a speech to a war-centric think tank in London, McChrystal derided Vice President Joe Biden’s proposal to adopt a low footprint counter-terror campaign. Obama apparently took McChrystal to the woodshed over that, but didn’t seem to do much good.

A Dexter Filkins’ October 14 New York Times Magazine article “Stanley McChrystal’s Long War” was an even bigger piece of war pornography that the 60 Minutes infomercial was. “Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal stepped off the whirring Black Hawk and headed straight into town. He had come to Garmsir, a dusty outpost along the Helmand River in southern Afghanistan, to size up the war that President Obama has asked him to save. McChrystal pulled off his flak jacket and helmet. His face, skeletal and austere, seemed a piece of the desert itself.”

Filkins is gargling on McChrystal’s precious bodily fluids. He has turned into a bigger camp follower of McChrystal than Thomas E. Ricks has been of Petraeus.

McChrystal flew in unannounced to a NATO summit and sweet-talked Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen into endorsing his cockamamie counterinsurgency plan.

The biggest problem with McChrystal’s surge plan is that won’t work, any more than the surge in Iraq did. As Boston University professor and retired Army officer Andrew Bacevich notes, Iraq “is bizarrely trumpeted in some quarters as a ‘success’ and even more bizarrely seen as offering a template for how to turn Afghanistan around.”

Afghanistan is a far more complex problem than Iraq, and Iraq is plenty complex. Gen. Ray Odierno, now commander in Iraq, says the insurgency there may go on for another 15 years. The insurgency in Afghanistan may go on for another 50 years. As Bacevich says, the war there is one “we can’t win.” I couldn’t agree more.

That suits the long war cartel just fine. As tax dollar rip-offs go, it’s as good as the bank bailout. Defense contracts for all my Facebook friends!

McChrystal says job one in Afghanistan is to protect civilians, yet we keep killing them, and we’ll continue to kill them. Among the harshest untruths of our counterinsurgency doctrine is the myth that you can separate the civilian population from the insurgents. You can’t. Insurgents are not formal military forces who leave their families and deploy as major maneuver units. They live where they fight; they have nowhere else to go.

Our war on terror never really had much to do with terror. The neocons, who wrote the template for the foreign policy collision with the brick wall of destiny that we are presently on, merely wanted to turn America into a 21st century version of ancient Rome. Like Rome, we are about to become captives of our Praetorian Guard, our military elites, the likes of Stan McChrystal and his mentor Petraeus and their puppet boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As renaissance political scientist Niccolo Machiavelli noted, the ascendency of the Praetorian Guard caused the fall of Rome. As he noted in The Art of War, the Praetorian Guard became “insolent and formidable” and “put many emperors to death and then disposed of the empire as it pleased.”

We’re at a perilous point in the American experiment. Unless Obama can get control of our Praetorians, our republic will become, once and for all, a militaristic oligarchy. That would sadden our founders no end.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Excellent commentary today sir, as usual.
    I agree that this military take over needs to be stopped and soon. We are in danger of becoming an oligarchy of military and the banksters.
    Is that going to be how the republic ends? The banksters and the military running the show, with no input at all from the people? We sure look to be headed for a very bad end if the "elected" leaders don't start using the Constitution and the laws to put these generals in their proper places.
    Just my 2 cents on this.

  2. Oscar Romero1:54 PM

    "McChrystal derided Vice President Joe Lieberman’s proposal" What a curious slip.

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    2:00 PM
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  4. What makes the Obama situation with the military -- let's call it the Praetorian danger -- more pressing than the one faced by President Kennedy?

    I recognize that you did not claim it was. But I'm wondering if it is. It might have been the case that Kennedy faced critical difficulty controlling his subordinates in the military including the CIA.

    Alas, this subject is never analyzed or even mentioned on the endless timid History Channel shows about JFK's assassination such as the one on my TV today.

    @Ballance: Quit your spamming and get on topic please.

  5. Today's Praetorians are more dangerous than JFK's because the new guard, Odierno, McChrystal, et al, have taken their rivalry with their Commander in Chief to the next level by adding the aggressive use of information channels against the president. It was kept behind closed doors in the old days. Today it's brazen.

    Now, I am not a great student of 20th century military history. I don't know much about JFK's relationship with his subordinates in the military. It just seems like JFK and the CIA didn't hit it off too well.

  6. Anonymous12:46 AM

    McCrystal is no MacArthur. How hard is it to fire him?

    Truman would have fired him. His insubordination is so damn obvious.

    I'm from Australia and when I look at these American Generals with all those medals on their chests. They're like walking christmas trees. Did they really earn them?

  7. There is another serious and very scaring spin off-effect of the USA wars i Asia and Africa, which Americans and/or American leaders seem unaware of. That is the neo-nazification of Europe. We are again experiencing nazies marching in our streets over here.This trend has intensified and right-wing extremism is a fast growing movement here now, following the Wall Street crasch with the unemployment rate increasing because of it.

    More and more people over here believe that all the refugees from The Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, coming to Europe due to the wars in these areas, are occupying the jobs that ought to go to Europeans, and they also believe that the governmental costs for all these unemployed refugees, and we are talking about miljons here, are causing the cuts in our well fare systems that we are experiencing these days all over Europe. People are also increasingly afraid of a muslimification of Europe. We hear then, an echo of the ideas from the thirties, but this time the target is mainly the muslims and the Islamic culture.

    So the political future of Europe is not a promising one for the moment, mainly because of the USA wars.

  8. Anonymous7:23 PM

    What is worrisome is that the US military in which I was raised still had a number of professionals who had been junior officers during WW II.

    I am dismayed that these guys did not stand up to the militarists in 1963.

    But, Obama has powdered princes from Versailles who accepted their training in perpetual war during the closing days and have never made the mistake of thinking differently than their future bosses, the already retired guys making money off perpetual war.

    If the US kept up in Vietnam it was because the domino theory was plausible.

    The current theory of denying training sites in the hills of Helmond is pure blither.

    The front line of defending the US and UK is not the Hindu Kush, that is malarky.


    They can train outside Mecca and Medina if they want...........

  9. Great point, Loggie, about looking forward to the retirement career in the MIC.


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