Stanley McChrystal

The growing sense of isolation in the military

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In a recent interview, retired General Stanley McChrystal stated that he believes America should re-institute a military draft, ensuring that all citizens share the burden of war.

I agree with McChrystal and so did Thomas Jefferson: “Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

In today’s America the idea of a draft is politically untenable.  Many citizens feel the system is supposed to give something to them, but they are not required to give anything to it.  People who think this way call it “freedom.”  One could riff off Tacitus and say, “They made a democracy and called it freedom.”

The sense of community in America is dying, and I can attest that the sense of belonging in the military is a troubling phenomena.  The military is very separated from everyday America, and this is not a good thing.  It is a difficult experience to explain to someone who has never served in the military, but many many people feel very cut off from regular American life.  I can testify to this feeling.  When I first came in the Army and moved to Germany, I cannot imagine a more alienating experience.

The primary difference between today’s wars and the major wars of the past is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought by a much smaller percentage of Americans.  In fact, less than 1% of Americans serve in the military, whereas in WWII, 9% served. When you consider that women did not serve in WWII except as civilians, you can see that a very high number of men were in the military.

A difficult fact to ignore is that America has failed to defeat decisively any foe since the draft was abandoned in 1973.  Some can argue that Desert Storm was a decisive victory, but we had to go back and clean up the mess we left.  Americans no longer have a visceral feel for what it takes to win wars.  This fact drove me crazy in Afghanistan, where I saw a plethora of well-intentioned projects accomplish little.  As my friend, Dr. Scott Catino once said: “We’re throwing million of dollars at the insurgency and hoping it will go away.” Solar panels on the roofs of villagers which were stolen by insurgents and used to power bombs.  Million-dollar “justice complexes” abandoned. Yet the suspicious stares from the Pashtuns continues.  Does anyone believe a member of the military came up with the idea of solar panels as part of the war effort? I think not.  It was a Non-government agency (NGO) who thought that was a good idea, because their job is to come up with solutions that don’t involve killing people.

The increasing separation of people in the military is causing increasingly recurrent visits from what military people call “The Good Idea Fairy”.  The Good Idea Fairy is a font of well-intentioned ideas which are to be carried out by those of lesser rank.  These ideas usually involve taking a rather simple exercise of some sort and transforming it into a confusing, over complicated mess.

The Good Idea Fairy can flourish in places where the negative aspects of bad decisions are not visited upon the person who made the decision in the first place.  And since we have so few people who have served in the military and the number of elected officials who have served before beginning their political careers is growing smaller every election cycle, it seems trouble was inevitable

So now politicians can make decisions about a military in which they and perhaps their father never served.  Political and social ideologues push ideas and plans for the military having little real knowledge about how it will effect our ability to fight.  Women in the infantry is one idea that I’m sure The Good Idea Fairy would be proud of.  While there are women that serve honorably in the military, the Army and Marines prohibit women from serving in the infantry for what every military in the last 10,000 years has thought obvious reasons.  Not the least of which is a wanting physical prowess when it comes to fighting a war.  Watch the movie Restrepo and imagine a woman being in that environment for 15 months.

But winning wars isn’t what’s important to some about the military.  What’s important is the opportunity to push an agenda, to change society by infiltrating its most hallowed halls.  Thus, in 2013 we have women being admitted to the Army’s toughest school–Ranger School.   And every female failure at the school will need to be justified to high level rank.

This honest female Marine Corps Captain writes about her opinion concerning women in the infantry.  She says that even though she was an outstanding athlete in college, and is not in the infantry, her deployment to Afghanistan left her with permanent injuries.  She lost 17 pounds and her body stopped producing estrogen.  And she wasn’t doing half the physical work that a Marine infantryman does.

All of this leads to a growing sense within the military that the troops don’t matter.  Every decision is imposed without asking the people in the military what they think, or if they are asked, it doesn’t matter what they say.  This is what happened with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Surveys were passed around but the SECDEF made it clear before a single chad was punched: This is getting repealed.

Suicide rates in the Army doubled after 2004.  At that point some Army units were doing back-to-back 15 month tours.  And this wasn’t in areas of the world as sophisticated as WWII Europe.  It was culture shock with IEDs.  With so few Americans serving during this operational tempo, you’d think the Army could have done without the multi-million dollar studies that tried to explain the reason for skyrocketing suicide numbers.  But no.  The studies were again ordered by people who have never been there and barely even care to read about it.

It used to be that the very best served.  In WWII men had no choice, they went.  The entire will of a nation was brought to bear against the country’s enemy’s.  Now, our uber-professional Army can’t decisively beat a herd of toothless goat herders who know more about using fertilizer to make a bomb than using it to grow crops.  America simply hasn’t enough troops to make it work.

General McChrystal never had a chance

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Let us consider the following:

Stanley McChrystal is brought in to save a collapsing Afghan war effort. General McKiernan, the former man in charge and a man with 30 years of service to his country, is unceremoniously dumped. 

McChrystal was supposed to represent the new administration’s fresh start.

But wait.

McChrystal wants how many troops? We absolutely love Counter Insurgency, with its false promises (they’re false because they’re misinterpreted; watch how many Taliban get smoked under Patraeus–lots and lots) of winning the war by merely ordering our troops to smile while on patrol. Yes, yes, CI. But how many soldiers on the ground? 80,000 seems so…warlike.

No, General, you’ll get less than half what you say you need, and you’ll like it. We really only put you in place to show our fresh perspective to Americans. Out with the old, in with the new. And, just to keep you honest, we’re setting a timeline. 18 months.

In other words, General, we want you to do the impossible. And if you begin to falter, you’re such an easy political target. You’re a military guy afterall, and the Dems are in power. We know what that means, don’t we? We’ll make it look as if you stole those 4 stars you’re wearing. Sure we’ll throw you a couple of bones, talk about your brave service and sacrifice, then we’ll showboat for the media, tell them who’s in charge. Us. Well, us and the media.

Never mind that ambassador Karl Eickenberry was undermining McChrystal from the beginning. Eickenberry’s a civilian. He does what he wants. And he works for the State Department, the favorite department of the Dems.

Hey, we don’t care that the civilians weren’t working as a team with the military. It’s up to the military to work as a team with the civilians. We let McChrystal come up with a strategy and then threw in some civilians who wanted to do everything differently, sure. That’s not the point.

This is how things should be right here. Watch this video. This guy in the black suit knew who the boss was. He was a REAL soldier.

OK, I’m back. It’s no longer the thin-skinned, confused Democrat talking. It’s me, Magus. See, I agree with almost everything Karl Eikenberry had to say. But just who is it that’s not promoting team work? How should McChrystal feel if Eikenberry is sending classified letters to the White House explaining why McChrystal’s tactics are wrong? It’s been a patchwork war. We want Counter Insurgency, then we take away the tools needed for CI: time and lots of soldiers. CI wouldn’t be my choice, because Afghanistan is not important enough for the investment. But if I was a 4-Star, and the President said make it happen, I’d say Ok, now give me a decade and 100,000 troops.

We set McChrystal up for failure. The media is predictably piling on, like they do every time someone’s down, trying to make McChrystal look like an idiot. He was misused. He should have been directing Spec Ops to kill our enemies. Instead, we made a killer into a constable. Then we gave him half the cops he asked for.

And I stand by my prediction that–more than any other factor–Afghanistan spelled this administration’s doom.

Does locker room talk matter?

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You’d think that General Stanley McChrystal just crossed the Rubicon. When Julius Caesar took his legions across the river which marked a sacred boundary set by the Senate, he sounded the death knell of the Roman Republic.

Several people, including many very high ranking officials in the military, including Admiral Mullen, as well as civilian leaders such as Robert Gates concluded that the  Rolling Stone article displayed a threat to civilian control of the military.

Honestly, I find it hard to believe that Admiral Mullen hasn’t heard similar talk about civilian leadership from military men before. All it really is is venting. It’s well documented that US military personnel will bitch and complain about everything and then get on with being the best fighting force in the world. What thing of material value threatened civilian control?

If people only knew the things that are said in locker rooms. At the police department I worked at, some of the talk would have had lawyers lining up. But 99% of the cops went out and did their jobs honestly. It was masculine joking. The reaction to the article is exactly why military types don’t trust the media and politicians: They’re credulous, without humor and thin-skinned. Everything you can’t be and succeed in the military.

What I’m afraid of is that the reaction to this article will deter military officers from voicing disagreement. The more I think about the article, the more I realize the motives of Hastings. The very title of the article talks about “wimps in the Whitehouse”. That term is never used by anyone in the article’s body. The most scornful word–clown–is reserved for a former US Marine General, Jim Jones. If people think that the nickname, “bite me” given to VP Biden is a terrible thing, they’d be in for a shock if they heard all of the other stuff. And yet, Soldiers still go and risk their lives because that’s their duty.

The only thing I can say, is that locker room talk is best reserved for the locker room, not for journalists from left-wing magazines.

Stanley McChrystal

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There’s a saying in the Army: Only do what your rank can handle. It’s safe to say that if  4-Stars can’t handle something, nothing can.

When I first caught wind of the article in Rolling Stone, my first thought was: Why are Soldiers allowed to talk to journalists from Rolling Stone? I was absolutely astounded when I found that General McChrystal gave “unprecedented access” to Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings.

Reading the article, I immediately catch a whiff of burnt cannabis in the air, and a tone that can’t wait to rile up some muck. It reminds me to some extent of the works of another Rolling Stone journalist named Evan Wright of Generation Kill fame.  The style is slightly raunchy, almost in the Beat Poet genre. In revels in pointing out the basest aspects of human nature. The style feels obligated to quote only when the language is profane. And let’s consider the title: 

The Runaway General

Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House

Seems obvious that Hastings wanted to stir some people up. And he succeeded.

This is not to say that it is not true and an excellent piece of journalism. Afterall, even McChrystal has not denied the truth of the article’s content. And I must also commend Michael Hastings’ conclusions in regards counterinsurgency and the fact that he quotes highly regarded critics of CI, such as Douglas Macgregor.

But aside from the journalistic qualities of the piece, let’s think about the “outrage” that’s flowed from many in the press and resulted in McChrystal’s resignation.

First, the accusations of McChrystal being insubordinate are overblown. I can find nothing in the article that points to McChrystal making contemptuous remarks toward the President. On one occasion McChrystal does tell a subordinate that he found President Obama to be unprepared for a meeting and intimidated by the military. Few can doubt that President Obama may find the military slighty intimidating. Many people in the military find the military intimidating. If it was McChrystal’s opinion that the President was unprepared for a meeting, can he not say so to a subordinate when asked how the meeting went?

If people in the upper ranks of our military want to know what people really think in the military ranks, they should visit a bathroom stall on a military installation; the only place a Private doesn’t have to kiss ass is while he’s wiping his own.

But as the great line in ” A few Good Men” goes: “You can’t handle the truth!”

I’ve always been intrigued by Stanley McChrystal. I see a bit of him in myself; someone who’s a bit impolitic at times, but greatly values personal toughness. But I never thought that McChrystal was the right man for the job. We need someone a bit more intellectual, and Petraeus fits the bill perfectly. Actually, I can’t think of a military bill that Patraeus wouldn’t fit. If Patraeus is the wizard in the high tower, McChrystal is Conan with a bloody sword. Two completely different styles, but both effective in their own way. McChrystal seemed better suited for the black art of hunter–killer missions and as commander of JSOC in Iraq, he helped shatter the leadership of al-Qaeda In Iraq.

I support President Obama’s decision. He has the right to pull McChrystal for any reason, not just this. And when the President said: “I welcome debate but not division”, I thought he was spot on. McChrystal should have known better. Regardless of the motives of Rolling Stone, McChrystal gave them access and Hastings managed to find people who wanted to show off. No doubt McChrystal’s underlings thought they had a confidant in Hastings. But they’re still dumb.

So now the show is handed to the Master. The man who against so much doubt turned the tide in a collapsing Iraq. If anyone can turn Afghanistan around, Patraeus can.

If US plans counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, more troops are needed.

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Taliban fighters
Taliban fighters

Strategy drives military method. General Stanley McChrystal wishes to employ counterinurgency methods, protecting Afghan people and property from the taliban. The actual strategy that counterinsurgency is aimed at is not exactly clear to some.

Others promote counter-terrorism, which means less troop requirements and focusing on killing or capturing terrorists a opposed to focusing more on the populace’s safety.

If counterinsurgency is to work, we will need more help from NATO. Also, the countries that surround Afghanistan, such as China and India could help. They each have a vested interest–probably more so than the US–in ensuring that the Taliban does not spread extremism throughout the region. Remember, the Taliban is a local problem, unlike al-Qaeda which posed a global threat. I prefer the counter-terrorism option in this unsaveable country.

All of this begs the question of the necessity of counterinsurgency in Afganistan in ensuring US security. If we choose the counterinsurgency option and do not provide more troops, we will violate the military maxim of concentration of forces. The result will be more attacks on relatively weak and remote US forces such as occured in eastern Afganistan a few days ago. The attacks show sophistication. Some reports say that the insurgents lit the outpost on fire and that the heat from the fires decreased the effectiveness of thermal imaging devices on US Apache gunships attempting fire support for US troops during the early dawn raid.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters swarmed an Afgan police station, taking many policemen hostage, then, fighting from high positions with AK-47s and RPGs, attacked the US outpost, eventually breaching the secure perimeter. 8 US servicemen were killed along with two Afghan National Security Force members also died. The assualt was eventually repulsed. Some reports state that up to 700 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters took place in the attack, with the outpost defended by a scant 50 US and Afghan troops.