Journalist Michael Hastings has given Rolling Stone magazine a graphic account of the arrogance, disarray and ineptitude that distinguish what passes for President Barack Obama's policy on Afghanistan. For those of us with some gray in our hair, the fiasco is infuriatingly reminiscent of Vietnam.
In blowing off steam to Hastings, NATO/U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his top aides seem to have decided that, at this low point in the Afghanistan quagmire, political offense is the best defense for a military strategy sinking from waist to neck deep. In interviews with Hastings, McChrystal and his team direct mockery at many senior-level officials of the Obama administration. For instance, one of McChrystal's aides refers to Obama's national security adviser James L. Jones as a "clown."
Members of McChrystal's inner circle also quote the general as saying he was "pretty disappointed" with an Oval Office meeting and describing Obama as "intimidated" by McChrystal and other generals. Commenting on the controversy Tuesday, Obama said McChrystal and his team had shown "poor judgment" but the President added that he wanted to speak with McChrystal directly before making any decision on firing him. That happened today, according to press reports.
Two administration officials who are spared harsh criticism from McChrystal's team are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who were considered key supporters of McChrystal's insistence last year that Obama boost U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to about 100,000.
In praise of Clinton, one of McChrystal's entourage told Hastings, "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review [last fall]." Another aide added, "She said, "If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.'"
As for Gates, McChrystal spared the big boss from criticism perhaps still hoping for support from the chameleon-like Pentagon chief, who will first want to check the surrounding foliage before selecting the best camouflage color. Yesterday, Gates was careful to leave his options open, as is his custom, and limited himself to saying that McChrystal had committed "a significant mistake" in handling the Rolling Stone interviews.
In Hastings's exposure of the backbiting over policy in Afghanistan, the bottom line is best articulated by a predicate adjective beginning with the letter "f" and ending with ""ucked-up."
Some variation of that vulgarism is used repeatedly by the macho McChrystal and the staffers who pattern themselves after him, whom Hastings interviewed at length. Hastings's copious quotes make it seem as if everyone but McChrystal and his merry men are responsible for the fecklessness on Afghanistan.
But their comments also betray a realization that their particular brand of can-do, cut-and-paste counterinsurgency has brought what Thomas Henry Huxley defined as tragedy; namely, "the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."
McChrystal and his supporters have failed miserably and they know it. But they lack any measure of being gracious -- or honest -- in defeat.
Worse still for McChrystal is the fact that his arch rival, retired Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, now ambassador to Afghanistan, has been proven correct "beyond reasonable doubt," so to speak, in challenging McChrystal's adolescent views regarding how to turn the Afghan mess around.
Last November, Eikenberry told Washington that McChrystal's whiz-bang counterinsurgency strategy was nonsense, and that the President should look beyond a military solution.
Anyone with a modicum of experience can now see that it was Eikenberry who had it right during last year's policy review. The texts of two cables he sent to Washington in early November were published in the New York Times. (For more on Eikenberry-McChrystal, see Obama Ignores Key Afghan Warning."
The Rolling Stone article is also strike two for McChrystal's insubordination. His first strike came last fall when his recommendation for 40,000 additional troops was leaked to the press. He also publicly dismissed a more targeted approach toward attacking al-Qaeda terrorists reportedly advocated by Vice President Joe Biden.
The leak of McChrystal's recommendation came well before Obama had decided on a course of action, but the timely disclosure cornered the President, who didn't dare push back against his generals and remind them about the U.S. principle of civilian control of the military.