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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/25/10

No more "brilliant" Generals, please

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If you're familiar with General Stanley McChrystal's involvement in covering up the circumstances of Pat Tillman's death or the increase in the number of Afghan civilians killed by U.S. forces under his watch, you might have reacted as I did to the news of his forced resignation: "Like convicting Al Capone of tax evasion," I thought.

McChrystal, of course, was forced to resign after the publication of a report quoting him and members of his staff making comments that were disrespectful of civilian members of the Obama administration. Our corporate media, with characteristic shallowness, has chosen to focus on the most gossipy aspects of Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings' picture of McChrystal and his inner circle, but Hastings goes much farther than gossip, providing a devastating critique of McChrystal's "Counter-Insurgency" doctrine, (or COIN, as insiders like to call it.) McChrystal is (or was) the primary proponent of COIN, a doctrine that emphasizes the role that civilian deaths play in generating support for an insurgency. McChrystal describes this as "insurgent math - for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies."

The idea that an occupying army generates its own resistance is one that finds broad support among the peace movement, which draws the logical conclusion that more soldiers = more killing = more resistance, and so the proper number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is zero. General McCrystal, looking at the same equation, came up with 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan, a number later reduced by President Obama to 30,000.

And that's the fascinating thing about General Stanley McChrystal: An obviously intelligent man (Hastings preferred adjective is "brilliant") who can assess a situation, be perfectly aware of all of the side effects, drawbacks and pitfalls of what he his doing, and still drive the car over the cliff.

Consider just one of McCrystal's attempts to rewrite the equation to "more troops = less killing = less resistance." Hastings reports that soldiers in Afghanistan have been issued laminated cards with McChrystal's "rules of engagement", intended to limit civilian casualties. Pfc. Jared Pautsch shares this bit: "Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force," and then asks: "Does that make any f*cking sense?"

No, Private Pautsch, it doesn't. But let's give credit where it's due: The General's laminated cards are just an example of a brilliant man trying to reconcile two irreconcilable facts, to create an occupying army that is simultaneously There (because we need more troops to fight the insurgency) and Not There (because more troops increases the insurgency.) And if that still doesn't make any sense to you, then you're just not as "brilliant" as General Stanley McChrystal.

This belief that clever men can make 2 + 2 = 5 is shared by the man who just fired General McChrystal. It was President Obama who gave a fine speech in Cairo explaining how American arrogance and military adventurism has succeeded in alienating the Muslim world, and then followed up with an acceleration of American arrogance and military adventurism, tripling the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and ramping up U.S. drone strikes on Pakistan.

This isn't the blithe ignorance of President Bush, who would send our troops into harms way with casual assurances that they will be greeted as liberators. No, in President Obama and General McChrystal, we have men who can describe in precise detail just how much hatred we will be generating if we send in the troops - and then send in the troops anyway. It turns out there's really not much difference - no difference that matters, anyway - between the two approaches, either to the troops or to the people whose country they are occupying.

In his Rolling Stone report, Hastings captures this quality, shared by Obama and McChrystal, when he describes the West Point speech in which Obama announced his plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan:

On December 1st, in a speech at West Point, the president laid out all the reasons why fighting the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea: It's expensive; we're in an economic crisis; a decade-long commitment would sap American power; Al Qaeda has shifted its base of operations to Pakistan. Then, without ever using the words "victory" or "win," Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, almost as many as McChrystal had requested.

In short: Here are the many reasons why escalating the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea; and now I will escalate the war in Afghanistan.

I've had enough of brilliant Generals (and brilliant Presidents, for that matter.) It turns out there's one thing worse than a leader that leads you steadily into disaster, and that's a leader who leads you steadily into disaster while describing, in abundant detail, just how disastrous things are going to be.

Speaking for myself, all I want in a commanding General is a guy just dim-witted enough to think the way out of Afghanistan might be under that red, blinking sign marked "Exit."
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Steve Burns is Program Director of Wisconsin Network of Peace a Justice, a coalition of more than 160 groups that work for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.
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