In 2006, Newsweek dubbed him "a rising star" and one of the "Jedi knights who are fighting in what [Vice President] Cheney calls 'the shadows.'" The particular Jedi knight being touted to the skies was Army General Stanley McChrystal, then running the Pentagon's super-secret Joint Special Operations Command. And such language only multiplied, when, in 2009, he was put in charge of the Obama administration's "surge" in Afghanistan, which would reach 100,000 U.S. troops.
How could you blame the reporters, since they were, after all, in love. No wonder they wrote about McChrystal and other leading U.S. military commanders in what I described at the time as a "mix of sports lingo, Hollywood-ese, and plain hyperbole." (Admittedly, McChrystal would soon have to resign his Afghan command after he and his fellow officers were quoted in Rolling Stone saying none-too-kind things about then-Vice President Joe Biden and other Obama administration officials.)
Here, for instance, were Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times writing in the typically admiring tone of the moment about McChrystal soon after he took charge in Afghanistan. He was, they claimed, "an ascetic who" usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness" [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists" [He is] a warrior-scholar comfortable with diplomats, politicians and on (and on) they and their peers went. And that was just a taste of the way the mainstream media liked to describe America's losing generals in those years.
I'm quoting, by the way, from passages I quoted in 2010 in a piece I wrote for a striking book Nick Turse put together, with an unforgettable title that, unfortunately, no one other than its contributors had any intention of remembering: The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan. (And yes, even then, some of us were already referring to that country as "the graveyard of empires.")
Sometimes I wonder what that all-American world of forever wars would have been like if anyone who truly mattered had been paying attention to figures like Turse (or, for that matter, to TomDispatch) back then? But honestly, who listens to you when you're a crab of the first order and they're in love? And love is still a Washington reality or do I mean irreality? Oh sorry, I was only thinking about attitudes toward the military-industrial-congressional complex, not political parties otherwise eternally at each other's throats. Republicans and Democrats agree on just one thing: that they adore the very same military and its generals who haven't been able to win a single conflict this country has launched since 2001 and, of course, the weapons makers who are so happily part of the package. The result: "defense" budgets for which the sky is always (or do I mean never?) the limit.
As Nick Turse suggests today, when it comes to that complex, it simply doesn't pay to be right (though it does pay, big time, to be eternally wrong). If only we could truly wave goodbye to all that, but no such luck and no one should be surprised. After all, don't they say that love is" well, blind? Tom
Was the Afghan War a Schell Game?
Getting It Right Is Always the Wrong Approach When It Comes to America's Wars
By Nick Turse
I waited almost three months for some acknowledgement, but it never came. Not a bottle of champagne. Not a congratulatory note. Not an email of acknowledgement. Not one media request.
Authors wait their whole lives for I-told-you-so moments like these. But mine passed without accolades, awards, or adulation.
Being way ahead of the pack is supposed to bring honors and rewards, isn't it? Imagine the response if, for example, a writer had predicted the 9/11 attacks.
In fact, one more or less did. "I conceived of Blowback written in 1999, published in 2000 as a warning to the American public. It was: you should expect retaliation from the people on the receiving end of now innumerable clandestine activities," TomDispatch regular Chalmers Johnson recalled of his blockbuster book in a 2004 interview. "The warning was not heeded" But then after 9/11, when, all of a sudden, inattentive Americans were mobilized to seek, at least on an emergency basis, some understanding of what they were into, it became a bestseller."
Johnson had been ahead of the game by a year and was celebrated for it. In 2010, I published The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, a collection of essays and articles highlighting the futility of that conflict and the need to end America's involvement there. This summer, the arguments that other contributors (including Johnson) and I made finally carried the day. "Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan," President Joe Biden announced on August 31st. "I give you my word: With all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision, and the best decision for America."
It may have been the best idea, but it wasn't an original one. And yet, Biden never mentioned my book. Or offered me cursory acknowledgement. Or admitted that he was at least a decade behind the curve.
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