Sacking McChrystal: Testimony to a Lost War
On August 10, 1997, in the New York Times Magazine, David K. Shipler headlined, “Robert McNamara and the Ghosts of Vietnam” saying:
Looking back, one of the key war architects admitted “how dangerous it is for political leaders to behave the way we did” about a war that shouldn’t have been fought and couldn’t be won.
In his 1995 book, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” former Defense Secretary McNamara wrote:
“….we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
In 1965, he knew the war was lost and said so, telling Lyndon Johnson: “I don’t believe they’re ever going to quit. And I don’t see….that we have any….plan for victory – militarily or diplomatically,” spoken as he began escalating dramatically, knowing the futility and criminality.
Johnson was also uneasy, telling his close friend, Senator Richard Russell, that he faced a Hobson’s choice saying: “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” the former being impeachment if he quit, the latter certain defeat that destroyed him. After three heart attacks, he died a sick, broken man, four years after he left office, two days before Richard’s Nixon’s second inauguration, a man soon to face his own moment of truth, omitting what should have brought him down and his successors.
America’s Longest War – As Unwinnable as Vietnam, Reshuffling the Deck Chairs to Delay It
McChrystal’s out, Petraeus is in, New York Times writers Alissa Rubin and Dexter Filkins announced the switch June 23, headlining, “Petraeus Is Now Taking Control of a ‘Tougher Fight,” saying:
He’s taking over to execut(e) the strategy (he engineered) with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal….directly responsible for its success or failure, risking the reputation he built in Iraq,” not a winning surge, but by buying off Sunni tribal chiefs and key Baathists not to fight, a much tougher strategy in Afghanistan, the traditional graveyard of empires, defeating Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn, the Brits and Soviets among others, America likely next, but will Petraeus be around when it happens.
Waging a War on Terror
September 11, 2001 was the pretext for a global one, a so-called “just war” to defend America against “outside enem(ies),” manufactured to appear real – “radical Islam,” including the Taliban, attacked on October 7, 2001, four weeks after 9/11, planned months in advance in anticipation of what then CENTCOM Commander General Tommy Franks called a “terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event,” arousing enough public anger to launch it.
It’s America’s longest war under a president saying he’d end it as a candidate, then in office tripled US forces from 32,000 – 94,000, but promised to begin exiting by summer 2011. He just reneged, saying:
“We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights,” adding that “we said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility,” meaning America is there to stay, by August at a planned 132,000 force level (and as many or more civilian contractors) under Petraeus, stepping down from his CENTCOM post to take command, perhaps unleashing greater than ever lethal force “until the insurgents are genuinely bloodied,” the preferred New York Times strategy in its June 25 editorial, raising Gideon Polya’s December 2009 body count of 3.4 million “post-invasion non-violent excess deaths” and another 1.1 million violent ones – genocide by any measure.
Under McChrystal, it was death squad terror, mostly against civilians, what he was trained to do as head of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), what Seymour Hersh called an “executive assassination wing” post-9/11, what Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings called “a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs,” Petraeus perhaps mandated to escalate with greater than ever counterinsurgency (COIN).
Yet America’s longest war is unwinnable, according to McChrystal’s Chief of Operations, Major General Bill Mayville, saying: “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument,” already a defeat, US polls showing growing numbers against it, what Ray McGovern calls “Vietnamistan,” the analogy needing no elaboration, what looks like Obama’s last stand, Petraeus his best shot according to some. For others, it’s mission impossible, what no one in Washington will accept so war rages on without end.
Also the cost, Iraq and Afghanistan topping $1 trillion, or $1 million per soldier annually, plus tens of billions more in black budgets (one estimate saying over $56 billion a year) with no end of spending in sight, including hundreds of millions to corrupt warlords according to a June congressional Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled, “Warlord, Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the US Supply Chain in Afghanistan.”
Its findings show “a vast (Pentagon supply chain) protection racket run (through Host Nation Trucking contracts) by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others,” undermining Washington’s war-winning strategy by “funding the insurgency.”
The investigation learned the following:
● mainly warlords protect America’s supply chain, contracted by Host Nation Trucking (HNT);
● they run a protection racket – specifically, “extortion, bribes, special security, and/or protection payments;”
● the latter, in turn, go to insurgents to ensure safe passage;
● corrupted Afghan officials extort millions, the largest NHT private security provider saying it has to pay $1,000 – $10,000 monthly in bribes to “nearly every Afghan governor, police chief, and local military unit (through) whose territory supplies pass,” HNT reporting the same thing;
● Afghanistan’s logistical nightmare undermines DOD’s counterinsurgency (COIN);
● the Pentagon lacks effective oversight of its supply chain and security contractors protecting it; and
● it ignored warnings about protection racket payments and the effects on its operations.
In addition, Afghanistan’s location and environment present enormous challenges. The country is landlocked, the terrain unforgiving, including desert sandstorms in summer, floods in spring, impassible mud at times, and mountain roads leaving no room for error. Summer heat reaches 120 degrees. Winters are usually snowy and frigid cold. Avalanches often block the only tunnel linking Kabul to the north. Routes can stay closed for days. Poor infrastructure, including few paved roads, creates more hazards, exacerbated by easily planted and concealed explosives along supply routes as well as regular insurgent attacks – “the harshest logistics environment on earth,” according to one US official on the ground.
According to General Duncan McNabb, head of US Transportation Command, “….what I worry (most) about at night (is) our supply chain….always under attack,” compounded by all the above obstacles and limited processing capacity at distribution hubs. Iraq, by comparison, is easy with its “decent infrastructure,” manageable terrain, and access to the Persian Gulf.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D. MA) said the Pentagon “would be well served to take a hard look at this report and initiate prompt remedial action,” affecting “a good portion of a $2.16 billion contract’s resources into a corruptive (fog of war) environment,” lacking oversight to fund warlords and insurgents, what David Petraeus now confronts as commander, a man New York Daily News writer James Gordon Meek said (on June 24) the Taliban “endorses,” calling him a wimp after his fainting spell before Congress, no smarter than McChrystal, his firing a “divine victory,” according to its spokesman, in a war no US president or general can win.
A Final Comment
After nearly nine futile years, Afghanistan looks less winnable than ever, one of many signs the rising NATO death and injury toll, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman downplaying it saying:
“We have more forces in Afghanistan, ISAF and US forces, than at any other time. The level of activity is high, so as we conduct our operations and engage with the enemy, the opportunities for hostile contact are going to go up.”
In fact, escalation strategy was stability. Instead, spiraling violence intensifies, what Petraeus won’t likely curb better than McChrystal, sacked not for deriding his superiors, for his leadership, growing popular resistance, and for losing an unwinnable war, one more Afghan deaths can’t win.
Nor can a change of command under a politically ambitious man, perhaps contemplating a 2012 run against Obama, using war as the way to the White House, win or lose in his new post. If successful, his popularity will soar. If not, he’ll exit early and blame a failed administration policy, saying as president he’ll turn it around, what won’t matter as long as voters buy it. Excuses can come later. For now, McChrystal’s out. Petraeus is in, Obama saying, despite setbacks and growing public doubts, his strategy won’t change.
In his Rose Garden announcement, he said: “We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum,” what he told West Point cadets last December 1, announcing the surge, then adding:
“After 18 months, (they’ll) begin com(ing) home….our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest fears but the highest of hopes,” a goal more distant now than ever after nine futile years, waging war against peace – the supreme international crime, to be escalated under a general perhaps believing a greater body count leads straight to the White House, replacing the current incumbent who ordered it.
A final note: On June 18, the State Department awarded Blackwater (now Xe Services) a $120 million Afghanistan “diplomatic security” contract for its Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif consulates. The firm has another $200 million one to train Afghan forces, and works in country for the CIA, Pentagon, diplomatic corp, and by providing protective services for visiting Washington and foreign officials.
Yet Blackwater is notorious for its lawlessness, for rewarding and encouraging its field employees to destroy Iraqi life, its founder Erik Prince implicated in murder, his top deputies facing indictment for numerous crimes, its Iraq and Afghan operatives charged with killing noncombatants, the company involved in other scandals, the State Department nonetheless telling CBS News that:
“Under federal acquisition regulations, the prosecution of the specific Blackwater individuals does not preclude the company or its successive companies and subsidiaries from bidding on contracts.”
Blackwater at times gets no-bid ones, its horrific record a plus in obtaining them, including a potential new assignment worth up to $1 billion, to train the Afghan National Police. It’s been bid on, not yet awarded, but who more qualified than the world’s most powerful, well-connected mercenary army, notorious for operating below the radar with no accountability, and being handsomely rewarded for its lawlessness, much the way the Pentagon takes care of its own, and how Washington works overall.
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