Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Know Thy Enemy, 1

The American media is all a-buzz and agog about Michael Hasting's long profile of General Stanley McChrystal which appeared yesterday on Rolling Stone, of all places. Tellingly, most of the commentary is by people who haven't read the article, and are relying on the few who have. As you'd expect, this ensures that the soundbites at either end of the article hog all the attention, and the substance gets lost in the excitement. There's lots of excitement, however, since the soundbites draw an image of McChrystal as a rogue general, insubordinate to the president, derisive of most politicians, a loose cannon who threatens the democratic tradition of civilian control of the military.

Cast that way, there's sense to calling for the general's departure. One hopes the president makes decisions in a calmer way than the punditry.

The oddest thing about the article is that it never says what the war in Afghanistan is about, who the enemy is beyond that they're called Taliban, and what is at stake. It tells that the war won't end with drama or parades, but it gives no inkling of what the world will be like so that we'll know it's over. Of course, one might say that's not the job of Mr. Hasting, who is writing about the general, not the war, but that seems a weak argument. The general is worthy of such a long article because of his centrality to the war.

This glaring drawback is a fundamental aspect of the war itself - the war that dare not be named, the war against the enemy who can't be there. I've written about this before, and will continue to do so, since the idiocy of this strategy is - in my opinion - probably the greatest weakness in the war effort, and therefore a major threat to humanity in its war against the Islamists who would destroy it. (There, I've said it). President Obama may bow to the politics of the matter and fire General McChrystal, or he may decide the general's flaws may be commensurate to his abilities and order him back to work. Either way, the history books will discuss Obama's leadership over this section of the war, not McChrystal's. On that point, Obama's adamant refusal to say what the war is about is of greater significance than the general's career.

The New York Times this morning offers yet another example of how deep-seated the refusal to recognize reality has become. It's a story about Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who has now admitted in court to trying to blow up Time Square, while making no secret of his motives. Not that the NYT accepts his word:

However, interviews with American officials suggest that Mr. Shahzad’s visits to Pakistan and the friendships he formed there were critical to his militant evolution. Mr. Shahzad seemed to lack “validation” from his family and work environment, finding it instead with “a bunch of like-minded brothers,” said an administration official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.

Mr. Shahzad appears to fit a pattern among young Muslims in the United States who have joined militant groups over the last year. In contrast to their predecessors — the 9/11-era jihadist leaders who framed their movement in religious terms — Mr. Shahzad and other recent recruits carry the attributes of “foot soldiers,” driven less by religious rhetoric than by personal bonds and their sense of obligation to the ummah, or global Muslim community, the American officials said.

Comforting, isn't it. Militants - never terrorists - dislike us and do bad things to us because we're not nice to their friends. True, the friends just happen to be Jihadis, but Jihad, as we all know, can be a positive struggle for human improvement, so that doesn't tell us much, does it.

Can anyone imagine Churchill, say, or Roosevelt, or anyone else, pretending their enemy was "chauvinists who are perverting the proud traditions of the German nation"? Or "Militarists who have hijacked the beauty of Japanese tradition"? Can anyone imagine the West winning the Cold War had it defined its enemy as "Misguided intellectuals who have imposed themselves on the long-suffering Russian people"?

I don't know enough about the Japanese, but the other two enemies were Nazism and Communism. Powerfully potent ideas which motivated armies of otherwise regular folks to engage in mass destruction and murder of tens of millions. That's what ideas do, sometimes: they motivate people, inform their actions, guide their behavior.

Here's the sort of idea which is informing the understanding of children across the Arab World these days. Pretend this isn't happening at your own peril.


Anonymous said...

re: one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter
Faisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam seeking to build a commemorative Islamic center near Ground Zero, when asked if he agreed with the State Department’s assessment of Hamas as a terrorist organization,

"Look, I’m not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question"
(as to McChrystal I side for once with Jeffrey Goldberg - after having read the Rolling Stone piece;) I've found as yet no pundit who laments the fact that the article describes one episode where the boots are not convinced by the general ...)

- I think this new "openness" of the military started with the Brits and there was some time ago a brouhaha around Admiral Fallon


but maybe from a broader perspective the best that can be said on the dominant/domineering openness-Zeitgeist comes from Gabriel Schoenfeld


AKUS said...

Bill Maher refers to the Times Square would-be bomber as "Fizzle Shahid"

AKUS said...

Just as a straw in the wind, look at this letter to Obama from Jon Voight, published in the right-wing Washington Times:

Dear Mr. President

Sérgio said...

Check the book "The tyranny of guilt", by Pascal Bruckner.

Bryan said...

I don't think there's any question at all about whether Obama will bow to politics and can McChrystal or not. At what point has Obama ever sacrificed politics for anything?

That being said, both sides have erred: McChrystal's conduct was shamefully unprofessional (a sitting general does not shame the CINC), and Obama had been horrifically distant from his generals, meeting with them irreguarly and only rarely.

Anonymous said...

McChrystal has not only his boss his "band of brothers" (from another profile) have it also made clear that the one darling beyond reproach is Hillary Clinton - that is a no-no in civilian employment as well


4infidels said...

Let's not lose sight of the fact that both the President and his top general in Afghanistan share the same strategy (can't really call it a war plan): to win the hearts and the minds of the Afghan people. We are sacrificing American lives and treasure to sit on the floor with villages, bring them goats and hold our fire so that the "enemy" can be convinced of our virtue and respect for his civilization.

We don't take in consideration the tribal and Islamic nature of the society and how a family in a Pashtun village is dependent on their tribe and local warlord for everything from jobs to protection. What happens to the individual and clan amongst the Pashtun who decides to support the US mission over the local Taliban fighters? Does he hop a camel to another Afghan city and then look for work? How will he fare outside the protection of his clan and family?

Pashtun culture views kindness as weakness. That doesn't mean we should act in ways that violate our values. It also doesn't mean playing the fool for locals who will never join our side (whatever the heck that is).

If we name the enemy, it is jihadist Islam. And of all the fronts in that war, Afghanistan should be of little concern. The central fronts of the war are neither Afghanistan or Iraq and in many cases they aren't even military battlefields. Among the most serious threats to the US and the West is the Islamization of Europe both culturally and demographically. Israel and India are also central fronts. So is resisting the non-violent advance of the Islamic agenda, what Hugh Fitzgerald calls campaigns of dawa, demographic conquest and the money weapon. And of course, the most immediate threat to be dealt with is destroying the capacity of Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Anonymous said...

you've got it all wrong ;-)

according to McChrystal this is a "war of perception"

that he means that literally is validated by the quotes of what he says when talking to the soldiers who just lost one of their own because the rules of engagement didn't allow them to raze a useless house. If I had just lost my buddy and would have been fed those words I would feel like having been trampled on b y my boss on top of it. Perception - really!

in all presentations and interviews I have heard from the trusted by me author of my Falluja book (Bing West) his voice always gets down a bit when he is supposed to join the praise for Petraeus and COIN.

Outright suppression doesn't work in a guerilla war given that in the days of easy global travel relocating whole tribes will probably have no effect whatsoever but COIN with the soldiers as community builders doesn't convince me also.

BTW unless Americans have changed their habits completely in the last decades then any normal grunt is the best ambassador his country can send out, always willing to smile, always ready to gratify kids with stuff from chewing gum onwards etc. etc etc

I have never met one in combat mood but I have met them during maneuvers in a village in the late 80s and they were still the same highly likeable fellows I got my first chocolate from at the age of 4.

To presume that these guys need lessons on how to be nice to locals is patronizing.


4infidels said...

Petraeus will replace McChrystal...tweedle dum out, tweedle dee in.

More COIN, which our leadership believes is a one size fits all system that can be applied everywhere in the same way with the same effectiveness...because as we know, Afghans are no different from Iraqis who are no different from Vietnamese who are no different from South American guerillas who are no different from the Algerian Resistance who are no different from....

Anonymous said...

the thing that really infuriated me happened a while back when an overflowing with confidence General Odierno told the London Times that he would get Iraq right. The next day or the day after he sounded like a tele-controlled robot again and the news came that Iraq was considered yesterday's business the real war now will be Afghanistan i.e. the glorious example proving once and for all that COIN is a stroke of genius.

I sincerely hope I got it all completely wrong but the way I see it since then is that both wars are going to be non successes. Instead of finishing one promising albeit still highly precarious job thereby showing that it can be done and how much the "democraticized" population would profit from it, it was hubris due to finally the Quadratur of the circle having been solved and off to prove that point.

those killed are bad enough but there are also the wounded in flesh and/or in mind, most of them will be fathers and kids will have to cope with them. I strongly believe that victors or those that may be rightfully convinced having been injured for a worthy purpose have an easier time at being a good father.
That those recovering from whatever happened to them in Korengar Valley can have that satisfaction I doubt.


4infidels said...

As a soldier and commander, McChrystal was a heroic and courageous guy who led his troops from the front in Iraq. Perhaps if he learned about Islam, he could put his tremendous energy to use informing Americans about the real threat, rather than thinking that building mosques and handing out money to people whose vision for Afghanistan is not one that is worth American lives, even if they oppose the Taliban for temporary self-interest.

RK said...

What makes you think most of the commentariat hasn't read the article? That might have been true when you were writing it—Rolling Stone was inexplicably tardy in posting the article to their website—but it seems to me that we got a rare moment of bipartisanship yesterday, when everyone from Bill Kristol to Fred Kaplan read the article and agreed that Gen. McChrystal had to go. If firing him was political posturing, it's strange that Republicans didn't call him on it.

The oddest thing about the article is that it never says what the war in Afghanistan is about, who the enemy is beyond that they're called Taliban, and what is at stake.

It's not odd at all. Did you read the last page? Hastings's view (which he has expressed elsewhere besides this article) is that COIN is a dead-end and that the Afghanistan war doesn't have a point. That's why he approvingly quotes experts who say things like "Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there's nothing for us there" and "victory is not even defined or recognizable." The fact that he doesn't agree with you that Afghanistan is a front in a global war against Islamism is no cause for misrepresenting what he wrote.

By the way, "it [the article] tells that" is a charming Hebraism. (Zeh mesaper she...) :-)

RK said...

Also, I should note that Reagan and Thatcher were generally careful to draw a distinction between the Soviet population and the government. For instance, in a 1984 speech at the White House, Reagan declared that: "our quarrel is not with the Russian people, with the Ukrainian people or any of the other proud nationalities in that multinational state. So we must be careful in reacting to actions by the Soviet Government not to take out our indignation on those not responsible."

That's from Jack Matlock's Reagan and Gorbachev. That's one example from my bookshelf; I'm sure you can find many others if you look.

Anonymous said...

amidst the commentariat I read there were voices who wanted McChrystal to remain - I remember amidst others Leslie H. Gelb and Max Boot
(on the other hand I think the firing of generals (and bosses) is not good for moral, much better to promote or specialize them out of the way)

there was an earlier lengthy portrait of McChrystal (NYTmagazine?) which made me wary of him because of the "band of brothers" thing (but keep in mind I always get wary when one solution fits all shows up and superior "elite" minds get their way - i.e. that's an area where I am a prejudiced reader)

- McChrystal was superlative at special ops, has he ever been involved in the more mundane life of boots for any length of time? and as a piece of their mind this sounds plausible to me

if somebody is superlative in one field that doesn't mean that that HAS to translate to "overall"
(alas, the Peter Principle more often than desirable proves to be true)