Thursday, June 24, 2010

Generals, Presidents, Packs of Dogs, Evil Geniuses

BHO's acceptance of Gen. McChrystal's resignation is, of course, big news, being compared to the classic presidential dressings-down of noisy, wayward generals. We offer a couple of noisy, wayward observations in response.

First, to McChrystal's behavior.

Some folks have compared McChrystal to MacArthur or McClellan.* We think that comparison is rather less than precise. Nothing in the Rolling Stone piece constitutes a criticism of BHO's strategy (which was, after all, McChrystal's strategy), and the worst that was said about his person was that he appeared uncomfortable in conference with generals. McChrystal's infamous predecessors, on the other hand, publicly blamed their Commander-in-Chief for mishandling a war. Big difference there.

We think McChrystal and his staff are better compared to a pack of dogs. Domesticated dogs that are docile and well behaved when alone will do all kinds of mischief if they join up with three or four other dogs and run free. Likewise, thoughtful, polite individuals will often "let their hair down," which is to say they will say almost anything, when in the company of a band of likeminded people whom they expect to share their impolite sentiments and even laugh at the same.

That's what McChrystal and entourage did. And stupidly, they did it in the company of a reporter. From Rolling Stone. That's how powerful this impulse can be.

On the side, the Stone reporter deserves praise for insinuating himself into after-hours bull sessions of senior military personnel. That's an amazing feat. We should put this guy on Bin Laden's trail.

Further on McChrystal, we understand that among his professional associates he was known for a contemptuous attitude toward civilians. Whether this is the case or not, we note a tendency of many professionals to disparage folks outside their profession. Such behavior strikes us as compensation. We have special scorn for members of our profession, the clergy, who act as if their calling is somehow exalted in a way that gives license to cavalier denigration of laypeople. It is unseemly in the extreme for proclaimers of the crucified Christ to puff themselves up by praising the preaching profession profusely while perpetually pillorying parishoners.

On this point, BHO is condemned as well. His blue-ribbon commission to examine the Gulf oil spill, as has been widely reported, includes all kinds of environmental advocates but not one person the least bit conversant with the actual technology of oil drilling. If this does not demonstrate a kind of ideologically reinforced professional tribalism, we don't know what does. Oh, and don't miss the reappearance of the "open minded, as long as . . ." trope, as BHO proclaims he'll listen to suggestions on managing the spill and regulating the industry from any political party, as long as the suggestion deals comprehensively with the problem and assures us that such disasters will never happen again.

On to BHO's response to McChrystal. Already the paranoid congregants of the conservative wing are imagining that BHO appointed David Petraeus to the Afghan command deliberately so that, overburdened with simultaneous Centcom command and saddled with a totally unreasonable pledge of withdrawal in thirteen months, Petraeus will fail, discrediting himself, the military and the war effort and thereby assuring for a generation that our Republic will run its armed forces as John Murtha intended--as a federal jobs program without the threat of mobilization, as in Vietnam's aftermath. Such scenarios are nonsense, demonstrated so by the length of the sentence that describes the notion.

Well, say the alarmed, are you sure that isn't the case? The answer is yes, SWNID by definition is sure. But we offer reasons:
  • Right now, BHO needs some level of success in Afghanistan, and he'll continue to need it past November. He knows enough to remember what happened to his hero, Lyndon Johnson, through mishandling of a war.
  • BHO deserves credit for making a smart choice in Petraeus, who is probably the last American with the public's confidence.
  • Petraeus deserves credit too. He didn't get where he is without learning how to delegate. Centcom and Afghanistan operations will be in his hands at the top, but he'll figure out how to do two jobs with the people who report to him.
  • BHO is by no means enough of a genius to be as clever an as the allegation alleges. We urge the more rabid supporters of conservatism not to vacillate wildly between ascribing clueless idiocy and mendacious brilliance to Mr. Obama.
In that regard, we give BHO some credit for learning on the job. It took him the better part of a year to decide what to do in Afghanistan, after having campaigned for two years insisting that the Afghan war had been shamefully neglected. On this matter, he shortened the window of military decision to two days. That's a signal accomplishment, even if he really had no choice at all.

For a substantial thought on McChrystal, Petraeus, Afghanistan and even Obama, we recommend the sublime Max Boot.

*We have yet to see a discussion, in light of this historical sample, of Scottish heritage as an explanation of anger-management issues.


Bryan D said...

"... puff themselves up by praising the preaching profession profusely while perpetually pillorying parishoners."

This should be a line from the Friends episode where Joey stars in a WW1 drama opposite David Thewlis.

Also, it's absolutely astonishing alliteration which attains an achievement as accessible as it is acerbic as almost anyone could ascertain.

guy named courtney said...

Just my two-cents but...
"Stan" came from a counter-culture within a counter-culture. He spent most of his time in special operations, which as the name suggests, thinks and acts differently than the rest of the military. The rolling stones article points out (however poorly) his COIN plan and how lower-level commanders have royally screwed up the guidance that he has put out. It is much like the pharisees of the NT who had put some many extra layers around the law that they had lost the actual point of the law.
I saw this back in '07 before any build up or any actual planning and that was when I was running around with a special forces, if they can't take their own command's orders at face value what chance did conventional forces have at understanding COIN operations?
There is no simple short-term solution for Afghanistan, McCrystal understood that and his "plan" was a long-term one, one that would have to take years, or even decades to be implimented. But the US is not going to give the military the time for this operation to really work (sadly we waited nearly 7 years before we started to implement it). Thus we're stuck between a rock and political posturing.