It's the war, stupid
Following the tidal wave of media buzz over General Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone, you quickly notice the story succumbing to the gravity of our media-circus culture, to the point it has become a story about celebrity and score keeping.
Would Obama fire McChrystal? How will the scandal tarnish the various individuals mentioned: US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke National Security Advisor James Jones? Who will come out on top of the heap and who will be banished into oblivion?
The real, existential questions about the war in Afghanistan that should be discussed in our highest public forums are somehow always lost in the excitement of watching careers on the high wire.
All modern scandals, some renowned person has said, can be reduced to someone blurting out the truth. That describes this Olympian dust-up perfectly. But what might have been a fantastic opportunity to dig deeper into the truths revealed has apparently been lost.
Immediately after the Rose Garden announcement that McChrystal was out and Petraeus was in, NBC’s Brian Williams was grinning uncontrollably and referring to Petraeus as “a modern day Omar Bradley,” the beloved “soldiers’ general” from WWII.
Instead of fostering a discussion of a war that is bankrupting an economically strapped nation, the major media fell right in line and trumpeted what a brilliant personnel maneuver Obama had made.
It was a slam-dunk in cutting off at the pass any discussion of the war itself. “The runaway general” was sent packing and the man who wrote the book on counterinsurgency was technically demoted from his CENTCOM leadership role to command the war zone in Afghanistan, a growing black hole that supercedes even the command of the entire region.
The real tale, as Hastings concludes in Rolling Stone -- that “…counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war” – was brilliantly overtaken by a new question: Can General Petraeus save the war?
The sociopath general
Generals Petraeus and McChrystal are very different animals, to borrow the metaphor McChrystal used for Richard Holbrooke, who he called a dangerous “wounded animal.” Petraeus is a military man who, in the manner of the character Peter Falk played in Colombo, comes off as a mild professor, which he is not. McChrystal is, arguably, more of a sociopath.
Of course, the obvious objections to this kind of characterization are not without merit. Who do I think I am, Sigmund Freud? Still, the article raises some interesting questions in this vein.