It looks like our beloved corporate media has missed the big story. Again.
The big story involves General Stanley McChrystal, but it has nothing to do with his dislike of Richard Holbroke or the jokes he and his staff made about Joe Biden. While all that might be interesting (or not), the most important part of Michael Hastings’ much-talked-about Rolling Stone article has to do with McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (“The Runaway General,” 22 June 2010).
As I’ve described in the past, COIN is essentially a hearts and minds operation, one that involves, not just killing insurgents, but also winning over the local population. In order to limit civilian casualties, and thus achieve this objective, McChrystal changed the military’s rules of engagement last year, putting numerous restrictions on American troops.
Despite these efforts, Hastings points out that NATO forces have continued killing large numbers of civilians. “In the first four months of this year,” he writes, “NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009.” Consequently, although the US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the country, the population’s “attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile.”
It should be no surprise then that the US has achieved little success. Even McChrystal has admitted that the much-heralded offensive in Marja remains a “bleeding ulcer,” and the Pentagon recently announced that it had been forced to postpone its plans to overtake the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar this summer. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war,” one of McChrystal’s senior advisers told Hastings, “it would become even less popular.”
It should also be no surprise that COIN has caused “an intense backlash” among American troops. As one Special Ops commando told Hastings: “Bottom line? I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers’ lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing.” Hastings proceeds to recount a question-and-answer session between McChrystal and some soldiers: “The session ends with no clapping, and no real resolution. McChrystal may have sold President Obama on counterinsurgency, but many of his own men aren’t buying it.”
After pointing out that “[t]he only foreign invader to have any success” in Afghanistan was Genghis Khan, and “he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny,” Hastings writes that even if, “after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland,” the US succeeds, “the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan.” Hastings continues: “Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock.”
But the media doesn’t want to talk about any of this. Wars. Civilians dying. US soldiers dying. All for nothing. Yawn. There’s no market for that. But when there’s gossip, when a high-ranking general makes an unsavory joke about the vice president, well now there’s a story.