Firing McChrystal Isn't Enough. Fire the War

Gen. Stanley McChrystal should never have been the top commander in
Afghanistan. He's a rogue and a bully, politically and militarily, and
dishonest in the most dishonorable way: he signed off on the cover-up
of the killing by his own troops of Pat
, the NFL star who became an Army Ranger. McChrystal
falsified the
documents that lied to Tillman's family. "The false narrative, which
clearly helped construct, diminished Pat's true action," Tillman's
mother, Mary,

Tillman was one victim. But McChrystal has been falsifying the
narrative in
Afghanistan since becoming commander there, pretending and preaching,
like Gen.
William Westmoreland in Vietnam 40 years before him, that more troops
and more
resolve can win in Afghanistan as no foreign army has won there since
Khan. More troops and more resolve have killed more troops and more
while sapping soldiers' faith: Some of McChrystal's biggest doubters are his own

I'm not saying this because McChrystal was just fired. I'm a
doubter of long date. McChrystal, I wrote last
Oct. 1
, "with his chat-and-snub strategy of outflanking Obama
through the
press while rebuffing Congress, appears to be choreographing his own
pressure tactics. The last thing the Afghan debacle needs is a neo-MacArthur
presuming more than his command warrants." It was a debacle then. Obama
it by letting McChrystal lead it on.

In October, McChrystal was planting stories in the press, leaking
66-page memo that all but made Obama look like a coward if he didn't put
up at
least 40,000 more troops, and refusing to testify before Congress. What
brought McChrystal down was the sort of locker-room behavior that was no
to anyone who knew McChrystal and his entourage since his middling and
days at West Point (he's reformed, and imposed his teetotaler ways on
under his command): making fun, in that now notorious Rolling Stone
article, of Joe Biden and speaking contemptuously of Obama and
member of the president's foreign-policy team with the exception of,
Hillary Clinton, the weakest non-entity in Obama's foreign
policy team.

The contempt is deserved. Obama's foreign policy team is as fractured
arrogant as the French national soccer team. But the contempt isn't
from McChrystal, whose strategy in Afghanistan was itself predicated on
the lie
that there is something winnable there or something useful to
Neither is the case.

Which is why his firing speaks more ill of Barack Obama than it does
McChrystal. Not because the firing was overdue, but because McChrystal
never have been hired, especially not in the hurried, uninformed way
Obama hired
him: on the advice of Pentagon brass, the last place a new president
should have
looked for advice on how to run Afghanistan after eight years of
failures there. Afghanistan required a more rational analysis of what's
possible, exit strategies included, and who's best equipped to carry it

McChrystal, predisposed to worship the impossible as a reflection of
exceptionalism, was a man out of the Bush administration's playbook, not

Obama's: McChrystal seconded Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when

Rumsfeld foolishly described the falling apart of Iraq as "stuff
happens," and
he seconded Bush's own "Mission Accomplished" declaration that all major
operations in Iraq were over by May 1, 2003, when they had barely begun.
picked him anyway, and wedded his Afghan fortune to McChrystal's
acronymed "COIN" strategy-for "counterinsurgency." The strategy, a form
community policing with extra-lethal weapons and boots ready to kick
down any
door, was little more than the re-application of Iraq's pacification
campaign to
Afghanistan, as if the two countries were one and the same. They're as
as, say, New Jersey is from Nepal. But hey: they're both Muslim nations,
both in the Greater Middle East, so how difficult could it be to fit
them under
the same Pentagon acronym?

Even after picking McChrystal, Obama in October and November had a
chance to
make his break with the Bush administration and come up with a new
strategy in
Afghanistan-one that recognizes that there are no Afghans who want to
blow up
Americans (although there will be), that there are no American interests
Afghanistan, that the
is not America's fight, and that al-Qaeda is in Pakistan,
and hasn't
been in Afghanistan for nine years. The strategy could have also
recognized that
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a corrupt incompetent more interested
in his
palace power than in running a country, let alone cooperating with the
beyond getting his hands on American aid. Most critically, Obama could
stopped pretending that a bankrupt America abandoned by virtually all of
allies can still rebuild a country that even God had little left for.
(The old
Afghan story goes that when God was finished making the world, he took
all his
leftovers, threw them together, and that was Afghanistan.)

Instead, Obama took up where Bush left off, added more troops, threw
money at the folly, and called it a new strategy. McChrystal was his
cover. Bad
choice. McChrystal blew it? Not so: McChrystal was an improvising
explosive diva
waiting to blow. He did. He would have anyway.

McChrystal's firing is the latest cover-up of a failure far larger
McChrystal's, a failure that Obama now owns entire, and that will only
the number of American and Afghan deaths to no purpose. This month, June
the Afghan war became America's longest in history. It is also America's
futile. Vietnam ended. Afghanistan has no end in sight. Worse, despite
lessons not learned of October and November, despite the lesson not
learned of
the McChrystal debacle, despite the lesson not learned of the winter's
failed Marja
in southern Afghanistan-the offensive that was played up
as the
Obama administration's turning point in the war, with McChrystal in the
lead-despite all that, Obama on Wednesday announced that nothing will
change in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is gone. The strategy remains the same. All that was
needed to
accent the madness was that famous phrase of the Bush era (and the
era): stay the course.

Obama didn't have to use the phrase. He appointed it. The man
McChrystal is Gen. David Petraeus, which is a demotion of sorts.
Petraeus was
McChrystal's commander, and Bush's designated architect of the Iraqi
of 2007-2008. Petraeus is now the 10th commander in nine
years over
the Afghan theater, or the latest custodian of that indestructible
nailing America's coffins.

© 2023 Pierre Tristam