McChrystal’s Ultimatum

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s latest insubordination was an act of sheer petulance. We already know via unnamed reliable sources that McChrystal has threatened to resign if he doesn’t get the next wave of escalation in Afghanistan he wants. The sanctioned leak of his report on Afghanistan to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and McChrystal’s 60 Minutes infomercial made it clear to everyone who hadn’t already noticed that he and his allies in the long-war mafia were waging information warfare against President Barack Obama, a campaign that has led to a call from the right-wing fringe for a military coup to solve "the Obama problem."

McChrystal upped the ante with an Oct. 1 address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, where he said, “we must show resolve” in Afghanistan and that “uncertainty disheartens our allies and emboldens our foes.” Asked if a more limited counterterrorism effort, rather than the full-blown counterinsurgency campaign he has proposed that would involve a half million troops or more, would succeed in Afghanistan, McChrystal said, “The short answer is: no. You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy.”

That was a slap to the face of his commander in chief, President Barack Obama, who has convened a strategy conference to consider McChrystal’s proposal along with alternative strategies.

You might ask if McChrystal, the four-star in command of all U.S. and NATO forces in a critical theater of war in Central Asia, didn’t have better things to do on Oct. 1 than give a chalk talk to a warfare-centric think-tank in London. The horrific answer is that drumming up support for his escalation in Afghanistan is the most important thing Stan McChrystal has to do, at least from the perspective of the long-war mob.

The vaunted counterinsurgency field manual that McChrystal proposes to adhere to is a how-to guide for constructing a country from the molecular level up. That’s not just nation building; it’s nation birthing. It might work in a nation that’s a third the size of Rhode Island. We’re as likely to turn Afghanistan into a real country as we are to make a herd of cats march in a straight line. What McChrystal suggests is that we can transform a corrupt and violent patch of society in a country the size of Texas by pouring bribes and firepower into it.

McChrystal says he needs more U.S. troops to "buy time" for Afghan military and police forces to take control of the country in 2013. The Afghan military and police forces aren’t likely to be able to take control of their country by 2113. Alexander the Great never really had control there.

Afghanistan has never been a threat to anyone except people who tried to conquer it. It’s a sleepy hollow that has been the boneyard of many empires, including the British and the Russians. Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 is fuzzy at best. Nobody involved in those attacks, including mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, actually came from Afghanistan. McChrystal admits there is no sign of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and what’s left of al-Qaeda in Pakistan appears to consist of eight or ten Islam-hooligans who live on the run.

To counter this nonexistent threat, McChrystal wants America to make an all-in commitment to Afghanistan. McChrystal’s superiors – Gen. David Petraeus, chief of Central Command and Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chief of Staff chairman – have endorsed McChrystal’s madness even though they can’t give a good reason why they’re behind it.

We need a good, long think, not just about our Afghanistan strategy but American grand strategy, the purposeful employment of all our instruments of power. The first thing we need to recognize is that our military is out of control. It drives our foreign and domestic policies and it gives us little in the way of national security. We have no military peer competitors. The defense budgets of China and Russia are about 10 percent of ours. Pismire Iran’s defense budget is less than 1 percent of ours. America and its Western allies account for more than 95 percent of global arms sales. If anyone wants an arsenal that can match ours, they’ll have to buy it from us.

The dirty little wars we’re fighting now aren’t making us safer. Every bomb and bullet we expend creates more terrorists than it eliminates. The reason we haven’t had another 9/11 isn’t that we’re "fighting them over there." 9/11 wouldn’t have happened at all except for the circle competition culture among the alphabet-soup agencies (CIA, FBI, FAA, NCA, JFCOM, etc.) that should have kept it from happening. Today, preventing a terrorist attack is good for one’s career. (Counterterrorism: it’s not just for losers anymore.)

Ironically, the U.S. military’s ability to achieve national goals has decreased as its power increased. We were an also-ran batch of ex-colonials until World War I (a war I’ll always maintain we should have stayed out of. We would have become a global hegemon much sooner if we had let Europe bleed itself white and then offered to feed it for a few decades while it grew, or imported from us, a new generation of fathers.)

World War I led to World War II, which led to the Cold War and the dirty little Third World wars like Korea and Vietnam that accompanied it. When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, we were promised a peace dividend that never materialized (de-materialized?).

Now, a media-savvy Pentagon has dared President Obama to stand up to it. I’m hoping he does. I’ve said for some time that he needs to demand the resignation letters from every bird colonel and general officer and every Department of Defense official whose job title includes the word "secretary."

Those measures sound draconian, but they’re the kind of things Obama has to do if he hopes to get the military back on its leash. If he can’t, Allah help us all.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.