Stan McChrystal’s Flying Circus

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander in Afghanistan and Monty Python fan, has put on quite a show of insubordination in the past month or so in an attempt to cram his escalation plan down the world’s throat. He has waged open information warfare in the media, right-wing and otherwise, against President Barack Obama. I wonder how much longer Obama will put up with it.

More to the point, I wonder if he can stand up to it.

The main thing to remember about McChrystal is that he’s part of the "King David" Petraeus court, and Petraeus is now a de facto Praetorian governor as head of Central Command (CENTCOM) and the most powerful officer in the U.S. military. McChrystal was Petraeus’ handpicked choice to replace Gen. David McKiernan, who apparently didn’t spend enough nights in Petraeus’ tent.

About halfway through September, media leaks suggested McChrystal might resign if he didn’t get his way on the Afghanistan escalation. Then he leaked his grim assessment of Afghanistan to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post that warned the mission would fail if he didn’t get more troops assigned there.

He did his 60 Minutes gig, a puff piece designed to make him look like a thoughtful, sensitive superman (he barely eats or sleeps, he runs six miles every morning, and he’s a great guy). On 60 Minutes he lamented that since he took command in Afghanistan he’s only talked to Obama once. That’s how things are supposed to work, though; Petraeus is in between Obama and McChrystal in the military chain of command, something you need to use in the military to avoid rampant chaos. Petraeus, of course, is used to ignoring the chain of command. It barely existed in the Bush/Cheney regime.

As commander in Iraq, Petraeus consistently went behind then-CENTCOM chief Adm. William Fallon’s back to get what he wanted directly from the White House. The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the Middle East commando unit McChrystal ran as a three-star, appears to have been taking orders directly from Dick Cheney, who as vice president had no legal standing in the military chain of command at all. Journalist Seymour Hersh called the JSOC "an executive assassination ring."

McChrystal has gotten a total pass on his involvement with the Pat Tillman cover-up, as well as for his involvement in torture. This guy is used to getting away with anything and everything he feels like doing. No wonder he doesn’t care what his boss, the president, thinks about him.

At a speech to a war-centric think-tank in London, McChrystal derided Vice President Joe Biden’s proposal to adopt a low footprint counter-terror campaign. Obama apparently took McChrystal to the woodshed in the back of Air Force One over that, but didn’t seem to do much good.

A Dexter Filkins’ Oct. 14 New York Times Magazine article, "Stanley McChrystal’s Long War," was an even bigger piece of war pornography than the 60 Minutes infomercial. "Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal stepped off the whirring Black Hawk and headed straight into town. He had come to Garmsir, a dusty outpost along the Helmand River in southern Afghanistan, to size up the war that President Obama has asked him to save. McChrystal pulled off his flak jacket and helmet. His face, skeletal and austere, seemed a piece of the desert itself."

Filkins is gargling on McChrystal’s precious bodily fluids. He has turned into a bigger camp follower of McChrystal than Thomas E. Ricks has been of Petraeus.

McChrystal flew in unannounced to a NATO summit and sweet-talked Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen into endorsing his cockamamie counterinsurgency plan.

The biggest problem with McChrystal’s surge plan is that it won’t work, any more than the surge in Iraq did. As Boston University professor and retired Army officer Andrew Bacevich notes, Iraq "is bizarrely trumpeted in some quarters as a ‘success’ and even more bizarrely seen as offering a template for how to turn Afghanistan around."

Afghanistan is a far more complex problem than Iraq, and Iraq is plenty complex. Gen. Ray Odierno, now commander in Iraq, says the insurgency there may go on for another 15 years. The insurgency in Afghanistan may go on for another 50 years. As Bacevich says, the war there is one "we can’t win." I couldn’t agree more.

That suits the long-war cartel just fine. As tax dollar rip-offs go, it’s as good as the bank bailout. Defense contracts for all my Facebook friends!

McChrystal says job one in Afghanistan is to protect civilians, yet we keep killing them, and we’ll continue to kill them. Among the harshest untruths of our counterinsurgency doctrine is the myth that you can separate the civilian population from the insurgents. You can’t. Insurgents live where they fight; they have nowhere else to go.

Our war on terror has never had much to do with terror. The neocons, who wrote the template for the foreign policy collision with the brick wall of destiny that we are presently on, merely wanted to turn America into a 21st-century version of ancient Rome. Like Rome, we are about to become captives of our Praetorian Guard, our military elites, the likes of Stan McChrystal and his mentor Petraeus and their puppet boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As renaissance political scientist Niccolo Machiavelli noted, the ascendance of the Praetorian Guard caused the fall of Rome. As he said in The Art of War, the Praetorian Guard became "insolent and formidable" and "put many emperors to death and then disposed of the empire as it pleased."

We’re at a perilous point in the American experiment. Unless Obama can get control of our modern Praetorians, our republic will become, once and for all, a militaristic oligarchy. That would sadden our founders to no end.

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.