Heart of McDarkness

The latest bunker mentality bunk to emanate from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is that he has too many civilian contractors hoofing around on his turf. Back in June 2009, a "civilian surge" was a key component of his strategy. What made him change his mind?

Maybe his attitude adjustment has something to do with the recent announcement that five former Blackwater employees, including former president Gary Jackson and former vice-presidents William M. Mathews Jr. and Ana Bundy, have been indicted on charges of illegally obtaining automatic weapons and then lying about it. Also indicted was former Blackwater general counsel Andrew Howell. Some general counsel he turned out to be: Your honor, my clients maintain that the weapons in question only become automatic after their triggers are held in the firing position for a specified interval, therefore…

Mercenary icon Blackwater has been in legal extremis for some time. The five Blackwater Barts who went to trial in a U.S. district court for slaughtering Iraqi civilians in a 2007 incident recently got off, but only on a technicality; the prosecutor, Kenneth Kohl, did a header from the high board into the canvas by basing his case on evidence he knew would be thrown out.

Blackwater’s Afghanistan rap sheet is equally abysmal. As reported in March by Tim McGlone of the Tidewater Virginian Pilot, recently released documents show the company’s employees and their supervisors in Afghanistan are "running amok – drinking heavily, using weapons without permission, and ignoring Army protocol. " This dysfunctional environment led to the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by a pair of Blackwater "workers" who, prior to becoming freelance gunslingers, received other-than-honorable discharges from the U.S. military (which answers the eternal question "where do we find such men?").

Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince is a one-man rogues’ gallery. A born again self-styled soldier of fortune and son of a wealthy and influential Republican, Prince has become the G. Gordon Liddy of his generation. He has redefined "conflict of interest," acting as a participant in a CIA assassination program even as his company provided the CIA with rent-a-goons to pull jobs too dirty for even the CIA to touch.

Former Blackwater employees have filed sworn statements in federal court alleging Prince’s involvement in a host of other sinfulness: money laundering, tax evasion, using his private airplanes to run illegal guns, deceiving the State Department and other federal agencies, destroying evidence, involvement with murdering Blackwater employees who planned to provide authorities with incriminating evidence against him, and making threats of death and violence against anyone else who might be thinking about ratting him out. The affidavits assert that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." Allegations also include Prince of running wife-swapping and child-prostitution rings. That Blackwater is accused of bribing Iraqi officials hardly seems worth mentioning.

It is worth noting that Blackwater is hardly the only mercenary outfit knocking down a piece of our woebegone war on -ism, although the company has scammed so many government contracts through paper subsidiaries that it’s difficult to tell which Murder Inc. is attached to Blackwater and which isn’t.

Blackwater’s importance is that it has been at the center of an off-the-books, outside-the-chain-of-command, and outright illegal slaughter-for-dollars operation. What’s more vital to understand, though, is that McChrystal, who now acts shocked, shocked to discover we have so many civilian contractors in his theater of operations, has been thick as a tick with all of them for a long freaking time. He was freaking commander of the freaking Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008, for five freaking years, and he didn’t just bump into the freaking mercenary hooligans from time to time, he was in freaking charge of them, and he used them to blow people away on the say-so of Dick Freaking Cheney. McChrystal is Joseph Conrad’s Col. Kurtz come to life and promoted to a four-star level of monstrosity.

McChrystal has also recently cried another river of crocodile tears about those poor Afghan and Pakistani kids and their moms who keep getting collaterally damaged by all the air strikes and ninja raids he’s been ordering. McChrystal has been blowing the "measure of effectiveness is civilians protected" ditty out his kazoo since his Senate confirmation hearing in June 2009, yet the most visible thing he’s done as commander in AfPak is kill civilians. Despite Pentagon rhetoric that says the key to success in Afghanistan is winning the hearts and minds of the locals, the number of Afghan civilians killed by NATO troops has doubled this year (that’s according to NATO’s own statistics, by the way).

Every time civilian casualty counts spike, McChrystal makes a Muppet show of doing something about it. He says he’s going to throttle back on the air strikes but really doesn’t, then he says he’s going to clamp down on the night raids but really doesn’t do that either. Now, he says he’s going to "review" the rules of engagement, which won’t do a pig’s moo worth of good. No matter how thoroughly he reviews the ROE, he can’t change the part that not only allows but demands that our troops defend themselves, and when the other guys start shooting, the only way for our guys to defend themselves is to shoot back.

I keep wondering how long McChrystal is going to get away with talking out both sides of his mouth, and then I remember: he’s the handpicked general of the current war president and the protégé of "King David" Petraeus, the handpicked general of the previous war president. Then I flash on Bill Murray as "Big Ernie" McCracken at the end of the film Kingpin as he maniacally shrieks, "I can do anything I want… Big Ern is above the law… what do I care?"

Lamentably, fellow citizens, the war in Afghanistan is the center of gravity of U.S. foreign policy and will be for entirely too long. "Stan the Man" McChrystal is our national heart of darkness, and his vacant, gaunt smirk is the face – or rather the two faces – of America itself.

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.