General McChrystal is in hot water over this article in Rolling Stone magazine . Last night news reports indicated remarks from “aides” to the reporter seem to be blunt, confidential assessments from the General about the President, Vice President, NSC head Gen Jim Jones (USMC Ret) and the American ambassador among others. Later in the evening stories of McChrystal being summoned back to Washington for a Presidential ass chewing hit the wires and this morning there are dozens of pieces up on the impending relief for cause. When I first heard about this my reaction was stunned disbelief. I can’t imagine how or why senior staffers to General McChrystal would talk to a Rolling Stone reporter about anything let alone confidential assessments of the National Command Authority by the boss himself. It is inconceivable that senior staff of a four star general would reveal the personal confidences of their boss to anyone be they inside or outside media. That kind of careless candor doesn’t happen with senior military staffs so my initial reaction was that the General was done in, Cesar style, by cowardly forces from on high.
This morning I was able to read the article and was struck by two things: The first is Gen McChrystal, for reasons which cannot be explained because they are inexplicable, granted the Rolling Stone reporter, Michael Hastings, a long duration embed with himself and his staff. The second is that most of the comments attributed to McChrystal and his staffers aren’t that inflammatory at all. Adrian Michaels writing in the Telegraph UK blog said it best:
“There was a copy of the article available online until recently, which I’ve read, …. Basically, the general or THE RUNAWAY GENERAL as he is hysterically referred to has been the victim of journalist hype. It is the magazine’s editors that call the White House wimps, and it is the author that uses almost every f-word in the piece, gratuitously, gratingly, and not while quoting anyone. The only f-word used by someone else is a Brit saying how much some people love McChrystal’s habit of showing up on patrol.”
From what I am reading on the net this morning Mr. Michaels well reasoned take is not the dominant narrative. The guys at Danger Room think that this faux pas has put the Afghanistan campaign in jepordy. The main stream media are framing the issue as one of adequate civilian control over the military as opposed to the dominate narrative from the Bush years which was “listen to the generals.” Matt over at Feral Jundi provides his usual expert analysis as he parses the article and I’m not even going to check on what Herschel Smith has to say at the Captains Journal because I agree with everything he writes and he writes what I agree with better than I do. If I read his take on the article I’ll be hard pressed to come up with something original on my own.
Once I got past how bizarre (and I mean totally, completely, unbelievably bizarre) it was for the General and his key staffers to get drunk in a French bar with a Rolling Stone reporter sitting there I started doing a little parsing of my own. McChrystal apparently voted for Obama – that factoid is strange as men like McChrystal spend their entire adult lives preparing for the rigors of leadership and are naturally reluctant to confer the position of chief executive of the United States on an individual with zero training or experience in executive leadership. It is also a bit strange for an active duty general to discuss who he voted for at all – many of my former colleagues who remain on active duty do not participate in presidential elections because of professional sensibilities. But McChrystal voted for Obama and he apparently allowed the Rolling Stone magazine unprecedented access to his inner circle so he deserves what he is going to get.
This quote from the article instantly caught my eye:
“COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps.”
Live among the population? How do you do that when your forces are restricted to FOB’s and can only venture off them in four MRAP convoys (minimum) with 16 designated shooters (minimum?) Who, besides myself, The Shem Bot, the group formally known as Team Canada (we have not had our summer piss-up to generate a new name now that The Boss has added guys from the U.S. and Europe.) and those like us is doing COIN? The only contribution McChrystal has made during his tenure is the emphasis on stopping civilian casualties which has translated into the denial of critical fire support to units in contact.
“This report from Afghanistan is dreary and depressing for its reiteration of all of the problems we have rehearsed here, including the unreliability of the ANA. But the contribution is serious and unmistakable. We cannot achieve sustained tactical success with the current rules of engagement. They simply aren’t rules suited to win a counterinsurgency campaign. But the report is more stark for the sad and anecdotal report of the state of the population. The villagers are laughing at U.S. troops. So much for winning their hearts and minds by avoiding collateral damage. When the population is laughing at your weakness, the campaign won’t last much longer. It will soon be over, one way or the other.”
In Vietnam my Uncle Chad was a rifle company commander working the area southwest of DaNang. He started his tour patrolling in the day and digging in at night but was not getting any contacts. Back then a rifle company commander could make his own tactical deployment decisions so Uncle Chad decided to start sleeping during the day and patrolling at night. He got lots of contact for a while but then the contacts dropped off so he switched back to daytime patrols and started getting the contacts he was looking for. A rifle company is a large fighting formation with organic adult supervision and more than capable of figuring out how to keep the villains at bay while bringing security to the people in their AO (area of operations.) Our ability to micromanage rifle companies with blue force trackers, drones and satellites has reduced their effectiveness while concurrently providing the allusion of control to staff officers manning the plethora of COC’s (combat operations centers) which grow like weeds on the big box FOB’s. If we can’t get back to independent operations focused on the people while putting the hurt on every Taliban group who tries to hit us we’re through.
Which brings us to the million dollar question….who will replace McChrystal? Michael Yon, your humble correspondent and now Tom Ricks are on record as endorsing Gen Mattis (USMC.) I asked my favorite source on from the retired General Officer circuit what he thinks and the response was unequivocal. There is no way they’ll tap Mattis for the job because he is too strong and too competent which will make those above him look bad in comparison. This snippet form the “This Ain’t Hell (but you can see it from here“) blog explains the “too strong” part:
“When the first battle of Fallujah in April 2004 reached its climax and it appeared that the Marines and soldiers assaulting the city were close to securing the insurgent stronghold, General John Abizaid travelled to Anbar to order General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, to stop the assault. Disingenuous news reports from Arab media outlets which painted the assault as a massacre of innocent civilians had caused an outcry in the international community and as a result the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies waivered in its support for the operation. Abizaid met Mattis in his command post outside the city, where he had been leading the battle from the front for weeks. Over three dozen soldiers, sailors, and Marines had died in the assault. Mattis’s own command element had been attacked multiple times by this point and had suffered casualities. His uniform was soiled and dirty from the weeks of constant combat. When Abizaid (a four-star general in charge of CENTCOM) told Mattis (a two-star divisional commander) to stop the assault Mattis looked Abizaid in the eye and growled IF YOU ARE GOING TO TAKE VIENNA TAKE FUCKING VIENNA.
Abizaid just nodded and Mattis stormed out of the room.”
God I love that kind of talk. And I love Gen Mattis too – big man crush love but back to my insiders take on will get the nod to run the war. His prediction was they would find a General Officer in the mold of the current CJCS Adm Mullin who can be counted on for sycophantic devotion to the administrations agenda no matter how stupid it is. Depressing huh? But wait there’s more:
He went on to say that he had always hoped his generation was the last group of Marine officers who had to lead men in combat fighting a war they knew they would not win. He said the agony of balancing mission against potential loss of life meant that often they did not make moves which were tactically profitable for fear of losing too many men. That is a very risky way to fight because missing moves which are to your tactical advantage can come back to bite you hard further down the road.
Is it me or is that not the most depressing damn thing you have heard today? Things here are getting worse by the day and the Gen McChrystal drama portends further bad tidings. The only hope I have is that my source is wrong and that General Mattis is retained on active duty and given the job. If that doesn’t happen it is very hard to see a way forward which justifies the time, money, and blood being spent on Afghanistan.