Trying to escape the war: People frantically running away from battle zones in Swat. Almost 2 million people are rendered homeless living in tents and some with their relatives.
Going for Broke
Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding
by Tom Engelhardt
Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”
General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)
McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there,Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.
In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld’s effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA.
Behind McChrystal lies a string of targeted executions that may run into the hundreds, as well as accusations of torture and abuse by troops under his command (and a role in the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Army Ranger and former National Football League player Pat Tillman). The general has reportedly long thought of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single battlefield, which means that he was a premature adherent to the idea of an Af-Pak — that is, expanded — war. While in Afghanistan in 2008, the New York Times reported, he was a “key advocate… of a plan, ultimately approved by President George W. Bush, to use American commandos to strike at Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.” This end-of-term Bush program provoked such anger and blowback in Pakistan that it was reportedly halted after two cross-border raids, one of which killed civilians.
All of this offers more than a hint of the sort of “new thinking and new approaches” — to use Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s words – that the Obama administration expects General McChrystal to bring to the devolving Af-Pak battlefield. He is, in a sense, both a legacy figure from the worst days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era and the first-born child of Obama-era Washington’s growing desperation and hysteria over the wars it inherited.
And here’s the good news: We luv the guy. Just luv him to death.
We loved him back in 2006, when Bush first outed him and Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry dubbed him “a rising star” in the Army and one of the “Jedi Knights who are fighting in what Cheney calls ‘the shadows.’”
It’s no different today in what’s left of the mainstream news analysis business. In that mix of sports lingo, Hollywood-ese, and just plain hyperbole that makes armchair war strategizing just so darn much fun, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, for instance, claimed that Centcom commander General David Petraeus, who picked McChrystal as his man in Afghanistan, is “assembling an all-star team” and that McChrystal himself is “a rising superstar who, like Petraeus, has helped reinvent the U.S. Army.” Is that all?
When it came to pure, instant hagiography, however, the prize went to Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, who wrote a front-pager, “A General Steps from the Shadows,” that painted a picture of McChrystal as a mutant cross between Superman and a saint.
Among other things, it described the general as “an ascetic who… usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness. He is known for operating on a few hours’ sleep and for running to and from work while listening to audio books on an iPod… [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists… [He is] a warrior-scholar, comfortable with diplomats, politicians…” and so on. The quotes Bumiller and Mazzetti dug up from others were no less spectacular: “He’s got all the Special Ops attributes, plus an intellect.” “If you asked me the first thing that comes to mind about General McChrystal… I think of no body fat.”
From the gush of good cheer about his appointment, you might almost conclude that the general was not human at all, but an advanced android (a good one, of course!) and the “elite” world (of murder and abuse) he emerged from an unbearably sexy one.
Above all, as we’re told here and elsewhere, what’s so good about the new appointment is that General McChrystal is “more aggressive” than his stick-in-the-mud predecessor. He will, as Bumiller and Thom Shanker report in another piece, bring “a more aggressive and innovative approach to a worsening seven-year war.” The general, we’re assured, likes operations without body fat, but with plenty of punch. And though no one quite says this, given his closeness to Rumsfeld and possibly Cheney, both desperately eager to “take the gloves off” on a planetary scale, his mentality is undoubtedly a global-war-on-terror one, which translates into no respect for boundaries, restraints, or the sovereignty of others. After all, as journalist Gareth Porter pointed out recently in a thoughtful Asia Times portrait of the new Afghan War commander, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld granted the parent of JSOC, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), “the authority to carry out actions unilaterally anywhere on the globe.”
Think of McChrystal’s appointment, then, as a decision in Washington to dispatch the bull directly to the China shop with the most meager of hopes that the results won’t be smashed Afghans and Pakistanis. The Post’s Ignatius even compares McChrystal’s boss Petraeus and Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, to “two headstrong bulls in a small paddock.” He then concludes his paean to all of them with this passage — far more ominous than he means it to be:
“Obama knows the immense difficulty of trying to fix a broken Afghanistan and make it a functioning, modern country. But with his two bulls, Petraeus and Holbrooke, he’s marching his presidency into the ‘graveyard of empires’ anyway.”
McChrystal is evidently the third bull, the one slated to start knocking over the tombstones.
An Expanding Af-Pak War