Thursday, June 24, 2010


Herewith some things I’ve noted as McChrystal’s dismissal unfolded in slow motion over the last two days. I noted with a certain bemusement that two retired general, selected by PBS’ NewsHour as commentators, on Tuesday night, praised the general effusively. One called McChrystal “a warrior,” with emphasis, and several times. I wondered what he meant by this word. Did he mean that in the conduct of war grandstanding before a reporter—in fact apparently trying to impress the reporter by saying naughty things about a number of different leading figures, not least Vice President Biden—is the quality of a warrior? Is that what he meant? Did he mean that a warrior is a person out of control? That to lead American troops we should select berserkers? Is “warrior” in military circles equivalent to “hard-drinking womanizer” in literary circles? — a phrase sure to sanctify the “genuine artist,” or the “deep thinker”? I see the phrase all the time, most recently self-applied to himself by that notable God-debunker, Christopher Hitchens.

I noted my own anxiety that McChrystal might be retained in command, something that, these days, is actually thinkable. And noted next my satisfaction that he was not. And noted the paradoxical aspects of that. Yes, appropriate forms should be maintained, but the war in Afghanistan is still a kind of madness without rational grounding, so my satisfaction had a kind of empty feel.

I noted the pretense, at least I hope it was pretense, that a “decision process” was unfolding. These matters are straight-forward and need no discussion at all. The generals in the media were all wringing their hands—although I did note one lonely retired colonel on CNN who had the right view and bravely stuck to it. A genuine warrior, perhaps.

Last I noted that McChrystal got appointed to his command by people who must have known the pattern of his entire career—which was pockmarked, as it were, by inappropriate behavior. It looks like Petraeus (whose protégé McChrystal was, and whom he is replacing), Gates, McChrystal’s strong supporter, and others on Obama’s staff were touched and charmed by the “bad boy” image all along but thought themselves magically immune to its reckless consequences.

I discern beneath this that if reason fails and flailing takes over as the chief strategy, choosing a bad boy is the appropriate profile for the man in charge. The thought might be that in a crazy world perhaps the mad commander will succeed by sheer accident. In an insurgency, use an insurgent?


  1. I forget exactly when the Taliban attacked Pearl Harbor, but they must pay for their crimes!
    And General McChrystal's kiss of death was support from Hamid Kharzai. Appearing to heed the advice of the warlords and corrupt Afghan leaders would render it impossible to accept further sacrifice on our part; our own corruption is all we can stomach.

  2. Interesting observation on "hard drinking womanizer". Why are we so fascinated by people who are out of control? Why do we think every form of madness masks a genius? Puzzling.

  3. Arsen the Word Warrior! I just finished Castenada's "Journey to Ixtlan" in which there is much discussion of the attitude of the warrior : a warrior is he or she who is willing to make a decision and die for it! I like that définiton!

  4. You touch on many interesting aspects of this story.

    One of the things that amazed me about the whole incident was the way that Petraeus' appointment to the post silenced everyone. It silenced even those who were clearly working themselves into a lather in anticipation of the glorious political blood bath they anticipated would follow Obama's decision, either way it went, I might add.

    Sadly, real blood letting continues in Afghanistan...

  5. Monique: Petraeus is the darling of the Right, of course. He sort of told Bush what Bush's great decisions would have to be. The man has said a few things in recent months that made me think he might be genuine. We'll see.