General Stanley McChrystal Doing Al Jazeera

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mcchrystal t.jpgI have to admit that since watching Afghanistan Commander General Stanley McChrystal‘s mesmerizing interview on 60 Minutes, I have made time nearly every day to get back in shape and do some running. He is impressive on many levels — and wrote in his leaked analysis of America’s challenges in Afghanistan one of the very best treatments I have seen, steely-eyed in the bleakness of circumstances there.
I am also impressed today that he is going on Al Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Show live at 3:30 pm EST. Riz will be feeding live questions to General McChrystal as well. I was invited to join as an observer today at the studio but am on the wrong side of the Chesapeake Bay to make that practical.
While I disagree pretty substantially with McChrystal’s — and now President Obama’s — prescriptions for the Afghanistan quagmire, I think that it’s excellent that he’s reaching out broadly to varied audiences.
Next time he puts a war plan together for Afghanistan though, he should include people less surge-happy than Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, who were the primary sculptors of the Iraq surge. If he wanted some tilting his direction, then the general should consider my colleagues Steve Coll, author of the book on the subject — Ghost Wars, or al Qaeda-tracking Peter Bergen. For those on the skeptic side, I am sure that Flynt Leverett, Andrew Bacevich, Paul Pillar, Stephen Walt, or I would be happy to give him some straight, contrarian counsel.
Bravo to General McChrystal though for reaching out to Al Jazeera.
This shows a substantial shift in the Obama administration’s direction in dealing with Arab media.
I won’t forget when one day I was at the Democratic National Convention about to do a spot with Al Jazeera English which was co-habiting a booth with a local Fox affiliate when then DNC Chairman Howard Dean walked in to do an interview that had been arranged by his staff and when he saw the Al Jazeera signage said, “Hey, wait, I can’t do this!” . . .and then tore out of the berth overlooking the convention floor.
Very glad we are getting passed the era of not talking to the part of the world we are spending a lot of time messing with.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

22 comments on “General Stanley McChrystal Doing Al Jazeera

  1. David says:

    He damned sure got this one right. Waiting now to see how quick a study the newbie president is. I don’t think he lacks courage. I think he is boxed in, not only by these crafty generals but also by the prevailing American mindset. That is actually the biggest obstacle for any president. LBJ was trapped in his own Texas anti-communist mindset. He actually believed we were fighting the good guy fight against the bad guy commies. Not sure if he realized at the end how wrong he was.
    Remember, were it not for the anger at GWB and the Republican Party at the time, Americans damned well might have elected John McCain, the ultimate study in the utterly misguided American mindset, with his “Viet Nam was a noble cause, and we could have won if we’d just tried harder.”
    On the way into the West Point Cemetery, on the way to the back fence, I always pass by the large ornate monument that marks the final resting place of Col. George Armstrong Custer and I stop. I render him a solemn salute from someone who also stood with the 7th U,S, Cavalry in a desperate river valley battle. Then I speak aloud to Custer, the Boy General: “Sir, you were an arrogant, ignorant idiot and you got everybody killed.”
    There are a few military commanders today more adept at boxing in a greenhorn President and playing politics to prolong an unwinnable war than they are at getting on with their job. They might do well to reflect on the lessons taught by Col. Custer.

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  2. John Waring says:

    The Unraveling of Obama’s Afghan Policy Part I: the Pakistanis refuse to ignore their vital interests.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/world/asia/15haqqani.html?_r=2&hp

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  3. John Waring says:

    Joseph Galloway nails it:
    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/galloway/story/80427.html
    Yes, McChrystal and Petraeus are impressive on many levels, but are they correct?

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  4. David says:

    POA,
    I didn’t say his strategy was correct, or that he would succeed. I am not at all sure any American president would be able to do what I envision as the right thing, which is pretty much the same as what you would like to see an American president do. I think America is too far gone, and has been since it thought Richard Nixon was a good idea in 1968.
    But I stand by my statement that Obama is trying as best he can to find a workable way out of the collective debacles. Question is whether or not his best is good enough.
    Robert Wexler is another person who is trying to do something constructive. He, like Obama, has his roots in a more liberal, better notion of what America should be about. But I have no idea whether he will have any success or not, especially given the forces, including Joe Lieberman, arrayed against him.
    Fear not that I don’t see your points. I am just looking for some possibilities, and trying to understand what I am seeing unfold. American politics is a very tricky business, mostly subservient to myopic bu$ine$$ interests, and resting on a polity skewed to the right, generally ignorant of anything beyond their own narrow kitchen table perspectives, pro-war, and suffering from an unjustified geopolitical superiority complex.
    The line Obama has to walk, since he does come from progressive roots, might well be impossible for an American president to walk successfully. We are not longer a people who would support a president who would actually do that. Liberal is, after all, now a pejorative.

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  5. JohnH says:

    I wish I could share the optimism of those who place their hopes in a supposed “surge before the withdrawal” strategy. I see no evidence of it.
    Unfortunately, militant American elites have been infected with a virulent strain of intransigence. They believe that if a military power is stubborn and unreasonable long enough, it always wins.
    In part, this is because they learned the wrong lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they attribute mostly to American intransigence. In part, it is because they could never accept defeat in Vietnam, which they attribute to lack of American resolve. The neocons are also inspired by the example of Israel, which has been a model of intransigent militancy since its birth.
    Yet intransigence has not proven itself a solution to much of anything lately. Problems in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan are no closer to a positive outcome than they were 10 years ago. Israel wishes that the Palestinians would just go away. But that hasn’t happened for 60 years and shows no signs of happening in the foreseeable future.
    Given the dominance of intransigent theology, this Afghan surge is likely to be only the beginning. Intransigence will dominate American policy until it proves itself a false prophet. That is unlikely to happen on Obama’s watch.
    The Afghan situation is being treated with the familiar nostrums of more troops, more resolve. Since victory in a guerrilla war is as ambiguous as victory, there is virtually no limit to how long the nostrums may be applied. This surge can be followed by another surge justified by “a new, improved” way to solve the problem. And there is never reason to doubt the “light at the end of the tunnel,” because American forces cannot be unambiguously defeated.
    The all volunteer military and debt from China have sapped the influence of the American public, More war does not taxed its wealth or its offspring. Their exhaustion with war is only theoretical. War doesn’t hit the American public where it counts.
    Short of a collapse of the American economy or of its lines of foreign credit, there seems no limit to American intransigence and nonsensical war for war’s sake.

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  6. John Waring says:

    The authors of the last article I posted have a fuller exposition of an Afghanistan strategy that may have a prayer of working: ignore Karzai and his kleptocracy, and concentrate on establishing security at the district level in the south and east. Re-establish the traditional legitimacy of local tribal leadership.
    This article is well worth your time and attention.
    http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20091231_art004.pdf

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  7. John Waring says:

    For those allergic to the smoke and mirrors approach to Afghanistan, here is a must read.
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/12/10/sorry_obama_afghanistans_your_vietnam?page=0,0
    Our national security state has raised cant to a brittle art form.

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  8. Mr.Murder says:

    Leaders should set a standard as communicators. Being able to address the frame of reference on AlJazeera is a bold move by Gen.McChrystal from our perspective.
    Now the terms of debate probably will not be agreed upon, but this will provide a framework for moderates in other lands to consider us in a better light. That is where the war on terror needs be won, hearts a& minds, etc.
    Bravo your link to it, Steve.

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  9. jhofer says:

    It’s obvious that Obama is not in charge. George “give the generals what they want” Bush was more than happy to align his policies with the military, since he agreed with them anyway.
    Obama obviously cannot be trusted, so McCrystal has annointed himself as War Salesman-in-Chief.
    Obama has now become a pathetic figure, having surrendered financial policy to Goldman Sachs, and foreign policy to the military. I guess he failed to put up any kind of fight (a bloodless coup like the one in 2000), because he knew he was beaten from the start.
    Pathetic…and tragic. But Obama manages to deal with the stark contradictions, as evidenced by his performance accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, delivered a week after announcing more war. (In Washington, war is officially peace.)
    He will be a one term president because Americans like their presidents to be in charge. They will soon come to realize that he is not.
    Now the problem for Goldman and the generals is that they must find a suitable replacement–a lackey who can effectively promote their policies, yet project an aura of being in charge. The Senate is full of such people, but we shouldn’t count Petraeus and McCrystal out, either.
    BTW, it turns out that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein held a board meeting in Tel Aviv in 2007. This received almost no news coverage. Could Israeli policy really be run out of the Treasury, which is pretty much owned by Goldman?

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  10. DonS says:

    ” . . . I think it is his responsibility to give interview . . .”
    On the other hand, the point has already been made about military types taking over political PR functions. But that horse seems long since out of the barn.
    On the Nobel prize, it seems to me Obama was too self-justifying, and too laudatory of America’s role in the world. It flies in the fact of what the rest of the world has seen out of America recently. To tout the closing of Gitmo and the prohibition of torture, when the intelligent public knows these have become political slogans betrayed by continued endorsement and extension of Bush era erosion of civil liberties, is at least dishonest.
    To give a self congratulatory political message about Desert Storm and Afghanistan leaves appallingly obvious the disgrace of the Iraq invasion; leaving the meat out of the sandwich he should not even have opened his mouth. Glossing over America’s disgraces may satisfy his speech writers, and attempt to answer the critics of the prize. It does Obama no credit and, as an American,I feel shame and anger at his presumption. He should have kept his mouth shut rather than to attempt to justify, or to ignore America’s war like behavior.
    It’s called the “peace prize” and even Obama’s supposed rhetorical skill cannot convince me it should be called the “peace, political realities and just war prize”. Not even close.

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  11. Pete Dominick says:

    Chris Rock has a great joke about not congratulating people for what they are supposed to be doing….Steve I think it is his responsiblity to give interviews to Arab media. Why should we congratulate or be impressed with people who are doing what they are supposed to do ? Just because they didnt do it in the past ?

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  12. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason”
    So now this posturing marionette for the War Machine is going to stand before the world community and lecture it about “evil”, when he refuses to prosecute evil American men for torture, refuses to censure Israel for egregious crimes against humanity and war crimes, refuses to join the world community in ridding our planet of land mines, leads a nation that has murdered over a million Iraqi citizens in the last six years, and has now commited to MORE war based on flimsy rationales and exagerated threats??
    The Nobel Peace Prize has just been rendered irrelevant.

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  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “We have a president trying mightily to undo the various debacles the United States has been party to over the past decade….”
    Bullshit. His every action, thus far, totally disproves your statement. FISA, rendition, the torture photographs, signing statements, continuance of fascist components of the Patriot Act, legal positions supporting the crimes of the Bush Administration, employing another AG that is just another fuckin’ mouthpiece for the President, failure to prosecute KNOWN crimes committed by Bush Administration criminals, citation of “Executive Privilege” to block reasonable investigation of possible wrongdoing within his Adsministration, the list is long, and continues. And now we see the posturing piece of shit employing the EXACT SAME KIND OF PROPAGANDA Bush used to justify more war. Fearmongering and exaggeration of threat, waving the terrorist boogie man in our faces.
    Your comment astounds me, David. I fail to see how any rational and reasonably intelligent individual could make such a statement. Yet I know you are both, so I find your stance inexplicable.
    David, Obama will be a one term President, and he will exit the White House in disgrace and failure. This much is already obvious. His “team” is in disarray, unable to even talk in one voice, and Obama speaks of “changes” that those around him will do everything in their power to stop him from instituting. Afghanistan is an unwinnable situation, and Iraq is going to implode on his watch. Domestically, Obama’s policies are already showing the signs of being compromised into irrelevance, or just plain failures. His campaign promises have been watered down, flip flopped on, and pushed aside in his first year in office. And this recent bit with Conyers exposes a petty narcissistic ego that is a dangerous in someone with so much power. I honestly believe this man may do more damage to our nation than George Bush did, if such a thing is possible.

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  14. JamesL says:

    Thank you both David and John Waring. Many people who have been wearing the Obama hat are close to taking it off. I don’t think Obama recognizes how fast his luster is fading.
    I find it ridiculous to object to “clusterfuck”, a word with a clear historic origin, and part of a clear lineage of war terms expressing how unbelievably screwed up and inhumane a situation could be, as uncouth or obscene, when the destruction of a country, and the killing of hundreds of thousands–the wastage of a generation–is not considered obscene.

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  15. DonS says:

    Addressing the “various amounts of troop increases” the John Waring notes, I think the sequence actually involved the initial leaking of a 40,000 figure and, not long after, additional scenarios involving 60 and 80,000 additional (plus the 100K “contractors” — off the books so to speak). Call me skeptical, but it seemed transparently plain that the higher figures were floated to make more palatable the 30 – 40,000 figure that was originally intended and eventually selected.
    On a lighter note, I applaud Steve’s resolve to “get back in shape”, inspired by McChrystal’s reportedly obsessive routine. On the other hand, there’s a certain rigidity often associated with such ectomorphic types, structured along planes and fault lines and without the ability to bend — just like a crystal! That, and the obsessive traits, give me pause.

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  16. John Waring says:

    David, thank you for your post.
    I am unconvinced that McChrystal, Petraeus, Mullen, or Gates wanted contrary advice. I think the briefing of the president had more to do with painting him into a corner and less to do with providing neutral advice. When the alternatives presented are various amounts of troop increases, please forgive me if I question the fundamental honesty of the process.
    I am no longer wearing my Obama hat. He has gravely misunderstood the nature of American vital interests in Afghanistan, and has accepted bad military advice. An American army is not going to change Afghanistan. Nor Pakistan. Nor the regional rivalry between India, on the one hand, and China and Pakistan on the other. Nor will an American army change the nature of the terrorist threat, which can be directed at the USA from any spot on the globe, including from within our own borders.
    All Obama did was kick the can down the road for eighteen months. The sine qua non of strategy is the ability to choose wisely. Wasting American national power in Afghanistan is not wisdom.

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  17. Steven Clemons says:

    Larry — I dont think that there should be any difference between
    major networks and the willingness of leaders to speak to
    legitimate news operations. So, to be candid, I do not accept the
    difference between Howard Dean running off the set and General
    McChrystal’s willingness to speak to Al Jazeera. I applaud
    McChrystal for this and think Dean, who I do like on many levels,
    was petty and behaved inappropriately the morning of that
    interview in Denver.

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  18. larry birnbaum says:

    Your comparison of the administration’s outreach to al Jazeera with Dean’s reluctance during a political convention doesn’t make a lot of sense and I wonder whether it really makes a lot of sense to you upon reflection, given the obvious difference in context between a political convention during an election campaign, on the one hand, and governance on the other.

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  19. David says:

    The surge in Iraq did not, could not, and will not undo the debacle the United States, the world’s most powerful military state, visited upon Iraq by attacking it, an attack Iraq was utterly defenseless against.
    Whether it can be credited with anything positive or worthy I do not know. But the idea that we are bringing peace and stability to Iraq borders on laughable. We destabilized the place, refused to be responsible occupiers, and essentially treated Iraqis as pawns in our game, a preposterous notion of imposing a private-sector business model as we marched on to Teheran, with a side trip to Damascus.
    Surge, part deux, is an exercise in militarist triage so utterly after the fact as likely to be an exercise in very real futility. Beyond apprehending bin Laden in the most appropriate manner under international law, we had no business attacking Afghanistan. Revenge is a mindless motive for foreign policy, punishing mostly those who really weren’t responsible for that for which we were immaturely seeking revenge. We sure as hell didn’t follow any sensible policy regarding Afghanistan post 9/11, and we achieved absolutely nothing that would even remotely justify the expense, let alone anything particularly defensible on moral or geopolitical grounds. I am aware of the pipeline deal. I doubt seriously even that will be gotten right, whatever getting it right in relation to that enterprise can be said to mean.
    The US role relative to Pakistan can best be described as one colossal cluster****.
    We have a president trying mightily to undo the various debacles the United States has been party to over the past decade, and quite powerful vested interests trying mightily to wrest control and direction from the president.
    We also have a president who would do well to engage with some of the people Steve cited in this post. Steve Coll and Andrew Bacevich are two of the most thoughtful, well informed, and insightful people out there, and they are by no means alone. I have to wonder at this point about some of Obama’s gatekeepers.
    I do, however, still wear my Obama baseball cap, and have no intention of setting it aside.

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  20. Jackie says:

    JohnH,
    I agree with you. Obama needs to talk to retired military, like Bacevich, who aren’t enamored with the military or their advice. The military wants to win, not to think about policy.
    Duh,
    Jackie

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  21. samuelburke says:

    “127 dead as bombers aim for heart of government
    Five devices including three suicide bombs bring carnage to Baghdad ministries on the day national elections are announced
    By Patrick Cockburn
    Wednesday, 9 December 2009
    Car bombers yesterday killed as many as 127 people in Baghdad in a series of attacks that left the city’s streets strewn with the wreckage of burning vehicles and the charred bodies of the dead.”
    counterpunch.com
    THE SURGE IS WORKING….IN A PIGS EYE.

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  22. JohnH says:

    IMHO military men should stay out of the war promotion game. It’s a short step from war promotion to coup-d’etat promotion. The military should give its advice to its civilian masters and dutifully step back and accept their decisions, period. It’s up to elected officials to defend foreign policy decisions.
    McCrystal’s behavior is almost as disturbing as seeing Obama on national television, marching lock-step with the military brass at Dover AFB.

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