The Rolling Stone article that led to the dismissal of the man they call The Runaway General is now on the Internet. It shows a deeply flawed man who, basically, damn near succeeding in fooling all of the people all of the time. My service adages included "any damn fool can live in discomfort"; I was never happy with the four hours sleep, one meagre meal a day and seven mile runs every morning. To what end that lifestyle - Norman Schwarzkopf was no greyhound but he made a pretty good fist of the first Gulf War.
In my book, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was a con artist who had been riding a lame horse for some time. His indiscretions are listed in the Rolling Stone article where he comes across as the leader of a pirate band. Reading the article, I get the impression that it was not so much the remarks that cooked his goose as was the lifting of the veil revealing just what was really happening under his command. The fact that he had three strikes before he was out suggests that the President - the Supreme Commander of US forces, lacked military experience. This should not have been a great problem; he has ample dogsbodies to advise him but it seems they also were mesmerised by Jumping Jack Flash or were unable to make their concerns clear to their boss. There has to be something wrong where a man with the prisoner abuse allegations against McChrystal got anywhere senior to the Executive washroom attendant after Abu Gharib.
For my part, I care little what this episode has done to the war effort. It will fail anyway. My annoyance lies in the fact that we were holding onto the coat-tail of this eccentric. We cannot know how many of our deaths and what trauma are attributable to his commands and methods. The Stone report includes snippets of what his own men think his COIN policies have cost them.
It is to be hoped that the upheaval will lead to new policies. No more giving in to Karzai's demands. No more softly softly. The attitude has to change. If Afghanistan wants to get sorted, then the Afghans must do more. Take for example events such as this. Just what is going on here?
Well, it is a tribal meeting in some village at the back of beyond. Traditionally, a meeting where all relevant stakeholders are present or represented and where an issue is discussed, ideally until an agreement is reached. There is no fixed agenda, no single convener or facilitator, and no scheduled closing session. The resolution of a jirga is supposed to be binding, but not everybody follows social norms and with the erosion of tribal authority and the fragmentation of communities, enforcement has often become difficult. Let me just repeat that - "There is no fixed agenda, no single convener or facilitator, and no scheduled closing session" Any junior junior junior management student will have no problem in determining the outcome. All will want to convince themselves how manly is the timbre of their voice, how balanced and forensically sharp are their contributions and just what an all round damned good fellow he is.
Remember we are talking about tribes here where for centuries there have been feuds of sheep grazing, access to water and doe eyed young boys. Whatever does get any consensus will be local and will have been dealt with in total ignorance of any central Government plan. Not just that they will not know what Karzai wants. He will not know what they want. Some will say that we should be guiding these sheep herders into meetings MBA-style. Sorry, no time and no wish by them to change what has 'worked' for centuries. We will have the meetings and tell them what has been decided and what they have to do in terms of compliance.
This new confrontational style will need to be maintained across the board. If Karzai protests at civilian deaths, point out to him that it is in the community river that the terrorist fish swims. He can reduce the death toll by getting his own people to catch some of the fish - they know damned well who they are.
Involving Afghans in their own salvation has to be a common thread. We see many images of villages. Lots of men sitting around on their haunches. Just waiting for some soldier to life the tit into their mouths. If they want schools, if they want medical facilities, if they want proper sanitation - they can break the ground and do the labouring. Once they have got to putting the roofs on, we will fit them out. If they choose to live in squalor - so be it. They are prepared to work at growing opium and processing the product - doubtless they would abandon that if we took the work over.
We have to accept a war of attrition. Terrorist recruits have to know that taking the wage is exactly the same as becoming a suicide bomber - they will die. Every dead terrorists is one less who can make and install IED. Why should we be the only ones with grieving widows and confused kids? It need not be a big deal - our planning should include performance and attainment targets which, if not met, lead us to the doors marked Exit. If ANA and ANP desert, cease the training altogether - their running away demonstrates they are not wishing to become involved. Why flog a dead horse?
At a time when our Government is quite clear that our financial state will lead to the end of civilised life for most of us, it is total nonsense to be spending the sort of money we are allocating to a situation where the majority of Afghans do not comprehend any improvement and seem less than enthusiastic in direct participation in the remedies we seek to advance.