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Commentary: An open letter to Gen. Stanley McChrystal

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 1, 2010 - Dear Stan:

Forgive my familiar use of your first name, but I figure by the time you read this, you'll have joined me as a middle-age civilian watching the big show from the cheap seats. After all, the Army probably doesn't have too many slots in the manning tables for cashiered 4-star generals who've managed to piss-off everybody that matters. Dude, you screwed the pooch. What were you thinking?

I've never been one to kick a man when he's down but, c'mon, Rolling Stone ain't exactly Stars & Stripes. Did you really think a commie rat from that leftist rag was going to cover your back just because you let him into your inner circle and got drunk with him in Paris? By the way, did it ever strike you as strange that you and your senior staff were drunk in Paris when you were supposed to be running a war in Afghanistan? I mean, I'm just asking ...

I don't presume to be able to read your mind, but I have to assume it was a blind spot in your side-view mirror that caused this career wreck because you should have seen this one coming. And I have to guess that blind spot was caused by the bright light of being, as we said in my police days, the HMFIC for so long that you got comfortable in that perilous position.

Being the "Head M-F In Charge" is, well, heady stuff. It's a celebrity role that comes complete with an entourage of senior aides who've hitched their wagons to your rising star. These guys aren't flunkies; they're important players with jobs to do, but their professional success is inextricably entwined with that of the HMFIC. As Rolling Stone might put it, they're the "posse." The situation is reminiscent of, say, Jim Morrison's relationship to the rest of The Doors...

Now that you're a rock star, you live increasingly within an echo chamber of your own ego. To your posse, everything you do is brilliant and your fans are legion. Pretty soon, you're a larger-than-life figure to whom the usual rules no longer apply. Anybody with the audacity to question your actions is obviously an uniformed dunce whose objections can be dismissed with derision. All this makes for a good ride until you wake up hung-over one morning with a dead groupie in the bathroom and the cops knocking on the hotel room door...

Michael Hastings' thoughtful piece in the Stone -- aptly entitled, "The Runaway General" -- is an object lesson in the pitfalls of hubris. But it also makes an even more salient observation about your grand plan for Afghanistan: namely, that it sucks.

This winning the war by hanging around forever and "winning hearts and minds" routine is a task better delegated to the Salvation Army than to the U.S. Army. As the adage has it, the latter outfit exists "to kill people and break things." In Afghanistan, it's been doing just that for close to nine years now. It's a little late in the game to "turn that frown upside down" and start making friends.

The problem is that you can't unscrew the pooch. Just as there was nothing you could say to save your job when you met with Obama, there's no way to remake the past in Afghanistan. We screwed the pooch there when we failed to deploy sufficient forces to finish the job at Tora Bora back in 2001. Trying to salvage the effort now by inventing a kinder and gentler style of combat is, as the Arabs say, like trying to cook "fried ice."

Your war-is-heck approach continues to squander blood and treasure while we try to figure out what a possible victory might look like. The troops complain that your restrictive rules of engagement place them in needless peril -- an allegation substantiated by the fact that June of this year proved to be the bloodiest month yet in what is now America's longest foreign war. On the other hand, collateral civilian carnage serves only to inflate the ranks of our enemy. Catch-22.

When you took over last year, your original plan of battle called for an open-ended military commitment and a trillion dollar budget. Really? Are you aware that the annual GDP for all of Afghanistan is estimated at $4 billion? One trillion equals 1,000 billion. For what you proposed to spend in cash alone, we could have simply leased the whole damned country for the next 250 years. No wonder Harry Truman said that when he met with generals, he always tried to imagine them naked to prevent the glitter of their medals from disguising fallacies in their reasoning.

The late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson -- who also wrote for Rolling Stone -- once remarked, "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." To the extent that he was right, you've got to be a bona fide pro because things have gotten real weird in your former theater of operations.

On the very day that Obama handed you your ass, the LA Times ran an article by Julia Love reporting that "U.S. taxpayers have been bankrolling a mafia-style scheme in which private security contractors transporting supplies to troops in Afghanistan are forced to pay warlords for safe passage."

The piece went on to observe, "... the protection racket may be damaging U.S. troops' efforts ... by funneling money to the insurgency." Apparently, trucking companies hire locals for security. The locals then pay the Taliban not to attack, after which the Taliban uses its new-found windfall to buy arms and ammunition to kill our troops.

Congratulations, Stan! You guys have managed to make income tax evasion patriotic. I wish to hell I'd heard about this before I filed last April.

The new HMFIC in country is Gen. David Petraeus. He was your boss while your command careened off the tracks and U.S. tax dollars were paid to kill U.S. troops, so I'm sure he'll be able to straighten things out.

I know you military guys don't like comparisons to Vietnam but the similarities are both too numerous to delineate here and too striking to ignore.

Remember that scene in "Full Metal Jacket" where the Colonel explains the big picture to Pvt. Joker? "We are here to help the Vietnamese," he says, "because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It's a hardball world, son. We've got to keep our heads until this peace craze blows over."

I think of all the boys who died there, and of all the young men who came home missing limbs, or walking with a limp, or unable to walk at all. To what end, Stan?

Recently, I bought a "Jones of New York" suit at Macy's in downtown St. Louis. The first time I wore it, I discovered a small silk label sewn inside the jacket that I hadn't noticed at the store. It read, "Made in Vietnam."

Enjoy your retirement,

Mike

M.W.Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the citySheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.

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