What kinds of guys become US generals? Apparently, guys who need everyone to know that they aren't pussies.
"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.
He pauses a beat.
"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."
With that, he's out the door.
"Who's he going to dinner with?" I ask one of his aides.
"Some French minister," the aide tells me. "It's fucking gay."
That's from the Roling Stone article that got Stanley McChrystal fired by Barack Obama.
McChrystal probably has an accurate take on Obama. But McChrystal and his aides come across as incredibly foolish for telling a reporter what they really think. Could McChrystal possibly be smart enough to competently direct the US war in Afghanistan while simultaneously being foolish enough to allow a reporter to get the material to write the following paragraph?
Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn't go much better. "It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his fucking war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."
The US government is not competent to fight wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Obama's way in over his head. His generals do not show signs of riding the clue train. Americans do not have enough curiosity or ruthlessness about the world to run an empire. The US military ought to withdraw from some of hits far-flung holdings.
Douglas Macgregor makes sense to me.
"The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.
Update: The US officers who blabbed to Rolling Stone really did the country a great service. We get to hear what they really think, rather than what the Administration has instructed them to say. So while they were foolish to speak to this Rolling Stone reporter the article is very much worth reading in full to find out more about the US war in Afghanistan and the politics of how the US runs a war than you'd otherwise get a chance to find out.
Ross Douthat relays the argument that during WWII lots of officers including general were sacked for poor performance and the US military improved greatly as a result. But in that war officers sacked other officers and the sackings were rarely over politics or war goals. Who is competent to do the sackings today? Certainly not leftist activist Barack Obama. Both Obama and his generals support a war goal that is absurd on its face. We do not have an objective reasonable goal or a willingness among the politicians or generals to admit to the absurdity.
Never mind the general public's souring on the war in Iraq. The US Army has hit upon a high tech fun solution to soldier recruitment problems. Video games have a far more powerful effect on the teen male mind than television news casts.
With more than 3,000 US soldier deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, the use of a video game and incentives such as free iPods to recruit replacements is a strategy that critics call misguided, even abhorrent. But for the Pentagon, "America's Army" is proving a potent way to communicate military values directly to the messy bedrooms where teens hang out.
"America's Army" is "a sort of virtual test drive," says its creator, Col. Casey Wardynski. "What we are looking to communicate is the ethos of being a soldier ... leadership, teamwork, values, structure."
In a recent informal survey of recruits at Fort Benning, Ga., which was conducted by the Army's video-game development team, about 60 percent of recruits said they've played "America's Army" more than five times a week. Four out of 100 said they'd joined the Army specifically because of the game. Nationwide, the game counts some 7.5 million registered users, making it one of the Top 5 online PC games.
The Army announced earlier this month it expects to exceed its 80,000 recruiting quota this year after missing it in 2005 for the first time since 1999, and officials say a range of recruitment tweaks - including easing up on the tattoo policy and up to $40,000 signing bonuses - have played a role. But few other ideas have been as effective in galvanizing potential recruits as "America's Army."
If you click through on one of the links and as a result you enlist and end up geting your legs blown off by some Muj in Anbar Province, Iraq do not blame me. I'm telling you right now: If you can't handle it then don't click on it!
I'm betting the games are not doing much to increase female recruitment. Violent video games are far more appealing to boys than to girls. Maybe the Army should come up with a game where female Army civil affairs officers work with poor families in civil war hell holes to get drinking water clear of dysentery and to rebuild the local kindergartens after terrorists blow up schools.
On July 4, 2002, the United States' Independence Day, the first version of America's Army, named Recon, was released after three years of development and production costs of US $7.5 million. Distributed as a free download or CD it quickly became one of the ten most often-played online first-person shooters. The game was easily available, the gameplay was similar to Counter-Strike, and it had the then brand-new Unreal Engine as well as free servers sponsored by the U.S. Army. The Army currently spends US $3 million a year to develop future versions of the game and US $1.5 million annually for server support
Anyway, what to make of this? Teenage boys are a bunch of naive fools. Nothing new here. They can be sucked in by a game. They want to blow things up and shoot things. Their left-liberal teachers keep knowledge of gritty war away from them (gotta spent that precious class time reading feminist fiction about how men are the scourge of the Earth and how women are all Earth mother Gaia protecting trees, birds, and babies). So when they come across a war game on the web they are too unsophistcated to interpret it. I say teach the boys in high school using John Keegan's The Face Of Battle and then they won't be quite so naive about what they are getting themselves into.
U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Command, Norfolk, Va. (October 6, 2004) – The Marines move with quickness and agility through the old, abandoned building in Beirut. It is not long before the Devil Dogs encounter resistance from enemy forces. The battle is fierce, but is over in mere moments, with the Marines emerging victorious. These Marines, however, never really fought this battle. The Leathernecks are virtual representations of Marines placed in a video game.
“Close Combat: First to Fight,” created by Destineer Studios, in association with Headquarters, Marine Corps, the 1st Marine Division and Atomic Games, is a new training tool to help Marines learn about combat, and show civilians the type of work Marine infantrymen do during combat missions.
“First to Fight” will be used as a learning tool to teach Marines about close combat in urban terrain. The player leads a four-man fire team in close quarters urban combat in the streets of Beirut. The game incorporates many doctrines that are currently in use by infantry units deployed around the world. More than 40 active-duty U.S. Marines, ranking from privates to colonels, who recently returned from frontline fighting in the Middle East assisted in the creation of the game, according the game’s official website.
The Marines ought to buy back full rights and give it away. US Marines recruitment would rise as a result.
Craig A. McNeil, an officer in the US Army reserve who spent time in Iraq, has an interesting essay on life in the Army which includes the absurdity of regulations for people who are warriors.
When we were coming home from Iraq, before we boarded the most beautiful airplane I have ever been on in my life, we received a briefing from an Air Force sergeant. "Federal regulations prohibit you from carrying certain dangerous items onto the aircraft. You may not transport knives or other cutting instruments, firearms, or explosives. Of course, this does not include your assault rifles, pistols, or bayonets." I stood and watched while a kid who was carrying an M-249 squad automatic weapon (a light machine gun) and a 9mm pistol put his pocketknife in a box. Let's think about this for a minute. If one of us were to hijack that plane, how would that have gone?
"Take this plane to America right now and no one gets hurt!"
"But we're already going to America."
"All right, then."
Has America grown too large and too regulated? Has it become too formalized? Think about that Air Force sergeant. He and his superiors who order him to read ridiculous regulations to a bunch of guys carrying their guns back from a war wouldn't think to just decide that reading the regulations should be skipped in some circumstances. I see this as a problem. The mentality of respect for rules can go too far and that is unhealthy for a society.
More troubling is that so many rules and regulations exist in the first place. Worse still, there will be more rules next year and more each year after that into the foreseeable future.
Robert Kaplan has an enlightening and entertaining essay in the March 2004 issue of The Atlantic about Colonel Tom Wilhelm, US defense attache in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Kaplan followed Wilhelm around as Wilhelm politicked around Mongolia visiting remote outposts and drinking blood and vodka with the locals. The Mongolians are afraid of the Chinese.
Despite seven decades of virtual Soviet occupation, Mongolians are less afraid of the Russians than of the Chinese. Russia's empire is disintegrating; China's is rising. The Chinese are migrating in large numbers into adjacent Russian Siberia. We could see the Chinese border post from our hotel: a brightly lit, well-engineered arc, symbolizing the Sino-industrial encroachment on Zamyn-Uud's sprawl of felt tents and scrap-iron huts.
"In my blood I don't like the Chinese," a high-ranking Mongolian official declared in an interview I conducted in Ulan Bator. "China is not interested in developing Mongolia's economy, but in exploiting our natural resources. The Russians dominated our politics for seven decades but did not incorporate us into the Soviet Union. The Chinese have the possibility to utterly absorb us."
Wilhelm claims the rising belief in evangelical Christianity is what made possible the transformation of the US Army into an internally cohesive organization in which the lower ranks can be trusted with a great deal of power and authority.
The full flowering of the middle ranks had its roots in the social transformation of the American military, which, according to Wilhelm (a liberal who voted for Al Gore in 2000), had taken place a decade earlier, when the rise of Christian evangelicalism had helped stop the indiscipline of the Vietnam-era Army. "This zeal reformed behavior, empowered junior leaders, and demanded better recruits," he said. "For one thing, drinking stopped, and that killed off the officers' clubs, which, in turn, broke down more barriers between officers and noncoms, giving the noncoms the confidence to do what majors and colonels in other armies do. The Christian fundamentalism was the hidden hand that changed the military for the better. Though you try to get someone to admit it! We never could have pulled off Macedonia or Bosnia with the old Vietnam Army."
The whole article is worth reading in full.