Saturday, June 26, 2010

Patrick Martin: Militarism and Democracy: the Implications of the McChrystal Affair

Militarism and Democracy: the Implications of the McChrystal Affair
by Patrick Martin article link
June 25, 2010 | Global Research | WSWS

The political crisis in Washington, sparked by the publication of inflammatory comments by General Stanley McChrystal, the overall commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, culminated in the firing of McChrystal Wednesday morning and his replacement by General David Petraeus, the former US commander in Iraq.

McChrystal was summoned from Afghanistan to a White House meeting where he submitted his resignation over the publication of a lengthy article in Rolling Stone magazine, in which he and his top aides were quoted making disparaging references to President Obama and nearly all the administration’s top national security officials.

Obama accepted the resignation, and McChrystal left the White House immediately. After three hours of meetings with his national security council and Pentagon brass, Obama appeared before television cameras to announce McChrystal’s ouster and the nomination of Petraeus to succeed him.

In his brief remarks, with no questions allowed from the media, Obama emphasized that he remained fully in support of the program of military escalation and counterinsurgency warfare with which McChrystal is identified. He pledged to do “whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan,” adding, “This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy.”

General Petraeus, who was McChrystal’s superior as head of the U.S. Central Command, was closely involved in the administration’s Afghan policy deliberations and fully supported the decision last December to dispatch an additional 30,000 US troops.

Two aspects of the McChrystal affair deserve consideration. First, and most obviously, the firing of McChrystal demonstrates the worsening position of the US intervention in Afghanistan. The general would not have been summarily dismissed over a magazine article if the war had been going well.

The day McChrystal was fired, the death toll for US and NATO troops rose to 76 in June, making this the worst month for the foreign occupation forces since the US first invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Among the Afghan people, President Hamid Karzai is widely reviled as a corrupt American puppet. Antiwar sentiment is mounting in all the European countries with military contingents in Afghanistan, as well as in the United States, where a majority in opinion polls now say the war is not worth fighting.

A report issued Monday by a congressional committee found that the supply chain for US troops in Afghanistan funnels hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of corrupt local warlords, many of whom in turn pay Taliban insurgents not to attack their trucks. The Pentagon is thus indirectly financing the insurgency, to the tune of $2 million a week according to one estimate cited in the report.

On Tuesday evening, three of the most pro-war US senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, and Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman, issued a joint statement condemning McChrystal’s comments as “inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between commander-in-chief and the military.”

They effectively endorsed his dismissal in advance, declaring, “The decision concerning General McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the president of the United States.”

The backing for Obama from congressional Republicans and many right-wing media pundits shows that significant sections of the ruling elite have lost confidence in McChrystal and his counterinsurgency strategy. There was growing criticism for the past month, following the evident failure of the US intervention in Marjah and the forced postponement of the planned offensive into Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and a Taliban stronghold.

Obama’s selection of Petraeus to replace McChrystal is a clear effort to appease these right-wing critics. Petraeus directed the US military escalation in Iraq in 2007-2008, which is credited in ruling circles with salvaging the US intervention there, although some 90,000 US troops still remain. The appointment of Petraeus was suggested in advance by neoconservative columnist William Kristol, and hailed by the right-wing media as a political masterstroke.

The second key element in the McChrystal affair is what it has revealed about the internal state of affairs in the US military. An entire layer has developed in the officer corps and high command, which is openly contemptuous of civilian authority, while their nominal superiors are themselves thoroughly intimidated by military opposition.

The Army plays an ever-growing role in American political life, fueled by an endless succession of wars. The US military has been continuously engaged in combat operations for nearly nine years, the longest such period in American history, and the Pentagon operates under a “Long War” doctrine, which envisions a more or less indefinite continuation of such warfare.

A few of the more perceptive press commentators have pointed out this aspect of the McChrystal affair. Simon Tisdall, writing in the British Guardian, observed, “The disrespectful behaviour of the US commander in Afghanistan and his aides was symptomatic of a more deeply rooted, potentially dangerous malaise, analysts suggest. This week’s events might thus be termed a very American coup.”

Liberal Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, writing in the Los Angeles Timesabout “An increasingly politicized military,” argued that the McChrystal affair is more ominous than the celebrated Truman-MacArthur clash of 1951, which ended with MacArthur’s dismissal in the midst of the Korean War. That is because McChrystal voices openly the sentiments an officer corps that has become, through a political selection over the past three decades, overwhelmingly oriented to the right-wing of the Republican Party and to Christian fundamentalism.

Ackerman cites surveys showing that “a majority of active-duty officers believe that senior officers should ‘insist’ on making civilian officers accept their viewpoints” and that “only 29% believe that high-ranking civilians, rather than their military counterparts, ‘should have the final say on what type of military force to use’.”

The ominous implications of this trend were expressed in two reports published today in the New York Times. An article by correspondent C.J. Chivers describes growing frustration among field officers, NCOs and rank-and-file soldiers in Afghanistan with McChrystal’s counterinsurgency tactics, which, in the name of reducing civilian casualties, call for “further tightening rules guiding the use of Western firepower—airstrikes and guided rocket attacks, artillery barrages and even mortar fire—to support troops on the ground.”

Chivers claims the rules “have shifted risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants,” leading to widespread resentment among the troops over “being handcuffed” in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents. His unstated conclusion is that the replacement of McChrystal should be welcomed as a step to unleashing the full power of American weaponry on the Afghan population.

A commentary by correspondent Robert Mackey, published on the Times web site, takes note of the Chivers article and poses the question, “Is a Culture War Between American Soldiers and Civilians Inevitable?” Mackey points to the growing gulf between the American population and an all-volunteer military, much of its leadership recruited from the families that have provided several generations of military officers.

McChrystal himself, he notes, was the son of a major general who served in the US occupation government in Germany after World War II and later at the Pentagon. All five of McChrystal’s siblings either joined the military or married into it.

What such commentaries begin to reveal is the emergence in the United States of a distinct military caste, virulently hostile to democracy, civilian control and any form of popular opposition to American imperialism.

The firing of McChrystal and his replacement by Petraeus represents, not a blow against this trend, but the means by which Obama and the Democratic Party adapt themselves to the demands of the military brass. McChrystal’s only crime—his “error in judgment”, in Obama’s parlance—was to express in too blunt and unguarded a fashion the sentiments of broad sections of the US officer corps.

Patrick Martin is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Why was General McChrystal fired?
by Barry Grey article link
June 25, 2010 | Global Research | WSWS

Reactions within the US establishment to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal indicate that disparaging remarks by McChrystal and his aides concerning President Obama and other civilian officials published in a Rolling Stone article were not the principal cause of his dismissal.

Rather, the article brought to a head the deepening crisis arising from the failure of the US military to suppress the popular resistance in Afghanistan to Washington’s colonial-style war. Dissatisfaction with McChrystal’s leadership had been mounting within the Obama administration since the failure of the offensive in Marjah launched last February. The decision announced earlier this month to delay for at least three months the assault on Kandahar was widely seen as an embarrassing setback.

Despite McChrystal’s reputation as a ruthless practitioner of counterinsurgency warfare, responsible for the killing of thousands of Iraqis, the general has more recently been the target of growing criticism that the effectiveness of the operation in Afghanistan was being undermined by his excessive concern over civilian casualties.

That concern has nothing to do with humanitarian considerations. Rather, it is based on the cold calculation—the Rolling Stone article refers to McChrystal's "insurgent math"—that for every innocent person killed, ten new enemies are created.

The article, written by Michael Hastings, deals relatively briefly with the remarks of McChrystal and his aides about US civilian officials in Afghanistan. They are predictably crude, and could hardly have come as a surprise to Obama, let alone to the Pentagon. They are familiar with the fascistic and debased character of McChrystal’s entourage. Hastings concisely describes the general’s staff as “a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs.”

The comments made by McChrystal about Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and special envoy Richard Holbrooke have generated the most media attention. But Hastings devotes far more space relating the complaints of American soldiers that McChrystal is tying their hands by enforcing rules of engagement which limit the use of air strikes and mortar fire against potential civilian targets and restrict the ability of US troops to enter the homes of Afghan civilians.

Hastings writes that “McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the US military has ever encountered in a war zone.” He continues: “But however strategic they may be, McChrystal’s new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. ‘Bottom line?’ says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, ‘I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers’ lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing.’”

Describing a meeting near Kandahar between McChrystal and disaffected troops, Hastings writes: “The soldiers complain about not being allowed to use lethal force, about watching insurgents they detain be freed for lack of evidence. They want to fight—like they did in Iraq, like they had in Afghanistan before McChrystal.”

Whether this view is really widely held among soldiers is not clear. But it appears that this argument is gaining support within the Washington policy-making elite and within the media. Hastings indicates his own standpoint—and, more broadly, that of many of McChrystal’s establishment critics—when he declares: “When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan—and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny.”

The New York Times weighed in on Wednesday, before the White House meeting between Obama and McChrystal at which the general submitted his resignation, with an article by its Afghan war correspondent, C. J. Chivers, headlined “Warriors Vexed by Rules For War.”

The article makes the case for the US to “take the gloves off” and dramatically escalate its assault on the Afghan population. Chivers quotes unnamed soldiers denouncing McChrystal for limiting the use of air strikes and artillery, and declares: “As levels of violence in Afghanistan climb, there is a palpable and building sense of unease among troops surrounding one of the most confounding questions about how to wage the war: when and how lethal force should be used.”

He continues: “The rules have shifted risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants… Young officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines…speak of ‘being handcuffed…’”

“No one wants to advocate loosening rules that might see more civilians killed,” he writes. But this is precisely what The New York Times is demanding.

In its lead editorial published on Thursday, entitled “Afghanistan After McChrystal,” the Times demands a “serious assessment now of the military and civilian strategies.” It then writes, in chilling language: “Until the insurgents are genuinely bloodied they will keep insisting on a full restoration of their repressive power. Reports that some State Department officials are also advocating a swift deal with the Taliban are worrisome.” [Emphasis added].

This statement, by the authoritative voice of the liberal Democratic Party policy-making establishment, provides an insight into the deeper issues involved in McChrystal’s removal. Apparently, for the Times, the United States has not pursued with sufficient vigor the work of “seriously bloodying” those in Afghanistan opposed to foreign occupation during more than eight years of war.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have already been killed by US and NATO forces—nobody knows the full extent of the slaughter since Washington does not bother to count its victims. Tens of thousands more have been wounded, jailed or tortured in US prisons.

This campaign of killing and terror is aimed at drowning in blood an entirely legitimate struggle by the Afghan people for national liberation against a colonial occupier. The main problem the US faces is that after eight years of war and more than three decades of US subversion and provocation, popular resistance by the Afghan masses against American imperialism is growing. The answer of the US ruling elite is to murder more Afghans.

The war in Afghanistan is a crime against humanity, and those who are perpetuating it are war criminals.

The struggle to arouse opposition in the working class within the United States and internationally must be renewed.

Barry Grey is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Global Research Articles by Patrick Martin
Global Research Articles by Barry Grey
World Socialist Web Site home page

Did 9/11 Justify the War in Afghanistan?
Using the McChrystal Moment to Raise a Forbidden Question
by Prof. David Ray Griffin article link
June 25, 2010 | Global Research
Global Research Articles by David Ray Griffin
Global Research home page

Firing McChrystal Isn’t Enough. Fire the War
by Pierre Tristam article link article link
June 26, 2010 | FlaglerLive | CommonDreams
FlaglerLive home page

Thank You General McChrystal
by Tom Gallagher article link
June 25, 2010 | CommonDreams
CommonDreams home page

Obama Misses the Afghan Exit Ramp
By Ray McGovern article link
June 24, 2010 | Information Clearing House
Information Clearing House home page

McCrystal Scandal Shows Us the Military No Longer Protects America -- It Guards Empire
By Frank Schaeffer article link
June 25, 2010 | OpEdNews
OpEdNews home page


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