How to Ensure You’ll Always Have War Powers to Fight Eastasia

As we’ve known for years, the May 6, 2004 OLC opinion authorizing the warrantless wiretap program shifted the claimed basis for the program from inherent Article II power to a claim the Afghanistan AUMF trumped FISA.

But one problem with that argument (hard to fathom now that Afghanistan has once again become our main forever war) is to sustain the claim that we were still at war in 2004, given that so many of the troops had been redeployed to Iraq. And to sustain the claim that the threat to the US from al Qaeda was sufficiently serious to justify eviscerating the Fourth Amendment.

So, they used politicized intelligence and (accidentally) propaganda to support it.

Use of the Pat Tillman Propaganda to Support Case of Ongoing War

As I’ve noted, Jack Goldsmith made the unfortunate choice to use an article reporting Pat Tillman’s death as his evidence that the war in Afghanistan was still going on.

Acting under his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, and with the support of Congress, the President dispatched forces to Afghanistan and, with the cooperation of the Northern Alliance, toppled the Taliban regime from power. Military operations to seek out resurgent elements of the Taliban regime and al Qaeda fighters continue in Afghanistan to this day. See e.g., Mike Wise and Josh White, Ex-NFL Player Tillman Killed in Combat, Wash. Post, Apr. 24, 2004, at A1 (noting that “there are still more than 10,000 U.S. troops in the country and fighting continues against remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda”).

That article was not really about the ongoing war in Afghanistan; rather, it told a lie, the lie that war hero Pat Tillman had died in combat, rather than in a friendly fire incident.

Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals safety who forfeited a multimillion dollar contract and the celebrity of the National Football League to become a U.S. Army Ranger, was killed in Afghanistan during a firefight near the Pakistan border on Thursday, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Tillman, 27, was killed when the combat patrol unit he was serving in was ambushed by militia forces near the village of Spera, about 90 miles south of Kabul, the Afghan capital. Tillman was hit when his unit returned fire, according to officials at the Pentagon. He was medically evacuated from the scene and pronounced dead by U.S. officials at approximately 11:45 a.m. Thursday. Two other U.S. soldiers were injured and one Afghan solider fighting alongside the U.S. troops was killed.

The death of Tillman, the first prominent U.S. athlete to be killed in combat since Vietnam, cast a spotlight on a war that has receded in the American public consciousness. As Iraq has come into the foreground with daily casualty updates, the military campaign in Afghanistan has not garnered the same attention, though there are still more than 10,000 U.S. troops in the country and fighting continues against remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Now, I say the choice was unfortunate because, in spite of the fact that Tillman’s commanding officers knew within 24 hours of his death on April 22 that it was a friendly fire incident, in spite of the fact that General Stanley McChrystal sent an urgent memo within DOD on April 29 that the death was probably friendly fire, and in spite of the fact that the White House learned enough about the real circumstances of Tillman’s death by May 1 to make no claims about how he died in a Bush speech, there’s no reason to believe that Jack Goldsmith would have learned how Tillman died until it was publicly announced on May 29, 2004.

In other words, it was just bad luck that Goldsmith happened to use what ultimately became an ugly propaganda stunt as his evidence that the Afghan war was still a going concern.

Producing Scary Memos to Justify Domestic Surveillance

I’m less impressed with the description of the role of threat assessments that we’re beginning to get.

Goldsmith’s memo includes an odd redaction in its description of the threat assessment process.

As the period of each reauthorization nears an end, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) prepares a memorandum for the President outlining selected current information concerning the continuing threat that al Qaeda poses for conducting attacks in the United States, as well as information describing the broader context of al Qaeda plans to attack U.S. interests around the world. Both the DCI and the [redacted] review that memorandum and sign a recommendation that the President should reauthorize [redacted name of program] based on the continuing threat posed by potential terrorist attacks within the United States. That recommendation is then reviewed by this Office. Based upon the information provided in the recommendation, and also taking into account information available to the President from all sources, this Office assess whether there is a sufficient factual basis demonstrating a threat of terrorist attacks in the United States for it to continue to be reasonable under the standards of the Fourth Amendment for the President to authorize the warrantless involved in [redacted, probably name of program]. [my emphasis]

Now, there are any number of possibilities for the person who, in addition to the DCI, reviewed the threat assessment: John Brennan and others who oversaw the threat assessment are one possibility, David Addington or Dick Cheney are another.

But the IG Report provides another possibility or two that makes this whole passage that much more interesting:

The CIA initially prepared the threat assessment memoranda that were used to support the Presidential Authorization and periodic reauthorizations of the PSP. The memoranda documented intelligence assessments of the terrorist threats to the United States and to U.S. interests abroad from al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist organizations. These assessments were prepared approximately every 45 days to correspond with the President’s Authorizations of the PSP.

The Director of the Central Intelligence’s (DCI) Chief of Staff was the initial focus point for preparing the threat assessment memoranda. According to the former DCI Chief of Staff, he directed CIA terrorism analysts to prepare objective appraisals of the current terrorist threat, focusing primarily on threats to the U.S. homeland, and to document those appraisals in a memorandum. Initially, the analysts who prepared the threat assessments were not read into the PSP and did not know how the threat assessments would be used. CIA’s terrorism analysts drew upon all sources of intelligence in preparing these threat assessments.

After the terrorism analysts completed their portion of the memoranda, the DCI Chief of Staff added a paragraph at the end of the memoranda stating that the individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism (and discussed in the memoranda) possessed the capability and intention to undertake further attacks within the United States. The DCI Chief of Staff recalled that the paragraph was provided to him initially by a senior White House official. The paragraph included the DCI’s recommendation to the President that he authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance activities under the PSP. CIA Office of General Counsel (OGC) attorneys reviewed the draft threat assessment memoranda to determine whether they contained sufficient threat information and a compelling case for reauthorization of the PSP. If either was lacking, an OGC attorney would request that the analysts provide additional threat information or make revisions to the draft memoranda.

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When Militaries Conspire to Ignore the Will of the People

The story of the day is from Michael Hastings, fresh off winning a Polk Award for his reporting on the insubordination of key members of Stanley McChrystal’s staff. In today’s story, he describes how Lieutenant General William Caldwell ordered a PsyOp unit to manipulate Senators–including John McCain, Carl Levin, Jack Reed, and Al Franken–to support increased troops and funding for training Afghan soldiers. When the commander of that unit objected, he was investigated and disciplined. (See Jim White’s post on it here.)

It’s a troubling picture of the extent to which individual members of our military will push the war in Afghanistan, knowing how unpopular it is in the States.

But there’s an equally troubling story reporting on the disdain with which our military treats public opinion. Josh Rogin reports on a regularly scheduled meeting between the Pakistani and American military in Oman that took place on Tuesday; because of the Raymond Davis affair, the meeting had heightened importance. The US was represented by, among others, Admiral Mullen and Generals Petraeus, Olson (SOCOM) and Mattis (CENTCOM).

As Rogin describes it, the Americans, whose views were represented in a written summary from General Jehangir Karamat with confirmation from another Pakistani participant, believed the two militaries had to restore the Pakistani-American relationship before it got completely destroyed by the press and the public.

“The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled,” Karamat wrote about the meeting, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) that erupted following the Davis shooting.


“[T]he US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures,” Karamat wrote. “These considerations drove it to ask the [Pakistani] Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do-especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution.”

“The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction.” [my emphasis]

In short, the US military wants to make sure that military intervenes to counteract the fury of the people and the press over the Davis affair.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d rather have the military ensure close relations with this nuclear-armed unstable state. I’m cognizant of how, in different situations (notably the Egyptian uprising), close ties between our military and others’ have helped to foster greater democracy. As Dana Priest’s The Mission makes clear our military has increasingly become the best functioning “diplomatic” service we’ve got. And though I think a great deal of stupidity and arrogance got Davis into the pickle he’s in, I certainly back our government’s efforts to get him returned to our country (Rogin also provides details of the plan to do that).

But particularly coming as it does in the same theater and on the same day as news of PsyOps being waged against my Senator, I’m troubled that our military isn’t more concerned with reining in the behavior that has rightly ticked off so many Pakistanis, rather than coordinating with the Pakistani military to make sure the people of Pakistan’s concerns are ignored.

America Picks and Chooses Among Extra-Legal Entities Destabilizing the World

I wanted to add to what David Dayen had to say about these two stories.

Last week, the WaPo quoted at least two military figures stating, as fact, that the Taliban was a bigger threat to the US mission in Afghanistan than corruption. Based on that judgment, the WaPo suggests “military officials” are now pursuing a policy of tolerating some corruption among Afghan allies.

Military officials in the region have concluded that the Taliban’s insurgency is the most pressing threat to stability in some areas and that a sweeping effort to drive out corruption could create chaos and a governance vacuum that the Taliban could exploit.

“There are areas where you need strong leadership, and some of those leaders are not entirely pure,” said a senior defense official. “But they can help us be more effective in going after the primary threat, which is the Taliban.”


Kandahar is not just a Taliban problem; it is a mafia, criminal syndicate problem,” the senior defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “That is why it is so complicated. But clearly the most pressing threat is the Taliban.”

Now, the WaPo headline suggests this is definitely the plan, but the story itself admits that it is unclear whether everyone in the Obama Administration agrees with the plan.

It was not immediately clear whether the White House, the State Department and law enforcement agencies share the military’s views, which come at a critical time for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Indeed, the WaPo piece anonymously quotes an adviser (apparently, but not certainly, civilian) advocating for a crackdown on corruption. And it acknowledges that earlier this year some diplomats and military leaders called to arrest Ahmed Wali Karzai, but Stanley McChrystal scuttled the effort.

So it seems this initiative may come from the DOD side, and if this represents Administration (as opposed to DOD) policy, then clearly not everyone has bought off on it. Which makes it worth cataloging those in the story who might qualify as the “senior defense official” endorsing this new policy. The story quotes the following:

  • Robert Gates, introduced in an apparent non-sequitur between two quotes from the “senior defense official,” visiting two Army units fighting around Kandahar
  • David Petraeus talking about efforts to stem the US contract funds that fuel corruption
  • Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, hailing efforts to set up councils of elders who can decide how to spend reconstruction funds

(Stephen Biddle, of the Council on Foreign Relations, is also quoted supporting this policy.)

Assuming the WaPo is following accepted practice about anonymous quotations, I’d bet a few pennies that the “senior defense official” declaring that the Taliban is a bigger threat than corruption or drugs is Robert Gates.

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The WaPo’s Very Funny Idea of Source Protection

So on the same day that WaPo accepted Dave Weigel’s resignation for the unauthorized publication of emails that were off the record, it also published an article relying on anonymous sources–with no discussion of whether these sources have a motive for their comments–claiming Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings violated journalistic rules by publishing comments that were off the record. Mind you, the article itself supports the conclusion that the Bud Lite Lime imbibing blabbermouths just assumed their comments were off the record but never asked for them to be, particularly given the several other comments which they explicitly asked to be treated as off the record.

But that’s not the weirdest thing about the WaPo’s funny treatment of sources today.

In addition to the article beating up on the Rolling Stone for what appear to be unsubstantiated anonymous charges, they also post the entirety of a fact-checking exchange between an editor at Rolling Stone and Duncan Boothby, the McChrystal press aide who was fired after the article came out. And that exchange gives a fairly detailed description of who the Bud Lite Lime-imbibing blabbermouths were.

2.) Are the following people on McChrystal’s staff, and, are these titles correct:

a. Col. Charlie Flynn, McChrystal,s chief of staff — NO,CHARLIE IS HIS ‘XO’ OR EXECUTIVE OFFICER

b. Brig. Gen. Bill Mayville, McChrystal,s chief of operations–NO, MAJOR GENERAL, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, OPERATIONS

c. Gen. Mike Flynn, McChrystal,s second-in-command — NO, MAJOR GENERAL, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE

3.) The reporter doesn,t name the following people, but he does give a list of vague descriptions for other people on McChrystal’s team. Can the following be found on McChrystal’s team: FINE, NO NAMES PREFERED



c. An Afghan Special Forces commando (YES WHO IS HIS AIDE DE CAMP)


e. Two fighter pilots (YUP)

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What Did Hillary Think about McChrystal’s Firing?

There’s a lot that’s interesting in this tick-tock of General McChrystal’s firing. It’s a finely crafted narrative, down to the foregrounding of Joe Biden, in spite of the way that the chronology appears to belie that narrative (that is, the chronology appears to start when the White House Press Office learns about the article). And note the way the normally cowardly anonymous source, Rahm Emanuel,  is on the record, as the story’s official narrator?

“He likes Stan and thinks Stan is a good man, a good general and a good soldier,” Mr. Emanuel said. “But as he said in his statement, this is bigger than any one person.”

But I’m most curious this paragraph:

On Tuesday, while General McChrystal was making the 14-hour flight to Washington, the White House was involved in a whirl of meetings about his fate. Along with Mr. Gates, aides say, four other senior officials were influential: Vice President Biden; the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen; and Mr. Emanuel.

Compare this paragraph with the picture, above, of the Afghan strategy meeting held after Obama canned McChrystal, conveniently arranged  by protocol in proximity to the President: Joe Biden, James Jones, Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen, Rahm Emanuel, David Petraeus, Tom  Donilon, John Brennan (here’s the official description of the Pete Souza WH picture).

That is, if the decision were made according to seniority, then someone is missing from the list of five important decision-makers counseling Obama (which include Gates, Biden, Jones, Mullen, and Rahm): Hillary Clinton.

Rahm, the official narrator here, says Hillary wasn’t one of the five advisors most central to the decision to can McChrystal.

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Win One for Democratic Institutions

In his statement announcing the firing (technically, acceptance of resignation) of Stanley McChrystal and McChrystal’s replacement with David Petraeus, Obama emphasized the importance of chain of command and civilian control of the military.

War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a Private, a General, or a President. As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding General. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan. My multiple responsibilities as Commander in Chief led me to this decision. First, I have a responsibility to the extraordinary men and women who are fighting this war and to the democratic institutions that I’ve been elected to lead. I’ve got no greater honor than serving as Commander in Chief of our men and women in uniform. And it is my duty to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out. That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted Privates and to the General Office who commands them. That allows us to come together as one. That is part of the reason why America has the finest fighting force in the history of the world. It is also true that our democracy depends on institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command and respect for civilian control over that chain of command. And that’s why as Commander in Chief I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy. [my emphasis]

While I recognize that David Petraeus’ selection represents a continuation of the same policy in Afghanistan, and while I don’t agree with the overall conduct of the war in Afghanistan, I believe Obama made the correct decision with regards to Stanley McChrystal and said precisely the right things about why he had to fire McChrystal.

Now if only we could see the same respect for America’s democratic institutions elsewhere in the Obama Administration.

How Is McChrystal Doing at Fulfilling His Plan?

As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, this isn’t the first time that Stanley McChrystal has been insubordinate. He–or his aides–have mouthed off to the press on two earlier occasions without getting fired.

As Rachel mentions, the first of those was a memo leaked to Bob Woodward just in time to demand more troops. That memo provides an interesting benchmark to assess McChrystal’s own plan.

Troops and Rules of Engagement

The key point of the leak to Woodward, of course, was for more troops. But McChrystal tied that demand to treating Afghans better.

McChrystal makes clear that his call for more forces is predicated on the adoption of a strategy in which troops emphasize protecting Afghans rather than killing insurgents or controlling territory.


The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. “Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”


Toward the end of his report, McChrystal revisits his central theme: “Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.”

As I pointed out yesterday, McChrystal has changed the rules of the engagement with the infantry, which is losing faith precisely because they can’t respond to violence with violence.

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.”

But McChrystal admits in this story that he still demands lots of killing from the special forces, even while he pretends to scold them after they succeed.

Even in his new role as America’s leading evangelist for counterinsurgency, McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. “You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,” McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he’ll add, “I’m going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.” In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009 – a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over.

This quote–unlike some of the more inflammatory ones in the article, direct from McChrystal–was one of the most disturbing to me. Is the call for fewer casualties just a joke? Just something the grunts have to abide by? Or can the special forces guys just live by their own rules, even though their fuck-ups are the ones that really convince Afghans to hate us?

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$15,000 a Truck Protection Payments to the Taliban

As we wait with bated breath to find out whether Obama or Stanley McChrystal wins this little war of big ego, some of the discussion has been focused on whether Obama can succeed in Afghanistan without McChrystal’s leadership (particularly given the way he has gamed alliances with Karzai and the British).

But let’s look at the other piece of Afghanistan news today which may have as much bearing on whether or not Obama can succeed in Afghanistan: the report that Afghan trucking contractors are paying big money payoffs to warlords–including Taliban leaders we’re supposed to be fighting–for protection for their trucks.

Security for the U.S. Supply Chain Is Principally Provided by Warlords. The principal private security subcontractors on the HNT contract are warlords, strongmen, commanders, and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority. Providing “protection” services for the U.S. supply chain empowers these warlords with money, legitimacy, and a raison d’etre for their private armies. Although many of these warlords nominally operate under private security companies licensed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, they thrive in a vacuum of government authority and their interests are in fundamental conflict with U.S. aims to build a strong Afghan government.

The Highway Warlords Run a Protection Racket. The HNT contractors and their trucking subcontractors in Afghanistan pay tens of millions of dollars annually to local warlords across Afghanistan in exchange for “protection” for HNT supply convoys to support U.S. troops. Although the warlords do provide guards and coordinate security, the contractors have little choice but to use them in what amounts to a vast protection racket. The consequences are clear: trucking companies that pay the highway warlords for security are provided protection; trucking companies that do not pay believe they are more likely to find themselves under attack. As a result, almost everyone pays. In interviews and documents, the HNT contractors frequently referred to such payments as “extortion,” “bribes,” “special security,” and/or “protection payments.”

Protection Payments for Safe Passage Are a Significant Potential Source of Funding for the Taliban. Within the HNT contractor community, many believe that the highway warlords who provide security in turn make protection payments to insurgents to coordinate safe passage. This belief is evidenced in numerous documents, incident reports, and e-mails that refer to attempts at Taliban extortion along the road. The Subcommittee staff has not uncovered any direct evidence of such payments and a number of witnesses, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, all adamantly deny that any convoy security commanders pay insurgents. According to experts and public reporting, however, the Taliban regularly extort rents from a variety of licit and illicit industries, and it is plausible that the Taliban would try to extort protection payments from the coalition supply chain that runs through territory in which they freely operate.

Contractors have been faced with using NATO forces for protection. Or paying increasing rates in protection fees to warlords. And those rates are getting downright expensive.

The need to provide heavy weapons and robust security with ex pat leadership was not a requirement on the contract and now seems to be a requirement in some areas unless these missions are turned over to green security [ISAF security]. I also believe that most involved in this contract knew that cash money is often the most effective security, but I do not think it was anticipated how high the market would drive these prices and that cash security and special security forces would so often be the only option… RC South has been the location of nearly all of the attacks on IDIQ carriers, which needless to say presents significant challenges as it relates to controlling the quality of work and production for the [local national] drivers and security staff. The utilization of “Green Security” will eliminate the extortion in the south; however the attacks on convoys will increase due to this fact. Some carriers are paying as much as $15,000 per truck for missions going to Dwyer and other south FOBs. [my emphasis]

Last week, Spencer wrote that DOD has a plan to fix this and other Afghan contracting issues.

It has an uncertain budget, a team of fewer than two dozen military officers and civilians, and barely a year to make its mark on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan before the U.S. begins its transfer of security responsibilities to Afghans. In that time, a new military task force will attempt to get a handle on one of the thorniest aspects of the way the U.S. military fights its wars: its relationship with the small army of contractors it hires for support.


Task Force 2010 is led by Rear Adm. Kathleen Dussault, a longtime Navy logistics officer who served as senior contracting overseer when Petraeus commanded the U.S. war in Iraq. Dussault arrived in Kabul last week after meeting the week before with John Brummet, the head of audits for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, for a briefing on “forensic audits,” something Brummet described as a “data-mining effort to look at financial transaction data” for “various anomalies” indicating waste, fraud or abuse.

Which doesn’t sound all that promising.

So here’s how I figure it. The Afghan warlords have improved on our Soviet era ploy. Back then, we were paying warlords (and building up their power) to fight our enemy, the Russians.

But now, we’re paying them–up to $15,000 a truck!–to not fight us, just so we can get necessary goods to our troops.

I can’t imagine what could go wrong with that.

Ill-Considered Trash Talk McChrystal’s Idea of Winning Hearts and Minds

Politico reports that Stanley McChrystal saw today’s big Rolling Stone article before it was published but didn’t object to anything in it (and the Hill reports there was even more devastating trash talk that was off the record).

Rolling Stone’s executive editor on Tuesday said that Gen. Stanley McChrystal did not raise any objections to a new article that repeatedly quotes him criticizing the administration.

Eric Bates, the magazine’s editor, said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that McChrystal saw the piece prior to its publication as part of Rolling Stone’s standard fact-checking process – and that the general did not object to or dispute any of the reporting.

Asked if McChrystal pushed back on the story, Bates responded: “No, absolutely not.

Now, given the use of the pronoun “they” in the follow-on quotes, I’m assuming by “McChrystal” Bates means “McChrystal’s office,” which may well mean only that press aide that McChrystal already fired reviewed the article.

Nevertheless, this article was not–should not have been–a surprise. McChrystal’s team was at least okay with all this trash talk being published, if not intended for it to be published.

So take a step back and think about what that means for McChrystal (and should mean for the question of whether or not he gets fired for this). Stanley McChrystal, the guy in charge of winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, okayed this article, presumably intending it to win hearts and minds in the US.

And McChrystal presumably knows US culture better than he knows Afghanistan culture.

This article is McChrystal’s idea of winning hearts and minds.

Argue what you will about whether McChrystal’s insubordination requires his firing. Argue what you will about his unique qualifications for the job.

But if this is McChrystal’s idea of how to win hearts and minds then we will never achieve success in Afghanistan so long as he’s in charge.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Update: Rolling Stone tempers that somewhat. Though note the Hill piece and CNN pieces linked include similar, though weaker, claims.

Joe Biden, Another Big Fucking I Told You So

The Toobz are a-tizzy this morning with a Rolling Stone article revealing that Stanley McChrystal said mean things about Joe Biden–both publicly and behind his back.

Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile.

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

But the article is far more subtle than the tizzy lets on. And the tizzy ignores the real moral of the story, revealed after five pages of eye-popping revelations. McChrystal’s counter-insurgency plan is failing. It’s failing not because some of his aides said mean things about Biden, and not because he’s got a long-running spat with Karl Eikenberry, our Ambassador to Afghanistan. It’s failing because the Special Ops guys, whom McChrystal led killing bunches of people in Iraq, are not hard-wired to win hearts and minds. It’s failing because both the tools at McChrystal’s disposal (a bunch of JSOC guys) and the conditions on the ground mean counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency, is the best approach: precisely what Biden argued during the Afghan policy review.

When Vice President Biden was briefed on the new plan in the Oval Office, insiders say he was shocked to see how much it mirrored the more gradual plan of counterterrorism that he advocated last fall. “This looks like CT-plus!” he said, according to U.S. officials familiar with the meeting.

One of the real revelations of this story–one which actually takes up about 1/5 of the article and which is based not on aides revealing embarrassing stories but on watching grunts interact with the General they are often depicted as idolizing–is that they no longer buy that McChrystal can bridge the seemingly (and in fact) irreconcilable forces of the Afghan war; his bravado and mystique is not enough to persuade the grunts implementing his plan to buy into using less lethal force with the hearts and minds they’re supposed to be winning.

“I ask you what’s going on in your world, and I think it’s important for you all to understand the big picture as well,” McChrystal begins. “How’s the company doing? You guys feeling sorry for yourselves? Anybody? Anybody feel like you’re losing?” McChrystal says.

“Sir, some of the guys here, sir, think we’re losing, sir,” says Hicks.

McChrystal nods. “Strength is leading when you just don’t want to lead,” he tells the men. “You’re leading by example. That’s what we do. Particularly when it’s really, really hard, and it hurts inside.” Then he spends 20 minutes talking about counterinsurgency, diagramming his concepts and principles on a whiteboard.


“This is the philosophical part that works with think tanks,” McChrystal tries to joke. “But it doesn’t get the same reception from infantry companies.”

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