Fastest Man In Fort Stewart: General Stanley A. McChrystal

I am not sure how many of you had the opportunity to read “His Long War” by Dexter Filkins in the magazine section of the New York Times today, Sunday, October 18, 2009. Filkins, who first reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan more than a decade ago, is a staff writer for the NYTIMES and the author of The Forever War. He writes about our General Stanley A. McChrystal who has been actively lobbying for a dramatic increase of troops to ‘get the job done’ in Afghanistan.

There is a photograph of McChrystal on the magazine cover. He looks gaunt, tired and pathetic, as if he had just run the Boston Marathon, or is playing an extra in one of Stephen King’s Movies, say The Dead Zone!

It is a long article and must be read until the very last line, which has the real kicker to the piece. Filkins spent a lot of time with soldiers in Afghanistan and also with the brass. All of them had nothing but great things to say about General McChrystal who was put in charge of saving Afghanistan from the Taliban by General Petraeus, our hero in Iraq and now head of the U.S. Central Command with overall responsibility for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus and McChrystal are old friends from Fort Stewart, Ga. Petraeus tells Filkins in the article that he (Petraeus) was “the fastest runner at Fort Stewart until McChrystal arrived.” How’s that for a qualification to get the Taliban?…he’ll run you into the ground.

Filkins article goes into great detail how they–Petraeus and McChrystal– “won” the war in Iraq, brought the country back from the abyss, etc., and now they are using the same military operations in the mountains of Afghanistan. Already we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Remember those days?

Over and over again Filkins reports in his article, General McChrystal and his solders tell the Afghans “don’t worry we’ll be here for you; we won’t leave and let Al Qaeda come in and slit your throats.”

By the way, did we mention that the American army is trying to win hearts and minds of people who have never trusted anyone outside their village or tribe? Lots of luck, guys.

So here is this “fastest runner” at Fort Stewart who signed off, by the way, on the Silver Star for Pat Tillman when he was killed by friendly fire and not by the enemy. Here is a guy who had his men cited for abusing detainees when he was in Baghdad. But never mind.

McChrystal flies around the mountains of Afghanistan telling all the HCHs, ‘we’re here to protect you,” shakes hands, and moves onto the next village in a Black Hawk surrounded by a clutch of bodyguards. But then Dexter Filkins has a kicker (and I am not sure he realizes it is such a kicker, but every RPCV spots it immediately) in the last lines of his article.

McChrystal and Filkins are in a village meeting up with Abdullah Jan, the governor of Garmsir. McChrystal is telling the governor (once more) that they (Americans) are here in Afghanistan for the long haul and Abdullah doesn’t have to worry about Al Qaeda coming back to the village and slitting his throat and everyone else who cooperated with the Americans.

McChrystal then says to Abdullah Jan, “Tell me how we can do better?”

Abdullah Jan looks at him, and politely comments, “You need to live in a building, not a bunch of tents.”

The fastest runner at Fort Stewart looks as Abdullah and  is puzzled by the statement. Here is our great American general that President Obama and everyone in the western world has put their trust in, and he has no idea what the hell this old Afghan is talking about.

Abdullah Jan explains, “Everyone in Garmsir sees that you are living in tents, and they know you are going to be leaving soon….You need to build something permanent…Because your job here is going to take years. Only then will people be persuaded that you are going to stay.”

Duh!

I never met a soldier yet that graduated from West Point who wasn’t arrogant. McChrystal is just  another. He is so smart, so well trained to kill people, he doesn’t understand what any RPCV would realize within weeks of living in another country. You live with the people. You unpack. You settle in. You become part of the community. You build!

McChrystal and his boys are living in tents. They are living off beer from the PK. They are watching American football on their computers. They are there to kill people before they kill them. They have no idea how to connect with a foreign population, build trust, and create bond with people from another culture, in another world.

It is a good thing General Stanley A. McChrystal is the fastest man in Fort Stewart because he’ll need to be when Al Qaeda and the Taliban run his ass out of Afghanistan.

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  • Staff Sgt. Robett J. Paul (RPCV Kenya) was killed by an IED in Kabul on September 8, 2006. Paul had served in Iraq with a miitary unit whose objective was civil action to rebuild communities. That work was documented in Rob Shultheis’s “Waging Peace: A Special Operations Team Battles to Rebuild Iraq.” Paul had also been on the staff of PC/W in the early nineties.

    Bob Paul engaged in a online debate about the possibility of allowing military reserves to complete their military obligations by Peace Corps service. His insights and analysis is invaluable to this current discussion. His comments were published in the NPCA WorldView magazine in the Winter of 2006-7, issue I believe. Peace Corps Online also published the article;
    Here is the title from peacecorpsonline.org
    Peace Corps Online” and NPCA collaborate on story “Snowshoe Bob” in Worldview Magazine

    I wish I had a good link. I do know if you search on “Snowhoe Bob”
    on the peacecorpsonline.org site, it will bring up the article.

  • John, I read the New York Times Magazine article on McChrystal’s “Long War.” I waited to comment until the President had announced his decision on the revised strategy. Since that is not happening, I decided to comment on the article. It was so well written and so discouraging. The army had been in one village for almost 18 months and still had only secured a perimeter of less than a mile around the village. That does not bear well for similar efforts in that vast country.

    Yet, I remember from my Community Development days, that it took easily a year before we began to see any community engagement with any of our many projects. This is where I rage, all over again, at the lack of Peace Corps historical record. Given efforts over fifty years, people should be able to use t he Peace Corps experience as some kind of template as to what is the timeline for so-called Community Development. Such information could help develop benchmarks. However there is no such record, only anecdotes and an occasional country evaluation. The timeframe is still determined by an administrative function; 27 months training and placement. There are no longitunal studies of Peace Corps sites and projects. There is no commitment to “stay and build.”

    What the military is doing is distinct from PC/CD. However, both efforts are intervention by the US in another culture. The model being used in Iraq looks like a hybrid occupation model. There doesn’t seem to be any model for Afghanistan.

    One statement, which McChrystal kept making, was unconscionable. He told the villagers that “we are staying.” “We will be here.”: In other words, trust us and we will protect you. McChrystal was not authorized to make that kind of commitment. Indeed, one of the big issues right now is whether the US military should abandon the villages and retreat to the cities. If that happens, those villagers who did “trust” or cooperate with the US military will suffer horrible retaliation.

    Intervention is very difficult and can carry grave risks for people who throw their support to Americans, be they military or Peace Corps. Marnie Mueller’s book “Green Fires:” is so valuable because she does describe how HCNs can be damaged by Peace Corps efforts.

    I think that one area where RPCVs might be useful would be to develop an ethic of Intervention. My suggestions would include:

    1) First, do no harm.
    2) The people bearing the risk should be informed of the risks.
    3) The people bearing the risk should make the decision to bear the risk.
    4) The “change agent” should be prepared to “protect” the change and the people involved for “as long as it takes.”
    5) Change brought about by the intervention should be monitored through “time and space.”

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