Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Are We Doing In Afghanistan?

"If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular." Senior adviser to McChrystal.

After reading Michael Hastings article, "The Runaway General", many people will be paying attention. After all, this is the article that cost General McChrystal his job. He's only the second general to be dismissed from the position during a time of war (the first being Gen. Douglas MacArthur) and up until Rolling Stone magazine made the article available online, many people were asking themselves "geez, what did this guy do anyway?"

After reading this article, the answer is clear. McChrystal and his team talked shit. They expressed their frustrations. They don't respect the political poster boys they are forced to work with to win the war in Afghanistan. So they bitched about it. Were they right for saying what they did? I guess not. Did McChrystal's comments warrant his dismissal? Maybe.

We know why Obama dismissed him but why should people back that dismissal? Are we supposed to be angry at the guy for his lack of professionalism in front of a journalist or for bad-mouthing the Obama administration?

Funny enough, Hastings' article focuses more on McChrystal's plans for Afghanistan and less on him and his team's gossipy ways. It's refreshingly honest. Maybe that's the problem; that kind of honesty, the kind of reporting a real journalist is supposed to do, is alarming in a world where print media is dying, media outlets deliver biased news and bloggers are held accountable for almost nothing.

America is a country where we like things blue or red. People watch news channels and read articles that echo their political views. They want to know who they're supposed to be opposing. Their "you're either with us or against us" attitude is so ingrained in their way of thinking that they get confused when lines aren't clearly drawn. People aren't used to reading about generals who support Obama as president but don't think he's handling things in Afghanistan the way he should and soldiers who want to be allowed to use their guns or want the war to end (because what the hell are they doing so far from home if they're not allowed to shoot anything).

But this article doesn't pick sides. Hastings gives readers a glimpse into the very real situation we as a country are facing; we're at war, it's going to be a long time before it's over and people are going to die. There are thousands of soldiers who have been fighting since the "war against terrorism" was in Iraq. Now the word is Al Qaeda has relocated to Pakistan. And while everyone seems to have ideas on how to "fix" Afghanistan (counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism), a victory is nowhere in sight.

No one relieved McChrystal of his duties after "Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former-NFL-star-turned-Ranger, was accidentally killed by his own troops in Afghanistan in April 2004" and McChrystal "took an active role in creating the impression that Tillman had died at the hands of Taliban fighters". The general wasn't given his walking papers for his involvement in the detainee abuse and torture at Camp Nama in Iraq. So do people really think McChrystal was fired for the disparaging comments he made? Or was he fired because the public got a whiff of those comments? Or is he just a scapegoat? After all, this article will be responsible for taking the wool off of a lot of people's eyes.

I doubt people will really remember McChrystal's inappropriate remarks in the future. Some may even respect him for his "take no shit" attitude some day if they don't already. Instead, people will read "The Runaway General" and ask "what are we doing in Afghanistan?" They'll be angry and they'll want to know who they should be angry at.

Congratulations Hastings. We're paying attention now.

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