June 27, 2010

The Futures Market for Violence in Afghanistan Holds Firm

Recently, for some reason I had cause to remark that some of the best political writing of the past 40 years has appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine. Somehow, almost overnight, noticing Rolling Stone's political writing is the new black.

General McChrystal's sudden demotion followed almost immediately on his surprising appearance in Michael Hastings's article, word of which spread so fast that the General was already days gone from his post before the print version of the article even hit the street, although the gist of the piece, and even the magazine's own exact words, were more or less instantly available through the internet to anyone who cared to see them.

On principle, I would personally fire anyone who drank lite beer with lime flavoring in it, so McChrystal's removal doesn't trouble me. For his role in orchestrating the cover up of Pat Tillman's death he probably deserves to have his career crimped anyway, although the months I spent in the military years ago gave me the perhaps contrary impression that covering up such things was just one of the many duties thrust on those in command and which, when successfully accomplished, inclines the officer commissioned to deal with it toward rapid promotion rather than reprimand. Colin Powell earned his first star for polishing the turd of My Lai, giving up to his superiors in the Pentagon an earnest and workable telling of the tale that so enwrapped them all in asscoveredness that Powell's future career was assured.

And, again, even before the print version of the Rolling Stone article hit the newsstands, it had already been determined that Obama must respond to McChrystal's impertinence directly and forcefully, that a line had been crossed and Obama needed to show the general the I'm in charge here clause in the Constitution. Fretting over whether he would actually do it or not dissolved when, only a few dozen hours after word of the story began to spread, he actually did remove McChrystal from command and replace him with General Petraeus of Iraq invasion fame.

This is a very peculiar episode. Hamid Kharzai, who many suspect is our ally in Afghanistan, bemoaned the loss of General McChrystal, while Obama gave a stay-the-mysterious-course speech in the immediate aftermath of the episode which among other things reaffirmed the ongoing resolve of the Administration to accomplish something or other in Afghanistan in the next eighteen months or maybe longer, depending, so help us God.

So in the national political Kabuki, firing McChrystal is the symbolic act by which it is revealed that Obama has the mojo necessary to commandingly announce the continuation of the current US policy of going on and on in Afghanistan, which he promptly does after disposing of McChrystal: the pledge of an endless future there is freshly and importantly reaffirmed in public, even before the story that sacked the general hits the street in printed form.

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