review by David Johnson, special to The City Wire
Fayetteville Public Library Executive Director and University of Arkansas graduate David Johnson has lived in Fayetteville for over 20 years. His wife, the former Holly Brain, is the executive director of the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation Inc. Johnson received his master’s degree of library science from the University of Tennessee, then worked 15 years for Tyson Foods Inc. in Information systems, sales and marketing and research and development. He was hired to lead the library in January of this year. Johnson said he shares his staff’s passion and enthusiasm for serving his community and looks forward to continuing to provide the nationally recognized library service that Fayetteville expects — and deserves.
Book review: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings
Blue Rider Press: New York, New York (2012)
FAYETTEVILLE — Beyond the televised punditry, political theater, and gargantuan debt, a decade of war in the Middle East has had some additional interesting effects on our country. One being the introduction into our language the names of people, places and military operations that sounds like a game played over a bowl of Alphabet soup: ‘A’ is for Anbar, ‘B’ is for Bagram, ‘C’ is for Counterinsurgency, and so forth.
Likewise, given the seemingly “revolving door” nature of our military commanders, the same soup bowl name game could be played with the leaders of our armed forces: Abizaid, Franks, McKiernan, Odierno, Patraeus. At times it’s hard to keep up with who is in charge and over what. Some of the leadership switches happened so fast the words to “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye” come to mind.
In The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, Rolling Stone contributing editor Michael Hastings gives us an insider’s view of one general’s brief time in the driver’s seat. General Stanley McChrystal’s 12 months as commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan lasted from June 2009 to June 2010. Prior to taking command of the U.S. and I.S.F.A. forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal’s name was linked to his role in the Abu Ghraib torture and prison abuse scandal, and the cover up of the friendly fire death of Ranger and former professional football player Pat Tillman. Under his command beginning in June 2009, Operation Khanjar was initiated and led to the largest offensive operation and deadliest combat month for NATO forces since 2001.
McChrystal’s year at the wheel ended with an unceremonious firing following the publication of author Hastings’s June 24, 2010, Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” that included several unflattering comments targeted at Vice President Joe Biden and the civilian leadership of the military. Not surprisingly, the article has been both recognized for excellence in investigative journalism and challenged for accuracy by the Department of Defense. The Operators picks up where that story left off.
Beginning in April of 2010, Hastings’s was allowed rare backstage access to Gen. McChrystal, his team of handlers, and his military rock and roll circus as they toured several European countries promoting U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. The narrative alternates between chapters of the author’s first person travelogue and historical flashbacks that provide perspective to the U.S. activities in Afghanistan and Iraq over the preceding six years of war.
Hastings’s description of the European tour read like something from a drunken Led Zeppelin world tour, complete with late night booze fests at hotel bars, embarrassing encounters at orchestrated media rooms, and staged press conferences and phony public appearances. The indulgences described underscore the outrageous behavior that cynical civilians have come to expect from lower ranking troops. But a top ranking general, too? Disappointing.
In addition to the behind the scenes view of the McChrystal European Tour, Hastings also describes a familiar bureaucratic malady that all large organizations, not just the United States military, struggle with: Well intended directives and strategies from commanders in chief, or chief executive officers, frequently get distorted as they pass down through the diluting layers and competing agendas of the organization, and often do not address conditions in the field, or on the sales floor.
To underscore the point, Hastings describes a ridiculously risky late night visit to a frontline combat outpost cryptically named “JFM” in Khandahar Province where soldiers are struggling to make sense of the death of one their popular fellow soldiers from a VOIED-victim operated improvised explosive device. Yet another victim of the counterinsurgent ‘avoid civilian casualties’ rules of engagement that that conflict with the soldiers simply struggling to stay alive. As one officer observes, “I get COIN [Counterinsurgency]. I get all that. McChrystal comes here, explains it, it makes sense. But then he goes away on his bird, and by the time his directives get passed down to us through Big Army, they’re all [messed] up either because somebody is trying to cover their [butt], or because they don’t understand themselves.”
Whether McChyrstal’s behavior as described by Hastings in his Rolling Stone article should have led to his dismissal is to be debated. What is not up for argument is Hastings’s clear-sighted description of what it’s like to reign at the top of the heap of the military world, his observations of our military’s indulgent behaviors that are frequently too easily dismissed, and the wide gap that exists between high level military strategy and boots on the ground execution of that strategy. The Operative is must-read for those attempting to make sense of the alphabet soup of the war in the Middle East.