Lessons from the Fall of Stanley McChrystal

June 30, 2010

Reading Rolling Stone Magazine for its journalism is no easy task for anyone who is in the least sanguine about our most important financial and political institutions.   Its raging tirades against corporations, multinationals, Wall Street bankers, Republicans and George W. Bush are so bilious that they leave screaming provocateurs like MSNBC’s Keith Olderman in the dust.

So it is quite in keeping that the Magazine has launched its latest anti-establishment jeremiad against the Afghanistan War and  done its best to expose Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff as sneering insubordinates who have no respect for the army’s civilian commanders.

But reading the same  article that  led to the General’s downfall, the intention to destroy the general’s career, does not exactly shine through.

In fact, quite the opposite is the case.   The article is a competent examination of  army leadership during war time and a portrait of the century’s long disconnect between civilian commanders – in -chief  and generals in the field.

Stanley McChrystal was, after all, not the first military  man to express frustration with civilian leaders in Washington.

George Washington did son during the Revolutionary War;  George McClellan did so to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War;  General  ” Black Jack” Pershing criticized Woodrow Wilson in the First World War and Douglas McArthur did the same to Harry Truman in Korea.

Generals become exasperated with the failures of the civilian command to understand or appreciate military strategy and to consider diplomatic or political considerations before military ones.

We shouldn’t forget how difficult it is to convey the seriousness of any given military situation without actually seeing the situation on the ground.

For this reason Winston Churchill, who had served several periods in the army during war time, made a point of traveling regularly to the front (particularly after the invasion of Normandy), in order to confer directly with his generals about the war’s progress.  Adolf Hitler  spent most of the Second World War in a bunker complex on the Eastern Front,  so determined was he to remain close to the action.

In Stanley McChrytal’s case, it was only a few words – references to the incompetence of the civilian command in the persons of the Ambassador to Afghanistan, the Vice President and the President – but those same impressions are almost certainly on the mind of most of the American servicemen in that country.   This should be no wonder  since they are repeatedly told that that they can not undertake such and such an action, lest it bring about severe political consequences.

This  is made no clearer than in the The Last 600 Meters – a documentary AFA screened last Sunday.  In its portrayal of the Battles for Fallujah and Najaf in 2004, the two deadliest battles of the Iraqi War, soldiers who fought in the battles, report themselves as mystified by the decisions of the civilian commanders to shackle them and forbid advances which could have eliminated significant strategic threats to the stability of Iraq.  In one instance,  the Mahdi Militia is cornered and about to be annihilated, ( removing a significant threat to American and Iraqi lives), when an order emerges from Washington, via Paul Bremer, to withdraw.

The soldiers are shown to be completely exasperated by the order and it is only explained to them well after the fact that the damage to Iraqi infrastructure and the loss of civilian life in the towns has forced upon the politicians a reconsidered approach.

Since the far off  days of Julius Caesar, civilian commanders have been wary of the runaway general in the field, who arrogates to himself all decision making.  The fear of  a general drunk on power, without sufficient restraints and respect for his own commanders, is an abiding concern of all democracies.

But we should not forget that while a professional army in a republic such as ours  works for us and is there to do our bidding, a commander-in-chief such as Barack Obama, who comes to the job  with less experience than any President in history, should learn better when to defer to his men in the field, invest a measure of faith in their experience and acumen and treat their military decisions with respect.

No, they should not have to tolerate open insubordination or publicly expressed contempt.  But at the same time they should have the humility to understand that the vital success of a military mission rests on the clear eyed vision of men in the field and there will never be a substitute for that bird’s eye view.

In Defense of British Petroluem

June 24, 2010

Is it any wonder that the oil conglomerate British Petroleum is not winning any popularity contests lately?  After all, this is the moment that our chattering classes have been eagerly anticipating for decades  – the whale-like oil companies finally surfacing and exposing a vulnerable flank to a host of upraised harpoons.  So successful has the media mauling and demonization of the corporate giant been, that you would think the company is the very re-incarnation of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, determined to blacken our seas and stain our sands with its slimy, viscous poison.

So anyone trying to build a case for the London-based multinational during its agonizing and protracted auto de fé, does not have an enviable task.  After all, who really wants to speak a good word about a company that has facilitated the worst oil spill of the past 40 years –  an episode that may be on its way to becoming the most calamitous man made environmental disaster in history?

Well, frankly, I do.

Because British Petroleum, whether appreciated today or not, has been one of the singularly great success stories of the world’s entrepreneurial classes, building an almost unparalleled  record of success as a spearhead of Western civilization.  It has brought wealth and prosperity, not simply to the West, but to those countries where it has located its operations and created models for how corporations can overcome institutional obstacles.  It has shown how an indomitable spirit , accompanied by bold vision can achieve results that those who complain endlessly about corporate rapaciousness, only dream about.

From its founding in 1901 by William Knox D’Arcy, and then through the skilful leadership of Charles Greenway and his successor John Cadmon, the Anglo- Persian Oil Company, (renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil in 1935 and then again British Petroleum in 1953) has undertaken exploration of a vital world energy source in countries largely hostile to either exploration or development.

We shouldn’t forget that the discovery of oil in Persia in the early years of the 20th Century did not occur after some Oriental counterpart of Jed Clampett, shooting buck skin on a desert sand dune, inexplicably struck it rich.  It took nearly a decade of painstaking and often fruitless exploration  before oil was discovered – and with those efforts  initially producing only pitiful returns.   That it eventually succeeded so well, is testament not just to the vision and acumen of corporate leaders, but the drive of the West to expand. For with that expansion was carried a value system that came to dominate the world and  spread the bounty and promise of Western civilization.

Of course even the mere mention of the name of “Anglo Persian Oil” can arouse the most acerbic vitriol from the left, who regard the fact that Europeans once sought to develop and exploit the Persian oil fields, as a badge of colonial shame.  Yet, whatever you want to say about the men who greedily eyed profits in the Persian Gulf, there can be no question that their undertakings had a transformative impact on the world, raising living standards wherever they went and making possible important advances in health, transportation and communications.

Oil’s less benevolent impact on our world  –  the mark of environmental degradation- might stand as its deepest indictment.  But the industry, it should be remembered, did not produce the demand itself; it simply responded to it.  As Western technology developed and prosperity accelerated, oil, replacing coal, became a vital piece in achieving progress in almost all fields of human endeavor.  That our society has now identified oil as a major pollutant and as a threat to our long term survival, should not be thrown in the faces of companies such as BP.  They are not responsible for inventing our luxuries.  They only help to make them move.

Does any of this excuse BP from its responsibilities to facilitate the containment and clean up of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?.  Of course not.  But the company does not deserve to stand accused as a scourge of humanity, to be hounded out of business for the obscene presumption of seeking to take advantage of our desperate need for a reliable source of energy.

Perhaps President Obama, in his apparently insatiable need to lacerate and lecture BP, should then consider something pertinent about his own past:  Neither Kenya , Indonesia nor Hawaii, all places that figure prominently in his curriculum vitae, would have produced societies capable of giving either him or his father the education and opportunities they had, without the  participation and even leadership of companies such as BP.

Lets hope that the endless gushing in the Gulf ends soon.  But lets also hope that the same endless anti-corporate gushing in Washington, offering a different, but no less contaminating level of pollution, ends even sooner.

The Humanitarians Who Turn Victims Into Victimizers

June 2, 2010

The brave sailors and passengers aboard the boat brace for what is about to happen.Off to starboard they can see a series of skiffs racing towards them, while a naval gunship announces emphatically by megaphones in English and Hebrew, that they must  stand down or else be boarded.   But the passengers of this particular craft have sailed too far and endured too much tragedy to be denied.   Within sight of their beloved coastline, these determined passengers are willing to risk capture and even death to reach it.    So when the first soldier places his boot on deck, all hell breaks loose.  In the melee shots are fired and bodies slump.  When the smoke clears, several passengers are dead and the cries of the wounded are heard everywhere.

Think you’ve seen this movie before?  No wonder.  It could have been a scene from any  combination of ships which attempted to run the British blockade of Palestine  from 1939 to 1947.  At that time fleeing Jewish refugees, denied entry to any other world port, sought sanctuary in Palestine where they suspected they would find safe harbor.

Recreating history to become the “21st Century’s Jews” the Palestinians have reversed engineered Jewish victimhood,  in the process becoming the very model of a brutally repressed and forgotten people.  From the self-designation of a national liberation movement (the mantle the PLO adopted in the 1960s) to the assertions of  dispossession to the claims of being the subjects of a  ” Holocaust ” and “genocide,” the Palestinians regularly invoke the images of the Jewish people’s own past, convincing the world that the Jews learned nothing from the centuries of vilification and hatred leveled against them and have become the mirror image of their own oppressors.

So it should come as no surprise that Palestinians and their humanitarian supporters have once again captured the limelight by drawing another historical parallel between themselves and the Jewish people.  The flotilla which sought to subvert the Israeli “blockade” of Gaza ( although no such thing truly exists)  was a carefully constructed pantomime, played out for the benefit of the world press under cover of a humanitarian mission.   In the furor that has met the deaths of the eleven passengers aboard the Turkish registered Marmara, the facts are completely neglected.  Overlooked is the reality that there is no shortage of food or medical supplies in Gaza; that those aboard the Marmara had no intention of staging a peaceful protest but had come armed with clubs and knives and were resolutely determined to take Israeli lives;  that Hamas terror and the incessant bombing of Israeli border towns has given Israel very good reason to interdict the passage of unchecked humanitarian aid , in the interests of preventing future weapons supply of Hamas terrorists.

None of it matters because the far better story –  and the ones the Palestinians and their supporters so earnestly cultivate, is that Jews have transformed into Nazis and their means are both nefarious and oppressive.  The alacrity with which not only the foreign press but supposedly friendly world governments have jumped to condemn the Israeli assault, even when the video footage clearly reveals the Israeli soldiers to have fired in self defense and only as a last resort, is evidence of the increasing willingness of the world to buy a Palestinian narrative of eternal victimhood which is twisted beyond all realities.

Maybe it would be a good idea to look into the provenance of these humanitarians.  The so called Freedom Flotilla maintains extensive terrorist ties.  For instance,  itss primary sponsor, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH)has been  identified by the CIA as connected to al Qaeda and the millennium plot of 1999.

Also unknown to most people is that the humanitarian aid to Gaza could have been delivered by truck, as the Israelis had offered.  However  flotilla spokeswoman, Greta Berlin made it clear in a Agence- France interview in May that the ” mission, is not about delivering humanitarian supplies.  Its about breaking Israel’s siege. ”

Can’t get  much clearer than that.

The danger  of such willing gullibility and open hostility to a democratic government seeking to enforce measures to aid its own self defense are obvious.  The Israeli experience leaves all democracies open to similar forms of harassment as the press is cajoled and fooled into presenting images of the weak against the strong and the bona fides of any humanitarian effort, regardless of the ideologies and intentions of those who carry out the mission.

Thus the United States is increasing taken to task for its failures to uphold the human rights of  incarcerated terrorists, no matter their intentions; and the United Kingdom finds itself purloined by the attempts to stem the tide of  an unwanted and culturally devastating immigration, which continues under the guise of humanitarian openness and pluralism.

Meanwhile truly evil regimes  such as North Korea can torpedo a South Korean ship with the loss of 67  lives without a whimper from the West; a Sudanese dictator can carry on the world’s most devastating genocidal campaign and barely anyone reports it; 45,000 people a month can be murdered in the Congo without it registering on any one’s radar and Iran can continue to develop unimpeded the world’s most deadly and destabilizing weapons system.

It is, as British journalist Melanie Phillips has so powerfully written in her new book, a world truly turned upside down.  But it is only made possible by the West’s willingness to accept a spurious narrative which is divorced from reality.  The West’s  romance with humanitarians who turn victims into victimizers must therefore end before the veneration of “heroes”,  such as those aboard the Marmara, eventually castigate us all as Nazis and fascists.

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