What's he got that you haven't got, Logan? Gender, access, and the doodliness of war

Check out Lara Logan’s comments on Michael Hastings’ reporting on General Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone last week.  She says: 

“Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me,” she said, adding that she knows McChrystal’s staff and McChrystal doesn’t have a history of interacting with the press. “I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just — I don’t believe it. “

So far, no one–neither the General nor his staff of Lost Boys–has said that Hastings’ reportage wasn’t accurate.  There’s always going to be some carping and jawing when someone gets scooped, but all you have to do is read Hastings’ article to see why he was privy to a lot of talk and behavior that Logan never saw in her years on the war beat for CBS in Iraq and Afghanistan.  From “The Runaway General:”

“Who’s he going to dinner with?” I ask one of his aides. 

“Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.”

.       .       .       .       .       .      

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner. 

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

.       .       .       .       .       .      

According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

.       .       .       .       .       .      

The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority. . . .

By midnight at Kitty O’Shea’s, much of Team America is completely shitfaced. Two officers do an Irish jig mixed with steps from a traditional Afghan wedding dance, while McChrystal’s top advisers lock arms and sing a slurred song of their own invention. “Afghanistan!” they bellow. “Afghanistan!” They call it their Afghanistan song.

McChrystal steps away from the circle, observing his team. “All these men,” he tells me. “I’d die for them. And they’d die for me.”

The assembled men may look and sound like a bunch of combat veterans letting off steam, but in fact this tight-knit group represents the most powerful force shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan. While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side.

.       .       .       .       .       .      

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. “Oh, not another e-mail from [Richard] Holbrooke,” he groans. “I don’t even want to open it.” He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

“Make sure you don’t get any of that on your leg,” an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

.       .       .       .       .       .      

The son of a general, McChrystal was also a ringleader of the campus dissidents – a dual role that taught him how to thrive in a rigid, top-down environment while thumbing his nose at authority every chance he got. He accumulated more than 100 hours of demerits for drinking, partying and insubordination – a record that his classmates boasted made him a “century man.” One classmate, who asked not to be named, recalls finding McChrystal passed out in the shower after downing a case of beer he had hidden under the sink.

And all of that was just in the first half of the article!  Do read the whole thing.  It’s a portrait of Strangelovian weirdness of the hacks who are apparently running the war in Afghanistan.  Gee, I wonder why it’s taken them 9 years to get nowhere?

OK, to summarize:  underachieving binge-drinking but connected cadet (“the son of a general!”) grows up to tolerate (and I would argue, even encourage) his all-male staff members’ drinking, towel-snapping, and aggression, as though no one was watching and they are accountable to no one in the U.S. Government, to NATO, or to the world.  (Keep reading–don’t miss the parts where somehow, McChrystal keeps his job even though he played an active role in covering up the circumstances of the death of Pat Tillman, and oversaw the abuse and torture of prisoners at Camp Nama in Iraq!) And he and his staff do this all in front of a frakking reporter for Rolling StoneRolling Stone, the happy home of Hunter S. Frakking Thompson!  Rolling Stone, which made its mark on journalism through its opposition to the war in Vietnam!  But, apparently Cadet McChrystal was too stoned in those years to have noted all of that.  Either that, or he doesn’t care–he and his staff don’t care how they present themselves in front of a reporter from Rolling Stone because they really think they can say and do anything with impunity.  Talk about your d00dly privilege!

That’s why, Lara Logan, you would never have gotten this scoop from Stanley Pan and his Lost Boys.  See, you’re a girl, and teh d00dz can only unwind and relax and tell it like it is to another d00d.  You’re right that it’s not fair–but not because Hastings misled anyone or pretended like he wasn’t a reporter.  He was just a d00d, a d00d the Lost Boys foolishly trusted because of his d00dliness.

FAIL on the arrogance.  FAIL on the doodliness.  But most of all, FAIL on teh stupid.  Stanley Pan and his Lost Boys shouldn’t be running a ride at Disneyland, let alone a war.

0 thoughts on “What's he got that you haven't got, Logan? Gender, access, and the doodliness of war

  1. A kid I once went to the old prep with, Brian something, the nickname “Cricket” is all I’m remembering, almost became a “century man” on one fateful day, when he racked up 60 demerits on one swoop from our science teacher, a quirky Englishman. I wish I knew what for, but on the required “cause” line, Mr. Richardson only wrote in “brazen idiocy,” and we all shook our heads and said, yup, saw that one coming. It was all I could ever do to get four at a time for some technical bookbag violation. Sounds like Prez. Karzai is really going to lament losing this whole crew of Betas. As an informational matter, is McCrystal going to be busted back to a Staff Sergeant, or does he retire and join some broadcast team as their color commentator?

    Biden got into some kind of a big fluffing dust-up with a yogurt professional in Milwaukee on Saturday, I heard. None of these guys can take the pressure.


  2. The story went up on the Rolling Stone website last Tuesday – the final day of the 2010 West Point Summer Seminar in Military History, which is an annual 3-week training program in military history. I attended it for multiple reasons, but I guess mostly because I figure if I’m writing about the military I should know as much as possible about the institution and the general field of military history (although I don’t really define myself as a military historian).

    The article became the centerpiece for a panel on civil-military relations – a panel that INITIALLY had an article by a scholar who was supposed to be in attendance. That article actually made reference to the military’s sexual and racial integration processes of the late 20th century – something virtually no other scholar addressed during our seminar experience. Even that was problematic in my opinion, though, because it was really token references and nothing serious.

    Instead of that article, we wound up discussing the “cult of personality” as problem in the military, showcased in this article. And my personal theory was that sure, cult of personality problems – but what we’re really talking about here seems to be a cult of masculinity within the military. What a boys club! (And yet, none of them want to see this or discuss it.)


  3. but what we’re really talking about here seems to be a cult of masculinity within the military. What a boys club! (And yet, none of them want to see this or discuss it.)

    The military is the cult of masculinity. There’s no reason to discuss it for the same reason fish don’t discuss water.


  4. Right on. I agree with both Emma and Tanya in the diagnosis of the Lost Boys in particular and of the military in general. (I’ve heard that the program at WP is a good one–the guy who taught the required American military history course at Baa Ram U. for the past 8 years took it earlier in the decade, and he said that it was time well spent. But, I certainly take your point about the tokenism of the discussion of the integration issues.)

    I ran into this problem when (12-13 years ago?) I gave some talks that became the idea for my first book. I was informed that my questions about gender and warfare were completely overdetermined: “Of course warfare is about masculinity, so much so that we don’t need you poking into it, you snippy little feminist.”

    There may also be a cult of McChrystal going on among the Lost Boys in the Hastings article. But, the d00dliness of it all practically slaps you in the face with the “fag” comment on page 1. Now, that would be some pretty awesome a$$hattery even if not performed in front of a reporter, or at the least off the record. But, it’s seriously AWESOME! on the record!


  5. Oh, and p.s. to Indyanna: McChrystal announced his retirement yesterday (via TalkLeft.) I’m sure he’ll either soon be on the lucrative speech circuit, or maybe take a paid gig doing military analysis at a network (or both.)

    Either way, he’ll do just fine. (Which is really too bad, given his disastrous record and his disgraceful departure.) He’s a guy who’s coasted through on connections and some kind of charisma–whereas most of the rest of us never would have cleared Lieutenant if we behaved the way he did.


  6. Most definitely on the “overdeterminism” front, Historiann. That’s what they’ll always say. The American revolutionary and immediate post-revolutionary soldiers who I studied had endless issues around masculinity, gender, and in their case, women, but their actual and specific mentalities would not have been cognizible in Camp McCrystal, from the way this article reads. And I don’t think they would have been cognizible around Pequotia, Wabanakia, or the several places you studied, either. That’s what studying-up is all about; the intersection of the universal and the contingent, right?

    I think military institutions in their academic aspect may be trying to comprehend this. Our military historian is a product of that seminar. But it’s a long slow slog, always fighting the last cultural wars. Besides, if a guy is face-down in the shower on a spent case of beer, he’s probably not going to catch too many classes.


  7. A military in a country worshiping war and generals must be controlled by the civilian government. We have presidents that the military despises, including Bush II; controlling calls for tough president which we didn’t have for quite a while.

    MacCrystal’s arrogance and stupidity has helped in this case. Petraeus may not be much better. After all, “he wrote the book on anti insurgency,” according to current legend, that was written in the past many times before (David Galula, B. H. Liddell Hart, Roger Trinquier, etc all preceded our local legend).


  8. Well – when I read the RS article, I wasn’t surprised at McChrystal; that is how many military and oilfield personnel talk. Probably a few other groups do, as well, but I haven’t heard them do it in person, as I have these two groups. I figured The Author had indicated to them this was acceptable behavior and fun for him, too; otherwise they’d have cut it out while he was there (they know how to cut it out, too). What was really telling in the RS article was the comments thread — a McChrystal admiration society.

    My concern, though, is that we’re there in the first place, and the oil and minerals that are there and whose presence suggests we’ll never leave; and more than that, the counterinsurgency strategy and Obama’s commitment to it, and Clinton’s.


  9. Not having seen long excerpts from the RS article before now, I was indulging wild notions that McC had set up the White House reproof by way of positioning himself for a Republican Presidential run in 2012 (the masculinist campaign theme practically writes itself.) But I hadn’t realized what a knucklehead he is. Of course that didn’t stop Bush II, but it’s hard to credit this jerk with some wily political strategy. He could be following somebody else’s script, like Reagan, but even Reagan had better sense than to get hammered with a reporter in the room.


  10. Heh. I had the same suspicions about McChrystal as you, rootlesscosmo, but I think you’re right: “it’s hard to credit this jerk with some wily political strategy.” With Machiavellians like this, who needs enemies? I think their openness to Hastings speaks to the obvious contempt they have for everyone else involved with Afghanistan strategy, and to the fact that they think no one else is watching or even cares.

    Oh for the days of The Quiet American! Even that chucklehead is preferable to these “Team America” clowns.

    Z: one wonders about the timing of the announcement about the minerals, doesn’t one? But as suggested above by rootlesscosmo, it might be too much to credit them with Machiavellianism when Mayberry is a likelier explanation. . .


  11. Re the minerals announcement, I am quite sure I had read about that treasure trove some time before the fanfared announcement. That doesn’t mean the announcement wasn’t a result of Mayberryism … remember, Congress voted to declare war on Iraq when the fakeness of the research about depleted uranium had already been in the news, and yet they said they’d been “misled” (meaning they weren’t very well up on things). And I thought an informed citizenry, etc., but ah well.


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