15. jun, 2017

Michael Hastings - The Operators

Today embedded journalists are everywhere in Iraq, in Syria and in Afghanistan. Being embedded as a journalist has several advantages. You may freely talk to everybody, the army will protect you physically and you may end up in places where even a lonely planet tourist never comes. Once embedded journalists are set free they start getting dangerous. Then they start talking with connections of connections. They start arguing about about facts and figures. They form their own opinion on the basis of personal histories, site visits and other research. A publication of Michael Hastings lead to the unintended end of the splendid career of Lt.Gen. Stanley McChrystal, responsible for the US task force Afghanistan, spending an annual military budget comparable with the Dutch GBP.

Hiram W. Johnson, senator - 1918.


Most of the recordings of Hastings dates back between 2008 and 2010. President Obama inherited the Afghan war from the Republican Bush. Bush used to be familiar with uniforms and military men. For Obama the military apparatus has no appeal at all. He doesn't even know how to handle them. Yet he is aware of the military-industrial complex that is behind the frontline. There is another factor, which should not be neglected; the military-public relations-public affair complex. Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl laid the basis for propaganda in 1933. Since then the sector provides workplaces for many thousands of people and not only in times of war!

Searching for truth in wartimes is as difficult as finding a white bear on the South Pole. Even the answer to a simple question "why did we basically start this invasion?" might develop over time. Getting out of a conflict is even worse. When have we achieved our goals? When do we claim victory? How to prevent loss of face? How do we secure the safety of military personell when, one day, the withdrawal takes place. Seventy years after WW-II new publications are continuously issued. Yes, it takes time to dig up all nasty facts. And say 'sorry' for the mistakes during the war.

Hastings scrupulously describes the reasons, sentiment, goals and results of the military action in Afghanistan. He concludes that there was a clear cut goal right at the beginning: chase away IS and Taliban from Afghanistan and restore the failed state. But was this a realistic goal? No way! Fighting for un unrealistic goal demotivated the soldiers and their officers. More people on the ground doesn't help achieving that type of goals. More people only makes generals ('the operators') more important. Hastings is impressed by the drive of many individual soldiers. The feel that they are fighting for their country and take into account great personal risks.

Hastings has written a breathtaking account (412 pages) of the Afghan war. He shows that bureaucratic sword fighting in Washington DC is sometimes even more important the deploying Chinook helicopter above the battlefield. Some leaders emerge as the right man in the right place and time. McCrystal. Others perform as mere career generals. Petreaus. Like in big multinationals you'll never get an extra star when you haven't won a war somewhere abroad.

It's hard to say why, but Dutch journalist seldom pop up as war correspondents. The job requires a lot of time, patience, diplomacy, courage and investigations to get to the heart of the matter. Hastings has it all. He made friends. He made enemies. Above all he did a tremendous job!