General McChrystal, formerly of a secretive intelligence branch of the US Army, vaulted by George Bush into a leadership role as a reward for his participation in the Pat Tillman scandal, in which the General lied regarding the demise of Tillman and participated in concocting a great patriotic gore story from a “friendly fire” killing, was this past week caught in an ambush laid out by the once rock and rolling hippie magazine Rolling Stone. This morning he was in a quick 20 minute meeting in which evidently there wasn’t much to say, and was dismissed by the Commander-in-Chief he’d recently dissed. This sequence suggests that McChrystal’s learning in the ways of “intelligence” lacked a certain element. In previous speeches he’d pushed his political plans, lifting a profile for himself, though he’d been taken to the woodshed by his boss, and told to close his loose lips. That he let a counter-culture spy into his council room for some weeks speaks primarily of his vanity and his apparent political ambitions.
Caught up in the theater of Washington where appearances trump realities, General McChrystal is seen above in a White House visit, decked out in in officer’s combat dress, as if there would be terrorists lurking about in the Rose Garden. Such theatrical posturing now is a US military norm, whether in letting George Bush, long ago Air Reserve derelict dress up in cod-piece macho drag or in officers in computer rooms commanding drones across the world from American cubicles wearing camouflage and boots such as those McChrystal sports. War as Kabuki theater, a sequence of codified masks to signify that “we’re at war.” Little wonder that the General got bushed-whacked by a rock and roll journal, so wrapped up in the costumes he and his staff (his press man was fired before he himself was canned) took as important. Hubris über alles.
Notice the facial expressions, the clasped hands, the uniform expression of “seriousness” which each figure takes in this staged drama. Unfortunately while these carefully preset acts are carried out, the end result is, seemingly also fated: according to the Obama administration the failing “COIN strategy” which former General McChrystal developed and pushed for Afghanistan will be continued, only now under the command of General Petraeus. COIN is merely a renamed version of the policies by which France lost Algeria, were losing in Viet Nam, a loss which America took over as its own when it attempted a series of acronym-murders with Wellsian names such a “pacification” (as in My Lai), the bombing of Cambodia and others “strategies” which would “win the minds and hearts” in Viet Nam, or now Afghanistan.
In one of the many puff-pieces written about McChrystal before he was requested to fall on his sword, it was said that as a West Pointer, and a Harvard fellow, he was a rarity in the military – an intellectual, read history, and all the rest of the “best and the brightest” baggage we require of our erstwhile leaders while at the same time he was spartan, tough, went with the grunts on gung-ho patrols, was a soldier’s soldier. He was, it was said, of the new post-VietNam-trauma generation, who had overcome the fear, and learned the lessons of history. Apparently only to repeat them. Such is the nature of tragedy.
Naturally, in its utterly predictable Kabuki form, the Republican Right has latched onto General McChrystal, in their usual thrall to epaulettes and be-ribboned chests, and are already proposing him as their standard bearer for the 2012 elections. In such manner does our entire political sphere minuet in lock-step, caught in its own theatrical binaries, as rigidly as a Noh master emulating the techniques of 500 years ago.
While the domestic landscape of America crumbles under the assaults of its corporate masters – topless mountains, gouged plains, poisoned rivers, and now an oil drenched Gulf of Mexico, our political squires continue our plan of permanent war, the ancient old imperial imperative. It is estimated that the United States has already spent about 3 trillion dollars of its common-wealth upon our adventures in the cradle of civilization, the Euphrates valley (Iraq) and its mythic anti-body, that cradle of unconquered not-civilization, Afghanistan. Much of this is, as customary in imperial endeavors, about saving face.
In our failing to face the truth of our society, which is that it is severely damaged and can be “saved” only by a radical overhaul of our values – a prospect not likely given the nature of our body politic – we will soon have no face to save.