HE ROVING EYE Mistah McChrystal - he dead
By Pepe Escobar
Mistah Kurtz - he dead. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
When it comes to American wars, history has a kinky habit of repeating itself
as farce over and over again. So now the Pentagon has been plunged into turmoil
because General Stanley McChrystal, former United States and North Atlantic
Treaty Organization commander in Afghanistan, was featured unplugged in a
Rolling Stone magazine interview.
Those were the days when the Washington Post used to bring down a president
(now the Post, as well as The New York Times, prefer war, on Iraq, on AfPak, on
Iran). Gonzo master Hunter S Thompson anyway must be celebrating with heavenly
shots in his wild and crazy tomb; Rolling Stone after all managed to bring down
a general - to the sound of The End by The Doors.
Which brings us to Francis Ford Coppola using The Doors to start Apocalypse Now
- or the US winning the Vietnam War (only) on film. McChrystal could be
portrayed as a mix of Captain Willard and the original Mistah Kurtz of Conrad's
masterpiece, the literary model for Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz. Both
warrior-intellectuals - one about to cross to the heart of darkness, the other
Although hailed by a wildly sycophantic media as a hero, McChrystal, like
Willard, is essentially a trained killer, the head of a killing squad in Iraq
active way before the "surge", the same "surge" which was sculpted in stone in
Washington as paving the way for an American "victory" (while generating
profitable side products such as Oscar winner for Best Picture The Hurt Locker).
Sooner or later a Kurtzean McChrystal character will end up in a Hollywood
blockbuster. The US lost the war in Vietnam but won it on screen. The US is
losing the war in Iraq but it's already winning it on screen. And the US will
lose the war in AfPak and will win it on screen.
TS Eliot used "Mistah Kurtz - he dead" as the epigraph of the poem The Hollow
Men. According to the Rolling Stone interview, McChrystal's band of
brothers is a "handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots,
political operators and outright maniacs" who refer to themselves as the South
Park-esque Team America. Well, Team America is more like a Facebook version of
Eliot's Hollow Men:
Our dried voices, when we whisper together
are quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass or rats' feet over broken glass.
No wonder President Barack Obama looked "uncomfortable and
intimidated" by a roomful of Pentagon brass when he met McChrystal. Obama is a
progressive urban intellectual. He could not but mistrust McChrystal, his band
of brothers, in fact much of the coterie of killers and functionaries who
populate the sprawling industrial-military complex. What's ironic is that at
the same time the functionaries of empire could not but mistrust the phalanx of
Obama advisers who didn't and don't have a clue about "the mission".
So what's "the mission" in AfPak? For the Obama team it's rather to use
Afghanistan as a pawn to expand the already abysmal fissure between the US and
Iran, and to throw Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Wahhabi Saudi Arabia at each other's
But for the industrial-military complex it goes way beyond. It's about the new
great game in Eurasia. It's about the Pentagon's full "spectrum dominance
doctrine", which presupposes setting up strategic Afghan bases to control and
survey strategic competitors Russia and China very close to their borders. It's
still about the late 1990s all over again; to isolate or crush or bribe the
Taliban so the ultimate pipe-dream - the Trans-Afghan Pipeline (TAP) - can be
built to carry Turkmen gas to Western markets, and not the rival, anathema IP
(Iran-Pakistan) pipeline. In a nutshell, it's about infinite war.
It's easy to forget - as much of US corporate media do - that in the midst of
all the "runaway general" hoopla, McChrystal's own COIN (counter-insurgency)
strategy in Afghanistan had already been reduced, according to his own
neologism, to "Chaos-istan" for quite some time. To apply counter-insurgency
en-masse against Pashtun brothers and cousins is a foolish recipe for failure.
Washington does not even know who the "enemy" is; Afghans on the other hand see
it as a war of Christian foreign invaders against the Pashtun nation.
The recipe was originally "designed" by the new general in AfPak, McChrystal's
boss, Central Command chief David "I'm always positioning myself to 2012"
Petraeus, the conceptual hero of the "surge" in Iraq. Meet the new general,
(not quite the) same as the old general; let's say Petraeus is a silkier
version of Captain Willard, without the Kurtzean overtones of McChrystal. Cue
that Peter Townshend power chord: "Won't be fooled again." Or will we?
The McChrystal goes rogue/McChrystal gets fired story is yet one more classic
Pentagon non-event magnified to dementia. What the general unplugged to Rolling
Stone was basically a collection of generic, mild and milder insults to US
civilians. The "warrior-intellectual” never gave any sign he was engaging in
specific, detailed criticism of the overall military strategy; after all, the
Pentagon's "full-spectrum dominance" cannot be really sold for what it is. And
even Obama has stated on the record that replacing a general with another
general does not mean a change in strategy. Is there a strategy? Yes - infinite
war; but the Pentagon won't allow it to be spelled out.
It's been a long time since the immense, absurdly expensive,
the-road-goes-on-forever American war obsession bore any relation whatsoever to
politics and reality. It pertains to fiction - as the dance of the generals
goes on, as Eliot would say, "in this hollow valley". And these fictional steps
are dead-certain to punctuate "this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms" for years
and years to come.