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October 17, 2009

My War. No, Your War. No…

McChrystal NYTimes Mag.jpg

His war?

I’m locked away this weekend creating a presentation for PhotoWeekDC next month. The title is: The President’s Personality: Piecing the Pictures Together. One element I address in passing is the pervasive, almost ubiquitous visual presence of the President. Not to delve into the presentation too much but I don’t think the high quotient of Obama face time has to do with narcissism or a “Messiah complex” (as many wingnuts drone on about). I believe the explanation, if anything, is much more the opposite. I think Obama has such an overarching sense of “the buck stops here,” he needs to stand up for almost everything coming out of the White House himself.

But, what does that have to do with the latest NYT Magazine cover?

It’s related to how much visibility Stanley McChrystal has had as one cog in the government machine (1, 2, 3, 4). Next to Gates or Clinton, who came into the administration with plenty of name ID, it seems nobody else’s mug has been as prominent lately. Why? Perhaps because Obama, really still not sure where he stands on the whole campaign, is letting the war belong to Stanley.

All that said, the photo — another this week from Peter van Agtmael in Afghanistan — is terribly evocative. I know McChrystal is notorious for some idiosyncratic habits, like not feeding himself all that much. But this goes beyond. Stanley’s face seems a perfect reflection of a country that draws in outsiders, then suffocates them.

(image: Peter van Agtmael for The New York Times)

  • desertwind

    That cover makes me physically ill. I can’t explain, but it fills me with dread and I’m not looking forward to reading the piece.
    Like, we really are going to be sucked into this thing. And, why is McChrystal everywhere? He must have permission from his superiors to be doing all this press, but how high up the chain of command does it go? It must go all the way to Obama, but why and what does it mean?

  • Stella

    McChrystal is everywhere, selling his war. It’s a picture of one of those old men who looks for young men to fight his battles for him.
    We’re having a rerun of the runup to the “First Gulf War” with the generals all over the media. The old boys have new toys they’ve just gotta give a try. They know the selling isn’t going well, and they’re being watched. I’m grateful the title wasn’t OUR Long War. No sympathy for that man.

  • karen h

    Interesting that the fresh face of this new administration (Obama) doesn’t illustrate or personify this war and that McChrystal’s cadaverous visage is more emblematic. If I were president, I’d rather it be General Death than me. On the other hand, for all his confidence in handling the mountains of issues left behind by Bush, I find Obama’s obsequiousness (not really my first choice of words) alarming. He lacks the confidence in dealing with the military and seems to idolize them from that squishy position in a compensating kind of way. Even if this allows him to pin the war on McChrystal, I’d far rather he’d remind the military (and McChrystal) that they work for him and to go “old school” on them, i.e., tell him to shut up or lose his job. Truman/MacArthur was an anomaly and ended as it should (if poorly executed). Obviously, I don’t know what exactly is going on behind the scenes, but it’s very uncomfortable to think that military personnel, whether this general or Petraeus, make policy decisions.

  • Apple

    There’s something in his expression that tells me he wants to make a name for himself, a place in history – doesn’t matter how. Leaves me feeling very uneasy.

  • lytom

    Fall guy in charge of troops in Afghanistan? Or is it a fanatic with vision of leading suicide terrorist army?
    Point of no return, point where no more thinking enters into a play. No more creativity is possible, just leading the cannon fodders troops…”good enough to toss: food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better: …mortal men…”
    Looking into the void, unreachable, no change in the course!
    But why should we be so surprised? American confidence when it comes to the foreign affairs is trusting the government. This has worked since the flow of benefits was always in the direction of the Homeland.
    Things are changing and overwhelming with too many conflicts and spread of US manufactured wars …like a wild fire to Pakistan and now to Iran border. I wonder what is in the vision of the commander in chief, and please do not list here the speeches of change and inspirations? That phase has passed long time ago. There is nothing to celebrate and look up to… just slow crumbling of the empire …

  • pragmatic realist

    He’s Julius Caesar, the man who brought his army across the Rubicon and took over the Republic. Its a warning.

  • Rima

    Hey, why the long face?

  • doranb

    Every time there’s a mention of McChrystal, it should be followed by “the man who helped mislead the nation about the cause of Pat Tillman’s death.”

  • crabby

    Yes it should. A disgusting piece of american military history that has NOT met justice. The Tillman family are true patriots, McCrystal and his ilk are just advantage takers and users in the highest (or lowest) form.

  • nordmend

    feeling ill from this cover is a healthy response, i’d say. it _is a disturbing picture, both the subject and the presentation.
    those are the eyes of a man who has undoubtedly directly killed other men, and overseen the mechanisms of death and torture of thousands more. as a career.
    a man like that isn’t at peace; he exudes aggressive mental illness, does he not? what gets him out of bed every morning?
    there’s also something slightly nauseating about the depth-of-field focus, as well as the cold drab grey and yellow lettering.
    speaking of the yellow lettering, nice crown-of-thorns (but this isn’t a religious war…) effect.
    or, if you stare at it for awhile, the lettering kinda looks like devils horns, which is probably more accurate. with apologies to pan.
    “Most of what General McChrystal has done over a 33-year career remains classified, including service between 2003 and 2008 as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, an elite unit so clandestine that the Pentagon for years refused to acknowledge its existence.
    On July 22, 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report titled “No blood, no foul” about American torture practices at three facilities in Iraq. One of them was Camp Nama, which was operated by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), under the direction of then Major General Stanley McChrystal.”

  • Molly

    I don’t think Obama doesn’t know what to do with/in Afghanistan. I think he has limited options which he is taking time to explore in a 24 hour news cycle that demands INSTANT decisions. He is taking his time which is a small miracle in world leadership anymore.
    Or, I’m simply looking for the best and holding tight to that. Time will tell.

  • nordmend

    the clock is ticking
    people are dying, being tortured, losing their homes.
    countries (including america) are being pillaged
    every day, the u.s. marines burn 800 000 gallons of gas in afghanisan, at $400/gallon.
    in less than a month, that’s more than the entire annual income of all the peoples of afghanistan.
    that’s just the fuel. could that money be better spent?
    so, in all honesty, i ask you and others (yes tena i’m thinking of you :) – how long do you plan to “hold tight”? what’s your tipping point? do you have one? seriously. thanks.

  • yg

    rogue general.
    odd that dexter filkins doesn’t mention the one thing that spares mcchrystal from getting fired for insubordination. he commands a special forces unit that specializes in securing nuclear weapons. a contingency that might be called for in pakistan.

  • Suzii

    Good God, that’s not a typo. I was sure it had to be a typo. The U.S. Marines spend $2.24 BILLION a week just to keep themselves in fuel in Afghanistan.
    The Marines’ fuel cost for Afghanistan is 8.2 percent — about a twelfth — of the U.S. budget deficit.
    What do you suppose the Army costs?

  • Aurora

    $400/gal gasoline that often has to be helicoptered in. Basic warfare needs, supply chain, not intact and efficient.

  • yg

    stan goff had a good piece describing the military culture mcchrystal comes from.
    he boiled him down to one word: impunity.

  • Suzii

    Oh, I knew it had to be well more than $4 a gallon — but a twelfth of the budget deficit!
    In 2004, John Kerry was laughed off the stage for calling the Iraq War a $200 billion expense (funding requests didn’t reach that level until after the election). If the Marines spend $117 billion a year getting fuel transported into Afghanistan, how much is it for the rest of their supplies? How much is it for the Army?
    Actually, given the other figures — that it costs $1 billion to deploy 1,000 American troops, and that current deployment is about 60,000 — I’m coming back to the idea that it must be a typo. Given that fuel for Marines would have to be a part of the deployment costs, how could a year’s fuel for part of the force be almost twice the cost of deploying the entire force?

  • nordmend

    the 800 000 figure does seem astounding, and maybe it is a typo. maybe it’s per week, maybe it’s 80 000 gallons a day. but keep in mind that the fuel is used in both land based stuff and aircraft, and i bet even the hummers burn thru 4 gallons an hour, the tanks probably 4x times that (on _flat terrain…) and the aircraft are probably like a gallon a _minute or such. add base airconditioning, refrigeration, power generation, security lighting, supply transport, etc etc…
    hell of a carbon, and karmic, footprint.
    in the comments section of that article there’s this:
    “BY propitiousmoment on 10/16/2009 at 09:54
    A couple of posters have questioned the fully burdened cost estimates because, for the US Marines in Afghanistan alone, the fully burdened cost of the fuel they consume seems to be higher that the costs of the whole war.The posters misunderstand a number of points. First, Gen. Conway of the Marines said that fully burdened costs “can be” as high as $400 a gallon. There is also a comment in the article that some analysts claim that fully burdened costs for fuel in some areas could be as high as $1000 a gallon. Obviously, the $400 and $1000 numbers do not apply to all fuel delivered to all of our forces in Afghanistan. The second misunderstandin g has to do with “fully burdened” costs. These costs include everything related to getting the fuel to where it is needed. But, not all of those costs are charged to the war in Afghanistan. For instance, the DESC buys and arranges shipment of fuel. There is a cost for executing every fuel purchase and delivery contract in addition to the costs of the fuel and the delivery. Those costs may not be charged to the war.Similarly, there are costs associated with port security at the ports where fuel is handled before moving into Afghanistan. Some portion of the entire US Navy operations goes toward ensuring tankers can move to/from ports safely. Army and Marine Corps personnel learn and practice convoy and depot protection operations in the USA before going to Afghanistan. Some part of the entire US intelligence effort, including here in the USA, is involved in trying to identify and block threats to fuel supplies in Afghanistan. Many, if not most of these costs are not included in the costs of the war. The US military tries to buy as much fuel as it can as close to where the fuel is needed as possible. So we get a lot of fuel for Afghanistan from refineries and wholesalers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and other nearby countries. Guaranteeing those supplies often requires “defense agreements” and “foreign aid” loans and other special deals with the governments of those countries. Few of those costs are charged to the war but they should be included in the fully burdened costs of the fuel.Don’t forget that soldiers and Marines costs more than just their pay while in Afghanistan. Many of them have families so their are the costs of associated family benefits. Many will end up making a career in the military and earn retirement benefits. Almost all of them will earn various veteran’s benefits. Many will use or require post-service medical care (hence the whole VA medical system). There is a cost of recruiting them, and a cost for their initial training. Then, when back in the States, there is refresher training or even training for new skills. And, for every single soldier or Marine in Afghanistan a minimum of 1.6 others must be in the services in order to allow the ones in Afghanistan to rotate home every 12 months for at least a year before going back to war. All these costs would also be included in the fully-burdened costs of the war and the fuel consumed in that war.BY Paul Tickle on 10/16/2009 at 10:10″

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