The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistanby Published 06 Dec 2011
|The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan.pdf|
|Publisher||Little, Brown & Company|
In June 2010, Michael Hastings's extraordinary, uncensored "Rolling Stone "article, "The Runaway General," shocked the world and set off a series of events that culminated in the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal. Now, THE OPERATORS will lead us even deeper into the war, its politics, and its major players at a time when such insight is demanded and desperately needed. Based on exclusive reporting in Afghanistan, Europe, the Middle East, and Washington, DC, this landmark work of journalism will elucidate as never before the United States' involvement in Afghanistan in vivid, unforgettable detail. Part wild travelogue, part expos, and part sobering analysis, THE OPERATORS promises an unprecedented behind-the-scenes account of the war from the only journalist uniquely poised to tell it.
"The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan" Reviews
Look at this book carefully: It got one man fired and (likely) another killed.
In a personally-revealing chapter of The Operators, Michael Hastings cites passages from Phillip Knightley's The First Casualty while describing the odd subculture of the war correspondent. The whole of the famous quote used in the title of Knightley's book goes: "In war, the first casualty is truth."
In most ways, this casualty is unavoidable. The fog of war and its power to suffocate the truth is providential in many ways. It shields the troop movements, motives, and subversions needed for victory on either side. It also covers a multitude of sins on the part of the men fighting the war. So, what happens when a journalist is given unprecedented access and candor from a general and his staff in a war that can't be won? What happens when that journalist bravely takes his mission seriously enough to try and keep the truth alive?
Well, some important people get fired; others die. That's what happens.
The Operators started as profile on General Stanley McChrystal the Rolling Stone published in 2010. The journalist had taken the slick media-relations approach of General Stanley McChrystal's staff at face value: Nothing (or almost nothing) was to be off the record. This was to include some inopportune quotes from McChrystal on Vice President Biden ("Bite me") US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, his fellow generals, and the war itself. Upon release, the fallout from the article was immediate. President Obama quickly relieved McChrystal of his command.
The behind-the-scenes details of the situation in Afghanistan related here should come as no surprise to most readers who've kept up with ten-plus years of America's feckless nation-building in the land that even the full, shameless force of a Soviet occupation couldn't tame. There are heartrending stories of young and promising soldiers sacrificed to IED's made of "fertilizer, wood, and manure." There are interviews with well-meaning local Afghanis whom we later learn were assassinated soon after Hastings spoke with them. There are stories of mind-boggling corruption and waste, near-mutinies among US soldiers in the field, and a political agenda totally out of step with the real chances for success. All the while, there's a ceaseless, braying call to just get the hell out and forget all about it.
If only war were that simple.
A thought that occurred to me several times through The Operators: Smarts does not equal wisdom. McChrystal and his compatriots ingeniously corner the Obama administration into tripling the size of the American presence during the Afghan surge, only to be faced with the certainty they will fail in an even grander way than before. Wit doesn't serve them well. They pat themselves on the back while sinking even deeper in the mire. It's not for lack of intelligence nor due to any hidebound conventionality. They come across as bright, unconventional, irreverent-though-loyal-to-their-cause, and constantly willing to take a different tack to reach their goal. None of it works. Extra boots on the ground and innovative strategies only alienate and kill more of the people the Americans are there to "save."
What does come through to the close reader of this book are a few things the self-censoring US media likely glossed over out of sheer wishful thinking--or perhaps coercion. During a drunken cavort at a bar in Paris, General Mike Flynn confesses to Hastings that he thinks they'll never get Osama Bin Laden, who at the time was the stated target of US involvement in the region. Hastings notes this point -- twice -- with awe. Very interesting.
Another episode that comes into shocking focus given the events of one evening a few years after Hastings' return from Afghanistan:
Jake came up to me. "We'll hunt you down and kill you if we don't like what you write," he said. "C. (a former British SAS assassin) will hunt you down and kill you."
On the evening of June 18th, 2013, Michael Hastings made a call to friends stating that he was "working on something big." Later that night, his new Mercedes coupe sped out of control along a sleepy L.A. street and exploded on impact, killing him instantly. Mercedes-Benz made no attempts to investigate the accident to determine what would make one of their latest vehicles in apparently fine repair explode in such a manner. The LA police determined the cause as drunk driving, despite no alcohol found in the minimal human remains. Hastings' widow at first called for justice, but was later quoted as sheepishly saying she just wanted to drop it.
Michael Hastings: A fine journalist and author who tried to keep the truth alive through the fog of war.
In June 2010 an article written about General Stanley McChrystal for the Rolling Stone was leaked. Before the issue even hit newsstands McChrystal had already tendered his resignation. This book is the story behind that story.
Michael Hastings takes the reader behind the scenes for a very in-depth look at how his article came together and the dramatic fallout that immediately followed. Since then Hastings died under peculiar circumstances and this book was made into an anti-war movie starring Brad Pitt. After reading the original story in Rolling Stone, then seeing the movie, then reading this book I only have one question: What the fuck is the US still doing in Afghanistan???
What a clusterfuck.
Hastings impressed me with the way he pulled the narrative together in the end. It’s not the story of McChrystal, or his team, or Hastings himself— it’s the assembly line of interchangeable generals in the unwinnable war. One of the most powerful parts is one of its simplest: two pages, back to back, with each side’s blunt opinions of the other. No spin, no politicking.
Just a clusterfuck. And it’s ours. We made it. With no way to get out.
(With regards to the movie, the one Netflix made falls short of the book. Armando Iannucci might be the only one who could do it a profane sort of justice. Truth is stranger than fiction; I’m not sure satire is possible when reality descends into farce.)
The Operators covers, in excellent prose and with perfect pacing, three broad topics. First, the insanity and futility of America's war in Afghanistan. Second, the way decisions are made in Washington and at the Pentagon -- the bureaucratic battles, the petty resentments and one-upmanship, the alliances and betrayals. And third, the realities of journalism -- the tradeoffs journalists engage in between access and honesty, the way journalists allow themselves to be seduced and suborned by the powerful figures they purport to hold to account.
For nonfiction, the book was an unusually gripping read (I listened to the audio version in my car, and many evenings sat in the driveway after getting home, unable to turn it off). Hastings turns this trick by avoiding preaching, and instead illuminating his broad themes through a specific focus. The insanity and futility of the war are represented by the heart-aching death of Army Corporal Mike Ingram. The White House and Pentagon turmoil is told via the story of the rise and fall of General Stanley McChrystal, America's commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. And the realities of journalism are presented through Hastings' account of his own decision-making process; of the temptations he felt (and, to his credit, resisted); and of the reactions of other journalists to his coverage of McChrystal and the war.
The subtitle is spot-on: this really is a wild and terrifying inside account, and a deeply affecting one, too. I highly recommend it.
The author of this book is also the author of a Rolling Stone magazine article on General Stanley McChrystal which resulted in his resignation as commander of the war in Afghanistan. Some of the book describes the time the author spent with the General's staff both in Europe while they attended various public events and continues in the war zone as well. Apparently the General spends a great deal of time on public relations and had a large staff to help him present a positive image. War duties seem to come second. And General Patraeus (aka General Betray us) who took over for McChrystal is also likened to a publicity hound. The relationships between the military commanders in Afghanistan, the US ambassador, and the White House are all screwed up. The Afghan people seem to have a choice between ongoing war, corrupt government, or fanatical Muslim rule. If you were not already cynical about this endless war, this book will remove all doubts that we have sacrificed blood and treasure for any worthwhile goal.