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
Wow. I plunged into this book now, and it's electrifying.
The writing is so crisp, candid and insightful. He rips back the curtain and takes us inside this world, of senior military in a war zone in the Middle East.
The stories are incredible but it's the voice that really hit me. Kind of revelatory, actually. He's setting a new benchmark for this generation of writers. I don't say that lightly.
Go get this book now.
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.
"He's a war geek," reporter Hastings writes here of Gen. McChrystal, the man he brought down. "He spends his vacations at battlefields." Hastings is now dead : his battlefield was LA where his car blew up. He was probably murdered by the US military complex which controls America. Meantime, our Prez is perfect for the US show window. (He isn't "allowed" to do anything). Read this book by an American martyr. Our morality has gone to Hell. (Did we ever have any?)
I've read a fair number of book concerning the Iraq War (less so about Afghanistan), and I would rank The Operators at or near the top.
The book provides a good account of General Stanley McCrystal from his West Point escapades to his ruthless efficiency as head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq. Among other successes, JSOC troops captured Saddam Hussein and killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There were a number of scandals and controversies along the way, such as his role in the covering up of US Ranger, and former NFL player, Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire and the 'enhanced' interrogation techniques employed by the Zaraqawi unit. Nonetheless, McCrystal is appointed Commander of ISAF and US Forces in Afghanistan on June 15, 2009 replacing General David McKiernan – then US and NATO commander in Afghanistan – which Hasting notes was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War. The second of course is McCrystal, who steps down June 23, 2010, as a direct result of Hastings’s reporting.
While many books or articles covering the recent Middle East and Central Asian wars are very frank in their assessment of elected and appointed government officials, none that I've read so far will are willing to be as critical toward the generals commanding the troops. Hastings is granted an incredible amount of access to McCrystal and his staff. Like most reporters on the war beat, Hastings hates the war(s) but grows fond of the soldiers and officers fighting (a not uncommon phenomena -- a chapter in the book explores the phenomenon of the war journalist and their thirst for action). He is wary of the often fawning coverage the press gives top military brass and is highly aware of his own tendency to hold these men in high regard. He is quite willing to acknowledge McCrystal’s valor and comment that the qualities he possesses are no small part of (temporary) US military successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is equally willing to comment upon, and demonstrate, the Obama administration’s lack of coherence and vision regarding the wars inherited from the Bush administration. However, he recognizes that his job is report and he does so brilliantly. Highly recommended.
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.