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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 nee 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.


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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 nee 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.

30 review for The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Micheal

    I shudder with sadness and regret for Afghanistan, my own country and at my own naiveté. I believed, that for the purpose of women to be able to get out from under the persecution and violence of an archaic culture, for children (girls) to be able to go to school, and for a populace to eventually live in a peaceful environment, that US presence in Afghanistan was just and necessary. The counter terrorism argument lost its validity with the ouster of Osama and the start of the Iraq war; but the p I shudder with sadness and regret for Afghanistan, my own country and at my own naiveté. I believed, that for the purpose of women to be able to get out from under the persecution and violence of an archaic culture, for children (girls) to be able to go to school, and for a populace to eventually live in a peaceful environment, that US presence in Afghanistan was just and necessary. The counter terrorism argument lost its validity with the ouster of Osama and the start of the Iraq war; but the protection of an innocent and defenseless populace in a vacuum of security was justification to stay and oversee some sort of stability. And so I believed (with eroding conviction) as we plodded through ten years of escalation, rife with lies and burgeoning evidence of atrocities. Civilians dying in record numbers, women still being killed and mutilated by cruel men, misguided by culture and religion. Marines video taping themselves pissing on the dead, others forming kill teams and targeting civilians, succumbing to the malaise and cruelty we were supposedly there to eliminate. Pat Tillman's death and the subsequent cover up. The over all lie that we've been making progress when in truth we've been propping up a corrupt government. Another Vietnam like experience (I studied the Vietnam war at length and have some familiarity with the many failures there). I wasn't incredibly surprised by Michael Hastings revelations about McChrystal and his team. I served under him briefly in the eighties, and have a vague memory of him as a higher ranking officer while I was a Private. Im familiar with the behavior and attitudes that permeate macho culture under the covers, out of sight of the public. Imagine the high school football team able to exist in a perpetual locker room. I don't think that their actions and comments were even that shocking by themselves, but joined with events reported out of Afghanistan and Iraq in the last ten years, it points to an absence of mature leadership that i've come to believe is rampant throughout the military. The reason that a lower ranking soldiers gets it in their heads that it is somehow alright to disrespect other human beings with labels like "haji" or "gook", or torture them, is because the example of superiority and disrespect is enforced more strongly than that of respect and honorable behavior. The concept that its okay to lie as long as you're not caught is an example thats being set at the highest levels of civilian and military leadership. In the military, and particularly in elite units, the question asked of a prospective member is: "Do you have the intestinal fortitude to be here?" What isn't being asked is: "Do you have the moral fortitude to be here? Are you prepared for a violent, complex, and perhaps ambiguous mission?" This seems to be our more crucial failing, one being perpetuated by an old school, frat boy like officer corp that doesn't appear adequate promoting the high ideals, the indoctrination if you will, that as American Servicemen we will set an example of respect and honor even towards our enemies. This is given lip service in the press with cultural interaction training given public attention, but once the soldiers get into the field and the hard realities of combat become pervasive, this sort of action loses priority. And leadership allows it to be so. For more evidence of this read Sebastion Jungers Restrepo. There are countless other books available on the Afghanistan war, which along With Hastings book have led me to the disheartening conclusion that we have no business telling anyone how to conduct themselves or how to construct their society. Especially with our military, because when we join the fray, instead of projecting the aura of higher ground, we succumb to the baser instincts of human nature, excusing ourselves with claims that the enemy cuts heads off, tortures, and kills innocents, so the ends, no matter how brutal, justifies the means. That its war. But like I said in the beginning of this rant, I have been naive. To say I liked The Operators isn't quite accurate (it was painful). I was fascinated by, and interested in Stanley McChrystal, and fully supported him when he was espousing the protection of civilians on 60 minutes, much to the chagrin of the shoot first crowd. My opinion of him is different now, though not completely critical. Reading this book was like watching a train wreck thats been happening before my eyes even as I denied it. We couldn't have another quagmire like Vietnam...could we? The military doesn't still lie to us like it did back then...does it? The answer is yes and yes. Hastings sometimes irreverent style, which had me doubting him at first, was entertaining and ultimately set the right tone for the story being told. Well written and, I believe, objective, despite what his critics and those with disingenuous agendas have to say. My heart breaks for the real losers of this war. The innocent women and children who will continue to live and die in misery as we draw down and eventually leave them to who knows what. All the young men, American and Afghan alike who are sucked into this war, losing life and limb and emotional stability; true pawns of an endless cycle of mediaeval myths, greed, corruption and violence that seems to know no end. The families who suffer in grief over an effort that ultimately shows no greater cause or meaning. The list is long.... and I despair.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hai Quan

    You don't have to be a brain surgeon to know that YOU MUST NEVER allow any armed foreigner , much less a foreign army unit enter your country AS MUCH AS you must never allow any stranger, armed or unarmed enters into your house. In his autobiography US astronaut John Glenn quotes his son " Dad, Korea was an invasion.It's a civil war. We 've got,what, 400,000 troops over ther.We've trying to bomb North Vietnam back to Stone Age and it's not working. Kids say only poor kids got drafted. We 've got You don't have to be a brain surgeon to know that YOU MUST NEVER allow any armed foreigner , much less a foreign army unit enter your country AS MUCH AS you must never allow any stranger, armed or unarmed enters into your house. In his autobiography US astronaut John Glenn quotes his son " Dad, Korea was an invasion.It's a civil war. We 've got,what, 400,000 troops over ther.We've trying to bomb North Vietnam back to Stone Age and it's not working. Kids say only poor kids got drafted. We 've got problems here at home we need to deal with" p317 All empire expansions are trailing with blood of the vanquished. The American Empire 's cold war and "war on terror" are not exceptions. Too much blood of the local people has soaked its foot soldier 's boots, trailing all over the world , from Indochina to the Middle East. Micheal Hastings book contributes one small picture , added to many other reports of countless reporters in many different countries where the U.S. troop invaded, to complete the whole bloody picture of the U.S. world hegemony. Thanks to the robust economy of the U.S. , it has established a very formidable armed force, and starting from 19th century on, it directed its army in robing and killing enterprise AS ALL PREVIOUS EMPIRES DID. Its philosophy is : Whatever it can do, why not ? Hastings is a very able and courageous war correspondent. He dared to expose all corruptions , atrocities , wastes , US troop's antipathy about the war and the top commander in the field 's shortcoming and the ineptitude of the politicians back home. From his report, it is clearly that THE CURE IS MUCH MORE TOXIC THAN THE perceived ( fake) DISEASE. Hundred thousands of Afghanistan civilians was murdered by the US troop, who was supposed to be "liberated " by the US government and this killing rampage is still ragging! If we add up all civilian casualties in this region by both Empires, the US and the Russia, the figure reach millions , and the end is not forthcoming ! **** Do you believe in karma? What about "collective" karma? For me, collective karma is the price we have to pay, now and in the netherworld, not directly from our actions and non-actions, our good or evil deeds, but from THE COMMUNITY 's. Therefore, collectively the US population cannot escape the bad karma CREATED by its bloodied army boots that have been trailing with bright red gooey all over the world regardless whether they support or oppose to this lethal and satanic " foreign policy " ! Can you do anything about it ? I don't have an answer You tell me However, whatever you shall do, don't copy Hastings action ( published a book to expose 'em satans evil deed ) if you don't want to be blowed up like him.! Of course, the millions of victims of American government 's bloody foreign policy have yelled, hollered, cried, lamented and cursed the big ass devils in the US rulling gang who are DIRECTING 'em foot soldiers and air pirates who have bombed, rocketed, burned, bayoneted and rapped 'em civilians but their voice hardly can travel very far, hardly can reach the perpetrators, the criminals who were thousands of miles away hiding in the safety of their lairs. They can voice their protests using wordwide web, but the criminals hardly bother to pay attention, and even by 1 per million chance that they happen to read it, they will simply ignore or dismiss it. Their brains are always dazzled with the explosive growth in their stocks and bonds values BY THE MINUTE , 'em stocks and bonds from weapon manufacturing companies , oil conglomerates especially in the Middle East and companies that are rebuilding the cities that they have destroyed. Therefore, they have closed their eyes, ears and hearts.Actually, just like 'em Mafia bosses, they are people without a heart. For all intends and purposes, they ain't no human !

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dave Cullen

    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. 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bill LaBrie

    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 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. RIP.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Philip Girvan

    I've read a fair number of books 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, su I've read a fair number of books 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Barry Eisler

    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 pow 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bradley Farless

    As a US Army Veteran that served for 8 years and did two combat tours (one during the first six months of the war with Iraq and one later with an ADA unit), so much of what Hastings describes regarding military culture, the feeling on the ground among people who are actually doing the work and the disconnect that often exists between command officers (and sometimes E-8s) and the rest of the troops is spot on. It was also nice to see a real profile of higher ranking people that portrays them as h As a US Army Veteran that served for 8 years and did two combat tours (one during the first six months of the war with Iraq and one later with an ADA unit), so much of what Hastings describes regarding military culture, the feeling on the ground among people who are actually doing the work and the disconnect that often exists between command officers (and sometimes E-8s) and the rest of the troops is spot on. It was also nice to see a real profile of higher ranking people that portrays them as human beings with victories and failures, rather than as mythologized, perfect representations of the military ethos. The spin that comes from the top down always annoyed me, because it felt like an insult to intelligence to try to present our leaders as perfect men while the rest of us were just scum, trying to scrape our way up a ladder to humanhood. It was nice to see a real face put on real people in a real war, reminding America that something's happening over there and that shit is far from clear. When you finish reading this book, you'll be asking the question that should be asked: Why are we in Afghanistan and what is it we hope to accomplish there, and is that hoped for outcome even feasible?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    "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?) "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?)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan Bell

    There was nothing wild or terrifying about this story. It was your typical story of civil-military strife during a conflict. The Operators was simply a journalist's look as an outsider into the workings of the military. Worse, the author, the recently-deceased Michael Hastings, contradicted himself repeated throughout the story, trying to play the selfless journalist looking out for America's best interest. No, I'm sorry, I don't buy. From the get-go, it was apparent that Hastings saw this as a There was nothing wild or terrifying about this story. It was your typical story of civil-military strife during a conflict. The Operators was simply a journalist's look as an outsider into the workings of the military. Worse, the author, the recently-deceased Michael Hastings, contradicted himself repeated throughout the story, trying to play the selfless journalist looking out for America's best interest. No, I'm sorry, I don't buy. From the get-go, it was apparent that Hastings saw this as a huge story that would work out in his benefit. Yes, General McChrystal and his staff were extremely stupid in how they acted around Hastings, but it wasn't really any different that any other team dynamic in the military. There's always strife between those in theater with boots on the ground and the policymakers back in the states. Hastings just got to see it where most journalist don't, or are told it's off the record. Did McChrystal get what he deserved? Yes, but he deserved it by not having his staff proactively manage Hastings. From a technical note, the book itself could've used a couple more revisions before publication. The book was filled with spelling errors, typos, disjointed sentences, and overall contradictory statements. For example, when talking about his story on the Kiowas and the pilots of them, the pilot drops two curses, and several paragraphs later, Hastings claims the pilot never uses profanity. Um, what? So does the pilot actually curse and Hastings was too dumb to figure it out, or was Hastings taking creative liberties with his reporting of quotes by people. Hopefully he was just dumb. Otherwise it speaks significantly to the accuracy of his reporting and thus his credibility. Overall, I don't know why this book has received such high ratings, but I would totally disagree with the belief that it has a place in the history of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't recommend this book. If you're interested in reading about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are better accounts out there.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I didn't realize when I requested this book it was by the "infamous" Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. I had to overcome my initial feelings of disdain for this guy who got McChrystal fired. But it was McChrystal who got himself fired, not Hastings. Hastings did his job and this book reads like Bob Woodward's book or Megan Stack's "Every Man in this Village is a Liar." It's visceral, penetrating, and page turning. Hastings is no wimp nor a wallflower. Once when McChrystal's staff is tryin I didn't realize when I requested this book it was by the "infamous" Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. I had to overcome my initial feelings of disdain for this guy who got McChrystal fired. But it was McChrystal who got himself fired, not Hastings. Hastings did his job and this book reads like Bob Woodward's book or Megan Stack's "Every Man in this Village is a Liar." It's visceral, penetrating, and page turning. Hastings is no wimp nor a wallflower. Once when McChrystal's staff is trying to sugarcoat an incident, Hastings steps up and tries to tell Big Stan what really happened. This book is more a message about the cult of personality in which acolytes become transfixed by their mentors-military and civilian. The book is not only about McChrystal though, all the players in this debacle called Operation Enduring Freedom are there. Petraeus comes across like the Pope of Spin. The cover of this book really pissed me off-I'd have given it five stars but for the cover and its over the top sensationalism. It detracts from the subject matter with its flip image of a man in uniform with alcohol. I also found it disturbing that DOD screwed with Hastings by denying him an embed he was already approved for once the Big Stan story broke. Hastings didn't think McChrystal would be fired and either did I. We need to get out of Afghanistan yesterday.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Florence

    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 s 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amar Pai

    Entertaining although I didn't learn too much new. Crazy that McChrystal would openly talk shit about Obama to Rolling Stone... what did he think would happen? This book is like the movie Almost Famous except instead of a young reporter embedding with a rock band it's a youngish reporter embedding with four star generals who have a vaguely rock-star vibe to them Entertaining although I didn't learn too much new. Crazy that McChrystal would openly talk shit about Obama to Rolling Stone... what did he think would happen? This book is like the movie Almost Famous except instead of a young reporter embedding with a rock band it's a youngish reporter embedding with four star generals who have a vaguely rock-star vibe to them

  13. 5 out of 5

    C. Scott

    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 Bra 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???

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wes F

    I remember hearing about General McChrystal--head of ISAF in Afghanistan--being fired, or resigning, from his command over a Rolling Stone article, and being flummoxed. Really--over a Rolling Stone article. Yes, he was recalled to Washington by President Obama and was fired; well, I guess actually his preemptive resignation was accepted. Mostly because of loose lips & some "wild" party times in Paris & other parts of Europe, as McChrystal and his entourage were stuck longer than planned in Europ I remember hearing about General McChrystal--head of ISAF in Afghanistan--being fired, or resigning, from his command over a Rolling Stone article, and being flummoxed. Really--over a Rolling Stone article. Yes, he was recalled to Washington by President Obama and was fired; well, I guess actually his preemptive resignation was accepted. Mostly because of loose lips & some "wild" party times in Paris & other parts of Europe, as McChrystal and his entourage were stuck longer than planned in Europe, due to the volcanic ash that spewed out from a volcano in Iceland, restricting thousands of flights. It was unfortunate, as McChrystal, in my opinion, had been doing some good things in Afghanistan, and had made some good adjustments. But, all was not happy-go-lucky with some of the frontline US troops who didn't appreciate the new Rules of Engagement that they thought restricted them from fair gun play and doing their job as soldiers. You know those Americans and their guns; the Europeans, of course, were often happy to be posted to the quieter parts of Afghanistan were guns were not so needed. At least that has often been the impression they've given off. The book also does expose some of the tension between the civilian/political control of the military--and who really calls the shots when it comes to deploying thousands of troops & materiel to the other side of the world. I'm glad I read it, as there were some good insights into these back and forth struggles and Obama's long review up on review of the situation in Afghanistan, before deciding how many US troops should be sent under the requested military surge. There is also good exposure by the author--not a secret, by any means--of the various mistakes that US policy has made over the years in attempting to deal with the complex situation in Afghanistan. I borrowed this from the library; read it on my Kindle.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    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 N 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.)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    This is such an involving book. Has anything changed in Afghanistan since this was published five years or so ago? Well, we've lost a fine writer and reporter in Michael Hastings, whose car went off the road in Los Angeles; check Wikipedia. Highest recommendation. This is such an involving book. Has anything changed in Afghanistan since this was published five years or so ago? Well, we've lost a fine writer and reporter in Michael Hastings, whose car went off the road in Los Angeles; check Wikipedia. Highest recommendation.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Recently made a point of reading works written by Rolling Stone journalists. Not the equal of Generation Kill, but rewarding nonetheless.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Vaibhav Anand

    I was directed to 'The Operators' from 'War Machine' - the Brad Pitt starred on Netflix which I had really liked (War Machine is based on this book). Mostly, I wanted to understand US' operations in Afghanistan a decade after the 'War on Terror' had been announced. The book was disappointing. Hastings goes back and forth between two timelines, and tends to use present tense for things that happened in the past far too often for my comfort. Even so, the source material is interesting enough: feud I was directed to 'The Operators' from 'War Machine' - the Brad Pitt starred on Netflix which I had really liked (War Machine is based on this book). Mostly, I wanted to understand US' operations in Afghanistan a decade after the 'War on Terror' had been announced. The book was disappointing. Hastings goes back and forth between two timelines, and tends to use present tense for things that happened in the past far too often for my comfort. Even so, the source material is interesting enough: feuds between Obama, McChrystal and the bureaucracy, the whole elaborate pretense that the war was worthwhile or even, being won, was fascinating. In case you are looking to catch up on 'The Operators', I would recommend watching the fantastic Brad Pitt in 'War Machine' instead. The writing style was not for me, even though the story it was telling was quite intriguing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Vaughan

    This is an elaboration of Michael Hastings's Rolling Stone article--you know, the one that got four-star general Stanley McChrystal canned as head of the Afghan war. Hastings embeds with JSOC, the snake-eaters, for a wild ride through Paris, then on to Kabul and beyond. We watch as Hastings checks in and out of hotels, flies with a Kiowa helo crew as they blow shit up, and compares watches with Hamid Karzai's corrupt half-brother. He drives directly into an Afghan town he's been told to avoid an This is an elaboration of Michael Hastings's Rolling Stone article--you know, the one that got four-star general Stanley McChrystal canned as head of the Afghan war. Hastings embeds with JSOC, the snake-eaters, for a wild ride through Paris, then on to Kabul and beyond. We watch as Hastings checks in and out of hotels, flies with a Kiowa helo crew as they blow shit up, and compares watches with Hamid Karzai's corrupt half-brother. He drives directly into an Afghan town he's been told to avoid and interviews a warlord, and we get to listen to the Afghan security assistant and his translator whoop with joy that they weren't beheaded, or worse, as they drive out. It's a royal hoot of a book, and we're privy to all kinds of star-studded events--a dinner party with Hillary Clinton, an affair of state with the heads of a dozen nations, diner sandwiches with Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan, and his wake after his untimely passing, arranged by Hillary at the hospital as she calls out, "Where's the nearest bar?!" Underlying it all is a Rolling Stone frame of reference, one where it's OK to bring down a man who has served his country in the riskiest of positions for decades, a West Point graduate who has been on thousands of covert missions and is revered by most of his troops, who not only answers their emails but visits them in their dangerous front-line outposts when they request it. When he gets drunk with his staff while in transit at a bar in Paris, Hastings is present with his tape recorder and notebook. He gets the story, McChrystal gets canned, and somehow we're supposed to be OK with that. And for the most part we are, because the portrait of the Afghanistan war created by US policy painted by Hastings is one of overwhelming corruption, chaos, deceit, fantasy and ultimately, ignominious dissolution of the war effort which we shall call "victory," and no one will challenge because nobody comprehends what occurred. Petraeus follows, the hallowed knight who won the war in Iraq. Only he didn't. One superior calls him "an ass-kissing little chicken-shit." The puzzle of this book is whether Hastings, who seems to have some guts and a lot of experience on the ground, understands the military he so roundly criticizes, or cares to in the first place. There's a difference between traveling as a correspondent and traveling as a man with a rifle who may have to use it to commit state-sponsored killings, then live with the aftermath. The difference between Hastings and Ernie Pyle--to whom he compares himself--is that when Ernie Pyle died, the Marines he traveled with buried him on their base, the only civilian to be so honored. This will not happen with Hastings. Quite the contrary. There are likely many who would plant him in the desert with no marker. This is a book worth reading, but it's also a book worth reading with a highly critical eye. You'll learn much about Afghanistan, the military, the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S., and how the wars evolved after 9/11. But Hastings is highly selective in the facts he chooses to present, and colors his interpretations with assumptions he assumes the reader shares. This may not always be the case.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris DePoy

    Michael Hasting’s does a very fine job of describing the disconnect in Afghanistan. Although this book is non-fiction, it reads like a fictional narrative, and I wouldn’t be surprised if HBO tries to adapt this into one of their movies. This is because Michael Hasting’s was actually there listening to General McCrystal and his advisers as well as the soldiers who were actually fighting the war. Michael Hasting’s writes with a style similar to fellow Rolling Stone’s Alumni Hunter S Thompson. In f Michael Hasting’s does a very fine job of describing the disconnect in Afghanistan. Although this book is non-fiction, it reads like a fictional narrative, and I wouldn’t be surprised if HBO tries to adapt this into one of their movies. This is because Michael Hasting’s was actually there listening to General McCrystal and his advisers as well as the soldiers who were actually fighting the war. Michael Hasting’s writes with a style similar to fellow Rolling Stone’s Alumni Hunter S Thompson. In fact this book could easily snug up against Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Here we see that the war which the White House wanted, the war which the Pentagon pushed for, and the war which the generals and soldiers were actually fighting were all completely different types of wars. The Pentagon and the White House were making battle plans based off of old counterinsurgency strategies which have failed in application countless times, yet they continue to use these tired strategies at the cost of lives and nations. It was interesting how the Generals missions became more about propaganda than it was effectively securing Afghanistan. However, this was largely due to the White House. They didn’t want to hear any information that conflicted with their political promises or anything that would make this war seem like a failure on the politicians part. This includes both Bush and Obama’s offices. In fact, Obama didn’t want to listen to any strategies which suggest any sort of nation building. Like Michael Hasting’s pointed out the operators were more concerned with being a rock star and getting the cover photo of Rolling Stone than they were of making any real plans. One of the saddest parts was when Hasting’s wrote down and compared what the soldiers thought of the Afghanistan police and military and what they thought about the United States Military.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marti Martinson

    Before lauding the book, I have to point out 2 errors. On page 281, the word "inherently" is misspelled as "inherhentyly". On page 285, the location of Walter Reed hospital is given as Springs, Maryland. Well, the city of Silver Spring (singular, no ending "s"), Maryland IS just across the DC/Maryland line, but Walter Reed is in DC. His book makes it very clear why we are in Afghanistan: douchebags (page 117), dildos (page 127), and ass-kissing little chicken shits (page 346). When I say the book Before lauding the book, I have to point out 2 errors. On page 281, the word "inherently" is misspelled as "inherhentyly". On page 285, the location of Walter Reed hospital is given as Springs, Maryland. Well, the city of Silver Spring (singular, no ending "s"), Maryland IS just across the DC/Maryland line, but Walter Reed is in DC. His book makes it very clear why we are in Afghanistan: douchebags (page 117), dildos (page 127), and ass-kissing little chicken shits (page 346). When I say the book is difficult, I am not referring to the author's writing style. I mean the content is overwhelming, frightening, and disturbing. The sometimes non-linear time progression adds to the confusion. I really didn't like anyone in the work; even Obama and Biden don't come out as gleaming or pristine. This is certainly true of the "rock star" generals recounted in this book. The ending is damning, deservedly so: "I thought of the harsh judgement history was going to one day render on us all", page 379. "Washington is Hollywood for ugly people", page 328. I was lucky enough to live in DC from 1988 to 2013, after 6 years in the Navy. Some of the locations and addresses he mentioned are clear memories for me. They made me miss that city even more, despite the fact I was only an administrative office-schmuck not connected to any high-power officials. I, however, am one of those who will be "rendered" because I was part of the military-industrial-complex. Sins of the fathers? Nah, I'm gay and sterile, so I won't be passing on any sin to future generations. I have my own multitudinous ones to account for.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Bruckert

    The man whose writing you hate to love - Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings (whose infamous article was responsible for the dethroning of until then untouchable General Stanley McChrystal) - is back at it with a complete expose of the "operators" at the helm of the war in Afghanistan. While it's clear Hastings enjoys the inflammatory and controversial - with little thought to the consequence of what he's writing - it's exactly this which makes what he pens all the more intriguing and delicious to The man whose writing you hate to love - Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings (whose infamous article was responsible for the dethroning of until then untouchable General Stanley McChrystal) - is back at it with a complete expose of the "operators" at the helm of the war in Afghanistan. While it's clear Hastings enjoys the inflammatory and controversial - with little thought to the consequence of what he's writing - it's exactly this which makes what he pens all the more intriguing and delicious to read. He leaves it all out on the table. While he can be extremely cynical at times, he does deserve props for the relentless investigator's hat he puts on and refuses to take off (as well as allowing you to be privy to his own conflicts, thoughts, dismissals, questions, and internal narration). Five points for the cigarette habit (though he swears off alcohol unless imminently entering a war-zone, in which case he sits on the plane to his final destination nursing a hangover), fifty points for the sleuthing, and another fifty for the wicked wit - and you have yourself an endorsement from this reader that tops 100%.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Elder

    Bam! Here's a book! The sentences are tight! The action moves. And the information, dizzying in its scope, is rendered entirely digestible. The result: you get the picture, you get the story, all the pieces, and are able to follow the bureaucratic nightmarish clusterfuck that is America in Afghanistan with a mix of horror and awe. It is a damn shame that Michael Hastings died in a car crash in June of 2013, because he has left behind all the markings of a writer and a journalist with immense amo Bam! Here's a book! The sentences are tight! The action moves. And the information, dizzying in its scope, is rendered entirely digestible. The result: you get the picture, you get the story, all the pieces, and are able to follow the bureaucratic nightmarish clusterfuck that is America in Afghanistan with a mix of horror and awe. It is a damn shame that Michael Hastings died in a car crash in June of 2013, because he has left behind all the markings of a writer and a journalist with immense amounts of promise. I'm sad to think that, as time marches ever onwards and nations, corporations, and individuals of power and influence perpetrate all sorts of heinous bullshit around the world, there will be one less fearless journalist with an incredible mastery of language to report back to us on the happenings with his unique take. Read this book!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    Strong four stars. I’m amazed at how ignorant I was about all of this. Yes, largely ignorant of any actual facts about the war in Afghanistan—which is a big part of Hastings’ point—but also about all the subsequent events in Hastings’ actual life (and death…). Spoiler: he’s dead. I’m actually glad I didn’t know that until I was at the last 50 pages or so; it’s not strange that learning about him changed my image of him, but it’s interesting and unsettling to think that that might affect how I re Strong four stars. I’m amazed at how ignorant I was about all of this. Yes, largely ignorant of any actual facts about the war in Afghanistan—which is a big part of Hastings’ point—but also about all the subsequent events in Hastings’ actual life (and death…). Spoiler: he’s dead. I’m actually glad I didn’t know that until I was at the last 50 pages or so; it’s not strange that learning about him changed my image of him, but it’s interesting and unsettling to think that that might affect how I read the book. This well-written, engaging, nonfiction book really got me thinking about a lot of things that aren’t real comfortable for me to be thinking about. The extent to which media/propaganda really does shape our lives and the Grand Narrative of Patriotism. Today everything is about political party. Hastings’ makes a great case concerning how Afghanistan, the largely forgotten/ignored war, only became an issue worthy of airtime if a party could get “political mileage” out of it. Everything is spun for political advantage. Obviously, I’m not unaware of this, but thinking about the extent to which it pervades all information is frightening. Hastings, continuously pointing out how the media was complicit in selling the invasion of Iraq and the whitewashed reporting of Afghanistan, made me wonder how important stories are. The stories we hear. The perspective from which we hear them. [For an example of what I’m trying to say, just read Vonnegut’s recounting of 1492 from Breakfast of Champions]. The startling extent to which our current political climate has really invaded my thoughts: Again, the importance of perspective. “We may never know how many innocent civilians were killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but estimates suggest that more than a hundred and sixty thousand have dies so far” (379). How must those civilians’ families feel about the United States? How could that not “fuel anti-American terrorism for years to come? Why do we always have the moral high ground? Isn’t it all about perspective? Here, from the civilians’ families PoV—most of whom are illiterate and probably have a pretty damn slim understanding of global politics, knowing only that troops from America are in their village and accidentally killed their family who was just trying to live their daily lives—the US certainly ain’t lookin’ so good. My God…what if Trump comparing the US government to Putin really might have made just a tiny grain of sense? This all depends on how facts are spun, on the perspective, on what narrative is used to justify (or create) them. Hastings writes about the media and the grand narrative of patriotism: “We’d been bombarded with hagiographic profiles and heroic narratives of almost all our military leaders…Here, I realized, was a chance to tell a different story, to capture what the men running the war actually said and did. What I’d been seeing and hearing was distinctly human: frustration, arrogance, getting smashed, letting off stress” (74). To me, none of that seems novel, surprising, or bad (respectively). Really, no one ever did negative portrayals? Men at war are still men and behave like other humans? These guys resigned because they got caught badmouthing the president and vice president in, at least what is printed here, some of the least offensive things I’ve read said TO or BY the president in the last 24 hours?! (My God, things really were completely different before the 2016 election!) I find it amazing (in a “come-on-is-he-shitting-me way) that Hastings believed “The unwritten rule I’d broken was a simple one: You really weren’t supposed to write honestly about people in power” (329) How ironic does that sound now? Has the world changed that much? Ha. Speaking of irony, Hastings criticized the American Press for being complicit WITH the White House, in selling their wars. The media and the white house being buddies. Ha! Oh, pre-2016 days. Hastings writes that the war “reminds him of the talk in Iraq back in the day, the disconnect between the reality and what the believers believed” (117)! HA! He thought there was a disconnect from reality going on then?? That certainly is quaint!! Somehow the above examples got me thinking a lot about the germination of Fake News and how it could be a hideous mutation of the different perspectives idea. (And when I write “Fake News,” I mean the completely idiotic idea that ANY indisputable facts that one disagrees with can be idiotically called Fake.) It is terribly upsetting that now people can’t even agree on what the facts are about which they can form their own opinions and viewpoints. Facts and perspectives-on-facts have gotten completely blurred. I don’t even know if that makes any sense because thinking about the nature of reality is melting my brain. *** That took me two hours to write, and I think it’s still crap. I planned to also write about the shady circumstances surrounding Hastings’ death (muuuurrrrrdddeeeeerrrrr most foul??). Am I now a conspiracy theorist? What is the Truth? And then the whole cyclical, brain-melting thing about perspective, and Trump’s comparing the US gov. to Putin, and Fake News, and reality all starts up again so I can’t write anything coherent. Here’s a quote I liked: “They were there for him. Each on a search for meaning, naturally—and McChrystal was meaning. McChrystal was historic. McChrystal was MacArthur and Grant and Patton, and yet he lived and breathed and walked among them. They gave McChrystal their loyalty, and McChrystal grave shape to their identities. The wars gave McChrystal his own. He was the ultimate operator” (126) I wanted to comment on Hastings’ tone and how he nails it and makes this an enjoyable read: “He goes into the Waldorf, and Holbrooke’s staff is there, along with a douche bag from the CIA” (117)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dot Edwards

    An eye-opener I really was not aware of the level of deception within the military. I would have liked to have more insight into the devastation the wars have had on the local populations. However it is a bit outside the purview of this book that focuses very much on McChrystal's transgressions. There is certainly enough material just on that topic. So why only 3 stars? As a magazine article this would be fine. In a book I think a wider view should be taken. Agreed he looks at the Whitehouse and P An eye-opener I really was not aware of the level of deception within the military. I would have liked to have more insight into the devastation the wars have had on the local populations. However it is a bit outside the purview of this book that focuses very much on McChrystal's transgressions. There is certainly enough material just on that topic. So why only 3 stars? As a magazine article this would be fine. In a book I think a wider view should be taken. Agreed he looks at the Whitehouse and Petraeus but it still just gives the view from an American perspective. There is so much more to consider, especially when thinking in the long term and the way history will look at these wars.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Michael Hastings is a total dick. I read this book because I was fascinated, as a public affairs specialist, that Gen. McChrystal would give such candid access to a Rolling Stone reporter. What Hastings ended up catching and reporting on was water cooler talk. Just a bunch of worn out dudes venting during their downtime. Hastings knew exactly the type of story he wanted to tell about the war. Unfortunately, our top brass handed it to him.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Essentially an extended version of his Rolling Stone piece on McChrystal. Rest in Peace.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    *This is going to be a long review, I hope, which I still need to think through when I don't have a vicious headache & have to get up early for work... *This is going to be a long review, I hope, which I still need to think through when I don't have a vicious headache & have to get up early for work...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    http://philadelphiareviewofbooks.com/... The American male, as a species, is in crisis. At least in the realm of public life, the norms for masculine behavior in our society have deteriorated to such an extent that American men are now expected to act like frat boys for the rest of their lives. You just wouldn’t be manly if you acted any other way. This is the message we get from our popular publications, television and movies. The wild bachelor party where a prostitute is accidentally (or purpos http://philadelphiareviewofbooks.com/... The American male, as a species, is in crisis. At least in the realm of public life, the norms for masculine behavior in our society have deteriorated to such an extent that American men are now expected to act like frat boys for the rest of their lives. You just wouldn’t be manly if you acted any other way. This is the message we get from our popular publications, television and movies. The wild bachelor party where a prostitute is accidentally (or purposefully) killed and her body must be hidden in the desert has become a comfortable trope of too many popular narratives. Maxim and Esquire, even Men’s Journal, to say nothing of more overtly pornographic men’s magazines like Playboy and Penthouse have added a sheen of respectability to juvenile behavior. They provide guides for how to dress for success and debauchery, rules for the etiquette of manliness, liquor and leather ads and a nice war story or two thrown in for political relevance. Alcohol and women, tobacco and (depending on geography) firearms are not so much to be savored as part of a full life, but instead are the gadgets and gizmos of manhood to be consumed with abandon, in public, on camera. There have always been American men who have acted this way, who have worshipped at the altar of drunkenness and violence. But never before in history has it been so widely acceptable for a grown man to sit all day in his pajamas playing violent video games, illegally downloading meaningless television shows and movies, drinking cases of cheap, watery lager, to end the day drenched in cologne preying on women lonely enough to subject themselves to the bar scene. Better yet, skip the bar and drive down to the strip. All pleasures can be bought. Maybe the problem is technology. Maybe it’s a matter of magnification. Entourage taught us the allure of the douche bag. Jersey Shore reminded the world that we love a train wreck, and many young people are magnificent train wrecks. Fortunately, most of us can avoid these people. Change the channel. Read better magazines. Watch better movies. Drink at finer bars. Don’t drink at all. God help you if you live in a college town. Despite the prominence of the drunken frat boy in our popular imagination, it’s quite easy to keep such monsters at bay from one’s own social orbit. “Hire more females.” This was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recommendation for what should be done if the Secret Service is found to have frequently behaved as they did in Cartagena, Colombia prior to President Obama’s arrival there for the recent Summit of the Americas. Nine agents were found to have hired prostitutes and engaged in heavy drinking while preparing for their duties protecting Obama. The incident was brought to the American embassy’s attention when a dispute over payment with one of the prostitutes caused a commotion at the Hotel Caribe. The initial concern was about any compromise in President Obama’s safety, as angry pimps are known to act unreasonably when provoked. The agent paid the prostitute, to settle things, but the ensuing attention from the media and the U.S. government has broadened into a discussion of appropriate behavior. The agents technically did nothing illegal, as prostitution and heavy drinking are both perfectly legal in Colombia. In fact, the only photographs I can find of the Hotel Caribe show prostitutes walking openly in front of its entrance. This is to say nothing of the lavish recreational spending and untoward behavior of the General Services Administration. I don’t want to sound like a prude, but there’s something disturbing in these reports. I like my artists and musicians, poets and philosophers (even the stray physicist or mathematician) to have frequented his city’s red light district in his youth, but when our public servants act like giddy adolescents, whether on the people’s dime or off, I’m concerned less about moral deterioration and more about professional competency. Michael Hastings, a freelance journalist known for his feature stories and profiles in the aforementioned men’s magazines, most prominently Rolling Stone, opens his new book The Operators, with the story of a public figure with a distinctly un-frat boy sensibility and narrative. General David D. McKiernan, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from the summer of 2008 to the summer of 2009 was forced to resign by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top players in the Pentagon and White House. Though in practice McKiernan implemented many of the newly adopted counter-insurgency (COIN) measures put forth by superstar General David Petraeus and his civilian and military disciples, Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen were unimpressed with McKiernan’s cool-headedness in his initial briefings to them. Sympathetic to President Obama, McKiernan refused to push the issue of a troop surge, one of the key elements of COIN, which requires a far larger force than the counter-terrorism doctrine endorsed by Vice President Joe Biden. Remember, this is before the days of Leon Panetta and the increased profile of targeted drone attacks. It seems ancient history, when we thought nation building in Afghanistan was a good idea, but then again Petraeus was the first celebrity four-star general in a generation and his word was gospel in the military and the hawkish circles of the government. So Gates and Mullen replaced McKiernan, a traditional straight-laced Army type, as head of ISAF, with Stanley McChrystal, a Special Forces “A-team” veteran, brash and unapologetically gung-ho about the escalation of America’s war in Afghanistan. Petraeus had leapfrogged over McChrystal in Iraq, so here was Stan’s chance to shine. A string of laudatory puff-piece profiles followed in the national media and it looked, for a short time, as though McChrystal might fill the role in Afghanistan that Petraeus filled in Iraq, namely to turn the tide of domestic opinion about the conflict’s success around before the inevitable and anti-climactic denouement. Enter the intrepid Rolling Stone reporter on assignment in Europe, covering McChrystal’s diplomatic visits to coalition members. Hastings encounters a jingoistic culture in McChrystal’s staff, full of bullshitting and crudity, a far cry from the buttoned-up professionalism you’d expect. McChrystal’s brood, which is made up of civilian and military press advisors, including a Brit named Duncan who used to work in hospitality, as well as advisors and other administrative staff, Chief of Staff Charlie Flynn and his brother Major General Michael T. Flynn, McChrystal’s intelligence man, are scarily casual around Hastings. In Paris, one of them threatens to kill Hastings if his piece is not complementary to the general. They speak disparagingly of Biden (“Bite me!”) the chief rival and detractor to the theory of COIN in Afghanistan. The presence of alcohol in profusion at nearly every scene Hastings reports of the off-duty general and his staff is remarkable. They stumble back to the Westminster Hotel and the next morning McChrystal worries that the group they share an elevator with will smell the beer on them. While we don’t require our public servants to be teetotalers, this level of abandon, especially around a journalist is strikingly immature. McChrystal hesitates in moments of candor with Hastings, but in the end, his will to be a rock star, an adrenaline- and testosterone-fueled rebel, beats out his better judgment. After all, it is not McChrystal’s publically aired subterfuge of President Obama’s primacy as the Commander-in-Chief that gets him sacked in the summer of 2010, but the publication of Hastings’s article in Rolling Stone, replete with McChrystal’s brazen verbal defiance of his betters. There is much more to Hastings’s book than a drunken pub crawl with a four star general. Not only does Hastings expose the corruption of McKiernan’s ouster and McChrystal’s appointment, but he also shows the delicate balance between objective reporting and the dangers of embedded journalism. Matthew Hoh, who quits, and Peter Galbraith, who is pushed out, show two different sides of resistance to futility and corruption in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. The Operators lacks any of the gravitas of violence and uncertainty in Michael Herr’s Dispatches, a 1977 exploration of the relationship between journalists and the military in the Vietnam War. Hastings’s books is more of a political comedy of errors along the lines of 2009’s In the Loop, directed by Armando Ianucci, in which the power players, in the government, the diplomatic community and the military are all bumbling bureaucrats of the highest order. The whole culture of the COINdinistas, based on the failed theories of the Vietnam War and David Galula’s experience in Algeria, is a perfect example of how the military doesn’t learn from history, only distorts it for its own agenda. McChrystal’s viscerality is an advantage when relating to soldiers on the ground, even those who are disagreeing with his mission, as in the case of Israel Arroyo, a shell-shocked sergeant who writes McChrystal a heartrending letter about the loss of one of his men. The adversarial politics of the military’s relationship with D.C. and the American public, as illustrated by General Caldwell’s information operations plan, is corrupt and unlawful but will never be prosecuted. Hastings really hits his stride when writing about the adventure of war reportage and the give-and-take dynamic of the reporter-source/subject relationship. In Kandahar, he is barraged by the exploding story of the publication of “The Runaway General” in Rolling Stone. It’s much more interesting to read a Washington outsider’s view of the thought process of Robert Gates and the war machinery than it ever would be to hear the Sunday morning rants of the Beltway’s war pundits. In the end, Petraeus represents something McChrystal could never achieve, the immunity of military power to judgment. Still, the most important revelation here is that the general decay of American male culture, the arrested development, the inurement to violence, the endless drunken revelry, is enmeshed in all of society’s tiers, even the top military brass.

  30. 5 out of 5

    AC

    I wish I would've read this a few years ago. It's so horrendous how politicians of every stripe lies to the public about the conduct of wars. You would think that everybody learned some lessons from the Vietnam War. I think McChrystal's story is the epitome of the American military conduct in Afghanistan. McChrystal and his crew have no respect for the civilians in charge of the military. That lack of respect trickles down to the conduct of individual soldiers on the battlefield. This goal of th I wish I would've read this a few years ago. It's so horrendous how politicians of every stripe lies to the public about the conduct of wars. You would think that everybody learned some lessons from the Vietnam War. I think McChrystal's story is the epitome of the American military conduct in Afghanistan. McChrystal and his crew have no respect for the civilians in charge of the military. That lack of respect trickles down to the conduct of individual soldiers on the battlefield. This goal of the military and the media to fabricate McChrystal's image as a "rockstar" is just an extension of the macho culture of the US military. A related point that Hasting's makes is the treatment of soldiers by the public post-Vietnam. Those soldiers were spit upon when they came back from the war. Now in the US we have gone to the other extreme. No one wants to see veterans treated like that again. Politicians have taken advantage of that sentiment and have helped create a bubble around the military. You criticize the military you're not patriotic. You don't wear a flag pin, you're not patriotic. Don't take of your hat or stand during the singing of the Star-Spangles Banner, you're garbage. There are so many great anecdotes in this book. Of course the famous Paris bar incident in which everyone in McChrystal's crew gets shitfaced and bad mouths special envoy Holbrooke and VP Biden is fleshed out here in Hasting's book. However, there is one story that hits the main theme of the book. McChrystal visits a base that had recently lost a popular officer. All the soldiers wanted was someone who would listen to them about their concerns and failures of the mission. McChrystal didn't listen to them. Instead Hasting's describes how McChrystal had become the exact person he railed against when he was a cadet at West Point. He was the mouthpiece of a strategy that was not going to win a damn thing. The US's belief in the failed strategy of counterinsurgency is why the war in Afghanistan has become a quagmire. Matt Hoh who was working in Afghanistan as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team said this in his resignation letter which was subsequently leaked to the Washington Post: "I fail to see the value or the worth in continued US casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is truly, a 35 year old civil war...I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers...If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc." Counterinsurgency doesn't work. When will we learn?

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