« Captain Boycott, and his Israeli friends | Main | Hiking in Iran; or, pwog dawgs of war »

Lots more where Stan came from

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday June 23, 2010 09:37 PM

It's funny, sometimes you can really tell, just from the look on a guy's face, that he's crazy as a bedbug. I always found Stan McChrystal an easy diagnosis that way.

Everybody by now has read the Rolling Stone piece -- which is an enviably good read, I must say. My favorite bit:

"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."

Let the record show this is a 55-year-old senior manager in a large corporation, talking in a way that would embarrass an 18-year-old frat boy. What a weird strange world the US military must have become, staffed in large part by serious cases of arrested development.

It's been pretty strange for quite a while, of course. The obvious comparison to McChrystal is Douglas MacArthur. First time as farce, second time as... as... what's downstream from farce? Sitcom, that's it. Sitcom. It even sounds like soldierspeak: SECDEF, CENTCOM, POTUS, SITCOM. Starring Bill Cosby as the President. Here's Dougie:

There was something so lovably naif about image-making in those days, wasn't there?

The interesting question, of course, is this: If any fool can plainly see, just from a picture in a newspaper, that Stan McChrystal was a first-class loon, how does it come about that Obie decided to make him Proconsul of Afghanistan in the first place?

Obie has placed a number of other obviously deranged individuals in positions of authority and emolument. One might mention, off the top of one's head, Larry "El Puerco" Summers, Arne "Dotheboys Hall" Duncan, and Hillary "Whatever Israel Wants" Cllinton. So the McChrystal appointment can't be dismissed as a fluke. We're looking at a pattern here. These are the people he wants -- perseverative Mad Hatters. His idea of a military commander is a gaunt hagridden insomniac stunted psychic dwarf, permanently damaged as only an alum of some "elite" regiment can be. His idea of a diplomat is Lady Macbeth. His idea of an educator is a man who should be managing a Chicago slaughterhouse. His idea of an economist is... Larry Summers.

McChrystal, so far, is the only one who's actually dropped trou and shat on the Oval Office carpet, however. Hmm. What do we make of that?

A fine old phrase, beloved by my hero Richard Nixon, creeps into mind here: "Crazy like a fox." I can't take credit for this hypothesis -- it floated across one of my lefty mailing lists:

I think it’s a brilliant move on McChrystal’s part. There’s no way he can achieve a real victory in Afghanistan. Why not play the tough guy, get himself fired, and when things fall apart strut about claiming that had he been allowed to run things victory will be assured.
The only thing I might object to in this otherwise brilliant insight is the slightly weaselly phrase "real victory". The Empire is not going to see any victory in Afghanistan, real, unreal, virtual, or even colorable. But my correspondent has grasped the essence of the matter: Stan didn't want to be holding the bag when the spooks start scrambling from the embassy roof for the last chopper out of Kabul.

I suspect Mad Stan will have the last laugh.

Comments (32)


Fantasy Football:
Someone takes up the implied challenge and sets about the kicking of McCrystal's ass.
Imagine that one of the two combatants immediately adopts the sneakiest, vilest tactics while the other is still preparing for a Queensberry contest... say a kick to the testicles like Butch Cassidy in the movie.
Now ask yourself what would the reportage be were McCrystal the victim and what would it be were McCrystal the aggressor?

I suspect that a tactic is thought nefarious depending on the status of its adopter.
If McCrystal kicked someone in the balls, reporting would applaud his foresight and canny assessment of the realities of the situation.
If someone kicked him in the balls, that one would be regarded as a cheat and beneath contempt.

Maybe someone should try it and see. I'd be willing to risk the general approbation just for one good swift kick between his legs.

Call it "propaganda of the deed".

Yar, and his friend, the Other New MacArthur, will ride that pony into some sort of power.

It's perfect for both of them. All of them. Petraeus takes no damage for following McC's foot work.

The Carnifex comes. The Carnifex goes.

I raise you a:


Better yet:



In terms of the history of insubordination for American generals, this really isn't a big deal.

Nicholas Trist and Winfield Scott were so contempuous of James K Polk's authority, they offered bribe with Santa Anna on their own authority, quarreled publically in the press, and even negotiated a treaty after Polk fired Trist and recalled him.

George McClellan deliberately held his troops up in Washington so John Pope would lose the Second Battle of Bull Run and he'd be recalled to command.

US Grant tried to steel another general's army and march it off to the front before anybody knew what was happening.

Benjamin Butler flouted Lincoln's authority every chance he could get But since Lincoln needed a Democrat in a high commnand, he was forced to put up with all the insults.

The difference seems to me that instead of just thinking something up and doing it on his own authority, McCrystal mouthed off to the press out of frustration that he was losing the war. And came off like a fool.

I don't think he's a complete monster though. His own troops hated him because he wouldn't let them kill enough civilians.


Yar, and his friend, the Other New MacArthur, will ride that pony into some sort of power.

I don't know. He was involved in covering up the Pat Tillman affair. And some of that *might* (with an emphasis on "might") come up if he ran for president.

I had always thought Obama had picked him because he had that compromised past and would always be afraid of getting too cocky.

Rememer, Colin Powell was involved in covering up Mai Lai so naturally he didn't mouth off too much when Cheney and Bush set him up to be the fall guy at the UN.

Cheney: Hey Colin. Want to present this obviously forged case for war before the UN?

Powell: Hell no.

Cheney: Tisk. Tisk Colin. Remember when you got a certain young Lieutenant Bill Calley off the hook? Some leaks to the press about your involvement might happen.

Powell: Uh. But this will destroy my political credability. I'll come off like a fool when our case for invading Iraq is exposed as an obvious fraud.

Cheney: Oh Colin. Don't worry about becoming president. They call it the "white" House for a reason. OH, btw, after this, we're going to send you off to Israel on a fool's errend. Then we'll send Rice, snigger, snigger. Gotta go. 24 is on.


Interesting and accurate observation on the psyche of career military officers. Uptight, always looking like they are trying to shit a cinder block, constant adolescent macho posturing of the kind that would embarrass most adolescents. Psychopathic, narcissistic and childish. We used to say in the 82d Airborne that the only difference between the US Army and the Boy Scouts is that the Boy Scouts have adult leadership. It was unbelievable to us what children most field grade army officers are.

I remember being assigned military protocol duty where I had to act as a driver for visiting dignitaries and military officers from the US and elsewhere. I picked up a US general and his aide at the airport, and on the way back he remarked that "the way you wear that beret, makes you look like you want to kick some ass!" They would always talk to you like this, in that affected "general's voice" they use when talking to enlisted men which sounded like George HW Bush trying to mimic R. Lee Ermey. I responded with my own standard, affected reply, which was a nervous, stuttering, "uh-uh-uh, y-y-yes sir" as if I had to think of the answer and blurt out a nervous reply, leaving the reptilian side of his brain wondering if I was trying to fuck with his head, which I was. The McChrystaline glare I got in return was priceless.


Obama cut deals with big Pharma, BP and insurance cos before he was even elected.

It didn't come up. Instead we got sideshows about his infinitely more worthy right reverend (a man who knows a thing or too about loyalty, unlike his protege).

If the competing factions of the ruling class want Petraeus somewhere on the GOP ticket, he'll be on the ticket.

Pat Tillman means jack all to the voting public, besides. If the FF murder of Tilman was going to break the exchange of imperial handlers, it would have done so already.

This cannot hurt Petraeus. He's the Surge Man, and the corporate press is as committed to that narrative as is the Pentagon.

~ Jack

How could you forget James R. Clapper in that list of crazy? Topical too.


excellent post


"always looking like they are trying to shit a cinder block"

but there are uses for such men ..no ???
an organization almost of any mission can harness these bastards to the purpose at hand

they are not the coup leaders by any means

the coup leaders are not cassius but brutus



I am still holding out for "Palin/Taitz."


I was amused to learn that the General's drink of choice is Bud Light Lime

CF Oxtrot:

to Jack Crow --

Jack, what about a ticket with Petraeus and a Donkey female... Pelosi, or someone like Elena Kagan?

The other day I joked about Elena Kagan being the Donkey candidate for 2012 but I'm guessing she'll actually be confirmed and I can't see her skipping town on the SCOTUS to try for POTUS, one's a 4 to 8 year job, the other's for life.

Of course Petraus/Palin makes perfect sense but if the momentum for The Noble Democrats isn't completely shot by early 2011, a Petraeus/Pelosi (or similar) could be the call.

The superficial differences between Donkeys and Elephants grow fainter by the day. Cross-party platforms can work; my state has a Noble Democrat governor with an Evil Rethuglican lieutenant governor. People happily supported the cross-party ticket.

It's all about image anyway, so why should we be surprised to see it at the POTUS/VPOTUS level?


I didn't get the first two nicknames.


This cannot hurt Petraeus. He's the Surge Man, and the corporate press is as committed to that narrative as is the Pentagon.

It was McCrystal, not Petreus, who covered up the Pat Tillman affair.

FWIW, my own little theory is that nobody gets to be President or a 4 star general unless someone's got something them.

When GM tried to catch Nader doing something unethical, they pretty much found out he was a celibate monk.

But I'm sure there's some kind of shady financial dealing that could be pulled at any time if Obama actually decideds on a "progressive" turn.

They don't have to shoot people any more a la JFK and King. They just have to make sure they're compromised (eg Elliot Spitzer's little hooker habit could be "pulled" just before the big bank bailout).


FWIW, I believe McCrystal was trying to make a Chuck Norris joke here:

"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."

I doubt he was totally serious. If he were, then thank Dog he was fired.


I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned yet, but Moveon.org just showed its true colors.
Never did trust Moveon.org. Phonies.


but there are uses for such men ..no ???
an organization almost of any mission can harness these bastards to the purpose at hand

they are not the coup leaders by any means

the coup leaders are not cassius but brutus

True, but that doesn't make them loyal, either. No one gets to be a four-star general in the US Army without knowing and blowing the right people. It's a pure asskissocracy where being a good organization man counts for everything. But sycophancy and loyalty are not the same thing, and the good general knows when to desert to greener pastures.

McChrystal is more Titus Labienus than Marc Antony.


I don't see any soldier on the front of a ticket, come 2012. That's too easy to gumball.

Petraeus has aspirations. But, short of Palin's plane crashing, Romney getting eaten by his dog and Huckabee (already a ridiculous long shot) converting to Islam - I don't see any way that a recently retired general ends up headlining a GOP ticket.

Then again, I readily admit my tremendous capacity for error.

As for joining up with a Dem, I don't see anyone short of Gravel who'll challenge Bammy in the primaries. The Dems will nominate Obama because failing to do so is an admission of failure.



That's even better for Petraeus, then. McChrsytal has no forward motion into national politics. So, Petraeus benefits even more.

None of this will hurt him. He's a Soldier Darling. See: McCain.

I'm not suggesting Petraeus is going to end up the GOP's shining paladin knight. I think he's an ace, and an obvious one.

The federal death state will still be at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, will still be dropping blackbaggers in Yemen, Somalia and Iran, will still be giving goodies to Israel and Ethiopia, will still be pressuring Colombia to start a regional conflict - come 2011-2012.

We're will be heading into the 12th year of permanent warfare, come November 2012.

The GOP doesn't have to run on anything but "Obama Failed" and "see how gubmint meddling causes oil spills.

Putting a media darling with that much salad on his chest, into the spotlight, up aside the Alaskan faux populist or even Romney (rebranded as an economic whiz)?

That could work.


loyal ??
not a chance
not these hounds

lean and hungry look yes
ready to kill yes
but unable to lead a rebellion
or inspire one
anti paper pushing politicing
pentagon leadership clique and cult
errr ...in their gut
but once outed by the brass bureaucrats
they run for cover
no last stands for them
they're pricks on the prowl
bully boys
but dogs not tigers
they can turn tail


The GOP doesn't have to run on anything but "Obama Failed" and "see how gubmint meddling causes oil spills.

I personally don't see why the neoconservatives (who have a presence in both parties) would want to get rid of Obama.

TO ME, it appears that big business and the military industrial complex are getting everything they want.

Why take a chance on nominating an out and out dingbat like Palin?

Then again, it's occurred to me that there are a lot of people in the ruling class who don't think like me, that a lot of very rich, very powerful people actually think like the average teabagger.

They actually DID see Bill Clinton as a threat. They actually are offended by the current neocon in blackface simply because of his race.

Is that possible? That there's a split between fairly cosmopolitian members of the ruling class and the Mellon Scaiffes and the Koches?

It seems to me that with enough intra ruling class squabbling, Petreus probably would be a good compromise candidate between Obama and Palin.


Wesley Clark, Petreus, McCrystal, has anybody noticed something about these high ranking generals?

Not to go all Victorian pseudo-science but they all seem to have heads too small for their bodies.

Obama's a bit of a pinhead himself. But he's got the skull size of a Goethe compared to McCrystal.


Why would the ruling factions dump a guy who seems inept, ineffectual and weak?

Because power and authority require usage. Projection. There's no in vacuo, for power.

It's not a thing separate from the person(s) doing the deeds of power. It's not a possession.

If authority isn't used - no matter how docile the population - someone will challenge it.

And the ruling factions are factions. They aren't an interlocking directorate. Sometimes, one bloc of them wins. Sometimes, not so much.

If authority isn't used - no matter how docile the population - someone will challenge it.
That's a very astute observation, and it explains a lot. We might even generalize it a bit, and say that power always has to expand. People who have power seek more power because if they don't get more power, they'll have less power.

Weird, huh? We don't have a good theoretical account of this phenomenon, unfortunately.


Thank you.


I've tried to find a way to abstract the insight, looking for a logic to it which doesn't rest on vapid assertions about "human nature."

Not a lot of luck, but I can refer to Carse's "Finite and Infinite Games" for a side comment (which is not Carse's theory, but mine developed out of his book).

Carse discusses titles (trophies in other peoples' memories, is how I see them) as boundary markers ending a game or contest. Titles can apply to winners or losers, and to every contestant who falls between those two poles.

A title always fixes the past. Whether the title is formal, recognized according to agreed-to rules - such as President, NBA champions, Brigadier General - or less formal (but often enough still rule bound), like gang leader, capo or front runner, it requires others to recognize it for it to have the desired effect.

A title often marks the possession of power - but because its reference point is always by necessity fixed in the past, any title has a shelf life, if you will.

The reference period, frame or point is always receding into the past.

Those who recognize the power signified by the title age. Their memories have palimpsest layers drawn over them. New events take precedence, obscuring or recoloring the old.

In short, the playing field of power is human memory. It's in memory that we store the habits of obedience. And it's in memory that the colonization of our worldview first begins (think history class, and taylor-prussianized education).

Power is not ineffable. It's not a force. It's obedience. It's having someone who'll do your bidding and allow you to take advantage from that.

Titles are a way of fixing the victories and accomplishments of power holders in the memories of others. Titles are also a way of obscuring the actions which people take to arrive at that end. Kobe Bryant has five championship rings, for example. He's a Champion, which title obscures all the people he's used and abused on the way to his power, as well as marking his practice and the inheritances of the genetic lottery.

Power is almost always entitled, either formally or informally (depending on environment; a mob boss can not necessarily wear a name tag.) The title indicates the willingness to expend effort and use people to achieve ends.

But because it is through titles that memory is fixed, and because memory is time dependent - those who wish to hold power have to add new titles, or new accomplishments to their existing ones.

They have to reinforce in the memories of others the impression that they are willing to do the needful things - perhaps this is just cramming for every exam, in order to heap the top of the class, as a valedictorian - to be recognized as one whom others serve.

Power must be used, then, to demonstrate that the title (which, again, fixes the past in other peoples' memories) is earned, and that powerful person has the continuing capacity to claim and keep his share of other folks' obedience, and their memories.


Does that help, in the theory department?




jack all that is true
as is it's opposite

introduce the concept
of authority
formal titles
informal labels

power comes from victory in contested struggles
victory produces and demonstrates power
and confers authority
titles or labels

deng post 77-79
had little to no formal authority no titles
outside the party's
military control council
and yet he had near total informal authority
label him boss
--ie non formal back stage leader
stalin's key "label"

deng in the long finale rarely exerted his "latent " powers
holding only the title of contract bridge association chairman

the post mao -GPCR context
allowed him that liberty
to not play push at the envelop
it was a settle summit situation
like leonid had

i guess you could say everything you said above and it's opposite
and be accurate about one hierarchic system or other or the same structure in different

theory of power is not as easy to work up as theory of exchange value or theory of the state
and i submit the pursuit of any theory
of everuthing in a "field"
describes an orbit
that thru time looks like sa nasty irregular

i prefer skull shapes as a theory of personality
to theories of power

Al Schumann:

I think Jack is right about taylor-prussianized education. It's an effective means of anti-social socialization. It rewards the kids who best imitate the garrulous servility and opportunistic harassment games of the scab faculty and control freak administrators. The kids who never grow up, as a result, wind up permanently in need of vindictive hierarchies; the more frippery and empty honors, the better. Bedbug Stan is a perfect example.


It's definitely hard to outline. I have sixty or so pages of notes, trying to cut through the reifications of power, trying to find a way to place it in human only space.


That's spot on. We have an education system which delays the conclusion of adolescence, perhaps indefinitely.

As OP sort of hints at, power does not have an inherent value. Human persons can and do work together without bossing up, and the lion's share of the human duration does not involve complex and territorially expansive hierarchies. On our own continent, millions of Amerindians managed to develop complex societies without any widespread need for hierarchies. I remember from reading about Tecumseh's efforts to coordinate Shawnee resistance, and the early Penn dealings with Susquehanna area Indians, that "chiefs" only had mojo if they had people who agreed with them, and that almost no one felt bound by their decisions. Within those societies, this was an especially resilient way to cooperate, since people who disagreed with each other just moved away from each other. It only became a deficiency when dealing with the British, French and Spanish - who had entitled, rigid and official positions. In other words, people who possessed early industrial versions of Roman auctoritas, imperium and magisterium.

A Shawnee chief could make a temporizing deal with an English officer - and the English would assume that it applied to all Shawnee, in all places and at all times, while the Shawnee only thought it applied to the chief and his followers, and only so long as they agreed with him.

The Shawnee, and most other Amerindians, were adults who agreed or disagreed, and moved on. The European colonizers, despite all the pre-Kipling kiplingism, were prolonged adolescents who needed the authority structure in order to make decisions and be able to believe in them.

It's only got worse since Taylor got a hold of production processes and Gatto's villains got a hold of the education system.




I like Jack's idea of power qua title as a wasting asset because it encodes a memory. Not quite sure how to respond to Owen's example of old Deng in China, because I don't know enough about post-Mao developments there.

Maybe there are situations in which you get so uncontestable that uncontestability becomes its own means of reproduction. You could sorta see how this might be stable for a while, especially if there were a large field of potential contestants of roughly equal strength, but a good ways down from the alpha dog. They'd be likely to chop each other down before any of them could get big enough to challenge the Alpha. Alpha could assist this process, too, by stirring the pot and shuffling all the betas around -- play 'em incessantly against each other.

CF Oxtrot:

Jack --

Your comments are interesting. I would agree about the Democrats "admission of failure" if this were 1950.

But it's not.

I would agree about retired generals having no chance if this were Switzerland instead of the USA.

But it's not.

Who puts candidates in power? Who puts them in office?

It's not us little folks. It's not direct voting here. The problems of big money in the campaign coffers, and the Electoral College -- they change the landscape quite a bit.

What's driving the American economy right now, Jack?

Looks to me like it's broad-spectrum war, domestically ("homeland security") and abroad.

Kinda moving toward the military mindset, ain't it?

Well... ain't it?

CF Oxtrot:

PS to Jack --

Mike Gravel won't run as a Democrat. He left the party, as did Cynthia McKinney.

Maybe you meant Wee Dennie Kucinich, the donkey-suited circus midget?


With due respect to all the sociological erudition above, my SO has a different take on the McCrystal firing (which she got from Wayne Madsen): McC was opposed to invading Iran, while Petraus is fine with it.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Wednesday June 23, 2010 09:37 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Captain Boycott, and his Israeli friends.

The next post in this blog is Hiking in Iran; or, pwog dawgs of war.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31