The general and others overthrew the old guard and changed the American way of war, but will their revolution stand? John Barry on Fred Kaplan’s new book—and Petraeus’s legacy after his sudden departure.
“Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should.
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.”
Former U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 4, 2011. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/U.S. Navy via Getty)
Rudyard Kipling’s verdict on the Boer War—Britain’s 1899–1902 assault on the Dutch-Afrikaner settlers declaring independence in South Africa—can stand as an interim verdict on America’s expeditions into Iraq and Afghanistan. These are military and political debacles to rival the Boer War. Iraq lurches sullenly toward civil war or dictatorship; the Afghan elite prepare for America’s withdrawal by sending out so much cash that a special channel at Kabul airport handles the stuffed suitcases.
Where did it all go wrong? Unraveling the decade of America’s wars since 9/11 is already a historical cottage industry. Multiple memoirs, at least three serious efforts at historical reconstruction, half a dozen narrative accounts, a rising pile of combat memories transmuted into novels. It’s an outpouring utterly different from the stunned silence that followed Vietnam, and America is the healthier for it.
Fred Kaplan’s new book goes over this war-torn terrain from a different perspective. Just over 20 years ago, Kaplan produced The Wizards of Armageddon, chronicling the evolution of America’s nuclear weapons strategy after Hiroshima. There is no lack of tomes on this topic, but Kaplan’s account remains essential reading because he reconstructed a debate as a narrative driven by the lives and views of the participants. In The Insurgents, Kaplan does the same for Iraq and Afghanistan—using personal narratives to explore, as his subtitle says, “David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War." Kaplan’s subject is the counterinsurgency strategy midwifed by Petraeus: its creation, adoption, and what Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed about its limitations. For anyone interested in figuring out what went wrong, Kaplan is essential reading.
Forty years on, the passions of Vietnam have faded into history. Yet they’re seminal in the story Kaplan reconstructs. For the U.S. Army, Vietnam was so traumatic—such a humiliation—that, in its aftermath, the Army leadership of the time drew one overarching lesson: Never Again. The Army’s job was to prepare for the Big One: the armored showdown against the Soviets on the plains of central Europe. That war, thankfully, never came. But Desert Storm, the expulsion of Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait in 1991, was essentially a dry run: the divisions and air wings came to Saudi Arabia from Europe; the tactics were those of “AirLand Battle,” the fighting doctrine devised for Europe. Afterward, as the collapse of the Soviet Empire brought defense budget cuts to shrink the U.S. Army, the officers retained were those who had done well in that comfortably conventional conflict.
After an embarrassing article forced General McChrystal to resign, he kept a low profile until finally telling his side of the story in a new memoir. Eli Lake on the former general’s low-key recounting of the fight against al Qaeda, his fight with Obama, and his happy home life.
Stanley McChrystal is probably the most revered military officer of his generation. He rose through the ranks from being an Army Ranger officer to commanding the Joint Special Operations Command to taking command of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Then it all came crashing down in the summer of 2010, when Rolling Stone magazine published a profile of him in which men under his command were caught saying insulting things about President Obama and his staff. One might expect the memoir of such a man to dish juicy details on the president, who chose to accept his resignation instead of looking the other way. But that is not the case with My Share of the Task, which takes the high road and barely has a bad word for Obama or other rivals.
Instead McChrystal devotes his memoir to telling the story of an often-secret war against al Qaeda and other terrorists. He tells the story with surprising flair. The general provides visceral details, such as his description of how the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, bled from his nose and ears after a 500-pound bomb exploded the house where he was staying. In other parts of the book, McChrystal explains the origins of the CIA’s post-9/11 relationship with Special Operations Forces.
It turns out that McChrystal actually encountered al Qaeda very early in his career, but he did not quite know it at the time. The year was 1987, and McChrystal was working for a Ranger battalion as part of the once-every-two-year joint military exercise known as Exercise Bright Star with Egypt. As part of the preparations, McChrystal worked with Ali Abdelsoud Mohammed, a special-operations command sergeant who served as an interpreter. “Ali Mohammed was effective, but the atmosphere with the Egyptians was uncomfortably cool, and it was difficult to determine why,” McChrystal wrote. On their walk back to their tent that evening, the Egyptian-born sergeant explained that he had been a major in the Egyptian commandos. Then the next day he was gone. “I never saw him after that,” McChrystal wrote. “Only years later did I hear of his membership in al Qaeda, his September 1998 arrest in Egypt after being subpoenaed in conjunction with the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, and his public discussions about al Qaeda as an organization.”
Much of McChrystal’s book is devoted to his hunt for Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist who lead al Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq. McChrystal discloses in the book that the Joint Special Operations Command almost captured Iraqi master terrorist Zarqawi in February 2004, more than two years before McChrystal’s team did finally find and kill him. A team of Delta Force soldiers had a tip that Zarqawi was visiting a townhouse in the Askari neighborhood of Fallujah that evening. But by the time the Special Operations team got to the townhouse, Zarqawi had already escaped. McChrystal speculates that he may have leapt from a two-story building. McChrystal writes, “On that dusty night in February 2004, while we were disappointed to have missed him, the bloody consequences of our failure were not immediately apparent. On that night, he was not yet Iraq’s bane.”
Hero Project TV host and Jarhead author Anthony Swofford sits down with Girls actor and fellow Marine veteran Adam Driver, whose foundation Arts in the Armed Forces engages veterans through performing arts as a means of self-expression.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) hosts this week’s #vetchat.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), @TAPS4America, discusses strategies you can use to cope with loss this holiday season. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
The ACLU hosts this week's #vetchat
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week, the ACLU discusses their recent lawsuit that challenges the Pentagon's rule barring women from ground combat. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.
Eli Williamson of the McCormick Foundation hosts this week’s #vetchat.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week Eli Williamson, director of the veterans’ program at the McCormick Foundation, discusses why all of society’s good will toward veterans isn’t translating into better services for veterans. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
David Petraeus didn’t merely get caught in a tawdry sex scandal—he failed the soldiers who trusted him with their lives. Iraq war veteran Brian Mockenhaupt, author of the new Byliner Original, The Living and the Dead, calls the former general to account.
In the spring of 2011, I was embedded with a platoon of Marines at Patrol Base Dakota, an abandoned mud-walled farming compound in northern Marjah, in southern Afghanistan. I slept in the courtyard, on a cot under a canopy of camouflage netting, and had just woken up one morning in early May when Sergeant Tom Whorl, the platoon sergeant, stepped from his room and walked toward a row of wooden outhouses. “Hey,” he called to me, “bin Laden’s dead.”
A US Marine walks to his patrol of Marjah district in Helmand Province on May 25, 2011. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP / Getty Images))
The Marines discussed this for two or three minutes and made a few jokes.
“There should be birds here to take us home,” Sgt. Jake Powell said.
“Yeah,” Cpl. Helmut Eggl said. “War’s over.”
And that was it. Conversation shifted to maps and radio frequencies as the Marines readied for the day’s first patrol into the surrounding farmland and villages, where they had been battling the Taliban since arriving at Patrol Base Dakota four months earlier.
An exclusive excerpt from Brian Mockenhaupt's new Byliner Original, 'The Living and the Dead.'
With a patrol outside the wire, Patrol Base Dakota ran on a skeleton crew: a Marine in each guard post and a team leader manning the Combat Operations Center—a small desk in one of the mud-walled dirt-floored rooms—to relay messages between the patrol and higher-ups. Today the job fell to Lance Corporal Ryan Moore, at nineteen the youngest of the three team leaders in Sgt. Tom Whorl's third squad.
Ryan had grown up in Navarre, a town of maybe fifteen hundred in eastern Ohio, moved out at sixteen, and spent his high school years lifting weights, repairing cars, and smoking weed. In the Marine Corps he found his groove. He listened and he worked harder than others, and when he arrived at Camp Lejeune after boot camp and infantry training, Tom noticed and soon put him in charge of three other Marines. Ryan would rather have been outside the wire on this day leading his men through the farmland and villages of southern Afghanistan and trying to kill Taliban, but he knew the importance of his role back at Dakota, should the patrol find trouble.
Before the Marines walked out of the patrol base that morning, Ryan had hugged Corporal Ian Muller. They’d had enough close calls and heard enough terrible stories to know that life out here was utterly unpredictable. Many of the Marines made a point of telling their friends how much they cared about them.
“I love you,” Ryan said.
“I love you, too,” Ian told him.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week James Brobyn, executive director of the Travis Manion Foundation, discusses how we can empower veterans when they return home. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.
He has sprinted toward turmoil in war zones, jungles, and disaster areas from Iraq to Peru. This past week, Howard “Ford” Sypher did it again—in D.C. Abigail Pesta reports.
Howard “Ford” Sypher specializes in chaos. A former member of the elite Army Rangers, he served three tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Now a civilian, he and a team of war veterans chase disasters—tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, hurricanes in New York—to help people in the aftermath. He is used to the unexpected.
Sypher in South Sudan, where refugees battle floods, malnutrition, and disease. (Matthew Brudnok)
And so he was ready for action this week in Washington, D.C., when he came upon a sudden crisis on a busy city street. A car had swerved out of control, plowing into two other cars, then smacking into several people on the sidewalk. One woman was hit so hard, he says, “it blew her shoes and socks off.”
Sypher was in town for Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s inaugural Hero Summit, honoring military leaders and other people of courage. He had spoken at the summit about how veterans are coming together by the thousands through his nonprofit group, Team Rubicon, to serve as volunteers in disaster zones.
He didn’t expect to find himself in the middle of a disaster on the streets of the capital city. But when it happened, he knew what to do.
In a taxi on Friday when the accident occurred, he jumped out and ran to the people lying sprawled on the sidewalk. “I thought I was gonna find people in pieces,” he says. “I expected to find hamburger all over the place. Luckily, no one was dead.”
The president digs the much-buzzed-about film, its screenwriter, Tony Kushner, says at ‘Newsweek’ and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit.
Kushner would know. Just before arriving at the summit, he had dashed across town from a private screening he attended with Obama and the film’s director, Steven Spielberg, among others, at the White House.
Kushner joined moderator Tina Brown on a summit panel about the making of the film, saying he thought Obama “really liked it." The president's entourage also "seemed to like it," he said. "They all stood up.” Then he joked, “Maybe they do that every time.” Clearly having an unusual evening, he added with a laugh, as if to explain his somewhat harried state, “I just literally walked out of the White House. I couldn't find the limo.”
Kushner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Angels in America, said he wrote three drafts of the Lincoln script, which ultimately zoomed in on the president’s life during the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The film is based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Kushner said he “picked over words” in the final script with actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Lincoln in the film, “trying out different sentences—what if we did this, what if we did that.” Kushner called the back-and-forth a lot of fun.
Family members of wounded and fallen soldiers share strategies for surviving loss.
In one of the most poignant moments of Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit on Thursday, Patti Walker described the day she saw her husband after shrapnel had shot through his brain in Iraq.
From left: Deborah Roberts, Patti Walker, Bill Norwood, Lori Bell, and Kim Ruocco discuss losing loved ones. (Scott Henrichsen)
"The only way I recognized my husband was from the tattoos on his arms, because he was so incredibly swollen,” she said. The doctors told her to get busy and find a nursing home, as the prognosis was “a vegetative state at best.” Walker thought it was too soon for the doctors to determine her husband’s fate.
“I left the room,” she said, in a show of defiance.
Today, her husband, Kevin, sat in the audience at the summit, drawing a standing ovation. He has had a phenomenal recovery. “The vegetative state they thought he was gonna be in was not,” said Walker, who now works as an advocate for the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, which provides services for severely injured soldiers.
Walker was one of four panelists who described the toll war takes on families, and the grassroots groups that have cropped up to help.
Veterans could be America's secret economic weapon—if employers can get past their discrimination.
The unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans has become a national security issue, according to four veterans who have set up an organization to help other service members make the transition back into civilian life.
Captain Kaloa Hearne, right, speaks with Frances Mumtford, a representative with Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), during the Veterans Affairs Job Fair in Detroit on June 27, 2012. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images )
“If you look at all the military slogans, they’re about joining the military because you will be better off on the other side,” said Mike Haynie, the executive director and founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and a U.S. Air Force veteran, at The Hero Summit, presented by Newsweek and The Daily Beast. But in the face of high unemployment and the mental-health issues some veterans face on their return, he adds “those recruiting campaigns and those measures become pretty shallow.”
“I had to go from being a student before I was deployed to coming back and being a student again,” said Peter Meijer, of the struggles he felt when returning to school after deployment.
Peter joined the Student Veterans of America on the board of directors as a way to provide support in colleges across the country—there are currently 660 active chapters.
“So we do it together,” he said. From issues of acclimation “to issues of mental health, we try to get everyone in the same room talking. So you don’t have a guy who comes back who is older than everyone else and behind everyone and who is alone. We don’t want someone to suffer alone.”
From Adm. William McRaven’s praise for Holly Petraeus to U2 legend Bono’s sit-down with The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof to filmmaker Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Newsroom’ secrets, catch up on Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s first annual Hero Summit.
See who’s attending and what’s on tap at the October 10 event in Washington, D.C.
No to Syria. Army veteran Brian Van Reet argues against intervention.
This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.