sometimes, style is content

The Rolling Stone piece on McChrystal is actually surprisingly thin in terms of information. I give as an example this gem:

After arriving in Kabul last summer, Team America set about changing the culture of the International Security Assistance Force, as the NATO-led mission is known. (U.S. soldiers had taken to deriding ISAF as short for “I Suck at Fighting” or “In Sandals and Flip-Flops.”) McChrystal banned alcohol on base, kicked out Burger King and other symbols of American excess

Those Europeans with their Burger King in the field. Really? Most of it’s at that level – the RS guy seems to be as unaware as McC that the week he was in Paris began with the death of a French soldier in Afghanistan. And, as Spencer Ackerman points out, the only substantive criticism that makes it into the piece is Ralph Peters-level yelling for more brutality.

A soldier complains that under the rules, any insurgent who doesn’t have a weapon is immediately assumed to be a civilian.

Right. These remarks from Paul Yingling apply. This is where the RS story comes into its own. In many ways, style is content; it tells us something about the thought processes that will be applied to other issues, about others’ private culture.

But what really interests me is the concurrent sacking of Sherard Cowper-Coles. Londonstani’s piece is vital, and it’s well worth reading down the comments. Certainly, if it’s true that he’s

figured out exactly how to strike a chord with the kind of people who run Pakistan

then losing him is the biggest Taliban strategic victory since the Cheney administration blocked ISAF deployment in early 2002.

I’m especially suspicious of the role of William Hague here. Call me suspicious, but he spent the years 2002-2008 talking exactly like a hardcore neo-con. Cowper-Coles is exactly the kind of diplomat he used to insult during the run-up to Iraq. In the background to this, it seems that Richard Holbrooke is re-gaining influence, and specifically by dealing with the Pakistanis. In that sense, it was obviously intolerable for the General to be campaigning against him with the press.

Laura Rozen, meanwhile, reports on a discreet conference on political approaches to Afghanistan.

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