The Operators by Michael Hastings: 10 Juicy Bits - Rolling Stone
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The Operators by Michael Hastings: 10 Juicy Bits

Fresh reporting and never-before-published revelations from an explosive new book by the journalist whose reporting brought down a top U.S. general.

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'The Operators' by Michael Hastings

Blue Rider Press

In April 2010, Rolling Stone contributing editor Michael Hastings spent a month with Stanley McChrystal in Europe and Afghanistan, reporting on a profile of the four-star general in charge of America’s longest-running war. McChrystal and staff shocked Hastings by openly jeering at the White House over its handling of the war – and when Hastings published their reckless on-the-record comments in an explosive and award-winning Rolling Stone article, President Obama ordered McChrystal back to Washington, where he stripped the general of his command.

Now, in a new book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, Hastings recounts the behind-the-scenes tale of the McChyrstal affair, set against the larger backdrop of America’s doomed war. Frank Rich calls the book “an impressive feat of journalism by a Washington outsider who seemed to know more about what was going on in Washington than most insiders did.”

“The Operators” is packed with fresh reporting and never-before-published revelations about the major players in America’s endless war, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, the intensely competitive generals McChrystal and David Petraeus, the legendary diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan leader. Here are ten of the juiciest details from the book:

1. The identity of the McChrystal staffer quoted in Hastings’ Rolling Stone article as dissing the vice president: “Biden? Did you say: Bite Me?” It was McChrystal’s close friend, confidant and top advisor Jake McFerren, a retired Army colonel. [p. 54]

2. McChrystal’s tense relationship with Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq.  The two generals were longtime rivals, and both claimed credit for the apparent success in Iraq. But McChrystal and his staff felt they faced a much harder task in Afghanistan. “[Petraeus] couldn’t command this,” McChrystal said, referring to the war. “Plus, he’s one and ‘oh.’ This one is very questionable.” [p. 89]

3. McChrystal on Petraeus’ potential presidential ambitions, and the worries they caused the White House. McChrystal says he was told, “We don’t want a man on horseback.” He responded, “I don’t even have a horse.” The White House, he told Hastings in 2010, was “very worried about Petraeus. They certainly don’t have to be worried about me. But Petraeus, if he wanted to run, he’s had a lot of offers. He says he doesn’t want to, and I believe him.” [p. 90]

4. McChrystal’s surprising reservations about the war in Iraq. “We co-opted the media on that one,” says the general, who served as the Pentagon’s top spokesman during the 2003 invasion. “You could see it coming. There were a lot of us who didn’t think Iraq was a good idea.” [p. 90]

5. “Worshipping the god of beer” and other new details about Hastings’ month-long road trip with McChrystal, including a drinking session on a 14-hour bus trip, a suspected foreign agent’s attempt to infiltrate McChrystal’s team, and a midnight bash at a Mexican restaurant hall in Berlin, where Gen. Michael Flynn, a top intelligence officer, “worship[s] the god of beer” and wonders how he still has security clearance. [p. 156]

6. McChrystal’s 2009 clash with Gen. Colin Powell over Afghanistan. Powell sent a critical note to McChrystal, who was thought to be pushing behind the scenes for a troop increase, in opposition to the less troop-intensive counterterrorism strategy being pushed, most prominently, by Vice President Biden. Power “thought I was fighting our government, which I wasn’t,” McChrystal said. [p. 170]

7. An exclusive account of Petraeus’ meeting, after he takes over command from McChrystal, with a high-ranking member of Afghanistan’s military. Col. Abdul Razzik, a warlord and human rights abuser now implicated in acts of brutal torture, said: “General Petraeus and I have very similar opinions. I want to kill the Taliban, he wants to kill the Taliban.” [p. 361]

8. Petraeus’ rivals trashing him for subordinating everything and everyone to his own driving ambition. “Petraeus,” Lt. General John Vines confides to colleagues, “leaves the dead dog on your doorstep.Every time.” Another U.S. military official complains, “He has the ability to make anyone who comes before him look like a total fuckup.”  According to U.S. officials, this kind of behavior earned Petraeus the nickname General Betray-Us long before used the moniker against him in a 2007 ad campaign. [p. 347]

9. A thorough debunking, with new details, of the Pentagon’s whitewashing investigation into McChrystal and his staff for insubordination after the publication of Hastings’ Rolling Stone article. Pentagon officials, writes Hastings, privately told journalists that the primary intent of the investigation was to “damage” his credibility. Far from “exonerating” McChrystal, as the media widely reported, the investigation simply failed to find anyone who would admit to saying what they did. McChrystal, for example, claimed to investigators that he didn’t remember hearing the “Bite me” comment, though he made the remark that prompted it and laughed out loud in Hastings’ presence when he heard it. [p. 372]

10. What America’s top civilian and military leaders really thought of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. Hastings reports an accusation from Kai Edie, the former U.N. head of mission in Kabul, that Holbrooke wanted to “get rid” of President Hamid Karzai.  McChrystal’s team, meanwhile, refers to Karzai as “the man with a funny hat.” U.S. officials who work with Karzai think he’s a manic-depressive and that dope may fuel his paranoia. One veteran Kabul journalist believes Karzai is a “two pipe a day man.” He is known in the West for his karakul – a V-shaped hat made from the pelts of newborn sheep – which McChrystal’s staff calls “the Gray Wolf’s Vagina.” [p. 228]

Exclusive Excerpt: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings

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