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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The War in Afghanistan Is What Happens When McKinsey Types Run Everything

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

I had a piece ready to go on Lina Khan’s attempt to break up Facebook, but I think it’s more important to talk about the competence problems revealed by the war in Afghanistan. There are monopoly elements involved, but there is a more basic question at work that keeps coming up, whether it’s the Boeing 737 Max, opioids, Covid mismanagement, or anything else of social importance. Do we have the competence to govern ourselves anymore? There’s also a follow-on question. Will this loss spur genuine reform of our McKinsey-ified elites who failed so spectacularly?

Also:

  • Other People’s Money, or why Wall Street itself is getting ripped off by a monopolist that charges 25 cents to send an email to investors.
  • Other People’s Money, or why does getting an email of your college transcript cost $9?
  • In Texas, hospitals are using Covid to try and suppress nurse wages.
  • What happened when the Centers for Disease Control hired Boston Consulting Group to run their vaccine rollout?
  • Sony builds an anime monopoly.

This is my first newsletter in three weeks. I was on vacation. I won’t normally have absences like this, but honestly, I was burned out. Don’t worry, I’m refreshed, and I have a good issue queued up for early next week, and some fun ideas going forward.

And now…

“The Pervasiveness of Over-Optimism”

In 2017, Netflix put out a satirical movie on the conflict in Afghanistan. It was titled War Machine, and it starred Brad Pitt as an exuberant and deluded U.S. General named Glen McMahon. A fitness fanatic nicknamed ‘the Glanimal’ by his crew of adoring frathouse henchmen, McMahon is modeled on the real-life military leader Stanley McChrystal, who ran the surge in Afghanistan before being fired for saying disparaging things about Obama administration officials (including then VP Biden) on the record to Rolling Stone magazine.

In War Machine, McMahan comes to Afghanistan with a spirited can do attitude and a frat house of hard-partying yes-men, after having ‘kicked Al Qaeda in the sack’ running special operations in Iraq. He is obsessed with inspirational speeches and weird bureaucratic box-ticking, under the amorphous concept of leadership. This kind of leadership, though, isn’t actually working with wisdom and foresight, but is more like management consulting. Prior to arriving in Afghanistan, for instance, McMahan created a system, with the acronym SNORPP to coordinate military assets. At night, he cozies down to read books on management excellence, the kind that Harvard Business Review publishes as sort of Chicken Soup for the Executive’s Soul. He is also the author of a fictional book with the amazing title, “One Leg At a Time: Just Like Everybody Else.”

And yet his mission is unwinnable, which everyone seems to understand except him and his small team. McMahan constantly makes awkward speeches that make no sense, with the tone used by untrusted executives at corporate retreats. “We are here to build, to protect, to support the civilian population,” he told his troops. “To that end, we must avoid killing it at all costs. We cannot help them and kill them at the same time, it just ain’t humanly possible.” His character reflects what the actual government watchdog charged with overseeing the war in Afghanistan called one of the central problems with the U.S. effort, “the pervasiveness of over-optimism:”

If McMahan himself is a naive fool, he is surrounded by cynical bureaucratic opponents. As he seeks support for his new strategy of putting troops in Taliban-held provinces, he is gently ignored by the President of Afghanistan, who is a drug-addicted hypochondriac, and mocked by State Department and national security aparachnicks, who are striving cynics urging McMahon to just falsify numbers to make the war look a little better and not embarrass President Obama. Troops on the ground are demoralized and confused. No one actually believes in the mission, but dammit, McMahon is gonna get it done, whatever ‘it’ is. When McMahon tries to give an inspirational speech to ordinary Afghanis in Taliban-controlled territory about how the U.S. is going to bring them jobs and schools, one responds by saying he like jobs and schools, but please go away so the Taliban won’t retaliate. “The longer you are here the worse for us. Please go.”

It’s a hilarious, and extraordinarily dark movie. It also rang true, because it was based on the work of no-bullshit journalist Michael Hastings, who was perhaps the most honest reporter about the military establishment. And, as life is true to fiction, McChrystal, the general who Hastings profiled in Rolling Stone with an embarrassing story that led to his resignation, is now a management consultant (and board member of defense contractors). He runs inspirational ‘leadership training’ at the McChrystal Group, which is McKinsey with military branding.

In fact, McChrystal and much of our military leadership is tight with consultants like McKinsey, and that whole diseased culture from Harvard Business School of pervasive over-optimism and finance-venture capital monopoly bro-a-thons. McKinsey itself had involvement in Afghanistan, with at least one $18.6 million contract to help the Defense Department define its “strategic focus,” though government watchdogs found that the “only output [they] could find” was a 50-page report about strategic economic development potential in Herat, a province in western Afghanistan.” It turns out that ‘strategic focus’ means an $18.6 million PowerPoint. (There was reporting on this contract because Pete Buttigieg worked on it as a junior analyst at McKinsey, and he has failed upward to run the Transportation Department.)

I bring War Machine up because of today’s debate over Afghanistan. While there is a lot of back and forth about whether intelligence agencies knew that the Taliban would take over, or what would happen if we left, or whether the withdrawal could be done more competently, all you had to do to know that this war was a shitshow based on deception and idiocy at all levels was to turn on Netflix and watch this movie. Or you could read any number of inspector general reports, leaked documents, articles, talk to any number of veterans, or use common sense, which, polling showed, most Americans did. (Marine vet Lucas Kunce gives a nice rundown of the problem in this interview). I mean, it’s not like a major international media outlet printed a multi-part expose, which became a handy book, detailing the fact that everyone running the show knew it was an unwinnable mess nearly a decade ago. Oh, wait

In other words, the war in Afghanistan is like seeing management consultants come to your badly managed software company where everyone knows the problem is the boss’s indecisiveness and cowardice, except it’s violent and people die.

I mean, U.S. military leaders, like bad consultants or executives, lied about Afghanistan to the point it was routine. Here are just a few quotes from generals and DOD spokesmen over the years on the strength of the Afghan military, which collapsed almost instantly after the U.S. left.

In 2011, General David Petraeus stated, “Investments in leader development, literacy, marksmanship and institutions have yielded significant dividends. In fact, in the hard fighting west of Kandahar in late 2010, Afghan forces comprised some 60% of the overall force and they fought with skill and courage.”

In 2015, General John Campbell said that the the Afghan Army had “proven themselves to be increasingly capable,” that they had “grown and matured in less than a decade into a modern, professional force,” and, further, that they had “proven that they can and will take the tactical fight from here.”

In 2017, General John Nicholson stated that Afghan security forces had “prevailed in combat against an externally enabled enemy,” and that the army’s “ability to face simultaneity and complexity on the battlefield signals growth in capability.”

On July 11, 2021, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the Afghan army has “much more capacity than they’ve ever had before, much more capability,” and asserted, “they know how to defend their country.”

Basically, look at this photo below, imagine them in camouflage, and that’s the U.S. military leadership. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2021 at 3:33 pm

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