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Robert Greenwald and Reporter Michael Hastings Take on the Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War Machine

Hastings, in his hard-hitting new book, discusses "politically correct imperialism," why the military is obsessed with its legacy, and why we're stuck in post-9/11 thinking.
 
 
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Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

 
 
 
 

Not many journalists can say they had a hand in getting a commanding general relieved of duty in the middle of a war. But Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings did just that when his 2010 story on Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, sent shockwaves through Washington and resulted in McChrystal being recalled to DC and uneremoniously fired by Barack Obama.

Hastings' report, “ The Runaway General,” detailed how McChrystal and his top officers spoke of their civilian superiors with sneering condescension, and revealed that they didn't genuinely embrace the counterinsurgency strategy being sold to the public at home. The piece was a result of fortuitous circumstances. Hastings had at first been allowed only controlled access to McCrystal, but when European air-traffic was grounded following the eruption of the Eyjafjöll volcano in Iceland, Hastings ended up catching a bus to Berlin with McChrystal and his staff, who let down their guard during the extended ride.

The young journo is a veteran war correspondent who covered Iraq as well as Afghanistan. The McChrystal story wasn't Hastings' first significant report, and it wouldn't be his last -- in 2011, he broke a story about how David Petraeus, McChrystal's replacement in Afghanistan, was using military psy-ops units to influence visiting United States senators' views of the conflict.

Hastings' new book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan, draws on his extensive grounds-eye-view reporting from the decade-long conflict. Filmmaker Robert Greenwald, director of Rethink Afghanistan, caught up with Hastings to discuss his book and the ongoing war.

Robert Greenwald: Let me congratulate you on this book, it's an absolutely wonderful read. I felt like I was reading some combination of a detective story, a movie screenplay and Orson Welles all at the same time.

Michael Hastings: Thank you so much.

RG: One of the ideas that you talk about is that the “terrorist safe haven” is the “weapons of mass destruction” of the Afghanistan war. Why don't you explain how you came to that realization and why it's important.

MH: Well, I call it the "safe haven myth." And what that means is that this idea that the best way to protect ourselves from getting attacked in the United States by terrorists is to invade and occupy other countries – that's essentially what they mean when they say we can't accept terrorist safe havens. And the response to the safe havens has been to expend billions of dollars and tens of thousands of American troops to try to prevent something that is quite nebulous.

I mean, it's very clear a terrorist safe haven can be anywhere, and they are everywhere. So the notion that the best way to defeat them or to make yourself safer from a terrorist is by occupying countries always struck me as funny. How are 150,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan going to protect us from another terrorist attack? And the answer is they're not. That hasn't happened because all the other terrorist attacks we've seen, and attempted terrorist attacks, they're not coming from Afghanistan. The terrorists have moved.

Whether they're coming from Nigeria and Yemen or different parts of Pakistan or Connecticut, you know? The Times Square bomber, the foiled plot there, was hatched in Connecticut – is it a terrorist safe haven as well? No. And it gets to the larger point, which is that if you considered terrorism a law enforcement problem you were considered to be some sort of appeasing Neville Chamberlain type. But in fact, that's the way to defeat terrorists.

 
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