Monday, 25 June 2012

Book Review: The Operators

I've been meaning to read The Operators by Michael Hastings for a while now but only recently got the chance. If you read (and I imagine most readers of this blog did) The Runaway General, the book adds a good deal of value to the article.

The Operators is a highly entertaining insight into the American command, with an emphasis on the role of Gen Stan McChrystal. It paints a vivid picture of a man who was grappling with the challenge of implementing a 4th Gen Warfare strategy where nothing similar had existed before.

It's a highly personal account, since Hastings travelled extensively with McChrystal and his team throughout Europe and later Afghanistan. He was, seemingly, accepted into the "bubble" that surrounds senior figures in these types of environments. Something to consider for another blog is the existence of these bubbles, since they are almost always allowed to form and are extremely harmful to decision making.

Although its an excellent story the book is also able to place events within the wider context of the Afghan campaign, and the political context (particularly in the US). Of course, the context at the time was overwhelmingly negative, and I would say that Hastings does choose to paint the in an even more negative light than was perhaps necessary. That said, that remains a popular preoccupation of journalists writing about Afghanistan, so it's not unexpected. It is not strong on the military context

The book falls down on two points. First, it is shallow. It's more concerned about the bars the team visit in Paris and Germany rather than what McChrystal was doing or attempting to do in Afghanistan. Second, after McCrystal loses his job (due to Hastings' Rolling Stone article) the structure falls apart entirely, so the final 1/3 of the book is a bit meaningless.

Still, it's an entertaining book. Just don't expect too much of it. Hastings account is amusing, but misses a great deal of the military context, which is a shame, since McChrystal has shown from his TED talk and at Stanford he's got a lot to say, much of it very valuable.

This is a fun book, but it's not a game changer in the way I'd hoped it might be. Worth a look, but not worth going out of your way for.
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