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Will We Ever Learn? A 2013 Retrospective

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In the interest of tying up some loose ends, here are a few updates before the new year.

Remember how 2013 began with much ado over Al Gore’s unseemly $500 million sale of Current TV network to Al Jazeera, aka “the Muslim Brotherhood channel”? Even anything-for-a-buck Time Warner Cable saw fit to drop the Qatar-owned “news” organization from its package. Well, TWC this month announced that, yes, it will be bringing Al Jazeera America into 55 million American homes after all. “Financial terms weren’t disclosed,” USA Today reported.


Remember how, with a stroke of their pens, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey decreed that no battlefield mission or military role would be off-limits to women? Call it the Equal Rights Amendment by executive fiat. But hold on about “equal.” As Elaine Donnelly’s Center for Military Readiness has reported, “gender-norming” is the Pentagon’s idea of “equal.”

Starting in January 2014, for example, when it comes to physical fitness, eight pull-ups will earn a female Marine 100 points, but men will need 20 pull-ups for that perfect score. Combat fitness, too, institutionalizes different standards for men and women. For example, the “maneuver under fire” requirement for men is 3 minutes, 58 seconds, but women get 5 minutes, 59 seconds to complete it. No word on whether the enemy will also observe such “gender-norming.”

One 2013 mystery we carry into 2014 is what happened in Washington on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, while Americans were under fire in Benghazi, and why have so many Obama administration officials stonewalled and lied about it ever since? “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Hillary Clinton infamously erupted in January before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when asked why the Obama administration blamed a video, not terrorists, for the attacks.

To date, the answer is none. The New York Times reported in July that former Secretary of State Clinton is receiving “about $200,000? per speech, amply augmenting the estimated $100 million Clinton Inc. has made in speaking fees since 2001 – and she doesn’t even mention Benghazi. (Sample pearls: “Leadership is a team sport.” “You can’t win if you don’t show up.” “A whisper can be louder than a shout.”)


After lying, by my count, twice to Congress while testifying about Benghazi, and resigning from the CIA in disgrace over an affair with his biographer in 2012, retired Gen. David Petraeus was nonetheless tenderly embraced by Wall Street and Park Avenue in 2013. The private equity firm KKG hired him as chairman of KKG International in May, and the New York Historical Society honored him at its annual gala in December. In a contribution to a multi-authored survey published last week by Politico, Petraeus and co-author Michael Gfoeller argued that one of “The Big Overlooked Trends of 2013? was that of “‘reformist’ Arab monarchies.” These include, they write, human rights abuser Dubai, UAE and that veritable desert gulag, Saudi Arabia. Too bad neither Petraeus nor Politico mentioned KKR has branch offices in those countries.

And speaking of Saudi Arabia, 2013 may well have been “one of the worst years” for human rights abuses in the so-called kingdom, according to human rights lawyer Abdulaziz Alhussan (who fled the country to avoid arrest), but Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari was surprise-released on Oct. 29 after roughly two years in prison for “insulting” Islam via Twitter. Just two weeks later, on Nov. 12, the Wahhabi dictatorship was elected to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council. There it will serve alongside other paragons of human rights including communist China, communist Cuba and thug-o-cratic Russia.

The year is ending and we still don’t have a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan, and thank goodness. Here’s hoping we never do, and that we leave Afghanistan as we left Iraq – for good. What is vital, however, is finally to recognize the fiasco that counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) has wrought so that COIN is permanently discredited. Which takes me to one final update, this one on retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal.


Since leaving the military in 2010, McChrystal became a senior fellow at Yale, chairman of the board of Siemens Government Systems and a director of JetBlue. In December 2012, McChrystal also joined the “strategic advisory board” of Knowledge International, a UAE-owned arms broker and dealer. Defense News recently described KI as “the main conduit of U.S. military expertise to the gulf state,” sending 125 “trainers” to revamp the UAE military, which sounds pretty mercenary to me. But there is more to McChrystal’s antics.

For no fewer than the past two years, McChrystal has been studying the similarities between COIN and AIDS. No kidding. On Dec. 19, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Kristina Talbert-Slagle, an associate research scientist at Yale Global Health Leadership Institute, teamed up at the Brookings Institution to present “their model of counterinsurgency warfare,” as the Brookings blog described the event, “that likens that mission to the way in which the human body fights infectious disease.”

McChrystal and Talbert-Slagle “walked the audience through the basics of infection and the human immune system that responds to and fights it.” Then they offered the audience two case studies: “the HIV/AIDs virus and the history of insurgency in Afghanistan.” They actually went on from there to elaborate on similarities between the human immune system and COIN, but I won’t. It is just too preposterous.


Of course, what better line to bring the 2013 curtain down on – and good riddance. But lest anyone think now he’s heard everything, just wait for 2014. Happy New Year!

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