I do my best thinking during reruns of Seinfeld. I’m into the double-digit viewings on many episodes, so last night’s airing of “The Bubble Boy” gave me ample opportunity to finish the last pages of Michael Hastings’ new book, “The Operators.” As I set the book aside, George Castanza was in the midst of a game of Trivial Pursuit with the strange rubber arm of the Bubble Boy:
George: “All right Bubble Boy. Let’s just play…Who invaded Spain in the 8th century?”
Bubble Boy: “That’s a joke. The Moors.”
George: “Oh, noooo, I’m so sorry. It’s the Moops. The correct answer is, the Moops.”
Bubble Boy: “MOOPS? Let me see that. That’s not Moops, you jerk, it’s Moors. It’s a misprint.”
Any number of readers will pick up “The Operators” expecting to find the Moors, but instead they’ll encounter the Moops. It’s that odd, dissatisfying feeling you get when your expectations meet a brick wall we like to call “reality.” To be fair, the subject matter isn’t new. We’ve all read “The Runaway General” and its lesser-known cousins, “King David’s War” and “Another Runaway General.” But for the low, low price of $27.95 (discounted to $14.40 on Amazon.com), Hastings will name names, add a little salt to old wounds, and repackage that old wine in new skins. New skins, surprisingly enough, bearing a remarkable resemblance to two equally remarkable retired general officers in less than complimentary poses. But I digress.
The Moors are a mixture of titillating exposé and cautionary tale, the story of a veteran military leader on the edge and the reluctant president compelled to fire one of his most trusted wartime commanders. The Moops are a toxic cocktail of thinly-veiled yellow journalism and rabid anti-war sentiment, a dubiously-sourced manuscript published under the guise of “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Afghan War.” What readers will discover in the pages of “The Operators” is a cautionary tale of the military and the media, and how events can spin horribly out of control when individual agenda trumps the privilege of access. It’s a crossroads in time, where “know thy enemy” meets “understand your embed.”
On the surface, “The Operators” seems to journey into the mists of the Moors. Hastings takes readers deeper into his time with General Stanley McChrystal’s inner circle, this time revealing the faces behind those infamous comments. He pushes deeper into the actions of Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell, whose alleged “PSYOPS” campaign against Members of Congress caused a national uproar. And he confesses that it was never his intent to bring down a popular wartime commander.
Beneath the surface, “The Operators” stumbles into the Moops. The first image to greet readers is “the drunk general” on the front cover, a graphic that bears an uncanny resemblance to General David Petraeus’ USCENTCOM command photo. With tie askew, whiskey on the rocks in hand, and a 9mm Berretta at the ready, it proves difficult to miss the simple fact that every detail of the uniform matches that of the retired Army general. The back cover is no better, depicting McChrystal with beer in hand and armed with a combat knife. In less genteel areas, we call that character assassination.
Once the reading begins, it seems that few, if any, of those infamous caustic comments can actually be attributed to McChrystal. Many appear to be the result of “Jedi mind tricks” where editorial license places a respected name in the close vicinity of an acerbic quote. Others still are credited to a young trip planner. Hastings continues to stand by his earlier claims, but even the least discerning readers will find themselves questioning his sincerity, if not his facts, outright. When Hastings finally admits that he had no idea his story would create such a stir, all credibility is long since gone. His hatred of the war has been revealed, his dislike of military leaders exposed, and his agenda laid bare before his audience.
Let there be no doubt. From the pages of Rolling Stone to the tight binding of “The Operators”, the purpose behind “The Runaway General” is crystal clear: take down a senior military commander. That same singular purpose drove Hastings’ subsequent pieces, as well. When “King David’s War” failed to gain traction, Hastings broke bread with a disgruntled and humiliated officer in hopes of ending the career of yet another general.
Ultimately, the chapter titled “An Army of None” confirms that loose facts, innuendo, and supposition are, in fact, the Moops that George Castanza found on the Trivial Pursuit board. This is where we find a raging and desperate Hastings resorting to whatever means necessary to demean the last man standing in uniform. Some people never quit.
No, it’s not a misprint. It’s the Moops.