Tina Brown, editor of the Daily Beast and Newsweek, joins NPR's Steve Inskeep again for an occasional feature Morning Edition likes to call Word of Mouth. She tells us what she's been reading and gives us recommendations.
This month, Brown sent three recommendations that all deal with the post-Sept. 11 world — stories of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the military and political issues that shape the Middle East and the world at large.
A General Talks Back
Brown's first pick is a fiery interview with a man who fought in both of the major wars that emerged after the 2001 attacks, in Iraq and Afghanistan. That man is retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and he appears in a conversation with Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose in the March-April issue of that magazine. Brown calls the interview "absolutely riveting."
"It really gives an insight into the clarity of mind, the brilliant organizational, conceptual notion of how to run a war," Brown says.
McChrystal resigned from the Army in 2010, after a magazine profile in Rolling Stone quoted some less-than-flattering comments he had made about President Obama and other members of the U.S. executive branch. Brown says the controversy and others like it have ended the careers of great military leaders.
"This guy was hounded from his post by a misdemeanor that was blown up by social media," Brown says, "something we've really seen again from Gen. Allen's exit from commanding NATO. It's tragic. ... How many more of these great leaders can we lose, frankly, to social-media blowups?"
Brown says McChrystal's interview reveals his honest feelings about the war he helped lead and gives insight into his "F3EA" strategy of military raids in Iraq and Afghanistan: Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit and Analyze.
That strategy helped increase the number of such raids from 18 a month to 10 a night near the end of McChrystal's command in Iraq, Brown says.
"There are many reasons that he was able to [accomplish] this extraordinary upping the ante," Brown says. "One way was because, of course, of technology."
GPS, night-vision goggles, Predator drones and greater interagency intelligence synthesis helped McChrystal's troops create what Brown calls an "unbelievably high-turnover killing machine."
But McChrystal also sounds a cautionary note about overreliance on special ops forces.
"He also makes the very good point that special ops only works when you're relating [it] to the overall policy about the theater of war," Brown says.
McChrystal is concerned about the use of drones, Brown says.
"He's controversial in this piece," Brown says. "I mean, he really feels the drone can be overused. It may feel like a clean approach to war to the American side, but he says that on the other side, of course, it feels like war — it is war. And we have to understand that when we launch these drones."
Finding Art In International Intelligence
Brown's next pick is a Wall Street Journal piece that explores the real-life reporting behind the most famous special-operations raid in history. The piece looks at the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty, whose director, Kathryn Bigelow, and screenwriter, Mark Boal, have come under fire for their portrayal of the events that led to the capture and killing of al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.
"It's a very interesting piece that explores the ethical and artistic issues of doing [what's] really a docudrama," Brown says.
The movie focuses on the tireless tracking efforts of fictional CIA agent Maya, played by Jessica Chastain. In reality, Brown points out, it was a group of agents who tracked bin Laden to his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
"They were known as 'The Sisterhood,' " Brown says. "There were many women, in fact, who were involved in the catching of bin Laden."
The piece also reviews how a political and public firestorm surrounding the film's depiction of torture could very well sink Zero Dark Thirty's Best Picture chances. "In the movie of course, Maya pushes one lead hardest," Brown says. "The film of course suggests that some information ... was the direct result of harsh interrogations — of torture, in short."
"A lot of people feel strongly that it was not so ... that, in fact, leads were not developed out of torture," Brown says. "But [former U.S. Defense Secretary and CIA Director] Leon Panetta has praised the movie and feels that the movie represents a kind of truth, and that's really what the controversy is about. But it certainly has shut Zero Dark Thirty out of the Best Picture awards at the Oscars."
Highlighting A Troubled Relationship
Brown's final pick is a book that tackles the tricky and troubled relationship between India and Pakistan. Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back is a new book by Bruce O. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a distinguished counterterrorism specialist who contributes to The Daily Beast.
"Riedel is one of the sharpest minds on all of these issues," Brown says. "He's a terrific analyst on what's going in this part of the world, and in fact he's been an adviser now to four presidents on the whole Afghanistan-Pakistan-South Asian region."
Riedel underlines the importance of the Pakistan-India relationship in understanding — and potentially solving — the ongoing conflict in the region.
"You can't really ignore India," Brown says. "The feelings between India and Pakistan, the long-existing rancor between them, is what stokes Pakistan in not embracing fully the extinguishing of the Taliban. Because they are always, in their minds, dealing with the much bigger threat of India."
Riedel's book focuses on a terrorist attack against India in Mumbai in late 2008 that was traced back to people in Pakistan — even back to people in the Pakistani intelligence agency, or ISI.
"He's very, very good on that agency, and he's also very good on what he sees as the kind of internal politics that have thwarted things in this region," Brown says. "[Riedel] believes that Obama made a very big mistake when he appointed Richard Holbrooke as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, because he says that the Indians didn't like Holbrooke."
Riedel writes that Holbrooke's efforts to advance American policy in the region could have created conflicts in India.
"[India] made it clear they didn't want to be a part of Holbrooke's agenda, and that has actually helped, he feels, to keep this tension going," Brown says.
Brown says both Riedel's book and McChrystal's interview underline how ongoing problems in the post-Sept. 11 world potentially could have been ameliorated through more nuanced policy in Afghanistan.
"This is the great mistake, in a sense, of the Bush era," Brown says — a mistake "that is going to leave us with this dreadful legacy of having spent too long in Afghanistan and losing [the] confidence, in a sense, of the Afghans."
"The whole picture is fairly glum," Brown says.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Tina Brown, editor of the Daily Beast and Newsweek, is with us once again. It's a feature we call Word of Mouth. She tells us what she's been reading, gives us recommendations for what we can read. Hi, Tina.
TINA BROWN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: And you have sent us three recommendations that all deal with the post-9/11 world, starting with a man who fought in both of the major wars that emerged after 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan. The man is General Stanley McChrystal.
BROWN: Yes, indeed. I just thought this interview in Foreign Affairs was absolutely riveting, because it really gives an insight into the clarity of mind - the brilliant organizational, conceptual notion of how to run a war - which is what you get from Stanley McChrystal. And I have to say it also made me feel incredibly regretful that this guy was, you know, hounded from his post by a misdemeanor that was blown up by social media, something we've really seen again with General Allen's exit from commanding NATO.
INSKEEP: Only in McChrystal's case, we're talking about remarks that he made in an interview with Rolling Stone that was seen as disparaging the president and so he had to go.
BROWN: Yeah. I mean, how many more of these great leaders can we lose, frankly, to social-media blowups and trivia? That's how I felt when I'd read the piece.
INSKEEP: So what made McChrystal so strong to you?
BROWN: Well, he talks so interestingly to me, about how he thought about this war. And I mean, one of the major things that he was able to do with his brilliant organizational skills, is to figure out how to up the ante on doing raids that would stamp out al-Qaida in Iraq.
And he's said, you know, people hear most about the targeting cycle, which we called F3EA: Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit and Analyze. You understand who or what is the target, locate it, capture and kill it, or kill it. And you take what intelligence you can from that raid and go back for more. And at the beginning, when he took over in Iraq, they were doing 18 raids a month.
By the time he'd finished in 2008, they were doing 10 raids a night. So that within that time, they could turn the cycle three times in one night. He said, we could capture someone, gain intelligence from the experience, go after someone else, and do three of those in a row - the second two involving people we didn't even know existed in the beginning of the night.
And there were many reasons that he was able to turn this extraordinary upping the ante. One way was because, of course, of technology, which was enormous help. I mean, the invention, he said, of the GPS was an incredibly key thing, because he said, a lot of just being in battle was about getting there.
And he said the GPS changed all that. And he said then the use of night-vision goggles and night-vision equipment was also very key. And then, of course, there was the predator drones. But it was also about synthesizing between the different agencies, so that there was far less, you know, bureaucracy involved in getting these raids organized.
And they were able to turn themselves into this unbelievably sort of high-turnover killing machine when they were there. But he also makes the very good point that, you know, Special Ops only works when you're relating it to the overall policy about the theater of war, that in fact it's a dangerous thing if we start to rely on Special Ops.
He said there's never been Special Ops that fixed a problem long term. And he feels the same way, very much, about the use of drones. I mean, he's controversial in this piece. I mean, he really feels the drone can be overused and that it may feel a clean approach to war to the American side, but he says that on the other side, of course, it feels like war. It is war. And we have to understand that when we launch these drones.
INSKEEP: Now, the most famous special operations raid in history would have to be the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, which is the subject of the next reading you sent us. It's a Wall Street Journal article about the screenwriter of the movie, "Zero Dark Thirty," which is about the bin Laden raid.
BROWN: Yes, it's a very interesting piece that explores the ethical and artistic issues of doing, really, a docudrama that is about such extraordinarily important things like national security. And of course, the heroine of the movie is Maya, the CIA agent, whose dogged pursuit of bin Laden with all the clues and leads and internal battles over resources and strategy, eventually lead to his capture, which, of course, in itself is a synthesis of the truth, because actually there were many more than just Maya who were involved in that search.
I mean, in fact, they were known as The Sisterhood. There were many women, in fact, who were involved in the catching of bin Laden. And in the movie, of course, Maya pushes one lead hardest. And to find bin Laden, the U.S. needs to identify his most trusted courier, the real Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. And the film, of course, suggests that some of that information about al-Kuwaiti was the direct result of harsh interrogations, of torture, in short.
And that's, of course, caused a great storm because a lot of people feel strongly that this was not so, and it has been said it is not so, that, in fact, leads were not developed out of torture. But Leon Panetta has praised the movie and feels that the movie represents a kind of truth about it, and that's really what the controversy is about. But it certainly has shut "Zero Dark Thirty," really, out of the Best Picture awards at the Oscars.
INSKEEP: You have also sent us a book that is nonfiction that deals with terrorism and its complications. It's called "Avoiding Armageddon" and the author is the distinguished counterterrorism specialist Bruce Riedel.
BROWN: Yeah, Bruce Riedel is one of the sharpest minds on all of these issues. He's a terrific analyst of what's going in this part of the world. And in fact, he's been an adviser now to four presidents on the whole Afghanistan-Pakistan, you know, South Asian region. Bruce's book really does put it in context. And one of the things that he says is that one of the keys to solving so much in this part of the region is the Pakistani/Indian relationship.
He says, you can't really ignore India because the feelings between India and Pakistan, the long-existing rancor between them, is what stokes Pakistan in not embracing, fully, the extinguishing of the Taliban, because they are always, in their minds, dealing with the much bigger threat of India.
INSKEEP: And Riedel focuses on a terrorist attack against India in Mumbai in late 2008, that was traced back to people from Pakistan, and in fact, Riedel goes on to say that it was connected to people in the Pakistan's intelligence agency.
BROWN: Absolutely. He's very, very good on that agency; and he's also very good on what he sees as the kind of internal politics that have thwarted things, as well, in this region. He says that he believes that Obama made a very big mistake when he appointed Richard Holbrooke as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, because he says that the Indians didn't like Holbrooke.
And his approach at appeasing Pakistan on Kashmir in return for their help in Afghanistan and counterterrorism, angered them. And they made it clear they didn't want to be a part of Holbrooke's agenda. And that has actually helped, he feels, to keep this tension going.
INSKEEP: I wonder if Americans have fully grasped, that perhaps, at this moment as the war in Afghanistan winds down, now that bin Laden is gone, that perhaps we're moving into some other era that we don't fully understand, having stumbled through the last decade.
BROWN: Well, this is the great tragedy, in a sense, that emerges from both the McChrystal interview and the Riedel book is taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan to go into Iraq. This is the great mistake, in a sense, of the Bush era that is going to leave us with this dreadful legacy of having spent too long in Afghanistan with losing confidence, in a sense, of the Afghans. And then we did the surge, which, you know, was the only thing McChrystal believes that we could do, because without security you couldn't make any progress in Afghanistan.
And so what McChrystal did was he said, okay, we haven't got the troops to really do what we need to do - which was going to take, you know, ten years and 500,000 troops - what we have to do is behave like it's an election campaign and take certain states, get them pacified and make a tipping point. And he feels that they were on their way to sort of doing a bit of that.
But the whole picture is fairly glum in all the readings that I have this morning.
INSKEEP: Word Of Mouth from Tina Brown of the Daily Beast and Newsweek. Thanks, as always, Tina.
BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.