Following the politics of this decision making process concerning the "new" strategy in Afghanistan by the Obama administration has been maddening to say the least. It hasn't at all been comforting, to me at least, that the general on the ground seems to have a very minor role in the process. Or that suddenly Afghanistan's politics have taken center stage.
Let me be very frank here. I've worried, since this administration took office, that despite all of the campaign rhetoric that there was little seriousness backed by even less experience in war fighting. Instead the rhetoric was more useful for beating up the other side for political purposes.
So I put together my own metric as to how I would judge whether or not the Obama administration was serious about prosecuting the war in Afghanistan. If they were serious, an assessment would be made, a strategy agreed upon and, based on the recommendation of the general on the ground, assets would be allocated (to include those from the proper civilian agencies) to prosecute the war according to the agreed upon strategy.
If they weren't serious, we'd see a lengthy "assessment" process, dithering on strategy and troop strength, an unwillingness to commit to a strategy and any extraneous excuse the administration could find to delay a decision. Then, when they did make one it would be short of the recommended one and just enough to keep Afghanistan afloat until the politics here were favorable (i.e. re-election secure) to pull the plug.
Initially, it looked like I was seeing a president who was serious about the war there. In March President Obama announced a new strategy and he also appointed a new general. He even committed more troops to the fight As far as I was concerned that indicated a president that was now walking the walk. He took all the steps necessary to take ownership of the war.
But when Gen. McChrystal did his commander's assessment and requested more troops he was essentially ignored. Then the alternative strategies pushed by the likes of John Kerry and Joe Biden - suddenly experts in military strategies - came to the fore. We also heard that the decision on what military strategy we were going to pursue depended heavily on the outcome of the disputed election in Afghanistan. And then it depended on a run off. Meanwhile, the Obama administration finally met with the JCS for the first time only a few days ago. And what came out of that, apparently, was a request for more information - a province by province assessment.
But, back to the runoff election in Afghanistan. It appears, at least at the moment, there won't be one. Abdullah Abdullah has said he'll boycott it.
So now what? Will we put together a military strategy, announce it and commit to it and begin the process of fulfilling it. Or will this be used as yet another excuse to delay such a decision?
On Monday, in address to the personnel at NAS Jacksonville, President Obama said he would not be rushed into making a decision. He said, "I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary". He went on to say, 'because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission and the defined goals as well as the equipment and support you need to get the job done."
All true. But missing from all of that is the fact that we presently have thousands of troops in Afghanistan whose lives are already at risk and remain at risk pending a decision. We have everyone and their brother saying that the theater is undermanned - putting those there at further risk.
And they remain at this heightened risk as the interminable decision making process goes on.
His aides now tell us he'll announce something between Nov. 7th and 11th. Will he? If so, and if it is a well thought out and viable strategy, I'll withdraw my objections. However, if he finds this latest electoral reversal in Afghanistan to be a reason for further delay and dithers some more, I'll be forced to conclude that this isn't about fighting a war, but instead about politics and protecting his electoral viability. And if that turns out to be the case, I will be unsparing in both my condemnation and criticism.
President Obama was duly elected by the people of this country to fulfill the duties of the office of President. Among the most important is that of Commander-in-Chief. It's time he stepped up and assumed that position. And Mr. President, that means you have to do two things that haven't been evident to this point - lead and make decisions.
David Brooks is a reliably squishy columnist. He is put on the right side of the slate by the leftists who run the NY Times, but he is at most one step right of center and really only in comparison to the progressive crowd there. Every once in a while he hits a true note though and that was today. His topic was Obama as Commander in Chief and his question was does he have the necessary determination for that role. It is easy to see he didn't want to be a war President, all of his tough talk on the campaign trail aside. He sees this as a distraction from his transformation of our government and the rebirth of America in a Post-American world. CinC is the toughest job in America and Brooks wonders if Obama is up to it. He talked to as many military experts as he could.
These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.
Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.
But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.
Their second concern is political. They do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road.
Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.
I concur with all of that and share the exact same fears and concerns, and see the same problems that the lack of resolve and dithering
The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.
Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.
His last thoughts are telling and speak to the heart of the worries all who support the military have.
So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.
I can't remember reading anything in the NY Times I ever agreed with more. It feels like I wrote it, and I did rant it. Make the call sir!
[Annual Halloween Repost]
I went through a training course with my friend Mat Schram. As junior officers, the environment was very competitive and Mat and I were always at the top in terms of scores and class rank. Eventually, he was #2 and I was #3 in the class. He was such a great guy that I didn't mind in the least being ranked behind him (except that he was a freakin' Packers fan). We were good friends and I ran into him quite a few times during my career.
One Halloween many years ago, I visited him a Fort Lee. Schrambo and I went to a Halloween Party at the Officer's Club (one of the better ones in the Army). I was dressed up as a prisoner (real Cook County jail uniform) complete with shackles for the legs and wrists and he had this fake muscle Rambo thing on (he was nicknamed "Schrambo" after all).
We went to the cemetery on Ft. Lee to continue the Halloween party that started at the Officers Club. The Cemetery closes at 10pm (and is off-limits to all), and Mat and I brought some ladies with us. It was just before midnight and we started telling ghost stories while having an adult beverage.
Sure enough, as soon as the ghost stories were getting good (we were in the haunted part of the cemetery - civil war ghosts – the best kind), MPs spotted our vehicles and decided to see who was in the cemetery.
They turn on their spotlight and use their speaker to tell to us come out. Mat turns and says to me, "Matty, you can talk your way out of anything. You go talk to the MPs."
Knowing Mat, I should have recognized the twinkle in his eye.
So, seeing one of the MPs had his hand on his sidearm, and me, still wearing my orange jumpsuit/convict outfit - shackles and all (one of the girls convinced me to keep them on) - I come stumbling out of the darkness and into the MP spotlight yelling "Don't shoot!"
The MP behind the light did a double take, and I swear the MPs thought they caught an escaped convict. I heard Mat fall over in the darkness behind me laughing his ass off.
After the MPs decided NOT to shoot me and heard our stories, they laughed so hard they let us off without any trouble.
That's how I like to remember Mat...from that Halloween night.
The Navy is pulling out all the stops in it's bid to finish higher than the Coast Guard in the Valour IT fundraising contest to get voice-activated laptops for wounded troops. Their vaunted Special Operators are showing off the amazing skills developed at Coronado. SEALs rule, Go Navy! The rest of you can go to the Army donate page here.
UPDATE: A Gold Star mom shares her thoughts on this.
I never cease to be amazed by the sorry haters on the left and their inability to understand the military, respect, dignity and the difference between a gesture and a heartfelt gesture. They are busy hating on George W because he failed to go to Dover and get photo-opped like our current Commander in Chief. Now first of all I will give Obama credit for gong to Dover, but as soon as it became a photo op it was cheapened as Matt noted. Anyone smell the stench of Axelrod and Emanuel? Well the brain-addled, land apes at FireDogLake are calling out the former CinC for not being so blatant. Admire their bile.
Let me help you with that you pathetic, whiny little bitch. Turning a solemn occasion into a photo op that becomes about you is not respectful, it is sorry. President Bush knew that and chose to show his respect in private to the people who really matter, the Gold Star families.
This is what a president does.
US President Barack Obama has paid his respects to 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan, the first time he has honoured the fallen in this way.
NPR notes that,
The dramatic image of a president on the tarmac was a portrait not witnessed in years.
His predecessor, George W Bush, visited the families of dead troops but never received the bodies at the base, in Dover, Delaware.
Mr Bush also did not go to military funerals, telling the military newspaper Stars and Stripes three years ago that he preferred to meet families privately.
Which shows more honor to the sacrifice, spending time personally with the family, or turning the funeral into a spectacle with the press and other jackals yapping around the periphery? He could have had as many photo ops as he wanted, but he knew that the families would prefer the warm and heartfelt words he could give them in private. I have spoken to a number of Gold Star families who got this respectful treatment from the President and they were as comforted as they could possibly be by his obvious care, love and concern for the fallen troop and for them. The left wants funerals and caskets for propaganda purposes and their faux outrage is all the more grotesque because of that.
Bush also preferred to go bed early, but apparently, could never get his ass out of bed early enough to honor the soldiers he so recklessly sent off to die.
F**k you! The deaths of brave Americans is not fodder for politics. I don't believe that is what President Obama intended, but if so he could have foregone the photo op. Sometimes you have to stop listening to your handlers and do something just because it's the right thing.
In a continuation of what appears to be the administration's policy Sec. State Clinton dissed the Pakistani government in a press conference with media there.
ISLAMABAD – U.S. Secretary of said Thursday that Pakistan squandered opportunities over the years to kill or capture leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
While U.S. officials have said they believe Osama bin Laden and senior lieutenants have been hiding in the rugged terrain along the border with , Clinton's unusually blunt comments went further as she suggested that Pakistan's government has done too little to act against al-Qaida's top echelon.
"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," Clinton said in an interview with Pakistani journalists in Lahore. "Maybe that's the case. Maybe they're not gettable. I don't know."
Kick our allies in the teeth, coddle our enemies. Quite the strategy. I understand the sentiment and later in the piece she notes she is just echoing what we tell the government in private, but why rub their noses in it in their own press? How "smart" is that when dealing with an honor culture?
Obviously we need the help of the Pakistanis to keep the Taliban and al Qaeda penned into as small an area as possible. I fail to see how calling them out like this helps that effort. And what would an Obama administration event be without a gratuitous swipe at the evil W.
As a way of repudiating past U.S. policies toward Pakistan, Clinton told the students "there is a huge difference" between the Obama administration's approach and that of former President George W. Bush. "I spent my entire eight years in the Senate opposing him," she said to a burst of applause from the audience of several hundred students. "So to me, it's like daylight and dark."