Commentary Magazine


Topic: Commander in Chief

Flotsam and Jetsam

Seriously? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s ‘not nervous at all’ about the possibility that Democrats could lose their House majority after the November elections. She says she feels ‘very confident about where we are’ when it comes to the election. Still, the California Democrat says her party isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Seriously? Not even Chris Matthews thinks Pelosi is right.

Seriously? Eleanor Clift sounds like she’s thrown in the towel on Speaker Pelosi as well: ”Two freshman Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, swept into office on the wave of enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama, are now struggling to stay afloat in a sea of discontent about the president. OK, that’s a bit melodramatic, but listening to these lawmakers and what they’re up against in defending their seats is to wonder where all the magic has gone, and what can be done to recapture enough stardust to hold on to the Democratic majorities that are the bulwark of the Obama presidency.”

Seriously? John Kerry wants “Obama to resume his efforts to start a dialogue with Iran. In an interview on CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ show Sunday, Kerry said a good place to begin with the Iranians would be discussions about the way forward in Afghanistan and that those talks could lead to discussions on other vital topics, such as Iran’s nuclear program. … There are reasons that [the Iranians] would want a stable government there. And I think that we should — you know, diplomacy is the art of playing to everybody’s interests. And everybody has some interests with respect to this outcome.”

Seriously? (snuggling up to Lindsey Graham): “Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, voiced support Sunday for hearings on whether to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.”

Seriously? Obama says he’s not getting enough credit for saving us from “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (Maybe that’s because it’s not the worst downturn since the Great Depression.)

Seriously? ABC headline: “Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal.” Yeah, when the president isn’t definitive, everyone fills in the blanks for themselves. That worked to get Obama elected, but it makes for a poor commander in chief.

Seriously? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s ‘not nervous at all’ about the possibility that Democrats could lose their House majority after the November elections. She says she feels ‘very confident about where we are’ when it comes to the election. Still, the California Democrat says her party isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Seriously? Not even Chris Matthews thinks Pelosi is right.

Seriously? Eleanor Clift sounds like she’s thrown in the towel on Speaker Pelosi as well: ”Two freshman Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, swept into office on the wave of enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama, are now struggling to stay afloat in a sea of discontent about the president. OK, that’s a bit melodramatic, but listening to these lawmakers and what they’re up against in defending their seats is to wonder where all the magic has gone, and what can be done to recapture enough stardust to hold on to the Democratic majorities that are the bulwark of the Obama presidency.”

Seriously? John Kerry wants “Obama to resume his efforts to start a dialogue with Iran. In an interview on CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ show Sunday, Kerry said a good place to begin with the Iranians would be discussions about the way forward in Afghanistan and that those talks could lead to discussions on other vital topics, such as Iran’s nuclear program. … There are reasons that [the Iranians] would want a stable government there. And I think that we should — you know, diplomacy is the art of playing to everybody’s interests. And everybody has some interests with respect to this outcome.”

Seriously? (snuggling up to Lindsey Graham): “Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, voiced support Sunday for hearings on whether to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.”

Seriously? Obama says he’s not getting enough credit for saving us from “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (Maybe that’s because it’s not the worst downturn since the Great Depression.)

Seriously? ABC headline: “Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal.” Yeah, when the president isn’t definitive, everyone fills in the blanks for themselves. That worked to get Obama elected, but it makes for a poor commander in chief.

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How About a Hirohito Monument at Pearl Harbor?

The controversy over the mosque — all fifteen stories of it– planned for Ground Zero is one of those issues that divide ordinary Americans from elites. It is a debate that convinces average Americans that the governing and media elites are not cut from the same cloth as they. In fact, it strikes many as evidence that our “leaders” are stricken with a sort of political and cultural insanity, an obtuseness that defies explanation.

The ADL tried to explain it in personal terms to the dim set:

We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel — and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001. …

[U]ltimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.

But there is, of course, a larger cultural issue in play here. What passes for the liberal intelligentsia is convinced that we have no right to protect the sensibilities of our citizens (whom the left scorns as brutes and xenophobes), nor to be wary of unidentified funding from groups wishing to send some sort of a message atop the ashes of 3,000 dead Americans. (The ADL politely explained that ”we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.”) The supposedly sophisticated left prefers to ignore the message that the mosque-builders are sending to their co-religionists.

Imagine if the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to build a 15-foot shrine to Jefferson Davis on the Gettysburg battlefield. The backlash would be fast and furious, the arguments about “free speech” and “reconciliation” would be given the back of the hand. The shrine-builders would rightly be seen as trying to conquer the landscape and the history books — a vile sort of one-upmanship, which does a grave injustice to those slaughtered on that spot.

Well, you say, that is just the loony left, which does not grasp the issue. But wait, it’s most of the chattering class and a great many of our elected leaders, who are clueless. They can’t seem to muster up the indignation to prevent the insult to the dead or to acknowledge that the mega mosque will be interpreted by much of the Muslim World as a symbol of cultural aggression and defiance — and a sign of the West’s submission.

Come to think of it, where is the president on this? He’s been mute, too busy excoriating Fox News over the Shirley Sherrod incident and blaming Republicans for scuttling his statist agenda. In “a spirit of bipartisanship and patriotism,” Bill Kristol offers Obama a helping hand and some smart advice:

Americans by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 think the 15-story mosque and community center, planned by a shadowily financed Wahhabi imam to dominate Ground Zero, is offensive. You don’t have to (yet) move to do anything legally to stop it. Just say that in your opinion it’s a bad idea, that it’s unnecessarily divisive and likely to pit American against American, faith against faith, neighbor against neighbor. Urge the sponsors, financiers, and developers of the mosque to rethink their plans, and the various entities of the City of New York their approval.

But what are the chances that the president who excised “Islamic fundamentalism” from the administration’s vocabulary would do that? Because he won’t, he again demonstrates the vast gulf between his own mindset and the values that his fellow citizens hold dear. He reminds us once more that he has absolutely no interest in rallying the country and the Free World in the civilizational war in which we find ourselves. To the contrary, he denies that such a war even exists.

It’s not enough simply to order up more troops or swap generals in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. A commander in chief in our times must champion American civilization and challenge those who seek to undermine and defile it, whether by violence or by symbolic architecture. Too bad we don’t have an Oval Office occupant willing to do his job — all of it.

The controversy over the mosque — all fifteen stories of it– planned for Ground Zero is one of those issues that divide ordinary Americans from elites. It is a debate that convinces average Americans that the governing and media elites are not cut from the same cloth as they. In fact, it strikes many as evidence that our “leaders” are stricken with a sort of political and cultural insanity, an obtuseness that defies explanation.

The ADL tried to explain it in personal terms to the dim set:

We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel — and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001. …

[U]ltimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.

But there is, of course, a larger cultural issue in play here. What passes for the liberal intelligentsia is convinced that we have no right to protect the sensibilities of our citizens (whom the left scorns as brutes and xenophobes), nor to be wary of unidentified funding from groups wishing to send some sort of a message atop the ashes of 3,000 dead Americans. (The ADL politely explained that ”we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.”) The supposedly sophisticated left prefers to ignore the message that the mosque-builders are sending to their co-religionists.

Imagine if the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to build a 15-foot shrine to Jefferson Davis on the Gettysburg battlefield. The backlash would be fast and furious, the arguments about “free speech” and “reconciliation” would be given the back of the hand. The shrine-builders would rightly be seen as trying to conquer the landscape and the history books — a vile sort of one-upmanship, which does a grave injustice to those slaughtered on that spot.

Well, you say, that is just the loony left, which does not grasp the issue. But wait, it’s most of the chattering class and a great many of our elected leaders, who are clueless. They can’t seem to muster up the indignation to prevent the insult to the dead or to acknowledge that the mega mosque will be interpreted by much of the Muslim World as a symbol of cultural aggression and defiance — and a sign of the West’s submission.

Come to think of it, where is the president on this? He’s been mute, too busy excoriating Fox News over the Shirley Sherrod incident and blaming Republicans for scuttling his statist agenda. In “a spirit of bipartisanship and patriotism,” Bill Kristol offers Obama a helping hand and some smart advice:

Americans by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 think the 15-story mosque and community center, planned by a shadowily financed Wahhabi imam to dominate Ground Zero, is offensive. You don’t have to (yet) move to do anything legally to stop it. Just say that in your opinion it’s a bad idea, that it’s unnecessarily divisive and likely to pit American against American, faith against faith, neighbor against neighbor. Urge the sponsors, financiers, and developers of the mosque to rethink their plans, and the various entities of the City of New York their approval.

But what are the chances that the president who excised “Islamic fundamentalism” from the administration’s vocabulary would do that? Because he won’t, he again demonstrates the vast gulf between his own mindset and the values that his fellow citizens hold dear. He reminds us once more that he has absolutely no interest in rallying the country and the Free World in the civilizational war in which we find ourselves. To the contrary, he denies that such a war even exists.

It’s not enough simply to order up more troops or swap generals in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. A commander in chief in our times must champion American civilization and challenge those who seek to undermine and defile it, whether by violence or by symbolic architecture. Too bad we don’t have an Oval Office occupant willing to do his job — all of it.

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FROM THE JULY/AUG ISSUE: The Soft-Power Fallacy

In May, Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to West Point’s 2010 graduating class and offered high praise for the accomplishments of the American military—including the most unabashed appreciation of the achievement of U.S. forces in Iraq he has ever put forth. “This is what success looks like,” he said, “an Iraq that provides no safe-haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.” But before an audience of some 1,000 men and women in uniform, the commander in chief chose to focus on the nonmilitary dimension of advancing America’s interests.

To continue reading this article from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

In May, Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to West Point’s 2010 graduating class and offered high praise for the accomplishments of the American military—including the most unabashed appreciation of the achievement of U.S. forces in Iraq he has ever put forth. “This is what success looks like,” he said, “an Iraq that provides no safe-haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.” But before an audience of some 1,000 men and women in uniform, the commander in chief chose to focus on the nonmilitary dimension of advancing America’s interests.

To continue reading this article from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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Obama Losing the Public on the War

The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Obama losing ground with the public on Afghanistan:

Support for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low and President Obama’s approval rating for handling it has declined sharply since spring – results that portend trouble for the administration as the violence there grows. With Obama’s surge under way – and casualties rising – the number of Americans who say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting has declined from 52 percent in December to 43 percent now. And his approval rating for handling it, 56 percent in April, is down to 45 percent.

Voters’ support for the war depends on whether they make the connection between the war and U.S. security:

Fifty-three percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has improved the long-term security of the United States – a majority, but hardly an overpowering one. Fifty percent say the same about the war in Iraq. And many fewer – 25 percent in both cases – say these wars have done “a great deal” to contribute to long-term security, a weak result given their costs in lives and lucre. It matters: Among people who say the Afghanistan war has improved U.S. security, 68 percent also say the war has been worth fighting. In Iraq, among those who see security gains, 72 percent say that war’s been worth it.

There are several explanations for the slippage in support. First, it may be a function of the public’s loss of confidence in Obama in general. At the beginning of his term, if a policy or viewpoint was associated with Obama, the voters were inclined to give it thumbs up. The reverse may be true now. And those who are supportive of the war — including a great number of conservatives — may approve of the handling of the war regardless of (or even in spite of) Obama.

Another possibility is that Obama’s war strategy has managed to please no one. Conservatives are losing confidence because Obama has insisted on an unworkable and counterproductive deadline for our troops to pull out. Liberals have long since given up on defending the “good war.” Trying to split the difference — between cutting and running, on the one hand, and an unqualified commitment to victory, on the other – has unnerved voters of both parties, not to mention our allies.

And yet a third possibility is that long wars are unpopular in democracies, and absent compelling and constant leadership, the public inevitably becomes restless and eventually hostile to the war. Obama — aside from the replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal — has rarely talked about the war of late and hasn’t been effective in explaining the connection between Afghanistan and our national security. There is an argument, of course, (if you accept the first explanation, namely that the public is losing confidence generally in Obama) that it wouldn’t help for him to do or say more on the subject. But, frankly, he hasn’t been trying all that hard. And if the public doesn’t listen to him, the administration needs to find someone who will be able to carry the message consistently and effectively. Maybe if we had a serious person as national security advisor or if Hillary weren’t bogged down with minutiae one of them could assume the national explainer role.

Those supportive of the war effort have tried their best to fend off isolationists on both the right and the left. But ultimately there is no replacement for firm presidential leadership. With the selection of Gen. David Petraeus, a move cheered by both Democrats and Republicans, and a solid Rose Garden speech, Obama seemed to be stepping up to the plate. But, alas, within days, the administration was reiterating its timeline for a troop withdrawal. Since McChrystal’s departure, Obama hasn’t followed up with an effort to educate and win over the public.

As skilled as Petraeus is and as magnificent as our troops are, they can’t win the war without an effective and enthusiastic commander in chief. Now is the time for Obama to get his act together. Otherwise we will suffer a devastating loss and he will bear the burden of that loss.

The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Obama losing ground with the public on Afghanistan:

Support for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low and President Obama’s approval rating for handling it has declined sharply since spring – results that portend trouble for the administration as the violence there grows. With Obama’s surge under way – and casualties rising – the number of Americans who say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting has declined from 52 percent in December to 43 percent now. And his approval rating for handling it, 56 percent in April, is down to 45 percent.

Voters’ support for the war depends on whether they make the connection between the war and U.S. security:

Fifty-three percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has improved the long-term security of the United States – a majority, but hardly an overpowering one. Fifty percent say the same about the war in Iraq. And many fewer – 25 percent in both cases – say these wars have done “a great deal” to contribute to long-term security, a weak result given their costs in lives and lucre. It matters: Among people who say the Afghanistan war has improved U.S. security, 68 percent also say the war has been worth fighting. In Iraq, among those who see security gains, 72 percent say that war’s been worth it.

There are several explanations for the slippage in support. First, it may be a function of the public’s loss of confidence in Obama in general. At the beginning of his term, if a policy or viewpoint was associated with Obama, the voters were inclined to give it thumbs up. The reverse may be true now. And those who are supportive of the war — including a great number of conservatives — may approve of the handling of the war regardless of (or even in spite of) Obama.

Another possibility is that Obama’s war strategy has managed to please no one. Conservatives are losing confidence because Obama has insisted on an unworkable and counterproductive deadline for our troops to pull out. Liberals have long since given up on defending the “good war.” Trying to split the difference — between cutting and running, on the one hand, and an unqualified commitment to victory, on the other – has unnerved voters of both parties, not to mention our allies.

And yet a third possibility is that long wars are unpopular in democracies, and absent compelling and constant leadership, the public inevitably becomes restless and eventually hostile to the war. Obama — aside from the replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal — has rarely talked about the war of late and hasn’t been effective in explaining the connection between Afghanistan and our national security. There is an argument, of course, (if you accept the first explanation, namely that the public is losing confidence generally in Obama) that it wouldn’t help for him to do or say more on the subject. But, frankly, he hasn’t been trying all that hard. And if the public doesn’t listen to him, the administration needs to find someone who will be able to carry the message consistently and effectively. Maybe if we had a serious person as national security advisor or if Hillary weren’t bogged down with minutiae one of them could assume the national explainer role.

Those supportive of the war effort have tried their best to fend off isolationists on both the right and the left. But ultimately there is no replacement for firm presidential leadership. With the selection of Gen. David Petraeus, a move cheered by both Democrats and Republicans, and a solid Rose Garden speech, Obama seemed to be stepping up to the plate. But, alas, within days, the administration was reiterating its timeline for a troop withdrawal. Since McChrystal’s departure, Obama hasn’t followed up with an effort to educate and win over the public.

As skilled as Petraeus is and as magnificent as our troops are, they can’t win the war without an effective and enthusiastic commander in chief. Now is the time for Obama to get his act together. Otherwise we will suffer a devastating loss and he will bear the burden of that loss.

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Obama’s Race Obsession

It seems a lifetime ago that Obama represented hope for a post-racial presidency and in fact a post-racial era in American politics. Like so much else about Obama, the reality is the opposite of what was promised. Jake Tapper relates a rather amazing effort to inject race into the war against Islamic terrorists:

In an interview earlier today with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to air in a few hours, President Obama disparaged al Qaeda and affiliated groups’ willingness to kill Africans in a manner that White House aides say was an argument that the terrorist groups are racist.

Speaking about the Uganda bombings, the president said, “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself.  They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.” …

Explaining the president’s comment, an administration official said Mr. Obama “references the fact that both U.S. intelligence and past al Qaeda actions make clear that al Qaeda — and the groups like al Shabaab that they inspire — do not value African life. The actions of al Qaeda and the groups that it has inspired show a willingness to sacrifice innocent African life to reach their targets.” … “In short,” the official said, “al Qaeda is a racist organization that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life.”

Oh, good grief. Al-Qaeda isn’t a racist organization — it’s an organization that kills regardless of race anyone who stands in the way of its Islamo-fascist vision. The notion that it is racist is not only ignorant but also transparently manipulative. Does the administration really think that Africans can only be motivated if they think race is behind the slaughter of their people? And does Obama mean to suggest that al-Qaeda is pro-white? The mind reels.

It is this sort of thing that fills one with dread and raises this question: is there no limit to the lengths Obama will go to avoid spelling out the real motive behind Islamic fundamentalist terror? It’s the Islamic fundamentalism, of course. The Obami, however, would rather make up a counter-factual narrative and introduce a potentially divisive racial theme (don’t we want Europeans to take the war on terror seriously? what about Indonesians?) into the worldwide war against terrorism than be candid with the American people. Despite his worldly credentials, Obama’s foreign policy is strikingly condescending toward the rest of the world. Muslims will get confused and upset if we identify radical Islam as the basis for terrorism! Africans won’t join us unless they think it’s all about race!

I think we need a post-post-racial commander in chief who doesn’t assume that the rest of the world is populated by dolts.

It seems a lifetime ago that Obama represented hope for a post-racial presidency and in fact a post-racial era in American politics. Like so much else about Obama, the reality is the opposite of what was promised. Jake Tapper relates a rather amazing effort to inject race into the war against Islamic terrorists:

In an interview earlier today with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to air in a few hours, President Obama disparaged al Qaeda and affiliated groups’ willingness to kill Africans in a manner that White House aides say was an argument that the terrorist groups are racist.

Speaking about the Uganda bombings, the president said, “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself.  They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.” …

Explaining the president’s comment, an administration official said Mr. Obama “references the fact that both U.S. intelligence and past al Qaeda actions make clear that al Qaeda — and the groups like al Shabaab that they inspire — do not value African life. The actions of al Qaeda and the groups that it has inspired show a willingness to sacrifice innocent African life to reach their targets.” … “In short,” the official said, “al Qaeda is a racist organization that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life.”

Oh, good grief. Al-Qaeda isn’t a racist organization — it’s an organization that kills regardless of race anyone who stands in the way of its Islamo-fascist vision. The notion that it is racist is not only ignorant but also transparently manipulative. Does the administration really think that Africans can only be motivated if they think race is behind the slaughter of their people? And does Obama mean to suggest that al-Qaeda is pro-white? The mind reels.

It is this sort of thing that fills one with dread and raises this question: is there no limit to the lengths Obama will go to avoid spelling out the real motive behind Islamic fundamentalist terror? It’s the Islamic fundamentalism, of course. The Obami, however, would rather make up a counter-factual narrative and introduce a potentially divisive racial theme (don’t we want Europeans to take the war on terror seriously? what about Indonesians?) into the worldwide war against terrorism than be candid with the American people. Despite his worldly credentials, Obama’s foreign policy is strikingly condescending toward the rest of the world. Muslims will get confused and upset if we identify radical Islam as the basis for terrorism! Africans won’t join us unless they think it’s all about race!

I think we need a post-post-racial commander in chief who doesn’t assume that the rest of the world is populated by dolts.

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Petraeus Backs Obama Timeline

Gen. David Petraeus probably had no choice. His predecessor was fired for failure to show proper respect for civilian control of the military. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Petraeus in his confirmation hearing not only agreed with but enthused over Obama’s timeline for withdrawal of troops (“Not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it”), parroting the administration line that it lends “urgency” to the operation. This is, of course, precisely what overly optimistic observers who support the Afghanistan war effort were hoping would not occur. They imagined that Petraeus would prevail upon Obama to lift the deadline; instead, the general was obliged to re-enforce it.

We see once again that there is no substitute for a clear-headed commander in chief. Petraeus was successful in Iraq because he had the right strategy and a president who supported him fully. Had Petraeus not been given Ambassador Crocker to work with and had he not been given a wholehearted and, yes, open-ended commitment from the commander in chief, he might very well have failed.

Petraeus could have said to Obama that he wouldn’t take the job given the timeline — and he still could resign if it remains firmly in place. But at least for now he has chosen to operate with the ball and chain around his ankle. We should hope that this is not an indication of his ability or determination to insist that competent and effective civilian leaders replace Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry.

The president — only the president — can decide to do what is needed to win a war. Whoever accepts the assignment to run the Afghan operation puts his own career and reputation at stake by agreeing to work under conditions that are widely regarded as inimical to victory. If Petraeus can promptly persuade Obama to remove those conditions and the personnel who will impede success, he will do his country and his troops an immense service. If not, he has set himself and those he commands up for failure.

Gen. David Petraeus probably had no choice. His predecessor was fired for failure to show proper respect for civilian control of the military. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Petraeus in his confirmation hearing not only agreed with but enthused over Obama’s timeline for withdrawal of troops (“Not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it”), parroting the administration line that it lends “urgency” to the operation. This is, of course, precisely what overly optimistic observers who support the Afghanistan war effort were hoping would not occur. They imagined that Petraeus would prevail upon Obama to lift the deadline; instead, the general was obliged to re-enforce it.

We see once again that there is no substitute for a clear-headed commander in chief. Petraeus was successful in Iraq because he had the right strategy and a president who supported him fully. Had Petraeus not been given Ambassador Crocker to work with and had he not been given a wholehearted and, yes, open-ended commitment from the commander in chief, he might very well have failed.

Petraeus could have said to Obama that he wouldn’t take the job given the timeline — and he still could resign if it remains firmly in place. But at least for now he has chosen to operate with the ball and chain around his ankle. We should hope that this is not an indication of his ability or determination to insist that competent and effective civilian leaders replace Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry.

The president — only the president — can decide to do what is needed to win a war. Whoever accepts the assignment to run the Afghan operation puts his own career and reputation at stake by agreeing to work under conditions that are widely regarded as inimical to victory. If Petraeus can promptly persuade Obama to remove those conditions and the personnel who will impede success, he will do his country and his troops an immense service. If not, he has set himself and those he commands up for failure.

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Our Petulant President

I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Jen, about the latest example of petulance by our commander in chief. In Politico we read:

Obama chastised what he dubbed a current “obsession” over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. “My focus right now is how do we make sure what we’re doing there is successful,” he said. “By next year we will begin a transition.”

Perhaps the “obsession” is based on the fact that (a) Obama included a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals in his December 2009 West Point speech; (b) Vice President Biden has said that in “July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It”; and (c) as recently as a week ago yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that July 2011 is a “firm date. … The July 2011 date, as stated by the president, that’s not moving. That’s not changing.”

It’s clear that the government and people in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban (among others), are “obsessed” about Obama’s timeline and take it seriously. Silly them.

If the president recognizes the errors of his ways and deems the deadline inoperative, terrific. And if he has to pretend that his shift is not really a shift, okay. But we could all do with a little less lecturing and self-righteousness from Captain Kick-A**.

As is usually the case with Obama, the weaker his arguments are, the more peevish and mocking of his critics he becomes. When he can’t refute criticisms with facts, he resorts to ridicule. It’s an old game — and when it comes to our president, an increasingly wearying one. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that as Obama’s failures mount, his ill-temper and irritation increase. Which means that Obama, and the country, have an increasingly dyspeptic few years ahead of us.

I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Jen, about the latest example of petulance by our commander in chief. In Politico we read:

Obama chastised what he dubbed a current “obsession” over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. “My focus right now is how do we make sure what we’re doing there is successful,” he said. “By next year we will begin a transition.”

Perhaps the “obsession” is based on the fact that (a) Obama included a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals in his December 2009 West Point speech; (b) Vice President Biden has said that in “July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It”; and (c) as recently as a week ago yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that July 2011 is a “firm date. … The July 2011 date, as stated by the president, that’s not moving. That’s not changing.”

It’s clear that the government and people in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban (among others), are “obsessed” about Obama’s timeline and take it seriously. Silly them.

If the president recognizes the errors of his ways and deems the deadline inoperative, terrific. And if he has to pretend that his shift is not really a shift, okay. But we could all do with a little less lecturing and self-righteousness from Captain Kick-A**.

As is usually the case with Obama, the weaker his arguments are, the more peevish and mocking of his critics he becomes. When he can’t refute criticisms with facts, he resorts to ridicule. It’s an old game — and when it comes to our president, an increasingly wearying one. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that as Obama’s failures mount, his ill-temper and irritation increase. Which means that Obama, and the country, have an increasingly dyspeptic few years ahead of us.

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It’s Obama’s War

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

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All the News That Is Fit to Ignore

The New York Times editors, opining on the McChrystal interview, pronounce, “The Rolling Stone article doesn’t suggest any serious policy disagreements between the president and General McChrystal.” That’s a wee bit deceptive, perhaps part of an endless string of efforts to deflect blame from the president.

While not technically a “policy disagreement,” the interview — and the reason why McChrystal may be canned — centers on the allegation that the entire civilian operation is impeding the war effort. Technically, this is a personnel problem, not a policy disagreement, but it goes to the heart of Obama’s management of the war.

Moreover, while the interview sidesteps it (“We’re talking the antiwar hippie magazine,” as Maureen Dowd puts it.), there are certainly major policy disagreements between Obama and the military. Bill Kristol and Tom Donnelly explain:

The imposition of a troop-withdrawal deadline, in particular, has poisoned our Afghanistan strategy. McChrystal has, understandably, behaved like a man under pressure to produce quick results to get good marks in the administration’s December Afghanistan strategy review.  Even the timetable for the review is premature and therefore transparently artificial: the last “surge” brigade won’t be deployed until November.

The shortage of time is also compounded by the shortage of forces.  McChrystal’s cardinal achievement to date has been the re-wiring of the dysfunctional ISAF structure, but it’s also required him to deploy forces in places such as Kunduz, north of Kabul but still a Pashtun area where the Taliban have been more active, because the German forces there are insufficient.

The Gray Lady’s editors seem to prefer to shelter Obama rather than to focus on the real import of the Rolling Stone interview, namely that the commander in chief is failing to do what is necessary to win the war. Instead, the editors blame McChrystal for what ails the Afghanistan operation:

Instead of answering questions about his media strategy, General McChrystal should be explaining what went wrong with his first major offensive in Marja and how he plans to do better in Kandahar. Instead of General McChrystal having to apologize to Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Eikenberry, they all should be working a lot harder to come up with a plan for managing relations with Afghanistan’s deeply flawed president, Hamid Karzai.

Frankly, McChrystal is one of the few with an effective relationship with Karzai (even Rolling Stone got that point), and the offensive is failing because our troops have too few people and too little time. But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a Times‘s op-ed.

The New York Times editors, opining on the McChrystal interview, pronounce, “The Rolling Stone article doesn’t suggest any serious policy disagreements between the president and General McChrystal.” That’s a wee bit deceptive, perhaps part of an endless string of efforts to deflect blame from the president.

While not technically a “policy disagreement,” the interview — and the reason why McChrystal may be canned — centers on the allegation that the entire civilian operation is impeding the war effort. Technically, this is a personnel problem, not a policy disagreement, but it goes to the heart of Obama’s management of the war.

Moreover, while the interview sidesteps it (“We’re talking the antiwar hippie magazine,” as Maureen Dowd puts it.), there are certainly major policy disagreements between Obama and the military. Bill Kristol and Tom Donnelly explain:

The imposition of a troop-withdrawal deadline, in particular, has poisoned our Afghanistan strategy. McChrystal has, understandably, behaved like a man under pressure to produce quick results to get good marks in the administration’s December Afghanistan strategy review.  Even the timetable for the review is premature and therefore transparently artificial: the last “surge” brigade won’t be deployed until November.

The shortage of time is also compounded by the shortage of forces.  McChrystal’s cardinal achievement to date has been the re-wiring of the dysfunctional ISAF structure, but it’s also required him to deploy forces in places such as Kunduz, north of Kabul but still a Pashtun area where the Taliban have been more active, because the German forces there are insufficient.

The Gray Lady’s editors seem to prefer to shelter Obama rather than to focus on the real import of the Rolling Stone interview, namely that the commander in chief is failing to do what is necessary to win the war. Instead, the editors blame McChrystal for what ails the Afghanistan operation:

Instead of answering questions about his media strategy, General McChrystal should be explaining what went wrong with his first major offensive in Marja and how he plans to do better in Kandahar. Instead of General McChrystal having to apologize to Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Eikenberry, they all should be working a lot harder to come up with a plan for managing relations with Afghanistan’s deeply flawed president, Hamid Karzai.

Frankly, McChrystal is one of the few with an effective relationship with Karzai (even Rolling Stone got that point), and the offensive is failing because our troops have too few people and too little time. But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a Times‘s op-ed.

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The Missing Link: It’s Not McChrystal

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

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Should the General Be Called on the Carpet?

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

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The Military vs. Obama

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

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Do They Want to Win?

At times you wonder if Obama and his minions want to win the war in Afghanistan. Oh, horror — can you say such things? Accuse them of less-than-steely determination to pursue victory? Well, to be blunt, it’s becoming hard to think of explanations for the Obama team’s insistence, childlike and illogical as it is, for defending what even sympathetic observers regard as the heart of our difficulty in our Afghanistan effort – the president’s timeline for a troop pullout. There was this exchange yesterday on This Week between Jake Tapper and Rahm Emanuel:

TAPPER: So what exactly does the July 2011 deadline mean? Is it going to be a whole lot of people moving out, definitely, as Vice President Biden says? Or could it be more nuanced, as General Petraeus says, maybe just a couple of people leaving one province?

EMANUEL: Well, no, everybody knows there’s a firm date. And that firm date is a date — deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction.

But there will be no doubt that that’s going to happen. And I know actually — I look at both of those, and they’re not inconsistent. But remember where we were on Afghanistan policy, that war had waxed and waned. And there really hadn’t been a focus on how to bring that war to — and the effort (INAUDIBLE), even with al Qaeda and Taliban, to a point given what was going on in Iraq.

When pressed further, Emanuel praised the utility of the timeline:

TAPPER: But it could be any number of people.

EMANUEL: That’s what you’ll evaluate based on the conditions on the ground. That is — but what had to happen prior to that was having a date that gave everybody, the NATO, international forces, as well as Afghanistan, that sense of urgency to move.

We can speculate that Obama doesn’t want to admit his error. Or we can assume that Emanuel is panicked about the turnout of the administration’s liberal base in November. (The DNC is apparently so desperate that they are spending millions to get college kids and other first-time 2008 voters to turn out in a midterm election.) But whatever the explanation, they are doing the opposite of what the military and bipartisan supporters of the war tell us must be done: dispel the image that we are getting ready to cut and run.

Some still insist that Obama fully understands the responsibilities of commander in chief and is dedicated to avoiding a hugely damaging defeat in a war he deemed critical. At this point, those people have the burden of proof. By Obama’s actions and words, the evidence is mounting that neither is true.

At times you wonder if Obama and his minions want to win the war in Afghanistan. Oh, horror — can you say such things? Accuse them of less-than-steely determination to pursue victory? Well, to be blunt, it’s becoming hard to think of explanations for the Obama team’s insistence, childlike and illogical as it is, for defending what even sympathetic observers regard as the heart of our difficulty in our Afghanistan effort – the president’s timeline for a troop pullout. There was this exchange yesterday on This Week between Jake Tapper and Rahm Emanuel:

TAPPER: So what exactly does the July 2011 deadline mean? Is it going to be a whole lot of people moving out, definitely, as Vice President Biden says? Or could it be more nuanced, as General Petraeus says, maybe just a couple of people leaving one province?

EMANUEL: Well, no, everybody knows there’s a firm date. And that firm date is a date — deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction.

But there will be no doubt that that’s going to happen. And I know actually — I look at both of those, and they’re not inconsistent. But remember where we were on Afghanistan policy, that war had waxed and waned. And there really hadn’t been a focus on how to bring that war to — and the effort (INAUDIBLE), even with al Qaeda and Taliban, to a point given what was going on in Iraq.

When pressed further, Emanuel praised the utility of the timeline:

TAPPER: But it could be any number of people.

EMANUEL: That’s what you’ll evaluate based on the conditions on the ground. That is — but what had to happen prior to that was having a date that gave everybody, the NATO, international forces, as well as Afghanistan, that sense of urgency to move.

We can speculate that Obama doesn’t want to admit his error. Or we can assume that Emanuel is panicked about the turnout of the administration’s liberal base in November. (The DNC is apparently so desperate that they are spending millions to get college kids and other first-time 2008 voters to turn out in a midterm election.) But whatever the explanation, they are doing the opposite of what the military and bipartisan supporters of the war tell us must be done: dispel the image that we are getting ready to cut and run.

Some still insist that Obama fully understands the responsibilities of commander in chief and is dedicated to avoiding a hugely damaging defeat in a war he deemed critical. At this point, those people have the burden of proof. By Obama’s actions and words, the evidence is mounting that neither is true.

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Bipartisan Criticism of Obama Timeline for Afghanistan

At yesterday’s Senate hearing, both Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain heaped criticism on the management of the Afghan war. As this report makes clear, increasingly the spotlight is focused on Obama’s ill-fated decision to announce an unrealistic and counterproductive timeline for withdrawal of the troops:

The rising level of concern about the war effort in the U.S., shared by some military and civilian officials within the administration, is focusing increased attention on President Barack Obama’s decision to begin U.S. withdrawals in July 2011, always one of the most controversial aspects of his war plan.

Senior U.S. and Western officials acknowledged that they have done a poor job explaining to allies in the region that the U.S.-led coalition will remain committed to Afghanistan even as withdrawals begin next summer. One Western diplomat who has discussed the issue with the Obama administration said allies will attempt to make a stronger case in the coming months.

“Up until this point, I don’t think we have quite got that message across yet,” said the diplomat. “People are still focusing on July 2011 as an issue unto itself.”

That might be because the president made such a big deal of it and continued to emphasize after his West Point speech that he wasn’t enamored of “open-ended” commitments. But as conservative critics warned, that insistence has worked to the detriment of our war effort:

[C]urrent and former U.S. officials said there is increasing evidence that the short time frame is forcing the key actors in the war—particularly Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Pakistani military leadership—to begin cutting deals to ensure their position in Afghanistan, a process that may be exacerbating sectarianism in a country where the insurgency is dominated by the Pashtun majority. … Earlier, Gen. Petraeus appeared to struggle with whether withdrawals should begin in July 2011. Pressed by Mr. Levin whether it was his “best personal, professional judgment” that reductions should begin then, Gen. Petraeus paused for eight seconds before appearing to hedge, saying “we have to be careful with timelines.”

There is no way to “explain” the timeline that will improve this situation. Obama needs to lift it, announce we are in this for the long haul, and commit himself to victory. Anything less is dereliction of his duty as commander in chief to win on a battlefield he defined as critical to our national security.

At yesterday’s Senate hearing, both Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain heaped criticism on the management of the Afghan war. As this report makes clear, increasingly the spotlight is focused on Obama’s ill-fated decision to announce an unrealistic and counterproductive timeline for withdrawal of the troops:

The rising level of concern about the war effort in the U.S., shared by some military and civilian officials within the administration, is focusing increased attention on President Barack Obama’s decision to begin U.S. withdrawals in July 2011, always one of the most controversial aspects of his war plan.

Senior U.S. and Western officials acknowledged that they have done a poor job explaining to allies in the region that the U.S.-led coalition will remain committed to Afghanistan even as withdrawals begin next summer. One Western diplomat who has discussed the issue with the Obama administration said allies will attempt to make a stronger case in the coming months.

“Up until this point, I don’t think we have quite got that message across yet,” said the diplomat. “People are still focusing on July 2011 as an issue unto itself.”

That might be because the president made such a big deal of it and continued to emphasize after his West Point speech that he wasn’t enamored of “open-ended” commitments. But as conservative critics warned, that insistence has worked to the detriment of our war effort:

[C]urrent and former U.S. officials said there is increasing evidence that the short time frame is forcing the key actors in the war—particularly Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Pakistani military leadership—to begin cutting deals to ensure their position in Afghanistan, a process that may be exacerbating sectarianism in a country where the insurgency is dominated by the Pashtun majority. … Earlier, Gen. Petraeus appeared to struggle with whether withdrawals should begin in July 2011. Pressed by Mr. Levin whether it was his “best personal, professional judgment” that reductions should begin then, Gen. Petraeus paused for eight seconds before appearing to hedge, saying “we have to be careful with timelines.”

There is no way to “explain” the timeline that will improve this situation. Obama needs to lift it, announce we are in this for the long haul, and commit himself to victory. Anything less is dereliction of his duty as commander in chief to win on a battlefield he defined as critical to our national security.

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Why Are We Making It Harder for Our Military to Win in Afghanistan?

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

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The Erratic President

Now Obama looks like a fool and a liar. When confronted by Matt Lauer about why he hadn’t yet met with BP’s CEO, you could see the wheels clicking — excuse, excuse, what’s the excuse? — and Obama with a straight face said it would do no good to talk to the CEO, because he was just going to get spin from Tony Hayward (“[H]e’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.”) Even Chris Matthews was appalled.

So within days, Obama announces — he’s going to meet with the BP Chariman! Oh good grief. So forget the part about not needing to speak with BP. That was just a … um … er … hmm … lame excuse he cooked up on the spot.

There is a reason why the public is upset with Obama. It’s not merely a function of the unrealistic expectation that the president can solve all problems. The president looks fickle, confused, and erratic. Let’s have a drilling ban. No, let’s lift it and make BP pay for all the people we threw out of work! It becomes alarming with each passing day as we see how out of his depth the commander in chief (oh yes, he commands the armed forces too) is.

Harvard Law Review and a crease in the pants don’t signal readiness to be president. The voters have found out the hard way the price of electing someone who thought governing was just like campaigning and who had never run a city, a state, a military unit, or a profit-making firm.

Now Obama looks like a fool and a liar. When confronted by Matt Lauer about why he hadn’t yet met with BP’s CEO, you could see the wheels clicking — excuse, excuse, what’s the excuse? — and Obama with a straight face said it would do no good to talk to the CEO, because he was just going to get spin from Tony Hayward (“[H]e’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.”) Even Chris Matthews was appalled.

So within days, Obama announces — he’s going to meet with the BP Chariman! Oh good grief. So forget the part about not needing to speak with BP. That was just a … um … er … hmm … lame excuse he cooked up on the spot.

There is a reason why the public is upset with Obama. It’s not merely a function of the unrealistic expectation that the president can solve all problems. The president looks fickle, confused, and erratic. Let’s have a drilling ban. No, let’s lift it and make BP pay for all the people we threw out of work! It becomes alarming with each passing day as we see how out of his depth the commander in chief (oh yes, he commands the armed forces too) is.

Harvard Law Review and a crease in the pants don’t signal readiness to be president. The voters have found out the hard way the price of electing someone who thought governing was just like campaigning and who had never run a city, a state, a military unit, or a profit-making firm.

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We Don’t Need Clint Eastwood

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”

“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”

“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”

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Brazil’s Iran Deal Alibi: Obama Said It Was Okay

There has been no shortage of foreign-policy disasters in the first year and a half of Barack Obama’s presidency, but nothing has illustrated the administration’s appalling lack of skill in diplomacy more than its amateurish efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. The latest indication of incompetence was illustrated when the government of Brazil released the full text of a three-page letter sent by Obama to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in April, in which the American commander in chief gave the Brazilian leader the green light to pursue an agreement in which Iran would transfer part of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Turkey. This startling piece of news was buried toward the bottom of a New York Times report on the latest developments in Iranian diplomacy. The article devoted most of its space to new tensions between Tehran and Moscow.

The Iran/Brazil/Turkey deal was a blatant Iranian attempt to derail faltering American efforts to build an international coalition that supports sanctions against Tehran to pressure the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. It would also not prevent the Iranians from continuing to amass material to build a bomb. This diplomatic freelancing on the part of both Brazil and Turkey was widely seen as a slap in the face to Obama at just the moment that the American president had started to cobble together enough support for a weak sanctions package.

But although both the Brazilians and the Turks deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped on them for allowing Iran’s tyrannical Islamist regime to use them to divert attention away from sanctions efforts, it must be conceded that what they have done isn’t any more foolish than a similar deal that the United States itself tried to make with Iran last fall. That disaster, which came after several months of unsuccessful attempts at engagement with Tehran, fell through after the Iranians embarrassed the administration by reneging on an agreement to transfer uranium. Obama and his foreign-policy team seemingly learned their lesson after this fiasco and finally began to talk about sanctions. To gain tepid Russian support for sanctions, the Obama administration has had to water down its proposals to a point where it is clear that little damage will be done. But after having labored so hard to achieve so little, Washington was clearly outraged by being outflanked by Brazil’s and Turkey’s untimely intervention earlier this month.

But if the mere fact of this new deal wasn’t enough to undermine international support for sanctions, the revelation that Brazil acted with the express written permission of Obama must be seen as a catastrophe for international efforts to restrain Tehran. Why should anyone take American rhetoric about stopping Iran seriously if Obama is now understood to have spent the past few months pushing for sanctions in public while privately encouraging third parties who are trying to appease the Iranians?

What were Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who has spent the last weeks spouting a great deal of tough talk about Iran) thinking when they sent the letter to Lula? Did they take a calculated gamble that the Brazil initiative would fail and that they could make nice with the leftist Lula while not endangering their sanctions campaign? If so, then once again, the wily Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has outwitted Obama and Clinton. Though the Iranians appear to have miscalculated how far they can push their erstwhile Russian allies as they maneuver to buy even more time for their nuclear program, it seems as if they have decided that there is no limit to how far they can push Obama. And after this latest diplomatic embarrassment for the United States, it is hard to argue with them on that point.

There has been no shortage of foreign-policy disasters in the first year and a half of Barack Obama’s presidency, but nothing has illustrated the administration’s appalling lack of skill in diplomacy more than its amateurish efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. The latest indication of incompetence was illustrated when the government of Brazil released the full text of a three-page letter sent by Obama to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in April, in which the American commander in chief gave the Brazilian leader the green light to pursue an agreement in which Iran would transfer part of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Turkey. This startling piece of news was buried toward the bottom of a New York Times report on the latest developments in Iranian diplomacy. The article devoted most of its space to new tensions between Tehran and Moscow.

The Iran/Brazil/Turkey deal was a blatant Iranian attempt to derail faltering American efforts to build an international coalition that supports sanctions against Tehran to pressure the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. It would also not prevent the Iranians from continuing to amass material to build a bomb. This diplomatic freelancing on the part of both Brazil and Turkey was widely seen as a slap in the face to Obama at just the moment that the American president had started to cobble together enough support for a weak sanctions package.

But although both the Brazilians and the Turks deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped on them for allowing Iran’s tyrannical Islamist regime to use them to divert attention away from sanctions efforts, it must be conceded that what they have done isn’t any more foolish than a similar deal that the United States itself tried to make with Iran last fall. That disaster, which came after several months of unsuccessful attempts at engagement with Tehran, fell through after the Iranians embarrassed the administration by reneging on an agreement to transfer uranium. Obama and his foreign-policy team seemingly learned their lesson after this fiasco and finally began to talk about sanctions. To gain tepid Russian support for sanctions, the Obama administration has had to water down its proposals to a point where it is clear that little damage will be done. But after having labored so hard to achieve so little, Washington was clearly outraged by being outflanked by Brazil’s and Turkey’s untimely intervention earlier this month.

But if the mere fact of this new deal wasn’t enough to undermine international support for sanctions, the revelation that Brazil acted with the express written permission of Obama must be seen as a catastrophe for international efforts to restrain Tehran. Why should anyone take American rhetoric about stopping Iran seriously if Obama is now understood to have spent the past few months pushing for sanctions in public while privately encouraging third parties who are trying to appease the Iranians?

What were Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who has spent the last weeks spouting a great deal of tough talk about Iran) thinking when they sent the letter to Lula? Did they take a calculated gamble that the Brazil initiative would fail and that they could make nice with the leftist Lula while not endangering their sanctions campaign? If so, then once again, the wily Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has outwitted Obama and Clinton. Though the Iranians appear to have miscalculated how far they can push their erstwhile Russian allies as they maneuver to buy even more time for their nuclear program, it seems as if they have decided that there is no limit to how far they can push Obama. And after this latest diplomatic embarrassment for the United States, it is hard to argue with them on that point.

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Obama’s Want of Staying Power

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers accompanied General Stanley McChrystal to Marjah and filed an outstanding report on the current state of play in that Helmand Province town three months after the Marines went in. There is general agreement that the operation has not gone as well in recent weeks as it did in the beginning:

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

Commanders in southern Afghanistan are quoted as telling McChrystal that he needs to be patient. “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied. Instead, he suggested to Major General Nick Carter, the British officer who planned the operation, that more troops should have been used:

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

Of course, McChrystal knows that if you put more troops into Marjah, you risk a decline of security in another area. Now, the imperative is to marshal as many soldiers as possible to retake Kandahar, the most important city in the south.

The Marjah offensive should be a cautionary tale in that regard: yes, troops can enter Taliban strongholds quickly. But no, they can’t reverse years of Taliban gains in a heartbeat. That requires sustained presence. The question is whether the Obama administration will show the patience necessary given the deadline the president has set for starting to withdraw troops next summer. As usual, when it comes to American counterinsurgency, the war will be won or lost in Washington — not on some distant battlefield. I only wish I had more confidence in Obama’s staying power and resolution as commander in chief.

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers accompanied General Stanley McChrystal to Marjah and filed an outstanding report on the current state of play in that Helmand Province town three months after the Marines went in. There is general agreement that the operation has not gone as well in recent weeks as it did in the beginning:

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

Commanders in southern Afghanistan are quoted as telling McChrystal that he needs to be patient. “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied. Instead, he suggested to Major General Nick Carter, the British officer who planned the operation, that more troops should have been used:

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

Of course, McChrystal knows that if you put more troops into Marjah, you risk a decline of security in another area. Now, the imperative is to marshal as many soldiers as possible to retake Kandahar, the most important city in the south.

The Marjah offensive should be a cautionary tale in that regard: yes, troops can enter Taliban strongholds quickly. But no, they can’t reverse years of Taliban gains in a heartbeat. That requires sustained presence. The question is whether the Obama administration will show the patience necessary given the deadline the president has set for starting to withdraw troops next summer. As usual, when it comes to American counterinsurgency, the war will be won or lost in Washington — not on some distant battlefield. I only wish I had more confidence in Obama’s staying power and resolution as commander in chief.

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