Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert M. Gates

Retreat from Retreat?

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

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A Devastating and Depressing Portrait of Obama

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

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Obama Muddies the Waters

Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:

“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”

The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:

The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.

Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:

“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”

The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:

The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.

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Gates: Obama’s Iran Policy Is a Flop

The New York Times reports:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document. … One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

There seem to be some, but certainly not all, within the administration who recognize the Obami have failed to come up with a strategy commensurate with the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran or realistic about the nature of the Iranian regime:

In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

Really, it’s jaw-dropping that, at this stage, Gates must sound the alarm, reminding everyone that nothing they’ve done so far has or is likely to work. Indeed, it’s hard to see how what the Obami are presently doing won’t impair those military options. After all, Obama is giving the Iranians cover to move ahead with their nuclear program while the UN dithers over negotiations about ineffective sanctions. The problem, we must conclude, is Obama, himself, who seems blissfully unaware of his own inadequate and misguided efforts. (“Some officials said his memo should be viewed in that light: as a warning to a relatively new president that the United States was not adequately prepared. He wrote the memo after Iran had let pass a 2009 deadline set by Mr. Obama to respond to his offers of diplomatic engagement.”)

The Obami seemed unprepared for the failure of engagement last year and are only now working on a sanctions effort; Gates’ memo suggests we are now no more prepared for what is in all likelihood the outcome of the next round of dithering: an Iranian regime undeterred from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. As the Times notes, “Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the upper echelons of the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well-prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed.” There is no greater national-security challenge than the threat of a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state. And the president is failing to address it, as his defense secretary warns. The American people and history will judge Obama accordingly.

The New York Times reports:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document. … One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

There seem to be some, but certainly not all, within the administration who recognize the Obami have failed to come up with a strategy commensurate with the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran or realistic about the nature of the Iranian regime:

In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

Really, it’s jaw-dropping that, at this stage, Gates must sound the alarm, reminding everyone that nothing they’ve done so far has or is likely to work. Indeed, it’s hard to see how what the Obami are presently doing won’t impair those military options. After all, Obama is giving the Iranians cover to move ahead with their nuclear program while the UN dithers over negotiations about ineffective sanctions. The problem, we must conclude, is Obama, himself, who seems blissfully unaware of his own inadequate and misguided efforts. (“Some officials said his memo should be viewed in that light: as a warning to a relatively new president that the United States was not adequately prepared. He wrote the memo after Iran had let pass a 2009 deadline set by Mr. Obama to respond to his offers of diplomatic engagement.”)

The Obami seemed unprepared for the failure of engagement last year and are only now working on a sanctions effort; Gates’ memo suggests we are now no more prepared for what is in all likelihood the outcome of the next round of dithering: an Iranian regime undeterred from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. As the Times notes, “Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the upper echelons of the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well-prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed.” There is no greater national-security challenge than the threat of a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state. And the president is failing to address it, as his defense secretary warns. The American people and history will judge Obama accordingly.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

On that “deadline”: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says Americans should expect a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for two years to four years more. Just as in Iraq, the United States eventually will turn over provinces to local security forces, allowing the United States to bring the number of troops down steadily, according to Mr. Gates.”

Gen. David Petraeus: “In fact, as the secretary explained, this would be a district-by-district, as the conditions obtain, as the security situation is sufficient for the Afghan security forces that will be working hard to develop are capable of taking on those tasks. … And again, there’s no — there’s no time line, no ramp, nothing like that.” He politely sidesteps a direct answer to the question: “General, honestly, would you have preferred no time line to be set publicly?”

Bill Kristol on Copenhagen: “The equivalent of the entire carbon footprint of Morocco is what we’re going to emit into the atmosphere so these guys can get together and talk pointlessly in Copenhagen.”

The voters seem to have other priorities: “For the first time in Gallup’s 25 year history of asking Americans to choose between economic growth and environmental protection, a majority sided with the paper money over the trees. … It’s got to be hard to pass a historic climate change bill when public support for climate change legislation is at historic lows.” Or in the middle of a scandal about just how certain the science is.

Hmm, probably not the best damage-control tactic: “Baucus: Relationship wasn’t an ‘affair.’ ”

Marty Peretz is still waiting for that “new beginning between America and the Muslim World”: “The fact is, as Barack Obama refuses to grasp, Islam needs to shoulder responsibility for what is done in its name. For what is not rejected–in most cases, not at all rejected–by the sages of present-day Islam. Since the president has taken to lecture Americans about ‘one of the world’s great religions,’ which I believe it to be, he might also take to studying why so many of its elders in schools of theology and other authoritative men have embraced, publicly embraced, the gangsters in their midst.”

Really, did you think Obama’s approval and disapproval trend lines would cross in less than a year?

Sen. Ben Nelson seems not to like much of anything about ObamaCare: “He has not only taken an uncompromising position on abortion, demanding stronger language to prohibit federal funding of abortion. He has also voted against every Democratic amendment so far, aside from those that received unanimous support from the body. Nelson’s voting record on the bill suggests a general dislike for key aspects of it.”

On that “deadline”: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says Americans should expect a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for two years to four years more. Just as in Iraq, the United States eventually will turn over provinces to local security forces, allowing the United States to bring the number of troops down steadily, according to Mr. Gates.”

Gen. David Petraeus: “In fact, as the secretary explained, this would be a district-by-district, as the conditions obtain, as the security situation is sufficient for the Afghan security forces that will be working hard to develop are capable of taking on those tasks. … And again, there’s no — there’s no time line, no ramp, nothing like that.” He politely sidesteps a direct answer to the question: “General, honestly, would you have preferred no time line to be set publicly?”

Bill Kristol on Copenhagen: “The equivalent of the entire carbon footprint of Morocco is what we’re going to emit into the atmosphere so these guys can get together and talk pointlessly in Copenhagen.”

The voters seem to have other priorities: “For the first time in Gallup’s 25 year history of asking Americans to choose between economic growth and environmental protection, a majority sided with the paper money over the trees. … It’s got to be hard to pass a historic climate change bill when public support for climate change legislation is at historic lows.” Or in the middle of a scandal about just how certain the science is.

Hmm, probably not the best damage-control tactic: “Baucus: Relationship wasn’t an ‘affair.’ ”

Marty Peretz is still waiting for that “new beginning between America and the Muslim World”: “The fact is, as Barack Obama refuses to grasp, Islam needs to shoulder responsibility for what is done in its name. For what is not rejected–in most cases, not at all rejected–by the sages of present-day Islam. Since the president has taken to lecture Americans about ‘one of the world’s great religions,’ which I believe it to be, he might also take to studying why so many of its elders in schools of theology and other authoritative men have embraced, publicly embraced, the gangsters in their midst.”

Really, did you think Obama’s approval and disapproval trend lines would cross in less than a year?

Sen. Ben Nelson seems not to like much of anything about ObamaCare: “He has not only taken an uncompromising position on abortion, demanding stronger language to prohibit federal funding of abortion. He has also voted against every Democratic amendment so far, aside from those that received unanimous support from the body. Nelson’s voting record on the bill suggests a general dislike for key aspects of it.”

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Paying Attention

According to the Associated Press

Remote-controlled explosives strapped to two mentally retarded women detonated in a coordinated attack on pet bazaars Friday, police and Iraqi officials said, killing at least 73 people in the deadliest day since the U.S. sent 30,000 extra troops to the capital this spring . . . Iraqi officials said the women apparently were mentally disabled and the explosives were detonated by remote control, indicating they may not having been willing attackers in what could be a new method by suspected Sunni insurgents to subvert stepped up security measures.

This episode reminds us of just how malevolent our enemy is. Their savagery is almost unfathomable. One wonders if this type of thing will continue to turn the Muslim world against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which is exactly what is happening in the “Anbar Awakening” (the backlash against AQI has now spread beyond Anbar Province).

This attack also underscores what General Petraeus has repeatedly said: the challenges in Iraq remain formidable and we will need to maintain our presence there for some time to come. The gains we saw in 2007 were stunning – but we are still a long way from Iraq becoming a secure, unified nation. Fortunately the President has indicated that he will abide by the counsel of General Petraeus and not pull out our troops prematurely. As the Washington Post reported today:

President Bush asserted Thursday that he would not be pressured into making further troop cuts in Iraq beyond the five combat brigades already scheduled to come home by the middle of the summer. “We have come too far in this important theater, in this war on terror, not to make sure that we succeed,” Bush told a friendly audience at an event sponsored by a conservative think tank. “I will be making decisions based upon success in Iraq…. The comments were the latest indication from the administration that it may keep the number of troops in Iraq at roughly the same level they were before last year’s buildup of U.S. forces, possibly through the end of Bush’s presidency. Under existing plans, the levels are gradually falling about 5,000 troops a month, from roughly 160,000 to 130,000 by July — or approximately where they stood before Bush sent reinforcements to Iraq seeking to curtail spiraling sectarian violence. Last fall, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested that troop levels could continue falling, reaching 100,000 by 2009. But U.S. commanders in Iraq have suggested they would like to see a pause to determine whether recent security gains have taken root, and in recent statements — such as his comments here — Bush has indicated that he looks favorably upon such an approach.

Because of the successes we’ve experienced in Iraq, the attention of the nation and the political class is wandering away from that traumatized land. But the stakes in that war could not be higher – and the consequences of a defeat to AQI would be staggering. Whatever the flaws of the GOP candidates, there is a huge chasm between their views on Iraq and the views of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As my colleague Yuval Levin wrote earlier today about last night’s debate, “They are intent on snatching disaster from the jaws of a real chance at progress in Iraq, and they simply don’t care if we lose. Neither of them came anywhere near words like success, or victory. It’s not in the script.”

What a thoroughly irresponsible and, if they were to become president, what a terribly dangerous position for them to hold.

According to the Associated Press

Remote-controlled explosives strapped to two mentally retarded women detonated in a coordinated attack on pet bazaars Friday, police and Iraqi officials said, killing at least 73 people in the deadliest day since the U.S. sent 30,000 extra troops to the capital this spring . . . Iraqi officials said the women apparently were mentally disabled and the explosives were detonated by remote control, indicating they may not having been willing attackers in what could be a new method by suspected Sunni insurgents to subvert stepped up security measures.

This episode reminds us of just how malevolent our enemy is. Their savagery is almost unfathomable. One wonders if this type of thing will continue to turn the Muslim world against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which is exactly what is happening in the “Anbar Awakening” (the backlash against AQI has now spread beyond Anbar Province).

This attack also underscores what General Petraeus has repeatedly said: the challenges in Iraq remain formidable and we will need to maintain our presence there for some time to come. The gains we saw in 2007 were stunning – but we are still a long way from Iraq becoming a secure, unified nation. Fortunately the President has indicated that he will abide by the counsel of General Petraeus and not pull out our troops prematurely. As the Washington Post reported today:

President Bush asserted Thursday that he would not be pressured into making further troop cuts in Iraq beyond the five combat brigades already scheduled to come home by the middle of the summer. “We have come too far in this important theater, in this war on terror, not to make sure that we succeed,” Bush told a friendly audience at an event sponsored by a conservative think tank. “I will be making decisions based upon success in Iraq…. The comments were the latest indication from the administration that it may keep the number of troops in Iraq at roughly the same level they were before last year’s buildup of U.S. forces, possibly through the end of Bush’s presidency. Under existing plans, the levels are gradually falling about 5,000 troops a month, from roughly 160,000 to 130,000 by July — or approximately where they stood before Bush sent reinforcements to Iraq seeking to curtail spiraling sectarian violence. Last fall, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested that troop levels could continue falling, reaching 100,000 by 2009. But U.S. commanders in Iraq have suggested they would like to see a pause to determine whether recent security gains have taken root, and in recent statements — such as his comments here — Bush has indicated that he looks favorably upon such an approach.

Because of the successes we’ve experienced in Iraq, the attention of the nation and the political class is wandering away from that traumatized land. But the stakes in that war could not be higher – and the consequences of a defeat to AQI would be staggering. Whatever the flaws of the GOP candidates, there is a huge chasm between their views on Iraq and the views of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As my colleague Yuval Levin wrote earlier today about last night’s debate, “They are intent on snatching disaster from the jaws of a real chance at progress in Iraq, and they simply don’t care if we lose. Neither of them came anywhere near words like success, or victory. It’s not in the script.”

What a thoroughly irresponsible and, if they were to become president, what a terribly dangerous position for them to hold.

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An American Defense Policy

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Read More

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Hamre is a well-respected figure known for his solidly centrist views and not someone, you would think, who would excite much partisan passion—especially when appointed to nothing more than an advisory position. Yet Bill Gertz of the Washington Times manages to dredge up toxic quotations from anonymous detractors:

“With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration,” said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. “We can see now that with the possible exception of the President himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.”

“This begs the question of whether the Secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat, and environmental friendliness,” said a defense official.

The Hamre-Clinton policies? Give me break. What are these dreaded policies anyway? Are conservatives supposed to be opposed to “environmental friendliness”? Women are already in combat, and it hasn’t been an issue. Gays are also becoming more accepted within the military. As for “Draconian defense cuts,” they were instigated by the administration of Bush Senior following the end of the Cold War.

Whatever you make think of these policies, they are not determined by second- or third-level Pentagon officials; they come right from the top. To blame or credit Hamre for these initiatives is akin to blaming or crediting former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith for launching the Iraq War—a canard spread only by crackpots.

Give it a rest, guys.

Hamre is exactly the kind of centrist Democrat to whom the Bush administration should have been reaching out from the start. I realize it’s a myth that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—but it’s a nice myth and one that policymakers on both sides would do well to cultivate. And that means cultivating figures from the other side of the aisle.

We shouldn’t have a Republican or Democratic defense policy. We need an American policy.

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I Got My Job Through COMMENTARY

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

Read Less




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