Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking it out on the 'small people'

Devoured all the news today. That was a big mistake.

Got the top general in Afghanistan being insubordinate in front of a Rolling Stone reporter and, therefore, all the world.

Got any number of plugged-in political types saying, yeah, what Gen. Stanley McChrystal said about his civilian bosses was bad . . . but, geez, we don't know if President Obama can afford to fire him.

Got a federal judge in New Orleans striking down Obama's moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

And now we got Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowing to impose a new moratorium on such offshore drilling.

A PATTERN is emerging here. A swaggering Obama talks about finding out "whose ass to kick" and then talks big about what BP is going to pay for in the Gulf . . . right before getting rolled by BP, which refuses to pay for what Obama promised Americans it would.

A swaggering Obama calls McChrystal on the carpet last fall for ridiculing remarks by the vice-president . . . right before McChrystal and the Pentagon roll him and get "the surge." And now McChrystal and his aides further heap ridicule upon the civilian leadership -- including Obama himself this time -- to Michael Hastings, who got it all on tape . . . or in his notepad:
The next morning, McChrystal and his team gather to prepare for a speech he is giving at the École Militaire, a French military academy. The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict. Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan." The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the f*** up, and keep a lower profile

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. "I never know what's going to pop out until I'm up there, that's the problem," he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"

"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

When Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, he immediately set out to deliver on his most important campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led us to invade in the first place. "I want the American people to understand," he announced in March 2009. "We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan." He ordered another 21,000 troops to Kabul, the largest increase since the war began in 2001. Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn't know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn't go much better. "It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his f***ing war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."


Part of the problem is structural: The Defense Department budget exceeds $600 billion a year, while the State Department receives only $50 billion. But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama's top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a "clown" who remains "stuck in 1985." Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, "turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it's not very helpful." Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal's inner circle. "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review," says an adviser. "She said, 'If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.' "

McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. "The Boss says he's like a wounded animal," says a member of the general's team. "Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he's going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He's a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can't just have someone yanking on shit."

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke," he groans. "I don't even want to open it." He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

"Make sure you don't get any of that on your leg," an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can't stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He's also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO's allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal's influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. "In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight," says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

The relationship was further strained in January, when a classified cable that Eikenberry wrote was leaked to The New York Times. The cable was as scathing as it was prescient. The ambassador offered a brutal critique of McChrystal's strategy, dismissed President Hamid Karzai as "not an adequate strategic partner," and cast doubt on whether the counterinsurgency plan would be "sufficient" to deal with Al Qaeda. "We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves," Eikenberry warned, "short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos."

McChrystal and his team were blindsided by the cable. "I like Karl, I've known him for years, but they'd never said anything like that to us before," says McChrystal, who adds that he felt "betrayed" by the leak. "Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.' "
THE ONLY WAY the military -- or at least this part of it -- could show anymore contempt for the commander in chief, civilian rule and the constitution would be to frog march Obama out of the White House with an M-16 to his head . . . right before seizing control of the TV networks and announcing the coup d'état as a fait accompli.

The obvious course of action here would be to fire McChrystal on the spot. Now, it's starting to look not so obvious, says
The Washington Post:
But relieving McChrystal of his command on the eve of a major offensive in Kandahar, which White House and Pentagon officials have said is the most critical of the war, would be a major blow to the war effort, said military experts. The president has set a July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, creating massive pressure on the military and McChrystal to make progress in stabilizing Afghanistan this summer and fall when troop levels are at their peak.

"My advice is to call him back to Washington, publicly chastise him and then make it clear that there is something greater at stake here," said Nathaniel Fick, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. "It takes time for anyone to get up to speed, and right now time is our most precious commodity in Afghanistan." If Obama believes the current counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is the right one, then he cannot afford to jettison McChrystal, Fick said.
OBAMA CAN'T win Afghanistan. But he can lose civilian control over the military, and greatly speed up the bipartisan, administrations-long process of delegitimizing the U.S. government.

And faced with a fresh humiliation at the office, Barack Obama comes home, puts on his favorite "wife-beater" and opens up a fresh can of Stanley Kowalski on the hapless people of Louisiana:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday he will issue a new order imposing a moratorium on deepwater drilling after a federal judge struck down the existing one.

Salazar said in a statement that the new order will contain additional information making clear why the six-month drilling pause was necessary in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. The judge in New Orleans who struck down the moratorium earlier in the day complained there wasn't enough justification for it.

Salazar pointed to indications of inadequate industry safety precautions on deepwater wells. "Based on this ever-growing evidence, I will issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities."


Salazar said in his late Tuesday statement imposing a moratorium "was and is the right decision."

"We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP's well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling," Salazar said. "That evidence mounts as BP continues to be unable to stop its blowout, notwithstanding the huge efforts and help from the federal scientific team and most major oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico."
OF COURSE, when a feckless and emasculated president starts abusing the "small people" just to prove he can kick somebody's -- anybody's -- ass, what he may well end up doing is finishing off a wounded state. And nothing says "economic recovery" like possibly erasing 100,000 jobs in a matter of mere months.

In that case, the bed Obama makes for himself just might be
The Burning Bed.

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