Free Markets, Free People
Alana Goodman provides some validation to my assertion that Barack Obama likes the perks of being President, but really isn’t that crazy about the job itself.
First though, some interesting info on debates and Obama:
According to the Times, Obama also deeply dislikes debates. It might be understandable if this was because he found them challenging and outside of his comfort zone. But that’s not what the Times reports. Obama apparently dislikes debates because he views them as “media-driven gamesmanship… something to endure, rather than an opportunity.” In other words, debates are below him. It’s not that he’s a weak debater, it’s that the debate format is too trivial for the likes of Barack Obama.
And, of course, he holds Romney in “disdain”, which likely makes it even harder. What will be interesting is whether someone who dislikes debates and the person he has to debate can rally and do what is necessary in the next two debates. Ummm … probably not.
But on to the main point. Goodman talks about Obama as President failing at the very personal level, a level that requires an ability he just doesn’t seem to have the self-discipline to exercise. And it isn’t in just one sphere or area. It is an across the board inability to form relationship with critical demographics and people.
This isn’t the first major aspect of the presidency (and campaigns) that Obama reportedly disdains. George W. Bush wasn’t a fantastic debater, but he was considered a great communicator in person. Obama, in contrast, doesn’t appear to enjoy personal interaction in general. He knocks debates as “gamesmanship,” but he also doesn’t like socializing. And as the New Yorker reported, he’s alienated major donors because he hasn’t been able to build relationships with them.
Obama’s interpersonal struggles have also caused him problems in the policy realm. He dislikes working with members of congress, and his disengagement from the legislative side of the political process has been criticized routinely by both Republicans andDemocrats. The same goes for foreign policy. The New York Times reported that Obama’s difficulty dealing with the Arab Spring has stemmed from his “impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy” and “failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders.”
According to Game Change author John Heilemann, Obama is one of those rare politicians who “don’t like people…[and] don’t like politics.”
Goodman asks, “so why is he running for re-election”. Here’s a politician who doesn’t like politics and doesn’t like people?
See title. It’s good to be the top dog and enjoy all the perks. Work?
Yeah, see, that’s for the little people. I mean he’s never had to work before, why would he want too now?
But give him 4 more years, will you? He hasn’t had all the Wagyu beef he wants at this point. And it’s cool having your own airplane at your beck and call if you want to jet off somewhere for dinner. How cool? $1.4 billion cool … the cost to taxpayers to keep the president in the style to which he’s become accustomed.
The more we learn about this guy, the less he seems right for the job. Of course the past 4 years have pretty much proven that, despite Andrew Sullivan’s claim that his record is just sterling, he’s been an abject, incompetent failure. He hasn’t grown in the job, he’s shrunk. The debate performance was just his version of a shoulder shrug. He doesn’t know his job. How can he debate it?
I got a laugh out of Sullivan’s melt down though (a few actually):
And we are told that when Obama left the stage that night, he was feeling good. That’s terrifying.
It should be. The guy (and Sullivan) actually thinks he’s done a good job. Yet, as Sullivan goes on to say, somehow in one night, Obama managed to lose the 18 point lead he had among women. Gee, you think they figured out that he’s still not ready for prime time, even after 4 years of OJT?
But Sullivan does manage to ask the pregnant question of the moment:
How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement?
You don’t. Not if that image is indeed the first image of the political season like it likely was for many of the almost 70 million who tuned in.
What they saw was a guy on one side who was energized, engaging and articulate. On the other side they saw the guy who is President. My guess is they concluded he really didn’t want to be President after that performance.
I think they’re probably right.
All sorts of coverage on the Obama budget, most of it negative. While the White House spin machine works overtime to attempt to fashion a message saying the effort confronts the harsh fiscal reality we’re faced with and makes tough cuts and decisions, that’s not the way others are interpreting it.
Andrew Sullivan figured out Obama’s budget is a very political one:
But the core challenge of this time is not the cost of discretionary spending. Obama knows this; everyone knows this. The crisis is the cost of future entitlements and defense, about which Obama proposes nothing. Yes, there’s some blather. But Obama will not risk in any way any vulnerability on taxes to his right or entitlement spending to his left. He convened a deficit commission in order to throw it in the trash. If I were Alan Simpson or Erskine Bowles, I’d feel duped. And they were duped. All of us who took Obama’s pitch as fiscally responsible were duped.
Uh, yeah. And it only took 3 years for Andy to figure it out. Speaking of the Simpson Bowles commission, Sullivan cites a David Brooks column where Brooks talks about a group of Senators who are taking the lead in writing up the recommendations of the commission for implementation. Says Sullivan of the effort:
They have to lead, because this president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bullshit it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.
Lovely to see someone else finally realize that leadership is something this president knows nothing about, never has exercised and wouldn’t know how to do with a self-help book in front of him. And, as Sullivan correctly surmises, this atrocity of a budget is firm proof of that (and no that doesn’t mean I endorse the Simpson Bowles commission – the point is about leadership). Sullivan also finally ferrets out that the commission was nothing more than an artifice the president used to cover his rear and make it appear like he was focused on doing something about the fiscal shape of the US government. Instead we get exactly what those of us who’ve been on to this president’s act all along expected – pure politics.
John Hinderaker at Powerline gives graphic proof (left) that the media water carriers who are parroting the White House line about the President’s budget containing “steep” or “painful cuts” aren’t fooling anyone. As you can see the only steep incline over the next few years is up. There is nothing significant about any “cuts” or “savings” the Obama budget puts forward on the overall level of government spending except to keep the slope headed in a direction we can’t afford.
Instead it is more of the same simply couched in the same old obfuscating rhetoric that calls spending “investment” and taxation “savings”. Someone needs to get the point across to Obama that the smoke and mirrors company in which he’s so heavily invested isn’t working for him anymore.
In fact, just to make the point even more evident, take a look at this chart by Doug Ross. The yellow line you see (right) are the “steep” and “painful cuts” the president and some of the media are trying to pretend his budget is making. Tough stuff, no? No. His steep and painful cuts are a veritable drop in the bucket and really do nothing structurally to actually cut spending to affordable and sustainable levels. As Rep. Paul Ryan has said, Obama “punted” with this budget.
Megan McArdle thinks, given this budget by the president, that it may finally be time to panic.
I was a laconic hawk when the deficits shot up in 2008, 2009, 2010. A few years of deficits in an unprecedented crisis weren’t going to kill us; we had time to get them under control.
But I’m starting to think that it’s time to panic. This deficit is $700 billion higher than the CBO projected in August 2009, of which $500 billion is lower tax revenues, and $200 billion is new spending. It’s also $500 billion less revenue and $100 billion more spending than the CBO was expecting as late as August of last year, thanks to the extension of the Bush tax cuts. For all that I keep hearing about deficit reduction and PAYGO rules, somehow those "fiscally responsible" Democrats have given us the largest peacetime deficit in history, one that keeps growing beyond all expectations–and for all their alleged worries about the budget deficit, so the Republican role in all of this has been to goad Democrats into cutting taxes even further, so that the wealthiest earners could enjoy their fair share of our collective fiscal insanity.
I know the arguments for stimulus, but at this point, I don’t think we can afford the luxury of a more stimulating economy. Our politicians can’t be trusted to do the right thing later; we need to make them do it now.
I can’t emphasize that last sentence more. If ever there was a time to do what is necessary to take a knife to the bloated government budget, it is now. The public is as much on board as it will ever be and while it may whine and even scream and holler about some thing’s, most of the voters in this country know something pretty drastic must be done and done soon.
Even “Johnny one-note” Paul Krugman isn’t happy – for the usual reasons:
Andrew Leonard is right: the Obama budget isn’t going to happen, so in a sense it’s irrelevant. But it still has symbolic meaning. What is Obama saying here?
The important thing, I think, is that he has effectively given up on the idea that the government can do anything to create jobs in a depressed economy. In effect, although without saying so explicitly, the Obama administration has accepted the Republican claim that stimulus failed, and should never be tried again.
My favorite line in the Krugman piece was this:
What’s extraordinary about all this is that stimulus can’t have failed, because it never happened. Once you take state and local cutbacks into account, there was no surge of government spending.
Remember, what was spent was about $300 billion more than Krugman recommended. But if it never happened I assume Krugman will now quit attempting to say that the trillion dollars which was thrown out there to stop the fall and stimulate growth did it’s job, right? That was his previous stance and all that was needed was more spending to have an even greater effect. Correct? Now he’s in the middle of rewriting history:
Yes, I know, it’s argued that Obama couldn’t have gotten anything more. I don’t really want to revisit all of that; my point here is simply that everyone is drawing the wrong lesson. Fiscal policy didn’t fail; it wasn’t tried.
MIA – a trillion dollars. Yeah, it “wasn’t tried”, was it? About the nicest thing Krugman can muster to say about the Obama budget (in another article) is it isn’t the Republican budget:
It’s much less awful than the Republican proposal, but it moves in the same direction: listening to the administration, you’d think that discretionary spending, not health care, is at the heart of our long-run deficit problems — and you’d also think that the job of rescuing the economy was done, with unemployment still at 9 percent.
It could be worse — the GOP proposal is — but it’s hardly something to cheer about.
Well, we’ll see how much either is to cheer about when we take a look at the Republican budget.
Finally, to inject a little humor into a basically humorless debate – even if the humor is unintentional – read Jonathan Chait’s piece in The New Republic. You get the idea he was on his third or fourth scotch and up late when he wrote it. It is the journalistic equivalent of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse and coming up with an ugly fuzzy pouch that smells like bacon. Even his title points to a very tentative approval, something he had to talk himself into in order to make the attempt: “Why Obama’s Budget Is OK”. And while some of his points are valid (the president’s budget is a political document) how he got from some of his observations to some of his conclusions can only be explained by booze and sleep depravation.
UPDATE: Steve Eggleston has a good post up full of charts that makes the point with the government’s own numbers that Paul Ryan was right yesterday – “doing nothing would be better than passing [Obama’s] budget”.
I know this comes as a shock – shock I tell you – but the left is just in a tizzy today about the GOP Senate caucus’s unanimous decision not to allow anything to go forward in the Senate’s lame duck session until the tax cut question is settled.
Andrew Sullivan characterizes it as "dickishness" (and Dan Riehl comments that Sullivan has finally found something to like about the GOP). John Cole is on about "first priorities being millionaires", Charles Johnson hits it with "GOP totally committed to obstructionism", and the not so Moderate Voice snarks "Common ground, Republican style".
Whatever happened to the celebration of the minority power of Senate Democrats when they were not in the majority? As I recall then, Minority Leader Reid was aghast that the majority should want the ability to ramrod it’s agenda through the Senate without any input or ability to check it by the minority. And at the time he used the filibuster (and that’s what this is by the GOP, a filibuster) he certainly considered it a check against "absolute power" and something that our much "wiser" founding fathers encouraged. Then it ensured “that no one person and no single party could have total control” according to Reid. He even lectured everyone on it:
…when legislation is supported by the majority of Americans, it eventually overcomes a filibuster’s delay, as public protests far outweigh any senator’s appetite for filibuster. But when legislation only has the support of the minority, the filibuster slows the legislation, prevents a senator from ramming it through and gives the American people enough time to join the opposition.
Mr. President, the right to extended debate is never more important than when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases, the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government. …
For 200 years we’ve had the right to extended debate [i.e., filibuster]. It’s not some procedural gimmick. It’s within the vision of the founding fathers of our country. … They established a government so that no one person and no single party could have total control.
Some in this chamber want to throw out 214 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power. They want to do away with Mr. Smith, as depicted in that great movie, being able to come to Washington. They want to do away with the filibuster. They think they’re wiser than our founding fathers. I doubt that that’s true.
Ah, but that was then, and this is now. When it was the "evil" GOP in charge of the Senate, and brave Sir Harry and the Dems were the only shield against their tyranny, the founders were "wise". And the lefty blogs agreed.
Now, apparently, when it is used in exactly the same way Harry Reid and Senate Democrats used it while they were in the minority, well it’s pure obstructionism, “dickishness” and other such descriptions driven by the left’s collective tantrum.
Apparently ensuring a system exists “so that no one person and no single party could have total control” is just outside the pale now. They want total control and they want to ram through what they desire without anyone’s interference. And they’re willing to have the necessary convenient memory lapse they’re all experiencing right now to ensure their “outrage” seems driven by principle.
Save it, boys and girls – I’ve been in the blogosphere more than one day and I remember quite well your arguments of “principle” when Harry Reid was playing the same game as the GOP is now (see above). Now you want everyone to swallow this faux outrage of yours and accept this argument of convenience that essentially throws your previous “principled” argument under the bus?
Sorry, no sale.
Andrew Sullivan today in a post entitled “Obama’s Lost Narrative”:
Nyhan goes after the Democrats for baseless attacks against the US Chamber of Commerce. It is very depressing to see them descend to this kind of stuff. What they need are not tactics and resentment, which is what we’re seeing. What we need is a narrative of recovery and reform from Obama. He has the record, and he has made a couple of great speeches. But this distracts.
He’s “made a couple of great speeches”. That’s no longer a positive. In fact, most have come to conclude that’s about all he can do. However, on whole, Sullivan is right. He should be more like Reagan than Nixon and he’s letting his inner Nixon show as he pushes this baseless and hypocritical attack on the Chamber of Commerce.
At a time he should be acting like a leader, he’s been reduced to a petty politician. Or maybe that’s what he always was.
My view, and I’ll say it again. Campaign on ending the long-term debt. Campaign on being the man who can bring America together to solve its long-term fiscal crisis. Call the GOP out on its fiscal record and its current refusal to specify what they’ll cut. Remind people of the debt commission. Remind people we need to cut spending and raise taxes. Be the adult in the room. With a megaphone.
To be the “adult in the room”, you have to have been the adult in the room. You can’t suddenly decide now is the time to act like one. Again, an aspect of leadership lost on the current White House occupant.
And it is all because of the “radical right”. We’ve seen the left try to establish this meme before. We heard a few, early on as Obama’s presidency began to slide toward negative numbers, claim that it was because America had become “ungovernable”.
Nine years later, the main fact of our lives is the overwhelming force of unreason. Evidence, knowledge, argument, proportionality, nuance, complexity, and the other indispensable tools of the liberal mind don’t stand a chance these days against the actual image of a mob burning an effigy, or the imagined image of a man burning a mound of books. Reason tries in its patient, level-headed way to explain, to question, to weigh competing claims, but it can hardly make itself heard and soon gives up. ….
This is why Obama seems less and less able to speak to and for our times. He’s the voice of reason incarnate, and maybe he’s too sane to be heard in either Jalalabad or Georgia. An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”
Then Andrew Sullivan.
…yet now, especially, that unreason seems to have taken an almost pathological turn. It is as if America is intent on destroying itself, its civil society, its fiscal future, and its next generation in an endless fit of mutual recrimination, neurotic nationalism, and religious division.
As Smith points out:
A couple of influential writers broadly in sympathy with Obama today float the same notion: That we’re living in a fundamentally unreasonable age, that voters basically can’t be trusted, and that democracy is just barely muddling through.
Anyone who spends much time covering American politics feels this sometimes. At the same time, it’s a lot easier to think this when your side is losing politically.
I think the last line is probably the most important point. When your ox is being gored, it is rarely the fault of your ideas or agenda, it is because the other side is “ungovernable” or “unreasonable”.
Let’s take Sullivan first. “Yet now” he says, “unreason has taken an almost pathological turn”. This from the guy who spent months a couple of years ago trying to prove Sarah Palin’s newborn child was her daughter’s.
While there’s some truth in his charge of “mutual recrimination”, there’s nothing neurotic about most of the nationalism if one takes the time to dig down to its source and the religious division Sullivan imagines is one that is mostly whipped up by the news media doing things like paying any attention whatsoever to a pastor in Florida with 50 church members, much less the overwhelming coverage he got.
Yet apparently the “Truthers” escape analysis as neurotic and all of the talk about blue secession and how Bush would declare martial law to hold on to power, or that he “stole the election” was just political happy talk signifying not much of anything. Only “now” has “unreason” taken a “pathological turn”.
Yes, Sullivan’s attempt is easy to dismiss.
As for Packer, he too attempts the same sort of useful forgetfulness that Sullivan tried. “Nine years later” – obviously referencing 9/11 – our lives are now impacted with the “overwhelming force” of “unreason”.
Only now? If one thinks about Packer’s assertion as written, it would have to mean one of three things: he has no knowledge of the left’s “unreason” or irrationality during the Bush years, he doesn’t find what the left did to be an example of “unreason” or irrationality, or he agrees with the left’s fringe of those years and doesn’t find anything they said or did unremarkable and certainly not unreasonable.
I find it hard to believe it is reason one, so it has to be either two or three. And that speaks to Ben Smith’s point and why Packer too can be dismissed as another partisan who doesn’t like the fact that his ox is not only being gored but trampled by the herd.
As for Packer’s assertion that Obama is the “voice of reason incarnate”, none other than Digby at Hullabaloo takes that canard apart:
Yes, let’s all pretend that Obama is the Voice Of Reason Incarnate and that the problem is that those who believe in freedom are prone to puerile tantrums when they don’t get their way while ignoring the fact that the VORI promised shallow, pie-in-the-sky, post-partisan utopia, with ponies and unicorns for everyone, and his followers are now disillusioned and apathetic because it was utter bullshit. Different side of the same coin, I’m afraid.
Couldn’t have said it better if I tried.
As one commenter on the POLITICO site said, this is just your typical "pity party” this time being thrown by the left. The reason for it is they really honestly don’t want to face the real reasons things have gone to hell in a hand-basket so quickly for them. So it’s the other guy’s fault. I mean it can’t be your problem if the other guy is “unreasonable” can it?
Andrew Sullivan (or one of the Andrew Sullivans), supposed “Republican” – or is it “libertarian”, I forget – has a post today in which he highlights a liberal reader’s lament. It’s essence, of course, is this is all Bush’s fault and, for heaven sake, how can you expect the grand and wonderful Obama to have fixed his mess in a year?
Well, here’s a suggestion – how about by focusing on the problem instead of wandering off in other directions. The commenter centers his or her comments on the fact that they’re unemployed and their COBRA benefits are fast running out. And, of course, he or she has a preexisting condition. So the priority is to pass health care?
Really? Is it? Or is it to get that person back on a job?
That, of course, is the argument, isn’t it? And all the whining and crying about Bush, etc. won’t change the fact that the majority of all the problems now facing the country are best addressed by getting the economy moving. Tax cuts for business, policies that provide incentives for businesses to expand and hire – that is where the government’s energy should be focused. Not on ancillary issues that cost trillions and don’t even kick in for 4 or 5 years. Sullivan’s commenter acts as though getting this health care bill through will save them when their COBRA runs out in 5 months. Not even close.
Business is sitting on the sidelines afraid to expand or hire because of the unsettled business environment. They have no idea what this health care bill will cost them in marginal taxes, so until that becomes clear, why would they hire? Shelving or killing this health care monstrosity would actually help the employment situation. Immediately. Same with cap-and-trade.
The argument, which so enrages this commenter, is taking place now in a series of special elections. And what further enrages this commenter is his side is losing that argument. The answer then is to characterize those who oppose the direction this country is taking as “nihilists”. Nihilists?
I have to wonder if either Sullivan or the commenter understand the word? I’m more inclined to believe that it is instead used like “fascist” to really mean “anyone who disagrees with me”. But for your edification, here’s how nihilism is defined:
1. One who advocates the doctrine of nihilism; one who believes or teaches that nothing can be known, or asserted to exist.
2. (Politics) A member of a secret association (esp. in Russia), which is devoted to the destruction of the present political, religious, and social institutions.
Those definitions really don’t support the commenter’s premise. In fact, it is the contention of those with whom the commenter is so upset that this administration and the Democrats are engaged in the second definition of “nihilism” with a vengeance. “Libertarian” or “Republican” or whatever he is today Sullivan ends his post with:
For Gods sake, vote for Coakley. Not for Coakley. For the rest of us.
Which brings me to a second blogger who also discusses the Sullivan post and agrees with the lament (and, I would suppose, the characterization of those opposed to the government takeover of health care as “nihilists”). Nothing particularly compelling in his discussion until you get to this part:
It is at moments like this that I wish we had an authoritarian ruler who could take over for a few years, a clear-headed liberal in the classical sense who could ram things through and get them done without giving a thought to the shrieks and cackles of the deranged fringes of either side. It’s at moments like this when I think, “The USA could use a little China, or at least a little Singapore.” A benevolent despot who can engineer solutions and force them to happen.
Holy liberty loving Hannah.
How about a little USSR? A dab of Cuba? Some of Pol Pot’s Cambodia for leavening?
I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the left are closet authoritarians who, at the drop of a hat, would resort to what this blogger describes if they could get away with it, always with the naive belief that this dictator would be “a benevolent despot”. Of course, as pointed out previously, definitions mean little to the left who apparently don’t realize that “benevolent despot” is an oxymoron of the first degree.
The hidden desire in Sullivan’s last line – a fulfillment of the latter bloggers wish – is a vote to maintain the filibuster proof Senate with the authoritarian power to thwart the minority and ram through what the elite think we should have. Who care what the “nihilists” in flyover country want or don’t want. “The USA could use a little
Cuba China” afterall.
Richard Fernandez of the Belmont Club writes a very well done essay on the present Afghanistan decision making process. He compares Andrew Sullivan’s apologia with David Kilcullen’s concerns about the time involved in reaching a decision. You can disregard the Sullivan part except to understand that he thinks it is just marvelous that Obama is taking so much time considering all the options and doing his homework before making a decision to change the strategy there.
Fernandez reminds us of a very important point that seems to have escaped many as they await the decision. The strategy President Obama is planning on changing is his own. In March of this year he said:
Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people. … So let me be clear …
This is surely something the administration would like you to forget. And thus you hear all the nonsense that’s been coming out lately (and has gotten pushback from former VP Dick Cheney) that Afghanistan was just left adrift by the former administration. It is nonsense because the basis of the March “careful policy review” was that which the former Bush administration had done.
However that’s not really the point – the point is that a “comprehensive, new strategy” for both Afghanistan and Pakistan were announced by this administration. A new general, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was named to implement that strategy. Now, suddenly, they’re involved in reviewing that strategy.
What, if anything, has changed?
The event that has been blamed is the national election in Afghanistan. And, as mentioned, it has been coupled with the baseless claim that the Afghan war was left adrift by the Bush administration. The former problem, while serious, isn’t a show stopper (see Iraq). The latter problem is simply untrue. What has changed is the politics surrounding Afghanistan. The polls show a deeply divided United States with the majority not favoring an escalation and many favoring we leave altogether. Given his domestic political problems trying to ram an unpopular agenda through Congress – which has succeeded in splitting his base as well as firing up the political opposition – he needs something with which to bring his base back in line. Afghanistan may be that issue.
Consider too who he has involved in his review: VP Joe Biden who is pushing a minimalist “super ninja” strategy. He wants to use special operators and drones to kill al Qaeda. Let Pakistan and Afghanistan sort themselves out politically. Obviously if that means the Taliban takes over Afghanistan again, well, so be it. The fact that Biden was wrong about every aspect of Iraq as he suggested strategy then doesn’t seem to matter. Also included is Sen. John Kerry. He’s considered such a lightweight when it comes to military matters that he’s usually ignored outright when he pontificates on matters about which he obviously hasn’t a clue. He thinks Gen. McChrystal’s plan goes “too far, too fast”. The fact that Kerry has somehow managed to include himself and is apparently being taken seriously by Obama tells you how little Obama knows about any of this and how out of his depth he is on the issue.
Lastly, there’s David Axelrod, who claims he “doesn’t have a seat at the table” when these policy reviews take place, but attends every one of them anyway. While he may not have an official seat at the policy review table, he owns the table of chief political advisor and Obama sits at that table daily. Axelrod’s job is to divine the political winds and keep Obama sailing in the fair ones.
Thus the strategy review. When Gen. McChrystal accepted the job to implement the Obama administration’s new March ’09 comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he began what all new commanders do – a commander’s review. In that review he takes the strategy and mission and he games them out. He attempts to ascertain, to the best of his ability, what it will take in terms of resources to accomplish the mission the strategy outlines. Once he has ascertained that, he submits his plan to his commander – in this case, directly to the President.
It isn’t a complicated process – the boss gives you a mission. You analyze the mission, determine what it takes to accomplish the mission and you go back to the boss with a plan and a request for resources. That’s precisely what happened.
However, in the interim, politics began to rear its head. In July, right in the middle of the assessment process, Obama’s National Security Advisor and former Marine General Jim Jones showed up in Afghanistan and made it very clear that requests for more troops would not be a welcome event. Speaking to Marine commanders there he was quite clear:
Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?
Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.
Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”
Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.
The “17,000 plus 4,000 more” troops were a part of that March ’09 “new” strategy based on the former administration’s plans. Jones made it very clear that regardless of what these commanders thought they needed to do the mission they’d been given, they’d better plan on doing it with what they had. And later, in another interview, Jones dismissed any additional troops requests or their need by claiming that all commanders in the field ask for more troops, whether they really need them or not.
Apparently, however, Gen. McChrystal decided, Jones admonishment notwithstanding, that he couldn’t with clear conscience, heed that advice and accomplish the mission given (although rumor has it he cut his initial estimate of troops needed from 60,000 to 40,000). He went ahead and submitted his plan at the end of August asking for more resources and troops.
Back to that fairly simple process I outlined above. Once you submit your plan to your boss with the request for resources necessary to accomplish that mission you normally then sit down with him and explain and defend your plan. That, of course, has never happened. And that 20 minutes on the tarmac in Airforce One while in Copenhagen did not give McChrystal the opportunity to do that. That meeting was driven by bad press and politics, not a desire to meet with and discuss the plan McChrystal had submitted. The required meeting, to date, still hasn’t happened. But numerous “war council” meetings continue to happen. And as word leaks out, it appears politics – not a mission to succeed in Afghanistan – is taking center stage.
On October 31st, in their Washington Post article, Anne Kornblut and Greg Jaffe made it clear that Obama was seeking a political decision vs. a military one:
The military chiefs have been largely supportive of a resource request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that would by one Pentagon estimate require the deployment of 44,000 additional troops. But opinion among members of Obama’s national security team is divided, and he now appears to be seeking a compromise solution that would satisfy both his military and civilian advisers.
A worse scenario cannot be imagined. But it is in perfect keeping with how a politician would work vs. a Commander in Chief. Compromise is the bread-and-butter of politics. It is about keeping constituencies satisfied, if not happy. Contentment means votes. But compromise in terms of military strategy usually means disaster. Attempting to satisfy “both his military and civilian advisers” means he’s looking for the best political solution, not the best military solution.
And since such a solution is hardly obvious, he dithers. Sullivan mistakes that for slow, considered and methodical decision making. But in reality, it is a method of stalling as old man himself. Ask for more information, reject the options presented, send your minions back to the drawing board – all the while making the argument or implication that it is the fault of those presenting the options for not getting it right, not the CiC. Of course, anyone with any military experience knows that’s nonsense since it is the “commander’s guidance” from which any options are derived.
That brings us back to David Kilcullen. If you’re not familiar with Kilcullen, he’s considered to be one of the gurus when it comes to counter-insurgency warfare. And Kilcullen gets to the very nut of the problem with this “process” that Sullivan mistakenly praises:
David Kilcullen, one of the world’s leading authorities on counter-insurgency and an adviser to the British government as well as the US state department, said Obama’s delay in reaching a decision over extra troops had been “messy”. He said it not only worried US allies but created uncertainty the Taliban could exploit.
Speaking in an interview with the Guardian, he compared the president to someone “pontificating” over whether to send enough firefighters into a burning building to put a fire out. …
Kilcullen expressed concern that Obama might deny McChrystal the 40,000 extra troops and split the difference between the four options, the kind of fudge common in domestic politics.
“Time is running out for us to make a decision. We can either put in enough troops to control the environment or we can credibly communicate our intention to leave. Either could work. Splitting the difference is not the way to go,” Kilcullen said.
“It feels to me that all these options are dangerously close to the middle ground and we have to consider whether the middle ground is a good place to be. The middle ground is a good place on domestic issues, but not on strategy. You either commit to D-Day and invade the continent or you get Suez. Half-measures end up with Suez. Do it or not do it.”
There is no “third way”. At least not a credible one. In this sort of warfare, to use a poker analogy, you either fold or you’re “all in”. Domestic political considerations should have absolutely no place in these sorts of deliberations and decisions. But it is clear they do.
That is also clearly a disservice (to put it mildly) to every man and woman in uniform serving our nation today. It is also something which may easily get many of them killed.
So let’s remember President Obama’s words at NAS Jacksonville when he told those gathered there:
And while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this-and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan:
I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s the promise I make to you.
Gen. McChrystal, based on the commander’s guidance issued by the president in his March ’09 strategy for Afghanistan, has done his review and submitted his plan to accomplish the mission outlined in that strategy. Now the commander wants to change the strategy.
Is it any wonder that many doubt Obama’s commitment to success in Afghanistan, military or otherwise? Is it any wonder that many are concluding that he’s looking for “off ramps” well before talking about “on ramps”. And is it any wonder then, that those considering how this process is progressing have come to the conclusion that it’s not about the military or winning in Afghanistan – it’s about the politics of getting re-elected before pulling the plug.
If that’s the case, President Obama will be seen as spending the lives of American soldiers in an attempt to protect his political viability. There is nothing most could think of which would be more despicable than that.
In The New Ledger, Christopher Badeaux has penned one of the most withering takedowns of a public figure since H.L. Mencken’s obituary of William Jenning’s Brian. Badeaux’s target: Andrew Sullivan. A few samples are in order.
On Sullivan’s campaign against circumcision:
To say that Sullivan has focused his laser-like mind on human reproductive organs is to engage in an understatement worthy of the master himself. We could simply look at Sullivan’s relentless, years-long focus on circumcision (a relentlessness not well-captured by the internet tubes, as Sullivan’s archives traditionally become difficult to search when he moves from site to site), an unusual genre for a man who will never have children and who is not Jewish or Muslim, though perhaps not so unusual given his general interest in the member in question. One could focus on his decision to start calling a 4,000 year old religious tradition “male genital mutilation,” thus cleverly calling untold generations of Jews child abusers and torturers, a decision that marks the sort of intellectual territory into which only a man bravely unwilling to live in Israel can tread.
On Sullivan’s participation in the Sarah-Bristol-Trig Palin controversy:
Andrew Sullivan immediately leaped into the fray. Unlike the rest of these non-experts, many of whom began to back off of the story when word emerged that Mrs. Palin’s daughter was pregnant and had been close to the time of Trig’s birth, Sullivan, who apparently received a secret medical degree while attending Harvard, began obsessively following this story, turning the Atlantic from a fairly uninteresting opinion website into a leading journal of gynecology and obstetrics. Rarely in human history has a gay man been that obsessed with a married woman’s vagina.
On Sullivan’s views about the Catholic Church:
Sullivan sees deep plans within plans, and lives by undercurrents the likes of which we mere mortals cannot fathom; is it any wonder that his break with any apparent connection with Catholic teaching or thought, Scripture, and reality came when he perceived a great teaching moment on Benedict XVI’s ascension? Certainly not, because if there is anything about which we can be certain, it is that Sullivan is as constant as the polar ice.
Sullivan’s problem with pre-35th Century Catholicism, he has repeatedly assured his readers, is in its offenses against human dignity, human dignity only usually being a code word for sodomy.
On Sullivan’s thoughts about The Jews:
One sign of a writer’s mental disfigurement, laziness, undiagnosed psychoses, or, obviously in the case of Sullivan, inhuman insight, is the gradual realization that the term “neoconservative” is a useful stand-in for “Jews whose loyalty belongs first to Israel, and then to the United States, if at all.” Sullivan has clearly reached this point, as one can note from some of his most recent thoughts...
Surely Sullivan, keen observer of men, sees what we cannot: That the Jews (or rather, a subset of American Jews) are in close collaboration with Israel, are working to undermine our brave President’s policy of allowing Iranians to die in their streets, never understanding that President Obama’s indifference is actually a brilliant ploy to force the theocrats of Iran to spontaneously step down and allow a thousand fabulous flowers to bloom. You see, he’s clearly not taking issue with the “neocons” for wanting to toss out the clerics; he discerns that because of their love of blood-of-Gentile pastries and determination to overtly strike out at theocrats, dictators, and Palestinian children, they’re being counterproductive.
The whole thing is brutal. And brutally funny.
Seriously, if George Bush hadn’t existed, the left would have had to invent him in order to have someone to blame the world’s ills on. CBS has republished a piece by Laura Secor that ran in the New Republic and calls Ahmadenijhad Iran’s “George Bush”. (This on the heels of the Bonnie Erbe piece calling for right-wingers to be rounded up before they can hurt anyone.)
Secor’s comparisons are strained at best, and are a rather simple attempt to fit a very round peg in an extremely square hole (no mention of the mullah’s control, which, of course, completely kills the comparison). Apparently Secor pins her premise on this line:
Ahmadinejad has made a mess of the economy, clamped down on political dissent and social freedoms, militarized the state, and earned the enmity of much of the world.
And in Secor’s world, that essentially makes Ahmadinejhad and Bush twins.
Of course, not to be outdone, “conservative” Andrew Sullivan manages to find even more parallels to the Bush years. If you think Secor’s attempt is strained, you’ll howl when you read Sullivan’s:
Ahmadinejad’s bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove – the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin.
As an interesting aside, an article mostly ignored by the left has a fairly interesting take on the Bush era in the middle east. And by none other than Thomas Friedman. Even though he can’t bring himself to describe what has happened in complimentary terms, he finds he must give some credit where credit is due:
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
In Benen’s piece today, he ends up calling Ari Fleisher a “shameless hack” (as if Benen has any room to call anyone else a “hack”) for essentially saying the very same thing Friedman said. Apparently, Benen and the left are content to believe in the fantasy that it was more likely the “Cairo speech” that determined the results in Lebanon and spurred the protest vote in Iran – because we all know that movements such as those are easily developed within a week of someone like Obama speaking.
I guess this is “excitable Andy” day, but Andrew Sullivan is engaged in some pretty poor spin today. Calling it a canard, Sullivan has this to say about the proposed census move to the White House by the Obama administration:
Again, this is not a real issue. It’s an issue driven by the paranoid GOP base. The census has not been removed from the Commerce Department’s purview, as Ambers explains below. And past censuses have long been conducted with coordination from the White House staff.
The explanation Sullivan offers says:
“This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce and the same Congressional committees that had oversight during the previous administration will retain that authority.” …
Kenneth Prewitt, who served as Census director from 1998 to 2001, said he worked with White House staff during the 2000 Census on budgeting, advertising and outreach efforts.
But as Jeff Zeleny of the NYT reminds us, that’s not at all what the White House proposed:
The White House signaled last week that it would exert greater control over the Census Bureau, in part because of a concern among minority groups over Gregg leading the Commerce Department. Then, in response to complaints by Republicans, the administration said it would work closely with the director of the census, but it would not be under the direction of the White House.
Those “minority groups” were the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses. So it was political pressure that precipitated the move. Additionally the move was to have the director of the census bureau work with and report directly to Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief-of-staff.
Now the claim is that nothing different was planned, and it all was a misunderstanding and that it will be business as usual (now that it appears a Republican isn’t going to be running Commerce).
Of course, that’s nonsense. But not to excitable Andy. He, with his fine tuned discrimination antenna says:
This issue was championed by Republicans for the usual “the-darkies-are-taking-over!” reasons.
Lost in his sloppy analysis is the fact that the announcement by the Obama administration was very specific about the move and why – complaints from the CBC and Hispanic caucus. Also missing is the fact that the move was overtly political and meant to placate the complaining political special interest groups. For a guy who constantly complained about the politicization of the Justice Department, he seems fine with covering an attempt to do the same thing with the census. Coordinating budget and outreach with the executive department isn’t at all the same as proposing a move of the entire census bureau out from under the Commerce Dept. – where it has always been – to the White House.
Sullivan will be fun to watch as he becomes part of the effort to backtrack and coverup for the new administration.