Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

McChrystal is gone – now what?

Unsurprisingly, President Obama has fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of our effort in Afghanistan, for remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

That’s unfortunate, but most people saw it as something that had to be done, given the importance of our Constitutional tradition of civilian control of the military. While a great general, his remarks couldn’t be allowed to stand without punishment.

That said, now what? Given the public remarks of McChrystal and his staff, it seems obvious to any fair observer that our Afghanistan strategy isn’t hitting on all cylinders and “team work” at the top is a buzz word, not a reality.

Maybe what would be easier to puzzle out is what shouldn’t happen now. McChrystal was the architect of the present strategy in Afghanistan. What shouldn’t happen, and would most likely spell final disaster there, is to again change strategies. All of the surge troops deployed to push that strategy forward won’t be in place until August. While McChrystal had asked for 40,000 troops, he only received 30,000. Regardless, the surge, in full, has yet to fully begin.

As we all know, the military piece is only a part of the solution, and, frankly, is a relatively minor one when talking about COIN and the peculiarities of the Afghan political landscape. A huge amount of work remains to be done on the civilian side of things there.

And, apparently, McChrystal is the only one who understands how important it is to form a personal relationship with the government and its leaders as a step toward reforming it and getting it to perform properly and competently with the goal of having it become a real national government:

McChrystal may hold the closest relationship of any American in what often has been a strained relationship with the Karzai government, says Jim Phillips, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The Obama administration has been critical of Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, although it has dialed back the rhetoric in recent weeks. “In Afghanistan, personal relations are critical,” Phillips says. “It’s difficult to build trust and working relationships. If McChrystal is suddenly replaced that would be a major blow to the Afghan and American military relationship and the Afghan and American governments’ relationship.”

The civilian team in place – Amb. Eikenberry, Holbrooke and others including the VP – have formed adversarial, even confrontational relationships with Afghanistan’s president and some government ministers. In an honor/shame society, that sort of a relationship is totally counter-productive. Unfortunately, with McChrystal gone, the only buffer to that sort of treatment has been removed as well as any reason for the Afghan government to cooperate.

Despite the remarks that sparked the relief, it apparent that the civilian side of the situation in Afghanistan has not been productive and may be staffed by the wrong people using the wrong approach. A full review of their actions and accomplishments (or lack thereof) to date is more than warranted given how little progress has been made in improving the governing ability of the Karzai government.

But back to the command options. It is critical that the Obama administration signal its intent to continue with the McCrystal/Obama strategy. It appears with the naming of Gen. Petraeus as the new commander, that is exactly the sort of a signal being sent. While it is a little of a step-down for Petraeus, politically and most likely tactically and strategically, it is an excellent choice. He is certainly familiar with the strategy and while he may tweak it, he’ll probably keep it mostly intact.

However, it will be interesting to see how Petraeus interacts with Eikenberry and Holbrooke. Remember the effectiveness of the Petraeus/Crocker relationship. No such dynamic has ever existed in Afghanistan. While the civilian side can probably skate on the McChrystal relationship, they’re going to have a much more difficult time doing the same thing with a more politically savvy David Petraeus, who most people consider to be a national hero.

Secondly, and just as importantly, the administration needs to make it clear that their June 2011 withdrawal date is “conditions based” instead of “firm”. A firm date is a signal to the bad guys that all they have to do is hunker down and wait it out. Making it conditions based makes the point that we’re not going to abandon Afghanistan. That, in and of itself, would go a long way to helping change the attitude in Kabul. If the “firm” commitment is kept, the Karzai government has no reason or incentive to make the effort to cooperate with the US strategy and may go out on its own to make a deal with the Taliban.

Keeping the “firm” withdrawal date can and will do more damage to the effort in Afghanistan than the Taliban could ever do.

Lastly, a caution – it is being reported by numerous sources that “the present strategy is falling out of favor” with many of Obama’s close advisors. Another change in strategy would also be fatal to the effort there.

As it happens, and as mentioned, Petraeus is a good choice both politically and strategically. But our effort in Afghanistan is in more trouble than an intemperate general’s remarks, and if some more big changes aren’t made, mostly on the civilian side, it is going to fail.

~McQ

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Obama Orders Louisiana To Halt Berm-Building

I’m beginning to think that the comparisons of Obama’s management of the oil spill to how Hurricane Katrina was handled are completely inapt. In reality, it looks more like the Obama administration should be compared to the storm itself.

Louisiana has been busily building berms about a mile out from the coast to halt the infiltration of oil into its sensitive marshes, wetlands and prime fishing areas. This process was greatly delayed by federal red tape, and now that the state has permits in hand it’s being order to stop because, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, it’s doing it wrong:

The federal government is shutting down the dredging that was being done to create protective sand berms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The berms are meant to protect the Louisiana coastline from oil. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has concerns about the dredging is being done.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who was one of the most vocal advocates of the dredging plan, has sent a letter to President Barack Obama, pleading for the work to continue.

[…]

Nungesser has asked for the dredging to continue for the next seven days, the amount of time it would take to move the dredging operations two miles and out resume work.

Work is scheduled to halt at midnight Wednesday.

Pat Austin is trying to understand the federal obstruction, but finds that political reasoning is the only thing that makes sense of it all:

I’m trying to see both sides here; I’m trying to understand the “coastal scientists” who contend that the berms will “change tidal patterns” and lead to more long term erosion of the islands, but if the islands are killed off by the oil what difference does it make? To borrow from Greta Perry’s analogy, if my house is on fire, what does it matter what room I try to extinguish first? It’s all doing down.

[…]

It seems that the feds are doing everything they can to cripple Louisiana’s own response to this crisis. Bobby Jindal reached his exasperation point long ago when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, If you’re not going to fix it, get out of the way and let us do it ourselves! From the moratorium, and Salazar’s promise to appeal the strike down of that moratorium, to the crazy red tape on the berm projects, to shutting down the skimmer barges for 24 hours, and now this?

Well, we could get the idea that Team Obama was trying to neutralize Jindal’s response, as if he were threatened by Bobby Jindal, or something.

For Billy Nungesser part, he isn’t taking this lying down. He fired off a letter to Obama demanding to be allowed to move forward with the coast-saving project … or else:

Plaquemines parish president Billy Nungesser is furious, drawing a line in the sand with the White House!

[…]

Nungesser is targeting President Obama as the only hope for continuing the work. In harsh letter he spelled out an option.

“Don’t shut us down, let us lay the pipe three miles out and then let us move the dredge so we will be down less than a day and we’ll refill the hole,” Nungesser said.

He also issued a threat to the President in the letter if he didn’t do something to help.

“It says if it shuts down, I’ll be on Anderson Cooper at nine…and it won’t be pretty.”

Nungesser also pushed Jindal to, in effect, damn the torpedoes and move full speed ahead:

“I asked the governor to let me stay out there tonight on the dredge, let em come out there and take the permit away.

Tell them the radio not working. We’ll smash it with a hammer.”

I’m actually a little surprised that Jindal hasn’t already taken this approach, citing exigent circumstances and daring Obama to shut him down.

Stepping back for a moment, does anyone else see the connection between the Arizona (and others) illegal immigration law, Gen. McChrystal’s insubordination, and Louisiana’s current predicament? Lacking any coherent direction, policy or plan, these people and entities are forced to take the reins over their particular situations only to be hindered by the Obama administration when they do, or worse, vilified and ridiculed. The lack of leadership creates a vacuum, and people like Jan Brewer, Gen. McChrystal, Bobby Jindal and Billy Nungesser are trying desperately to fill it. If there were ever a clear indication that Obama is an incompetent leader, this it.

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Feds shut down Louisiana dredging operation – after approving it

Yessir – we have a unified plan and it is being executed to perfection to contain the Gulf oil spill.

Or not:

The federal government is shutting down the dredging that was being done to create protective sand berms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The berms are meant to protect the Louisiana coastline from oil. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has concerns about where the dredging is being done.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued permits to build the berms (and President Obama had 360 million allocated for that construction) which are now almost complete. The Fish and Wildlife Department, however, has now pulled those permits and told the state it must move the operation two miles further offshore to satisfy their concerns.

As you might imagine, that’s not made the president of the parish involved in the construction of the berms very happy:

“Once again, our government resource agencies, which are intended to protect us, are now leaving us vulnerable to the destruction of our coastline and marshes by the impending oil,” Nungesser wrote to Obama. “Furthermore, with the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms, we are being put at an increased risk for devastation to our area from the intrusion of oil.”

Nungesser has called Adm. Allen, BP and the White House trying to get the order lifted. None have responded to his calls. I have no idea what BP could do – it’s a federal thing – but I guess he figures maybe they could apply some pressure.

Nungesser’s letter includes an emotional plea to the president. “Please don’t let them shut this dredge down,” he wrote. “This requires your immediate attention!”

Sorry he has a general to fire, something, which thankfully for the administration, has taken the spill off the front pages.

And they wonder why people keep calling the federal effort “chaos” and continue to try to figure out who, if anyone, is in charge.

~McQ

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House Dems: No time for budget but plenty of time for campaign finance reform

The House of Representatives has a constitutional obligation to pass a yearly budget, through which it then appropriates money (taxes) for the business of government. Supposedly no budget, no spending.

But Congress has, over the years, hit upon a legislative convenience called a “continuing resolution” where it simply picks a figure from the sky, passes it and continues funding government sans budget. The only possible hope for stopping such a practice is a president who insists on a budget and promises to veto continuing resolutions.

That, of course, isn’t going to happen with this White House. No budget is going to be passed by Congress either – at least not until after November. And there’s a reason they’re engaging in this classic bit of nonfeasance. If they pass the budget they must before the November election, they’ll have to explain the trillion dollar deficit that is anticipated in the plan to their constituents. Can’t have that, can we?

On the other hand, they have plenty of time to try to pass campaign finance reform again. In fact, the House plans on taking it up on Thursday. When it comes to curtailing freedom the Democrats have an uncanny ability to rush things through – and especially if the legislation is likely to help them come November.

Congress – again ignoring the people’s business for the party’s business.

Last but not least, Democrats, knowing they have to either find a new revenue source in lieu of cutting spending have decided they’re not bound by President Obama’s tax vow.

I know, I know – you’re shocked, right?

~McQ

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Chavez tightens grip on Venezuela

In all the hype about the McChrystal story and the focus on the Gulf spill, you may have missed this story about Hugo Chavez’s continued destruction of the Venezuelan economy:

Venezuelan army soldiers swept through the working class, pro-Chavez neighborhood of Catia in Caracas last week, seizing 120 tons of rice along with coffee and powdered milk that officials said was to be sold above regulated prices. “The battle for food is a matter of national security,” said a red-shirted official from the Food Ministry, resting his arm on a pallet laden with bags of coffee.

How dare they not heed price controls? Meanwhile, in the ultra-efficient state machine bureaucracy, things are going swimmingly:

Critics accuse him of steering the country toward a communist dictatorship and say he is destroying the private sector. They point to 80,000 tons of rotting food found in warehouses belonging to the government as evidence the state is a poor and corrupt administrator.

120 tons confiscated. 80,000 tons allowed to rot. You can do the math.

“We are bringing order to prices,” Trade Minister Richard Canan told Reuters during the Catia raid. “There are traders who are taking these products to the black market … That is a crime and our government will continue to target these stores.”

Food prices are up 41% this past year. Price controls. If you don’t think you’re paying enough now, try them.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-22

Why doesn't McChrystal just do the right thing and resign? Not offer to do it, do it. #

RT @MelissaTweets @TeresaKopec: We need to win [in Afghanistan]. | Define "win" in a tribal region with no effective central government. #

RT @MelissaTweets @CalebHowe: [W]hat [McChrystal] said is true. | Immaterial. It was highly improper, not to mention UCMJ-actionable. #

A new Twilight movie. How did vampires change from bloodsucking fiends to whiny emo kids whining about their feelings? http://bit.ly/cKLhwl #

Meeting in London, oil industry execs deplore the offshore drilling ban in the US. http://bit.ly/bYuZI9 #

New Gaga album is finished. I wonder if she prances about in bra and panties to distract from her (ugly) "poker face". http://bit.ly/93MS7a #

RT @dmataconis, @thenote RE:McChrystal recalled. I don't understand why he hasn't resigned or been fired yet. He clearly has to go. #

Frankly I don't understand why General McChrystal hasn't already tendered his resignation. #

Investment question of the day: buy gold, or canned ham and ammo? Decisions, decisions. http://usat.me?38945998 #

May home sales dip 2.2% despite tax credits. Analysts had expected sales to rise. http://usat.me?38966662 #

As nearly as I can tell, PETA's membership consists entirely of morons. Well-meaning, perhaps. But morons. http://usat.me?38962916 #

California considers approving electronic license plates that would flash ads. http://usat.me?97489 #

Americans want and expect a new magical energy source to appear soon, but appear uninterested in paying to develop it. http://nyti.ms/c4jOJT #

Despite apologizing, McChrystal probably does have contempt for the president. Professionals generally do for amateurs http://nyti.ms/deZgai #

The president appears to want to simply make it impossible for private health insurers to remain in business. http://nyti.ms/c8WiLa #

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Common sense prevails in judge’s decision to overturn drilling moratorium

The common sense is found in the decision of Judge Martin Feldman. In his opinion, all the pertinent and sensible questions that should have been a part of the Obama administration’s decision making process are asked – and, to most, the answers are obvious.

If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy handed, and rather overbearing.

Over-reaction is one way those that are risk averse and not used to dealing with a crisis handle situations like this.

Throwing common sense out the window, the administration acted like the potential for another Deepwater Horizon was imminent and only shutting everything down would ensure such an occurrence wouldn’t happen. Yet for thousands of square miles, rig after rig has been producing for years without any sort of comparable problem. In fact, Deepwater Horizon is the outlier in deepwater drilling.

It was also an emotional and political response, instead of fact-based one of which our cool, calm and deliberative President is supposed to be famous. Again the judge sticks it to the administration:

Nonetheless, the Secretary’s determination that a six-month moratorium on issuance of new permits and on drilling by the thirty-three rigs is necessary does not seem to be fact-specific and refuses to take into measure the safety records of those others in the Gulf. There is no evidence presented indicating that the Secretary balanced the concern for environmental safety with the policy of making leases available for development. There is no suggestion that the Secretary considered any alternatives…

Of course he’s talking about Secretary Ken Salazar, but it is understood that this decision to declare a 6 month moratorium on drilling came from the top. Judge Feldman notes the administration’s decision was an arbitrary decision, not one that carefully weighed the facts and safety history of the industry and then made a deliberate decision based in fact. Apparently, as the judge notes, no other alternatives were considered.

Lastly, Judge Feldman chastises the administration about their poorly thought-out decision and the impact it has on those that live in the region:

An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.

Thankfully the judiciary is looking after the “small people” and their livelihoods even if the administration isn’t. Of course, the administration will appeal this common sense decision.

No surprise there.

~McQ

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Hey iPhone users, how do you like this?

Unsurprising, really, but certainly something I think Apple needs to hear about from consumers:

Apple Inc. is now collecting the “precise,” “real-time geographic location” of its users’ iPhones, iPads and computers.

In an updated version of its privacy policy, the company added a paragraph noting that once users agree, Apple and unspecified “partners and licensees” may collect and store user location data.

When users attempt to download apps or media from the iTunes store, they are prompted to agree to the new terms and conditions. Until they agree, they cannot download anything through the store.

The company says the data is anonymous and does not personally identify users. Analysts have shown, however, that large, specific data sets can be used to identify people based on behavior patterns.

Now I’m like most people – I don’t have the time or interest, usually, to read the “I agree” statements that accompany many software updates and licenses. Most of us automatically hit the “I agree” button and get on with business.

And I also know that it is up to me (i.e. my responsibility) to read those things and if I don’t then what they do is on me for not doing so.

That said, when I either have to agree to use the produce and software I’ve already paid for or else, then I think there’s a certain level of coercion involved that I find disturbing.

So – given the circumstance (and no, I don’t have an iPhone), this should be something clearly stated by Apple with an “opt in” clause, where it is the customer’s option to let the consumer decide to share their data – not the other way around.

Until then, I think iPhone users ought to raise holy hell with Apple until they change their agreement.

~McQ

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McChrystal Should Be Fired

Actually, Gen. McChrystal should have quit. The big news today will be about his and his staff’s insolent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine (pdf) wherein they lay waste to the current administration:

The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been summoned to the White House to explain biting and unflattering remarks he made to a freelance writer about President Barack Obama and others in the Obama administration.

The face-to-face comes as pundits are already calling for McChrystal to resign for insubordination.

[…]

McChrystal and his top aides appeared to let their guard down during a series of interviews and visits with Michael Hastings, a freelance writer for the magazine Rolling Stone.

The article, titled “The Runaway General,” appears in the magazine later this week. It contains a number of jabs by McChrystal and his staff aimed not only at the President but at Vice President Biden, special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, and others.

McChrystal described his first meeting with Obama as disappointing and said that Obama was unprepared for the meeting.

National Security Advisor Jim Jones is described by a McChrystal aide as a “clown” stuck in 1985.

Others aides joked about Biden’s last name as sounding like “Bite me” since Biden opposed the surge.

McChrystal issued an immediate apology for the profile, advance copies of which were sent to news organizations last night.

Frankly, there is probably much in McChrystal’s criticisms to agree with, but this just isn’t the way you do it, especially during a war. What’s especially disturbing is that his staff also appears to feel free to take potshots at the Commander in Chief (a violation of the UCMJ as I understand it), and one can only wonder how far down into the ranks that sort of behavior exists. When the highest officer in theater is openly dismissing the chain of command, things can not be good.

In fact, just two months ago, Michael Yon was reporting on the lack of trust in McChrystal to handle the job and how his orders were being ignored:

McChrystal’s actions have underlined what I was starting to tell officers and NCOs, who mostly agreed with me that McChrystal can’t handle this war. Experienced people have contacted me and asked me to keep the fire on McChrystal. (Menard is already dead in the water.) I can say with certainty that some of McChrystal’s orders are being disregarded. McChrystal controls embeds. Embeds and access are separate matters. McChrystal has zero control over access. My access is extreme and wide. And with that, it can be said that units in various provinces are disregarding McChrystal’s ROE and believe he is not acting in the best interest of our troops. Officers are disregarding orders from McChrystal. (I am not a journalist and will not provide evidence. Am not asking anyone to take it on faith. It is simply a fact and has been stated.)

Speculation: Weeks before the disembed, I told a person close to McChrystal (intelligence type) that McChrystal isn’t the man for this job. Was it related to that? Simply don’t know, but I do know that officers are disregarding some of McChrystal’s orders and this is happening in various places. McChrystal is not in full control of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

I really can’t comment on McChrystal’s ability to handle the war in Afghanistan, but his Rolling Stone comments would seem to underscore Yon’s reporting. If he’s so willing to disrespect his superiors, then it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the rank and file operate the same way.

Substantively, McChrystal has much to complain about. The Obama administration’s lack of interest in Afghanistan is rather apparent (despite making some laudable decisions), and we are definitely in danger of losing there altogether. Perhaps he thought that simply resigning and reporting his complaints to Congress (or the media) would not have the same effect in drawing attention to the problems he’s encountering. By sounding off loudly in Rolling Stone, McChrystal may be accomplishing what he thought he could not do if he had followed the correct course of action.

Even so, the general should still be fired. If his gambit works, and greater attention is given to actually winning in Afghanistan, then he will receive much deserved praise. Considering the fact that the big story right now is all about his insubordination, however, that’s not likely to happen.

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The "no-no" line

I’m not sure what was going through Gen. Stanley McChrystal or his staff’s minds when they were interviewed for an article in Rolling Stone, but if the quotes are accurate and in context, they stepped over the “no-no line”. While it all may be entirely true, you don’t ever – ever – air this sort of crap in pubic. And if you do, as a military person – regardless of rank – you are wrong:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.

“I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.”

It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.”

“Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McChrystal’s comments are simply inexcusable and demonstrate either an arrogance or lack of understanding of his place in all of this (or both). Regardless, he’s put himself in a stupid place by his own doing.

And his staff has certainly done him no favors either. I can’t imagine how anyone would think they could say things like they’ve been reported to have said in front of a reporter from the magazine Rolling Stone, and think it was appropriate, acceptable and wouldn’t end up being quoted.

Even I know better than that.

Dumb, self-inflicted wound. And regardless of how any officer or member of the military feels about Obama or the rest of the civilian leadership, or how true they feel the sentiments expressed are, they have no business airing them for public consumption. That is how the military works … period. If you can’t live with that, don’t join the military.

~McQ

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