Gatesgate: Why Obama was right to Distrust his Generals on Afghanistan

(By Juan Cole)

Among the charges in former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s memoirs against Barack Obama is that the latter did not trust his generals, did not adopt the Afghanistan War as his own, and was skeptical of the Pentagon plan for a troop escalation and a big counter-insurgency push.

It is now forgotten that Obama came into office in January of 2009 undecided about what course to pursue in Afghanistan. He had opposed the Iraq War and was clearly intent on getting out of that country (which was just as well since there was no prospect that an American troop presence would ever have resulted in social peace there). But on Afghanistan, Obama had more of an open mind. He wanted to destroy al-Qaeda, and putting resources into that fight might require a base of operations in Afghanistan.

According to Bob Woodward, Obama asked the Pentagon for three possible plans — a minimalist one, a medium one and a maximal one.

Vice President Joe Biden favored getting mostly out of Afghanistan and dealing with remaining threats through counter-terrorism tactics. I.e., Biden urged giving up on trying to secure the whole (very large and rugged) country. Where a terrorist gang popped up, they should be dealt with.

Gen. David Petraeus and others in the Pentagon, as well as Bob Gates himself, did not present Obama with the three plans. Months went by. It got to be October of 2009, and Washington began carping that the new president had no Afghanistan policy. The Pentagon in the end only gave Obama one plan, a plan for a troop escalation of 40,000 and an open-ended big war that would serve as a social engineering laboratory for David Petraeus’s theories of counter-insurgency. Petraeus, like T. E. Lawrence before him, came to believe that he was far more central to the story than he was. The Iraq “surge” of 2007 involved disarming Sunni guerrilla groups first, allowing the Shiites to ethnically cleanse them in Baghdad. The monthly death toll started coming down because the civil war in mixed neighborhoods couldn’t be pursued when the neighborhoods weren’t mixed any more. Petraeus saw the sole explanation of the falling death toll rather as the impact of his counter-insurgency principles.

Petraeus wanted an opportunity to prove that counter-insurgency would work in Afghanistan. It involved US forces *taking* territory from the Taliban. Next, they would *clear* the area of enemy fighters. Only in a cleared area could they hope to get locals to cooperate with them. Then they would *hold* the territory for months or years, so as to demonstrate to locals that they could be trusted. One obstacle to local cooperation with US troops was the locals’ realization that they had to live with the Taliban forever but the US military was there temporarily. Choosing the Americans could lead to reprisals once the foreigners departed. Counter-insurgency involved reassuring them that the US military mission was long-term and they did not have to worry about the revenge of the Taliban. Finally, they would *build* the area, increasing local governing capacity, improving infrastructure and improving policing, so as permanently to deny the Taliban any chance of coming back.

So Obama was according to Woodward “boxed in” by his officers and forced to accept a big troop escalation and a massive further nation-building project. The alternative was to look like a fool in Washington when he couldn’t announce a plan for Afghanistan nearly a year after he was sworn in.
So Obama was according to Woodward “boxed in” by his officers and forced to accept a big troop escalation and a massive further nation-building project. The alternative was to look like a fool in Washington when he couldn’t announce a plan for Afghanistan nearly a year after he was sworn in. Obama did cut the troop escalation down to 30,000, and he turned the tables on the generals by boxing them in. He announced that the troops would begin being taken back out by a date certain, after which the war would wind down. Obama did not want any open-ended commitment to active war-fighting.

The officers Obama was dealing with were known to be insurbordinate and bullies. Gates admits that Petraeus once threatened the Secretary of Defense when Gates tried to pressure the general over Iraq policy. “I can make your life miserable,” he quoted Petraeus as telling him to his face.

Woodward reported that once when Petraeus felt that the White House had undercut him, he said “They’re fucking with the wrong guy.” Moreover, Petraeus and some of the others had a big PR operation and were always going on television even when they had been told by their superiors not to. Petraeus even once went on CNN from the White House briefing room. Stanley McChrystal’s contempt for the White House team was later revealed in Rolling Stone by Michael Hastings.

It is entirely understandable under these circumstances that Obama did not trust the officers who “boxed him in,” who disobeyed him when it came to self-promotion on t.v., and who went around viciously threatening people in the tones of a bad DeNiro impression. It is further understandable that Obama entertained the severest doubts about the feasibility of Petraeus’s big counter-insurgency push. At best, he was willing to give it a try.

Back in 2010 and 2011, Petreaus’s and McChrystal’s PR machine made sure we knew all about a supposedly major counter-insurgency operation in Marjah. It later became clear that Marjah was just a set of small villages. It was promised a “government in a box” from Kabul, which didn’t even have a government in a hat. The US took the scattered villages and chased away the Taliban, then brought in Afghanistan National Army troops. Marjah is Pushtun. A Hazara general came down to meet with the villagers. Pushtuns sometimes look down on Hazaras, who are Shiites and often disadvantaged, so it probably wasn’t the best optics.

Three years later, people in Marjah were still afraid to go out at night. Is that a failure of “holding”? or of “building.” Maybe of “clearing.”

Then the counter-insurgency plan went to Qandahar, a city of 1 million. It was like writing one’s name in water. The US intelligence establishment doesn’t think there have been any permanent gains in security there and fears that the Taliban will just take back over after the US leaves.

You have to conclude that Gates resents Obama for outmaneuvering him and some of the more gung ho officers. Obama didn’t intend to go on fighting and nation-building in Afghanistan forever. Indeed, US forces are no longer in the lead in military operations and soon they’ll be gone or be little more than troop trainers.

If anything, Obama could be faulted for giving the COIN (“counter-insurgency”) officers the benefit of the doubt and playing along with their completely unrealistic plans. He should have listened to Joe Biden, who has long experience in foreign policy and is most often right (unlike Gates). If Gates is right and Obama distrusted the generals pitching them and was skeptical of the strategy itself, it has to increase your estimation of Obama. Our estimation of Gates, in contrast, can only fall because of his disloyalty and his naive approach to Afghanistan.

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Related videos

CNN reports that only 17% of Americans support the Afghanistan War.

79 Responses

  1. Who “boxed in” Obama in when he sent 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan two months after he became CiC (March ’09)? He decided to send another 30,000 in December. I question the line that he was “boxed in” and “jammed” as some reports call it. There were plenty of politicos like Biden who argued to get out and he chose between two very different alternatives. Today he is fighting to keep thousands more foreign fighters more in Afghanistan after his “combat” withdrawal at the end of this year, as he also tried to extend Bush’s deadline unsuccessfully in Iraq.

    • Malaki unsuccessfully tried to extend the SOFA deadline, not Obama.

      Obama’s response was to make an impossible request, and make it a condition for even reopening the talks.

      • If by “impossible request” you are referring to the provision that U.S. forces be exempted from Iraqi legal and judicial jurisdiction, Obama could do nothing less. When U.S. forces are deployed, whether garrisoned in Germany, Japan, Djibouti, or other places; or whether in active combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, the provision exempting U.S. forces from local jurisdiction is standard in all SOFAs. Obama understood (as apparently others cannot) that that is a non-negotiable provision when U.S. forces are deployed.

        Maliki knew this, as the previous SOFA negotiated under the Bush Administration in 2008 contained the same provision. That Iraq would not approve the SOFA re-negotiated in 2012 is a reflection on Maliki and his inability to impose his political will and expend political capital within his own government. It is not a reflection on Obama making an “impossible request.”

        • You’re wrong on this one Bill. The previous SOFA of 2008 only passed parliament because the legal immunity clause was specifically limited to the end of 2011. There was never any prospect that parliament would extend it.

        • “The previous SOFA of 2008 only passed parliament because the legal immunity clause was specifically limited to the end of 2011. There was never any prospect that parliament would extend it.”

          I take your point, Professor Cole. It may well be that Maliki did not have a chance of getting the 2012 SOFA approved with the provision in question. But to place the blame for the failure on Obama for not negotiating away the provision exempting US forces from Iraqi legal and judicial jurisdiction is to misplace blame. No responsible US president would agree to a SOFA that did not exempt US forces from local jurisdiction.

          In the end, Maliki will have to live with the parliament’s decision. We are better off not having US forces stationed in Iraq.

        • Regardless of how ordinary such immunity may be in situations very different from Iraq, it remains the case that it was an impossibility that the Iraqi government would approve it in 2011, and Obama knew it when he raised it is response to Malaki’s request.

          ‘That Iraq would not approve the SOFA re-negotiated in 2012 is a reflection on Maliki and his inability to impose his political will and expend political capital within his own government. It is not a reflection on Obama making an “impossible request.”’

          This makes no sense. It’s BOTH. Had Obama not made that request, Malaki’s inability to get it approved would have made no difference.

          And you’ve got your facts wrong in another area: there was not SOFA renegotiated in 2012, nor even in 2011. President Obama made the Iraqis’ assent to immunity a precondition for even engaging in negotiations over a new SOFA, and since it was never approved, there were no such negotiations.

        • “This makes no sense. It’s BOTH. Had Obama not made that request, Malaki’s inability to get it approved would have made no difference.”

          But Obama did make it a condition of any SOFA that would take effect, as he should have. That Maliki could not budge his parliament does not mean Obama should have acquiesced. The Iraqi’s chose their hardline position regarding exempting US forces from local jurisdiction. They knew we would not agree to negotiate away such an exemption. This is one case where I back Obama to the hilt. We won’t suffer as a result of no approved SOFA and no troops in Iraq. We are better off for it. It is the Iraqis who come crying for help in suppressing the militants in Anbar. They could have chosen differently. That they maintained their position on the exemption provision means they will have to live with the consequences of their choice.

        • I urge everyone interested in this subject to look at the actual text of what is incorrectly being called a “2008 SOFA Agreement.”
          It is no such thing.

          It is a surrender agreement, with Iraq dictating the terms, unconditionally except for one thing:
          Bush asked for, and got, a 3-year delay on troop withdrawal, so that the American public would not figure out who lost that war.
          .

        • ” Obama understood (as apparently others cannot) that that is a non-negotiable provision when U.S. forces are deployed.”

          That (extraterritoriality) is a provision which no foreign government will ever agree to under any circumstances. It’s actually largely prohibited by international law.

          Only the countries conquered in WWII have ever really agreed to it, and that’s because, uh, they were conquered.

          It is an impossible request. Whether Obama knew that is an open question.

        • “That (extraterritoriality) is a provision which no foreign government will ever agree to under any circumstances.”

          Well, no, Nathaniel, that is not the case. The Exemption from local jurisdiction of U.S. Forces not only applies to Germany and Japan, it applies to Korea, Belgium, the UK, Djibouti, and any where we have deployed forces. You should check the SOFAs for all countries where US forces are deployed, and you will find the exemption.

  2. I’d distrust the Pentagon, too, if I were living in The White House. After all, commanding officers had been lying to presidents going all the way back to Korea (MacArthur) and Viet Nam (Westmoreland).

    Bob Gates built his “career” on lies and manipulation. Both of his field field generals, Petreaus and McChrystal were schemers who didn’t actually believe in civilian command of the armed forces – at least based on their public actions and statements.

    (Remember that, at one point, Pres. Obama was attending a climate change conference in Europe and summoned Gen. Petreaus from Afghanistan to the airport in Amsterdam where he got a full-blown dressing down about his insubordination in a meeting aboard a parked Air Force One.)

    As a stale holdover from his days as a cold war warrior, Mr. Gates can be forgiven for spending the last 15 years trying to find another monolithic “enemy” to battle. What cannot be excused is his refusal to see a nuanced, multi-tiered world which saw things in a light more subtle than “you’re with us or you’re against us.”

    As a footnote, what is particularly galling is that David Petreaus is now earning his living advising other governments on “security.” He was in Ottawa yesterday meeting with Foreign Minister John Baird discussing the Middle East and Canada’s Afghan policy.

  3. He is still incompetent. This post proves my point. He has no strategy and no doctrine on our place in the world. In defining the threats we face and in articulating the way we need to deal with them.

    The Buck Stops at the President’s Desk. No amount of pretzel arguments are going to change that.

    Incompetent to the core and we have three more years of incompetence to deal with.

    • “The Buck Stops at the President’s Desk. No amount of pretzel arguments are going to change that.”

      People resort to cliches like this when the complicated nature of how politics actually works is too much for them.

      • This is not “politics,” as if Obama should be in campaign mode. This is national security, and “observer” is correct in noting that in these matters President Obama, as head of the executive branch and Commander in Chief, can accept or reject recommendations, or he can send them back for a further work-up. Likewise, he can retain or fire Cabinet secretaries, depending on how he views their recommendations and responses to his executive program. And that applies to his generals as well. The buck does indeed stop at the president’s desk.

        • This is not “politics,” as if Obama should be in campaign mode. This is national security

          National security is a field of government endeavor, also known as “politics,” just like agricultural policy and transportation. The researchers who study how governments and individuals carry out and think about national security are called “political scientists,” just like their brethren who study other fields of government. May favorite national-security-focused political scientists is Robert Farley at the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog.

          And where does this idea that the term “politics” only applies to electoral politics come from?

          “President Obama, as head of the executive branch and Commander in Chief, can accept or reject recommendations, or he can send them back for a further work-up. Likewise, he can retain or fire Cabinet secretaries, depending on how he views their recommendations and responses to his executive program.”

          And, like in every other government endeavor, the formal authority an actor may have is but one factor that comes into play in determining his behavior.

          The failure to look at military/national security issues using the same tools that help us understand other governmental and political actions is a common failure on both left and right.

        • “And, like in every other government endeavor, the formal authority an actor may have is but one factor that comes into play in determining his behavior.”

          But the president’s formal authority as head of the Executive branch and Commander in Chief gives him the determining vote after taking in the advice of his Cabinet and advisers. He can choose to exercise that vote make a decision or he can stumble along, perhaps form a “commission” to study the problem. Or, worst case, he can act as Obama did during the run-up to the Russian plan for divesting Syria of chemical weapons: lob, don’t lob, take it to Congress, stage left-“enter Putin.”

          However the president chooses to act, it is ultimately up to him, for better or worse. Thus, the buck really does stop at his desk. Can’t escape it.

        • It’s not just formal authority. In 2008 Obama had an honest-to-god popular mandate, too. That’s a rather serious form of power.

          The only formal restrictions on Obama’s power were the Supreme Court, which had made itself illegitimate in 2000 when it stole the election, and the arcane 60-vote bullshit in the US Senate, which nobody outside the US Senate understood, and nobody except them and a few media pundits actually approved of.

          The power of popular is powerful.

      • So, does ANYONE actually act as the Decider? Or does the “complicated nature” let everyone off the hook? It’s probably just me, but I can’t think of anyone recently in the whole chain of command, especially at the top, that ever says anything other than “If mistakes might have been made it would be regretted…” Seems like the first bullet in the planning document is “Diffuse responsibility, lay groundwork for claiming credit if successful…”

        Though I’ll give you that given the history of the fate of a lot of CinCs in a lot of other Empires would give a person with a knowledge of that history and stuff like the “Business Plot” some pause in doing any “deciding.”

        • “Though I’ll give you that given the history of the fate of a lot of CinCs in a lot of other Empires would give a person with a knowledge of that history and stuff like the “Business Plot” some pause in doing any “deciding.”

          I’ll give you this, Mr. McPhee, by mentioning the “Business Plot” you managed to reference MG Smedley Butler without even mentioning his name. Kudos to you, and I really mean that. It appears we do share some interests, although I doubt we would agree on many conclusions. But I honestly liked your indirect reference to Butler.

          Cheers,

          Bill

        • ‘So, does ANYONE actually act as the Decider? Or does the “complicated nature” let everyone off the hook?’

          The complicated nature – no scare quotes necessary, thanks, grown-ups can actually acknowledge complexity – puts more people on the hook.

        • JT says:

          “So, does ANYONE actually act as the Decider? Or does the “complicated nature” let everyone off the hook?”

          It’s infinitely more complicated. and the situation is far more dire overall than just from the perspective of our domestic scene.

          link to foreignpolicy.com

    • Proof of the “incompetence” of the Obama administration is the absence of American troops in Iraq?

      MOAR INCOMPETENCE, PLEEZE!

        • At a minimum, it’s proof of good instincts.

          When it comes to competence, I’d look more at HOW the troop withdrawal was carried out, rather than WHETHER. Competence is a very different thing than judgment, which is different from ideology. It’s useful to understand the differences.

        • I’m curious: what context do you think the reduction of the US embassy support staff in 2014 provides on the issue of the American withdrawal in 2009-2011?

          A demonstration of the administration’s lack of interest in a big presence?

    • I’m no admirer of Obama, but I’m far from inclined to buy into a hit job from the NYT. Obama was dealt a set of marked cards when he was saddled with Iraq – the consequence of one of the greatest crimes of the 21st century aided and abetted by the NYT.

  4. martin stein

    @mykatmikey A president worth his salt should distrust his generals Look what happened to LBJ POTUS sets policy in USA not military

    • LBJ wouldn’t listen to the generals. They were saying you go all in or don’t go at all. He and McNamara thought you could send ‘messages’ with bombs. Even the CIA in ’65 was saying the ‘strategy’ was doomed.

  5. The counter-insurgency mission was bound to fail since insurgencies don’t end when they’re given sanctuary in a neighboring country. Pakistan, which supports the Taliban for strategic purposes, just want the Taliban weakened enough to bring them to the negotiating table but strong enough to represent Pakistani interests in a future Afghan government. Pakistan is thus said to be in favor of converting the Taliban into a Hezbollah type organization controlling at least southern and perhaps eastern Afghanistan in exchange for a national cease-fire.

    So far, the Taliban is no match for the Afghan National Army in frontal attacks and holding positions and the Taliban are largely dependent on hit and run tactics and using child suicide bombers.

    Quite frankly, the NATO footprint is only preventing the country toward becoming another Lebanon (this may be why 56% of Afghan respondents are in favor of the Bilateral Security Agreement, according to a poll conducted by an Afghan television company).

    • RD Sultan,

      intentionally or not, you raise an important question about what has taken place in Afghanistan.
      You allege that there is some sort of “counter-insurgency” taking place,
      but first there has to be an insurgency.
      The fight of local Taliban Afghans against the Northern Alliance / Afghan National whatever is not an insurgency, it is a “resistance.”
      And the ethnicities of the Northern Alliance are not the rightful masters of the Pashtun hillbillies. They are entitled to those same inalienable rights that are found in our Declaration of Independence.

      The US military is not fighting to help the legit government of Afghanistan exert control and authority. We are propping up the puppet we installed, and helping one side in the ongoing civil war, which I shorthand as the “Northern Alliance,” crush and subjugate Pashtuns under their boot heels.

      Note what Juan said about a Hazara General taking charge in Helmand. Most of the appointed officials in all 468 Districts, including Pashtun Districts, DON’t EVEN SPEAK PASHTUN fluently.
      They are foreigners to the locals they are bossing around.
      .

      • That’s an absurd theory, Brian. Why do you equate the Taliban with Pashtun resistance? Are you of the opinion that all Pashtuns are Taliban members?

        Besides the Taliban are killing more Pashtuns than non-Pashtuns (whether in Pakistan or in Afghanistan).

        “Northern Alliance,” crush and subjugate Pashtuns under their boot heels.”

        The percentage of Pashtuns in the military is
        proportional
        to their population size (although most Pashtuns in the military are from the east). Here is a NYT’s article looking into why
        southern Pashtuns
        are wary of joining the Afghan military.

        Besides, if the US were propping up the Northern alliance, then:

        (1). Why did the Northern Alliance propose a restructuring of the government from the current centralized power structure (that gave Pashtuns hegemony over Afghan affairs) to a federal system (that gives each ethnic group autonomy over their affairs).

        (2). Why hasn’t the Northern Alliance recognized the Durand line? It’s not in their interest to have millions of Pashtuns merge back with Afghanistan nor are they interested in ticking off Pakistan since the latter’s sponsorship of the Taliban has been influenced by anxiety over the Afghan claim to the Pashtun-dominated regions of Pakistan?

        (3). Why did Karzai force the resignation of Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and a high-ranking Northern Alliance member?

        “They are entitled to those same inalienable rights that are found in our Declaration of Independence.”

        Try this exercise, Brian: here is a list of Karzai’s Ministers and provincial Governors. Type their names into this database and tally up how many are Pashtuns and how many are non-Pashtuns.

        And may I ask how you know the majority of officials “don’t speak Pashto fluently?”

        Did you take a look at the poll I referenced? In the Pashtun South, 50% favored signing the BSA and in the Pashtun East, 43% favored signing the BSA.

        • RD Sultan,
          thank you for the thoughtful reply.

          I’ll pass on the homework you propose. I’m not working Afghan issues right now.
          But when I was, most recently contributing to the SecDef’s 2009 Global Strategic Assessment, I used data at he website of the Naval Postgraduate School.
          Did you do what you suggested I do ? What were the results ?

          One quote from earlier in the occupation, circa 2008, a PRT Leader (DOS) had it that the PRT preferred that the ANA and ANP forces in his Pashtun area couldn’t speak Pashtun, because it reduced conflicts with the locals. I know, anecdotal.

          …..

          “Are you of the opinion that all Pashtuns are Taliban members?”
          Certainly not. In fact, the Pashtun Afghan-Americans I know are embarrassed to be represented by the Taliban.
          But it’s a little like the French Resistance in WW II.
          If the local resistance leader is a tyrant, or a sex abuser, but is effective in hurting the Nazis, he stays in place. Better to have evil people fight Satan on your behalf than to have nobody fight to protect your family.

          Thnx for the link to the report that says that Pashtoons are about 43% of the officers in the ANA, 42% of the NCO’s, and 38% of the enlisted soldiers, and that the Pashtun proportion of the population is between about 37 to 53%.
          This is malarkey.
          Sorry. “Military Information Support Operations,” what used to be called propaganda.
          Around the same time this report was published, news reports had the percentages of Pashtuns in the officer ranks near Zero, and in the CONSCRIPTED enlisted ranks just over 5%.

          NYT doeesn’t let me read articles without paying, so I can’t check those stories.

          But responding to the articles without reading them,
          Question #1:
          It makes no sense to me that the Northern Alliance would want to restructure the government to reduce the power of the current centralized power structure in favor of a federal system, since I say that the Northern Alliance (plus a thin slice of the Popalzai Durrani Pashtun tribe) is running that central government.
          Your link on who the Provincial Governors are underscores that point.

          Question #2:
          I can’t think of any ruling entity willing to give up territory, revanchism and irridentism being as powerful as coveting someone else’s land.

          Question #3:
          so, was he replaced with someone else from the Northern Alliance ?

          RD,
          it is my opinion that, rather than fighting to defeat the closest thing the Pashtuns have to a force protecting their values and daughters, we should have tried to build up and legitimize an alternative Pashtun force. My Pashtun acquaintances mostly agree.

      • Hi Brian:

        “Did you do what you suggested I do ? What were the results?”

        I did. Most of the cabinet members /Governors are Pashtuns who are either members or supporters of the Afghan Millat Party – a Pashtun fascist party which believes in the supremacy of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan. I wonder why the “ruling” Northern Alliance would let these party members take up powerful positions in the government? They must be really generous.

        “This is malarkey.”

        And why is that? For what benefit would the report falsify data?
        Were they paid by the NA to do so?

        By what logic of factual research proves that the “officer rank is near zero and the conscripted rank is just over 5%?” This is malarkey.

        The NYT article I cited even says that the number of Pashtuns are proportional to their population size (type “Afghan army attracts few where fear reigns” in Google and see if you can find the article without paying for it).

        1. It makes no sense to you because you’re operating under the assumption that the NA is running the central government, which is not true.

        The 2004 constitution envisages the most centralized power structure – which means the absolute rule of Pashtuns over the rest. This was done deliberately and one of the architects is Dr. Ashraf Ghani (who might become Afghanistan’s next President).

        2. KPK & FATA has no strategic, cultural or linguistic affinity to the NA so recognizing this line doesn’t amount to giving up territory.

        3. No.

        “Pashtuns have to a force protecting their values and daughters.”

        How can you conceive the Taliban as protecting Pashtun women and daughters when the Taliban believe that women have no right to work/education?

        Or how can a political movement responsible for dozens of massacres of Pashtuns represent Pashtuns?

        “My Pashtun acquaintances mostly agree with me.”

        The narratives of the Afghan diaspora are often secondary and besides for every Pashtun that supports the Taliban, nine support the Durrani tribe that Karzai belongs to. Oh, and Ghilzai Pashtuns loathe the Taliban.

        Why don’t you see if your Pashtun friends can look you in the eye when you ask them if they will be willing to go back and live in Southern Afghanistan (when, as it is inevitable, the Taliban rule that area)?

        I’m willing to wager they won’t be able to hold your eyes, Brian.

  6. One only has to see images of wounded Vetrans with missing limbs or the US Military death toll to realize Obama is nothing but a contemptuous vile
    character undeserving of his position as president.

    Period….End of story

  7. blaming gates, blaming betrayus, blaming the generals serves to take the blame from where it belongs, barry manalo obama. he was responsible and he called the shots. he has lied to the american people serially. remember his statement on the campaign trail,”i will sign no healthcare bill that doesn’t include the public option. you can take that to the bank.” remember his pledge to the palestinians that there would be a halt to settlement construction prior to peace negotiations. the betrayer in chief is barry manalo obama. this meme that barry is a victim of insubordinates strategems is nauseating. gates did not betray barry. barry betrayed the american people.

    • geoff,

      I’m trying hard to understand the venom and knife-sharpening you and others here cultivate for President Obama. It’s almost as if attacking him is the prime reason for your being here. You try to humiliate him by making up false names. You even use a false name for General Petraeus. You accuse the President of betrayal, knowing nothing of what went on inside the White house at the time.

      Look, we only have one President. We all have a stake in his success. What do you *as an American* hope to gain by this vile treatment of him?

    • ‘remember his statement on the campaign trail,”i will sign no healthcare bill that doesn’t include the public option. you can take that to the bank.”’

      No. I don’t. Can’t find any such quote on google, either. I think you just made it up.

  8. Obama did not oppose the Iraq War. Upon arriving in the Senate, Sen. Obama supported every funding bill for Iraq, some $300 billion, until he started running for President. [2005 Vote # 117, HR1268, 5/10/05; 2005 Vote # 326, S1042, 11/15/05; 2006 Vote # 112, HR4939, 5/4/06; 2006 Vote # 239; 2006 Vote # 186, S2766, 6/22/06; HR5631, 9/7/06]

    Obama also, in the Senate, teamed up with Hillary Clinton to pass a bill expanding the size of US ground forces.

    As president, Obama tried NOT to leave Iraq, but Iraq refused to allow US military troops to stay.

  9. On generals, Obama should have hearted Truman and not Reagan.

    “It’s the fellows who go to West Point and are trained to think they’re gods in uniform that I plan to take apart”.–Harry S Truman

  10. “It is now forgotten that Obama came into office in January of 2009 undecided about what course to pursue in Afghanistan.”

    The notion that Obama was “boxed in” by his generals, and acquiesced in the counter-insurgency-“nation-building” project as a result sounds like a White House-Obama apologia and excuse foisted on the press at the daily briefing by Jay Carney. Obama had a choice. Joe Biden represented a clear choice with his idea of pursuing counter-terrorism wherever and however necessary to root out Al-Qaeda and its Taliban enablers, but not to get bogged down in an endless ground war and counter-insurgency program. Obama chose endless war and counter-insurgency. He did not have to acquiesce, but he did. It was his choice. The Commander in Chief cannot blame his generals. The buck stops at his desk.

    And his past remarks demonstrate that he really believed the war in Afghanistan was worth pursuing as a war. There are many instances where Obama indicated he felt the war in Afghanistan was worth pursuing. That he didn’t have a clear idea how to proceed indicates his “community organizer” mindset, not the value of the pursuit itself. The following is extracted from an August 17, 2009 speech at the annual VFW convention in Phoenix, Arizona.

    ” But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.”

    Can you imagine Harry Truman blaming his generals for “boxing him in”? Hell no. Harry fired them!

    • “Obama chose endless war and counter-insurgency. He did not have to acquiesce, but he did. It was his choice. The Commander in Chief cannot blame his generals.”

      To date I don’t recall Commander in Chief Obama having blamed his generals for anything relating to their strategic advice. Do you? In any event he’s a gentleman with a first rate temperament. Won’t we likely have have to await his memoirs?

      Quite like Truman with MacArthur, he fired General McChrystal for lese majeste, indiscretion and disloyalty. It was well deserved and required to maintain the dignity and power of the Office of President.

      He elevated Petraeus to Director of the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY where that great military intellectual engineered his own downfall with an extra-marital affair not unlike an old fashioned Soviet-style honey pot sting. The Director of the CIA is required to behave himself in order to avoid becoming a threat to national security. He fell on his sword as befits a military man.

      What faced Obama is exactly what faced Nixon and Kissenger, the intense need for “a decent interval” and cover for withdrawal without victory from a disastrous, failed war in a third world country. Neither Nixon nor Obama wanted to preside over a great national humiliation which no fig leaf could cover.

      It may be counter-intuitive, but I’m not sure that the Afghan surge was a failure. President Obama did set the time for withdrawal. And we hear that the Afghan Army is fighting on its own now with significant success. If necessary we can leave without the SOFA and still support the Afghan government and military. If I’m right this adds up to a significant personal victory for the President.

      • I repeat, Mr. Watson, Obama had a choice. He chose endless war and counter-insurgency. He could have pursued Joe Biden’s strategy of counter-terrorism without getting bogged down in a ground war and “nation-building.” It was Obama’s choice.

        And Obama firing McChrystal for “les majeste was not in the same league as Truman firing MacArthur for insubordination during the Korean War. MacArthur’s insubordination during a hot war that defined the Cold War at the time cannot compare with McChrystal’s indiscretions and those of his drunken staff. Both should have been fired, but they do not compare in terms of importance.

        • But Bill, President Obama chose a surge with a deadline, not endless war. They are quite clearly not the same thing.

          Like Nixon he needed a decent interval to avoid a great national humiliation. It looks as though he has accomplished that.

          And in the previous post I said:

          “To date I don’t recall Commander in Chief Obama having blamed his generals for anything relating to their strategic advice. Do you? In any event he’s a gentleman with a first rate temperament. Won’t we likely have have to await his memoirs?”

    • Woodward’s accounts suggest that Obama initially held out for an objective basis to believe that the miltary’s proposals for surges would achieve clear-and-hold if not nation building. Apparently they never even responded with such a basis. Hillary was solidly with the military regardless, and Biden was eventually excluded from the planning sessions due to his lone dissent. So it was the generals’ failure to base military options upon any concern for the ultimate goal, their perpetual belief that more force is the only possible answer, and their ability to control the options, which led Obama to capitulate to a surge. Had the mass media and elections been free rather than controlled by economic concentrations, perhaps he would have had less pressure on him. But group-think comes through in the Woodward account, and the military was nearly the entire group. Had Obama infinite courage and self-confidence, he would still have been alone with Biden against the unanimous ranks of the military. The structure at the top is simply a failure.

      We should have a College of Policy Analysis structured to have the answers, to protect the unpopular or enemy views, so that the administration can point to their white papers and not ask generals to do sociological and political development and historical analyses.

    • “Can you imagine Harry Truman blaming his generals for “boxing him in”? Hell no. Harry fired them!”

      You mean like Stanley McChrystal? BTW, Truman put up with MacArthur for much longer than Obama put up with McChrystal.

      • For the difference in Truman firing MacArthur and Obama firing McChrystal, see my reply to Hunter Watson above. The two acts of insubordination, and the context within which they occurred, could not have been more different. MacArthur’s firing was much more important than McChrystal’s, given the stakes involved during a “hot” Korean War that defined the Cold War at the time.

        • It wasn’t the stakes in the Cold War which motivated Truman. It was his duty to the office of the Presidency under our Constitution.

          President Obama dealt with that same problem in the same way for the same reason. The civilian Commander in Chief is never going to give up that sort of precedent to a military man. It’s inconceivable. And the principle itself is what’s important to the issue, not the relative historical significance of the wars involved.

        • And MacArthur was actively going around the Prez to the Congress and the heads of allied nations.

  11. Fact of the matter is that Obama CAMPAIGNED on sending more troops to Afghanistan and he deliberately misrepresented the occupation as a fight against Al Qaeda, which even the CIA said had very few numbers in Afghanistan.

    • Daniel said:

      “Fact of the matter is that Obama CAMPAIGNED on sending more troops to Afghanistan…”

      That sounds like an attack on Obama, so I’ll just ask if it isn’t counter-intuitive coming from one who is critical of Obama’s Afghan policy.

      And then he said:

      “…… and he deliberately misrepresented the occupation as a fight against Al Qaeda, which even the CIA said had very few numbers in Afghanistan.”

      It was a fight against al Queda. In fact it still is. If he said so it was a deliberate act, but what’s the point? it was a fight against the Taliban too.

      I suspect that you just got the context of your unquoted assertion a little screwed up. Hey, it happens.

  12. I remember not long after tearing up with Oprah in Grant Park to smiling my ass off watching our new First Couple dance at the Inauguration until all of a sudden hearing about the new Cabinet picks, and saying, ” Oh No!” “Who, WTF!”

    I was watching Doris Kern Goodwin on all the Sunday Talk Shows promoting her stupid book, ” Team of Rivals” and comparing Obama’s new cabinet picks to Lincoln all the while knowing how something was going so terribly wrong!

    Did they throw Barrack into a room, and make him watch the “Zapruder Film” over and over, and over again? Between one new cabinet pick from another I was wondering where all the ‘Hope and change’ was going. What happen to the Barrack Obama we waited for? In a strange way Gates made sense. Why?

    Now here we are, and there’s Gates with his book. I actually like Joe Biden better knowing Gates has a bad opinion of our beloved VP. I hope this Gates book event makes President Obama become more the Obama we all wished for. Watching Secretary Kerry lately gives me hope. I am also rooting for Secretary Hagel.

    In any case I hope our new generation of Americans may right my generations wrongs. Be cool!

  13. Every president has had problems of one kind or another when it came down to their cabinet picks. What I hope, is that President Obama has learned something from his initial start to this present moment in time.

    Robert Gates is certainly a piece of work. Over this last twenty four hours I have learned more about Gates than I wanted to. Most all of what I am reading isn’t good. Where were our heads back in 2009? We were all reading “A Team of Rivals” and getting all cuddly over the diversity of it all, when we should have been listening to those who were saying, “NO”.

    I recall Ralph Nader warning the new President Obama to distance himself from the Bush/Cheney policies. Still rather than admit that Ralph Nader is often right, many of you criticize him for running for president in 2000… Let it go! If President Obama would have listened to people such as Mr Nader at that time Gates wouldn’t have the Obama story to tell in his new book.

    By the way, instead of the media always making a story out of Joe Biden’s gaffes, maybe someone ought to pay attention to how right he has often been on National Security. I thought Vice President Biden even when he was a senator had many a good thought when it came to foreign affairs.

    Lastly, there isn’t enough time or room here for me to go off on Petraeus and McCrystal, but I long for the day of another Marshall and/or Eisenhower!

    • “I recall Ralph Nader warning the new President Obama to distance himself from the Bush/Cheney policies. Still rather than admit that Ralph Nader is often right, many of you criticize him for running for president in 2000… Let it go! If President Obama would have listened to people such as Mr Nader at that time Gates wouldn’t have the Obama story to tell in his new book.”

      Well said.

      “By the way, instead of the media always making a story out of Joe Biden’s gaffes, maybe someone ought to pay attention to how right he has often been on National Security. I thought Vice President Biden even when he was a senator had many a good thought when it came to foreign affairs. ”

      Biden was one of the lead Democrats pushing for the war on Iraq. On the home front he pushed for the Bankruptcy bill that allowed credit card companies to charge usurious interest rates. I don’t have time to check this, but I would say it is a good bet he also pushed for the Gramm-Leach-Bliley bill that tossed out the Glass-Steagall Act that led to the near collapse of Wall Street’s banks.

      • Bill, I won’t argue that Joe Biden is perfect. My comment was more aimed at Biden when held up against his peers. Any of our leader class will fade fast when held up to the sunlight. Thanks, for your reply and let’s keep me in line there…this is what discussion should be. Take care!

  14. Is there any truth to what I believe was being discussed during the Korean War: the Military to take over the USA Government during the MacArthur area?

  15. If you can’t trust your Generals,
    e.g. MacArthur (aka “Dugout Doug”)
    of “Bonus Marchers” clean-up fame;
    Westmoreland of “Five O’clock Follies”;
    Franks of “Yes Sir, How High”
    Petraeus of “Listen to Me, I Know
    What’s Going On”; and Powell of
    “WMD Mobile Labs” with a pinch
    of “My Lai”, just to mention
    a few, then who(m) can you trust?
    Well, maybe just pay them more.

    link to usatoday.com

    • You can add “Blackjack” Pershing to that list. He wanted to continue the “war to end all wars” beyond 11/11/18 and to invade Germany despite the total losses of life had already reached into tens of millions.

      Then there were the generals (if I recall correctly 34) who were fired by George Marshall when he became chief of staff.

      And, how about those Nave admirals who helped to cover up the USS Liberty crime?

    • Powell’s 5 minutes of heroism under fire in Vietnam go a long way toward excusing his perfidy on WMD’s.
      None of the others you mention had any combat experience (though Petraeus wore a combat action badge.)

      • “Powell’s 5 minutes of heroism under fire in Vietnam go a long way toward excusing his perfidy on WMD’s.”

        Not in my book.

      • I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam, and though I was only a non-combatant, I have to agree with Bill Bodden’s reply to you. Powell did a great disservice to his historical legacy and his country when he performed his “good soldier” routine at the U.N. Security Council and testified that Saddam Hussein actually had WMDs. He has learned little from his days as an army infantry officer sending young men and women into combat in Iraq. And having seen the human face of war in wounded grunts at the base hospital during my tour of duty, I wonder how he can live with himself. Iraq presented no real threat to our nations security. It was a war of choice rather than necessity just as the war in Vietnam was.

        • “Powell did a great disservice to his historical legacy and his country when he performed his “good soldier” routine at the U.N. Security Council and testified that Saddam Hussein actually had WMDs. ”

          Not to mention the tens o thousands of US military dead and maimed and the millions of Iraqis killed, maimed, and displaced as refugees. The Iraq war was one of the greatest crimes of this century and Powell was complicit in the leadership that initiated that war.

      • Let me get this straight,
        if one gets shot at, hit
        or miss, one should be
        a “Good Person” forever
        more?
        MacArthur supposedly
        had “combat experience”
        during The Great War,
        that’s why he was called
        “Dugout Doug” by the
        troops.
        And, how about Pershing
        in Mexico?
        Westmoreland in WW2?
        Franks in Vietnam?

  16. No one should be surprised by criticism of President Obama. There has been a sharp contrast in many instances between his statements and his actions. To just cite just one, he has repeatedly claimed “no one is above the law.” Hands up anyone who believes that!!

    Given human nature and the variety of personalities it embraces we should not be surprised that reactions to Obama’s verbal discrepancies range from mild to venomous.

    • I’ll do my school marmish best to explain myself.
      I’m not surprised by criticism of any sitting President. But some of it here is irresponsible, even slanderous. And it’s almost never documented.

      No one who cares about the long term health of the country and his own credibility should use such trivial observations of the political and criminal processes as the pretext for snakeish slanders designed to diminish our President.

      He stated the constitutional principle correctly. He would also be the first to acknowledge that the criminal justice system, like every other aspect of government, is flawed and on occasion corrupted.

      An example, flagrantly continuing from the earliest days of President Johnson’s administration into the present, is the failure of all those administrations to enforce FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, in cases of the lobbying of Congress and administrations by Zionist organizations including but not limited to AIPAC on behalf of a foreign country, specifically Israel.

      This is a serious failure for which the country has suffered dire consequences continuing to this day. If you wish to do the right thing, why don’t you urge the President to instruct his Justice Department to do its duty and enforce the law in such matters equally across the board? They are serious questions, not in the least at the level of your quibbles. If you want to go after the man that is a real opportunity. And while you are at it you could campaign for rigorous and equal enforcement of the espionage laws against all violators including but not limited to Zionist-American and Israeli spies. That failure may be an even greater travesty.

      In short you can’t presume that the rule in practice is perfection and that Obama is personally responsible for any and all tiny deviations from it. Perfection is never attainable. But our dedicated reformers, presumably including yourself, should be working on real issues with perceptible impact on the commonweal.

      • “In short you can’t presume that the rule in practice is perfection and that Obama is personally responsible for any and all tiny deviations from it.”

        It looks like we could charge Obama with considering the top executives of Wall Street banks as being above the law.

        “The US department of injustice: Harsh Prosecution for the Little People and the Big Guys Skate” by Dave Lindorff – link to counterpunch.org

  17. President Obama has avoided – at least so far and honestly I have my fingers crossed here for my main man Barry – the disastrous policy decisions made by the last liberal president from the Democratic party who sat in the oval office. Of course I’m referring here to poor old LBJ. It tarnished his historical legacy and it drove him out of the White House. He died four years later, I think, a sadly broken man.
    General Petraeus is just the warrior as corporate CEO with the gloss finish of a policy wonk on testosterone thrown in for PR value. But he actually showed himself to have a rather pedestrian mindset. He tried to dress up the failed policies, strategies, tactics. etc. we used in the Vietnam War sprinkled with the fairy dust, a heady lexicon of buzz words, to curry favor and impress news reporters. The guy should write for The New Republic.
    I hate to state the obvious here. And I hope nobody thinks I’m talking down to her or him here in the comments section.
    But if I would slap some red lipstick on a pig, then name her Sweet Gertrude, my sexy girlfriend, it would still be a pig.
    I learned during my tour of Vietnam you never trust the brass and even more so the suits back in the world who sent you there. And our fearless military leaders, well, I’m really sad to inform you, that up close and personal, they are as clueless as you are and probably even more scared..
    Sure. you can call “search and destroy” now “take, clear and hold.” You can change with a wave of your magic wand “escalation” into “surge.” You grab a bull horn and proclaim to one and all “nation building” will now be known as “social engineering.”
    But when you come back to reality. you’re still stuck with this damn pig you named Sweet Gertrude. It’s rather embarrassing, especially, when people start snickering and pointing their fingers at you.
    But Sweet Gertrude? She won’t mind one bit. She’s only a pig. And actually kind of cute.

  18. The Guardian has an interesting article on leadership. Though prompted by Christie and Bridgegate, it is worth considering regarding opinions of Obama cited above:

    “The Chris Christie scandal proves it: strong leaders are dangerous: The disgrace of New Jersey’s Republican governor shows how political strength can fast become bullying – or worse” by Jonathan Freedland – link to theguardian.com

  19. It really ticked me off when Bush and Cheney culled through the Army’s Generals and elevated a handful based on their personal loyalty to Bush/ Cheney.

    Here we are, in 2012 or so,
    almost 4 years after Obama became Commander in Chief,
    and Bush’s Generals are sill in charge of the Army.

  20. “The officers Obama was dealing with were known to be insurbordinate and bullies. ”

    Why weren’t they cashiered, like MacArthur? “Dishonorable discharge” is correct for insubordinate bullies in the military.

    We need a President who’s actually willing to nail the jackasses like this.

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