Jan 10 2014
Is still a bad thing-no matter how many times you do it.
The usual suspects have come out, and seized upon Robert Gates’ new book to criticize the effort to get the US out of the worthless hellhole that is Afghanistan, and to rewrite the history of the US fiasco in Iraq. I find the tenor of the comments interesting, if more than a little bit predictable.
First, I think it is most important that the specific quote be examined in the context of the text around them. Gates was and is a person who moves deliberately, does not waste words, and I like to think of him as a consummate professional. Certainly he made a far better SECDEF than his worthless predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld-who ranks right down there with McNamara in terms of overall mediocrity.
Furthermore, it is particularly important to remember who is out there fronting for these criticisms right now: Bob Woodward and William “The Bloody” Kristol, neither of whom can be consider to be exactly “objective” observers. As Charles Pierce notes:
I mean, is there any possible reason to criticize the president because he injured the rather peripatetic fee-fee of Saint David Petraeus, or to find it unprecedented that a president might wonder whether or not a war he inherited — and, yes, supported, as a candidate — wasn't ultimately a futile proposition, or whether his generals were giving him the straight dope. I guarantee you, back in the 1860's, Woodward would have been the go-to stenographer for all those incompetent generals who Lincoln fired. (George McClellan would have loved him.) In the 1950's, Woodward would have been MacArthur's first phone call after Harry Truman canned his ass.
The other important thing to remember about Bob Gates is that a Democratic president thought keeping him on as Secretary of Defense would be a smart, centrist, bipartisan move that would be applauded on the op-ed pages, and by important people. Like, one supposes, Bob Woodward, who now occupies as space in the dingbatosphere far beyond mere journalism.
And, no matter how professional Gates is-he is still a Republican. Who has served a series of Republican presidents and made more than a couple of mistakes himself.
Or does no one remember Iran Contra anymore?
When Obama came into office-he was committed to getting us out of the hell hole that is Iraq. (Which was just as well since there was no prospect that an American troop presence would ever have resulted in social peace there) He had campaigned on the idea that Iraq was a colossal mistake and it diverted resources from the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. DOD was supposed to give him a menu of options for pursuing “victory”. In the end they only gave him the same tired old formula. A plan for a troop escalation of 40,000 and an open-ended big war to “prove” David Petraeus’s theories of counter-insurgency. Petraeus’ sexual proclivities were as yet unknown-so he still enjoyed sainthood status. This even though, in Iraq, he was part of the problem long before he became the solution. And when examined in detail-the surge did nothing that it was supposed to have done. ( As is being proved every day now in that useless nation). So what he said carried a lot of weight-and going against them was not a politically expedient move.
Now, even Gates’ critics acknowledge that on the whole, he was a very positive force at the Pentagon and for the nation. He appears to have helped prevent Dick Cheney and the Neocons from attacking Iran. He warned against the seductive character of drone warfare, and wants a court to sign off on drone strikes. He said he thought any military commander who wanted to take US troops into another big ground war should have his head examined. And he tried to rein in the Pentagon’s off the rail procurement processes, which have led to such fiascos as the Little Crappy Ship.
Plus, these criticisms are more than a little self-serving. They seek to completely ignore the fact that by 2009, in general, the public had had it with war without end, and was tired of the wars in general, and Iraq in particular. As is typical for your fan of Bush’s peculiar brand of liberation theology, it ignores the real people who were causing the failure of said policy, namely the people of Afghanistan themselves. Andrew Bacevich quite correctly pointed out that there was a distance between “American actions and America's interests is becoming increasingly difficult to discern. The fundamental incoherence of U.S. strategy becomes ever more apparent. Worst of all, there is no end in sight.”. It appears to me, at first glance (and I will need to read the book), that contrary to what the neocon apologists say, it is probably Obama that got the assessment right. He understood the public mood and had no real reason to trust the folks giving him advice-especially since they had a vested interest in seeing the wars continue. “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.”
Events have proven the naysayers correct-the Afghans excelled at screwing away opportunities presented to them. Petreaus is gone into obscurity, and Afghanistan has increasingly become synonymous with the overall failure of the so called “War on Terror”. Public opinion, rightfully so, wants us out-and the sooner we get out, the better for America. Probably not for Afghanistan, but they made their choice. Now they should have to live with it.
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.