Long knives, Washington, Afghanistan, part 2

I’ve been thinking more about the timing of the WaPo’s publication of Woodward’s bombshell and the accompanying materials this morning.
It seems clear to me Woodward must have had the text of the McChrystal Assessment for a number of days. His colleagues had the time to do some good follow-up reporting with Gen. Jim Jones and other senior officials. Also, the WaPo and the Pentagon had time to negotiate the amounts of the assessment that the WaPo could put onto its public web-site. So obviously, the folks inside the administration knew that Woodward had it and the WaPo was going to publish it.
Yesterday, Obama was doing his big t.v. blitz– going onto five major t.v. news-discussion programs to discuss primarily health-care but also aware he’d be getting questions about Afghanistan and other issues.
Here’s what he said on Afghanistan on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

    When we came in, basically, there had been drift in our Afghan strategy. Everybody acknowledges that. And I ordered a top to bottom review. The most important thing I wanted was us to refocus on why we’re there. We’re there because al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans and we cannot allow extremists who want to do violence to the United States to be able to operate with impunity.
    Now, I think we’ve lost — we lost that focus for a while and you started seeing a– a classic case of mission creep where we’re just there and we start taking on a whole bunch of different missions.
    I wanted to narrow it. I did order 21,000 additional troops there to make sure that we could secure the election, because I thought that was important. That was before the review was completed. I also said after the election I want to do another review. We’ve just gotten those 21,000 in. General McChrystal, who’s only been there a few months, has done his own assessment.
    I am now going to take all this information and we’re going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm’s way, we are defeating al Qaeda and — and that can be shown to a skeptical audience, namely me — somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops, then we will do what’s required to keep the American people safe.

Well, strictly speaking, back on March 27, when he made the decision based on that first “top to bottom review”, he decided to expand both the troop numbers and the troop mission in Afghanistan. Only at some later point did he decide he wanted to “narrow” it.
In their piece in the WaPo today, Rajiv Chadrasekaran and Karen DeYoung write that the chaos surrounding the holding of last month’s Afghan election was a turning point for the administration.
Also, note the apparent put-down of McChrystal in what Obama said.
So, a couple of quick points here. Did the WaPo delay the publication of today’s news reports to allow Obama to get his version out to the public first– or was there some other reasoning behind the timing of publishing these stories?
Also, McChrystal may well not last long in his job.
But whether he does or not, the bigger issue here is that Obama and his national-security team are going to have to do some very broad thinking (as I noted earlier– see # 2 here) if they want to find a way to ramp down the currently huge risks the US/NATO troops face in Afghanistan.

7 thoughts on “Long knives, Washington, Afghanistan, part 2”

  1. Also, McChrystal may well not last long in his job.
    Could be right. His conclusions were unoriginal, classic Vietnam all the way.

  2. In a piece titled, “Military growing impatient with Obama on Afghanistan”, we hear that,
    “Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy Newspapers that the McChrystal they know would resign before he would stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.
    “Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”

  3. 1. The processes of reconciliation and counterinsurgency are the same. Within the context of politics dominated by factional networks that serve the immediate opportunities of strongmen, national leaders can target one ally after another and negotiate a recruitment arrangement with one after another.
    2. To gain stability, national leaders need to establish sustainable participation by peasant communities so that they will not simply shift from one factional patron to another. To do this, peasants need a stronger asset base that is linked to national leaders. The weaker the peasants’ power, the country will be more unstable.
    3. Refugees can become rootless and seek an identity or source of pride and security. Thus, they are susceptible to Taliban structure, power and return to religious roots. After attending madrasas school s, they can become true-believer hardcore Taliban. The Taliban become a replacement for their lost families and communities.
    4. Afghan international politics can become an extension of national factional politics. For example, individual Chinese military officers own large businesses and industries and they probably make business arrangements with individual Pakistani military officers. Since Pakistani military officers own approximately 22 billion dollars of businesses, relations between China and Pakistan do not necessarily follow national interests and can fuel factional competition. Chinese businesses are starting to do the same thing in Afghanistan.
    5. The poppy trade dominates the Afghan economy and is responsible for forging many factional alliances in Afghanistan including elites in the government and in the Taliban. Those alliances extend beyond the Afghan borders and eventually link to diverse sectors that include the import/export businesses in Karachi and the Russian mafia and elements in Turkey. Russian organized crime may control as much as 80% of Russian businesses and control as much as 40% of Russia’s wealth, and those elements may eventually penetrate and greatly influence Central Asian and Afghan factional alliances.
    These issues are very different from the western ideals of building institutions and democracy and waging military campaigns.
    Bob Spencer

  4. Hussain Abdul-Hussain reports in Kuwait’s Arabic-language daily Al Rai that the Obama administration has quietly decided not to return an ambassador to Syria as promised. He quotes unnamed officials who say president Bashar Assad is blackmailing the United States and its neighbors while conceding nothing in negotiations.
    “Assad had started to count the American eggs in his basket before offering anything in return,” said an administration official, according to Tony Badran’s translation from Arabic. “Assad fires a rocket here or there [in south Lebanon] and expects us to run to him. . . . This kind of security blackmail no longer works on the United States.”
    Syrian blackmail, though, has been working for decades. Bashar Assad’s government, like that of his late father, Hafez Assad, is an extortionist gangster regime that demands—and usually gets—the diplomatic equivalent of protection money. “The basic line is ‘Do what we want or we will kill you,’ ” said Barry Rubin, author of The Truth about Syria. “Yet at the same time they hold out the bait of great progress if only their demands are met. They play the West at times like a master fisherman reeling in his victim.”
    There’s a case to be made, albeit a weak one, for buying off rogue regimes if they’ll behave. The biggest problem with bribing the Syrians, aside from the fact that it encourages more blackmail later, is that Assad won’t even hold up his end of the deal. “The Syrians,” Lebanese blogger Mustapha explained on his blog Beirut Spring, “try to sell, for a high price, water for fires they cause themselves, then they don’t deliver.”
    No matter what the Syrian government is offered—normal relations, a looser sanctions regime, trade agreements—it has never rolled back support for international terrorist organizations. Syria refuses to hold peace talks with Israel or close down the local branches of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Assad won’t stop obstructing the formation of a new Lebanese government nor will he shut down his terrorist pipeline into Iraq.
    Lebanese politicians and journalists have been under siege by Syrian assassins and car bombers since 2005. Iraqis have been blown apart by Syrian-supported suicide-bombers since 2003. And Israelis have been under assault by terrorist groups backed by Damascus since the Assad regime came to power decades ago. “This is how Syria negotiates,” Lee Smith wrote in 2007 after Syrian agents blew up a bus on Mount Lebanon, “with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.”
    “The impediment to real change in the Syrian regime’s behavior in a manner that would satisfy American decision-makers is structural and systemic,” wrote Tony Badran in NOW Lebanon. “Syria cannot abandon its support for violence and subversion, or its alliance with Iran, because those are the only tools allowing it to bolster its relevance above its political weight.”
    Indeed, Assad and his father have made Syria an indispensable nation in the Middle East, despite its utter dearth of economic and military power, by exporting terrorism and suicide murder to neighboring countries. Henry Kissinger’s famous formulation, “No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria,” would be negated at once if Assad ceased and desisted his support for Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi terrorist groups. Syria would become just another failed Soviet-style state with no more geopolitical power than Yemen.
    The Obama administration has been a bit more accommodating of Assad than it should have been, but the same can be said for every American administration in recent decades. Barry Rubin warned about this possibility long before Barack Obama was even elected. “The next U.S. president might try to engage Syria and spend a year or so finding out that it doesn’t work,” he told me in 2007.
    Bashar Assad does not play well with others, and he never has. Neither did his father. The Syrians, according to a U.S. official quoted by Abdul-Hussain, “don’t know the difference between normalizing relations and behaving like they’ve defeated the US in a world war.”
    President Obama’s conciliatory nature meant a temporary rapprochement with Syria was likely, if not inevitable. Assad’s nature all but ensures it won’t last

  5. Interestingly nobody on either side of the spectrum seems to be entertaining the possibility that the WH itself leaked to Woodward?
    Seems very much to cynical ole me that this is a classic leak designed to get the MSM and blogosphere blathering, get it all ventilated, let everybody have their go, after which the president announces, in a low key way, an increase in US troop committments to Afghanistan and then does a TV address on the economy or some domestic issue to take everyone’s mind off it.
    It is very hard to imagine that Obama’s very own appointed general would use such strong descriptions as “failure” if it had not been cleared cleared first by Sec Gates, ie cleared by the WH.
    I know such a theory sounds very zionist, but after all, there are plenty of them in the WH. Far more than there were in the last Admin. And you have to hand it to the zionists – they are very tricky.

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