Streetwise Professor

January 8, 2014

Lèse-majesté, or Bob Gates Tells Truth to Power on Afghanistan

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:01 pm

Robert Gates has set off a mini-frenzy in DC, with leaks from his memoir Duty. Some of the frenzy relates to his slamming of Joe Biden, which led the White House to respond that Joe is a great “statesman.”  Thereby revealing that in the White House Thesaurus, “statesman” is a synonym for “buffoon.”

But the most explosive opinion that Gates expresses is that Obama did not believe in his strategy in Afghanistan in 2009-2010, was deeply suspicious of the military, and devised a military strategy that attempted to straddle two stools.  That Obama chose to surge (but with a sell-by date) for political reasons.  He did this with no conviction about the rightness of the policy, except for domestic political considerations.

It’s not like this was news.  Type in “Afghanistan” in the search bar, and scroll through my posts–including those which discuss Gates specifically–and you’ll see that was the gravamen of my criticism in 2009-2011.  For instance:

In other words: go large, or go home.   (Holt wrote this, note well, in 2003.)   Half measures, like those in Obama’s plan, are likely doomed to failure.   This is especially true inasmuch as Obama’s “other path” (building on Bush’s “other path”) depends heavily on transferring responsibility and control to an Afghan government and army in a period of months; Holt provides chapter and verse on how this is almost certainly an exercise in futility, given Afghan history, and the nature of its society (or more accurately, societies).

As I’ve written before, there are no good options in Afghanistan.   But by far the worst is the “middle path,” especially when it is not sold to the American people honestly.   The “time line” has short-term, domestic political considerations written all over it.

There’s more.

And it’s not just Afghanistan.  As I posted a few days ago, riffing off a WSJ article, this was Obama’s MO in Syria.  He didn’t want to take decisive action, but he didn’t want to make it look like he was abandoning the opposition.  So he took half-measures to support the rebels, and ostentatiously drew a red line–until Assad called his bluff, and left Obama scrambling for a face saving exit, which Putin oh-so-graciously provided.

This is beyond dispiriting.  The office of president carries with it awesome burdens and responsibilities.  Obama shirked those burdens, attempting to avoid politically unpalatable choices by deciding not to decide, or taking middle paths that were doomed to failure.  And doomed to cost thousands of American lives for no purpose in Afghanistan, not to speak of many more thousands of Afghan lives.  And doomed to cost tens-of-thousands of lives in Syria, not to mention the imponderable costs associated with making the United States appear hopeless and feckless in a region where such appearances encourage the wolves. (Not to mention the effect this has on, say, China.)

Obama has not taken his awesome responsibilities seriously, treating them instead as ancillary to his domestic political concerns.  Tens of thousands are paying the price in Southwest Asia.  Who knows what price is to be paid in the future.

Gates has only had the temerity to call attention at this very late date to what was obvious to those that had been paying attention, but which the political class had collectively decided to avert its eyes from.  Note the attacks that are being directed his way.  Such are the wages of lèse-majesté, no matter how deserving the majesté is of the lèse.

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5 Comments »

  1. The joke about all this is that the intellectual Soleil Roi Barry is essentially the stereotype of a Midwestern Boob ( a rarer bird then most believe), albeit a well spoken one when the teleprompter is working. Look at him: domestically he has acted with the arrogance of an academic whose, to steal the terms of an old New Yorker cartoon, paucity of knowledge and scholarship is overwhelmed by his mighty tenure. Political considerations beyond the next nanosecond – what does that mean to one who will part the seas, cool the planet and whose face will cure erectile dysfunction in both hetero and homosexual communities? The shear ineptitude of his first two years beggars belief. Judging from Him and Hillary, one can only conclude that fumes from the Quinnipiac and Charles Rivers cause brain damage: mostly in areas relating to shame, honesty and perception. A sort of induced psychopathy combined with a perceptual lobotomy.

    On overseas matters, of which he knows even less than squat, to understand him is that he is entirely phenomenological and solipsistic. Think of a guy at a Chablis and brie middlebrow party who has to impress everyone, mouths off some platitudes but whose actions have consequences. When faced with a real choice where there is no really good solution (translated ass making a speech, passing some law or reg and then engaging in magical thinking that somehow things will get done), the O’s response is to make a statement and then desperately climb down whatever the cost to the nation. The problem is that he cannot control the perception of things through the media – once the bodies pile up the stench is unmanageable.

    Note that this is exactly the performance one would expect of a second rate hack cum bully from the Illinois State Senate.

    Comment by Sotos — January 9, 2014 @ 10:02 am

  2. A good man is leaving govt service today — NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis. His interview wiyh NPR’s Steve Inskeep is worth reading all the way through. http://www.npr.org/2014/01/10/261282601/transcript-nsa-deputy-director-john-inglis

    Comment by Principled Audacity — January 10, 2014 @ 8:06 am

  3. […] Craig Pirrong posts on Bob Gates’ revelations. … And it’s not just Afghanistan.  As I posted a few days ago, riffing off a WSJ article, this was Obama’s MO in Syria.  He didn’t want to take decisive action, but he didn’t want to make it look like he was abandoning the opposition.  So he took half-measures to support the rebels, and ostentatiously drew a red line–until Assad called his bluff, and left Obama scrambling for a face saving exit, which Putin oh-so-graciously provided. […]

    Pingback by January 12, 2014 « Pickerhead — January 12, 2014 @ 6:33 am

  4. Another one bites the dust:

    A senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Satter is scathing about the White House’s uncritical approach towards the Kremlin. He describes Obama’s policy as counterproductive and flawed: “I think my expulsion shows the true nature of the reset. It was meaningless from the start. It ignores the realities of Russian life and Russian politics.
    “It treats Russia as a normal democratic country, instead of treating it as a society dominated by a small group dedicated only to itself, both materially and politically. It’s self-deluding. It makes it more difficult to deal with the consequences.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/13/russia-expels-american-journalist-david-satter

    Comment by Ivan — January 14, 2014 @ 12:46 am

  5. But don’t worry, @Ivan. The administration has said that it is “disappointed” at the expulsion. Perhaps they are trying to kill Putin and Lavrov by causing them to laugh uncontrollably until they suffer seizures.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 15, 2014 @ 12:28 am

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