Green Room

Baron Barone Gives the King His Drubbing

posted at 4:34 pm on October 5, 2009 by

Michael Barone has just given President Barack H. Obama the thumping of his administration so far — in his own low-key, quiet, but factually stubborn way. The charge is fecklessness, and the substance of the charge is the president’s sudden lack of interest in pursuing what he himself dubbed “a war of necessity” that was “fundamental to the defense of our people” just a month and a half ago:

“This is not a war of choice,” Barack Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 17. “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

But that was nearly seven weeks ago. Now, it appears that Obama is about to ignore the advice of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whom he installed as commander in Afghanistan in May, after relieving his predecessor ahead of schedule. McChrystal, who came up as a Special Forces officer, is an expert in counterinsurgency. Not surprisingly, in his Aug. 30 report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he recommended a course that seems certain to require a substantial number of additional troops.

Barone notes how little time Obama spent meeting with his military and security advisors anent the Afghanistan war; he only met once in September, the very time that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was compiling the final version of his report and sending it to the Commander in Chief.

When it landed on the Oval Office desk, Obama held a major, three-hour White House meeting with his senior advisors, including Slow Joe Biden. The president chose to hold the meeting when Gen. McChrystal was scheduled to be out of the country; and of course, McChrystal was not invited to confuse matters by participating in the discussion in person, where he could make sure he was heard, but only by easily ignored “videolink.” (I wonder how many times senior White House officials hit the Mute button?)

Later, these wise old men (and, one presumes, two wise old woman: nagging Secretary of State Hillary “Can We Tawk?” Clinton and shrill Secretary of Homeland Security “Dammit” Janet Napolitano) concluded that McChrystals assumptions were just next door to being “myths,” which the Obamic advisors “exposed to the light of day”… including the myth that “the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaida,” as the Washington Post put it.

That WaPo article gives us a stunning insight into BarackThink:

Senior White House officials asked some of the sharpest questions, according to participants and others who have been briefed on the meeting, while the uniformed military, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, did not take issue with McChrystal’s assessment.

According to White House officials involved in the meeting, Vice President Biden offered some of the more pointed challenges to McChrystal, who attended the session by video link from Kabul. One official said Biden played the role of “skeptic in chief,” while other top officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, were muted in their comments.

Notice what’s missing? Where is a single White-House staffer who supports McChrystal’s recommendations — as evidently Gen. Petraeus and other “uniformed military” do — and is willing to argue for them?

We appear to have an appeasement of White House officials — La-Z-Boy leaders who are highly skeptical, led by Joe “Skeptic in Chief” Biden (with his vast military experience) — arrayed against a gaggle of apathetic, close-mouthed chair-warmers with window seats, led by Hillary Rodham Clinton Rodham. But nobody to speak for the Afghanistan campaign except some guy on closed-circuit TV who can’t even get a table at the Willard Room without a closely reasoned debate with the maître d’.

Who are you going to believe anyway? Vice President of the Whole United States Joe “Divide We Stand” Biden, who was so prescient on the futility and failure of the counterinsurgency “surge” strategy of the previous regime? Or Stanley McChyrstal, David Petraeus, and your own lyin’ eyes?

At the end of the WaPo article, several administration officials — speaking anonymously — blamed everything on George W. Bush. I actually found this very surprising; after all, they’re usually so quick to claim credit by name while they blame everything on Bush.

Let’s give the last word to Michael Barone:

It’s not clear yet that the “senior advisers” who were mocking McChrystal’s assumptions will prevail. In his 25 minutes on Air Force One, McChrystal may have used his knowledge and experience to convince Obama that his judgment was better than that of the armchair generals that the president had listened to for three hours the day before. Maybe Obama will choose to wage his “war of necessity” in the way the general he selected believes is necessary for us to succeed.

But I wouldn’t bet heavily on it — not any more, in fact, than I would have bet on Chicago’s chances of hosting the 2016 Olympic games.

To liberals, and especially to this president, reality is infintely malleable if you but close your eyes and wish really hard. I think Barack Obama truly believes that you don’t have to “navigate from where you are,” as McChrystal said; you can simply start from “where you wish to be” instead. All you must do is forcefully declare that that’s where you’re starting from, and the world will rearrange itself to make it so.

Obama is going to reject Gen. McChrystal’s report — though likely he’ll announce that he’s accepting it, while he issues orders that unambiguously countermand its every particular. Thus will he have the best of both cakes… until the power falls upon us like an avalanche.

Cross-posted on Big Lizards

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I choose Biden.

/ – not that it’s needed.

BadgerHawk on October 5, 2009 at 5:30 PM

the world will rearrange itself to make it so.

Well, it worked to get him elected President. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Taliban and al Qaeda will surrender out of white guilt.

trubble on October 5, 2009 at 7:20 PM

Make no mistake, Obama will deride the issue by formulating from the collective or consensus. This is the moment of his truth where he must take the helm and lead, but he will do everything but lead. That’s the tragedy of the office that he holds.

lonestr on October 5, 2009 at 7:47 PM