Obama's Tricky Battle with the Military-Media Complex
Continued from previous page
Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Petraeus had pushed McChrystal on Obama in spring 2009 when they wanted to force out General David McKiernan as Afghanistan commander – despite the fact that McChrystal had lied earlier about the death of Corporal Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in hopes of promoting public support for the faltering war efforts.
Once in command, McChrystal leaked to the press his oppositional recommendations (a proposed major troop escalation and a commitment of at least ten more years) during the strategy review leading up to Obama’s decision to “surge” in Afghanistan this year and then pull back next July. The general went rogue again in London last October when he publicly opposed the decision to fight the war with a more limited approach. Instead of firing him then, however, Obama just dressed McChrystal down, and told other Pentagon leaders to stop backing his proposals – at least in public!
Obviously outgunned by the pro-escalation forces — thanks in part to our ever-fawning media, which regards Petraeus and his ilk as heroes – Obama is now wearing an ill-fitting political straitjacket. Choosing to appear tough while still nodding in the direction of his supposed progressive base means the president bears as much responsibility—and blame – for the situation as do the military and the media. His conflict-averse nature and Rodney King-like desire that everyone “get along” make him his own worse enemy as he tries to avoid letting Afghanistan drag him down leading into the next presidential election.
As General Conway noted at his recent press conference, the president often speaks out of both sides of his mouth:
“The President was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments regarding July 2011.”
In other words, as Ray McGovern concludes, “The July 2011 date was pure politics…”
Peter Baker buttressed this analysis in the Times, citing one Obama adviser who spoke of the president’s calculation that an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan would undermine the rest of his agenda: “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”
Obama’s need for to project an image of toughness – ironically by kowtowing cravenly to the very forces that aim to pull him down, the military-media complex – may in the end yield little for either him or us. Consider these recent remarks from another general, Ray Odierno, the departing commander of American forces in Iraq. Also speaking to the Times, Odierno said, “We all came in very naïve about Iraq… We just didn’t understand it.”
As reporter Anthony Shadid wrote:
To advocates of the counterinsurgency strategy that General Odierno has, in part, come to symbolize, the learning curve might highlight the military’s adaptiveness. Critics of a conflict that killed an estimated 100,000 Iraqis, perhaps far more, and more than 4,400 American soldiers might see the acknowledgment as evidence of the war’s folly.
Asked if the United States had made the country’s divisions worse, General Odierno said, “I don’t know.”
“There’s all these issues that we didn’t understand and that we had to work our way through,” he said. “And did maybe that cause it to get worse? Maybe.”