Obama and the Military: Tinfoil blogging

There is some understandable gnashing and wailing going on about the "team" that Obama has put together.  It certainly doesn't look like the "change" we'd hoped for, "we" being those free thinkers who are looking at results first instead of justifying "belief" by rationalizing uncomfortable and highly inconsistent facts.

We see Geithner and Summers in key positions regarding the economy, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and the Bush family insider, Senator Judd Greg (R-NH) as the new secretary of commerce.  Our health policy almost came under the heavy influence of mega lobbyist and tax evader former Senator Tom Daschle.

I maintain that there's no point in being disappointed in Obama.  That implies that there might be a point in "believing" in or having "faith" in Obama or any other major politician from Eisenhower on.

If you don't "believe" then you're not disappointed.  Bypassing disappointment moves you directly to analysis.  Each issue should be judged on its own merits and then put into interpretive categories after the initial analysis.  Inductive reasoning is far superior to deductive in today's political arena.  Aristotle trumps Plato, decisively.

So what do we think of this?  What's really happening here.

On Feb. 8, TimesOnline London  ran this article on Obama putting the "break on" the "Afghan surge."

Obama puts the break on Afghan surge

Sarah Baxter and Michael Smith

"PRESIDENT Barack Obama has demanded that American defense chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.

"There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy."
(Any emphasis in the TimesOnline article is the author's)

Why would he do that now?  The believe/disbelieve thinkers say that Obama's been co-opted and enlisted as an establishment tool.  But this type of move isn't consistent with the "captive Obama" viewpoint.

Obama may have two motives here.  First of all, we simply can't afford another war and the president knows it.  We're broke.  We pretend as though we actually have options but we don't.  There are over 700 military installations overseas with nearly 10% of those major installations.  We can't even afford those, let alone another major war.

But why did Obama get right up in the face of the military.  He "demanded" a "strategy" is pretty tough language.  That means that the military lacks a strategy.  He won't send "troops without a coherent plan ..."  Again, emphasizing that the military wants a commitment but has no plan to get out, just like they didn't in Iraq.

It looks like the "surge" is dead for now.  It will be hard to back off of this devastating set of statements.  But other projects are going forward even though there's no money for them.  Why threaten to kill this project?

A faction of the military openly defied Obama

Two incidents explain the move.  On January 20, 2009, President Obama announced the end of torture and the closing of Gitmo.  Shortly after that, in full defiance of the clear intent of his Commander in Chief, U.S. The chief judge of the Guantanamo military court, Col. James Pohl, U.S. Army indicated that "he would go forward with next month's hearing for an alleged USS Cole bomber in a capital terror case."  McClatchy Washington Bureau, Jan. 29, 2009.  That was the first outright defiance of the President Obama.

The second was even more outrageous.  General Petraeus, who wants to be president, issued a statement that resulted in this headline on Feb. 2, 2009:   "Generals Seek To Reverse Obama's Iraq Withdrawal Decision."  Petraeus tipped his hand well before the election in Senate testimony.  He argued that the commander of Iraqi forces could actually defy the president on troop withdrawals.

During his July, 2008 trip to Iraq, Obama made it clear to Petraeus that he wasn't bound to Petraeus' advice.  At a Senate hearing on Sept. 11, 2007 (ABC News), Obama not only objected to the manipulation of having a hearing on 9/11, he was clear on Iraq:  "This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake," he said.  "There are bad options and worse options." ABC News.  He then addressed Petraeus directly:  "However, the Illinois Senator accused Petraeus of dodging questions about the overarching Iraq war strategy. 'You've punted a little bit.  We don't have limitless resources ... the question is one of strategy not tactics.'" ABC News

On Election Day 2008, Petraeus pushed back again indicating, as Fox News headlined, that he'd "stand firm" on staying in Iraq "regardless of who wins the Presidency."  Petraeus knew who would win the presidency.

Can Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Odierno count?  
Image:  pursuethepassion   cc

What nerve!  He should have been fired on the spot but Bush was charge and was probably in on the bad taste insolence of a General being both rude to the president-elect and insulting the citizens who had just elected him.  So the recent statement, in full defiance of the popularly elected president, was planned and executed according to plan.

After these two mutiny laden statements, I wondered what Obama would do to strike back.  He will likely never be more popular yet here are two members of the military defying him.


"The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Robert Gates, the defense secretary, postponed the decision after questions from Obama,"  TimesOnline, Feb. 8, 2009

Hand off to Robert Gates, holdover secretary of defense.  Here's another chance to jettison the belief/disbelief paradigm by looking at discrete events.  Gates history in U.S. intelligence has some very low points.  No argument.

There are two exceptions.  When Bush rattled the cage in February, 2007 about Iranian senior officials selling weapons to the "insurgents," it was a clear justification for war.  Yet Gates, traveling in Europe gave a transparently tepid endorsement of the Bush thesis.  This combined with the total sabotage of Bush's argument by by General Peter Pace made bush look silly.  The little covered testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign affairs by Brzezinski rounded out the Gates-Pace right-left combination.  Bush was left without support for his next war.

Gates also showed how he handled the disobedient and incompetent in handling the 2007 loose nukes situation. Contrary to all doctrine an without authorization, nuclear weapons were loaded aboard a plane headed for Houston.  There was no authorization for this action and none of the required procedures were followed.

The military was embarrassed and the rumors started about a secret plan by Cheney etc.  Whatever the explanation, Gates was not impressed.  He brought in a top DC insider, James Schlesinger, to investigate.  When the review was done, Gates fired the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force in a very public and humiliating way.

Gates didn't stop at the top.  On June 9, 2008, The Air Force Times reported that:

 "Gates, who began his career working nuclear security issues as an Air Force intelligence officer in the 1960s, also said a 'substantial' number of Air Force general officers and colonels more immediately responsible for recent lapses could still be reprimanded or fired in the wake of the report."  That's called "cleaning house."

Gates knows how to handle these things.  Obama knew that about Gates and he also knew he'd be up against some nasty customers who needed to justify Iraq for their own purposes.  Gates was the logical choice given what Obama correctly anticipated.

While Gates accompanied Petraeus and his Iraq commander, Gen. Odierno on Feb. 2, 2009 when the two generals met with Obama and tried to pressure him to abandon Iraq troop withdrawals, by Feb. 9, he was clearly following orders from Obama on giving even one third of the troops requested by the Army for Afghanistan.  The whole enterprise is in question.

The clarity of Obama's intent is reflected in the Times article.  They didn't invent this language.

"Obama promised extra 7,000-10,000 troops during the election campaign but the military has inflated its demands. Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama's 'Vietnam quagmire'."

Referring to Afghanistan as a "Vietnam" anything is tough talk.  Adding "quagmire" is the icing.

How does it end?

The British are signaling that they think that the Afghanistan "surge" is both a bad idea and a dead letter.

"General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army chief who will step down this summer, has insisted that troops need a rest and believes he can send only one battle group, senior defense sources said." 

After reviewing the evidence, it seems to me that Obama is maneuvering brilliantly in this situation.  It is also clear that Gates was the right choice for Defense given the clear disrespect for Constitution shown by these two military officials.

Does that mean that I endorse Tim Geithner or Larry Summers as stewards of the economy?  Not at all.  They're dreadful choices and Senator Gregg is worse than dreadful.  It doesn't mean that I have "hope" or that I now "believe" in Obama.

It simply means that in this very important encounter between rogue military elements and the President of the United States, at this point, I'm convinced that Obama is headed in the right direction.


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John V. Santore, writing on Huffington Post, calls Helen Thomas' question the most interesting event of last night's Obama press conference.

Obama Dodges Question on Israeli Nuclear Capability

The question of the night at President Obama's first televised press conference focused not on economics but foreign policy. Helen Thomas asked the president if he knew of any countries in the Middle East that have nuclear weapons. The President said that he didn't want to "speculate" about such an issue, but that preventing a regional nuclear arms race, as well as reducing nuclear arsenals internationally, was an important goal.



The people who need to know in the ME are aware of Israel's "supposed' program. It's about not rattling cages here and not popping off. This is a critical period for Obama and he's not allowing him self any margin for error in his statements. Pretty soon, he'll realize that he needs more "believers" in his cabinet, hopefully he'll realize that. Putting Gregg in is like putting Petraeus in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What a minefield.

"Furthest from him is best, whom reason hath equaled, force hath made supreme above his equals." Milton