Friday, June 21, 2013

Trapped Inside the Oval Office, Part 2

Trey Smith

Famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars reporting on Mr. Obama's Afghanistan Policy Review in the fall of 2009 provides an instructive case-study of just how limited a President's options are when faced with institutional opposition from within the Executive Branch.

Woodward reported that after Mr. Obama had acceded to the military demand for an addition 21,000 troops shortly after taking office, he asked them to produce a set of options that would include a reduced U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The Pentagon refused to do so and instead began publicly lobbying for an additional 40,000 troops. Joint Chief of Staff head Admiral Mike Mullen first pushed for a troop increase at a September 15 Senate Armed Services hearing. White House aides Rahm Emanuel and Tom Donilon were, Woodward reports, "furious. The president is being screwed by the senior uniformed military, they (said). The generals and admirals are systematically playing him, boxing him in." Mullen apologized and said it wouldn't happen again.

But then two weeks later, on October 1, 2009, U.S. Afghan military commander Stanley McChrystal committed an act of insubordination far more serious than the later Rolling Stone interviews which got him fired. He again publicly lobbied for more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in a major speech in London. Woodward reports that "McChrystal's comments marked a seminal moment for the White House staff. What better proof that the military was on a search-and-destroy mission aimed at the president? (National Security Advisor) James Jones said that McChrystal's speech was either “insubordination or stupid. It read like a direct challenge to the president. 'It is a firing offense, but McChrystal won't be fired because we need him.'" Woodward also reported that "Obama felt disrespected and trapped. The White House saw the speech as a scheme on the part of McChrystal, Mullen and Petraeus."

And Mr. Obama was indeed trapped, far more controlled by the military than its actual "Commander-in-Chief". As CIA chief Leon Panetta summed up the situation: "no Democratic president can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it. So just do it. Do what they say." Mr. Obama was thus forced to accede to the Pentagon's harebrained scheme for a "surge" that increased U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 (with an additional 10,000 from NATO allies) that achieved little and continued to weaken U.S. national security by worsening conditions in neighboring, and far more important, Pakistan.

The logic behind Panetta's "give them what they want" mentality is obvious. A President might conceivably survive another 9/11 or losing in Afghanistan - but not if military sources continually leaked information to the media and Congress blaming it on his or her failure to support the military. And, for the same reason, a President is often "trapped" by the NSA, CIA or any other major Executive agency.
~ from America's Most Anti-Democratic Institution: How the Imperial Presidency Threatens U.S. National Security, by Fred Branfman ~
I am often amazed that so many of my fellow Americans don't recognize that the military (or spy agencies) -- just like any other business or organization -- wants to grow. It wants more money, more power and more influence. This is why the military brass aren't interested in the concept of peace. A lack of real, perceived or imaginary enemies is a direct threat to their preeminence. As long as they can convince us that there are bogeymen around every corner, too many Americans will give them a free hand to keep us "safe."

How is it that for years our number one priority to stem the flow of terrorism was to get Osama bin Laden and yet, once we got him, we were told that the threat was as great as ever! Each time we kill another "important" leader in the terrorist network and we're told how this death will hamper the command structure, nothing actually changes. One would think that, since we've killed or arrested so many terrorist cogs, the threat would recede, but we are told the precise opposite! The threat is as great now as it was before we took out x, y and z.

It should be obvious to anyone paying attention that it doesn't matter how many terrorist higher ups we kill. We could slaughter thousands at a time and we would still be told that we weren't safe enough yet, that now is not the time to let down our guard.

The institution of the military craves perpetual war because this kind of war insures that the military will be THE prime focus of government. They actively are pursuing a strategy that guarantees to produce tens or hundreds of thousands of people who want nothing more than to avenge the death and destruction we routinely visit upon them. By relentlessly pursuing this strategy, the military-industrial complex guarantees that it will create far more "terrorists" than it can ever kill which means it willfully generates the threat that it says it must protect us from!

This post is part of a miniseries.  If you missed Part 1, go here

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