Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flashback From the Afpak Migraine

If Barack Obama had been president in 2002, he says he would have stayed out of Iraq and pursued al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But that simple "war of necessity" is now morphing into the biggest foreign policy headache of our time, a Hydra of impossible choices in Pakistan, the whole Middle East and beyond.

Even as Hamid Karzai agrees to an election runoff with who-knows-what prospects of national unity in Kabul, the perception of a growing gulf between the American military and the White House stirs echoes of the 1964 movie, "Seven Days in May," a what-if about a conspiracy to unseat a President led by the head of the Joint Chiefs who considers him too soft on America's enemies.

In today's 24/7 media world, politicking against a President can be done openly, not so much by active-duty generals, as in the movie, but by retired military talking heads like Gen. Anthony Zinni on cable news networks abetted by scare headlines online and elsewhere.

("Pentagon Chief: Obama Afghan Decision Can't Wait" screams Drudge yesterday linking to a Reuters report quoting Defense Secretary Gates as saying something quite different--that the President's strategy won't depend simply on the election: "I see this as a process, not something that's going to happen all of the sudden...the president will have to make his decisions in the context of that evolutionary process.")

Ever since the leak a month ago of Gen. McChrystal's report recommending 40,000 more troops, the media narrative has been a vacillating President, egged on by Joe Biden vs. hard-headed Pentagon honchos who are gung-ho to root out terrorists in Afghanistan, a parody of the complicated debate now going on in the White House.

Such oversimplification of what we face in the Middle East is a slow-motion "Seven Days in May," an undermining of the elected Commander-in-Chief that was dramatized as unthinkable in the last century. It shouldn't be thinkable now.


Holte Ender said...

I can't imagine what the world would be like today, if JFK had had bowed to the pressure from his military advisers in October 1962. Unthinkable.

jf said...

Obama's style is a far cry from the Decider's. Remember "It's not in my nature to analyze and second guess."

Analysis is an aspect of higher-level thinking, along with synthesis and application. We have a president now who thinks on those levels.

It's taking the world a little getting used to.