Jim Douglass: In His Own Bay of Pigs Moment, Obama Backed Down (Part 6)

The most important book for any American to read is JFK and the Unspeakable: Who Killed Him and Why it Matters by James D. Douglass.

Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.

Below is Part 6: In His Own Bay of Pigs Moment, Obama Backed Down

Just as John Kennedy did, Barack Obama had a Bay of Pigs early in his presidency. He became the target of a covert operation that trapped and compromised him as president. In Obama’s case, the challenge to his authority as commander-in-chief came not from the CIA but from the Army, and not in Cuba but in Afghanistan. As in Kennedy’s case, Obama’s response to the entrapment established the pattern of his presidency, but in a direction opposite to Kennedy’s. Obama has become an obedient servant to his national security state, and as a result, a source of despair to many of his supporters.

The critical background to President Obama’s June 2010 firing of General Stanley McChrystal for his outlandish Rolling Stone interview was McChrystal’s close relationship to the man Obama named to replace him. The president’s newly appointed Afghan commander, David H. Petraeus, was McChrystal’s boss and mentor. In September 2009, in a more significant subversion of Obama’s authority than the later interview, McChrystal had been Petraeus’s point man in a Pentagon threat of revolt unless the president escalated the Afghan War.

Heavily supported by Republican leaders, McChrystal pressured Obama publicly by a series of statements questioning the president’s initial resistance to the general’s recommendation of 40,000 more troops. Petraeus also went public, telling a columnist the United States would fail in the war unless the president gave them the troops they needed. Obama’s generals were conducting a media war to force him into a decision they had chosen for him. As Secretary of State Colin Powell’s former top aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, observed, “Petraeus and McChrystal have put Obama in a trick bag.”

As Bob Woodward reported in Obama’s Wars, the president was blocked at every turn by his war cabinet, as he sought alternative troop options and an exit plan from the war. However, the generals wanted their troop surge and an open-ended strategy. They provided no exit plan.

“You’re not really giving me any options,” Obama told them. “You agreed to go back and work those up.” Instead they kept pressuring him for the same troop increase, under different guises, in a war without end. “It’s unacceptable,” he said.

Obama told civilian advisers that the military heads were “really cooking the thing in the direction they wanted. They are not going to give me a choice.”

The president finally gave them 30,000 more troops, while setting a shaky, condition-based date of next July for a beginning withdrawal. The generals claimed victory. Petraeus was pleased. His counterinsurgency strategy was alive and well. As he let Woodward know, “If the president had told him at the beginning that it would come out with this strategy and 30,000 troops, Petraeus would have taken it in a second.”

Moreover, Petraeus said privately, he continued to see no end in sight in Afghanistan: “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

When Obama replaced McChrystal half a year later by the more subtle, more controlling Petraeus, it was a further submission to the military authorities that the president was elected to command.

After JFK was set up by the CIA (with the Pentagon’s support) at the Bay of Pigs, that new, young president bucked his national security state by firing his main adversary, Cold-Warrior-in-Chief Allen Dulles. When Obama was set up by General Petraeus, General McChrystal, and their colleagues to escalate the war in Afghanistan, our new, young president, after (to his credit) months of deliberation, reluctantly went along. His later insertion of Petraeus as his new Afghan commander put the most likely GOP candidate for president in 2012, General David Petraeus, in an ideal running position. Because Bush’s “surge” of occupying troops in Iraq (under Petraeus) has somehow been judged a “win,” Obama will be scapegoated with the “loss” if a proxy government in Iraq fails after his troop withdrawal.

In August General Petraeus warned, “If the U.S. loses [in Afghanistan], there would likely be a bloody civil war followed by a takeover by extremists.” He added, “If the U.S. succeeds and Afghanistan stabilizes, the country could become the region’s new Silk Road with the potential to extract trillions of dollars worth of minerals.”

If Petraeus fails in his counterinsurgency war to pacify that new road to corporate profits, he can keep on saying he needed more troops and more time to “win” there — preparing the political ground for another Obama “loss.” Petraeus can then return home for a GOP draft to run for president. Obama, by surrendering to his generals, has been trapped in the same kind of plotting Kennedy had the insight and courage to resist.–James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable

McChrystal v Obama: Battle of the ‘Hard Hearts’?

General McChrystal's gold engraved nunchuks. Photograph by Mikhail Galustov for Rolling Stone/Redux

Yesterday U.S. top Afghanistan warrior General Stan McChrystal was very publicly called to the carpet in the Oval Office. Sources say his job is on the line. President Obama wants McChrystal to answer for comments he made in a Rolling Stone interview (July 8-22, 2010 issue).

The short form is that McChrystal disses the counterterrorism strategy advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, calling it “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” He outright insults Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, and says he feels betrayed by the US ambassador in Kabul Karl Eikenberry. Overall, McChrystal conveys a deep-seated contempt for civilian leadership.

And, despite the “it’s a tough slog, but we are winning the Afghani  hearts and minds” rhetoric from the White House, the civil societies in the countries of our NATO allies have forced their governments to change direction on the failed war policy in Afghanistan. (Having watched The Princess Bride numerous times, they apparently learned the lesson: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”)

In the Rolling Stone article, author Michael Hastings writes:

Opposition to the war [in Afghanistan] has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. …

But facts on the ground, as history has proven, offer little deterrent to a military determined to stay the course. Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply f*&^%d up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

While the White House is debating whether or not to fire McChrystal and what the fall-out might be on U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, Rabbi Arthur Waskow frames the argument differently: “The ‘strategy’ is already a failure, and the ‘civil-military issue’ is the Constitution at stake, not a failed and stupid war.”

Waskow sets Obama’s current dilemma in historical context:

Harry  Truman knew what to do: When the issue was insubordination by General MacArthur over whether to escalate a stupid war  with China that MacArthur had brought on (beyond defending South Korea), Truman fired MacArthur. (I remember Congress begging MacArthur to address a special joint session. I remember how he ended with a bathetic, bedraggled song: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”)  Right. Despite the resulting furor, the arrogant old soldier did indeed fade away.   …

McChrystal’s strategy was arrogant & stupid;  it has already failed  because it was arrogant & stupid;  and many of us, including Biden & Ikenberry, did indeed tell them so.  …

The trouble is that Obama accepted the arrogant, stupid advice from McChrystal — and now has to face the consequences in a failing and mistaken war.  When John Kennedy came new into the White House, he accepted similarly stupid & arrogant advice from the CIA about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba — and when he realized how stupid it was, he fired the lot of them and refused to get trapped into more arrogance and more escalation.

Now we will see what Obama is made of: whether he has the guts and good sense of Truman & Kennedy.

But beyond the political power struggles that are as old as the military strategies of Uzziah in II Kings 15, there is a deeply spiritual issue. It is the issue of arrogance. It is always arrogance that hardens the heart and impedes the ability to listen.

“Refusing to listen breeds stupidity,” writes Rabbi Waskow. “Stupidity arising from a spiritual failure, not an IQ failure, breeds political disaster. There is a deep relationship between the arrogance of the Generals and the CIA in their contempt for China, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan — and their contempt for civilian leadership. And the contempt of BP for the oceans, the forests, the air. The obsessive belief that Conquest and Control are all that matters.”

The consequence of King Uzziah’s failed military strategy is summarized by a proverb from King Solomon: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

McChrystal – who carries around a gold, custom-made, set of nunchuks engraved with his name and four stars –  has got pride and arrogance in spades. (Read the entire Rolling Stone article to get the full experience of this.)

But Rabbi Waskow reminds that pride and arrogance are not the marks of a great military leader. Instead, he says, the Talmud teaches: “Who is the greatest [military] hero? The person who can master his own impulses … and the person who can turn his enemy into his friend.”

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).