Tuesday, August 17, 2010
As the centerpiece of his foreign policy plan, Barack Obama campaigned on the promise that the final pullout from Afghanistan would begin in mid-2011, during the third year of his administration. He planned it that way so he could campaign for re-election on having ended the war in 2012. That this plan has remained firm in his mind is confirmed by various events and conversations, such as...
Bob Herbert's Times column this morning channels an interesting conversation between Obama and Biden which Jonathan Alter reports took place in November of '09:
In his book, “The Promise,” about President Obama’s first year in office, Jonathan Alter describes a brief conversation between the president and Vice President Joe Biden that took place last November at the end of Mr. Obama’s long deliberation about what to do in Afghanistan.
Mr. Biden asked whether the new policy of beginning a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011 was a direct presidential order that could not be countermanded by the military. The president said yes.
There are a couple of strange things about this conversation, if it is accurately reported. Is Biden, the old hand in Washington who supposedly knows what's happening, asking the newcomer, Obama, if the president is still the commander-in-chief of the armed forces? That's what it sounds like. And if Obama was being honest (you never know), was he showing that he's naive?
Yesterday Petraeus said he is not going to Afghanistan to preside over a "graceful exit."
In an hourlong interview with The New York Times, the general argued against any "precipitous" withdrawal of forces in July 2011, the date set by President Obama to begin at least a gradual reduction of the 100,000 troops on the ground.
Petraeus (such a classical-sounding name) might be the American Caesar. He's in the perfect position to step up and take charge, no matter what happens in Afghanistan. A skilled propagandist, he would easily outmatch the sly but indecisive and ineffectual leader of our present dysfunctional and fragmented government, and offer instead the strength and decisiveness of an imperium, which, when functioning as it's supposed to, is the expression of an individual will.
This is not our fathers' United States of America. I'm old enough to remember when Harry Truman fired General MacArthur and brought him home from Korea. MacArthur and the Pentagon squawked, but they followed orders. I'm certain that today they'll figure out a way to override any orders they don't like, especially any that might endanger the continuous pursuit of perpetual war. Obama is way too timid to bring any such issue to a confrontation.
And a dictator doesn't have to seize the presidency. The Soviet Union was run not by a president or prime minister, but by the general secretary of the Communist Party (starting with Stalin), and France during the Terror was ruled by a legislative committee, the Committee of Public Safety(!). A Secretary of Defense could wield power easily enough, and I'll bet most of us will live to see it happen.