Obama-Men: Innocents Abroad; Politicos at Home

Paging through Bob Woodward's "Obama's Wars," I should not
have been surprised that the index lacks any entry for "intelligence." The
excerpts that dribbled out earlier this week had made unavoidably clear that
there was, in fact, no entry for intelligence in the disorderly process last
fall that got the Obama administration neck-deep in the Big Muddy--to borrow
from Pete Seeger's song from the Vietnam era.

Paging through Bob Woodward's "Obama's Wars," I should not
have been surprised that the index lacks any entry for "intelligence." The
excerpts that dribbled out earlier this week had made unavoidably clear that
there was, in fact, no entry for intelligence in the disorderly process last
fall that got the Obama administration neck-deep in the Big Muddy--to borrow
from Pete Seeger's song from the Vietnam era.

Before reading through Woodward's book, the excerpts already
published had left doubts in my mind that the Obama White House could be host
to such an amateurish decision-process-without-real-process.I had seen a lot of White House
fecklessness in my 30 years in intelligence analysis, but it was, frankly, hard
to believe that it could be so bad this time.

Could it be true that, after going from knee-deep to
waist-deep in the Big Muddy by his early 2009 decision to insert 21,000 additional
troops, the President would decide to plunge neck-deep without a comprehensive
intelligence review of the impact of the earlier reinforcement and a formal
estimate of the likely impact of further escalation.

As it turns out, it was I who was being naive.I can no longer avoid concluding that a
hubris-hewed presidential mix of innocence abroad and raw politics at home slid
Barack Obama into a decision that will cost thousands more lives and, in the
end, be his political undoing.Add
to the mix a heaping tablespoon of, let's say it, cowardice--and stir.

The procedure (or lack thereof) followed last fall virtually
ensured that President Barack Obama would be forced, against what were clearly
his better instincts, to be diddled by the four-stars into an escalated March
of Folly deeper and deeper into Afghanistan.His intelligence and security advisers, themselves naive and
inexperienced, failed the President miserably.

Intelligence? Who
Needs it?

Those familiar with late-20th Century history of
foreign policy decision-making in the White House know that rarely was a key
decision made without formal input from the CIA and other intelligence
agencies.Whether the President
chose to heed the insights provided by National Intelligence Estimates or not,
it was de rigueur to commission an
NIE in advance of important decisions.

Obama's national security adviser, former Marine four-star
James Jones, could not have been unaware of this.Indeed, former three-star-now-U.S. ambassador to
Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, was begging for such an assessment as the White House
deliberations went on.The
ambassador had more ground-truth knowledge of Afghanistan than all the other
President's men, and women, put together.

Before retiring from the Army, Lt. Gen. Eikenberry had done
two tours in the thick of things there. During 2002-2003 he had the unenviable
task of trying to rebuild the Afghan National Army and police forces.He then served 18 months (2005-2007) as
commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In a cable from Kabul on November 9, 2009, Eikenberry took
strong issue with "a proposed counterinsurgency strategy that relies on a
large, all-or-nothing increase in U.S. troops."He noted that there were "unaddressed variables" in the
Pentagon plan for further escalation, like "Pakistan sanctuaries and weak
Afghan leadership," that could "block us from achieving our strategic goals,
regardless of the number of additional troops we may send." Eikenberry specifically
warned that there could be "no way to extricate ourselves."

He insisted on the need to bring "all the real-world
variables to bear in testing the proposed counterinsurgency plan."Confident that an honest intelligence
estimate would issue similar cautions, he pleaded for a "comprehensive,
interdisciplinary analysis of all our strategic options."

Eikenberry could hardly have been more blunt in warning
against a premature decision for a troop increase, arguing, "there is no option
but to widen the scope of our analysis and to consider alternatives beyond a
strictly military counterinsurgency effort within Afghanistan."

Petraeus: We've Got
It Covered

According to Woodward, Gen. David Petraeus dismissed
Eikenberry's proposal as "laughably late in the game."Though the ambassador had "reasonable
concerns," Petraeus felt they had all been asked and answered.

Eikenberry had already incurred the wrath of Joint Chiefs
Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in a cable of November 6, in which he wrote, " I
cannot support [the Defense Department's] recommendation for an immediate
Presidential decision to deploy another 40,000 here."Eikenberry went on to adduce six game-changing facts.Taking into account any one of them,
much less all combined, showed such escalation to be a fool's errand.

Mullen reportedly reacted very strongly, saying, "This is a betrayal
of our system." In Mullen's world, if you dare cross what the top brass has
already decided, you are a betrayer!
No comment could point up better the pitfalls of ceding determining
roles in strategic decision making to four-stars officers with died-in-the-wool
notions of the requirements of military discipline--even in what should have
been free brainstorming of possible alternative courses.

Retired Marine four-star national security adviser James
Jones bears primary responsibility for letting Mullen, Petraeus, and non-cashiered
Gen. Stanley McChrystal marginalize Eikenberry and other senior officials with
similar concerns.No matter how
many stars you wear, or have worn, generals/admirals almost always defer to
active-duty four-stars in charge of the battlefield.

I believe it is more a matter of Jones' instinct than
conscious decision.Woodward has
this to say about Jones:

"Jones was sure that
the best answers, if there were any, would come from a review that adhered to
the formal NSC [National Security Council] system.Procedure and protocol mattered to the retired Marine

My experience in providing intelligence support to
administrations from John Kennedy to George H. W. Bush was that NSC "procedure
and protocol" in addressing key foreign policy decisions almost always included
a request for intelligence support in the form of a National Intelligence
Estimate.And yet, retired Marine
general Jones deferred to active duty four-stars Mullen, Petraeus, and McChrystal.This time--no need for an NIE, thank you
very much.

Similarly, retired three-star and now Ambassador to
Afghanistan Eikenberry folded his tent and silently slunk away.It may not have even occurred to him
that he might have had the strength of his convictions and loudly resign so
that the rest of us would have insight into the dubious policy decision that
would throw still more soldiers and Marines into the Big Muddy.

Speak-No-Evil CIA
Chief Panetta

At his confirmation hearings, CIA chief Leon Panetta, a
16-year veteran in the House of Representatives, told the Senate Intelligence
Committee that he "would always be a creature of Congress."That is the kiss of death; no one with
that mindset should be director of any intelligence organization.

Woodward writes that Panetta never volunteered his opinion
to the President and that Obama never asked for it.Remarkable.
Jones should have insisted on getting an "opinion" from the lawyer Obama
appointed to head the CIA, but didn't.
Neither did Congress.

Not that Panetta lacked an opinion.I don't mean an unexpressed
intelligence opinion on the projected effects of this or that course of action
in Afghanistan.Panetta's opinion,
Woodward writes, pertained to the fact that "Obama was facing a huge political

From the point of view of an intelligence professional,
retired with no stars, the following may just be the most damning two sentences
in Woodward's book.The author
says that Panetta told other principal advisers:

"No Democratic
president can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it ... So
just do it.Do what they say."

(Harry Truman, who created the CIA not to conduct
assassinations or fire missiles from drones but rather to give the president,
without fear or favor, unadulterated intelligence on developments abroad, must
be rolling over in his grave.}

Small wonder that retired four-star admiral Dennis Blair, as
Director of National Intelligence nominally Panetta's boss, called the
Afghanistan review process "the goddamndest thing I've ever seen."

According to Woodward, Blair complained that Jones had no
control.Rather, Jones was happy
to share his responsibilities with younger, more activist NSC officials--like
his deputy Tom Donilon, counterterrorism chief John Brennan, and, at times,
even White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel.

History will not look favorably on the naive, lawyerly tone
and substance of "President Obama's Final Orders for Afghanistan Pakistan
Strategy, or Terms Sheet."(See
page 385-390 of Woodward's book.)In
an op-ed in Thursday's Washington Post,
Eliot Cohen notes aptly that Obama's six-page 'Terms Sheet" reads like "a
prenuptial agreement written by a pessimistic lawyer than a strategic document."

"So Basically, We're

In May, Vice President Joe Biden invited Ambassador Eikenberry
to his office, and asked him "Where do we stand?"Eikenberry was typically candid, emphasizing first what an
unreliable partner Karzai was.
Woodward provides this account of what the ambassador told the vice

"He's on his meds,
he's off his meds," Eikenberry said, trying to account once again for Karzai's
erratic behavior."They're not
producing governance in Marja.And
we haven't tackled the hard problem, Kandahar.

"And now we're saying,
essentially, that Karzai's going to produce a political solution for
Kandahar.That's completely
irresponsible to suggest that ... so basically, we're screwed."


Come on, generals.
It is the young people we send to war from our inner cities and small
towns who are "screwed."Our much
vaunted "professional army" is comprised largely of those caught up in an
unjust and uncaring poverty draft.

Some come back hidden in what the Army now calls "transfer
cases," rather than coffins.
Thousands others come back maimed for life.Few come back whole.
Just this past week at Fort Hood, Texas, four decorated veterans of the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took their own lives, adding to the 14 other
suicides this year at Fort Hood alone.

I was singularly unimpressed by the comment of base
commander Maj. Gen. William Grimsley on the tragedy:"It's personally and professionally frustrating as a

Yes, sir; no sir.
Generals and admirals, it's not about you.It's about those you send into needless war.And it's about the people our own
soldiers brutalize as they become brutalized themselves by the experience.You need to watch that U.S. Army
gun-barrel video of the brutal killing of civilians in Bagdad on July 12, 2007,
all judged to be in accord with the "rules of engagement." (Just type
"collateral murder" in the URL line in your computer.)You've already watched it?Watch it again.

And you need to get out into the field with the troops,
where your heart can be touched by direct experience so that your highly
disciplined mind can be opened to alternatives and challenged to change.
Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer,
is about the only thing at this point that can help to inject some balance into
your thought process.Afghanistan is
not some kind of war game or political pawn.

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