The Goldilocks War

Look, I Know This Is Uncomfortable For You, But The Reason I Have A Theme Song And This Air Plane Is I Am Your Commander-In-Chief

Despite all the focus on McChrystal’s faux pax/bum rush on the Afghan strategic review process, the positions of other key players in Obama’s circle warrants a little more attention. Recent efforts like Rizza’s New Yorker profile on Summers and the decision-making process inside the Administration only underscores the importance of Obama’s reliance on the judgment of people with ‘experience’ and need for ‘options’.

It’s not like like McChrystal and Petreaus have the status of Curtis LeMay trying to brow beat a PT boat commander. Public support for the military does not necessarily mean solid confidence in its competence. (Even factoring in guilt factors).

So where does Gates stand? And more precisely, given this intellectual preference for analytic scope and congruity (all with an ear for political winds), where does Afghanistan fit within Gates/OSD’s vision for the future of warfare in the upcoming QDR? We, too, hear some variant hybrid ‘hybrid definition’ will be a heavy influence in the document. This weekend’s firefight highlights the complexities placing Afghanistan along the spectrum.

Much as Lizza reports that Obama eventually invoked the Goldilocks Paradigm we suspect a similar outcome for Afghanistan. Not that we offer it as direct analog. Mercifully, given Holbrooks’ secondary role, there is no Summers-esque persona at the apex here. Biden’s position is well known. We suspect Gate’s personal advice will carry weight and may be decisive. The evolution of the QDR suggests he is comfortable conceptually with additional troops (today Gates says can’t afford to lose/Afghanistn is the epicenter of jihad). Specifically, in Afghanistan, he already endorsed McChyrstal’s pull back strategy (whether McChrystal himself medium term is dependent on whether he learned his lesson). The rest of the Administration will float more leaks off the record re aggressive cross border incursions in Pakistan, yada yada, etc. This also is in keeping with recasting GWOT to a lower level focus on specific anti-terrorism and law enforcement.

Obama will be attracted to the fudge. One reason is that just as Johnson went all Danang ’65 as a flank shield/vote roll to immunize his domestic agenda from weak-on-communism, Obama’s handling of domestic events in 2009 leaves him too weak to be audacious on Afghanistan. Congressional democrats are doubtlessly making this clear to Rahm as well. They know they are too beleauguered as it is without a crushing ‘cut and run’ attack in 2010. And Obama must know that full-on escalation is a fool’s errand.

Personally, we endorsed the counter-terrorism approach at a taped conference back in 2002. We’ve never seen it as a ‘war of necessity’ once UBL escaped and a de facto sanctuary acknowledged by all parties created. Those parameters preclude ‘victory’ even without factoring Afghanistan’s unique qualities. Politically, the time is long past here and on the ground for a successful counter-insurgency approach. If it ever could succeed (which we always rejected). A glass half full decision allows everyone to walk away from ‘failure’ with enough ammo for memoirs and successful public speaking careers for finger pointing.

Moreover, we remain unconvinced that tottering Pakistan could tolerate a successful ‘defeat’ of the their Taliban proxy (as opposed to the Arab Al-Queda). Or is in a position to withstand further erosion of Islamabad’s effective zone of control inside the country itself to pro-Taliban forces. The Islamabad lense remains focused on India and strategic depth — this summer’s army offensive notwithstanding. Is anyone surprised that Mush diverted most of our billions in ‘anti-terrorism’ aid to the Kashmir frontier and domestic regime subsidies?

What’s most intriguing is how passive Obama appears to be as a self-proclaimed change agent. On almost every issue since January 2009 his administration announces something broad and even inspiring. Usually packaging generalities, the Administration allows details to bog down (in Congress, in the memeosphere ™, inside itself, etc.), and remains silent as the Movement mobilizes. When that reaches a certain level, the Administration wakes up and tries to counterpunch, usually ineffectively. Issue after issue. Trust us, if even the clueless writers at SNL can realize this, it’s a big problem. We don’t see this pattern as a conscious rope-a-dope but more a contour of an administration accommodating POTUS. One wonders if Rahm, like Richard Perle, still tells all lurking crisises ‘Bring ’em on.’


  1. says

    Yes. It seems Tet-like in the sense that Tet was for the VC, i.e. catastrophic over-reach; but Pakistan isn’t South Vietnam. The Pakistani government’s Pakistan desk has a much higher level of commitment than the US Government’s Pakistan desk, as Daniel Davies says. This will have pissed in a lot of people’s pints.

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    ‘Taliban’ assault on Pak Army HQ changed equation re the Army and possibly ISI’s internal security view even beyond last summer’s offensive. That portion of this post warrants re-visiting.

  3. Comment says

    We do have mixed feelings about Obama putting Penetta at the Agency – Panetta seems to be someone with weak analytical instincts (recall: jim baker = Benjamin Disraeli) and basically a suit.
    But as you noted, the Agency is really sort of not much in the grand scheme of things, so maybe Panetta will be pefect.

  4. Comment says

    One of the reasons we are re-assured re Obama’s NPP is the reaction of the pseudo lib TNR types even more than the droolers on the right. FYI:

    Those folks fear Obama’s acceptance of the NPP for all sorts of reasons – They don’t want him to make peace in the Mid East and they want to marinate themselves in DC insiderdom.

    But they – the TNR types = also have the worst political instincts and have absolutely zero knowledge of the USA outside of suburban mostly white upper middle class college class. Zero. So they always offer self serving advice masked in high minded Lippman-type chatter.

  5. Comment says

    One more point – we recall the year Gore won the NPP – That year the US garnered a record number of prizes along with Gore’s – Ofcourse, this compliment of the US was regarded by the right as an insult – So you see this self hating on the right has become bold – They hate what is good and embrace the bad. It’s different than the self hating liberals of the media types who ridicule candidates they supposedly like.

  6. Comment says

    We think much of the msm Broder types are rather ho hum about torture becoming legalized in the prior admin. Sure their against it yada yada yada – But they sort of nod along when people like Frum and others point out that it took place in ww2 or other wars while forgetting the crucial point it was against the law. Most so called media liberals are only liberal on things like gun control or women’s rights – They don’t really care about other things that don’t effect themselves like health insurance or war.
    Obama made a great move when he got videotaping of interrogations of suspects so as to prevent false confessions or mistreatment of suspects that had led to outrageous false convictions – But that’s all ho hum for the mainstream.

  7. Comment says

    re Tine Fey – imo she was mostly so-so until Palin gave catalyst – She and so many were so appalled by Palin that they were able to rise to the occassion.

  8. Comment says

    Just merely renouncing torture as an instrument of national policy for the leading free nation is enough to win the award, imo – Baby steps, to be sure — Also, re-embracing the US historic diplomatic triumphs and stop pretending international law is meaningless and has nothing to do with the sixth art of the const.

    The shere hatred of foreigners by the right is once again coming to the surface.

    re Alex – we agree re nukes, but we prob should cut down from the some 20k number to a more happy, say, 250-1000 nukes.

  9. says

    Yes; what, really, could one do more for world peace than preventing another Cheney administration? Srsly. Even destroying all the nukes or scrapping the CVNs would be more likely to lead to destabilisation and opportunism.

  10. Comment says

    We should add – we’re fully aware that things just may fall apart and not work out – Since he really inherited a s*** can situation – But things are relative. While we doubt McCain would have been as bad as his campaign seemed to indicate, we do think everything would be much darker had he won – Greater unemployment etc, more wars, more stupid conflicts with Moscow over the Crimea (seriously), and a possible Palin related meltdown and stars with trains of fire, dews of blood, and many disasters in the sun.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      At first when the AM TV came on over coffee we thought we misheard and it was a set up for a Daily Show clip. Rightist churlishness hating America is satisfying. Of course it was a ‘Thank You, America’ for rebuking Cheney/Warlordism, not so much the Man or even what he may do. We agree compared to McCain we are comparatively moving out of the shadows.

      One wonders what Henry the K’s note of congratulations might say. Perhaps in the P.S. ‘Don’t forget circular tables . . .’

  11. Comment says

    We must say we are surprised and delighted that Obama won the NPP for basically being not Bush and Cheney – The AEI set and the DC establishment still has not groked the the true dissipation and wickedness and cynicism and ogre-ish flatulence that the prev admin sunk the Nation into – This prize will enrage (and thereby distract and make even less effective) all the right people. And it may even do some good helping to strengthen Obama’s hand in some tough moments to come.

    Too much of the bipartisan establishment still is in denial about the previous squalor and the fact that we went truly rogue for a while.

    In the gross and scope of our imagination this prize bodes some strange happy eruption to our already sanguine expectations – After seeing the GOP root against the US in the Olympics, we can only wait to see how they choke on this.

  12. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Comment, when Tweety is defending Obama against those fringe ‘netroots’ and ‘Lefties’ [sic] that’s another sign.

  13. Comment says

    We’re in the tank for Obama so ignore our defense – but we saw the snl thing as prophylactic bs – mostly whining about side issues of concern to them that will be resolved one way or the other in due time. We think Obama will basically get what he wants done by the end of next year and he will keep the House and get re-elected in a meaningful way.
    The GOP is becoming less electable as time goes on and the true impact of that – legislatively speaking – will not show up for some time.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      SNL going after Obama is a meaningless gesture. Contra Howie Kurtz, SNL represents no one but insular, lowest-common-denominator, self-congratulatory lazy writers. None of them has the savageness needed for memorable political humor. Tina Fey was a once in a generation karmic fit for Palin during a once in a generation economic collapse after a once in a generation (we hope) incompetent ruling regime.

      We suspect that Obama may well be re-elected; we’ve said that to a Fox News personality, teabags aside. Still, Democrats shouldn’t forget that McCain received 58,343,671 (46%) votes during total economic collapse, internal hatred (however sublimated) for him by the Party *and* Movement, and a VP choice that collapsed after the first week.

      We are for him by necessity. Our enthusiasm so far is muted.

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