Broken DREAM: Is the Administration Losing Control?
by THE EDITOR
September 22, 2010
News for the administration cannot be regarded as good, right now. Yesterday the bill which would have allowed openly gay men and women to join the military, repealing Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, lost in the Senate by only four votes. Harry Reid of Nevada, who faces an uphill struggle in the upcoming midterms, was blamed for appending a controversial item to the core bill. The DREAM Act was designed to bestow legal status onto young illegal migrants if they attended college or joined the military.
The DREAM Act was as big a source of contention as the repealing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Another addition would have provided facilities at military bases for abortions. Senator John McCain had opposed the bill, while one person not known for her military expertise – Lady Gaga – supported it. President Obama and Bill Clinton (who had introduced “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 1993) supported the bill. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina disparaged the bill:
“This is just transparent, brazen, let's check special interests bloc politics, 40-something days before an election.”
To add to the administration’s woes, a senior economic adviser will be resigning, the White House announced yesterday. Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council, will be returning to Harvard where he was once president. He has a tenure at Harvard and will return to the university by January. Summers, who pushed for the stimulus package that has not been seen as successful, has been a key figure in White House economic policies but has also been accused of benefiting from companies that were affected by government policies. Summers was regarded as someone who put corporate interests before individual citizens’ needs.
Larry Summers is the third adviser to go in three months. Christina D. Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, announced in August that she would be returning to lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley. In July, the youngest member of the cabinet had announced his resignation. Peter R. Orszag, who had also been a supporter of the stimulus package, had been the budget director of the White House. He was replaced by Jacob Lew.
Potential replacements for Summers, whose resignation was broken by Bloomberg before the White House made a statement, are listed by Reuters. Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, is expected to be leaving soon, to contest for the role of Mayor of Chicago. It has been suggested that with Emanuel’s departure, the president could reconfigure the White House and set the tone of the administration for the next two years.
Rahm Emanuel, according to a new book by Steven Rattner called Overhaul, has hardly endeared himself to the auto industry workers who comprise a large slice of the Chicago electorate. Rattner, a staunch Democrat, now claims to regret highlighting a statement that Emanuel had made about the United Auto Workers union. That quip: “F*** the UAW,” will likely follow Emanuel all the way to Illinois.
Last but not least, Bob Woodward, one the two journalists who had exposed Watergate, has written a book that describes the current White House administration as divided by disagreements and conflict. The book, entitled “Obama Wars” will officially be released next week, but a review appears in the New York Times, and also the Washington Post, the newspaper that Woodward joined in 1971.
The revelations in the NYT review include a hissy fit by the Commander-in-Chief, who declared: “I’m done doing this!” when the Pentagon wanted further troops to assist the proposed surge in Afghanistan.
Woodward’s book includes revelations of deep tensions between the military and the administration. It has long been suspected that an administration that sacked General David McKiernan on May 10, 2009 and then fired General Stanley McChrystal in June 2010 had a bad relationship with the military. After all, the revelations made by General McChrystal in Rolling Stone magazine had shown that there was a distrust of the bookish, non-military background of those in Washington who were directing the Afghan conflict from afar.
However General David Petraeus, who replaced McChrystal as head of the Afghan field of operations, has been seen as supportive of the controversial presidential decrees concerning Rules of Engagement, is not as docile as he has been portrayed. According to Woodward’s book, in May this year, while on a flight and after some wine had been imbibed, Petraeus told his staffers that the administration was “******** with the wrong guy.”
On our pages on Family Security Matters, former serving army officers have bitterly condemned the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan, and have openly questioned the reasoning behind the current administration’s motivations concerning the war. Time and again, authors such as Major Gen. Paul Vallely (Retired) and John Bernard have argued that the war in Afghanistan could be won, if there was a will to win it.
One of the more disturbing revelations from the previews of the book is that the president has confirmed that he is not interested in winning the war. In an interview with Bob Woodward in July this year, the president had said that he didn’t think about the Afghan conflict in “classic” terms of winning or losing:
"I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?"
The defeat of the Taliban is less important than securing the grubby political system led by the corrupt Hamid Karzai, a regime where – in blatant defiance of Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – Afghanistan’s laws forbid any Muslim from leaving Islam, and worse still, allow the death penalty for apostates. Hamid Karzai is also, according to Karl Eikenberry quoted in Woodward’s book, a manic depressive who is “on meds.”
The book also reveals the existence of a secret army of 3,000 Afghan nationals who operate in units called Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. These are used to make incursions into Pakistani territory against insurgent enclaves.
The president is aware of one thing that has been obvious to anyone who has tracked the activities of Hamid Gul and other former members of Pakistan’s ISI over the last three or four years. Many officials have admitted – off the record – that Pakistan has been a major hindrance in the war on terror in Afghanistan, with its ISI playing both sides.
On November 25, 2009, Obama had said: “We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan.” He claimed that the people needed to know this, so that the cancer did not spread to Afghanistan.
There are further revelations that can be read at the Washington Post which I have not even touched upon, for reasons of time and space. Suffice it to say: Woodward has highlighted some very deep divisions between Obama and General Petraeus. The latter certainly appears to feel aggrieved and to have taken comments from the president as personal sleights against his professionalism.
In the run-up to the midterm elections, the news for the administration is far worse than imagined. The elections will decide how much approval or blocking the administration will receive when it presents future bills and measures.
However, while the houses in Congress may gain new inhabitants, the situation in Afghanistan is going to reach a head in July next year. This is, after all, the date scheduled for troop withdrawal. If the relationship between the administration and the Pentagon is as strained as Woodward claims it is, then any forced withdrawal will only exacerbate those divisions.
For the sake of American troops, some sort of rapprochement must be made between the POTUS and the Pentagon. The bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was, in practical terms, a fiasco (and I state this with no homophobia). A Pentagon task force was reviewing the possibility of how the issues of shared space and living quarters could be implemented but has not yet presented its findings. The timing of the Bill, designed to assuage voters (a CNN poll claimed 78 percent of people approved the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don’t Tell”) rather than the military who would have had to rearrange their entire system to implement it, can not have improved relations between the Pentagon and the president who supported it.
Currently two wars are being fought, and the Recession may officially be over, but 9.6 percent of Americans are unemployed. For many ordinary Americans, there are still dark days ahead before they feel economically secure. The needs and the wishes of the people – since the days of the Founding Fathers – have officially dictated the direction of American politics. Now more than ever, the administration and those who would challenge it must look hard at what the people want and need.
The “progressive” idealism of the administration has not struck a positive chord with all Americans. The Ground Zero mosque issue showed how politically divided the country has become. After the midterms, there will be a strong need for all politicians to base their decisions upon common sense, practicality and popular support, and not through the distorting prisms of esoteric idealism.