Thursday, November 12, 2009

 

Obama's Karzai Konundrum

Eight months ago, President Obama chose General Stanley McChrystal to chart out a new Afghanistan policy. His primary recommendation was for a "surge" of 40,000 more troops.

Wednesday's New York Times outlined three primary strategies for troop increases -- with McChrystal's plan being one of them. :

Three of the options call for specific levels of additional troops. The low-end option would add 20,000 to 25,000 troops, a middle option calls for about 30,000, and another embraces Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for roughly 40,000 more troops. Administration officials said that a fourth option was added only in the past few days. They declined to identify any troop level attached to it.

Yet, by Veterans Day night, the real story had leaked out. President Obama was reportedly rejecting all three options presented to him by his foreign policy and national security team. Instead, he wants an approach that takes more into account the entrenched corruption that has oozed out of the Karzai government and now permeates most of Afghanistan.

If Obama thought he had a problem a few weeks ago with former Vice President Dick Cheney accusing him of "dithering" over Afghanistan, he's really risking a public relations nightmare this time -- one that won't be confined just to conservative critics. The three-option plan reflected the viewpoints of not just McChrystal. It also reflected the opinions of administration heavy-hitters like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Now, instead of just "dithering" in the public Obama runs the risk of appearing not to take the seriously the counsel of any of his advisers -- on a policy that has life-and-death ramifications.

Yes, caution has its place -- especially when the subject is Afghanistan. Obama is also right not to accept the continued status quo of a corruption-accepting Hamid Karzai-run government. But tossing aside the hard work of the best and brightest in his administration is bad politics pursuing bad -- or at least random, amorphous -- policy. The corruption of Karzai has been known for months. That Karzai would probably end up winning the election and remaining in power was also pretty much a sure bet.

So, there's hardly anything known now that wasn't perceived eight months ago. So, why didn't the president articulate exactly what he was looking for then -- rather than have his advisers put forth three complex plans that did little to address his concerns?

Afghanistan has a well-deserved reputation as the "graveyard of empires." It may yet also pick up a new name -- Creator of "Obama the Hapless" as plans AB&C fall by the wayside. Exactly, how far through the alphabet will the White House go before a decision is made on what to do with Afghanistan?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

 

Wiping Stains Off The Uniform

Veterans Day should not be a sad day.

The day before America pauses to honor the men and women who step and volunteer to fight for this great nation was indeed a sad one. The country was forced to note the awful handiwork of two men who dishonored their country and their own comrades -- and killed many of their fellow Americans.

Those two men are John Allen Muhammad and (allegedly, we must still say) Nidal Malik Hasan).

The former was executed Tuesday evening -- nine years after the Army veteran launched a sniper shooting spree in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia that left 10 people dead. Muhammad and his younger associate, Lee Boyd Malvo, had the DC capital region in a grip of fear, until they were apprehended. Muhammad, perhaps corrupted/influenced by the Nation of Islam -- or just taken in by his own evil -- ended up spreading his sickness to Malvo. The duo gained the distinction of becoming the two most infamous black serial killers in American history. Malvo, 17, at the time of the killings, is now serving multiple life sentences. With Muhammad now having gone to his reward, the families of his victims can get some peace -- and the Army can forget about one of their own who went evil.

Evil, in the same way, that Hasan did. Except the latter's crime is even more horrific: In addition to the 13 dead, there are nearly 30 injured. And the attack was even more wicked than the random sniper murders. Hasan, of course, worked at Fort Hood and new how to strike out at those on the compound. Promoted to major in the spring, the Army psychiatrist may very well have harmed his patients well before he went on his shooting spree.

Recovering from a stumbling, mixed-message statement on the day of the shooting, President Obama helped wipe away the treacherous stains the likes of Muhammad and Hasan left on the uniforms of their fellow service members. The president gave a powerful testimonial Tuesday to the victims of Hasan's mad rampage -- and the mission to which they had committed themselves. Obama recognized, in fact, that the targets of Hasan's hate-fueled attack were true heroes.

Specialist Jason Hunt was also recently married, with three children to care for. He joined the Army after high school. He did a tour in Iraq, and it was there that he re-enlisted for six more years on his 21st birthday so that he could continue to serve.

Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger was an athlete in high school, joined the Army shortly after 9/11, and had since returned home to speak to students about her experience. When her mother told her she couldn't take on Osama bin Laden by herself, Amy replied: "Watch me."

Private First Class Aaron Nemelka was an Eagle Scout who just recently signed up to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the service - defuse bombs - so that he could help save lives. He was proudly carrying on a tradition of military service that runs deep within his family.

To name just three. In a sense, they weren't terrorist victims, but rather casualties in the War on Terror -- as much casualties as if they had been caught in a surprise attack in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tragically, they lost their lives still in the very same country they swore to protect -- and taken down by one of their own.

Shakespeare tells us that "the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones." On this Veterans Day, we can hope that the exact reverse is true for Muhammad and Hasan, military men who lost their. Let their evil go with them to their graves (hopefully that process will take less time with Hasan than it did for Muhammad). Instead, let the lives, courage and patriotism of the 13 slain be remembered and celebrated.

As the president said:

For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that has been left. We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.

But here is what you must also know: your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - that is their legacy.

Neither this country - nor the values that we were founded upon - could exist without men and women like these thirteen Americans.

And that is why Veterans Day should never be a day for sadness. One or two bad apples might appear to stain the uniform of those who would risk all for this nation's legacy.

But hundreds of thousands more remain, ready to sacrifice all to guarantee that America's values will extend for centuries yet to come.

Cry not for them, but applaud them -- and thank them.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

 

Don't Sleep on the Huckster

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has managed to extend her 15 minutes of fame. Barely known 15 months ago, she's become the "It" girl of the right in the interim. One week from today, her "Going Rogue" book will be released. Her book promotion tour will include stop with both Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters.

In the recent election, she lined up with conservatives supporting Doug Hoffman in the NY-23 congressional race. Her decision influenced Tim Pawlenty to follow suit. Naturally, that book tour will take her to Iowa, the state where all presidential campaigns are launched.

This week, however, one of her potential rivals for the 2012 presidential nomination piped up to carve some media attention himself. That would be one Michael Huckabee, sounding mildly annoyed at all the focus on the lady from the frozen north, whom Politico calls the GOP's "rock star":

“Some of the people who had excoriated me and really been very dismissive of me for views that I had taken, and labeled me anything from a populist to an ignoramus — the same people have been very defensive [of] and laudatory to Sarah Palin,” Huckabee noted, adding that he’d invited her to appear on his weekly Fox show but “could never get any contact.”
“I’m glad she’s getting the props — I know I’m not nearly as attractive,” he said with a guileless grin.

Ironically, Huckabee is the real rock star -- well, actual musician that is. He's one of the few politicians -- and the only one mentioned in the presidential sweepstakes -- who plays in two bands. His original group is Capitol Offense. Meanwhile, the ad hoc group of Fox staffers that make up the house band of his weekend Fox show are the Little Rockers. In both, he gets to show off his bass guitar-playing chops.

Huckabee buttresses his musical talent with a folksy sense of humor that takes the edge of what might otherwise be an intimidating Baptist preacher -- which he happens to be. This odd mixture of talents -- folksy, musically talented, Chuck Norris pal -- produced in 2008, a Huckabee who managed to become attractive to a mainstream media that usually greets hard-core socially conservative candidates with suspicion or outright hostility.

In fact, Huckabee harshest criticism arguably came from the professional conservative movement who found his views on economics unorthodox -- from the right's perspective -- and record as Arkansas governor as insufficiently conservative. That said, Huckabee still stands out as the most experienced chief executive in the race.

As fallout from the Whitewater investigation, Huckabee's predecessor as governor went to prison. Huckabee finished Tucker's term and then won two in his own right. Consequently, he was governor for 10 1/2 years. For those keeping track, that's more than Mitt Romney (one four-year term in Massachusetts) and Sarah Palin (two-and-a-half years in one abortive term in Alaska) combined.

So, given all that, shouldn't Mike Huckabee be getting a bit more love from the Republican faithful?

Indeed, ridiculously early in the 2012 race as it is, shouldn't he be taken a bit more seriously than just about anyone in the "mentioned" GOP field?

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