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General Discontent October 5, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Afghanistan, Constitution, George Bush, National Politics, Obama Administration, Politics.
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GenMcChrystal_previewI saw an interesting roundtable discussion on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” yesterday morning.  The discussion topic was Afghanistan and Commanding General Stanley McChrystal’s comments in London late last week.  When asked if he could support a new Afghan policy of more hands-off engagement via unmanned drones and special forces operations, McChrystal bluntly answered no. 

“Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome,” McChrystal stated.  ” This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.”

Apparently, the White House was not pleased.

During the ABC discussion, conservative columnist George Will (who recently advocated such a policy) defended McChrystal by saying that since the Obama administration did not seem to have a strategy for Afghanistan, General McChrystal gallantly stepped into the breach and gave his commentary.  Will made it seem as thought there was nothing wrong with that. 

Thank goodness for Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine.  Vanden Heuvel said that she thought that what McChrystal had done “forces us to think very seriously and in a hard way about civilian control of the military.”  She further said that McChrystal should refamiliarize himself with article two of the Constitution that makes the President commander-in-chief.   

The other members of the panel were not having any of it.  As George Will gazed patronizingly at vanden Huevel, Cokie Roberts said that she thinks that McChrystal understands who the commander-in-chief is; all he was trying to do was influence the President’s decision, like everyone else is, as though he has a right to do so.

Wrong!  As any man or woman who has ever served in the military can tell you, your right to free speech ends the day you are sworn in.  The person who is higher in rank is NEVER questioned publicly.  The Commander-in-Chief is the highest ranking official of all, yet here we have McChrystal, Petraeus, and Admiral Mullin publicly stating that any policy that the President comes up with is unsupportable unless it involves committing more troops. 

During the Bush administration, the concept of civilian military control was severely damaged.  By their insistence that the President must “listen to the Generals on the ground”,  the Bush White House blurred the concepts of “listening to” and “following blindly” military recommendations.  This lexicon has made it into every day conversation and has infected the public debate. 

Given that broad strategic decisions, such as the decision to declare a war, start an invasion, or end a conflict, have a major impact on the citizens of the country, they are seen by civilian control advocates as best guided by the will of the people (as expressed by their political representatives), rather than left solely to an elite group of tactical experts. The military serves as a special government agency, which is supposed to implement, rather than formulate, policies that require the use of certain types of physical force.  Every General of every army wants more troops.  Perhaps they’re right, perhaps they’re wrong  – but a request for increased troop strength will always be the military strategy of first choice.  Yes, the President should listen, but the President also has to make policies that make sense for the millions of Americans who are not in the military. 

In April of 1951, President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.  MacArthur’s crime was to first send letters to congressional leaders disagreeing with President Truman’s policy and second, to deliver an ultimatum to the Chinese army that countermanded Truman’s policies.  George Will said that McChrystal’s comments did not rise to the level of a firing offense.  No?  A Commanding General publicly disagrees with the policies of the White House on foreign soil should be toast.

I have to say, I thought McChrystal should have “retired” when he did the “60 Minutes” interview a few weeks ago.  I certainly think he needs to be let go now.  A message needs to be sent throughout the military that there will be no more interviews, no more speeches, and no more free speech until they are retired. 

Then they can go on Fox News as analysts….


Scandals, Dick Cheney, and Lies July 17, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in CIA, Dick Cheney, National Politics, Politics.
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nm_cheney_090120_ssvI was 12 years old during the summer of 1974 with only boys, softball, boys, ice cream, boys, tennis, and boys on my mind.  All things considered, I was a pretty normal pre-teen girl spending a long, hot summer waiting for middle school to start.

What was far from normal that summer were the growing calls for the impeachment of President Nixon – one of those watershed events in American history that you can’t help remembering if you were alive.  On the night of August 8, 1974, my entire family was gathered around the television watching the President resign in disgrace.  My parents – ever products of the 50’s and fearful of activists and hippies – were stunned.  They had supported Nixon and even worked for his re-election; their feelings of betrayal and shame were palpable.

The actual Watergate break-in was a clumsy and stupid action by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) in order to find out who the Democrat’s donors were.  Had the burglars from CRP fallen on their swords and “taken one for the team”, the American people may have never found out how deep within the government the scandal ran – and they would have never known that it touched the President at all.  Instead, the CRP began the obstruction of justice that would bring down the Presidency.  As many have said about Watergate – it wasn’t the crime, it was the cover-up.

What were the lessons of Watergate?  To the naive and ever-hopeful American people they were that justice would always prevail and that nobody – not even the most powerful men in the world – were above the law.  The darker lesson, learned by a young White House Deputy Counsel named Dick Cheney, was that as long as the wrong-doing did not touch the President – everything was permissible.  Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush the Elder, Ronald Reagan, and Bush the Younger began to craft the ideas and policies that lead them to the doctrine of the unitary executive – and to the looming scandal surrounding Cheney’s use (or misuse) of the CIA.

The neocons further refined their positions during the Iran-Contra affair in the later years of the Reagan administration.  In Iran-Contra, the United States – contrary to President Reagan’s pledge to never sell weapons to Iran – sold TOW anti-tank missiles, HAWK surface-to-air missiles, and other military hardware to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon.  At the same time, Congress had passed legislation that prohibited the United States from providing military aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels – who were battling the Communist Sandinista government there.  A rabid anti-communist, Reagan was frustrated by his inability to provide assistance.  Thus, the plot was hatched whereby the U.S. government would secretly sell arms to Iran to secure the release of the hostages – then divert the funds to the Contra Rebels to purchase military equipment.  The CIA – who had a duty to report the program to Congress – failed to do so.

When the scandal broke a then-unknown member of the National Security Council, Marine Corps Lt Col Oliver North, said he diverted the funds with the full knowledge of National Security Adviser John Poindexter and, it was assumed, President Reagan.  The White House denied involvement in the affair and no direct evidence linking the President or Vice-President was ever uncovered.  Though 14 members of the administration were charged with “cover-up” crimes, not one spent any time in jail.  Oliver North, the loyal soldier who “fell on his sword”, had his conviction overturned on a technicality and six other co-conspirators were issued executive pardons.  The event was scandalous, but a success for the Cheney crew, the President remained untouched.

Fast forward to the news this last week regarding the counter-terrorism “hit squad” that the CIA was formulating.  According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, Congress was not briefed on the program at the direct behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  An absolute storm of controversy has exploded on both sides of the aisle at this disclosure.  Democrats are calling for an investigation – the National Security Act of 1947 states that the CIA must inform Congress of “the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.”  Republicans are trying to wiggle put of the obligation by pointing out that the program was never operational (an assertion disputed by Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from The New Yorker).   Furthermore, several Republican Congressmen, Senators, and talking heads are trying to deflect attention from the issue at hand – that the Vice President of the United States subverted the Constitution and directed an agency of the United States government to lie to Congress – by publicly saying, “Who wouldn’t want to assassinate members of Al Qaeda?”  It’s not the program, fellas, it’s the cover-up.

This is just the latest in a string of disclosures that show the Bush Administration continually operating to subvert the Congress and the Constitution.  The Obama Administration has shown little stomach for investigating these matters and bringing them to light in the name of “moving forward” and “healing the nation”.   Unfortunately, history has shown us that sweeping this under the rug will only allow it to happen again and again – a lesson learned and appreciated by the man at the periphery of all the scandals – Dick Cheney.