Late last month, I jokingly suggested that Barack Obama could emulate his “hero” Ronald Reagan by doing a progressive version of Reagan’s signature move of making appointments that are the exact opposite of the goals of the position by nominating Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of Defense and
Donald Daniel Ellsberg to head the CIA. Sadly, Obama seems to have taken a garbled version of this suggestion, as word came Sunday that Obama is creating “a high-profile initiative in support of military families” and has put war criminal and Pat Tillman cover-up leader Stanley McChrystal in charge of this operation. This is a truly Reaganesque appointment, as it is hard to imagine a military figure who has done more to harm families around the world, and now he is leading the charge to put a happy face on the devastation ten years of war has wreaked on the very small number of US families who have borne the brunt of the death and other sacrifices by our all-volunteer force.
The key point to note in examining this new program for military families is how it will be administered. The New York Times describes it in this way:
The Joining Forces program will be guided and coordinated by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy institute. The center, which is led by two military veterans, has published a series of reports analyzing stress on service members an part of its study of “military wellness.”
But it is not quite true that the Center for a New American Security is “nonpartisan”. It is an operation founded by Democrats but is completely pro-war. Late last month, Nathan Hodge had a revealing profile of CNAS at The Nation, which he titled “Coalition of the Shilling“. Hodge provides this about the funding of CNAS:
But Jaffe’s argument begs the question of whether think tanks, even centrist ones, truly offer the same independence that newspapers purport to have. CNAS is an instructive case. Two former Clinton administration officials, Michèle Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, founded CNAS in 2007 as a way for centrist Democrats to reclaim a place in the national security debate ahead of the 2008 presidential race. It was an expert triangulation: Flournoy, Campbell and their associates staked out a hawkish (or, as they would term it, a “pragmatic and principled”) position on Iraq, opposing early deadlines for withdrawal. After Obama’s election, CNAS would emerge as a key feeder for the new administration’s national security team. No fewer than fourteen CNAS grads would land slots in the Defense and State departments. Flournoy now occupies the number-three post at the Pentagon, and Campbell is the head of the State Department’s Asia bureau.
How exactly did Flournoy and Campbell conjure up a think tank out of thin air? In addition to support from foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Ploughshares Foundation, CNAS received heavy backing from the military industry. Its list of donors includes major weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems. It also receives contributions from private security firms like Aegis Defence Services, as well as from KBR, the logistics support contractor notorious for overbilling the Pentagon for its services in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it generates income from research contracts with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, as do others like the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
So, in reality, CNAS is a front group for the Pentagon and military contractors making sure they keep their gravy train running. But even more informative from Hodge’s article is the information in the very first paragraph, where we see the role of CNAS in selling the idea that the US needs to keep combat forces in Iraq:
On February 25 journalist Thomas Ricks published an important scoop on his blog at ForeignPolicy.com: Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, had requested keeping a brigade in northern Iraq beyond President Obama’s deadline for the withdrawal of combat forces. The timing of the story was intriguing. Just two days earlier, Ricks had published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for US troops to remain in Iraq long term. “I think leaders in both countries may come to recognize that the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come,” he wrote. The op-ed coincided with a policy brief by Ricks issued by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Washington think tank where he is a senior fellow.
Now Obama’s choice of McChrystal fits into a neat package developed by CNAS. They want the Iraq war extended, they know this will cause a lot of grief to military families, they have worked extensively with McChrystal in the past (documented also by Hodge in the article), McChrystal needs a new job to rehabilitate his image and so they have created a job for him selling the idea of extending the Iraq war to military families.
What could possibly go wrong with this plan? Jason Leopold suggested on Twitter last night that the Tillman family might not be so pleased about this move:
Amazing that Obama admin wld appoint McChrystal 2 anything having 2 do w/military families after wht he put Pat Tillman’s family through
From the CBS story accompanying the video above, here is Pat Tillman’s mother describing her efforts to contact Obama and prevent McChrystal being elevated to head the military effort in Afghanistan when he was nominated in the summer of 2009:
Mary explained, “I wrote the book, came out in 2008, and I indicate that McChrystal was involved in orchestrating the cover-up. He falsified the Silver Star. He was very aware that Pat was killed by friendlies. And then, when he was going to be promoted to the head commander in Afghanistan, I had contacted President Obama, I e-mailed him and written a letter and contacted members of Congress, just trying to remind them that this man needed to be scrutinized very carefully. And in the end, it turned out that he was pretty much meant for that position. He was a shoo-in. Of course, he was promoted. And, that is part of the foreword.”
In 2009 Obama demonstrated that he was immune to the arguments presented by the Tillman family and he went ahead with appointing McChrystal to head troops in Afghanistan. How sad that Obama is now compounding that pain to the Tillman family by appointing McChrystal for a position which is on the surface meant to be addressing much of the harm that McChrystal himself has directly caused.
Obama now owns all of McChrystal’s war crimes by appointing him to an important position not once, but twice.