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Obama Can’t Control His Generals – Time for Congress to Step in

5:12 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of the best parts of learning about foreign countries and their cultures is the sudden realization that these places aren’t actually foreign at all. You’re not studying an opaque alien world, you’re only looking in the mirror. As Americans, it fills us with hope to look across at, say, our progressive allies in Pakistan and note that they’re working hard, just like us, to correct and reform their country’s policies. But are we also capable of seeing the negative parallels? It’s all well and good to lecture the Pakistanis about total military subservience to a strong civilian government, but what about our own weak President and our own anti-democratic generals?

American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.

With the administration unable yet to point to much tangible evidence of progress, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who assumed command in Afghanistan last month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is taking several steps to emphasize hopeful signs on the ground that, he will argue, would make a rapid withdrawal unwise. Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials that they need time to get their work done.

When something like this happens in Pakistan, we completely lose our s**t and call them a failed state, a tyrannical dictatorship, a collapsing nuclear-armed time bomb full of apocalyptic religious fanatics and corrupt, out-of-touch plutocrats. When it happens here, it’s called a "media blitz." Oh you know, General Petraeus is just out there to "counter the growing pressure" by the American people, and hopefully force the Commander-in-Chief’s hand on war making policy. The young officer corps is simply pressuring your elected politicians to give them more time to occupy foreign lands and engage in aggressive wars. Totally normal, everything is fine.

It’s time for Congress to wake up. Petraeus needs to be reminded of exactly who he works for. The generals don’t tell us what to do, we tell them what to do. This is not Pakistan, this is the United States, and if President Obama is too weak to preserve our civilian-military order, then Congress is obligated to enforce its constitutional authority over the power – and the purse – of war. Read the rest of this entry →

The Petraeus Propaganda Tour: Who Supports the Troops?

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.


The military is working very hard to push the war on the public. US casualties were at an all time high in June, it was worse in July, and August isn’t looking any better. Still, what is General Petraeus up to? Politico reports [emphasis mine]:

After seven silent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus begins aggressive messaging on Afghanistan: David Gregory announced yesterday that he will broadcast “Meet the Press” from Kabul next Sunday, with Petraeus’ first U.S. interview since he took command in Afghanistan. That will launch a spate of appearances that are being spread out over three weeks so Americans will be more likely to hear his message, even during the August doldrums. This week, Petraeus will begin communicating with the Afghan people. Then after “Meet,” the general will do the BBC later that week. The following week, Petraeus has sit-downs with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, then Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, who’s returning from breast-cancer treatment. At month’s end, George Stephanopoulos will take “Good Morning America” on the road to see the general. Major U.S. and European print and radio outlets will be sprinkled in. Then in the weeks that follow, the general plans to keep up a strong battle rhythm of engaging with the media and making his case.

But Petraeus isn’t the only one doing propaganda duty for the White House. Last week, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was on Meet the Press pushing the war policy. Check out this heart-breaking exchange [emphasis mine]:

MR. GREGORY: But true or untrue, the big fear is that Pakistan’s working against us and not with us?

ADM. MULLEN: In many ways, Pakistan is working with us. I mean, their, their military, their intelligence agency. I mean, we’ve got a very strong relationship in the positive sense with, with their intelligence agency. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges with some aspects of it.

MR. GREGORY: They are actively supporting elements killing U.S. soldiers.

ADM. MULLEN: But they have, they have shared intelligence with us, they’ve killed as many or more terrorists as anybody, they’ve captured them. And certainly, the, the focus on changing the strategic shift, if you will, in that agency so that that doesn’t happen at all, is a priority for us.

Pakistan is killing Americans, and Admiral Mullen won’t even deny it. Surreal, isn’t it? So much for "support the troops."

It’s no wonder then that so much of the opposition to the war is being led by soldiers and their families. The candidates we’ve so far spoken with have all made some very strong personal choices about their positions on the war, but they can’t hide who’s pushing them in that direction. Read the rest of this entry →

When war becomes a background issue, it’s time to reasses: An interview with Matt Campbell (IA-5)

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

Matt Campbell is a Democrat running in the fifth district in Iowa against odious Republican Steve King.

Campbell is for jobs, against raising the retirement age, and for raising the cap on Social Security. He’s also for drawing down our involvement in Afghanistan. From his issues page:

The missions in Afghanistan and Iraq should be funded so that they are successful but we must draw our involvement in both countries to more limited roles so that our brave men and women in uniform there can return to their families and to be available for any other future crisis that could develop.

Jason Rosenbaum and I spoke with Campbell late last week about Afghanistan. What follows is a lightly edited transcript. More analysis coming up here in the near future.

Read the rest of this entry →