Obama’s Folly?

 Barack Obama

                      photo: wiki commons

For a split second I thought I was listening to George W. Bush and not Barack Obama talking about sending in more troops based upon the advice of his military leaders.   And then there’s the “exit plan” to start bringing our troops home after 18 months and getting them home when?   When the transfer of responsibility for securing the country can be completed?  And when might that be?  Is that what he said?  Or did he mean something else?  Will the withdrawl be completed while Mr. Obama is still in office?

It’s exactly the kind of open-ended non-decision decision I would have expected from the Bush Administration.    It was a speech that undoubtedly left any number of progressives and moderates walking around in a politically induced stupor while they try and sort out exactly what happened.

I’ll tell you what happened.  Mr. Obama has decided to send additional troops to Afghanistan, an area where apparently, the al Qaeda is not.  There are estimates that around 300 members of  al Qaeda are in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.  Others, are scattered globally.  It’s an international criminal conspiracy, not an army.  Mr. Obama, could have decided to attack the problem both overtly and covertly, using the CIA, the FBI and every bit of law enforcement and military intelligence  cooperation he could garner from any nation willing to offer support including the government of Pakistan.

Instead, he has done exactly what George W. Bush would have done.  After asking the Pentagon for advice, he continues to do what?  Eliminate the al Qaeda by attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan?  We already defeated the al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  Under the Bush Administration, we drove them back into Tora Bora and then let them slip across the border into Pakistan.  Not Mr. Obama’s fault.  Anyway, that still leaves the Taliban and the question of the ongoing stability of Afghanistan.  It’s another mess the Bush Administration left for Mr. Obama to clean up.  However, we cannot kill every member of the Taliban.  They will still be there once we withdraw.  It is highly unlikely that another 30,000 troops for another couple of years will secure a nation that has been in an almost constant state of civil war for the past 40 years.  Defeating the Taliban in any conventional sense is highly unlikely, regardless of General McChrystal’s assessment.

Generals, are trained to win wars, not calculate the geopolitical complexities involved in attacking an international criminal enterprise.   Beyond that, unless you consider nuking the Middle East to be a viable option, the situation no longer calls for a strictly military solution.   JFK, had to turn a deaf ear to his generals and take on the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban missile crisis to prevent a nuclear war.  The decision lies with the President, not the Pentagon.

And now, after taking General McCrystal’s advice,  the President is sending another 30,000 troops to a place where the al Qaeda is not.  A place governed by a corrupt puppet government being propped up by our presence, not unlike the puppet governments we propped up in Vietnam.   And he is directing this massive effort at an area driven by the economics of the heroin trade and ruled by warlords who will side with whomever they believe will provide them with the greatest advantage from one moment to the next?   Are you kidding?  We move in and they back off and pretend to play by our rules.  We leave, and they return to play by their own rules.  They’ve been playing this game for hundreds of years.

The President could have announced that after 8 years, we’ve done what we went into Afghanistan to do.  Without tipping our hand and laying out any timetable, we could have started the process of bringing our troops home and turning the responsibility of securing Afghanistan over to the Afghans.   If Hamid Karzai wants the country, let him have it.  The far right would have condemned the move but the far right isn’t going to be satisfied with anything Mr. Obama does.  It’s time to forget about the far right and think about the American majority, those millions of people who are less concerned with Afghanistan than with putting food on their tables and the availability of affordable health care.

As things now stand, Mr. Obama has chosen a course of action that will require billions of additional dollars and untold numbers of American lives.   Yes, the al Qaedal will probably slip back into Afghanistan once we leave.  So what?  Are we prepared to make the kind of commitment the British made in India and leave our military in place until the region becomes stable?  You know, a commitment of say…the next 90 years and maybe longer?

Instead of bringing the troops home and stopping the flow of dollars into an unwinnable war, Mr. Obama and his party will now be heading into 2010 facing the prospect of more American lives lost abroad and fewer jobs created here at home.  It appears to be a “lose-lose” scenario for both the country and the Democratic Party.

The other possibility is that the President struck precisely the right balance by upholding our national responsibility to the Afghans.  It could be argued that we had to beat back the Taliban long enough to give the Afghan Government ample time to beef up their security to the degree that they can maintain control once we leave.    This way, in 18 months we can begin the withdrawal and nobody can say we “cut and ran.”  Except for the far right.   There is nothing Mr. Obama can do that will satisfy them.  Either way, it’s a very high price to pay for image control and the Democrats may be in trouble as they head into the mid-term elections.

Barack Obama And The Ghost Of Vietnam

 Vietnam War

photo: wiki commons

The speech will be delivered tonight but a key element has already been released.  30,000 more American troops will be sent to Afghanistan.   England’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday that he’s sending in another 500 troops from the UK.  500 is better than nothing.  At least they aren’t pulling out.  When you’re stuck in the mud, it’s nice to have friends who are willing to try and get you unstuck.

Beyond that, as important, and possibly more important than this new “surge” is the question of an exit plan.   Apparently President Obama is going to tell us that he has one.   We can only hope.   If he doesn’t,  it could very well signal the end to much of his credibility as the agent of change he promised to be.  Looked at his popularity ratings lately?  His approval numbers are crashing along racial lines.

If Americans are becoming increasingly conflicted about our 8-year long involvement in Afghanistan, those concerns are only heightened for those of us who went through that season in hell known as the Vietnam Conflict.   I’m referring particularly to the men and women who enlisted or were drafted and who then fought in Vietnam.  However, I refer also to those Americans who were simply alive at the time.   When it gets to the point that your troops and police are killing your own people on your own ground over someone else’s civil war, you’ve got a real problem.

The Vietnam problem, it turned out, was that we had been told we were fighting a war we could win if only we would increase the number of troops and then stick it out for just a little longer.  Sound familiar?   We really could win the “Vietnam Conflict” General Westmoreland kept saying,  as the daily body count kept pointing to more Vietnamese than Americans dying on the field of battle.   It turned out of course,  that the body count was bogus.  A lie.  The truth was that it was an open-ended war of attrition that was not winnable and our political leaders knew it.  And they lied to us about it.  Repeatedly.  Robert S. McNamara, the father of military “metrics” knew it.  He left the Johnson Administration because he could not persuade LBJ that the only reasonable course of action in Vietnam was to get out.

It was a war the Vietnamese had been fighting for generations.  First against the Chinese and then against the French.  Then it was the Japanese during World War II.   Then the French returned following WW II.  When they left, the United States moved in.  We were there because we were seized by anti-communist paranoia.  We also thought we could win even though no one else had.  We were there even though Ike Eisenhower had advised against getting involved in a land war in Southeast Asia.  We were there because we did not understand the culture and the history of the Vietnamese people.  They weren’t going to just submit to our overwhelming force, give up and go along with a foreign occupier’s grand plan for their country.    They never had, but we ignored Eisenhower and history.   We left ourselves open to be doomed to repeat the mistakes of others.

Fast forward to 2001, when the United States did what any country would have done after coming under attack.  We sought justice.  However, as with Vietnam, we again went to war with no viable exit strategy.  Again, we were going into a country with a long history of refusing to knuckle under to foreign invaders.  The British, sent their troops there in 1838, but were driven out of Kabul by an onslaught of civilian attacks.  The entire country has been in an almost constant state of civil war since the 1970’s, interrupted only by occasional foreign invasions.  The Soviet Union sent its troops in 1979, but were driven out by the Taliban with our support.  Some referred to the incursion as “the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.”  And then of course, we went in, following the attacks of 2001.

This time though, and subsequently in Iraq, we were going to war without the draft, making it a relatively painless process for those who were in no way connected to the military.  The Neocons, thoughtless about so much of what they were doing, did have that part of it figured out.   Scare the populace half to death and then tell them you have a plan to go out and get the bad guys without drafting their sons and daughters.  It would have been far more difficult to convince the nation that an invasion of Iraq was a good idea if getting Saddam meant subjecting the country’s kids to the draft.  But that wasn’t going to happen  Not this time.

Some of those who had been in Vietnam, those who had served there,  advised against going to war in Afghanistan, without first determining what we wanted to accomplish, how long it would take to get the job done and then how we would get our people the hell out of there.   The calls for a defined exit strategy continue.  Clearly, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and company weren’t thinking along those lines.   There’s a body of evidence indicating that for Cheney,Rumsfeld and their fellow “Neocons,”  Afghanistan was just a stepping stone on the way to a broader war with Iraq.

They apparently had little trouble convincing George W. that their grand vision would work.   All of it, as we now know, led to the President having grandiose dreams of democratizing the whole of the Middle East.  At least, that’s what he said.  The “end of days” was coming anyway, so what did it matter?  Things can get pretty dicey when you have a President with a reputation for being something less than intellectually powerful,  apparently mixing his religious beliefs with someone else’s war strategy.

“George W. Bush is among the most openly religious presidents in U.S. history. A daily Bible reader, he often talks about how Jesus changed his heart. He has spoken, publicly and privately, of hearing God’s call to run for the presidency and of praying for God’s help since he came into office.” –The Washington Post

And so we went into Afghanistan and then Iraq, with no viable exit plan for either one.  The whole mess was eventually  dumped on Barack Obama,  after winning an election based in part on his promise to end the war and bring our people home.

And now we wait for the speech.  We wait for President Obama’s plan for untangling the United States from the mess the Neocons handed the American people.

He had better have an exit strategy that’s more than just “something we might be able to do…eventually….if things go a certain way for a given amount of time…after we send in another 30,000 troops….after the Afghans are able to secure their country for themselves….”   If that’s all he’s got, then it will be nothing more than a continuation of something that already failed to work in Vietnam.

Comcast Dealing For Majority Ownership in NBC/Universal

Meg James in the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Comcast is going after the majority ownership of NBC/Universal.

“Under the terms of the planned merger deal, Comcast would contribute its entertainment cable channels, including E and Style; nine regional sports networks; and about $6 billion in exchange for 51% ownership of the new venture.

GE would contribute NBC Universal and receive a 49% stake in the joint entity. It would also get about $9 billion, which the new venture would provide by taking on debt.” -Los Angeles Times

The Times reports that the deal with Comcast should close once NBC cuts a deal to buy out its current partner, Vivendi.

Williams $82,500 Fine Over The Top?

 Serena Williams

          photo: wikipedia

Eleven-time singles Grand Slam champion, Serena Williams, has been fined $82,500 for her verbal outburst directed at a lineswoman at the U.S. Open in September.   Williams now must go through a two year probationary period.  If she is charged with another “major offense” her fine could climb to $175,000 and she could be barred from participating in the U.S. Open.

Okay, so Williams was out of line.  So she blew her cool.  But this is a record high fine for a pro tennis player.   I don’t agree with what she did, but neither do I think she should she be treated like she started a hockey brawl on a tennis court and put someone’s eye out.  Come on.  Remember Jimmy Conners and Ilie “Nasty” Nastase?  Can we get real?

The Hazards Of Amateur Journalism


              canadian press handout photo   

Think anybody with a notebook or a camera is a journalist?  Think again.   Years of training and fine tuning go into creating  the kind of experienced reporter who knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff while retaining an objective point of view, crafting it into an interesting story and not getting killed in the process.   A piece by Ian Austen in this morning’s NY Times about Canadian waitress turned “citizen journalist” Amanda Lindhout, who was held by Somali kidnappers for 15 months speaks directly to the safety issue.   Being kidnapped and possibly killed are a couple of minor issues any number of aspiring “citizen journalists” may not be thinking about as they pack up their little cameras and head for parts of the world that could be hazardous to one’s health.

I’ve always found the term “citizen journalist” to be insulting at best.   “Amateur journalists” or journalist wannabees” would be more more accurate descriptions.  Journalists who spend years honing their skills can’t be replaced by wide-eyed newbies, lacking credentials but armed with handy-cams and notebooks or gallons of hairspray and buckets of makeup who think journalism is something anybody can do.  What nonsense.   That kind of naivete leads to the type of situation Austen writes about in the Times.   It is also destroying the news “filter” that once determined what is and is not, legitimate news.   Losing that filter is the bigger danger.   It threatens the survival of our Republic, which will not stand without the open flow of honest and accurate information about our political process and national, state and local institutions.  What we used to call the news.

The filter was made up of professional journalists who spent years learning the traditions and standards that defined the difference between meat-and-potatoes journalism and what passes for news today.   So much of it is nothing but sanguine, superficial junk.  Particularly on the broadcast side where young women no longer dress in business attire.  Here in Los Angeles, some of them look like they are headed for either a backyard barbecue or a high-end cocktail party at Hollywood and Highland.  We’re supposed to take them seriously as they stand there grinning broadly,  clad in cocktail dresses with faux diamond earrings hanging down to their shoulders?   Friends, credibility just flies out the window.

There are lots of  “See spot!  See spot run!  Spot runs fast!! “reporters” out there.  Lots of entertainment, product promotion and mind-numbing meaningless minor criminal activity posing as news.   Anything that’s inexpensive but offers good eye-candy.  At the same time, there appear to be fewer and fewer real journalists trying to determine who Spot is, what made him run, where he is running to, why he’s running, when he might get there and what the larger context of the story might be.  Never mind getting into the “how” factor.

Why not just give it up and animate the whole thing?  We can go to Tweety Bird reporting live from the field and Daffy Duck at the weather map back in the studio.  The really scary thing is, there are news executives who will read this and think it might be a good idea.

Much of the push away from news and into entertainment can be blamed on a largely unregulated system that puts the decision about what journalists should be doing and how it should be done in the hands of Wall Street speculators who demand increased profitability each and every quarter and sales departments all over America that are supposed to meet Wall Street’s insane demands.  Marshall McLuhan and P.T. Barnum were both right.

Changes For The NewsHour On PBS

 Jim Lehrer

             photo: PBS 

Changes are coming for the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer on PBS.  Howard Kurtz reports in the Washington Post that Lehrer’s name is being dropped from the title.   The long-time PBS anchor will also start sharing the spotlight with a rotating set of correspondents including Judy Wodruff and Gwen Ifill, as the news switches from “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” to “PBS Newshour.”

Report: How The U.S. Missed Its Shot At Osama bin Laden

 A report put together for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and scheduled to be released tomorrow, says the United States blew its opportunity to get Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora back in 2001.   Nobody should be all that surprised.

I clearly remember getting the call.   It was a network photographer friend calling from Tora Bora, via satellite phone.   I could hear what sounded like bombs exploding in the background.  He confirmed for me that the bombing had started.  He said that from his perspective it felt like our troops were closing in on Osama bin Laden.  After a short conversation the frequency of  the bombing increased and he had to get off the line.   I remember thinking it probably wouldn’t be long before bin Laden was either dead or captured with the former being the more likely outcome.   Neither, of course, ever happened.

And then came the book “Kill bin Laden,” and the report from CBS News Correspondent Scott Pelley about “Dalton Fury” on CBS-TV.   It was “60 Minutes” that ran the story on”Fury,” a nom de plume used by the commander in charge of a Delta Force unit sent in to get bin Laden.  According to “Fury” the U.S. could have taken bin Laden at Tora Bora, but missed the chance because higher-ups refused to approve requests that would have given U.S. forces the ability to get the job done.

 ‘Delta developed an audacious plan to come at bin Laden from the one direction he would never expect.

“We want to come in on the back door,” Fury explains. “The original plan that we sent up through our higher headquarters, Delta Force wants to come in over the mountain with oxygen, coming from the Pakistan side, over the mountains and come in and get a drop on bin Laden from behind.”

But they didn’t take that route, because Fury says they didn’t get approval from a higher level. “Whether that was Central Command all the way up to the president of the United States, I’m not sure,” he says.

The next option that Delta wanted to employ was to drop hundreds of landmines in the mountain passes that led to Pakistan, which was bin Laden’s escape route.

“First guy blows his leg off, everybody else stops. That allows aircraft overhead to find them. They see all these heat sources out there. Okay, there a big large group of Al Qaeda moving south. They can engage that,” Fury explains.

But they didn’t do that either, because Fury says that plan was also disapproved. He says he has “no idea” why.

“How often does Delta come up with a tactical plan that’s disapproved by higher headquarters?” Pelley asks.

“In my experience, in my five years at Delta, never before,” Fury says.’  -CBS News

There are other accounts as well,  including the book “Jawbreaker” by former CIA field commander Gary Berntsen, who complains that higher-ups refused to listen to the CIA, which wanted to use U.S. troops to seal off the passes into Pakistan, and instead decided to leave the job in the hands of Afghan warlords, many of whom had ties to bin Laden and his fighters.

And now comes the new report prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that appears to support what others have been saying, that the U.S. missed its shot at getting bin Laden at Tora Bora because of poor decision making by “higher-ups.”

Among other things, the report charges that  “The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines.”  According to the AP, the report is highly critical of former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and General Tommy Franks.

The new report is expected to provide some support to President Obama, who will soon announce his intention to send additional troops into Afghanistan.   Nobody should be all that surprised.

Canadians Stop Reporter At The Border

U.S. journalist, Amy Goodman, was stopped and questioned by the Canadian authorities as she was crossing over into Canada for speaking engagements in Vancouver and Victoria.  Apparently they were worried she might say something about the 2010 Olympics.   The CBC reports that Goodman was stopped and questioned for 90 minutes.

“Goodman says Canadian Border Services Agency officials ultimately allowed her to enter Canada but returned her passport with a document demanding she leave the country within 48 hours.” -CBC

According to Goodman, the Canadian cops let her go, once she told them was going to be speaking about  health care and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not about the 2010 Olympics in Canada.    The border police searched Goodman’s car and demanded to see her notes and her computer.

I know Goodman is politically progressive but she’s not the Taliban.   I’m pretty sure she’s not related to any of the bin Ladens.  She’s an American journalist.  It almost sounds like they’ve put together an enemies list so that the border cops will know who to stop and harass?  What if she had been crossing over to talk about the Olympics?  Would she have been denied entry?   Should the U.S. start denying Canadian journalists entry to the United States because they might be coming into the country to talk about (or cover)  something our government might deem to be controversial?   I’m not all that familiar with the Canadian system but I was under the impression that Canada stood in defense of free speech?

England Turned On By American Actors

Nicolas Cage

         photo – wikipedia

American actors are turning on the British.  Well, turning their Christmas lights on, anyway.  First it was Jim Carrey, flipping the switch on the Christmas lights on Oxford Street in London as a promotion vehicle for Disney’s animated motion picture version of Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.”    Okay, I can understand that.  It was a movie promotion. Dickens, London, I get it.  But then Nicolas Cage showed up to flip the switch on the city lights in Bath, where the actor apparently owns property. Guess he just likes the place and wanted to go along with the holiday spirit thing?   It’s now being suggested (tongue-in-cheek) that maybe the City of Bath should permanently mark the occasion with a statue of Cage.  Gotta love the Brit’s dry humor.  Maybe we should reciprocate by having Michael Cane turn on the lights at Rockefeller Center in New York while Daniel Radcliffe can flip the switch on the lights in LA’s Griffith Park?   Is Thanksgiving over yet?

Palin Visit Nearly Slaughters Turkey Grower’s Biz

Remember that incident last Thanksgiving, when then Alaska Governor Sarah Palin arrived to pardon a turkey and then hold a news conference at a turkey farm in Palmer, Alaska?  Remember the shots of Palin on camera while a worker was slaughtering turkeys in the background?

It was a major faux pas on several fronts.   One, of course, is that no politician really wants to be associated with slaughtering anything.  Not even mavericky Sarah Palin wants to go that rogue.  Another, is that Palin was there to “pardon” a turkey and not to watch it die.    It turns out there was a third problem as well, as the turkey farmer Palin was visiting says the incident nearly wrecked his business.   Politico reports the Palin visit “just about killed” Anthony Schmidt’s  Triple D Farm and Hatchery, which raises free roaming, antibiotic and hormone-free turkeys.

Lobbyists Put Words In Their Mouths

A piece published by the NY Times on  the 14th continues to be worth reading as it shows the influence lobbyists have over the nation’s leaders.   In this case, they appear to have literally put words in their mouths.   And so, I’m posting a note about it now, even though I missed it when it first appeared in the paper.  Click on the quote below to read the entire story.

 “Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.”  -NY Times

Those same ghostwriters are probably spending the Thanksgiving holiday working on talking points for the upcoming debate in the Senate?

Dispute Over Who Will Reorganize The Tribune Co.

A large group of investment funds have gone into bankruptcy court challenging the right of Tribune Company management to file an exclusive plan to control the company’s reorganization.   The Chicago Tribune  reports that the funds hold $4.4 billion of Tribune’s $8.6 billion debt.   Among Tribune’s holdings are The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, WPIX-TV in New York, KTLA-TV, Los Angeles and WGN-TV, Chicago.

Zeppelin Returns To Los Angeles

I went for a walk the other day and saw what I thought was just another “blimp” in the sky above Los Angeles.  Turns out, it was an actual Zeppelin airship, back over L.A. for the first time since 1929.  The Los Angeles Times reports that the 246 foot long airship “Eureka,” is considerably bigger than a blimp.  It can carry thirteen passengers and a crew of two and is one of only three Zeppelins in existence.  Unlike its infamous hydrogen filled ancestor the Hindenburg, this new airship is filled with non-explosive helium.  The paper reports that “A half-hour trip costs $199; a two-hour flight $950. A daylong excursion between Los Angeles and San Francisco runs $1,500.”

Here’s a video clip from the Times-