04
Dec
09

“Obama’s Anti-MacArthur moment”

Truman sacks MacArthur

Tom Englehardt has a spot-on analysis of what went down last Tuesday night. Obama’s West Point speech announcing the Afghanistan escalation was a Big Moment in America’s recent history, and one that shows just how desperate straits we’re in. Who among us thought that when the Democrats swept into power in the 2006 midterms, presaging their control of everything in the 2008 election, that the Dems would not only NOT end Bush’s wars and Constitutional crimes, but that they would extend them?

But nobody talks about it. I see and hear a lot of chatter about the last spasms of health care reform, Wall Street excesses, and New York state’s gay marriage doublecross, but I’m not hearing a lot of “what the fuck is he doing with this Afghanistan bullshit?”–in spite of the fact that no one–NO ONE–thinks there’s a chance in hell of this mini-surge succeeding.

With my usual gratitude for Englehardt’s keen powers, but with an unusually heavy heart because what he says is so fricking depressing, I present “Meet the Commanded in Chief”, in which a very convincing case is made for this being Obama’s “anti-MacArthur moment”:

In April 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, President Harry Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of command of American forces.  He did so because the general, a far grander public figure than either McChrystal or Centcom commander Petraeus (and with dreams of his own about a possible presidential run), had publicly disagreed with, and interfered with, Truman’s plans to “limit” the war after the Chinese intervened.

Obama, too, has faced what Robert Dreyfuss in Rolling Stone calls a “generals’ revolt” — amid fears that his Republican opposition would line up behind the insubordinate field commanders and make hay in the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns.  Obama, too, has faced a general, Petraeus, who might well have presidential ambitions, and who has played a far subtler game than MacArthur ever did.  After more than two months of what right-wing critics termed “dithering” and supporters called “thorough deliberations,” Obama dealt with the problem quite differently.  He essentially agreed to subordinate himself to the publicly stated wishes of his field commanders.  (Not that his Republican critics will give him much credit for doing so, of course.)  This is called “politics” in our country and, for a Democratic president in our era, Tuesday night’s end result was remarkably predictable.

The dysfunction here is quite intense. There is an unquestioned trend toward increased presidential power in the last half century or so, but not for a president who wants to buck the consensus in Washington. I’m not defending Obama, but I also really can’t imagine ANY president doing the right thing and sacking his insubordinate subordinates in the Pentagon for their brazen challenge to his authority.  One wishes for more from the guy, but he never led us to believe he’d do anything different than what he’s doing. Still, the landscape is pretty dismal.

Unfortunately, the most essential problem isn’t in Afghanistan; it’s here in the United States, in Washington, where knowledge is slim, egos large, and national security wisdom is deeply imprinted on a system bleeding money and breaking down. The president campaigned on the slogan, “Change we can believe in.” He then chose as advisors — in the economic sphere as well, where a similar record of gross error, narrow and unimaginative thinking, and over-identification with the powerful could easily be compiled — a crew who had never seen a significant change, or an out-of-the-ordinary thought it could live with — and still can’t.

As a result, the Iraq War has yet to begin to go away, the Afghan War is being escalated in a major way, the Middle East is in some turmoil, Guantanamo remains open, black sites are still operating in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s budget has grown yet larger, and supplemental demands on Congress for yet more money to pay for George W. Bush’s wars will, despite promises otherwise, soon enough be made.

A stale crew breathing stale air has ensured that Afghanistan, the first of Bush’s disastrous wars, is now truly Obama’s War; and the news came directly from West Point where the president surrendered to his militarized fate.

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