Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
November 19, 2009
Mop needed. Plumber, tooBy Greyhawk
When it comes to Afghanistan - America's top national security concern today - the "leaks" from the administration have amounted to a flood, with new and seemingly contradictory reports appearing daily in the global media. It's been going on for months, but now President Obama says it's "not appropriate".
Here's a look back at the history of the problem.
In the same interview, "the president said it's still several weeks before he makes a decision on how many more troops to send to Afghanistan." He told CNN "we are very close to a decision" on Afghanistan, and "I will announce that decision, certainly in the next several weeks."
Earlier this month, sources revealed to ABC News that "as of now President Obama will likely announce his decision about a new strategy in Afghanistan at some point between the Afghan run-off election, November 7, and the president's departure for Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, November 11." But almost immediately afterward other sources revealed that it "appears increasingly likely that Obama will not announce his new Afghanistan strategy until after returning to the United States on Nov. 20." But late last week a leak from senior U.S. officials revealed that
Ambassador Eikenberry's memos expressed "deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said."
...and that could be cause for further delay.
The Gates comparison from the CBS story ("Reid says he asked the president if he's as angry as Defense Secretary Robert Gates about all the leaks...") was in reference to a recent report headlined "Gates Lashes Out at Leakers" in which the secretary was quoted as saying "I am appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on."
"If I found out who" was involved, he said, "it would probably be a career ender."
He also expressed concerns over the complexity of the president's approach to Afghanistan: "How do we signal resolve, and at the same time, signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?" However, the fact that those were actually administration concerns wasn't officially leaked until the following day:
One senior administration official, who requested anonymity in order to reflect the details and tone of confidential deliberations, said these concerns had added to the president's insistence at a White House meeting on Wednesday that each military option include the quickest possible exit strategy.
As for possible troop numbers, while late October leaks had indicated the president was leaning towards a smaller number, ("...what one official described as "McChrystal Light''), in early November McClatchy declared Obama leaning toward 34,000 more troops for Afghanistan - but noted that "the officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss internal administration planning, cautioned that Obama's decision isn't final.
CBS quickly trumped that story with the dramatic announcement that "informed sources tell CBS News [Obama] intends to give Gen. Stanley McChrystal most, if not all, the additional troops he is asking for". That report prompted an administration response CBS described as "attributed to White House National Security Advisor James Jones":
Reports that President Obama has made a decision about Afghanistan are absolutely false.
Last week, McClatchy revealed that according to their sources (no less than six military and administration officials who had requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly), those leaks had "deprived Eikenberry and other officials of the ability to tell Karzai that no more American troops will be forthcoming if he doesn't agree to implement reforms." And worse...
However, they added in perhaps unintentional hilarity, "The official, like others who were interviewed for this article, requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. However, according to a half-dozen U.S. military and administration officials..."
So that might explain why the president is starting to get upset about leaks.
Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman recently described a dramatic scene inside the White House...
...however, unlike most reporters who have been recipients of leaks, Ackerman later retracted the story: "My original source for the post stands by the account provided. The individual, a National Security Council staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, has provided truthful and verified information on past stories, and so I trusted the source for this one..." But "White House spokesman Tommy Vietor says he checked with Amb. Eikenberry's office and the teleconference call reported in this post did not occur."
General McChrystal's Afghan report was leaked on September 21.
In conjunction with the leak,
Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he'd stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.Shortly after,
One Pentagon source said that the leak of the assessment probably came from McChrystal's staff and represented an increased effort by counterinsurgency-focused officers in theater to pressure the administration to raise troop levels, in light of what they see as Obama's wobbling on the issue.But
"The secretary of defense does not believe that General McChrystal or his team was responsible for leaking this sensitive information," Morrell continued. "Nor are we wasting our time playing Washington parlor games trying to figure out who did it. ... We have better things to do."
Meanwhile, in an attributed quote, Hillary Clinton announced "there are other assessments from very expert military analysts who have worked in counter-insurgencies that are the exact opposite." Unfortunately, she didn't name them.
Shortly after, a 'leak' from 'officials' revealed Joe Biden* as head of the opposition (a role he would never confirm or deny):
Among the alternatives being presented to Mr. Obama is Mr. Biden's suggestion to revamp the strategy altogether. Instead of increasing troops, officials said, Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence.
There were actually multiple 'leaks' in this story before the McChrystal report was 'leaked', but that leak was required to really get people's attention. In August, a leak revealed the due-date of McChrystal's report was changed in a secret meeting:
The timing of Gen. McChrystal's primary assessment remains in flux. It was initially due in mid-August, but the commander was summoned to a secret meeting in Belgium last week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and told to take more time. Military officials say the assessment will now be released sometime after the Aug. 20 vote.
A separate leak revealed that "President Barack Obama next month will send Congress a new plan for measuring progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an effort to build confidence among wavering Democrats and give sharper direction to a costly and increasingly bloody war, White House officials told POLITICO on Saturday." The same story predicted additional leaks could follow:
The document will include specific metrics under nine broad objectives -- some of them classified, and divided roughly half for Afghanistan and half for Pakistan. The list has not been released, but is likely to leak after it goes to lawmakers.
Shortly thereafter, the London Times revealed that "The United States should send up to 45,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, a senior adviser to the American commander in Kabul has told The Times." His name was actually given in the report, however, other reports suggested that "several officials who have taken part in Gen. McChrystal's 60-day review of the war effort said they expect him to ultimately request as many as 10,000 more troops". But according to sources, McChrystal had been told to separate the troop request from his assessment explaining how the numbers were determined.
Regardless of how he resolves the internal debate on troop numbers, Gen. McChrystal's coming report won't include any specific requests for more U.S. troops. Those numbers would instead be detailed in a follow-on document that is set to be delivered to Washington a few weeks after the assessment.
So following the leak of the assessment, as September came to an end "General McChrystal's troop request, which has not been made public, was given to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the general in a meeting in Germany on Friday." Actually, a secret meeting in Germany that was revealed to Fox News (and other sources) via a leak. The story also repeated previous leaks that McChrystal's request would include a large number, a medium number, and a small number of troops, with each figure tied to a probability of success.
The New York Times would credit multiple sources ("officials", "people briefed on the discussion", "White House aides", "some advisers", "other officers", "an Army official, who asked not to be identified because General McChrystal's troop request had not been made public", and "others") for its story headlined "Plan to Boost Afghan Forces Splits Obama Advisers", a story that also said "General McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 40,000 additional troops" for Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, "officials" leaked additional details of what other officials claimed was the Biden* plan:
Among the alternatives being presented to Mr. Obama is Mr. Biden's suggestion to revamp the strategy altogether. Instead of increasing troops, officials said, Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.
And "...a senior defense official said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates now worries that counterinsurgency might no longer be a viable approach for countering the Taliban violence roiling once-stable parts of north and west Afghanistan."
As October began, the Washington Post headlined that according to leaks they'd received, "White House Eyeing Narrower War Effort".
Within days, a New York Times headline declared "Obama Rules Out Large Reduction in Afghan Force". They identified their source for that leaked information from a closed-door meeting between the president and congressional officials as "White House officials".
The story also cited "several people in the room", "one administration official, who, like others quoted in this article, requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting", "participants", and "those in attendance".
Meanwhile, back at the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed that "With the costs now clearer, some officials at the National Security Council and the State Department who voiced support for counterinsurgency in March have started to consider other options."
"It was easy to say, 'Hey, I support COIN,' because nobody had done the assessment of what it would really take, and nobody had thought through whether we want to do what it takes," said one senior civilian administration official who participated in the review, using the shorthand for counterinsurgency.
Shortly thereafter the president won the Nobel Peace Prize. The following day, the London Times quoted a "senior official" who said that "President Obama is prepared to accept some Taleban involvement in Afghanistan's political future and is unlikely to favour a large influx of new American troops being demanded by his ground commander".
And while George Stephanopoulus might have thought his leak (describing "key questions tied to any troop recommendation" revolved around the future of the Afghan Government) was a scoop...
Several Administration officials tell me that President Obama's national security team will generate new military and strategic options for Afghanistan beyond the recommendations already presented by General Stanley McChrystal...- Joe Klein had already revealed at least part of it a few days before
Several of the principals involved in Obama's strategy review have told me that their ultimate position on troop levels will depend on whether a plausible government, newly committed to reform, emerges when the Afghanistan election process is finally completed.
However, Martha Raddatz had quite a bombshell: "The troop request on the desks of the president and his national security team outlines three options, according to a source familiar with the document." That was hardly news, but the newly-leaked numbers were:
And "Other sources who have seen the request say the high number of troops requested is 80,000."
That was certainly different than Klein's (and everyone else's) earlier report: "...the military's all-in option, a request for 40,000 more troops, is just that: an option. It is the upper end of three options that McChrystal has offered the President, I'm told; the low option was 10,000 troops, and the middle one was 25,000."
Meanwhile, Newsweek reported (in a long cover story on Joe Biden*) that everything you'd heard about "his" plan for Afghanistan ("Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence... American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan") was wrong:
Biden has been incorrectly characterized as a dove who wants to pull out of Afghanistan. In fact, according to his "Counterterrorism-Plus" paper, he wants to maintain a large troop presence. He also favors a greater emphasis on training Afghan troops--and defending Kabul and Kandahar--than on chasing the Taliban around the countryside, and he wants more diplomatic efforts to try to peel away those Taliban who can be bought with money or other inducements (like political power).
However, they did not reveal their source for (or publish) "his Counterterrorism-Plus" paper".
In England, leaks had become so confusing that The Guardian would report "Obama quietly deploying 13,000 more US troops to Afghanistan" - a story based on original leaks to the Washington Post, but completely wrong.
A "senior administration official who has participated in the Afghanistan policy review and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it" told the Washington Post that Obama had requested data on provincial governments. ...the Post reports the request for detail "reflects the administration's turn toward Afghanistan's provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners in the effort than a historically weak central government that is confronting questions of legitimacy after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election".
Earlier in the month, Republicans had begun earnestly attacking the president for what they considered "dithering" on Afghanistan.
And that brings us to November, where our story began with reports of 40,000 troops approaching Afghanistan, according to officials. Last week the New York Times reported:
...say so, at least, on the condition that their names not appear:
As far as that "series of questions" goes, Bob Woodward (who you may recall started all the fun in the first place) "revealed that the President has no fewer than 32 issues on the table that need answers before he can decide how to go forward on Afghanistan. We're not sure who he heard that from.
And while we've barely scratched the surface of leak reports over the last few months, now that the leaking has stopped perhaps the president will get on to the other 31.
Update - the Washington Post today:
President Obama will not announce his decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan before the Thanksgiving holiday, senior aides said Thursday.
*Footnote: Joe Biden is Vice President of the United States.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 19, 2009 11:49 AM | Permalink
Some in the White House might get a bit wobbly in the knees reading this Washington Post story, but in the end author Rajiv Chandrasekaran only provides some additional details of how the Obama administration wasted a year "focused" on "the Karzai prob... Read More
If you haven't read this and this, and this yet, now would be a good time to do so. The story defies logic and belief, but unfortunately if the US State Department (or the White House) hasn't responded clearly and forcefully to unequivocally deny the a... Read More
Headlined "Obama plans to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan" - this news from McClatchy...President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next yea... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com