What Obama Won’t Say Tonight

by on August 31, 2010 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, Veterans, War and Peace, World News

Obama Iraq

President Obama had just announced to 3,000 Marines on Feb 27, 2009, that he plans to pull 100,000 troops out of Iraq by August 2010. Today August 31, 2010, will be his speech that he accomplished this promise.

By Ray McGovern / War Is A Crime.org / August 31, 2010

President Barack Obama’s aides say his speech this evening marking the end of “combat operations” in Iraq will avoid the vainglorious aspects of President George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech in 2003. We’ll see.

On the chance Obama might be open to pivoting away from the reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq and addressing honestly the worsening quagmire in Afghanistan. I have offered him the following text:

My Fellow Americans,

… so much for Iraq. Turning now to Afghanistan, let me be clear. My learning curve has been steep, as the New York Times noted last weekend. The curve has also been jagged as I have tried to assimilate the not-always-consistent advice the four-star generals have given me.

It’s been more than a little confusing. When I took office, Gen. David McKiernan was running the war in Afghanistan. He had expressed himself openly and strongly against an Iraq-style “surge” of forces, emphasizing that Afghanistan is “a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq,” where he had led U.S. ground forces.

“The word I don’t use for Afghanistan is ‘surge,’” McKiernan told a news conference on Oct. 1, 2008, singling out for mention the country’s rural population and mountainous terrain, which deepen the nation’s tribal divisions and weaken national cohesion.

As I was campaigning for president, McKiernan also warned that we could not do Afghanistan on the cheap. Rather, what would be needed was a “sustained commitment” that could last many more years. At the time there were 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan (as compared with close to 100,000 now). McKiernan wanted no more, unless he could count on having them for the longer term with the objective being clear.

So, let me tell you how things changed from then to now. Gen. David Petraeus said he had a better idea, so I let him persuade me to cashier McKiernan after less than a year in Afghanistan and replace him with Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Backed by Gen. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. McChrystal pushed for a major escalation in Afghanistan. He wanted 40,000 more troops on top of the 21,000 that I had sent in response to an urgent request just after I became president.

If you remember, in fall 2009, I was facing political pressure from the Pentagon and from former Vice President Dick Cheney who accused me of “dithering” while I conducted an Afghan policy review. So, as a compromise of sorts, I agreed to expand the force by 30,000 more soldiers but I said they would start coming home by July 2011.

On the ground, however, Gen. McChrystal made little headway. He could not tame the rural area of Marja even though he sent thousands of Marines there in what was supposed to be a warm-up for a more ambitious campaign to “stabilize “ Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and a Taliban stronghold.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen recently shared with me what he told columnist David Ignatius two months ago; namely, that his generals “underestimated the challenges” in Marja, and now they don’t quite know what to do about Kandahar. They weren’t even sure how much progress they might or might not be making. “It’s going to take until the end of the year to know where we are” there, Admiral Mullen said.

Let me be clear, again. I must tell you that I have increasing doubts that the four-stars who brief me really know what they’re doing in Afghanistan. Gen. McChrystal even found a curious way to exit Afghanistan, when he and his top aides were quoted in Rolling Stone magazine disparaging me and the civilian leadership. I then replaced McChrystal with Petraeus.

In an unconventional attempt to climb more quickly up the learning curve, I also traveled incognito to the Army infantry school at Fort Benning, to listen to what the lieutenants and captains are learning about strategy and tactics. It was an eye opener!

Can’t Get There From Here

One key teaching point was the importance of what the Army calls the LOC — the line of communication along which supplies and forces can move between a base and troops in the field.

The instructors at Benning insisted that competent commanders never commit large numbers of troops to battle without having established secure LOCs. They then winced when they displayed a relief map of Afghanistan and neighboring countries, showing the deployment of U.S. forces.

The instructors pointed out that Napoleon had to learn the hard way the importance of LOCs, even though he himself coined the expression “an army travels on its stomach” — meaning that keeping it supplied with fuel, food and ammunition is prerequisite to success. (For Napoleon, a chance to grab Russia was just too tempting.)

The good news, they said, was that in Iraq the highly vulnerable hundreds-of-miles-long land supply line between Kuwait and Baghdad had not been cut – although many brave soldiers were killed along the highway from roadside bombs. But the worse news for Afghanistan is that it would be sheer folly to count on having similar success, given the country’s terrain and remoteness.

As Gen. McKiernan knew first hand, Iraq has relatively flat topography and an extensive highway network. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has formidable mountains and mostly dirt or gravel roads. Blogger Ben Gilbert put it succinctly in a recent article:

“Moving all the things 100,000 troops need to fight and survive in a hostile foreign land is never an easy task. In a landlocked, mountainous country the size of Texas, with few paved roads, it is even harder.”

Thousands of trucks pick up most of the needed supplies — including drinking water — after they arrive in the Pakistani port of Karachi. Then the trucks wend their way through dangerous parts of Pakistan and the Kyber Pass (a 33-mile passage through the Hindu Kush) into Afghanistan.

The transport is incredibly expensive, especially by the time the warlords and bandits are paid protection money to let the supplies through. And the trucks don’t get many miles to the gallon.

A congressional report issued in June, titled “Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption along the U.S. Supply Chain,” found that U.S. military contractors pay millions of dollars in protection money to Afghan warlords, and that some of that money finds its way to those fighting our own troops. The Pentagon had been largely blind to the strategic vulnerabilities of its supply chain contracting, the report added.

I was told that neither the Pentagon nor our forces in Afghanistan have much visibility into what happens to the trucks carrying U.S. supplies between the time the trucks leave Karachi until they reach their destinations. And one can only imagine what additional disruptions to the supply lines have been caused by the widespread flooding in Pakistan.

There is resupply by air, but that too is a risky and expensive proposition and cannot handle most of the necessary armaments and supplies. Moreover, any commander who would be comfortable depending on the good will of Russia and the various “-stans” located between Russia and Afghanistan, has not taken the basic course at Fort Benning.

It is a mess, but perhaps not as bad as it may seem. As the Commander in Chief of your military, I will tell you this: I just don’t know the answer.

Moving from the general to the particular, I asked my staff to brief me on whether the Marines trying to subdue and secure the Afghan rural area around Marja were having problems with resupply. Turns out that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus was in Afghanistan in early June, and in a speech at the Naval War College on June 9, he had high praise for the Marines engaged in resupply. At the same time, his comments were a bit alarming. This is part of what he said:

“Just think about what it takes to get a gallon of gas to a frontline unit in Afghanistan. I visited a bunch of forward operating bases last week. To get a gallon of gas to one of those units you’ve got to take it across the Pacific, put it on trucks, take it across the Hindu Kush and all the way down to one of those forward operating bases. Only then do you get to put it in the tank of a vehicle or generator.

“Every step of the process, you add money and every step of the process you take Marines away from combat, engagement, and development to guard that gasoline. And for every 25 trucks we send into Afghanistan we lose a Marine, killed or wounded.”

Now let me be clear, again. Ray Mabus, bless his heart, was trying to show he understands the extra burden that resupply puts on the Marines in Afghanistan. But I thought to myself, “Gosh, that’s probably why it costs $400 to get a gallon of gas into a Marine tank there.” Mabus didn’t mention the pay-offs for graft and protection. But, still, his remarks left me persuaded that the LOC problem may in the end amount to a case of “you can’t get there from here” — at least not without spending inordinate sums of taxpayer dollars, some of which go to those fighting against our troops.

Other Basic Learnings

There were other strategic/tactical fundamentals presented by the instructors at Fort Benning — fundamentals that seem to have escaped our senior generals. At least they have not told me much about them: Terrain, for example.

While Gen. McKiernan clearly saw those rugged mountains as an impediment, neither Petraeus nor McChrystal briefed me on the terrain, nor on the fact that those mountains have been the nemesis of invaders/occupiers for 2,337 years, ever since Alexander the Great made a try at subduing Afghanistan. As brilliant a commander as Alexander was, he ended up having to yield to the wishes of his whittled-down, worn-out troops to head back to Asia Minor. Gen. Petraeus with his can-do spirit is promoting the notion that he can succeed where Alexander, and all other invaders, eventually failed.

Another fundamental factor the Fort Benning instructors homed in on was weather. They say it gets really cold in those Afghan mountains for half the year, shrinking the fighting season and giving strong advantage to our indigenous opponents.

Last, but by no means least, the Fort Benning instructors kept insisting that any commanders worth their salt would do their level best to estimate enemy strength; that is, the number of forces they face, before starting an offensive of any kind.

Now let me be clear once more. As I hope you are aware, I am a Christian, not a Muslim, and I have studied my Bible closely. So that advice rang some bells:

If a ruler is about to do battle with another country, will he not sit down first and consider whether, with ten thousand men, he can withstand an enemy coming against him with twenty thousand. If he cannot, he will send a delegation while the enemy is still at a distance, asking for terms of peace.” Luke 14:31-32

A sensible approach, Bible or not, don’t you agree? The passage from Luke reminded me that I can never seem to get a straight answer from my advisers as to how many enemy forces are arrayed against us in Afghanistan, how many are al-Qaeda terrorists wanting to attack the United States, and how many are Afghans who simply want to drive out what they see as a foreign occupation army.

And this is not an academic question. It goes to the heart of what I have been saying since I’ve been in the White House. For instance, in March 2009, I said this:

“I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

What’s particularly embarrassing is that CIA Director Leon Panetta goes on TV and says, with no apparent awkwardness, that there are only 50, “maybe less,” al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan.

I know; I know; seems a little much to have 100,000 troops chasing 50 of them, but then Panetta reminds me not to forget about the Taliban, the hardliners who were groomed by our Pakistani allies to take over Afghanistan in the 1990s. The Taliban then gave al-Qaeda a safe haven.

How many Taliban are there, I ask? But Panetta doesn’t know.

Then, in July I read in the Washington Post that the recently resigned Afghan intelligence chief, a gentleman named Amarullah Saleh, claims he knows. Saleh told the Post that the Taliban leadership numbers about 200 but many of those are in Karachi, Pakistan. The second ring of Taliban leadership (about 1,700 field commanders) oversee a fighting force of 10,000 to 30,000, depending on the season, said Saleh, adding that the Taliban commanders captured or killed during Gen. McChrystal’s tenure have been replaced by a “new crop.”

I am aware of suggestions that one needs to regard most of the 33 million people in Afghanistan as “insurgents” or — perhaps more accurately — resistance, because they don’t want us there.

On top of that, thanks to WikiLeaks, the whole world is now aware of the double game being played by the Pakistani intelligence service in taking our money and then arming (and sometimes leading) Taliban fighters against our own soldiers and Marines.

At this point, I am thinking maybe Gen. McKiernan may have been right after all. It’s all so very awkward; sometimes I think the whole world is laughing at us. Even the nice kids at Sidwell Friends are giving Malia and Sasha a hard time about it. And I don’t like it — not one bit.

But the buck stops here. So let me be clear again. What I have experienced with the generals over the past year – and what I’ve learned during my recent surreptitious instruction at Fort Benning – have convinced me to do what Ambassador Eikenberry strongly urged me to do last November. Instead of simply caving in to complaints from Cheney about my “dithering”– and giving Petraeus and McChrystal nearly all the troops they asked for – I should have applied the full resources of the U.S. intelligence community to get a handle on the real prospects for Afghanistan.

So, I have now asked Ambassador Eikenberry to return to Washington to chair a fast-track, multidisciplinary National Intelligence Estimate on the conflict in Afghanistan. The fully coordinated NIE, with any dissents duly recorded, will be given to me no later than Nov. 15.

I want a fresh look at the entire complex of issues. I will expect members of the team that advised me last fall to become involved in critiquing the final Estimate after it is finished, but not to influence its findings beforehand.

I also have conferred by telephone with former President George W. Bush about all this. He heard me out, but then kept insisting that we cannot allow so many of our troops to have died in vain. I told him, as gently as I could, that he might have thought of that at the outset; that I intended to be candid with the American people and not sugarcoat the hard reality that so many, on both sides, had indeed died in vain; and that our task now is to end the violence in as rapid and constructive a way as possible.

Fellow Americans, I can understand your impatience — and, for some of you, your grieving and your anger. Rest assured, I share the impatience and sympathize deeply with those who have lost loved ones.

But I promise you that this time around we are going to get it right, and my new decision on Afghanistan will be informed as much by the NIE and the lessons from Fort Benning, as by the four-star generals.

God bless America — and God bless the rest of the world, too. Good night.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

To go to the original article, go here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny Morales August 31, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Some more things you wont hear tonight:
“Political power grows from the barrel of a gun”- Mao
“The guns grow from a surplus of capital”- Meow
“Surplus capital grows from appropriated labor “-Me


john August 31, 2010 at 8:15 pm

The cliff notes:

“It’s so HARD, what are we gonna do?”

I don’t have a solution, but I do know the above words were never spoken by the leader of the side that won.
Let’s not forget Afghanistan was where the 9/11 atacks were planned and executed from. More were to follow. OBL was not an afghani by birth and neither were the hijackers, but his philosophies were more mirrored by the Taliban than anyone and they vowed to die protecting him.
Just in case anyone forgot why we went, I know it’s been awhile.

On Danny’s quotes… sure that’s all true and everything but what if the other guy doesn’t speak your language, and his is speaking with a gun?


Danny Morales September 1, 2010 at 5:16 am

John, On Bob Dyl On Danny quotes…”You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend…you only ‘wanna be’ on the side that’s winning!” and what if the other guy is your neighbor and “money doesn’t talk it swears”- “He understands your orphan w/his gun”


john September 1, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Osama Bin Laden HAD money, it doesn’t phase him. He was on a quest to please his God and get others who belive in this God to join him in what he believed was the correct way to please him. The Taliban believe in this God in similar fashion.
Danny I think we are closer in ideology than this issue would have us appear to be. The people we went to war with in Afghanistan banned music. Free speech. Educating women. They bulldozed ancient buddhist religious icons, beautiful edifices centuries old.
I believe in peaceful solutions to problems. I also understand that said solutions often involve speaking to people who believe in violent solutions, and you had better be able to speak in that language too. When those people wish to have their oppressive beliefs spread to our shores, and do attack us as they did on 9/11, I think once it is clear our peaceful advances fall on deaf ears, we do speak in their language and do so with such skill they don’t soon forget.
In the end you really can’t reason with a man who feels he has God’s blessing in his actions. Kind of like a caged MMF match with 500 monkeys. In that space, no one can see you tap out.


Brittney Tanks August 31, 2010 at 8:19 pm

He was unable to capitalize on the momentum, however, and he placed second to Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary five days later. Brittney Tanks


Dave Sparling August 31, 2010 at 9:56 pm

My take on Obama’s speech–

GOLLY GOSH there MISTER PRESIDENT, in your wide ranging POLITICAL SPEAK SPEECH you never seem to say anything about just how Cheney/Rummy/Blair got everyone involved in these QUAGMIRES in the first place. Shouldn’t all the facts be known to the LEADER in charge? I am sure Cheney/Rummy/Blair would be happy to explain the massive problem they faced just after 9/11/01. In fact the 9th anniversary of the New Pearl Harbor is fast approaching.

Western world leadership was faced with the problem of who to blame for the attack on America. With the help of world managed media a new Hitler was incarnated into a Muslim man named Osama Bin Laden. All the evil doers involved in the attack were Muslim men. The term MASTERMIND was all of a sudden the word of the day. Without question the population of the western world accepted the MEDIA’S version of who was responsible for 9/11/01.

As luck would have it, the western intelligence agency’s just happened to have a bunch of information about Muslim training camps where Muslim masterminds were training Muslim men to be TERRORISTS. Because that is just the nature of the business, the CIA, Mossad, MI5 not only knew where to look, but who to look for.

Of course the western leaders wanted to bring these evil humans to justice and give Americans well deserved revenge. So through diplomacy the United States asked the Taliban government to please arrest Osama Bin Laden and others involved in the planning of 9/11/01. The Afghan Taliban government said NO. America stood helpless, no way could any western intelligence agency help. With faith and prayer Cheney/Rummy/Blair did the only thing they could do, INVADED AFGHANISTAN and started killing people.

Then living while Muslim male became the most dangerous human activity. Hundreds of Muslim men were picked up in Afghanistan, Pakistan, shipped to Guantanamo Bay Cuba, tortured, never charged, but a lucky few became the GUILTY never to be proven innocent masterminds of 9/11/01.

Then as you know Mister President, Cheney/Rummy/Blair soon lost interest in capturing Osama Bin Laden and his gang, finding a long standing problem with Western Big Oil companies and the country of Iraq to be of much more interest to them and their friends. With massive lying assistance from World Corporate Media, SHOCK&AWE was moved to a new country. I know you at the time did not favor this move. But then you are a politician so no need in trying to explain anything.

I have a feeling you know all of this and more Mister President, I also know the reasons you can not say anything in public about it. The FAKE WAR ON TERROR will continue on as long as the Merchant Bankers want to make money.


john September 1, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I couldn’t agree more strongly that the war on terror is fake, and has been an excuse to extend American hegemony throughout energy rich countries in Asia and the Middle East, not to mention tighten the grip of the Elite/Shadow Government upon Americans and strip away countless civil rights and opportunities for enterprise. Under the auspices of preventing terrorism they have implemented many mechanisms to track every dollar we earn and ensure not a one doesn’t get taxed or monitored and everything you spend doesn’t exceed what they can determine you earned. Every common crime of the past is now finding a way to be called terrorism, so Americans will be scared into accepting the lazy way that they are now dealing with it.
Government loves the ability to scare us into accepting that we need them. Justify millions of unnecessary federal positions, all with full benefits, I call such employment within bureaucracies “the new American Royalty”.
However it seems you’re darn near jumping on the “9/11 conspiracy theory” bandwagon, and the problem therein is that you end up within a group comprising just 6% of the population, while exclusivity isn’t a problem, some of the astounding logic defying many laws of physics, not to mention common sense, is. I’m not just talking about “Dr.” Judy Wood and her “they dustified the buildings with a D.E.W.” insanity, I’m talking about people claiming profoundness in semantics over Larry Silverstein saying “pull it” in a PBS interview about bldg. 7, which is argued by the bulk of them.
Dangerous company to share, merely because their arguments are so silly that reasonable people you need to impress with valid concerns about “Merchant Bankers” and “World Corporate Media” (mistakenly called a “New World Order” when it’s merely the same old crap we’ve seen for 93 years now but needs to be reported on badly) tune out when you ask them to buy into that too.
You of all people might be interested in this:
Top 25 censored news stories 1977 includes “Jimmy Carter’s Trilateral Commission White House”.
Top 25 censored news stories 2010, includes “Obama’s Trilateral Commission White House Team”.
The most glaring connection, Zbigniew Brzezinski, not as important himself but who he represents, David Rockefeller (Trilateral Commission created to lend an air of legitimacy to his efforts when the CFR was getting bad press in the early 70’s. I assume you knew the underlying facts, may not have been aware that someone was screaming “how come nobody talks about this!” then and now)

Anyone promoting Obama as “change”or “hope” frankly has no comprehension of his connections. I voted for him as a better alternative to an old, short, angry eunuch with a Sarah Palin running mate. Yeah she’s that bad she set a new standard of compare.


Gary Ghirardi September 1, 2010 at 7:02 am

““Our troops are the steel in our ship of state,” adding, “And though our nation may be traveling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true.”

It is for this statement, rather than all the double-talk about troop withdrawals, that Obama’s miserable speech deserves to be remembered. It was rhetoric befitting a military-ruled banana republic or a fascist state. The military—not the Constitution, not the will of the people or the country’s ostensibly democratic institutions—constitutes the “steel” in the “ship of state.” Presumably, the democratic rights of the people are so much ballast to be cast overboard as needed.” – Bill Van Auken – wsws


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