EditorsÂ Note: this web site has frequently published the Reflections of Comrade Fidel (Reflexiones de CompaÃ±ero Fidel), Fidel Castro’s weekly opinion column in the Cuban press. He has serialized his recent Reflections into two larger documents, one in English and one in Spanish. He has entitled the serialization "The Empire from the Inside" (El Imperio por Dentro).
Fidel has been impressed by the insights of the Bob Woodward book ObamaÂs Wars (New York: Simon & Schuster, September 2010) a book which, in FidelÂs view, peers behind the veil normally hiding White House decision-making in todayÂs Washington DC. WoodwardÂs revelations about conflicts over war policy in US governing circles are indeed interesting. Also of great interest is the running commentary by the Cuban revolutionary leader on what is significant about the disclosures.Â
I am amazed at the widespread ignorance about issues so vital for the existence of mankind, at a time that it has great media, unimaginable a hundred years ago, some as recent as the Internet.
Just three weeks ago the news was announced of the imminent distribution of a spectacular book by Bob Woodward, The Washington Post journalist, whose articles with Carl Bernstein, 38 years ago, led to the Watergate scandal which destroyed the Nixon administration for spying against the Democratic Party in June 1972, for violations of laws that American society could not ignore.
I contacted our "ambassador in Washington," as I call Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in the U.S. capital, and asked him to send me at least two copies of the book as soon as it appeared in the bookstores. BolaÃ±os sent four copies.
The text is in English, of course, and as usual it will be long before the over 500 million people who speak or understand Spanish worldwide, including the Latin American immigrants in the United States, can read it in that language.
I contacted one of our best English translators, and asked for a special effort to summarize the contents. The voluminous copy, entitled "Obama’s wars", has 33 chapters and 420 pages.
I should point out that I was given an overview of the 33 chapters, in 99 pages in 18 point type, in just three days.
I will pass on the contents of this book, using the exact words, crystal clear and precise, that the English translation specialist sent me. It will take up the Reflections for several days.
It would be impossible to understand anything about the current U.S. policy if the contents of this book by Woodward are ignored. He is the holder of more than one Pulitzer Prize and, for sure, has absolutely no intention of destroying the empire.
Our country will be the first in the world to know the essential contents of this book in an articulate form. As it is known, Cuban citizens have high levels of education, and it is the country with highest percentage of students enrolled in universities.
Our main strength is not in arms, but in ideas.
The Empire from Inside (Part One)
"Two days after being elected President, Obama summoned the national intelligence director, Mike McConnell, for a meeting in Chicago to get details about the most secret intelligence operations of the extensive system of espionage in the United States. Other officials participated in the meeting, but McConnell said he had orders from former President Bush not to disclose the information related to spies, the new techniques of infiltrating Al Qaeda, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the protection of the nation, to anyone other than the elected president.
Michael J. Morell, Head of the CIA analysis department, and McConnell sat alone with Obama in a secure room. He was informed, among other matters, that the main threat to the United States came from Pakistan and that this was the No. 1 priority of the NID. If the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan would fill the power vacuum. The best was that Obama should seek peace between the two countries. Bush had ordered the drone attacks on the camps in Pakistan, and he had instructed that this country should be notified "concurrently"; that is, when the attack occurred or, for greater security, few minutes later."
We encourage readers to take note of the names of each of the personalities mentioned, as well as the theories developed to justify the incredible events that take place.
"Al Qaeda had recruited people from 35 countries whose passports did not need a visa to enter the United States, and that was a big concern. Obama was informed of the key words for the attacks by drones (SYLVAN-MAGNOLIA), only known by those with the highest level of access to security issues, among whom was now the new president.
The main successes came from human sources, spies on the ground. The CIA told them where to look, where to hunt and where to kill. The spies were the real secrets that Obama carried with him from now on. The CIA was very careful with their sources.
Each one had a code name, for example, MOONRISE. When too many people knew about him or her, or their successes, they were liquidated. The officer in charge of the case reported that MOONRISE had made the ultimate sacrifice, but the person in question had not really died. Only their codename changed, and now the CIA would have another source called SOOTHING STAR, the same person with a new name.
One important secret that has never been reported in the media, or anywhere else, was the existence of a covert army of 3,000 men in Afghanistan, whose objective was to kill or capture Taliban and sometimes venture into the tribal areas to pacify them and get support.
McConnell and Morell referred to the Iranian nuclear program. It was known that they were trying to obtain nuclear weapons and had hidden installations. McConnell said he was confident that Iran would get a gun-type nuclear weapon, probably primitive, but that could detonate in the desert with great effect and that in his opinion this would occur between 2010 and 2015.
Another major threat was North Korea, which had enough material to make six bombs. The Koreans would talk, they would lie, would threaten to leave and then they would try to renegotiate.
The Chinese had hacked the computers of the Obama campaign in the summer of 2008 and also those of McCain, and had removed files and documents at an astounding rate. McConnell said the United States were vulnerable to cyber attacks."
Straight away, the Woodward book reflects Obama’s first reaction to the mess and complexity of the situation created by the war on terror unleashed by Bush.
"Obama told one of his closest advisers he had inherited a world that could explode at any time in over six different ways, and had powerful but limited means to avoid it. Obama acknowledged that after the elections, all the world’s problems were seen as his responsibility and that people were saying,’You are the most powerful person in the world. Why don’t you do something about it?"
"John Podesta, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, was convinced that the policy should be designed, organized and monitored through a centralized system at the White House. But Obama had someone else in mind for the post: Rahm Emmanuel, who became the No. 3 of the White House. Both were from Chicago but they did not know each other well.
Obama, as presidential candidate, had told David Petraeus in Iraq to ask for everything he would need if eventually he became Commander in Chief. Obama was ready to say ‘no’ to what Bush had said ‘yes’.
Petraeus virtually redefined the concept of war in a new manual he wrote (Counterinsurgency Field Manual) that came into effect in Iraq. His main idea was that the U.S. could not get out of the war. They had to protect and win over the population, live among them, for a stable and competent government to succeed. The new soldier, he said, should be a social worker, a physical planner, an anthropologist and a psychologist.
Petraeus had few hobbies (he didn’t fish, hunt, or play golf). He could pass for a man of 35, and run 5 miles in about 30 minutes. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Princeton. His father died and he decided to stay in Iraq to oversee the war. The Iraqis call him King David. Some of his colleagues call him the Legend of Iraq. But the Obama presidency would change the status of Petraeus."
"The new Director of the CIA, Mike Hayden, traveled to New York to discuss, with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the attacks by unmanned ‘Predator’ planes within that country. The great lesson of the Second World War and Viet Nam was that attacks from the air, even massive bombing cannot win a war.
The Pakistani media was concerned about the number of civilian casualties. But the accidental death of Pakistanis was only half the story.
In a meeting Hayden had with the Pakistani President, the latter told him: Kill the principals. You Americans can worry about collateral damage. I’m not worried.’ Zardari gave the CIA the green light and Hayden thanked him for his support.
In one of his long conversations with David Axelrod, his chief political adviser and closest to him, Obama brought up the issue of Hillary Clinton. Axelrod asked Obama how he could trust Hillary. Obama replied that he believed he knew her well and if she were part of the team, she would be faithful to him. She stood beside her husband during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Obama was impressed by her resilience. He needed someone with enough stature to become a major player in the international arena.
Mrs. Clinton was not convinced that this post would be for her. There was no body of trust between her team and his.
Then came the problems with her husband and the contributors of large sums of money to his presidential library, his foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Obama’s lawyers said these entities could not accept money if Hillary was appointed Secretary of State. She acknowledged that this was a big hurdle but she would not send Bill to live in a cave for four or eight years. She was not going to tell him to cancel the operations he had in 26 countries and were saving lives, she said, it was not worth it. Podesta promised they would work on that.
She prepared a speech in which she thanked Obama, by phone, for having taken her into account for the position, but Podesta saw to it that both could not connect.
The’no’ from Hillary was transformed into a ‘maybe’. Mark Penn, chief strategist for her campaign, thought that if they remained at the State Department for eight years, she would again be in the best position to be nominated for President. She would only be 69, the same age as Reagan when he took office."
"Retired General James L. Jones considered that the Bush administration was amazingly disorganized and unfortunately not very serious regarding peace in the Middle East. Jones said the Bush Security Council lacked personnel and that it was dysfunctional, and that National Security advisor had to take measures to guarantee reasonable advancement in pursuing the objectives.
An over large sector of US policy was on autopilot, and the National Security advisor had to find the way to achieve results without having detailed control of what different departments and agencies were supposed to do. Obama asked him how he could achieve that. Jones recommended that he should convince his subordinates that their vision was the President’s vision. […] Obama decided to appoint Jones National Security advisor. Jones was surprised that Obama had appointed him for a post with such a high responsibility and that he trusted someone that he hardly knew. Jones thought everything was based on personal relations, and he did not have such relations with Obama.
On November 26, Bush called one of the last meetings of the National Security Council to analyze a very secret report on the war in Afghanistan, made by Army Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, known as the Czar of War. The report concluded by stating that the United States could not stay in Afghanistan unless they solved three major problems: improving governability, lowering corruption levels and eliminating Taliban sanctuaries in Afghanistan."
Another astonishing episode now follows, behind which was the hand of the US administration, revealing the risk hypothetically referred to by the author of the "Nuclear Winter". It would only take -he said- war between Pakistan and India, the two countries with the least number of atomic weapons in the Group of 8 that belong to the "Nuclear Club." What is revealed by the book "Obama’s Wars" is the fact that any irresponsible step in US policy could lead to a catastrophe.
Condoleezza Rice was not pleased with the report. Bush decided not to publish it. Later, 10 armed people began prowling the Indian city of Bombay and creating a picture of chaos and violence, which was aired live on TV for 60 hours. Six US citizens were killed. The operation was organized by a group known by the acronyms LeT, which means Army of the Righteous and was financed by Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency. Bush wanted to prevent any tensions between India and Pakistan. His mandate was based on zero tolerance with terrorists and their allies. The FBI was horrified to see that a low-cost, high-tech operation had paralyzed the city of Bombay. US cities were as vulnerable. An FBI official said that Bombay had changed everything."
"On taking on the post as CIA director, Hayden had inherited an organization that, according to him, was suffering from the battered child syndrome.
Obama had called him to a briefing on covert operations. Hayden considered it to be the opportunity to prove how serious the threats were and how seriously the CIA took them. He referred to 14 highly secret operations, whose objective was to carry out covert and lethal operations against terrorism, prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, discourage North Korea from building more nuclear weapons, carry out operations against proliferation in other countries, operate in an independent manner or in support of the United States in Afghanistan, carry out a series of lethal operations and other programs in Iraq, support undercover efforts to stop genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur, and offer Turkey intelligence information to prevent the Workers’ Party in the Kurdistan from establishing a separatist enclave in Turkey.
On January 4, 2009 Hayden learned, from an article on the Washington Post Website, that he had been replaced as CIA director and that Leon Panetta had been appointed the new director. Hayden considered that being replaced by a politician was a personal humiliation. Panetta is skillful in making personal relations. While meeting with Panetta, Hayden advised him: 1) You are the commander of the nation in the global war against terrorism; 2) You have the best personnel of the Federal Government; 3) I have read some of your articles; do not use the words CIA and torture in the same paragraph again. Torture is a felony. You might not like this but do not ever say torture exists. Legally, the CIA has never tortured anyone. McConnell warned Panetta that he had to understand the battle he had to wage against the CIA, because they saw him as if he were the enemy."
"Obama asked Biden to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan before his inauguration as President, and he asked him to be accompanied by a Republican. Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, was the chosen man.
Biden officially told the Pakistani President about Obama’s idea: Afghanistan would be his war; he would send more troops soon, but he needed to work jointly with Pakistan.
Zardari, for his part, admitted not having as much experience as his late wife Benazir Bhutto, but he said his mission was not different and that he needed the United States to help him win enough support on the domestic scene, and that there was much anti-American feeling in the country.
Biden warned him that in that direction Zardari had to stop playing in both teams at the same time, since the CIA thought that much intelligence information was being used to alert terrorist camps about the attacks by unmanned planes.
Biden and Graham left for Kabul. Relations between Karzai and the United States had become very volatile after the 2004 elections. He would frequently criticize the Americans for the number of civilian victims. Evidence of corruption within his government and in his family raised tensions with the United States. Biden warned Karzai that he was not interested in making life difficult for him, but the success of the United States to a large extent depended on him.
Karzai called several members of his cabinet to inform Biden and Graham directly about what he was doing. Karzai was told that Obama wanted to help, but the idea of lifting the phone and calling President Obama as he used to do with Bush would not happen anymore. Biden criticized Karzai for his inability to rule the whole country, for his rejection of touring the country to raise a consensus among the different tribes, for the sumptuous homes of Afghan officials near the presidential palace and which undoubtedly were being paid for by the United States. You are nothing but the mayor of Kabul, Biden told Karzai.
Karzai was critical about the large number of civilian victims and Biden committed to minimize them, but he warned that he had to join them in that war; he said that if it was not their war, the United States would not send more troops. Karzai replied that he was not making any criticism, but letting them know about a problem. Biden suggested addressing the issue in private, not at a press conference, and Karzai did not agree. The number of civilian victims was a public problem and Biden had denigrated him in front of his cabinet members. Karzai warned that the Afghan people would not tolerate that, and the Afghan people should be their allies and not their victims. Ambassador William Word said that the conversation had been useful but that it revealed frustrations on both sides.
Biden met with the chief of the American troops in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, who told him that in order to win the war it was necessary to send the 30,000 troops still to come since Bush was in power. Biden inquired about Al Qaeda and David said that he had not seen a single Arab soldier there in two years. This confirmed Biden’s suspicion that Al Qaeda, the main objective of the war, was a Pakistani problem.
Biden suggested that Obama distance himself from Karzai. Graham told the President that they were losing the war. Graham was convinced that it was impossible to win the war in Afghanistan if they lost the war in Iraq."
"Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on January 20 was about to be cancelled. Reliable intelligence reports indicated that a group of Somali extremists were planning to attack Obama with explosives. However, all the attention was focused on Obama’s speech and what he would say.
General Petraeus was again concentrating on Afghanistan.
Obama called a meeting of his National Security group on January 21. The key decision was to appoint Petraeus chief of the Central Command. Obama requested three options on the war on Iraq. He ordered a 60-day study to know how they would get to where they wanted to. One of the options to bear in mind, as requested by the President, was the withdrawal of the troops in a 16-month period.
A team of 80 people began to study the situation in Afghanistan. They analyzed the interrogations of prisoners, the battlefield reports, financial reports, the propaganda and the communiquÃ©s issued by the Taliban.
When Petraeus asked what they had found, Derek Harvey, from the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that the situation was similar to that of a blind man helping another blind man to walk, that the United States was very ignorant about the Afghan insurgence, about who and where the enemy was, and the enemy’s perception of the war and their motivation.
They knew too little about the enemy to draw up a strategy that would lead to victory. Harvey tried to speed up the gathering of intelligence information and he dedicated himself completely to it. He held the opinion that the war could be won, but that the US administration had to make a significant commitment for many years; which perhaps would not be well accepted by the voters. Harvey said he believed that the war in Afghanistan could be waged, but could not be sold.
Obama said that the sending of new troops should be announced as part of a new strategy. Petraeus indicated that they would not reach their objectives without a larger number of troops, and that they could not just rely on the attacks by unmanned planes. Petraeus insisted on the sending of the 30,000 troops. Obama asked if sending all those troops at once was necessary, and he warned that it was before having a strategy and that the President needed him to propose the decisions to take. The President seemed to understand that the war would not be won in one or two years. The President left the meeting to fulfill other commitments without having taken any decision on that respect."
The Empire from Inside (Part Two)
In yesterday’s Reflection there appears a key paragraph taken from Woodward’s book: "One important secret that has never been reported in the media, or anywhere else, was the existence of a covert army of 3,000 men in Afghanistan, whose objective was to kill or capture Taliban and sometimes venture into the tribal areas to pacify them and get support." That army, created and handled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), trained and organized as a "special force" has been made up on tribal, social, anti-religious and anti-patriotic bases; its mission is the follow-up and physical elimination of Taliban fighters and other Afghans, described as extreme Moslems. A Saudi recruited and funded by the CIA to fight against the Soviets when their troops were occupying Afghanistan has nothing in common with Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. When Vice President Biden traveled to Kabul at the start of 2009,David Mckiernan, chief of American troops in Afghanistan told him in answer to a question about Al Qaeda that he hadn’t seen one single Arab in two years there. Despite the relatively brief and ephemeral importance that the principal international press gave to "Obama’s Wars", without a doubt these did not shirk from recording this revealing piece of news.
The American government was faced with an unsolvable problem. In one of the last meetings of the National Security Council during the Bush presidency, a report was approved that stated that the US could not keep itself in Afghanistan unless three great problems were to be resolved: improve governability, decrease corruption and eliminate the Taliban sanctuaries…
One might add that the problem is more serious if one takes into account the US political and military commitments with Pakistan, a country endowed with nuclear weapons, whose stability in the midst of a tense ethnical balancing act has been affected by Bush’s war in Afghanistan. Hundreds of kilometres of mountainous borders, with populations having the same origin, that are being attacked and massacred by unmanned planes, are shared by Pakistan and Afghanistan. NATO troops, whose morale diminishes day by day, cannot win this war.
Without enormous amounts of fuel, food and ammunition no army can move itself. The very struggle of the Afghans and Pakistanis, on one side or the other of the border, has discovered the weakness of the sophisticated American and European troops. The long supply routes are turning into a graveyard of enormous trucks and tankers destined for that task. Unmanned planes, the most modern of communications, sophisticated conventional, radio-electrical and even nuclear weaponry, abound.
But the problem is much more serious than these lines express.
However, let us continue with the summary of Woodward’s spectacular book.
Jack Keane, the retired General, a man who is very close to Hillary Clinton, advised that the strategy being followed in Afghanistan was incorrect, that the high toll of victims wasn’t going to put an end to the insurgency, that these were having the opposite effect, that the only option was a counterinsurgent offensive to protect the Afghans. McKiernan wasn’t interacting with the governors of the provinces. Keane told him that they were resorting too much to the antiterrorist struggle and that the counter insurgency strategy wasn’t keeping pace.
Keane proposed replacing McKiernan with Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin III, the second in command in Iraq; and he also proposed McChrystal, adding that he was, without a doubt, the better candidate.
McChrystal had run good antiterrorist campaigns in Iraq but the tactical successes did not translate into strategic victories. That was why counterinsurgency was necessary.
At his confirmation hearing as CIA director before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Leon Panetta stated that the Agency would no longer be sending alleged terrorists to another country to be tortured because this was forbidden under the new president’s executive orders. He said that he suspected that the CIA was sending people to other countries to be interrogated using techniques that "were violating our norms".
Hayden was watching him on TV and, bothered, he was wondering whether Panetta had overlooked the conversation the two had had the month before. Hayden contacted Jeff Smith, the former CIA general adviser who had been assisting in the transition from Hayden to Panetta and he threatened him, saying that either tomorrow he retract what he said in the public testimony or they would have a show where the current CIA director tells the future CIA director that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Hayden said he would say it publicly and that it wouldn’t benefit anyone. The next day it was Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the Republican head of the Intelligence Committee, who asked Panetta whether he would retract what he had said the previous day and Panetta said he would.
Hayden subsequently met with Panetta and told him that he had read his work where he was saying that the Bush government had chosen the best intelligence information to allege the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Panetta had laid the blame for it upon a special Pentagon unit that had been created by Rumsfeld. Panetta replied that it wasn’t true, that it had been their error and he agreed that a catastrophic lapse of intelligence had occurred in the agency of which he was about to be the director.
On February 13, the president again met with the National Security Council to discuss four options for the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.
1. To decide only after defining a strategy.
2. To immediately send17,000 troops.
3. To send the 17,000, but in two installments.
4. To send 27,000, thus filling Gen. McKiernan’s request.
Clinton, Gates, Mullen and Petraeus backed sending 17,000 troops immediately. This was also Jones’ recommendation. Richard Holbrooke, in a security video, warned that 44 years ago President Johnson was discussing the same thing with his advisors in the case of Vietnam. "We cannot forget history", he added. Vietnam had taught us that the guerrilla wins in an impasse situation and so he was supporting sending the 17,000. Obama finally notified the Pentagon that he had decided to send 17,000 troops.
The objective for the Obama government was clear: dismantle and finally defeat Al Quaeda and its extremist allies, its support structures and its sanctuaries in Pakistan, and prevent its return to Pakistan or Afghanistan. Jones, Gates and Mullen were wondering whether they could trust the Pakistanis. Biden was proposing reinforcing antiterrorist operations and concentrating on Al Quaeda and Pakistan. Obama asked if sending 17,000 troops and 4,000 more later on would make any difference and the answer was that it would. Obama asked how much this operation would cost and the answer was that nobody knew, that this was just a study and that no budget estimate had been made, but that the cost of stationing a soldier in Afghanistan, including a war veteran pension, health insurance, the cost of family care, food and weapons, would amount to approximately $25,000 a year. The cost of an Afghan soldier in the terrain would amount to some $12,000. Later Obama confirmed that Pakistan would be the centrepiece of any new strategy.
At a meeting with the National Security Council, Obama said that he was hoping on counting with popular support for his strategy for at least two years. Biden stated that the die had been cast, even though he remarked that he was in disagreement he assured that he would support the president’s strategy.
Petraeus was appearing to be worried. He was worried about becoming the victim of his earlier successes in Iraq. Probably counterinsurgency was not the correct strategy for Afghanistan, but Petraeus had assigned the task of studying the matter to a group of experts in operations and intelligence activities who held an opposing view. It seemed that the president had not accepted his arguments in favour of counterinsurgent operations. The president announced his strategy of dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda in a speech. A Washington Post editorial praised the plan with the headline: "The Price of Realism." The speech surprised some. The president had made changes to the wording himself. Obama had not totally committed to sending all the troops requested by the army. Obama said that he would analyze the matter again after the elections in Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Gates appeared comfortable with the decision: two days later he declared that he didn’t see the need to ask for more troops or to ask the President to approve them until such time as the performance of these could be seen.
The president of Pakistan met with Obama in his office. Obama told him he didn’t want to arm Pakistan against India. He acknowledged that they had moved forward in Swat but that the ceasefire had resulted in the extremists subverting the legitimacy of the Pakistani government, and that the government would be giving the impression that nobody was in charge. Obama acknowledged that Pakistan was now acting more decisively, something that had become evident by its performance in Swat and because they had allowed the CIA to launch an average of one attack with unmanned planes every three days during the course of the past month. The Pakistanis had launched an operation with 15,000 troops, one of the best until that time, against Taliban.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs realized that the solution to Afghanistan was right before his eyes, walking through the hallways of the Pentagon. McChrystal was already a legend. He had worked harder than anyone, solving problems and not complaining. He would follow all orders to the letter. Gates finally announced that McChrystal would be the new commander of the troops in Afghanistan. "Our mission there," he said, "requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders". Later Obama stated that he had been in agreement with this decision because he trusted the opinions of Gates and Mullen, but that he hadn’t had a chance to talk to him in person.
On May 26, 2009, one of the most sensitive reports from the world of deep intelligence appeared in the TOP SECRET/ CODEWORD Presidents’ Daily Brief. Its title was: North American al Qaeda trainees may influence targets and tactics in the United States and Canada. According to the report, around 20 Al Qaeda members with US, Canadian or European passports were undergoing training in the sanctuaries of Pakistan in order to return to their countries of origin and perpetrate high profile terrorist acts. Among them there were half a dozen in the United Kingdom, several Canadians, some Germans and three Americans. Their names were not known. Dennis Blair thought that the reports were alarming and believable enough so that the President should be informed. But Rahm Emmanuel didn’t agree. Blair replied, as the president’s intelligence advisor, that he felt quite concerned and Emmanuel accused him of trying to make him and the President feel responsible.
Upon leaving the White House, Blair was convinced that they were living on different planets in terms of the matter. He was seeing, evermore, a flaw in the government.
General Jones was used to travelling to Afghanistan himself to make his own assessments. It was his opinion that the US could not lose that war, because people would say that the terrorists had won and this type of action would be seen in Africa, South America and in other places. Organizations such as NATO, the European Union and the United Nations could be dumped into the trash bin of history.
Jones visits the wounded soldiers; he meets with the colonels and talks with McChrystal. McChrystal confesses to him that Afghanistan was much worse than he had anticipated. He noticed that there were reasons aplenty for worry and that if the situation did not soon turn around it would become irreversible. Jones asked him to list the problems and McChrystal started to quote a veritable litany: the number of Taliban in the country was much higher than they thought (25,000). Jones commented that that was the result of the treaty signed by Pakistan with its tribes because it was there that the new Taliban could train without interference. The number of Taliban attacks was close to 550 a week and in the last few months they had almost doubled. Bombs going off by the side of the highway were killing approximately 50 soldiers from the coalition troops each month, as compared to eight reported the previous year.
Jones was insisting that the new strategy had three stages:
2. Economic development and reconstruction
3. Governance by the Afghans under the rule of law.
Jones was insisting that the war was not going to be won by the army alone, that during the next year the part of the strategy that would be starting to work was economic development, and if this wasn’t done well there wouldn’t be enough troops in the world to achieve victory. Jones pointed out that this was a new phase and that Obama was not going to give all the forces the army commanders were asking for, like Bush used to do during the Iraq war. Jones added that the president knew that he was treading on the razor’s edge, meaning that times were not just difficult and dangerous but that the situation could move forward in some other different direction.
In Helmand province, Jones made clear that the Obama strategy was designed to reduce US involvment and commitment, that he didn’t think Afghanistan should be only an American war, but that there had been a tendency to Americanize it.
Upon his return, Jones informs Obama that the situation is disconcerting; that there was no relationship between what he was being told during the last few months and what General McChrystal was facing. Finally Obama asks him how many troops are needed and Jones informs him there is no definite number yet. He thought it was necessary to complete the first two phases of the strategy -economic development and governance -otherwise Afghanistan would simply swallow up any additional number of troops.
The reaction was very different at the Pentagon. Jones was accused of wanting to set limits on the numbers of troops. He was claiming that it wasn’t fair for the president to make the decision he took in March, and before reaching the number of 21,000 troops stationed there, to decide that since the situation was going so bad, 40,000 to 80,000 additional troops were needed.
The chasm between the White House and the Pentagon was growing deeper and this was happening only four months after the President informed of his new strategy.
Some US government officials were describing the Obama government using Afghan terminology and they were saying that the presidency was populated by "tribes", representing its divisions. The Hillary tribe lived in the State Department; the Chicago Tribe occupied Axelrod’s and Emmanuel’s offices; the presidential campaign tribe was occupying the National Security Council that was headed by the cabinet chief Mark Lippert and the director of strategic communications Denis McDonough. This group was known as the "insurgency".
The Taliban defeat required more men, money and time than its dismantling. Defeat meant unconditional surrender, total capitulation, victory, winning in the broadest sense of the word, completely destroying the Taliban.
Richard Holbrooke was looking pretty pessimistic close to the August 20th elections in Afghanistan and stated: "If there are 10 possible outcomes in Afghanistan, 9 of them are bad. They range from civil war to irregularities".
As soon as the polling booths shut down on August 20th, there were reports of voting fraud. Many officials from the UN and the State Department did not leave their residences to visit the voting locations for security reasons.
The day after the elections, Holbrooke and the American ambassador met with Karzai, and they asked him what he would do if there were a second round. Karzai said that he had been reelected and that there would be no second round.
After the meeting Karzai called the State Department operations centre and asked to speak to either Obama or Hillary. The American ambassador recommended that the president not take the call since Karzai had taken the offensive saying that a second round was impossible. Obama agreed not to speak with him.
Intelligence reports would describe Karzai as a person who was increasingly more delusional and paranoid. Karzai told them: "You guys are oppossing me. It’s a British-American plot.
In August, a group was created to interview the members of General McChrystal’s strategic group who had just returned from Afghanistan in order to know what was happening in the terrain, how the war was going, what was working and what was not. McChrystal gave the group three questions as a guide for his study: Is the mission achievable?; if so, what needs to be changed to accomplish the mission?; are more resources necessary to complete the mission?
McChrystal told the group to be pragmatic and focus on things that would actually work.
The group came to the conclusion that the army understood relatively very little about the Afghan population. They couldn’t understand how the intimidation campaigns launched by the Taliban were affecting the population. The intelligence information gathering was a disaster. The group discovered that 70 percent of the intelligence requirements were enemy-centric. Some group members thought that within one or two years the war would be completely Americanized. The Americans preferred that the NATO allies supplied money and advisors for the Afghan security forces, instead of wandering throughout the country asking for air support to attack suspicious-looking Afghans.
The group had only bad news for McChrystal. They could carry out the best counterinsurgency campaign in the history of the world, and even so it would fail because of the weakness and corruption existing in the Afghan government. McChrystal looked as if he’d been hit by a train. In any case, he thanked the group.
McChrystal told Gates he would need 40,000 more troops. After lengthy discussions, Gates promised to give him as many troops as he could, while he could. "You’ve got a battle space over there and I’ve got a battle space over here", he told him.
"Biden had spent five hours trying to design an alternative for McChrystal, something he called ‘counterterrorism plus’. Instead of an intensive amount of troops, the plan concentrates on what he believed was the real threat: Al Qaeda. This strategy emphasizes the destruction of the terrorist groups by the murder or capture of its leaders. Biden thought that it was possible to dissuade Al Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan, and so to avoid getting involved in the costly mission of protecting the Afghan people.
"Biden thought that Al Qaeda would take the path of least resistance and that they would not return to their former places of origin if:
"1.The U.S. mantained at least two bases- Baram & Khandahar- so Special Operations Forces could raid anywhere in the country.
"2.The U.S. had enough manpower to control Afghan air space.
"3.Human intelligence networks inside Afghanistan provided targeting information to Special Operations Forces.
"4.The CIA’s elite, 3,000-Afghan-strong-Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) could move freely.
"Afghanistan had to become a slightly more hostile environment for Al Qaeda than Pakistan so that they would decide to not return.
"Obama needed someone to guide him. He had been in the Senate for only four years and Biden had been there for 35. The President thought that the military couldn’t put pressure on him, but they could crush an inexperienced President. Biden came to Obama’s aid and Obama said to him: ‘You know these guys. Go after it. Push’.
"Later Obama confessed that he wanted his vice president to be an aggressive detractor, and that he said exactly what he was thinking, that he would ask the most difficult questions, because he was convinced that that was the best way to serve the people and the troops, establishing a strong discussion about these matters of life or death.
"Obama called on a small group of the most experienced members of his national security staff in order to analyze the 66-page classified assesment written by McChrystal which, in summary, said that if more troops were not going to be sent it was probable that the war would likely end in a failure in the next 12 months. The President added that the options in this case were not good and he made it clear that he would not automatically accept the solution proposed by the general or by anyone else. ‘We need to come this with a spirit of challenging our assumptions’.
"Peter Lavoy, the deputy for analysis in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, believed that behind the attacks of the unmanned planes, Bin Laden and his organization had been beaten, beseiged, but not finished off, that Al Qaeda had become the Taliban leech.
"Obama wanted to know if it were possible to defeat Al Qaeda and how; if it were necessary to defeat the Taliban to defeat Al Qaeda; that it could occur in the next few years; what kind of presence was it necessary to have in Afghanistan in order to be able to have an efficacious antiterrorist platform. "What wasn’t said and what everyone knew was that a President could not lose a war nor could he be perceived as losing it. Obama said that it was going to be necessary to work for five years and he was proposing that other national priorities be considered.
The Empire from Inside (Part Three)
Admiral Mullen appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing heading towards a second two-year term, two days after the first session dedicated to the strategy. In his statement, the admiral refers to the strategy suggested by McChrystal and he adds that this "probably means more forces".
When Obama heard about Mullen’s testimony, he let his staff know how unhappy he was knowing that Mullen was publicly endorsing McChrystal’s strategy. The admiral stated that "The Taliban insurgency grows in both size and complexity", and that was why he was supporting a properly resourced, classically pursued counterinsurgency efforts. Had Mullen ignored what Obama said just two days earlier? Had the President not told everyone, including Mullen, that none of the options looked good, that they needed to challenge their assumptions, and they were going to have four or five long sessions for debate? What was the president’s principal military adviser doing, going public with his preventive conclusions?
At the meeting of the principal members of the National Security Council it was clear that they were furious. The generals and admirals are systematically playing him, boxing him.
Emmanuel commented that what was going on between the admiral and Petraeus was not right, that everyone had publicly supported the idea that more troops needed to be sent. The president didn’t even had a chance.
Morrell realized that Mullen could have ducked the controversy at his hearing by merely saying that his job was to be the principal military adviser to the president of the United States and secretary of the defence, and that he was to present his recommendations to them first in private before stating them publicly and that he didnt consider it to be proper to share them before the Committee.
Morrell thought this was all part of Mullen’s compulsion to communicate, to enhance the prominence and stature of his position. He had a Facebook page, a Twitter account, videos on YouTube and a Web site called "Travels with Mullen: Conversation with the Country".
As he left the lobby, Mullen himself discovered that it was he who was the topic of a heated powwow.
Emmanuel and Donilon asked him: How are we supposed to deal with this? You did this, and what should we say?
Emmanuel added that this was going to be the lead storied in all the evening news.
Mullen was surprised. The White House knew in advance what he was going to say, but in his testimony he hadn’t given any specific numbers for troops. He was as fuzzy as he could be. But at his confirmation hearing he had to say the truth and the truth was that he was sharing the idea about the need for counterinsurgency. "That’s what I think", he said. What was his alternative?
Donilon was wondering why Mullen had had to use the word ‘probably’, and why he hadn’t said’I don’t know’. That would have been better.
The headline on the Washington Post’s front page the next morning read: "Mullen: More Troops ‘Probably’ Needed".
Obama summoned the retired General Collin Powell to a private meeting in the Oval Office on September 16. Powell had given Obama an important endorsement during his campaign.
Referring to Afghanistan, Powell told him that it wasn’t a one-time decision that was going to have consequences for the better part of his administration. He recommended: "Mr. President, don’t get pushed by the left to do nothing. Don’t get pushed by the right to do everything. You take your time and you figure it out."
He also recommended not to get pushed by the media, to take his time, get all the information he needed to ensure that afterwards he was going to feel comfortable with his decision.
"If you decide to send more troops or if that’s what you feel is necessary, make sure you have a good understanding what those troops are going to be doing some assurance that additional troops will be successful. You can’t guarantee success in a very complex theatre like Afghanistan and increasingly with the Pakistan problem next-door."
"You’ve got to ensure that you’re putting your commitment on a solid base, because at the base is a little soft right now.", Powell said, referring to Karzai and the generalized corruption existing in his government.
The president wasn’t fully backing a counterinsurgency operation because that meant assuming the responsibility for Afghanistan for a long period of time.
The president said that when he received McChrystal’s assessment it was evident that everyone had to get together in a room to ensure that everyone was on the same page.
On September 29, Jones assembled the princials of the National Security Council for a two-hour discussion as a rehearsal for the meeting the next day, without the president.
Anyone who would have watched a video of the meeting would probably be alarmed. Eight years after starting the war, they were still struggling to define what the core of the objectives were.
Biden had written a six-page memo exclusively for the president, questioning the intelligence reports on the Taliban. The reports portrayed the Taliban as the new Al Qaeda. Because the Taliban who had fought against the Americans, it had become common for the Arabs, Uzbeks, Tayiks and Chechens to cross over towards Afghanistan for their so-called summer of jihad.
Biden pointed out that these numbers were exaggerated, that the number of foreign combatants did not surpass 50 to 75 each time.
On Wednesday September 30th, the president held the second meeting to analyze the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This time the attending group was larger. Petraeus was present.
The president asked: "Is there anybody here who thinks we ought to leave Afghanistan?" Nobody spoke. Nobody said a word.
"Okay", the president said, "now that we’ve dispensed with, let’s get on."
Obama also wanted to steer away from the Afghanistan issue for the rest of the session.
"Let’s start where our interests take us, which is really Pakistan, not Afghanistan", he said. "In fact, you can tell the Pakistani leaders, if you want to, that we are not leaving Afghanistan."
Obama set the rules for the rest of the session. "I really want to focus on the issue of the U.S. homeland. I see three key goals. One, protecting U.S. homeland, allies and U.S. interests abroad. Two, the concern about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and stability. If I’m just focused on the U.S. homeland, can we distinguish between the dangers posed by al Qaeda and the Taliban?
Lavoy and Petraeus spoke. MacChrystal gave a presentation about what he called "The Pathway" towards his initial assessment.
Obama stated: "Okay. You guys have done your job, but there are three developments since them. The Pakistanis are doing better; the Afghanistan situation is much more serious than anticipated; and the Afghan elections did not provide the pivot point hoped for Â a more legitimate government".
Biden was favouring the assumption, contested by the president, that Pakistan would evolve the same way Afghanistan had.
Robert Gates proposed keeping in mind the interests abroad and the allies.
Towards the end of the meeting, Hillary asked how the additional troops would be used, where they would be sent, if they were going as advisors and how the lessons learned in Iraq would be applied.
The intelligence analyses at the most senior level were never conclusive about action in Afghanistan at this time. A completely destabilized Afghanistan would, sooner or later, destabilize Pakistan. Thus, the question facing the president and his team was this: Could the United States take on this risk?
Gates met with Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador in the US. He had to deliver an explicit message from the president: We are not pulling out of Afghanistan. Haqqani unfurled a shopping list of gear and vehicles that the Pakistani army needed. Congress had given them a 400 million dollars fund in May to pay for the improvements to Pakistan’s counterinsurgency arsenal. Haqqani brought up the 1,6 billion that America owed the Pakistani military for conducting operations along the Afghan border. After September 11th, the U.S. set up an expense account for Pakistan and other countries called the Coalition Support Fund; from this fund the allies were reimbursed for the assistance they provided.
Obama met with a bipartisan group of about 30 congressional leaders to update them on the strategy review.
A number of legislators criticized the counterterrorism approach that Biden had been advocating. They interpreted it as a way of reducing the U.S. presence.
Biden made it clear that he wasn’t defending a policy that would imply an operation carried out only with the use of Special Troops.
The president had to make it clear that nobody was talking about abandoning Afghanistan
The Empire from Inside (Part Four)
CHAPTERS 20 and 21
Assessments about the options regarding the war in Afghanistan continued. Three priorities in terms of civilian efforts are identified: agriculture, education and reduction of poppies. If these aims were to be met, support for the Taliban could be undermined.
The big question was still: "what can you do in a year?"
Petraeus said he had written a memo called ‘Lessons on Reconciliation’ about his experiences in Iraq and Mullen did not know anything about this.
According to public surveys, two out of every three Americans thought that the president lacked a well-defined plan for Afghanistan. There were even divided opinions in the population about how they should go on.
Axelrod took a breath. The public didn’t distinguish between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. That might be part of the problem.
Only 45 percent of the population was approving Obama’s handling of the war (down 10 points in a month, 15 points since August and 18 points from his peak) The drop was mostly attributable to the loss of Republican support.
Axelrod wasn’t worried; he was saying that finally it would be him or everyone who would explain the decision in a very clear terms so that the people could understand what was being done and why.
Panetta stated that "No Democratic president can go against the military advice, especially if the president had asked for it. His recommendation was to do whatever they were saying. He explained to the other White House officials that in his opinion the decision had to have been taken in one week, but that Obama never asked him and he had never volunteered his opinion to the president.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney stated in public that the U.S. should not dither when their armed forces were in danger.
Obama wanted to decide before his Asian trip. He said that two options had not yet been presented to him, that it was 40,000 troops or nothing. He said that he wanted a new option that same week. In his hand was a two-page memo sent by his budget director Peter Orszag, projecting costs of war in Afghanistan. According to the strategy recommended by McChrystal, the cost during the next 10 years would be $889 billion, nearly 1 trillion dollars.
"This is not what I’m looking for", said Obama. "I’m not doing 10 years. I’m not doing a long term nation-building effort. I’m not spending a trillion dollars. I’ve been pressing you guys on this"
"That’s not in the national interests. Yes, this needs to be to situation. That is one of the big flaws in the plan that’s been presented to me".
Gates was backing McChrystal’s request for troops, but for the time being it was necessary to retain a fourth brigade.
Obama said: "We don’t need a fourth brigade", or the 400,000 troops for the Afghan security forces that McChrystal proposes to train. We could hope for a more moderate growth for this force. We could increase the troops to counteract the enemy expansion but without getting mixed up in a long-range strategy.
Hillary thought that McChrystal should be given what he asked for, but she agreed that they should wait before sending in the fourth brigade.
Obama asked Gates: Do you really need 40,000 troops to push back the Taliban expansion? How about if we send from 15,000 to 20,000? Why wouldn’t it be enough with that number of troops?" He repeated that he didn’t agree with spending a billion dollars or with a counterinsurgency strategy that would go on for ten years.
"I want an exit strategy", the president added.
Everybody realized that by backing McChrystal, Hillary was uniting forces with the military and with the secretary of the defence, thereby limiting the president’s manoeuvring capacity. The possibilities of hoping for a significantly lesser number of troops or a more moderate policy had been reduced.
It was a decisive moment in her relations with the White House. Was she one to be trusted? Could she ever really belong to the Obama team? Had she ever been a part of his team? Gates thought she was talking from her own convictions.
Soon after, those having similar ideas formed a group. Biden, Blinken, Donilon, Lute, Brennan and McDonough were a powerful group, closest to Obama in many ways and it was a balance facing the united front put up by Gates, Mullen, Petraeus, McChrystal and now Clinton.
CHAPTERS 22 & 23
Obama summoned the Chiefs of Staff to the White House. During the last two months the uniformed military had been insisting on sending 40,000 troops, but the individual services chiefs still hadn’t been consulted. The army, navy, marines and air force chiefs were the ones recruiting, training, equipping and supplying the troops for commanders like Petraeus and his subordinate chiefs in the field such as McChrystal. These last two did not attend because they were in Afghanistan.
Obama asked them to propose three options to him.
James Conway, commander general of the Marines, referred to the combatants’ allergies to extended missions that went on further than the defeat of the enemy. His recommendation was that the president should not get mixed up in a long-range operation for the building of a nation.
Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said that the scheduled withdrawal in Iraq would permit the Army the army to have 40,000 men ready for Afghanistan, but that he felt skeptical about the great commitments of troops in these wars. For him, the key was a rapid transition, but that the plan of 40,000 was a global risk acceptable to the army.
The chief of naval operations and the air force chief had little to say, because whatever the decision on Afghanistan, the impact on their forces would be minimal.
Finally Mullen presented the president three options:
1. 85,000 troops. This was an impossible number. Everyone knew that they didn’t have this force.
2. 40,000 troops
3. Between 30,000 to 35 000 troops
The hybrid opinion was 20,000 men or two brigades to disperse the Taliban and train Afghan troops.
CHAPTERS 24 and 25
Obama proposes to the president of Pakistan an escalation against the terrorist groups operating from his country.
The CIA director said he was hoping for full support from Pakistan since Al Qaeda and its followers were a common enemy. He added that it was a matter of Pakistan’s very survival.
Obama was realizing that the key to keeping the national security team together was Gates.
After returning from Asia, Obama called his national security team and he promised them that he would make his final decision in two days. He said he agreed with less ambitious but more realistic objectives, and that said objectives should be attained in a shorter period of time than what had been initially recommended by the Pentagon. He added that the troops would start thinning out after July 2011, the time frame Gates had suggested in their last session.
"We do not need perfection; four hundred thousand is not going to be the number we were going to be at before we started thinning out".
Hillary seemed to be almost jumping in her seat, showing every sign she wanted to be called on, but Jones had determined the speaking order and the secretary would have to sit through Biden’s comments.
Biden had issued a memorandum that took the president up on his offer to question the strategy’s time frame and objectives. Petraeus felt the air go out of the room.
Biden wasn’t sure that the number 40,000 was sustainable from the political point of view and he had many questions about the feasibility of the elements of the counterinsurgency strategy.
Clinton had her chance to speak. She was fully backing the strategy. "We spent a year waiting for an election and a new government. The international community and Karzai all know what the outcome will be if we don’t increase the commitment. What we’re doing now will not work. The plan was not everything we all might have wanted. But we won’t know if we don’t commit to it. I endorse this effort; it comes with enormous cost, but if we go halfhearted we’ll achieve nothing". Her words were a very common phrase that she used when she was the First Lady in the White House and one she still regularly used: fake it until you make it.
Gates proposed waiting until December 2010 in order to make a complete assessment of the situation. He believed that July was too soon a date for that.
Via video-conference from Geneva, Mullen was supporting the plan and said that it was necessary to send troops as quickly as possible, that he was sure that the counterinsurgency strategy would bring results.
Seeing that a bloc in favour of sending the 40,000 troops was being aligned, the president spoke. "I don’t want to be in a situation here where we’re back here in six months talking about another 40,000?.
"We won’t come back and ask for another 40,000?, said Mullen.
Petraeus stated that he was supporting any decision made by the president. And after having stated his unconditional support, he declared that his recommendation, from a military point of view, was that the objectives couldn’t be attained with less than 40,000 troops.
Peter Orzag said that probably they would have to ask Congress for additional funding.
Holbrooke agreed with what Hillary had said.
Brennan assured them that the antiterrorist program would continue independently of any decision that was made.
Emmanuel referred to the difficulty in asking Congress for additional funding.
Cartwright said that he supported the hybrid option of 20,000 troops.
The president tried to summarize. "At the end of two, the situation may still have ambiguous elements", he said. He thanked them all and announced that he would be working on this on the weekend in order to make a final decision at the beginning of the coming week.
On Wednesday, November 25, Obama got together in the Oval Office with Jones, Donilon, McDonough and Rhodes. He said he was inclined to approve sending 30,000 troops but that this decision wasn’t final.
"This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan. Everything we are doing has to be focused on how we are going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. It has to be clear that this is what we are doing", said Obama. "American people, they are not as interested in things like the numbers of brigades. It’s the number of troops. And I’ve decided on 30,000.
Obama now appeared more certain about the numbers of men.
"We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan. The reason we’re doing the target (…) in Afghanistan is so that the cancer doesn’t spread there. We also need to excise the cancer in Pakistan".
The figure of 30,000 seemed to be fixed. Obama commented that from a political point of view it was easier for him to say no to 30,000 since that way he could devote himself to the national agenda, something he wanted to be the lynch pin of his term in office. But the military didn’t understand that.
"Politically, what these guys don’t get is it’d be a lot easier for me to go out and give a speech saying (…) the American people are sick of this war, and we are going to put in 10,000 trainers because that how we’re going to get out of there." But "the military would be upset about it".
It was apparent that a part- perhaps a large part- of Obama wanted to give precisely that speech. He seemed to be road-testing it.
Donilon said that Gates might resign if the decision was only the 10,000 trainers.
"That would be the difficult part", said Obama, "because there’s no stronger member of my national security team".
The president decided to announce the 30,000 in order to keep the family together.
CHAPTERS 26 & 27
On November 27, Obama again invited Colin Powell to his office for another private talk. The president said he was struggling with the different points of view. The military was unified supporting McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops. His political advisors were very skeptical. He was asking for new approaches, but he just kept getting the same old options.
Powell told him: "You don’t have to put up with this. You are the commander in chief. These guys work for you. Because they are unanimous in their advice doesn’t make it right. There are other generals. There’s only one commander in chief".
Obama considered Powell to be a friend.
The day after Thanksgiving, Jones, Donilon, Emmanuel, McDonough, Lute and Colonel John Tien, an Iraq combatant veteran, went to see the president in his office. Obama asked why they were meeting with him again to deal with the same matter. "I thought this was finished Wednesday", he stated.
Donilon and Lute explained to him that there were still some questions from the Pentagon that hadn’t been answered and they wanted to know whether the 10 percent increase to the number of troops, including the facilitators, had been accepted.
Exasperated, the president said it hadn’t, that only 30,000 had been, and he asked the reason for that meeting after everyone had been in agreement. The president was told that they were still working on the military. Now they wanted the 30,000 troops to be in Afghanistan by summer.
It seemed that the Pentagon was again opening up one of the topics. They were also questioning the date of the troops withdrawal (July 2011). Gates preferred that it should happen six months later (the end of 2011).
"I’m pissed", Obama said, but he didn’t raise his voice much. It looked like all the topics were going to be discussed, negotiated or cleared up again. Obama told them that he was willing to take a step back and accept sending 10,000 trainers. And that would be the final numbers.
This was the controversy facing the president and the military system. Donilon was amazed to see the political power being exercised by the military but he realized that the White House had to be the long-distance runner in this contest.
Obama continued to work with Donilon, Lute and the others. He began to precisely dictate what he wanted, drawing up what Donilon called a "terms sheet", similar to the legal document that is used in a business transaction. He agreed that the strategic concept of the operation would be’degrade’ the Taliban, not dismantling it, or defeating or destroying it. He pasted the six military missions from the memo required to revert the Taliban momentum.
But the civilians at the Pentagon and the General Staff tried to expand the strategy.
"You can’t do that to a president", Donilon would tell them. "That wasn’t what Obama wanted. He wanted a narrower mission". But the pressure contiunued.
"Put in restrictions", Obama ordered. But when Donilon returned from the Pentagon he would come back with more additions, not less. One of them was to send a message to Al Qaeda. "We’re not going to do it", said the president when he found out.
Donilon felt like he was rewriting the same orders ten times over.
Requests for collateral missions kept pouring in from the Pentagon. Obama kept on saying "no".
Some of them continued to support McChrystal’s original request for 40,000 troops. It was as if nobody had said "no" to them.
"No", said Obama. The final figure was 30,000, and he held on to the troop pull-out date of July 2011, the same date to begin the transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan troops.
His orders were typed on six single-spaced pages. His decision was not just to make a speech and refer to the 30,000; this would also be a guideline, and everybody would have to read and sign it. That was the price he was going to insist on, the way in which he wanted to put an end to the controversy -at least for the time being. But as we all know now, the controversy, just like the war, probably wouldn’t end, and the struggle would continue.
November 28 was another day dedicated to the National Security Council, a meeting where Donilon and Lute took part. The analysis of the strategy became the centre of the universe. The president and all of them were being overwhelmed by the military. The questions made by the president or anyone else no longer mattered. Now the only feasible solution was the 40,000 troops.
Donilon was wondering how many of those pressing for that option would be around to see the effects of the strategy in July 2011.
he conclusion was that all of them would leave and the president would remain here along with everything these guys had sold him.
The debate was still going on -in his house and in his head. Obama sounded like he was back to tentative on the 30,000 troops. He asked for his team’s opinion. Clinton, Gates and John weren’t present.
Colonel Tien told the president that he didn’t know how he was going to defy the military chain of command. "If you tell McChrystal, I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I’ve chosen to do something else, you’re going probably to have to replace him. You can’t tell him, just do it my way, thanks for your hard work, do it my way". The colonel meant that McChrystal, Petraeus, Mullen and even Gates were ready to quit, something unprecedented in high ranking military circles.
Obama knew that Brennan was against a large troop increase.
Obama had inherited a war with a beginning, a middle part, but without any clear-cut ending.
Lute was thinking that Gates was too deferential with the uniformed military. The secretary of defence is the president’s first civilian line of control. If the secretary wasn’t going to guarantee that control, the president was going to have to do it. Lute thought that Gates wasn’t serving the president very well.
The president phoned up Biden and told him that he wanted to meet with the whole national security team on Sunday in the Oval Office. Biden asked to meet with him first and Obama told him "no".
The Empire from Inside (Part Five)
CHAPTERS 28 and 29
Obama came down from the residence and saw Biden. Biden advised him: "What you’re about to do is a presidential order; it is no longer an issue of continuing a discussion. This is not what you think. This is an order. Without them, we’re locked into in Vietnam".
Obama answered: "I’m not signing on to a failure. If what I propose is not working, I’m not going to be like these other presidents and stick to it based on my ego or my politics, my political security. This is what I’m going to announce", and he distributed copies of his six-page terms sheet.
"There’s going to be a 30,000-troop surge. In December of 2010, there would be an assessment to see what’s working and was not. In July 2011 we’re going to begin to thin out."
"In 2010 we will not be having a conversation of how to do more. There would be no repeat of what had happened that year… This is neither counterinsurgency nor nation building. The costs are prohibitive", Obama stated.
The military had gotten almost everything they were asking for.
Petraeus and Mullen ratified their support for the president. Emmanuel was concerned about the cost of the operationÂmore than 30 billion dollars.
Biden acknowledged that that wasn’t a negotiation; it was an order by the commander in chief. It was a mission change, and if that wasn’t how it was perceived, the months of work spent on this job couldn’t be justified.
The president informed Eikenberry and McChrystal of his decision via a video-conference. Both agreed.
Biden was convinced that the president had hammered a stake into the heart of the expanded counterinsurgent offensive.
Petraeus said in private: "You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq. Iraq is a bit of a metaphor for this situation. Yes, there has been an enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq and you have to stay vigilant. This is the kind of fight we are in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives".
Obama gave his speech at the Eisenhower Auditorium at West Point Military Academy.
The next day, Clinton and Gates appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to speak about the new plan.
Many Republicans were troubled by the deadline of July 2011 when supposedly the troops would begin to transfer out of Afghanistan.
Petraeus later said that strategy progress could take many forms, that all he needed was to show that there had been advances and that would be sufficient to add time to the clock and get what they needed.
Lute advised him that that was a dramatic misreading of the president, that Obama was opposed to the idea of long-term commitment.
CHAPTERS 30 and 31
On April 3rd, Petraeus met with Derek Harvey, his confidential intelligence adviser. Harvey drew one of the most pessimistic pictures of the war. He advised that the political and diplomatic strategy was not connected to the military strategy. "It’s not going to work", he said. "We aren’t going to achieve the objectives we’ve set out for ourselves". Harvey foresaw a complete return to the situation before September 11. Petraeus asked what were the options and Harvey thought that supporting the Karzai government was counterproductive.
He said that election results had strengthened Karzai and that he was now getting everything he wanted.
McChrystal’s troops hadn’t succeeded in clearing out the key areas. "The enemy is just beginning to adapt", added Harvey.
On April 16th the president meets with the National Security Council to analyze the up-dated information on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The president began by asking about the situation in specific areas; in all of them, the troops were seen to be resisting and in none of them had responsibility been transferred to the local forces.
The pattern being established was clear. To resist, resist for years without advancing or transfers.
Nobody at the meeting dared to ask when the transfer would begin.
Donilon and Lute had prepared some questions so that the president could concentrate on the situation in Khandahar.
The president recommended that McChrystal think about how we were going to know if we were being successful and when we would know that.
The result of the meeting was the first strike for the general.
Brigadier General Lawrence Nicholson visited Jones and Lute at the White House. Nicholson was reminded of the 12-month term he had to show progress attained and to begin the transfer. When would the Marines be ready to do something more, for example, enter Khandahar, or return home and be part of those who would be returning in 2011?
Nicholson said he needed at least another 12 months, and that was for the districts that were in better shape. Lute reminded him that that hadn’t been the commitment, that they still hadn’t entered the suburbs of Khandahar, the place where the Taliban were to establish themselves. What was important was Khandahar.
Nicholson said that maybe they could get there in 24 months if they eliminated the problem of the poppy fields since that was what was feeding the insurgency.
Lute wondered how they were going to achieve that. Despite the fact that a plague had wiped out 33 percent of the crops, the outlook for a reduced funding for the insurgents was remote. In spite of the Afghan conspiracy theories, the CIA had not yet developed an insect that would attack the poppy.
McChrystal was reporting some advances, but when Lute got into the figures, the reality was quite different.
CHAPTERS 32 and 33
Sixteen very rough months had gone by for Dennis Blair. He had failed in his efforts to name the chief intelligence officer in each of the capitals. The CIA had won and the feud had become public. In his opinion, the CIA was using the President’s Daily Brief so that Obama could learn about their triumphs.
Blair was feeling so frustrated that on one occasion he said: "I think the CIA is fundamentally an organization that’s like a really finely train not very smart, dangerous animal that needs to be controlled very closely by adults".
In May of 2010, Obama had asked Jones and others if it wasn’t already time to get rid of Blair. There had been many discussions with the CIA and Blair had put on a lot of pressure for the signing of a no-spying agreement with the French, something that was opposed by Obama and the rest of the cabinet.
Obama phoned him and let him know of his decision to fire him. That he should present some personal excuse.
Blair was deeply offended. He wasn’t ill, his family was fine, and he had been telling people that he would stay as DNI for four years, because part of the problem with the office was the constant turnover at the top.
On June 21, Gates informs Jones about the article printed about McChrystal in Rolling Stone magazine. McChrystal was saying that Jones was a "clown" who had been stuck in the year 1985; that Obama’s strategy wanted to sell an unsellable position.
McChrystal called Biden and acknowledged that he had jeopardized the mission. He apologized to Holbrooke and presented his resignation to Gates.
Gates proposed to Obama that he criticize McChrystal in the first two paragraphs of his statement saying "I think that the general committed a significant mistake and exercised poor judgement".
Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation and proposed Petraeus for that position.
Obama met with Petraeus for 40 minutes.
On Wednesday June 23rd, the president announced the changes. He acknowledged McChrystal’s long service record and said that he was saddened to lose a soldier whom he had gotten to respect and admire. He added that Petraeus "is setting an extraordinary example of service and patriotism by assuming this difficult post". And he concluded saying: "I welcome debate among my team, but I won’t tolerate division"
At the interview Obama had with the author of the book, the president spoke of his ideas regarding the nature of the war and his efforts to limit and eventually end the AmericanÂ´s combat role in Afghanistan.
He was asked about which scene he would start a book or a movie on how he had handled the Afghanistan problem and he replied that perhaps he would begin with the year 2002 when the troop increase for Iraq was being discussed. Maybe that had been the first speech on foreign policy that got lot of attention.
Obama agreed that the nature of the war was the cost, the time and the undetermined consequences, and he quoted a famous American who had said on one occasion: "War is hell". He was referring to the phrase uttered by the Union Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman, when he said: "…And once the dogs of war are unleashed, you don’t know where it’s going to lead".
"When I entered into office, we had two wars taking place", said Obama. I tried to clear up the chaos.
"It is very easy to imagine a situation in which in the absence of a clear strategy, we ended up staying in Afghanistan for another five years, another eight years, another ten years, and that we would do it not with clear intentions but rather just out of an inertia".
At the end of the interview, the president realized that almost the entire article was hinging on relations between civilian and military leaders, and he thought he ought to express his own opinions.
"I am probably the first president who is young enough that the Vietnam War wasn’t at the core of my development". He was 13 in 1975 when the United States finally withdrew from Vietnam.
"So I grew up with none of the baggage that arouse out of the dispute of the Vietnam War. I was also had a lot of confidence, I guess, coming in that the way our system of government works civilians have to make political decisions. And the military carries them out…I also don’t see it as a hawk/dove kind of thing…So a lot of the political frames through which these debates are being viewed don’t really connect with me generationally. I’m neither intimidated by our military, nor am I thinking that they’re somehow trying to undermine my role as commander in chief".
In this final paragraph of Obama’s conversation with Woodward, the president of the United States utters enigmatic words that are revealing.
There are moments when the pressure of the military is strong, persistent and repetitive. We can perceive the image of a president who is being resisted and challenged, as it happened in ancient Rome when the empire depended practically solely on the power of the legions.
But in ancient Roman times, the planet was totally unknown in its dimensions, physical characteristics and spatial location. At that time they lacked firearms; there was no trade or global investment, military bases, naval and air forces on a planetary level, hundreds of satellites, instantaneous communications, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons along with radioelectric, electromagnetic and cybernetic weapons; mighty rivalries between powers with nuclear weapons, whose deployment, by those who have less, would be sufficient to put an end to human life; and almost seven billion people who need planet Earth’s natural resources.
It is quite a dramatic picture. On the one hand, Barack Obama, a successful lawyer, highly educated and a consummate speaker, and on the other hand, highly professionalized soldiers, trained all their lives in the use of force and the arts of war, endowed with weapons that can put an end to the human beings living on this planet in just a matter of hours.
What hope for humankind can we derive from this picture?
I remember Bush’s speech at West Point where, as the instrument of that country’s ultra-rightwing, he stated that military officers had to be ready to attack immediately, with no advance warning, the sixty or more dark corners of the world.
In two of those dark corners, Afghanistan and Iraq, the soldiers of the United States are bogged down, after causing millions of deaths.
At the meetings of the National Security Council with Obama, the fear of difficulties that are even more serious, coming from a third country, Pakistan were being expressed.
Relations between the CIA and Bin Laden, the leader of the "Arab group", were going on right up to the very day of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001.
What did the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, inform the American CBS radio and TV broadcasting network? That on September 10, Osama Bin Laden was undergoing kidney dialysis treatment in the Rawalpindi Military Hospital in Pakistan, a place with close ties with the Pentagon…No attempt to detain the most well-known fugitive in the US was made, and so then it could be that Bin Laden would serve another better purpose.
That information was revealed in Dan Rather’s superb program on January 28, 2002, four and a half months after the terrorist attack that allowed Bush to justify his antiterrorist warfare.
Knowing this facilitates our comprehension of the reason why, in the dialogues with Obama in the White House, it is stated that the most difficult problem could come from Pakistan.
The person who conversed with Obama most respectfully was General Colin Powell who belongs to the Republican Party that opposed his election as the president of the United States. It is well-known that Powell might have been the first black US president. He preferred not to run for the office. Later on, Bush appointed him Secretary of State. I know that there were people who allegedly were firmly opposed to his running. But I don’t have enough facts at my disposal to make an opinion about Colin Powell’s motives.
I hope that the summary of the book "Obama’s Wars" has been useful to the readers of my Reflections.
Fidel Castro Ruz October 14, 2010