For nearly a decade I have had the privilege of teaching veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, though they have taught me more.
Most of them were Army captains and majors who had done three or four tours of duty. And here’s the most remarkable thing: Not one of these men and women complained about what we asked of them.
They have, however, occasionally objected to the shameful fact that after the first few years of hostilities, these became largely invisible conflicts. In the final stages of the Iraq war and for a long time now in Afghanistan, there has been something close to media silence even as our fellow Americans continue to fight and die.
The ongoing war barely impinges on our daily discussions, and we don’t bother to argue much about our Afghanistan policy. Mostly, we hope that President Obama can keep his promise to bring our troops home.
My Thanksgiving thoughts have often turned toward my military students at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and to the thousands like them who have done very hard duty with little notice.
But this year, the gratitude that they inspire has been heightened, perhaps paradoxically, by the news about David Petraeus, his affair and the mess left behind. I won’t add to the mountain of Petraeus commentary, so much of which has been driven by preexisting attitudes toward Petraeus himself, the wars he led or the matter of how we should deal publicly with sexuality.
What has troubled me is how writing on all sides has aggravated the understandable but disturbing tendency to lay so much stress on the role of famous generals that we forget both the centrality of midlevel military leadership and the daily sacrifices and bravery of those in the enlisted ranks who carry out orders from on high.
There is, of course, nothing at all new about celebrity generals, and many of them truly deserved the accolades that came their way. One thinks, for example, of Ulysses S. Grant, who is enjoying a comeback among historians, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose subsequent presidency should give Republicans trying to rebuild their party some useful guidance.
But our military has been at its best when it combined two deeply American impulses, one more honored on the right, the other on the left.
We are an entrepreneurial country, and members of our officer corps do extraordinary work when they are given the freedom to think for themselves and to innovate.
We are also a democratic nation, and although the military is necessarily rank-conscious, the U.S. armed forces have traditionally nurtured an egalitarian ethos that cultivated loyalty all the way down. This is one reason reports of rather privileged living by generals are grating, even if none of us begrudges a bit of comfort for those — including people at the top — who give their lives to service.
The entrepreneurial and democratic spirits are important in battle, but they are even more important to the many noncombat tasks that we are now asking our military to undertake. Petraeus’s approach to Iraq depended upon officers who had exceptional political gifts and an ability to improvise as they worked with local leaders. As an Army major serving in Iraq wrote in a memo that was shared with me back in 2007, “We discovered that we were not fighting a military campaign but a political campaign — not too different from what a small-town mayor might do to win reelection back in the U.S.” The surge was as much about this kind of inventiveness as it was about military planning.
We can show our gratitude toward these officers and their troops in at least two ways.
First, as my MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow keeps reminding us, we need to cut through what the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calls the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “egregious failure to process the claims of our veterans” in a timely and effective way.
And we need to recognize the contribution that this new generation of veterans can make to our nation. The character of the “Greatest Generation” that fought World War II was established not by the generals or the admirals but by the officers in the lower ranks and the millions of enlisted men and women who carried into civilian life both the skills and the sense of service and community they learned in the war years.
My students taught me that we don’t need to be nostalgic about the Greatest Generation. It’s right here among us.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 21, 2012
Never afraid to go against the crowd, or the facts, Dick Cheney found Paul Ryan’s performance in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate dazzling.
Following the debate, Cheney declared that ”there is no question in my mind when I look at Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on the stage there last night, I think Paul Ryan’s got what it takes to take over as president. I don’t think Joe Biden does.”
How did George W. Bush’s number-two see what so many mere mortals missed?
Cheney pays serious attention to Ryan.
Indeed, he says: “I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on.”
And no one should doubt Cheney’s sincerity.
The former Republican vice president adores the Republican vice presidential candidate because Ryan is a fresh, young Cheney.
Cheney moved to Washington as soon as he could and became a political careerist, working as a Capitol Hill aide, a think-tank hanger on and then a member of Congress. Ryan followed the same insider trajectory.
Cheney’s a hyper-partisan Republican with a history of putting party loyalty above everything else. Ryan’s an equally loyal GOP mandarin.
Cheney’s a rigid ideologue who has never let reality get in the way of cockamamie neocon theories about where to start the next war. And Ryan’s every bit as much a neocon as Cheney.
Americans should reflect on Ryan’s performance in Thursday’s vice presidential debate with Cheney in mind. When they do, they will shudder.
In the 2000 vice presidential debate at Centre College in Kentucky, Cheney was asked if he favored using deadly force against Iraq. “We might have no other choice. We’ll have to see if that happens,” he replied. Why? He said he feared Saddam Hussein might have renewed his “capacity to build weapons of mass destruction.” “I certainly hope he’s not regenerating that kind of capability, but if he were, if in fact Saddam Hussein were taking steps to try to rebuild nuclear capability or weapons of mass destruction, you would have to give very serious consideration to military action to—to stop that activity.”
Two years later, Cheney was leading the drive to send US troops to invade Iraq. Three years later, US troops were bogged down in an occupation that would cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. No weapons of mass destruction were found and America’s international credibility took a hard hit.
Cheney didn’t care. He never apologized for leading America astray. And he never offered any indication that he had learned from the experience.
Thursday, in the 2012 vice presidential debate at Centre College, Ryan put a smile on the Cheney doctrine. But there was not a sliver of difference between the politics of the former vice president and the pretender to the vice presidency on questions of how to deal with foreign policy challenges in Afghanistan, Syria and Iran.
At the close of an extended discussion of Afghanistan, in which he repeatedly suggested that the Obama administration was insufficiently committed to fighting America’s longest war, Ryan actually suggested: “We are already sending Americans to do the job, but fewer of them. That’s the whole problem.”
On Iran, Ryan was so bombastic that an incredulous Biden finally asked: “What are you—you’re going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?”
Ryan did not answer in the affirmative Thursday night in Danville.
Neither did Cheney twelve years ago in Danville.
But Cheney signaled his inclinations in the 2000 vice presidential debate. And Ryan has signaled his intentions this year—confirming that the neoconservative fantasy, despite having been discredited by experience, dies hard on the neocon fringe of the Grand Old Party.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, October 14, 2012
Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: “Not Bush.” Now back then, there was something called the “Bush doctrine,” which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant “invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us.” So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He’d use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, “soft power,” and carefully restrained force. He’d get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better.
But now that Obama has been president for four years, “Not Bush” has lost its relevance. Obama’s actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don’t seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the use of drone strikes, which have solved some problems and created others; though opinions of America are somewhat better, lots of people still don’t like us. It’s a complex picture, and in the context of an election, the Obama campaign is going to react to most foreign policy questions with, “Remember that guy Osama bin Laden? He’s dead.”
True enough, but this complexity has left Republicans seemingly unable to critique the Obama foreign policy. As Conor Friedersdorf points out, Republicans can’t figure out what to say:
President Obama’s foreign policy is vulnerable to all sorts of accurate attacks. But Mitt Romney, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement are totally unable to exploit them. This is partly because the last four years have been spent advancing critiques so self-evidently implausible to anyone outside the movement that calling attention to them seems impolite. There is no factual basis for the assertion that Obama rejects American exceptionalism; or that he embarked on an apology tour; or that he is allied with our Islamist enemy in a “grand jihad” against America; or that his every action is motivated by Kenyan anti-colonialism. And while those critiques are especially inane, they aren’t cherry-picked to discredit conservatives. They’re actually all critiques advanced by prominent people, publications, and/or Republican politicians.
I’d say they have two problems. First, their impulse is to just say that their foreign policy is “Not Obama,” and that just doesn’t have the same persuasive power as “Not Bush” did four years ago, because American foreign policy doesn’t look like a disaster. For instance, when Mitt Romney criticizes Obama for getting out of Iraq too fast—since if Obama did it, it had to be wrong—most people are going to respond, “Are you crazy?” Second, the closest thing to an articulation of their own foreign policy vision they can come up with is “Obama weak! America should be strong! Grrr!” And voters don’t actually think Obama is weak.
That’s partly because of his own actions, and partly because in 2012, Americans aren’t actually fearing for their lives. They did during the Cold War, and they did in the aftermath of 9/11, but that feeling has faded. There have actually been some experiments showing that when you remind people of the possibility of their own deaths, they’re more likely to support conservative candidates (it’s called “Terror Management Theory”). I’ve heard pollsters say that one of the key moments of the 2004 campaign was the horrific Beslan school massacre that September in which 330 people were killed, over half of them children. It brought terrorism and fear back on to the front pages, to George W. Bush’s advantage.
But today, for all the world’s problems, Americans aren’t feeling like they might be killed tomorrow. That’s a good thing. But it leaves the Republicans without much of a coherent foreign policy critique.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 24, 2012
The events of the last 48 hours have made it indisputably clear: America cannot trust Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan with our national security.
This morning’s Huffington Post headline summarized what it called, “The Verdict: Most Craven and Ill-Advised Move…Not Worthy of A President… Bungle… Utter Disaster… Not Presidential… Lehman Moment… Over the Top… Desperate… Awesomely Awful.”
Notwithstanding the horrible reviews, Romney and his campaign tripled down on their criticism of President Obama and the American diplomats who were on the ground and about to come under attack.
Romney’s neocon foreign policy adviser, Richard Williamson, told the Washington Post that, “There is a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation.” He’s right about that. We’d be in a very different — and dangerous — situation if Mitt Romney were in charge of American national security. There are at least five reasons why every American should be frightened at the prospect of Mitt Romney as Commander-in-Chief.
1). Mitt Romney has no guiding principles when it comes to foreign policy — or anything else for that matter — but one: his own personal ambition. Tuesday night Romney demonstrated once again that he would take any cheap shot that he thought would serve his ambition to be president, regardless of its impact on American national security or our people on the ground.
Of course this is nothing new. Romney has demonstrated time and time again that he has no lasting commitment to principle whatsoever. He has gone from being pro-choice to ardently anti-abortion; morphed from a Massachusetts moderate to a “severe conservative”; demonstrated his willingness to buy companies, load them with debt, bleed them dry and destroy the lives of workers and communities all to make money for himself and his investors.
After favoring immigration reform in the past, Romney became the most anti-immigrant major presidential candidate in modern history.
Romney drafted and passed RomneyCare and then promised to repeal a similar bill when one was passed by President Obama and a Democratic Congress. Why? Because that’s what the thought was necessary to get the Republican nomination for president.
Romney has no North Star guiding his behavior except his desire to enhance his own personal wealth and his own driving ambition.
Someone like that is the last guy you want to trust to make the tough decisions to protect American national security. Great statesmen are people who think more about the next generation than the next election. They are people who are willing to take the political heat because they are committed to doing what is right to protect the American people. They are heroes of John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, not the men described in John Dean’s book on the Nixon White House, Blind Ambition.
2). Mitt Romney has no vision. In his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention he made fun of President Obama’s concern for global climate change and his commitment toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. Romney actually opposed passage of the START II Treaty with Russia that reduced nuclear weapons to their current levels.
Romney flat-out opposes — makes fun of — investments in renewable energy sources that would begin the process of freeing us from the tyranny of Big Oil — and oil dictators — and addresses the problem of climate change.
Rather than support movements to limit the exploding growth in the world’s population, Romney actually opposes support for birth control.
Have you ever heard word one from Romney about protecting our natural resources, or investment in de-salinization, or strengthening the international co-operation needed to deal with cyber-security, or frankly any of these critical issues?
Mitt Romney seems to have absolutely no interest in or knowledge of history or the forces that are changing the world. And he certainly has never expressed a long-term view of how he might hope to shape the world as president of the United States. Let’s face it, the guy is shallow.
Voters correctly want leaders with vision, because as the great baseball player Yogi Berra used to say: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
3). The Romney-Ryan team has less experience in foreign policy than any two candidates for America’s top offices since World War II.
Barry Goldwater may have scared the bejesus out of many Americans, but at least he was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Air Corp during World War II and had served on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate.
When Senator Barack Obama ran for president, he chose the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, as his running mate.
Collectively Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have zero foreign policy experience. And it shows.
4). Romney has demonstrated he has no capacity to empathize with other people. He has no idea how to put himself in their shoes — or even to understand how they hear the things he is saying. That’s one of the main reasons why, as Senator Kerry said at the Democratic Convention, Romney’s “foreign policy tour” earlier this summer was more like a “blooper reel.” It’s why, when it comes to foreign affairs, Romney is a bull in the china closet.
Romney seems incapable of understanding that when you’re asked about your opinion of preparations for the London Olympics in London days before the event, the Brits might be offended when (presumably to demonstrate how much he knew about running Olympic games) he questioned their readiness. He apparently had no clue that Palestinians might take offense when he said he thought that their economic problems stemmed from their “culture.”
Romney is typical of wealthy people who think they are very “cosmopolitan” because they can jet around the world and stay in first-class hotels, but don’t have a clue how normal people — or other cultures — experience the world. He is upper-class parochial. He thinks everyone thinks and talks and believes the same way as his classmates at prep school or colleagues in the Bain boardroom.
5). Romney has surrounded himself with many of the same neocon foreign policy advisers that got America into the horrific war in Iraq. One of those advisers, Richard Williamson, actually had the audacity to argue that “respect for America has gone down” under President Obama. Maybe in some parallel universe.
In fact, every international poll showed that George Bush, Dick Cheney and their neocon crew caused respect for the United States to plummet to new lows. And under President Obama respect for America and its values has massively increased. But then again, as the Romney campaign has made clear, they won’t allow their campaign to be governed by “fact checkers.”
If we needed reminding, this week made indelibly clear that a guy with no principles except his own ambition, and no vision whatsoever, will allow himself to be led around by the nose by the passionate Neo-Cons who want a restoration of the Bush-Cheney years. Romney’s performance should serve as a warning to all Americans: If you liked the Iraq War, you’ll love Mitt Romney’s foreign policy.
By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, September 14, 2012
A 3-pointer at a gym full of U.S. troops in a war zone, or a crowd of 250,000 at a speech in Europe — neither is likely, and certainly not necessary. But Mitt Romney needs a helicopter moment for sure.
Four years ago, Barack Obama — a former state senator with mere months in the U.S. Senate who had no foreign-policy experience whatsoever — went overseas to bolster his credentials as potential commander in chief. He traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, Germany, France and England. In the midst of two active wars, Obama met with the prime minister of Iraq and the president of Afghanistan and was famously photographed with Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, in a helicopter over Baghdad.
Dan Schnur, a former aide for GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — then strongly preferred by voters over Obama on foreign-policy and defense matters — wrote in The New York Times that because the Iraqi prime minister announced support for the same timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq that Obama outlined, a Bush administration official was heading to multi-nation talks with Iran and a consensus was emerging in favor of a stronger military presence in Afghanistan, “the three most important pillars of Mr. Obama’s international platform had been endorsed from a variety of unexpected sources.” Schnur added, “That’s a pretty good way to start a trip.”
The optics overpowered the picture of McCain back home — puttering around on a golf cart with former President George H.W. Bush — but the substance of Obama’s foreign-policy agenda made headlines as well.
Romney has arrived in England for the Olympic Games before he heads to Israel and Poland on his foreign trip, where he, too, hopes to build confidence and comfort among voters back home in his leadership ability abroad. Like Obama, he lacks experience, but unlike Obama he has yet to lay out a clear vision or even broad plans for how he would handle our most pressing foreign-policy challenges. In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nevada on Tuesday, Romney blasted the president’s foreign-policy record, suggested Obama has betrayed the nation by allowing leaks of classified information for political gain and lambasted cuts to military spending Obama has supported and that all GOP leaders and most of their rank and file in Congress voted for as well. Romney extolled the greatness of America, and said he was “not ashamed of American power,” but wasn’t specific.
After criticizing Obama two years ago for “announcing the day he’s pulling out” of Afghanistan, Romney suddenly announced in his speech Tuesday that he too would advocate withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. His exact words: “As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.” Had he been on his way to the site of our nation’s longest-ever war, Romney would have spent the entire trip explaining his flip-flop.
While in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Romney enjoys a decades-old friendship, Romney might offer a new policy prescription for stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons that differs from the Obama administration. He might have ideas about how to depose Syria’s Bashar Assad.
Perhaps in Poland, as he criticizes the Russians, whom he has called “our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” Romney will announce just how he would counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and how he might convince the Russians — as well as the Chinese — to help the United States, Israel and our allies confront Iran and Syria.
Perhaps not. But the Israeli border of war-torn Syria would be the perfect spot for a helicopter ride with Netanyahu.
By: A. B. Stoddard, Editor, The Hill, July 25, 2012