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The Silver Lining About Wikileaks December 6, 2010

Posted by Bill in Afghanistan, barack obama, Current Events, Korea, Obama, Politics, Terrorism, Uncategorized.
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While my first reaction to the Wikileaks adventure was to prosecute them and to wonder how bad the diplomatic fallout would be, my second reaction on reading the specifics was to applaud the professionalism of what our government is doing to solve the many problems around the world.  

What really tickled me was that  Sarah Palin, in an interview about her new book, was asked what she would do differently that President Obama about North Korea.  After going on about our need for energy independence and how vulnerable she feels as an American with President Obama in charge of our security she finally answered that she would pressure China to lean on North Korea to get them to behave. 

Sure enough that is what President Obama and his people are doing.  Guess we don’t need Sarah Palin as president after all.  And ain’t that a relief, you betcha. 

Anyway, these leaks giving our diplomats an embarrassing moment.  However they do have the virtue of showing that the Obama administration is doing the right things in protecting and furthering America’s security and interests.  

I thought that this column by Leslie Gelb that appeared in the Dallas Morning News today summed up my thoughts very nicely. 

From   http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/viewpoints/stories/DN_1206edi_gelb.29020a91c.html

Leslie Gelb: How the WikiLeaks scandal actually helped the U.S.
In explaining his deed publicly, WikiLeaker Julian Assange suggests that what he’s doing is uncovering American misdeeds and lies. Yet here’s what he missed in what he turned over to the drooling press: Our diplomats were doing a good job.

Indeed, when you turn off his nonsense and stop listening to the strange commentary on cable news and even on the front pages of great newspapers, when you actually read the documents, here’s what you see: American leaders and American diplomats trying to solve crucial world problems.

U.S. policymakers and diplomats are shown, quite accurately, doing what they are supposed to do: ferreting out critical information from foreign leaders, searching for paths to common action and struggling with the right amount of pressure to apply on allies and adversaries. And in most cases, the villain is not Washington, but foreign leaders escaping common action with cowardice and hypocrisy.

Washington needs China’s help in bolstering sanctions against Iran, and China balks for fear of jeopardizing its oil and gas flow from that country. The Obama team arranges for Saudi Arabia to guarantee any loss in supply to China. If the world wants to slow or even prevent Iran’s march to nuclear weaponry, this is a key path to doing so.

The U.S. discovers that North Korea has manufactured medium-range missiles and is trying to deliver them to Iran through China. The Obama team discovers this, informs Beijing and asks Beijing to stop the transfer. Beijing declines. Really creepy.

Yemen’s leader takes public responsibility for American missile attacks against al-Qaeda in Yemen. He wants to diminish the power of these terrorists, as do Americans and most others in the world. The “lie” by the Yemeni president is a harmless way to get a critical job done — that is, the job of fighting international terrorism. WikiLeaks tears away the political cover of Yemen’s leaders.

No country has anywhere near as much influence over nutty North Korea as China. So, U.S. diplomats are searching desperately to figure out Chinese thinking about North Korea in order to compose a plan for avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula. So, the Wikileakers expose some Chinese leaders who are actually trying to give us some insight into Chinese thinking about North Korean craziness. They won’t do that again soon.

Time and again, as one actually reads these cables, one has to be heartened by the professionalism and the insights of U.S. diplomats. What are they doing? They are not lying, and U.S. leaders are not lying. They are actually, believe it or not, trying to solve problems. That seriousness of purpose and the professionalism to execute it is what jumps out at you in these materials.

So, the naïve say, it’s good to show the effectiveness of our diplomats. Give me a break. Ask any American diplomat to choose between looking intelligent in leaked cables and making progress toward avoiding war.

None of this is to say that there should not be leaks, or that the press should not pursue classified information that is necessary or very helpful to a sensible public debate on policy. If a U.S. administration is lying, or distorting the facts, or telling one story to the public and another to itself, then by all means, let’s have it out in public. If the U.S. government is concocting intelligence in order to justify wars, let’s hope an enterprising reporter finds it out for the rest of us.

But the WikiLeaks dump is not about providing essential information to Americans or to others — information they need for serious policy discussion. This massive trashing by WikiLeaks of a legitimate effort by the U.S. government to preserve confidentiality is the very least a shame and at the most, a crime.

 Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009). A longer version of this essay first appeared in The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com. © 2010 RTST, Inc.


Toeing the Line July 6, 2010

Posted by Bill in Afghanistan, barack obama, Current Events, Uncategorized.
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Was Obama right to fire General McChrystal? Absolutely! Not only was he a liability and a “maverick” but he was STUPID. Anyone who works in the military knows you don’t publicly dis the prez or the prez’s policies. In fact, anyone who works in the public sector knows that you toe the party line. You may disagree with the boss in private but in public you act like he’s the most brilliant person in the world and you support him 100%. It doesn’t matter if you are just grousing to friends, because you never know when your remarks will jump up and bite you in the butt.

I’ve worked in the public sector for much of my life, and I remember getting bitten pretty badly one time. The government agency I worked for stopped a benefit that was very popular among employees. Because I worked in Human Resources and had a hand in disseminating the information regarding cessation of this benefit, another employee emailed me privately to grouse about it. He was someone I got along with and often joked with. I stupidly responded and let him know that it wasn’t my decision and that I was just the messenger. The guy forwarded my comment to my boss and a couple of layers above me, along with a pointed comment about how even the people in HR weren’t on board with this decision.

I got called on the carpet, and I deserved to be called on the carpet. My defense, “But I didn’t think so-and-so would pass it on,” just drew a raised eyebrow from my boss because I knew perfectly well the public sector adage– imagine waking up in the morning and finding your words splashed across the front page of the paper in 90 point font.

General McChrystal’s mistake was twofold– not only did he pop off around his subordinates but he popped off within earshot of a Rolling Stone reporter. It’s not like this was his first offense–he was openly critical of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy and publicly disdainful of the United States ambassador to Afghanistan. So he let down his guard and talked too freely around a reporter, and  his words were splashed across the cover of Rolling Stone. Not good!

But worse was the message he conveyed to his subordinates. He let them know that he was just not totally with the program. That kind of feeling trickles down. As any employee knows, shit rolls downhill. If the top-tier of the company is behind something all the way, that attitude trickles down, and everyone knows they’d better get behind it or be left in the dust. Companies that do not have a clear direction or have dissension among the members of the top-tier tend to flounder because the employees get mixed messages, and they don’t know which way to jump. If the CEO sends out a memo that all employees are supposed to turn the widget clockwise, and your direct supervisor comes around regularly to check to make sure you are turning the widget clockwise, guess what? Those widgets will be turned clockwise. But if the direct supervisor comments within earshot that he doesn’t think it really matters which way the widgets are turned or that the CEO doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about,  which way are the employees going to turn the screw?

So yes, General McChrystal deserved to be fired, and Obama’s choice of Petraeus seems to be inspired. He’s respected by the rank and file, but also knows how to toe the line. He’s adept at forging relationships, and he’s nobody’s pawn. He will have no problem privately disagreeing with Obama, but in public he will support the president and his policies. Whatever I might think about the war in Afghanistan, if we are going to be there, we need to do it right, and putting Petraeus in charge is a step in the right direction.

Don’t Know Much about Afghanistan, but It’s Time to Get Out November 25, 2009

Posted by Bill in Afghanistan, Current Events.
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There are very few wars that I support as I tend to be a pacifist. I also don’t know much about foreign affairs. However, I do have some feelings about Afghanistan, and since there is no shortage of people in this country who have strong opinions about things they know little or nothing about, I have my opinion about Afghanistan and here it is.

Bernard Finel in an editorial article in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday November 22, lays out what he believes is the case for the US leaving Afghanistan.

Let me first say that one of the few wars I supported was our initial attack on Afghanistan. President George W. Bush was absolutely right to attack this country– they were harboring Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and were fomenting terrorism against the US. That is one of the few things I agreed with Dubya about. I was with him right up till he started diverting resources to bomb the hell out of Iraq. That’s where he lost me on his whole war on terrorism thing because it then stopped being all about  getting the 9/11 terrorists and Osama Bin Laden.

Now, however, we are still in Afghanistan and nobody seems to know what to do about it. Do we send more troops there? Throw more money and resources at it? Send more of our young people over there to die?

We are no longer in Afghanistan for the same reason we were there in the first place. Our initial reason for going there was to get Bin Laden. Now, well, nobody seems to be quite sure what our reason for being there is. Stabilize the government to ensure our safety in the region? Toss out the Taliban? Build a nation? These types of policies have worked so well for us in the past (not!)

Mind you, I find the Taliban and its policies against women to be completely and utterly heinous. I hate the Taliban and everything it stands for. What I question is if it makes sense for us as a nation to spend so much of our resources on our military operations there. There are other regimes in this world that are just as bad, if not worse, than the Taliban, but the reason we are fighting in Afghanistan and not in the Sudan is because we started out in Afghanistan for the purpose of getting the man who had attacked our country.

We shouldn’t have diverted resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. We should have poured more resources in Afghanistan when we had world opinion with us, when we had an international coalition to help us, when we had a chance to go in and win the war. But we didn’t. And now we are fighting a different war for reasons that are nebulous. Now, it is time to leave.