Tag Archives: Washington Post

Are Afghanistan Leaks on Purpose?

President Barack Obama has been given, if published reports are true, four ways forward to deal with his most vexing foreign policy problem, Afghanistan. He’s chosen none, not even the one most thought he would, a surge of about 40,000 new troops. That’s the one promoted by the chief military commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal. We know this because his recommendation was leaked to the Washington Post.

Now comes word that the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, has a different view.

Karl Eikenberry
Karl Eikenberry

He’s nervous about sending thousands of US troops into harm’s way on behalf of a government many see as hopelessly corrupt and marginally competent. That would be the administration of Hamid Karzai, who will be inaugurated for a second term shortly. Of course, we know this because two cables from Ambassador Eikenberry to President Obama were leaked to (guess who?) the Washington Post.

At the root of all this is Karzai’s reported anger at US pressure to acknowledge his first round majority in the last election was fraudulent. Now that Eikenberry’s sentiments have been made public, expect the Afghan president’s position to harden as well. This begs the question, however, who’s doing all this leaking? Trying to figure this out had become a parlor game in DC. In the case of Gen. McChrystal, speculation centered on hawks in the Pentagon.

If President Obama was to make good on his pledge to follow the dictates of the military on the ground, leaking McChrystal’s report made perfect sense. But who leaked the Eikenberry cables, which some now say may have played a role in Obama’s decision not to accept any of the four options he was given? There’s been some speculation the leak may have come directly from the White House, from the President’s inner circle. That would be without the President’s knowledge, I think. It’s happened before, in the recent past.

On Thursday President Obama told soldiers at an Alaskan Air Force base that any troops sent in harms way will have a clear strategy and mission. But there’s still the thorny question of mission and strategy in Afghanistan. There seems to be a consensus that simply bringing the troops home is not an option. That, the thinking goes, would leave Karzai’s ill equipped military to the tender mercies of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It might also create huge problems for Afghanistan’s neighbor and nominal US ally Pakistan. Yet there is still that desire to end US involvement in this almost nine year conflict, and bring the country’s fighting men and women home. That’s what a growing number of Americans want.

That would mean admitting there is no clear and definable mission for the US in Afghanistan. It would also be a political firestorm for President Obama. But in the end it would save American lives, lives that could well be lost in pursuit of an unattainable goal.

What to do about Afghanistan? That’s way above my pay grade. And what about the leaks? You tell me.

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Are Black Lawmakers Targeted by the House Ethics Committee?

Okay, here are the numbers. Seven black members of the House of Representatives are the subjects of full blown probes by the House Ethics Committee. No white lawmakers have active probes underway at this time.

Zoe Lofgren, Chair House Ethics Committee
Zoe Lofgren, Chair House Ethics Committee

There would be eight, but the Justice Dept. asked the committee not to go forward with its investigation of Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr. That translates to 15% of the Congressional Black Caucus. Which leads to some loaded questions a lot of people won’t want to confront.

Maybe this breaks out in three possible scenarios. One, black lawmakers are the targets of ethics investigations based on race. Trust me, no one, not even the lawmakers caught up in this, will say so publicly for fear of being accused of using the dreaded “race card”.

Scenario number two, a higher percentage of black elected officials, at least the ones in Congress, are more corrupt than their white counterparts. No one in their right mind buys this (though few who aren’t might). And finally, some may argue its just the luck of the draw, that black lawmakers are the targets now, but white lawmakers will level the playing field down the road.

The committee itself muddied the waters by moving forward with two of the three cases referred to it by the newly minted Office of Congressional Ethics. This raised a few eyebrows because the cases turned into investigations were those of California Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson, both of whom are black. It may come as no surprise that the case that was dismissed was against Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, who is white.

Cong. Laura Richardson
Cong. Laura Richardson

Five other black members of Congress are facing scrutiny. Cong. Charles Rangel is the most publicized of the five, given his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. Reps. Donald Payne, Carolyn Kilpatrick, Bennie Thompson, and Delegate Donna Christensen from the Virgin Islands are the others. All are being probed about whether corporate funds were improperly used to pay for their trips to the Caribbean to attend a trade conference.

Some of you may have read about a document leaked to the Washington Post that showed nearly three dozen House members are being looked at either by the Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics. That list had a number of white lawmakers on it, but none have faced full blown investigations but the black members mentioned above.

So what does all this mean? The House Ethics Committee isn’t talking, but one thing needs to be said. There is nothing wrong with asking whether a series of actions has a tinge of racial motivation. The answer may well be no, but for a lot of folks, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…….

What do you think? Are black lawmakers being unfairly targeted for ethics investigations?

BTW, as for Tuesday’s voting, I’ll write about that tomorrow.

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US Troops. Obama Rethinking Afghanistan Strategy?

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote an item about the question of whether more troops would be sent to Afghanistan. At the time, it looked like the answer would be yes. At least, that’s the signal the Obama Administration was sending at the time. That was then. Now, it’s starting to look like the President is taking, how best to say it, a more nuanced approach.

The request from the top US and NATO commander in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is clear, according to the Washington Post. The paper reports on a 66 page secret document they’ve seen, and in it McChrystal says, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” That’s pretty clear, and pretty emphatic.

The White House now seems to be singing a slightly different tune. Senior administration officials tell the Post that McChrystal’s assessment is one of a number they’re taking into account. Could one be George Will’s recent “Get out now” column in the same Washington Post? No matter. During his Sunday talk show blitz, President Obama indicated McChrystal may not get what he wants.

“Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I’m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there — beyond what we already have,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” If an expanded counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan contributes to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda, then we’ll move forward,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . sending a message that America is here for the duration.”

If I were Stanley McChrystal, I might not be holding my breath waiting for those fresh troops. He probably isn’t seeing the opinion polls that say most Americans are tired of Afghanistan. The recent elections remain a subject of bitter dispute, the Karzai government doesn’t control much of the country, and a real breakthrough in the fight against the Taliban and a return of Al-Qaeda seems far off.

Will the American people support a US led nation building effort in Afghanistan? Can McChrystal’s plans for a counterinsurgency campaign be put in place fast enough to beat back a resurgent Taliban? What seemed so sure back in March when the President endorsed “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy,” no longer seems so sure.

One thing is sure. President Obama doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes the Bush Administration made in Iraq. So what should he do? You tell me.

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