All too often during my 4½ years as secretary of defense, when I found myself sitting yet again at that witness table at yet another congressional hearing, I was tempted to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot. The exit lines were on the tip of my tongue: I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that. I quit. Find somebody else. It was, I am confident, a fantasy widely shared throughout the executive branch.
Much of my frustration came from the exceptional offense I took at the consistently adversarial, even inquisition-like treatment of executive-branch officials by too many members of Congress across the political spectrum—creating a kangaroo-court environment in hearings, especially when television cameras were present. But my frustration also came from the excruciating difficulty of serving as a wartime defense secretary in today’s Washington. Throughout my tenure at the Pentagon, under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, I was, in personal terms, treated better by the White House, Congress and the press for longer than almost anyone I could remember in a senior U.S. government job. So why did I feel I was constantly at war with everybody? Why was I so often so angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?
It was because, despite everyone being “nice” to me, getting anything consequential done was so damnably difficult—even in the midst of two wars. I did not just have to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq and against al Qaeda; I also had to battle the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon, surmount internal conflicts within both administrations, avoid the partisan abyss in Congress, evade the single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members of Congress and resist the magnetic pull exercised by the White House, especially in the Obama administration, to bring everything under its control and micromanagement. Over time, the broad dysfunction of today’s Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation. (more…)
By JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—The Marine Corps commandant on Monday ordered two high-ranking generals to leave the service as a result of their failure to put in place adequate defenses at a key base in Afghanistan, a rare instance of the military punishing senior officers for wartime lapses.
In an attack last year on Camp Bastion, a joint U.S-British and Afghan base in Helmand province in Afghanistan, 15 insurgents killed two Marines, wounded eight other Americans and eight British troops. The attackers also destroyed six Harrier fighter jets and damaged other aircraft.
The attack led Gen. James Amos, the Marine commandant, to request the retirement of the two major generals. It was considered an unusual step even for Gen. Amos, who has been particularly aggressive about pushing officers out of command if their performance has been found lacking.
“Commandership is a sacred responsibility, and standards for general officers are necessarily high,” Gen. Amos said in a meeting with reporters. “In their duty to protect our forces, these two generals did not meet that standard.”
Other senior officers who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have retired in the aftermath of questions surrounding insurgent attacks. But those retirements generally came after senators blocked their confirmation for promotion, not as a result of a public reprimand by top military leaders.
One of the officers, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, the former top commander in Helmand province, had been nominated for a third star and a top job on the Marine Corps staff. Gen. Gurganus’s nomination had been on hold, and will now be withdrawn. The second, Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, who commanded the Marine aviation arm, is currently serving on the staff of the Pacific Command.
The investigation by U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, determined that the insurgents cut a hole in a fence near an unmanned guard tower on Sept. 14, 2012, then snuck into the base. The insurgents were able to roll grenades under fighter planes, badly heavily damaging the Harriers, according to the investigation report, which said destroying aircraft was the primary objective of the attackers. (more…)
In the beginning, the Hebrew Bible tells us, the universe was all “tohu wabohu,” chaos and tumult. This month the Middle East seems to be reverting to that primeval state: Iraq continues to unravel, the Syrian War grinds on with violence spreading to Lebanon and allegations of chemical attacks this week, and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war with the generals crushing the Muslim Brotherhood and street mobs torching churches. Turkey’s prime minister, once widely hailed as President Obama’s best friend in the region, blames Egypt’s violence on the Jews; pretty much everyone else blames it on the U.S.
The Obama administration had a grand strategy in the Middle East. It was well intentioned, carefully crafted and consistently pursued.
Unfortunately, it failed.
The plan was simple but elegant: The U.S. would work with moderate Islamist groups like Turkey’s AK Party and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to make the Middle East more democratic. This would kill three birds with one stone. First, by aligning itself with these parties, the Obama administration would narrow the gap between the ‘moderate middle’ of the Muslim world and the U.S. Second, by showing Muslims that peaceful, moderate parties could achieve beneficial results, it would isolate the terrorists and radicals, further marginalizing them in the Islamic world. Finally, these groups with American support could bring democracy to more Middle Eastern countries, leading to improved economic and social conditions, gradually eradicating the ills and grievances that drove some people to fanatical and terroristic groups. (more…)
In 2007, early in the improbable presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, the young first-term senator began a series of foreign-policy speeches that seemed too general to provide a guide to what he might do if elected. Aside from making it clear he was not George W. Bush and would get out of Iraq, the rest read like liberal boilerplate: “We have seen the consequences of a foreign policy based on a flawed ideology….The conventional thinking today is just as entrenched as it was in 2002….This is the conventional thinking that has turned against the war, but not against the habits that got us into the war in the first place.” In 2008, he visited Berlin and told an enraptured crowd: “Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen—a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world…the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.”
In Obama’s fifth year as president, it is increasingly clear these vague phrases were not mere rhetoric. They did, in fact, accurately reflect Obama’s thinking about America’s role in the world and foreshadow the goals of the foreign policy he has been implementing and will be pursuing for three more years. Obama’s foreign policy is strangely self-centered, focused on himself and the United States rather than on the conduct and needs of the nations the United States allies with, engages with, or must confront. It is a foreign policy structured not to influence events in Russia or China or Africa or the Middle East but to serve as a bulwark “against the habits” of American activism and global leadership. It was his purpose to change those habits, and to inculcate new habits—ones in which, in every matter of foreign policy except for the pursuit of al-Qaeda, the United States restrains itself.
In the beginning came “engagement.” In his first State of the Union speech in February 2009, Obama told us that “in words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun.” A few days later he delivered a speech about the Iraq war and said again that “we are launching a new era of engagement with the world.” There would now be “comprehensive American engagement across the region.” In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, in September 2009, he repeated the phrase: “We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect….We have sought, in word and deed, a new era of engagement with the world.” (more…)
Alana Goodman writing in the Washington Free Beacon, Aug. 7:
Four years ago, an Afghan translator known as “Hafez” charged into enemy fire to help Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer rescue wounded American soldiers during one of the most famous battles in the Afghanistan war.
Meyer received the Medal of Honor for his courage in the battle of Ganjgal—the first living Marine to receive the honor since the Vietnam war.
But Meyer says his friend Hafez is still waiting to receive a U.S. visa he applied for years ago. The former translator remains in Afghanistan under daily threat from the Taliban while his application is caught in the bureaucratic limbo of the State Department.
“He stood next to me, by my side pretty much the entire time [during the Battle of Ganjgal],” Meyer, 25, said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon on Monday. “He helped me carry my guys out.”
“If we can’t help get this guy back who sacrificed so much to bring these Americans home, I’m sure he’ll be killed,” he said. . . .
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, signed off on Hafez’s application. The visa was also green-lighted by U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul, said West. The application then went to the U.S. State Department’s visa department for “vetting,” according to West, where it has remained ever since.
Top 10 Questions Journalists Won’t Ask President Obama
at Press Conference
President Barack Obama rarely makes himself available to the mainstream media. They adore him anyway. At rare press conferences, such as the one scheduled for noon Friday at the White House, they lob softball questions or accept his evasive, meandering answers, rarely pressing him for clarity, much less truth. But there are many questions that the president ought to answer, yet which he is unlikely to face at all.
10. In 2008 you promised not to “do an end-run around Congress” with signing statements. Yet you have used signing statements and you have taken executive actions to circumvent Congress on immigration and other issues. Recently, you decided the employer mandate will not be enforced on October 1. Yet that date is stipulated by law. Doesn’t the Obamacare delay violate your powers under the Constitution?
9. Last week we learned that dozens of CIA personnel were in Benghazi at the time of the attack, and that there may be ongoing efforts to suppress information about what actually happened. In October 2012, you said that you issued three directives when you learned of the attack, yet these have never been seen. What did you actually do during the Benghazi attack, and why weren’t you more actively involved?
8. Last month, IRS officials testified to Congress that IRS Chief Counsel William J. Wilkins, whom you appointed, was directly involved in reviewing applications for non-profit status by Tea Party groups. He also met with you in April 2012, prior to issuing new “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) criteria for evaluating such applications. What was your personal knowledge of the IRS scrutiny of conservative groups?
7. Recently your administration launched a new round of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders. Israel had repeatedly said that it would negotiate without preconditions, but Palestinian leaders would not. Your administration, through Secretary of State John Kerry, pressed Israel to release 104 terrorists from Israeli jails. Was there a single new concession you demanded from Palestinians? (more…)
Navy SEAL Team 6 has attained international prominence for one reason: They were responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. They are American heroes. Yet, their own government betrayed them. Several days after the bin Laden operation, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — in a pathetic attempt to spike the football and gloat — publicly revealed their central role in the raid. His revelations put a giant target on the backs of every Navy SEAL Team 6 member. A covert unit, whose mission is to operate in the murky shadows, was exposed as the group that eliminated al Qaeda’s chief mastermind. Mr. Biden’s reckless actions — followed by President Obama’s own words acknowledging the secret unit’s operation — jeopardized the Navy SEALs’ safety. Jihadists bent on revenge began an intense manhunt. The hunters now became the hunted. (more…)
KABUL—The Taliban launched a coordinated attack on the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul early on Tuesday, just one week after they opened in the Gulf emirate of Qatar a political office to negotiate a peaceful end to the war.
The attack began shortly after 6:30 a.m., when a group of gunmen emerged from a small white minibus not far from the Salam Khana Gate outside the heavily fortified palace and opened fire on presidential guards. A group of reporters waiting by the gate for a scheduled press event with President Hamid Karzai were trapped near the gate as the guards returned fire.
A Wall Street Journal reporter on the scene saw several palace guards who were apparently struck by gunfire in the opening volley. The journalists fled to take cover and sheltered in a building near the road.
A plume of dark smoke was visible close to embassies and government buildings in central Kabul, and an alarm warning coalition and diplomatic personnel to take cover was audible in the city’s diplomatic quarter. The palace is in close proximity to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency compound, which also reportedly came under attack, and to several embassies and ministries.
At least 11 explosions were audible in the vicinity of the attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the violence. (more…)