Saturday, April 30, 2011

Part 1 - Most Serious Military Campaign in US History

Obama War Council In the News

The administration's reorganization of the "command structure" conducting the Bush 9/11 war in Afghanistan and the Bush oil war in Iraq made its way to the media this week.  Chastened by the President's remarks about the "silliness" of the over published birth certificate scheme, perhaps the media dug deeply into its cess pool of "approved" news to inform us about the changes.

Granted, it's hard to walk away from "The Donald" in favor of news beyond the intellectual capacity of most hill billies.  Rather than consider this momentary departure back to pursuing normal 4th Estate responsibilities as some sort of permanent change, MeanMesa sees it more as a "two day sulking" episode at best.

However, media cracks aside, the news is fascinating.  The President's new configuration of the Defense Department and the CIA management possibly reveals more than a casual "mid term" shift.  Yes, the retirement of Robert Gates may well have this re-design program loose, but the depth and nature of the proposed changes tells us more than a simple, quiet Gates replacement would.

Even Bigger Changes 
Than They Looked Like At First

So, what, exactly, is going on in Washington?  What is Obama's plan?

First, Leon Panetta moves from being Director of CIA to being the Secretary of Defense.

Second, General David Petraeus moves from being the commanding general in Afghanistan to being the Director of the CIA.

There were two more important nominations in the reconfiguring move by the President.  Although perhaps not as "media noteworthy" as the two mentioned above, both serve to "fill out" the Obama plan to finally extract the nation from  the "Death Grip" of the autocrat's swan song March to the Sea.

"Death Grip?"

Yes, once the W's Oval Office bunker had been thoroughly filled with the terrifying likelihood of not only losing the election but probably facing war crimes trials, every effort was made to leave absolutely nothing that still worked for the "next guy."  This meant two failing wars, the economy in shambles, the country divided and the entire Congress hiding in the cloak closet instead of helping with anything.

Back in those old, dark days no one expected much to get better very quickly.  Now, a few months later, everyone seems to be demanding the opposite.  Most semi-informed Americans had only the sketchiest grip on how grave things had become.

Well, now things have begun to improve, and the President is finally ready to start being Presidential, that is, doing something more besides gallantly trying to rebuild the damage.  These moves may represent the national equivalent of being wheeled out of intensive care.

First, the predictable replacement for General Petraeus in Afghanistan is Marine Lt. General John Allen.  Most of the substantial criticisms of the US effort in Afghanistan can be boiled down to a basic issue of the Marines and the Army.  Under the effeminate direction of the autocrat (Remember? No "enemies," just "evil doers" and "criminals...") the Afghan conflict literally staggered from "shake down" to "stand off" and back for eight years.

Once the combat tasks were redistributed to forces most competent at various specialities, i.e. Army "occupation tasks" and Marine "combat aggression tasks," coupled with the Gates' "surge," Afghanistan slowly began to make more sense.  The thing is still certainly not beautiful, but better management is showing results.  Allen should do quite well.

The second change reflects the first except in a diplomatic arena.  MeanMesa suspects that absolutely no one has any idea why Eikenberry was ever chosen as ambassador to Afghanistan.  On the other hand, we did see the W's tragic codependent streak, "don't trust any one competent, and if someone competent manages to slip through, continue to value loyalty above competence," in appointments such as FEMA's "Brownie."

Crocker, remarkably, is lauded by both sides of the fence as the most capable of all possible diplomatic choices.  He was previously ambassador to both Iraq and Pakistan.  Like Allen, he should do very well with Afghanistan.

The "Bigger Changes:" Petraeus and Panetta

Leon Panetta & General David Petraeus (Image ABC News)

To understand MeanMesa's estimation of this new organization, each element will need to be considered twice, once in the "frontal sense" of Obama's expectation of improved "day to day" operations, and once in the sense of each position's part in the President's over all national reconstruction plan.

First, Petraeus.  In the frontal sense, the General has had "hands on" experience with the daunting task of applying the kind of intelligence which has traditionally come from the CIA to his day to day mission in combat arenas.  The management of the CIA has, of course, been trying to move the things into the present day, but the results seem to have a troubling, inertial tendency to revert to Cold War methods and outcomes.

During the Cold War, the CIA became incredibly good at what it was doing.  Recognition and promotion became institutionalized.  If a CIA operative was able to scoop the Soviets on some technical issue or international political scheme, he was considered to be doing his job well.  Confronting the Soviets was no simple task, and the stakes were high.

However, shifting the behemoth from Cold War mode into Al Qaeda mode turned out to be more touchy than at first thought in early 2000.  Today, this conversion still remains far from complete.  Also interesting, there may be a few culprits in the mix, but MeanMesa thinks the problem is basically one of institutional inertia.

Petraeus will know what to ask of the Agency.  His boots are still dusty with Afghan mud.  Petraeus knows that collecting good intelligence from jihadists is a very alien, challenging new undertaking and a vital one, that is, very much a "new game" with "new rules."  The General also knows that lots of the high tech Cold War secrecy issues have worked against US national security, not necessarily by providing bad intelligence but by being misdirected.

CIA "screw ups" have not always had to do with "missing something."  Too often, nothing was missed, but the intelligence never got to where it needed to be.

Second, Panetta.  Yes, Gates' shoes will be hard -- if not impossible -- to fill.  No, Obama doesn't particularly want to simply refill them, at least not with another "up and coming" Gates.  The President will need an equally competent but differently directed replacement, Leon Panetta.

In the "frontal sense," Panetta will prove to be quite competent at the Defense Department.  Of course, the "frontal" side of the job has everything to do with defense.  In recent times (since the autocracy) it has become more and more clear that the Secretary of Defense is also, crucially, the manager of one of the two most expensive things our nation does.

Being the Secretary of Defense has lots of "moving parts," and, as both Rumsfeld and Gates know by now,  some of them are seldom smiling.

Now, Panetta has already been roundly criticized as "not having enough military experience."  Don't worry about that.  The Defense Department is remarkably capable of carrying out its mission, at least temporarily, essentially on autopilot.  In fact, MeanMesa wouldn't be particularly worried if "Brownie" himself somehow wound up with the job so long as he didn't have it too long.

However, Obama's ambitious plan is not to be measured in the currency of simply managing the military combat affairs of the country.  Of course the competent, experienced and dedicated Panetta can handle this side of the equation, but if that is the "frontal sense," what is the "second sense," that is, the national reconstruction part?

The second part of this two part posting will take it from here. Naturally, by way of trotting out some cheap, MeanMesa style teaser, everyone is encouraged to stay with us.  We had to go through this part before we could get to the "good stuff."

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