Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama's Sinai

   As I contemplate, and dread, the likely announcement within days that President Obama will send another 32,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan, an improbable memory popped into my head.  It was one of the great newswpaper ledes I have ever read, published in the New York Times when Albert Einstein returned to Princeton from a long sabbatical to think about the Holy Grail of his late career, a unified field theory.

   "Albert Einstein," the Times said, "returned today from his scientific Sinai with a new set of laws for the cosmos."

   Obama has been atop his own Sinai lately, perhaps suffering a sort of Gethsemane as well, thinking about the thorniest of his inherited problems, the Middle East wars.  One hopes against hope that when he returns, his tablet will contain a single law: Thou shalt not kill.

   He should announce that he is directing his generals to draw up a plan for  withdrawal  "with deliberate speed" from Afghanistan and Iraq, and he should dismiss Stanley McChrystal from the group of generals ordered to do so.

   Americans are well aware of the arguments for ending our involvements there.

   A former tennis partner wrote to me recently:  "A million dollars per troop per year!  Two-thirds of Afghans illiterate! And we're going to build a nation in 10 years? Give me a break!  I read an article a few months ago  discussing how we could get some of the Muslim nations to take up the fight there. Not being infidels they are not resented and could do a better job."

   That's a plan, negotiated through the United Nations, that I have advocated, too, but as far as I can tell, the notion doesn't exist in the high command that advises the President.

   I have come to believe that two forces in the United States have become so powerful that not even a President, not even a very popular President, which Obama once was, can resist them.

   One is the oligarchy of finance, a cartel of Wall Street bankers and super-rich mega- corporations whose wealth is based in oil or defense or both.

  The other is the military establishment, the Pentagon generals and the civilian hawks from the defense industries.

   Ray McGovern, whom I consider the most authoritative voice now writing about politico-military affairs and national security, reminds us, however, that there has been, in recent history, one President who stood up to them: John F. Kennedy. 

   A month before his assassination, according to McGovern,"during his last visit to Hyannis Port, Kennedy told his next-door neighbor Larry Newman, 'I'm going to get those guys out [of Vietnam] because we're not going to find ourselves in a war it's impossible to win.'

   A majority of his own National Security Council was opposed to withdrawal. McGovern recalls that Kennedy sent  Marine Commandant  Gen. David M. Shoup, “to look over the ground in Southeast Asia and counsel him.” Shoup told the President:

   “Unless we are prepared to use a million men in a major drive, we should pull out before the war expands beyond control.”

   McGovern writes that, "Kennedy concluded  there was no responsible course other than to press ahead for a phased withdrawal regardless of the opposition from his senior national security advisers. He decided to pull 1,000 troops out of Vietnam by the end of 1963 and the rest by 1965.

   "Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff told James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, that Kennedy's mind was fixed on Vietnam the day before he was slain. Instead of rehearsing for a press conference that day, Kennedy told Kilduff:

   "'I've just been given a list of the most recent casualties in Vietnam. We're losing too damned many people over there. It's time for us to get out. The Vietnamese are not fighting for themselves. We're the ones who are doing the fighting.

   ""There is no reason for us to lose another man over there. Vietnam is not worth another American life.'"

  Nor is Iraq.  Nor is Afghanistan.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog. Thank you for your insight.