Saturday, June 26, 2010

Finally, a butt-kicking leader

By Don Klein

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is out, fired by the president. Finally Obama acted with alacrity, and was never more presidential. That’s the way most Americans want their presidents to behave. There was no extended deliberative period. No drawn-out consideration of the facts.

McChrystal showed a terrible lack of judgment in allowing his aides to demean and mock one of the most crucial American credos – civilian control of the military – and paid the awful price. And they ridiculed not in the confines of the locker room but in the presence of a magazine reporter. What kind of judgment is that?

The stupidity of the situation brought into question the experienced general’s judgment and he had to go. That was the easy choice for Obama. Military men learn in early training that the civilians are in charge. That’s why in the centuries since 1776 there never was a junta taking over Washington.

What is admirable about this unfortunate situation is that Obama acted like a leader. He didn’t hesitate. He took charge immediately and made the change. And what is more outstanding was the brilliance of his choice of a successor in a circumstance that otherwise set Obama up for another round of political sniping from the Right.

The president chose Gen. David Petraeus, the most celebrated military man in current times to head up the Afghanistan conflict. By doing that he accomplished two important goals. 1. He put a man in charge who was a totally familiar with the war and is as well versed in the Middle East as anyone in government, and 2. he silenced the ready-to-pounce Republican jabberwockies who love all CEOs, whether corporate or military, and hate Democratic presidential authority.

This is what Obama supporters have been seeking from the president for almost a year and a half now. Action. Presidential action. Not just another extensive cerebral approach to a national crisis. More about Afghanistan later.

One has to think that the president has suddenly discovered the clout of the White House. Without any legal authority to do so, Obama twisted the arms of BP brass recently and got them to put $20 billion into an escrow account to pay for the losses to Gulf citizens as a result of the oil spill.

This was so effective that the Republicans in Congress were so flabbergasted that all they could do was cry foul. A Texas Republican apologized to the BP boss who was testifying before the House energy committee claiming the company was victim of a “shakedown.” He never mentioned any concern for the real victims of the oil spill along the coast, Americans who previously were labeled by the BP chairman as “small people.”

And, finally, it appears that Obama has won an uncharacteristically classic battle in Congress to establish a long list of regulations to bring the financial community under control. After it is enacted the question will be how enthusiastically will it be enforced? Given the history of federal bureaucracy my guess it not very vigorously.

Nevertheless, Obama deserves much credit. Things are beginning to look better for him and he seems to beginning to feel his oats by finally using the power that comes with the Oval Office. But none of these accomplishments will do much good for the Democrats this fall unless there is a sharp upturn in the economy and jobs.

Personally I’d like to see action designed to discourage out-sourcing. Whatever benefits are accrued to American businesses that go foreign there should by an equal monetary penalty to wipe out corporate profits at the expense of US workers’ jobs. I don’t think we will see anything in this department this year despite Obama’s campaign promises on this subject.

Back to Afghanistan. One of the factors that became very evident in the exchange of command from McChrystal to Petraeus was the president’s recommitment to the Afghan War. I think we need a further refinement of our role in that part of the world. What we are doing now is not succeeding and what we plan to do later is even more precarious.

Just how far are we willing to go in that God-forsaken patch of bleak terrain? It might be cruel to say this but I don’t care a hoot whether Afghan girls get an elementary education when our commitment to that nation constrains the rights of American girls to benefit from their birthright.

I am tired of reading the casualty lists as too many American youths sacrifice their lives for an ungrateful nation which embraces our enemy and refuses to fight for themselves. I don’t like spending billions on a country whose president is dealing with our enemy behind our backs. The same goes for Pakistan.

I don’t know why we are fighting the Taliban in the first place. That is an Afghan problem, not ours. We should get back to battling al Qaeda, our real enemy. Worst of all, Obama’s apparent commitment to the current policy in that part of the world reminds me a lot of the George W. Bush fiasco.

I wish Obama would reverse direction. We have more problems of our own than in most of my lifetime and let’s work on those solutions not the on Afghanistan’s. I like Vice President Biden’s views on the war. Go after al Qaeda with all the power we have and if Pakistan and Afghanistan fail to support us fully, withdraw our support of their governments. We should stop being their patsy, their unrequited sugar daddy.

Now that Obama finally found his muscle and started kicking butt these last few weeks, he still has plenty of other butts to kick. You found the formula, Mr. President, now get to work down the line.