WSJ Editorial Page: The Real Conservative Agenda

WSJ Editorial page mission statement:

We speak for free markets and free people, the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities.

Whenever you hear people attempt to claim that the conservative movement is being lead by people like Limbaugh, Hannity or Beck, listen closely to see if they ever mention the Wall Street Journal Editorial page. If they don’t, you now know they are on a glib attack mission, i.e. not making a serious argument.

Entertainers on the left or right attacking each other can be fun and sometimes informative [I myself am a former Hardball viewer and now a loyal Fox News viewer], but it should not be mistaken for serious thought. Serious analysis, with just the right amount of blood-lust humor, is what goes on in the glorious WSJ Editorial pages.

Today’s WSJ editorial on the US’s Afghanistan policy, Obama and the General, is a case in point, the first sentence:

Democrats have found someone worth fighting in Afghanistan. His name is Stan McChrystal.

Later in that editorial:

In an interview with Newsweek, Gen. McChrystal said he wouldn’t resign if the President rejects his request for more troops. If he were really trying to dictate policy, he’d have given a different answer. But we don’t think Gen. McChrystal should stay to implement a Biden war plan either. No commander in uniform should ask his soldiers to die for a strategy he doesn’t think is winnable—or for a President who lets his advisers and party blame a general for their own lack of political nerve.

Here is what they had to say about Chicago’s failed efforts to get the Olympics:

We also won’t join those who pounded President Obama for taking a day to travel to Copenhagen to underscore Chicago’s bid, claiming he had somehow shirked the pressing issues of health care and yesterday’s dismal September jobs report. If the country is going to unravel because a President is not in Washington for 24 hours, we’re in worse shape than we thought. Some also fault Mr. Obama for investing the prestige of his office in getting the games, as no President has before, but then Mr. Obama is more closely identified with Chicago than other Presidents have been with other bidding cities.

If Mr. Obama and the White House made a mistake, it was in their apparently boundless faith that somehow Mr. Obama’s personal popularity would carry the day. As if, merely by seeing the rock star in person, the delegate from, say, Egypt would abandon his simmering dislike for America, forget all the dinners and deals cut with the Rio Committee, and reward Chicago. In that sense, the Olympic defeat is a relatively painless reminder that interests trump charm or likability in world affairs. Better to relearn this lesson in a fight over a sporting event than over nuclear missiles.

Today’s WSJ editorial referenced is copied in full at end of post.

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OCTOBER 7, 2009
Obama and the General – The White House finds a four-star scapegoat for its Afghan jitters

Democrats have found someone worth fighting in Afghanistan. His name is Stan McChrystal.

The other night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went after the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, “with all due respect,” for supposedly disrespecting the chain of command. Around the Congressional Democratic Caucus, we’re told Members refer to General McChrystal as “General MacArthur,” after the commander in Korea sacked by Harry Truman.

President Obama and General McChrystal

White House aides have fanned these flames with recent leaks to the media that “officials are challenging” his assessment asking for more troops. In the last two days, the White House National Security Adviser and the Secretary of Defense have both suggested that the general should keep his mouth shut. President Obama called him in Friday for a talking-to on the tarmac at Copenhagen airport.

Though a decorated Army four-star officer, the General’s introduction to Beltway warfare is proving to be brutal. To be fair, Gen. McChrystal couldn’t know that his Commander in Chief would go wobbly so soon on his commitment to him as well as to his own Afghan strategy when he was tapped for the job in April. We’re told by people who know him that Gen. McChrystal “feels terrible” and “had no intention whatsoever of trying to lobby and influence” the Administration. His sense of bewilderment makes perfect sense anywhere but in the political battlefield of Washington. He was, after all, following orders.
***

Recall that in March Mr. Obama unveiled his “comprehensive new strategy . . . to reverse the Taliban’s gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.” The Commander in Chief pledged to properly resource this “war of necessity,” which he also called during the 2008 campaign “the central front on terror.” The President then sacked his war commander, who had been chosen by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in favor of Gen. McChrystal, an expert in counterinsurgency.

Upon arriving in June, Gen. McChrystal launched his assessment of the forces required to execute the Obama strategy. His confidential study was completed in August and sent to the Pentagon. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen told Congress that more troops would be needed, and a figure of 30,000-40,000 was bandied about.

The figure has clearly spooked the Administration. Soon after, Gen. McChrystal’s confidential report was leaked to the Washington Post by, well, you’ll have to ask Bob Woodward. The report said that the U.S. urgently needs to reverse a “deteriorating” security situation. Soon the full retreat began in Washington, led by a vocal group within the Administration that wants to scale back the mission. The White House told the Pentagon to hold off asking for troops and Gen. McChrystal not to testify to Congress. Remarkably, President Obama mused on the Sunday talks shows, “Are we doing the right thing?”

Then Gen. McChrystal gave a speech last Thursday before the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. It was scheduled and approved by the Pentagon weeks before the Afghan political jitters seized official Washington. The General was hardly incendiary.

“We need to reverse the current trends, and time does matter,” he said. Asked vaguely about taking a narrower approach that leaves Afghanistan to its own devices and strikes at terrorists from afar, Gen. McChrystal offered that “a strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted one.” He warned the country would descend into “Chaos-istan.”

What really worries Democrats is the prospect of Midterm-istan if Mr. Obama escalates the war. But some thought to play up the General’s innocuous comment into an attempt to torpedo the latest Administration rethink.

In fact, the White House is merely revisiting the idea rejected in its “careful policy review” last spring to move from ambitious counterinsurgency to “counterterrorism” that would involve fewer troops and target al Qaeda instead of the Taliban. Vice President Joe Biden champions the change, and Sen. John Kerry and Speaker Pelosi have endorsed it.

The Biden faction says changes in the region justify a U-turn: An expanded U.S. force would merely be fighting a motley group of insurgents who aren’t planning the next 9/11. This is partly true, but the links between the Taliban and al Qaeda are longstanding, particularly in the Pashtun areas of the south. If America pulls back and lets Mullah Omar create a Talibanistan in Helmand and Kandahar, al Qaeda operatives will soon follow.

As we’ve learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan, successful counterterrorism requires intelligence. This comes from earning the trust of the people, which in turn can only happen if they are protected. The Biden approach would pull U.S. soldiers back behind high walls, far from the field of battle, and turns security over to the Afghan army and police before they are prepared for the job.

The sudden Afghan rethink also jeopardizes progress in Pakistan, the world’s leading sanctuary for al Qaeda. The Pakistani willingness to expand American drone strikes and launch a military campaign in their tribal regions dates squarely to the Administration’s recommitment to the region. Now that Mr. Obama is having second thoughts, so might the Pakistanis.

The President’s very public waver is already doing strategic harm. The Taliban are getting a morale boost and claiming victory, while our allies in Europe have one more reason to rethink their own deployments. Such a victory, as the head of the British army Sir David Richards warned on Sunday, would have an “intoxicating effect” on extremist Islam around the world.

Commanders in Chief can change their minds. George W. Bush waited too long to embrace the “surge.” He had private doubts when the casualties also surged in 2007, but he gave the new approach a chance to succeed. Mr. Obama is blinking even before all the additional troops he ordered to Afghanistan have had time to deploy to the theater.

Gen. McChrystal’s liberal critics also have very short memories. In 2003, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki clashed with his superiors by saying many more troops were needed to pacify Iraq. He became a Democratic hero and is now Mr. Obama’s Veterans Secretary. In this case, Gen. McChrystal has become a political target merely for taking at face value Mr. Obama’s order to fight the war properly. His superiors, the Central Commander David Petraeus and Adm. Mullen, back him, but can hardly be said to question civil control of the military.

In an interview with Newsweek, Gen. McChrystal said he wouldn’t resign if the President rejects his request for more troops. If he were really trying to dictate policy, he’d have given a different answer. But we don’t think Gen. McChrystal should stay to implement a Biden war plan either. No commander in uniform should ask his soldiers to die for a strategy he doesn’t think is winnable—or for a President who lets his advisers and party blame a general for their own lack of political nerve.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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