Loose Canons

COIN-ing the SGO

Kagan gets going -- and so does a return of press hostility toward the military.

By 6.28.10

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You don't need a mcchrystal ball to divine that there is too much SGO in Washington this week. And it's not necessary to violate Vice President Biden's admonition to a Milwaukee custard store manager to demonstrate that everything important is -- directly or not -- about the only part of the federal government that is functioning as the Founders intended: our armed forces.

(For those just joining us, SGO is the acronym invented by my pal, former SEAL Al Clark, which stands for the comprehensively useful phrase "s**t goin' on.")

Today Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will confess the epiphany that she's had, realizing she was wrong fifteen years ago when she condemned the "vapid and hollow charade" that hearings on nominations to the high court had become. She wrote that nominees "…usually can comment on judicial methodology, on prior case law, on hypothetical cases, on general issues like affirmative action or abortion."

Kagan has promised to be more forthcoming than other recent nominees but she will bob and weave like the rest of them, protected by the ever-watchful Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT). Her hostility to the military -- having banned recruiters from Harvard Law School while dean in apparent violation of law, her statement that the "don't ask, don't tell" law banning open homosexuals from serving is "a profound wrong" and a "moral injustice of the first order" -- is a matter of record which Republicans will, probably all too gently, explore.

It may require the intellectual agility of CNN's newest commentator -- former New York Governor and Emperors' Club member Eliot Spitzer -- to sort out how the Solicitor General can be open-minded toward our military and the laws that govern it.

Spitzer -- tanned, rested and ready -- is likely to prove effective as an opinion maker. Yesterday, he delivered himself of the wisdom that President Obama hasn't read the anger of Americans correctly. Yes, Eliot, he hasn't. And neither has the media. In a poll released last week, Rasmussen Reports found that "Sixty-six percent (66%) of U.S. voters describe themselves as at least somewhat angry at the media, including 33% who are Very Angry." That anger is connected directly to the anger at Obama: the media's dishonesty and Stakhanovite efforts backing Obama haven't produced what the voters wanted in 2008.

Spitzer's presence on CNN will either drive that 66% up to the 90s or, in voter exhaustion, convert anger into pity. Either way, we should expect Spitzer to be a force at CNN. It's only a matter of time before he's proclaimed a hero by Keith Olbermann.

But Olbermann -- and those who still inhabit the MoveOn.org fever swamp -- may be so immersed in defending Kagan that they will ignore the bigger show this week, the Tuesday confirmation hearing on Gen. David Petraeus's nomination to take overall command in Afghanistan.

Gen. Petraeus has been, since he took command in Iraq, our chief nation-builder. He is the author of the U.S. manual on counterinsurgency warfare (which, in the inevitable military acronym, is "COIN"). And he has said that he supports President Obama's policy.

But Obama's policy is compounding George Bush's mistakes. In his December speech to West Point cadets announcing the Afghanistan troop surge, he said our "overarching goal" there was "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future." But how long "the future" may be is a variable on which depends the possibility of success.

The success of the counterinsurgency in Iraq is as impermanent as French loyalty. Petraeus's generalship did create a situation there in which the Iraqis had the chance to resolve their differences and become a democratic state. That chance has been thrown away in political argument without end. Our combat troops will have left Iraq by summer's end, and it will likely take less time than Petraeus has in Afghanistan for the product of his Iraq counterinsurgency to be tossed into the ash heap of history.

How long is "the future" in Obama's policy goal? If it is no longer than the time between now and the 2012 election, why should we be spending American lives to do in Afghanistan no more than we did in Iraq?

And, more importantly, for how long can Petraeus -- whom I know to be brilliant and a man of character -- go along with this sham?

The media are building a narrative that demands withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a plan to accomplish it by a specific date. Petraeus must know that he -- not Obama -- will bear the brunt of this political assault.

The ghosts of Vietnam that still haunt the Pentagon's halls are whispering again that the media are the enemy. Some Pentagon grumblers agree. They think Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff got a raw deal in the Rolling Stone article and from that derive the conclusion that the military should revert to the bad old days of the Vietnam era, when the press was as much an enemy as the Viet Cong.

For almost three decades, from about 1968 until the 1991 Gulf War, the press was the enemy almost as much as the Russians were.

The disdain was mutual. To the media all the ills the country suffered in the Vietnam War were the fault of the professional military, not the idiots in the White House or the nice folks in North Vietnam, Russia and China who were conquering a free (though corrupt) nation.

To the military -- and with much justification -- the press was the force that drove President Johnson and Congress to losing a war that had already been won. But America had a short-hair epiphany in 1991. In the 1991 Gulf War our troops and their commanders performed with such speed, bravery and skill that a new generation of the media (Dan Rather notwithstanding) became enamored of the troops, and the troops returned the favor.

From then until last week, both sides saw the great value in sharing a high regard. But it can't last. And it won't.

Because hundreds of reporters have been embedded in military units, for years "we support the troops" has been the mantra of journalists and politicians alike. To know the military is to admire them. But as the anger on Obama's left grows, so will the anti-military sentiment in the media. They can't blame Obama for failure in Afghanistan, so they must blame the military.

And they will. The McChrystal admirers who are tempted to declare the media an enemy aren't all wrong. But however few in the media are willing to give the military a fair shake -- and those souls that may be converted -- are worth the time it takes to convey the facts on the ground.

Vietnam taught us a lot of lessons. This is no time to forget any of them, including the one about not shunning the press. 

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.