Posts Tagged ‘Levin’

Watch "Don’t Let General Petraeus Move the Goalposts on Afghanistan" in HD on Facebook.

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing shed even more light on what exactly those qualifications are, and the troll tusks were showing. Responding to a question from HASC Ranking Member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Petraeus said that yes, he supports the July 2011 date as the beginning of a process. But, he complained, that date was based on a projection from last Fall. He said we’ll do everything humanly possible (well, everything humanly possible within the constraints of a brutal, costly strategic frame that’s not working) to achieve those conditions. When asked by McKeon whether July 2011 was based on conditions and not just a date on the calendar, he said, “That’s correct.” And, when asked whether he’d recommend delaying the withdrawal if those conditions didn’t materialize, he confirmed it.

America, get ready for this excuse:

“Well, we tried, but it’s just not possible for us to keep President Obama’s promise to start a withdrawal this month.” –General David Petraeus, July 2011.

Compare that General Petraeus, who only gives the July 2011 date his qualified support and who wants us all to know he might change his mind when crunch time arrives, with this General Petraeus, described by Jonathan Alter:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Expect the Alter quotation above to become cliche in a hurry. Petraeus revealed this week that he has no intention of standing by his word to the president. This week, he said explicitly that if we can’t do the things he says in 18 months, he will, in fact, suggest we stay.

Petraeus says he supports the president’s policy. His comments this week, though, serve only to validate the critics of the withdrawal portion of the president’s policy. He’s not a supporter of this policy. He’s a concern troll.

Don’t let him get away with moving the goalposts. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook as we work to end this brutal war that’s not worth the costs.


The Pentagon is backpedaling on leaked reports of pending troop increase requests from Gen. McChrystal.

WASHINGTON, Aug 5 (Reuters) – An assessment of the war in Afghanistan by the top U.S. and NATO commander there is no longer expected by mid-August and will not include a request for extra troops, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.


McChrystal’s initial media blitz as head honcho in Afghanistan papered the nation with his concern for protecting Afghan civilians. When the Associated Press and others reported last Friday that he “appeared inclined to request an increase in American troops,” he was unhelpfully accompanied in the headlines by a UNAMA report which showed civilian casualties sharply increasing, despite repeated troop increases justified in part by claiming they’d allow the U.S. to use tactics less likely to cause civilian casualties. The report confirmed that both civilian casualties in general and civilian deaths caused by U.S. forces and our allies increased each year after an escalation.

The appearance that U.S. policymakers were on escalation autopilot prompted at least one influential senator to publicly warn that he would not support a troop increase. As Steve Hynd points out, Senator Feingold’s public opposition to troop increases might have been the catalyst for the Pentagon’s public relations effort to sooth the rattled nerves of those who don’t like throwing more troops into the GraveyardTM. Admiral Mullen even tweeted!

Speculation about Gen. McChrystal asking for more troops is just that: speculation. Work isn’t done yet, need to let him finish it.

Reuters reports that SecDef Gates gave McChrystal new instructions and extended the deadline for his review of Afghanistan strategy (the fifth such review since Obama took office…) during a chat in Belgium on Sunday. Sounds to me like Gates saw the draft and didn’t like where it was heading (or, as Steve points out, realized they needed more time for the White House to twist arms and get people behind the “new” policy).

The “War Helps!” crowd won’t be thwarted, though, in their effort to restrict the options in Afghanistan to those involving guns and bullets and swagger. Just as the Pentagon was speaking in soothing tones about the premature nature of escalation nervousness, Senators Lieberman and Levin chimed in with a frantic call to engorge the Afghan national security forces with more American resources.

Lieberman and Levin don’t seem particularly concerned by the fact that the Afghan economy cannot sustain a tax base to fund their suggested force levels and won’t be able to in the foreseeable future (see this report from the Congressional Research Service, on page 71 of the PDF), leaving the U.S. taxpayer on the hook for the funds. Nor do they seem worried by the potential problems caused when a nation’s civilian government is weak and corrupt while their military gets all the resources. Backers of further military intervention and interference in Afghanistan cite democratic values as a motive for our occupation, but few (none, actually) seem to be bothered much by the idea of a de facto military junta in Afghanistan funded by the U.S. taxpayer.

Escalation is escalation, and it doesn’t work in Afghanistan. As regional expert Rory Stewart argues (.PDF p. 66),

“the West should not increase troop numbers,” because doing so would inflame Afghan nationalism and lend support to the insurgency. “The Taliban,” he adds, “which was a largely discredited and backward movement, gains support by portraying itself as fighting for Islam and Afghanistan against a foreign military  occupation.”

President Obama should decrease, not increase, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and shift his focus from ‘defeating the insurgency’ to sharply reducing the level of violence as quickly as possible.

P.S. A new CNN poll apparently shows that 54 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan. For the record, that’s a higher percentage of Americans than those found to support the President’s health care reform policies in CNN’s other recent poll.