Thursday, November 4, 2010


It is no secret that the Republicans took over the House by huge margins, diminished the Democratic majority in the Senate, and achieved historic advances in Gubernatorial and state legislature races. However the Democrat bloodbath that painted the electoral map red also had some interesting bylines:
Losers seek compromise: It is a time honored tradition that the losing side always interprets election results as a message to work together and compromise. Keeping with that trend, the Obama White House and the Democrats in Congress have suddenly realized the value of compromise and ‘working together for the benefit of the American people’. Never mind that for the past two years they have been doing the exact opposite. However, now that they can't ram unwanted legislation down people's throats, the Democrats want to compromise with the enemy seated in the back seat of President Obama's imaginary car.
Nancy Pelosi, Propaganda Minister: Nancy Pelosi continued her best impression of Al-Sahhaf, the delusional Iraqi propaganda minister under Saddam. Al-Sahhaf is best known for his statements describing how American troops were committing suicide by the hundreds, while American tanks were outside the gates of his ministry.
Ms. Pelosi consistently proclaimed that the Democrats would hold the house (even on Tuesday). She also claimed pride about the 'achievements' of her majority while the same majority was being rewarded i.e. massacred for their achievements.
Angry, rational electorate: The voters severely rebuked the Democratic agenda in every corner of the country and yet they were rational enough to not send just any Republican to DC. Intellectually stunted weaklings in Nevada and Delaware lost big and all signs point to a Murkowski victory in Alaska. Joe Miller, although intelligent and accomplished, came across as brutish and unlikeable. Voters rejected all three even in the GOP tsunami that was Tuesday. In addition, Tom Tancredo, the bordering-on-xenophobic ex congressman, also lost the Colorado governor's race in spite of being a Tea Partier. Looks likefacts and arguments did win the day; except in California.
America's Greece: California once again proved why it is in dire straits and may become the first failed state of the Union. Despite past records of non achievement, voters chose to reelect a sneering ideologue (Barbara Boxer) and an ancient relic as governor (Jerry Brown). In fact, the real surprise in California was the defeat of Prop 19. Maybe the collective 'glaucoma' of the supporters was acting up and they decided to peace out on the couch.
Holding on to the Harry tree: The victory by Reid in Nevada was the only ‘good news’ for the Democrats on Tuesday. Expect them to cling to that notion like people caught in a tornado would grab the only tree that hasn't been uprooted. Look for Democrats to tie in the Nevada race into any answer about Tuesday's disaster. It will be conveniently ignored that Reid, in spite of doing the 'people's work', needed millions of dollars and practically every Washington insider, union group, former President, the current President, the Vice President, and even the First Lady to save his seat from a terrible GOP candidate.
On another note, Chuck Schumer was probably as disappointed as the GOP when Harry Reid was declared the winner.
GOP the progressive party: You won't hear it from the NAACP, Hispanic groups, or NOW, but Republicans now have a female Indian American governor (first ever) and a black congressman from South Carolina (first since reconstruction), a female Hispanic Governor (again first ever) in New Mexico, and a Cuban American Senator from Florida. Those ignorant, angry hicks sure like to elect women and minorities.
Thrill no more: MSNBC's coverage of the results consisted of a roundtable of ultra liberal 'pundits' openly smirking at every GOP win and at Republicans who were foolish enough to appear on that network. The 'analysis' included condescending comments, outright insults and bizarre questions to Rep. Eric Cantor about whether Rand Paul would filibuster the debt ceiling increase. Apparently if a GOP Representative from Virginia doesn't know what an eye surgeon from Kentucky is thinking, who does?
Even when you discount the fact that it was a terrible night to be a left wing nut, this was still a pathetic display of 'journalism'. Although it is doubtful that any of the fifteen people who watch MSNBC took offense.
W encore: Next week former President George W. Bush will appear on various TV shows to promote his autobiography. I wonder how many people will suffer pangs of nostalgia when they see the Decider again and wish that the roles could somehow be reversed - George Bush back in the Oval office, and President Obama is left to do the only thing he does best; write about Barack Obama.

"Article first published as 'Massacre' on"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Operation Frustration

The firestorm created by Gen. Stanley McChrystal's comments from a yet to be published article in Rolling Stone magazine crystallizes the current Afghan effort. The Generals in the field are frustrated with the civilian leadership. The civilian leadership is frustrated with the military and the Afghan government. The Afghan people are frustrated with everyone. The American public is barely paying attention to the war because of the problems back home. It would be fair to characterize the AfPak endeavor as ‘Operation Frustration’.

Clearly Gen. McChrystal and others in the military have been irritated and frustrated by the Obama administration for quite some time. The deliberative approach of Mr. Obama was a cause for concern to many. This frustration only builds up when US troops have to deal with extremely restrictive rules of engagement in implementing the Patreus/McChrystal COIN strategy. Raids and searches have to be conducted in tandem with incompetent Afghan police of dubious loyalties. The highly effective night raids are rare because President Karzai does not approve. Engaging the enemy is only allowed when fired upon first (i.e. after you are shot). All this would cause anyone to be angry, let alone the man in charge of uprooting the Taliban, converting and sustaining the loyalties of the warlords and peasants, and go after Al Qaeda elements. Thus the medium of conveying his annoyance at the civilian leadership is the issue here, not the actual sentiment, which should come as no surprise to anyone.

The reason Gen. McChrystal is in serious trouble is because his aides made a series of irresponsible comments about the civilian leadership that put them in charge of AfPak. What is even more concerning is who these comments were made to. Now, no matter the degree of dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama and his policies, talking to reporters behind the President's back is simply unacceptable. If the urge to voice your frustrations to a reporter becomes necessary then Gen. McChrystal and his aides should at least have the smarts to talk to a Bob Woodward or a Richard Engel. They would have used this information mainly to paint a picture and kept the inflammatory quotes (especially names) out of it. Talking to an unheard of, freelance reporter out to establish himself is exactly the last thing someone in McChrystal's position should do. (This is not a knock on the reporter; who appears to be adept at extracting information over drinks).

It remains to be seen what comes out of the meeting between the administration and Gen. McChrystal. It would be a very bad idea to fire him right now because of the immense hardship facing US troops in Afghanistan. It would be safe to say that most soldiers on the ground share at least a part of their commander's frustration toward some civilian operatives. The one thing that has to be done is reconsider the role of the envoy Richard Holbrook and ambassador Eikenberry. They are actually proving to be a problem for the military rather than productive liaisons that they were supposed to be. An important decision for Mr. Obama is to figure out a way to separate Mr. Eikenberry and the military leadership on the ground. It is clear that the relationship between those two mirrors the relationship between Mr. Karzai and the US administration. They work together only because they have to and neither seems to trust the other. This is not a constructive dynamic to have and it certainly cannot be sustained. Mr. Eikenberry was on the losing side of the argument during last year's extensive discussion on the path forward in Afghanistan. He has made no secret of his distrust of Mr. Karzai and now it seems he is also continuously at odds with Gen. McChrystal. The troop level argument has been settled (at least for the time being) and it makes no sense to put opposing sides under one tent on the ground to figure out ways to actually make progress in Afghanistan. Simply put, Eikenberry and Holbrook are replaceable. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is not, at least not in the short term.

This is a problem Mr. Obama did not need and did not create. An argument can be made that he has caused it gradually through his governing style. Having said that, this event would have been more understandable if it had happened last year when the AfPak strategy was being discussed in slow motion. Gen. McChrystal's aides have made a dangerous and foolish mistake by blurting out their frustrations to Rolling Stone. This will be a huge test for Mr. Obama and his much touted skills to compromise and reconcile differing views. The knee jerk left is already calling for the general's resignation. What they fail to understand is that this is not an academic concept or a preventive measure like wire taps where disagreement among leadership is expected and accepted. Afghanistan is a real war with a real enemy waiting to pounce on every perceived weakness; and there is no bigger weakness than a fractured leadership. One hopes that the President will swallow his ego, keep McChrystal in-charge and reiterate his commitment to the flailing Afghan war effort. Most importantly, Mr. Obama needs to prioritize the Afghan war and figure out how to solve what seem to be irreconcilable disagreements between the military and the White House. Gen. McChrystal's aides on the other hand, need to learn the art of shutting up.

Article first published as Operation Frustration on Blogcritics.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What We've Got Here Is Failure To.. Spin?

"I think if there's any mistake made (it's) that we haven't communicated clearly enough what the president has done on this oil spill from the beginning," - Vice President Joe Biden

President Obama has been criticized for his inexperience, stoicism, naivety, and even his citizenship. The one thing that was never in doubt about Barack Obama was his oratory talent. Even his strongest detractors will submit to his superior communication skills. Therefore it is quite amusing to see the Obama administration cite a lack of effective communication as the reason for being unable to sell their policies. White House aides contend that the lack of support for Obama policies is not because they are unpopular, ineffective or hyper partisan. The voters disapprove of the policies only because they have not been shown the light by the administration. The administration maintains that the stimulus bill was not a failure in terms of its primary goal to stem unemployment. Aides say the reason for that perception is that Mr. Obama has been unable to communicate (read spin) how effective it has been. Similarly most people do not oppose the healthcare bill because it will reduce quality, increase the deficit and create a massive bureaucracy. The opposition arises from the failure of the administration to convey the benefits of the bill. Since this tactic has worked so well, the White House is trying it again with the oil disaster. According to the administration, they have been involved and in charge from day one of the oil spill. The only reason the people aren’t seeing any results is because of a communication gap. All would be well if only the White House could explain how a push for an energy bill and a new PR campaign for healthcare fit into the immediate response to the spill.

Anyone who has followed Mr. Obama's presidency will attest to the effectiveness of him as a communicator. So far he has communicated the Republican Party into unity, given rise to the Tea Party movement, and even expressed his candidates out of a job in
New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts. On the foreign front, he successfully communicated allies likeTurkey and Brazil to side with Iran. Mr. Obama also communicated the new 'reset' policy toward Russia with such clarity that Mr. Putin is now gleefully playing both sides (Iran and US), while Poland nurses the stab wound on its back. On the economic front, the President conveyed last month's wonderful jobs report so effectively that the financial markets tanked. In fact the only people he has failed to communicate successfully with are Andrew Romanoff and Joe Sestak.

Barack Obama specializes in lofty rhetoric, sweeping declarations and idealistic platitudes. He can give a rousing speech about a nuke free world but when asked about day to day governing issues, he has no answer except to hide behind meetings with 'experts'. His response to the oil spill is a classic example of this phenomenon. He can talk for hours about the need for hypothetical regulations but when asked about specifics he can’t even tell you if his own director of the 
MMS resigned or was fired. Evidently, in an effort to avoid turning this oil spill into his Iran hostage crisis, Mr. Obama has made it into his Katrina. By being marginally interested and peripherally in charge, he has avoided looking like the helpless Jimmy Carter. Unfortunately Mr. Obama now resembles Mike Brown, the in-over-his-head former director of FEMA.

To remedy his image, President Obama wants everyone to know how furious he is about the whole situation. In fact he is so angry that he 
refuses to speak to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP. According to Mr. Obama, Mr. Hayward would only tell him what he wants to hear and the President is not interested in that. This is a bizarre excuse under any circumstances but coming from Mr. Obama, who at one point wanted to talk to Iran without pre conditions, it is laughable. Apparently the Iranians would have only told him the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Another interesting aspect to this is the habit of Mr. Obama to shut out primary players when he is brainstorming solutions to problems. Last year it was Gen. Stanley McChrystal who got the cold shoulder from the President for weeks while the White House was 'deliberating' its Afghan strategy.

Contrary to the idiotic 'get angry' mantra being pushed by the media, people do not want to see an angry, emotional President. They just want to know that he is concerned and in charge. To show that he gets the message, Mr. Obama is on a quest to kick ass. This ass-kicking 
journey has led him to basketball courts, fundraisers, various heritage month celebrations and even a personal Paul McCartney concert. Of course giving the appearance that he is out of touch from the suffering of the gulf coast is not the problem here. The problem is that the public is just slow to understand how all this fits into the big picture of helping the gulf coast, reducing unemployment and success in Afghanistan (yes, the war is still going on). The strategery of it all is just too much for people to grasp. Meetings with James Cameron, a show at the Ford Theater and the McCartney concert are all links in the crisis response chain. You'll see it when they send the Terminator down in a Yellow Submarine to plug the leak.

Article first published as Obama's Communication Breakdown on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Placebo President

In early March, President Obama gave a speech on Healthcare reform proclaiming that the time for talk is over. He declared that everything that is to be said about the bill has been said. The only thing remaining, according to Mr. Obama, is a simple up or down vote. The President has since made four campaign style stops talking about only healthcare. His aides have been on all Sunday talk shows to talk about healthcare. So it seems the time for talk is over only if you oppose the healthcare bill. Just like he did in the so called bipartisan summit, Obama has appointed himself judge and jury on the subject of healthcare. He tells you what the truth is and what is misleading political falsehood. He is the only all-knowing and objective arbitrator on this issue. Everyone else is either misinformed or trying to misinform.

The healthcare reform conversation has been reduced to the legalities of the tricks the Democrats want to use to pass it. The bill's actual substance is an afterthought. No one is disputing the fact that ten years of taxation provides only six years of benefits. Neither has anyone explained how $500 billion from Medicare cuts will be used to pay for half of this massive entitlement and then the same half a trillion dollars will be used to keep Medicare solvent. The administration has not been confronted on how the right to chose does not extend to health insurance. Under this plan, one is forced to purchase a private service as mandated by the government (advantages of which could include helping pay for a registered sex offender's hip replacement). Of course this is all dismissed as distractions and obstructionist tactics of Republicans. The only thing the Democrats seem to be concerned about is how to pass a bill before the recess. The level of
desperation Obama and the Democrats have reached is embarrassing. At this point, almost anything will get the president’s signature as long it is labeled Healthcare reform.

Congressional Democrats have completely dropped the pretense of trying to form a coalition or negotiating in good faith or listening to the public. In fact the major reason to get a bill passed
before Easter is to avoid a redux of the town halls the Democrats faced last year. They have locked out Republicans from the conversation and also given up on Democrats who oppose the bill on principle (abortion language, cost, and special deals). Their new target is liberal Democrats who voted ‘No’ the first time. They are planning to use sleight of hand tricks in manipulating process and inventing rules to pass the bill without actually voting on the Senate bill. This farce sets a dangerous precedent for the future but the healthcare obsession has blinded the Democrats to any such concern.

President Obama is doing his part in this opaque and politically motivated process. He is
offering rides on Air Force One to coax Congressmen to vote in favor of healthcare. Mr. Obama constantly reminds people about how urgent the need for reform is. In fact it is so urgent that the benefits from the reform won't kick in until 2014. He also manages to keep a straight face when he insists that people will see the magical effects of his trillion dollar entitlement only after the bill passes. Last week the White House announced that now it does not oppose the special deals given to certain states. This easy malleability of principle is the hallmark of this President. He stands up for something unless it is politically expedient to back down.

deception and blatant arm twisting that includes threats of mounting a primary candidate against the 'No' votes will probably help Ms. Pelosi sneak this radioactive legislation through. However it must be noted how much further the political process has devolved since Obama became President. The problems in Washington are not exactly a revelation. Everyone was aware of the fractured nature of things, including Obama when he ran as the change agent. He was supposed to fix the problems; instead he has doubled down on the old ways without losing a step. It takes skill to constantly decry the entrenched partisan ways of Washington while running a healthcare reform process that comprises of special deals for the drug industry through lobbyists, unsavory deals to win Senate votes, budgetary tricks to hide costs, and a total lack of bipartisanship.

The saintly rhetoric from a year ago has given way to a ridiculous reality show that a frustrated public has no choice but watch because, well, they can't find jobs. The placebo effects of the Obama experiment are long gone and voters have realized that instead of a real cure for the ills of Washington, all they got was a sugar pill.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Midas Untouch

"Iraq could be one of the great achievements of this administration" - Vice President Joe Biden on CNN

The Obama administration is no different from any of its predecessors when it comes to shifting blame for failure and taking undeserved credit for success. All administrations engage in minor hypocrisy for their political benefit. It is expected and accepted for the most part. However the Obama administration has taken it to a ridiculous extreme. This is evident when the president uses Bush era deficits to rack up exponentially more debt. It is also evident in the prosecution of terrorists in Federal courts. But nowhere is it more blatant than in the recent comments by the Vice President
taking credit for the progress in Iraq.

In 2007 then Senator Obama vehemently opposed the surge, which is responsible for the continued stabilization and political reconciliation seen in Iraq. He did not just oppose the surge; he gave speeches
guaranteeing that additional troops will only lead to more violence and instability. He wanted nothing short of a troop withdrawal because the war was a lost cause, a sentiment echoed by congressional Democrats. Meanwhile, then Senator Joe Biden had a brainstorm of dividing Iraq into three different countries. He was convinced that this was the only way to have any resemblance of peace in Iraq. Neither Sen. Obama nor Sen. Biden expressed an iota of confidence or support for the Bush surge strategy.

Candidate Obama ran on the platform that the only thing to do about Iraq is to bring the troops home. Never once did he admit to the gains of the surge or accept the evidence of stability. In fact he made it a cornerstone of the campaign to summarily dismiss it. Now that the Candidate is President, he is more than willing to tout Iraqi success and take credit for it. Even when faced with overwhelming evidence of success, the administration has yet to acknowledge that the Obama/Biden stance against the surge was wrong. A debate on the potential outcome of Iraq if either of their ideas were followed has been conveniently missing. The leap from vehement opposition of the surge strategy to self congratulation on the success of the same strategy has been phenomenal.

President Bush set the stage for an Iraqi success not because, but in spite of Obama and Biden. The military success, the Sunni awakening, the political progress, and the withdrawal
timeline are all Bush legacies. The current administration's contribution to the progress in Iraq has been to leave it alone. Ironically President Obama's Afghanistan strategy mirrors his predecessor's 'secure and hold' surge strategy of Iraq. Now no one expects this administration to give George Bush credit for anything. Their motto has always been - if it works, credit Obama; if it fails, blame Bush. It worked for them in the campaign and it worked in the first few months of the Presidency. But in this case, as Charles Krauthammer points out, they should at least have the decency to say Iraq will be an American success.

The truth is that almost everything President Obama has tried to 'fix' has gone from bad to worse. Obama’s thirteen month obsession over healthcare has caused a countrywide revolt leading to Democrats jumping ship. The economy (even after the $862B hoodwink they call stimulus) is still flat lining at best. A whopping 6% of Americans think that the so called Recovery Act has created jobs. As the joke goes - the only 'shovel ready' projects available are related to clearing the snow in DC. The deficit has skyrocketed and the jobless rate is bleaker than before the Stimulus. In response to the people's concern on jobs, the President convened a televised bipartisan healthcare summit. On the international front, Iran is more belligerent than before and moving toward a dictatorship. Who would have thought that the personal letter Obama wrote to Iranian leaders would fall on deaf ears.

Thus besides AfPak (where there is genuine progress and Obama deserves credit), everything this President touches becomes radioactive. The only thing he didn't touch - Iraq - has blossomed. To take credit for that is like a motorist taking credit for saving pedestrian lives just because he did not run them over. Although to be fair, perhaps Obama deserves a little credit here. The temptation to
change the Iraq policy must have been profound. Letting things be, and thus void of the Obama stamp, is not something this administration does well. So in a way, it is an achievement that they left Iraq alone. One might just conclude that if Obama wants anything to work, he should leave it alone.