Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2009 / 26 Tishrei 5770
Who's at the Helm?
By Paul Greenberg
The course of American policy in
All of those quotes are not from Gen.
Uh oh. How was the general to know that's now the old policy? Indeed, that there is no longer a policy at all. For since the general last got his orders, the president has gone wobbly. You have to be nimble to keep up with this president even when he's just dawdling -- excuse me, re-evaluating. Let's just say he's taking a furlough day, maybe a furlough year by the time he's through backing-and-forthing.
What? What about this president's warnings that, unless
Remember all that? Well, forget it. It's all going down the memory hole. A re-re-review of policy is being conducted, doubtless preparatory to the next review.
Never mind that Gen. McChrystal, at the president's command, had just submitted a "comprehensive" review of how the war in
In the fight for influence among the president's 1,001 closest advisers, handlers, kibitzers, staff officers and armchair generals in
In 1951, it had been the perfect match-up: the American Caesar vs. The Man from Independence, military versus civil authority, autocratic Virginian against feisty Missourian. High drama. Who cares if the McChrystal-Obama parallel is, to put it mildly, inexact? The show's the thing. All that empty airtime on television and radio, not to mention the infinite space available on electronic blogs, has to be filled, you know. So let's re-run the MacArthur-Truman tapes.
This handy historical parallel, however it might have to be strained, has been rolled out by our never very original intelligentsia and applied to this mix-up between a new general who had his orders, or thought he had them, and a wavering young president suddenly confronted with what his once brave words might cost in terms of American lives and treasure. Not to mention the midterm elections.
General McChrystal was said to feel "just terrible" about the misunderstanding -- a most un-MacArthur expression of humility -- but nevertheless he would be squeezed into the MacArthur mold. Charges of insubordination would be bruited about. It makes for a good story. And the story's the thing.
Meanwhile, a new military doctrine for
But what about this president's own early, incautious McCain-like statements January through August? Never happened. They will be forgotten. That's an order. They must not be remembered, let alone repeated. The president might be accused of insubordination to himself.
What fun. Disorganization at the top always is. But only to watch, preferably from afar, safely removed from actual combat. The show isn't as much fun if you're a trooper somewhere in back-of-beyond Nuristan while all
And so the great ship of state sails on, though no one seems sure of its course any longer. Down below, the grunts sweat and shovel and fight and die. In the wardrooms, the mid-level officers and bureaucrats and visiting correspondents plot to run the show themselves. The bridge is full of VIPs coming and going and offering counsel, intrigue and flattery. And yet, for all the activity there, it seems perfectly empty. No one is at the helm.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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