Obama/Donilon: Staring Down the Generals

In the past 10 days, 150 NATO-bound oil tankers were torched in Pakistan, mostly by Taliban but some apparently by their own drivers, who siphoned and sold the fuel and then destroyed the evidence of their theft. Win-win for locals, none of whom are naive enough to believe killing more of their brothers is a good idea. 500 oil tankers and containers that left Port Qasim in Karachi for Kandahar did not even reach the AfPak border. This, while the key Khyber Pass was closed, holding up thousands of supply trucks that did make it intact, after Pakistan shut the border in protest against the almost daily, illegal and unsanctioned US air strikes that have killed 1800 Pakistani civilians.

Lots more Afghans and NATO troops also died across the border. Another (Israeli) drone was downed in southern Afghanistan. NATO deaths so far this year (572) far exceed the total of any previous year. A Senate Armed Services Committee report just published documents the alarming use of up to 26,000 private contractors by the US military and Afghan government “linked to murder, kidnapping and bribery, as well as Taliban and anti-coalition activities.”

How should the new NSA Tom Donilon rate the “success” of the past decade’s jingoistic fight against terrorism? The Pentagon keeps coughing up more troops and arms to fight Israel’s war in Iraq and someone’s war in Afghanistan (what is the US doing in Afghanistan?). Its oversight of billions of dollars in “reconstruction” in Iraq and in Afghanistan is virtually nonexistent. The latest from Iraq is that a military coup is in the works which will confirm Iraq as a Shia-dominated state in alliance with Iran. In Afghanistan, with a little luck — bad or good depending on your point of view — and a few more matches, the Taliban could turn the surging NATO forces into Custer’s Last Stand, the Charge of the Light Brigade, a replay of the first Afghan war of 1839-42.

Donilon is dismissed by the jackboots and their cheerleaders, like David Frum (coiner of Bush’s “Axis of Evil”), for “not travelling enough”. Should he take “a serious field trip” to Iraq since he has “no direct understanding of these places”, as his predecessor General James Jones put it? Go to the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad, the huge black hole in the middle of that unfortunate nation’s capital, a fortified ghetto for the US occupiers and now their comprador local elite? Star in a GI porn film?

Or perhaps go to a refugee camp to meet a sample of the millions of Iraqis who have had to flee for their lives, a direct result of the US invasion. Many are in peaceful Syria, but then it is an associate member of Frum’s evil axis and off-bounds to US officials. For that matter, Donilon could visit a Palestinian refugee camp in Iraq to meet with some of millions of those innocent civilians who were forced to flee the violence of America’s best (only) friend in the Middle East.

His first stop should be Islamabad to hear Pakistanis’ gripes and try to figure out just what this odd US ally is up to. His boss Obama (actually the CIA) has authorised 125 drone strikes on Pakistanis in two years — twice as many as Bush did in five. Donilon will probably not find too many cheerleaders there. He may have to dodge a bomb or two himself, as have US officials in the recent past. He will find that most Pakistanis consider the US their enemy (64 per cent) and their government on the verge of collapse. US military complain that Pakistan (surprise) has its “own agenda”, that it wants a stable, friendly Afghanistan. That as a result of this perverse logic, it is failing — in the view of the US — to kill enough Afghan allies (oops, insurgents) on the border in North Waziristan.

His next stop should be London or Paris, despite State Department warnings of a “severe” threat of terrorist attacks, to see the effects of a decade of the “war on terror” there.

Obama’s new NSA is condemned in the mainstream media for being a corporate lawyer who “made millions” as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, an acronym spat out contemptuously (a woman of loose morals?) referring to the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), set up by Roosevelt in 1938 to help ordinary Americans buy houses. That this once-government (read: socialist), now-privatised organisation was sucked into the Wall Street vortex of sleaze is hardly Donilon’s fault. And is earning millions as a lobbyist for arms producers or Israel, as Cheney and many other Washington politicians did/do, better than working for an agency which at least once-upon-a-time genuinely helped ordinary Americans put roofs over their heads?

“Mr Donilon’s actions at Fannie Mae to undercut meaningful reform precipitated the largest taxpayer-funded bailout in American history. Now President Obama is entrusting him with America’s security,” puffed Senator Richard Shelby. True, Shelby, the senior Republican on the banking committee, was one of the most vocal critics of the 2008 bailout plan, but this protest is just partisan politics. He is a hawk and doesn’t like Donilon’s commitment to rein in the military. Shelby actually helped scuttle Obama’s efforts to better regulate banks and prevent them from using TARP bailout money for their own benefit. He is a dirty pot calling the kettle black.

Donilon has a very difficult agenda, but also a window of opportunity which we can only hope he has the guts to use. He helped formulate Obama’s plan to pull the troops out of Afghanistan by next summer, the condition Obama laid down when the military twisted his arm into allowing their surge in Afghanistan. Donilon “has urged what he calls a ‘rebalancing’ of American foreign policy to rapidly disengage American forces in Iraq and to focus more on China, Iran and other emerging challenges,” reports the New York Times. In the 2009 presidential Afghanistan-Pakistan review, he argued that the US could not engage in “endless war”.

Contrary to wild-eyed critics on left and right, Obama is neither Bush-reincarnate nor the anti-Christ. He is neither Israel’s best friend nor enemy. There are definitely points against Obama: the military budget has kept expanding; he is presiding over a dance of death around the world playing John Philip Souza marches; the US economy continues to shrivel as bankers fill their pockets.

But perhaps the Nobel committee that gave him the Peace Prize wasn’t so far off the mark. He has managed to freeze, if only for a few months, Israeli settlements, the first time in two decades, and has prevented the crazies in the Pentagon and Tel Aviv from launching yet another disastrous war — this time against peaceful Iran. If Obama and Donilon can stare down their military captors and mobilise the majority of Americans who now recognise the neocon war strategy as a horrible failure, he could turn his country back from the abyss.

Donilon replaces 65-year-old General Jones, a well-meaning stuffed shirt who dismissed Obama’s inner circle alternately as waterbugs, the Politburo, and the Mafia, and criticised his successor as being “out of his depth”. It is Jones who was out of his depth, an old Cold Warrior and NATO enthusiast, believer that bombs bring peace.

This appointment is a bold assertion by Obama of his original agenda which could trigger more departures, including that of 67-year-old Defense Secretary and Republican Robert Gates (a parting gift to Obama from Bush) who said that Donilon’s appointment would be a “disaster” according to Bob Woodard’s Obama’s Wars. Donilon is “deeply sceptical” of the military’s chain of command and the feeling is mutual, with many commanders viewing him as a politically-connected dilettante. Of course, Gates loudly told the press, “I have had a very productive and very good working relationship with Tom Donilon, contrary to what you may have read,” which merely confirms his distaste for Donilon.

The appointment does not show Obama as “thin-skinned” or his foreign policy team in “crisis and disarray” as pundit Toby Harnden puts it. While the departures of Emanuel, Axelrod and Summers hint at Israeli distaste for Obama, this move shows he is making a last, valiant stand to leave a legacy that has at least a whiff of peace. The only way to turn his presidency into a two-term historic one is to keep moving forward and keep discarding the neocon parasites that infest Washington.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hayate said on October 14th, 2010 at 8:15am #

    Adjusting the deck chairs on the Titanic…..

    Walberg appears to be going soft on obama.

  2. bozh said on October 14th, 2010 at 10:00am #

    Soft, easy to use weapons have not been yet used in afgh’n as they have been used against japan, vietnam.
    Save, of course, cluster bombs and depleted uranium. The postulated use of such weapons may or may not come; but that they may be used is bad enough.

    I dare say that US wld never agree with the world that it shld control-own just a quarter of it. The bottom line is ownership of all four quarters and all world’s people.
    Actually, the idea of being a ruler of four quarters of earth, arose in akkad.
    So goes out another novelty; that of US being unique in wanting to own the entire flat earth!
    But even we communists want to have ALL OF IT! Why settle for less or for chasmic diff in military-governmental powers!
    I wld never and i wld nuke all fascists who wld thwart it, if i cld; while safely waching it on TV! tnx

  3. Rehmat said on October 14th, 2010 at 10:23am #

    Just another White House facelift to please the Jewish Lobby and fool the Americans.


  4. 3bancan said on October 14th, 2010 at 10:42am #

    “Obama is neither Bush-reincarnate nor the anti-Christ. He is neither Israel’s best friend nor enemy”
    What bullshit!
    “But perhaps the Nobel committee that gave him the Peace Prize wasn’t so far off the mark. He has managed to freeze, if only for a few months, Israeli settlements, the first time in two decades, and has prevented the crazies in the Pentagon and Tel Aviv from launching yet another disastrous war — this time against peaceful Iran. ”
    Yeah, and he has managed to keep the sun rise in the east.
    “The only way to turn his presidency into a two-term historic one is to keep moving forward and keep discarding the neocon parasites that infest Washington.”
    How on earth could the neocon Obama even START to discard a single one “neocon parasite that infests Washington”?!…

  5. teafoe2 said on October 14th, 2010 at 10:58am #

    obama is neither a friend nor an enemy of Isreal: he is an EMPLOYEE of same.

  6. hayate said on October 14th, 2010 at 8:50pm #

    October 13, 2010
    Smaller, Older and Less Prepared
    Where is the Payoff for Huge Pentagon Budget Hikes?


    Since 2001, Congress has given the Pentagon more than $1 trillion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the same period, Congress and the Pentagon have added a second trillion dollars to the nonwar (base) part of the Pentagon budget.

    You’d think all that added money would give us larger forces, a newer hardware inventory and better trained people. Instead, the windfall made our forces smaller, older and less ready to fight.

    A rare few in Congress have begun to notice that more money has bought less defense.

    They portend a major shift in the consensus on defense spending. The coming change is a byproduct of the realization that the Pentagon is an integral part of a federal government with spending that is out of control. The Pentagon and the majority of champions of higher defense budgets in conservative think tanks and Congress are trying to head off the coming cuts with seemingly dramatic, but substantively feeble, initiatives.

    Here are the facts underlying the need for real reforms.

    At $707 billion, the defense budget is today higher than it has ever been since the end of World War II. That statement has been true since 2007; under the Gates plan, it will remain so out to the year 2020 if war spending stays constant.

    This spending level is unrelated to the military threat. During the Cold War, from 1948 to 1990, when we faced the sizeable forces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, annual Pentagon spending averaged $440 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. Today, big spending advocates point to China as the future threat we must prepare for, but if we add the defense budgets of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Cuba together, and then double that sum, the Pentagon still spends substantially more.

    As to the current threat (terrorism), we almost certainly spend more in one day than the terrorists spend in an entire year.

    The size of our defense budget today is not the product of the external threat. It is the result of internal Pentagon dynamics, none of them healthy.

    Since 2000, Congress and presidents have funded the Pentagon with $7 trillion out to the year 2011. Of that amount, $1.3 trillion has been for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Thus, the nonwar parts of the Pentagon budget will have received $5.7 trillion.

    We can calculate what the Pentagon would have received for the same period in the absence of the wars and of any spending above inflation: $4.7 trillion. That means the Pentagon’s “base” budget received a plus-up of almost $1 trillion for 2000-2011.

    What did the Pentagon and Congress do with this trillion-dollar windfall? The Navy budget received an additional $293 billion, 2011 funding increased over 2000 by 44 percent. Yet the size of the Navy’s combat fleet dropped from 318 ships and submarines to 287, a decline of 10 percent.

    This is not a smaller, newer fleet; it is a smaller, older fleet – about four years older, on average, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Is it more ready to fight? Almost certainly not; for the past year, the press has repeatedly reported on severe maintenance problems throughout the fleet, and Navy combat pilot training in the air has remained at historic lows.

    The situation in the Air Force is worse. It received a windfall of $320 billion, an increase of 43 percent. During the same 2000-2011 period, the number of active and reserve fighter and bomber squadrons went from 146 to 72, a decline of 51 percent. Like the Navy, it’s also older on average: According to CBO, it is now about nine years older and at a historic high of about 23 years.

    (Our aircraft are older than our ships.)

    Air Force budget data tell us that fighter pilot air training hours today are only one-half to one-third of what they were in the 1970s, an era not touted for high readiness.

    The so-called good news is from the Army. It received a plus up of $297 billion, a 53 percent increase. The number of brigade combat teams grew from 44 to 46, an increase of 5 percent. A 53 percent increase in money bought a 5 percent increase in combat forces.

    But still, CBO tells us that major Army equipment inventories are mostly older. More ready to fight? In 2006, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings and leaked a memo documenting historic lows in the readiness of active Army units. The analysis has not been publicly updated; we should worry that it has gotten worse, not better.

    In sum, an extra trillion dollars for the Pentagon has been processed into forces that are, with minor exceptions, smaller, older and less ready to fight.

    The defense management leadership in the Pentagon and Congress has squandered a trillion dollars.

    Those who recently have become politically active out of disgust with the mess in Washington should be particularly incensed over the Pentagon’s horrific performance.


  7. efgh1951 said on October 15th, 2010 at 1:39am #

    of course, i’m being wildly optimistic, but there is something very important that no one focuses on — donilon is not a neocon.