Guest Note by Lawrence Wilkerson: Damned if You Do and Damned If You Don’t


afghanistan soldiers.jpgThis is a guest note by former Department of State Chief of Staff Lawrence B. Wilkerson. Wilkerson is the Pamela C. Harriman Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William Mary
Damned if You Do and Damned If You Don’t
President Obama is in a corner.
He is there because of things he did and things others did and are doing, and because of realities he cannot escape.
The decision he will announce tonight is not based on militarily strategic thinking. It can’t be because if it were the minimum number of additional troops he would be sending to Afghanistan would be a quarter million.
That’s using a “Ken Shinseki” template, i.e., looking at the formidable terrain, the population size and composition, the sheer size of the country, and the seven years of under-resourcing and neglect, and estimating the number of troops to, under the present circumstances, carry out a counterinsurgency campaign with at least a 50-50 chance of success in a 5-10 year time frame.
The arsenal is just about empty.
Given U.S. force deployments in Iraq, Korea, Europe, and elsewhere, plus Secretary Gates’ commitment to increase time between troop rotations and the overall stress already felt by the Army and Marine Corps, there simply are not sufficient land forces left in the U.S. arsenal. So the President is going with a little less than what does remain.
Moreover, the decision will be made partly because of the President’s own campaign promises, i.e., to focus on the war in Afghanistan rather than the war in Iraq, reversing the emphasis of the administration from which he inherited both wars, badly waged.
The decision will be made too because the President’s generals-in-the-field–principally Generals Petraeus and McChrystal–have contributed to his being cornered. Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen have added their bureaucratic weight as well.
McChrystal was ingenious enough to make his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan so dismal that it colors him innocent regardless of whether he fails in Afghanistan–the clear likelihood–or succeeds.
Petraeus too has kept a foot in both camps, being simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic.
The Generals artfully ensnared their Commander-in-Chief.
Furthermore, no Democrat wishing to stay in the Oval Office can show ankle on a national security issue without incurring the wrath of the Limbaugh-led opposition party, without risking the mid-term elections, and without adding to the image of a feckless political party when it comes to that all-important issue, national security.
Adding, I am certain, immeasurably to the President’s woes, is the fact that he is sitting atop a nearly bankrupt republic. He inherited two wars that were paid for–indeed are still paid for–to the tune of a couple of trillion dollars by largely the Japanese and the Chinese backing American debt. He hasn’t even been able to return the dissemination of those borrowed dollars to the standard process, i.e., to the oversight of properly appropriated funds. Supplemental spending is still being used.
Next year, as state tax revenues plummet even further, as real unemployment approaches 20%, as more foreclosures rock the housing market, as empty commercial real estate sprouts more and more “for lease” signs, and as increasing numbers of foreigners register their deep concern about the dollar, the President will be trapped and, like his predecessor–and very decent man–Herbert Hoover, probably be unable to extricate himself from one-term doomsday.
So, tonight’s decision is made on a wing-and-a-prayer.
My academic field is presidential decision-making, particularly from Harry Truman to Barak Obama.
In that short history, there have never been, in combination, similar circumstances to those I’ve described above. A few aspects are repetitive. Harry Truman had to rid himself of a politically-motivated general-in-the-field when he fired Douglas MacArthur. John Kennedy promised to handle Cuba if he were elected over Richard Nixon, only to have to “handle” Cuba with the Bay of Pigs.
Lyndon Johnson had to make a decision to escalate in Vietnam when it was likely that every bone in his body told him to get out. But there has not been a case where all the circumstances described above impacted a president’s decision-making at one time and, clearly, never has the U.S. been in such fiscal straits as it is in now–and faced them without the incredible productive capacity that it possessed in 1929 and that, with the advent of WWII, was able to “produce” the nation out of ruinous financial circumstances and, stunningly and simultaneously, offset staggering war debt.
All this to say that I understand the political circumstances that are compelling our President to the decision he will announce tonight–as much as any academic could understand them, at any rate.
If you are a praying person, he needs your prayers and support. If you are not, he needs your support. Because all of us Americans put him where he is–and I do not mean by votes.
We–all of us–let George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney set us up. Moreover, we all contributed to creating the perilous fiscal state that is now a more dangerous threat to our country than any terrorist could ever hope to be.
— Lawrence B. Wilkerson


16 comments on “Guest Note by Lawrence Wilkerson: Damned if You Do and Damned If You Don’t

  1. Eli Rabett says:

    Wilkerson, name seems familiar. Oh yeah, used to be Chief of Staff or something like that when we invaded Iraq.
    Sorry, WE didn’t make this mess nearly as much as Larry did and as much as Eli agrees with the message, the messenger is very hard to swallow.
    Frankly, the Romans had bathtubs for mess ups of this quality and the Roman Catholics have monasteries. It’s never too late to set a good example.


  2. Robert Morrow says:

    Lyndon Johnson told them in 1964, boys, if you elect me I will give you your war! Of course, that was AFTER Lyndon Johnson and the CIA murdered John Kennedy who was going to get us OUT of Vietnam. And they had Hoover of FBI cover it up.
    George Herbert Walker Bush Murdered
    John F. Kennedy
    George Herbert Walker Bush has NOT lived an honorable life. CIA man George H.W. Bush 1) helped to MURDER John F. Kennedy 2) was involved with his SON JEB in gargantuan cocaine DRUG SMUGGLING in the 1980’s 3) used Pegasus unit CIA ASSASSINS to criminally intimidate/ TERRORIZE Ross Perot to withdraw from the 1992 campaign. In a nutshell, the Ugly Truth is that George Herbert Walker Bush’s life has been one of a murdering, drug dealing, CIA terrorist.
    From Defrauding America, Rodney Stich, 3rd edition 1998 p. 638-639]:
    “The Role of deep-cover CIA officer, Trenton Parker, has been described in earlier pages, and his function in the CIA’s counter-intelligence unit, Pegasus. Parker had stated to me earlier that a CIA faction was responsible for the murder of JFK … During an August 21, 1993, conversation, in response to my questions, Parker said that his Pegasus group had tape recordings of plans to assassinate Kennedy. I asked him, “What group were these tapes identifying?” Parker replied: “Rockefeller, Allen Dulles, JOHNSON of Texas, GEORGE BUSH, and J. Edgar Hoover.” I asked, “What was the nature of the conversation on these tapes?”
    I don’t have the tapes now, because all the tape recordings were turned over to [Congressman] Larry McDonald. But I listened to the tape recordings and there were conversations between Rockefeller, [J. Edgar] Hoover, where [Nelson] Rockefeller asks, “Are we going to have any problems?” And he said, “No, we aren’t going to have any problems. I checked with Dulles. If they do their job we’ll do our job.” There are a whole bunch of tapes, because Hoover didn’t realize that his phone has been tapped. Defrauding America, Rodney Stich, p. 638-639]:
    In order to understand the JFK assassination, you have to understand the criminality of Lyndon Johnson BEFORE the JFK murder and the criminality of George Herbert Walker Bush AFTER the JFK murder. Lyndon Johnson: in addition to stealing the 1948 Senate election with vote fraud, LBJ also made a career of taking $$ millions in bribes. Lesser known is that LBJ had a hit man named Malcolm Wallace who would kill people who could have gotten LBJ indicted, thrown in jail or endangered his political career. Billie Sol Estes fingers LBJ, his top aide Cliff Carter, & Malcolm Wallace in the murders of Henry Marshall, JOHN F. KENNEDY and 6 others. Go to this web page to read about who LBJ murdered: . Lyndon Johnson was one sick, evil son of a bitch who would do anything to get ahead, including murdering John F. Kennedy.
    In Nov. ’63, LBJ was a dangerous, cornered animal. He was about to be dropped from the 1964 Demo ticket and he was possibly headed to JAIL because of the Bobby Baker scandal. LBJ and the CIA murdered JFK, with the equally corrupt LBJ friend Hoover of the FBI in charge of covering it up.
    Six weeks after the murder of JFK, on 1/1/64 LBJ’s beloved mistress Madeleine Duncan Brown asked LBJ who killed JFK. She says LBJ got angry, hopped out of bed and started pacing and waving his arms; then Lyndon Johnson said, “It was Texas oil and those fucking renegade intelligence bastards in Washington!” [Texas in the Morning, Madeleine Brown, p.189] In other words: the CIA (Bush), LBJ’s biggest campaign contributors (Texas oil) and closest friends murdered John F. Kennedy.
    George Herbert Walker Bush:
    “Fucking Renegade Intelligence Bastard”
    George H.W. Bush, despite his lies, has been CIA for a very LONG TIME. Bush helped organize the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April of 1961. The Bush family had lost a LOT of money because of Castro. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the CIA and the anti-Castro Cubans hated JFK as much as they hated Fidel Castro. Eventually LBJ, the CIA and George Bush would use this hate to murder JFK.
    Read this web page: covering GHW Bush’s very probable involvement in the killing of JFK. Google 1) “JFK II – The Bush Connection.” (video) 2) “Tom Flocco George Bush photo” 3) Google the “Nixon-Bush Connection to the Kennedy Assassination” by Paul Kangas.
    During Watergate one of Nixon’s aides mentioned that he had spoken to George H.W. Bush about the “Bay of the Pigs” thing. Nixon asked what was Bush’s response? The aide said that George H.W. Bush “broke out in assholes and then shitted all over himself.” Haldeman said that “the Bay of Pigs thing” were Nixon’s code words for the JFK assassination. George H.W. Bush has the blood of JFK all over his hands and he might shit all over himself if YOU ever find out the Ugly Truth about his murderous ways.
    George Bush has a long criminal career of massive CIA DRUG SMUGGLING. Google the video: “Mena Connection: Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA, Drug smuggling”
    Barry Seal was a CIA asset and legendary drug smuggler. It is very likely that VP George H.W. Bush, his son JEB BUSH and Ollie North MURDERED Barry Seal in 1986. Barry Seal was about to spill the beans in court about GHW Bush’s criminal drug involvement. You can read about it in Al Martin’s book The Conspirators: Secrets of an Iran-Contra Insider. Here are some good web links:
    1) 2) Google “Barry Seal Spartacus.”
    George Herbert Walker Bush used CIA Pegasus unit
    Assassins to Terrorize Ross Perot in the 1992 campaign
    Google “Chip Tatum Pegasus” for the Ugly Truth about Bush
    George H.W. Bush is a career criminal with a lot of dirty, evil secrets to hide. Ross Perot, while he was hunting for US POWs in Asia, came across clear evidence of US CIA heroin smuggling from Burma. This is in addition to the HUGE amounts of cocaine that Bush/Clinton/CIA/Jeb Bush/Oliver North were bringing in from Central America. Google “Bo Gritz letter to George Bush.” GHW Bush was very scared of what might happen to him if a hard ass like Perot ever became president. Bush was giving his CIA assassins the green light to murder/terrorize Ross Perot. George H.W. Bush said: “you are authorized to use whatever means necessary to recover said documents and insure that this criminal [Ross Perot] is brought to justice. You are authorized to exceed existing regulations and FTM’s to accomplish this mission. If loss of life occurs as a result of the performance of your duties, you shall be exempt and protected from prosecution.” [Chip Tatum, Pegasus Files – Google it!]
    George Herbert Walker Bush, like Lyndon Johnson, is one sick, evil son of a bitch who will do anything to get ahead, including MURDERING John F. Kennedy, Barry Seal, almost Ross Perot and God knows who else.
    One more thing: Nelly Patterson Webb, one of the sex abuse victims of the infamous 1980’s Omaha pedophile ring says she saw GHW Bush leave one of ultra pervert Larry King’s parties with a young black man she called “Brandt.” [The Franklin Cover-Up: Child Abuse, Satanism, and Murder in Nebraska, John DeCamp, p. 176, Chapter 13]. Google “Bush Child Sex Cover Up”.


  3. Bill P says:

    Damned by the military-industrial complex, the liars, the criminal gang, the war-criminals, the thieves, on the one hand.
    Damned by God, law, morality & the common people on the other hand.
    Which would you choose?


  4. samuelburke says:

    “Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but if he allows
    himself to be bullied into supporting McChrystal’s foray into
    Afghanistan, he will reveal himself as the worst kind of
    warmonger. True, he didn’t invent the Afghan quagmire. That
    honor resides with George W. Bush, who also is to blame for the
    American fiasco in Iraq. But history will be surprisingly gentle
    toward America’s 43rd president. Bush will share the blame for
    his calamitous military decisions with the mistaken policies of
    previous administrations, a compliant Congress, headstrong
    advisers, servile intelligence agencies and, of course, the shock
    of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush will be seen more as a
    useful idiot than a ruthless ideologue. Obama, with his obvious
    intelligence, soaring rhetorical skills and Nobel credentials, does
    not readily fit such a characterization. If he decides to reinforce
    failure in Afghanistan by dispatching tens of thousands more
    American troops to that disaster, America’s 44th president will
    cement himself as a grand fraud, a hawk hiding in dove
    feathers. Given his potential for doing good, one clearly would
    not want such a scenario to play out.
    The president’s lack of military experience screams out when he
    calls America’s involvement in Afghanistan a “good war.” He
    would have been better off trying to make the case for a
    justifiable war, or even a necessary war, but to label a process
    that brings about the death and injury of thousands as “good”
    makes me wonder about Obama’s fitness to be commander in
    chief. His seeming inexperience on national security affairs and
    foreign policy leave him vulnerable to domestic political
    pressures that emanate from these arenas. The president does
    possess the vision to see a world in which America stands side
    by side with other nations as an equal, operating with a shared
    notion of due process and respect for the rule of law, but that
    doesn’t square with any decision to deploy more troops to
    Afghanistan. Expanding the war in Afghanistan will lend
    credence to the central worry about Obama: that, at the end of
    the day, this man of vision might in fact be little more than an
    Illinois politician who is willing to barter away American life,
    treasure and good will for political gain on the domestic front.
    And, in doing so, it will undermine his noble vision of an
    America “resetting” its relationship with the world following
    eight years of unilateralist militarism.”


  5. James says:

    Representative Grijalva of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Obama’s Afghan quagmire address at West Point (good call at 19 minutes and 25 seconds into segment)


  6. John Waring says:

    Thank you, Colonel, for your willingness to look reality in the face.
    The rest of us seem to have lost that ability.
    We need to cut our losses in Iraq and Afghanistan and husband the resources we have left.
    Afghanistan is a waste of good infantry.
    We need to concentrate on rebuilding our economy.
    This escalation has a small chance of success. But it has a large chance of wrecking the domestic reforms we need so badly.


  7. Mr.Murder says:

    1)Pay as you go via tax raise.
    2)Implement draft.
    Now we can fight forever!


  8. jon says:

    Well said. I would suggest, however, that Obama’s surge will
    last through the mid-term elections, and then he will start a
    series of phased withdrawals from Afghanistan, trying to salvage
    the best outcome possible for the Afghans, and for US position
    and interests. He will run for reelection as the guy who brought
    our troops home from two wars.
    Your limning of the financial peril we face is a bit overdrawn. No
    one likes the deficits, but they can be managed. The politics of
    the deficit is another matter. I never heard a peep about that
    when W was sitting on his throne, mainly we heard that deficits
    didn’t matter, and a new reality was being constructed. If the
    financial world can avoid having its ‘creativity’ bring us to the
    brink of destruction again, we should have the economy picking
    up steam and unemployment reduced by a third to a half next
    year. Not perfect, but it may actually outperform Reagan’s
    morning in America legerdemain.


  9. Ian Kaplan says:

    “We’re all going to die!”
    Wow, what a bleak essay. We’re doomed to fail in Afghanistan, we’re bankrupt, the economy is hopeless and Obama will be replaced by a Republican in 2012. Perhaps now is the time to take the Roman way out and slit our wrists in a warm bath to avoid further agony.
    Maybe things are just as bleak as Col. Wilkerson writes. They certainly are not wonderful. As he notes, Obama is a prisoner of the disasters he inherited from the Bush administration and his own mistakes (particularly in his appointment at Treasury). But really there must be hope somewhere, some ray of sunshine in such a bleak landscape. Even with the problems that beset us, I’m not ready to give up and hide in the bunker yet.


  10. MarkL says:

    Only one goal is worth any more effort in the region: stopping a nuclear terrorist attack.
    Is that what is going on? Is there a real risk that terrorists are going to get nukes in Pakistan?
    If that is not the President’s aim, then the whole exercise is a waste of time, money and blood.


  11. erichwwk says:

    nadine writes:
    “sam, so $30 billion for Afghanistan will bankrupt us, but $2 Trillion for Obamacare – on top of the $2 Trillion Federal deficit we’re running this year – that’s fine and dandy?
    Liberal math is weird.”
    Say what??????
    Some comments on nadine’s “math”.
    1. She morphs Sam’s ANNUAL expenditure figure of $200B/year into a $30 billion year figure.
    2. She compares that annual figure with a TEN YEAR expenditure on health care.
    Were she intellectually honest, she would be comparing flow figures of comparable magnitude.
    But worse, she implies that it is the MAGNITUDE of FLOW figures that are relevant, rather than the contributions they make to STATES. Small investments that are dry holes contribute to bankruptcies. Large investments that yield wet holes do not.
    In that sense, I (and I believe sam?) assert that much of the expenditures on the military yield dry holes, where as the expenditures on health care yield wet holes. Big difference.
    The figures I would use, avoiding the words “weird” and “liberal”, that I assert are words that are substitutes for meaningful discussion that strives to raise the level of understanding, being words generally chosen to “win” an argument, and obfuscate meaningful discussion.
    Using Cato Institute figures of military spending (which I and Stiglitiz and Linda Blimes assert are understated but ones I hope Nadine won’t claim as “liberal”), the per capita expenditure on the military is $2,700/ capita in the U.S. and under $100/capita in China. In a family context (which I assert is the more meaningful aggravate) this would equate to $10,800/year/family in the U.S. and under $400/year/family in China.
    Again I assert much of that $10,800/year/family is investment in a dry hole, akin to a firm spending its revenue on alcohol, drugs, digging holes and filling them in, activities that do not contribute to improved future states. China, on the other hand, invests in manufacturing capital, transportation and communication infrastructure that clearly contribute to improved future states. In terms of growth rates, this translates to a negative growth rate in the U.S., and a growth rate approaching double digits in China.
    One has only to look at Shanghai’s skyline, at the 4,000 new skyscrapers (2x that of NYC) or the 1,000 under construction to see the difference resulting from the differing investment policies.
    In the U.S. we have essentially become a rotting military empire, worshiping the a perverted concept of “Capitalism” (Yes, I am a big fan of capitalism as described by Adam Smith, but not the form of Ayn Rand- there is a HUGE difference).
    Like another recent rotted military state, we offer words “we have the best health care, education, business infrastructure in the world” rather than the real thing. In short, just as denial of private property and markets sunk the former Soviet Union, so the denial of public and common property (everyone get the message with the recent Stockholm picks?) and governmental decision making is just as surely sinking the U.S.
    Meanwhile China, married more to the science and the real world, picks the best of both, and hums along, as do the northern Scandanavian countries, also selecting on the basis of “what works” between public, common, and private goods.
    In 1953, in Prabhavananda’s 2000 year old translation of Pantanjali’s aphorisms on “How to Know God”, he explains Sutra 9- “Verbal delusions arise when words to not respond to reality” – this way:
    “A common form of verbal delusion is jumping to conclusions. We hear somebody speaking and form a hasty and inaccurate picture of his meaning. In political speeches one finds a double verbal delusion: the speaker believes that his words correspond to one reality, and the audience attaches them to another – and both are wrong.
    Such expressions as “the spirit of democracy,” “the American way of life” and so forth, bear rich crops of verbal delusion every year, in the newspapers and over radio”.
    (and now that we have television and the internet, i am sure Prabhavananda would included those media forms as well).
    “I don’t care if it is a black cat or a white cat. It is a good cat so long as it catches mice.” – Deng Xiaoping


  12. nadine says:

    sam, so $30 billion for Afghanistan will bankrupt us, but $2 Trillion for Obamacare – on top of the $2 Trillion Federal deficit we’re running this year – that’s fine and dandy?
    Liberal math is weird.


  13. nadine says:

    “e was very savvy in calling for an escalation in Afghanistan, and drawing down in Iraq. Democrats are looked upon as weak push-overs, and here Obama could convince the chest-pounders that he was one of them, but that he would do this intelligently not irrationally.” (JA)
    You say “intelligently,” I say “cynically”. At any rate, Obama painted himself into this corner. Had he not gone on and on about how Afghanistan was “the good war”, “a war of necessity” etc he could have pulled out now. Instead he has given McCrystal just enough forces, for just long enough to lose over 18 months instead of right away.


  14. samuelburke says:

    just plain damned.
    Thus the real cost of Afghanistan and Iraq are much higher than
    $200 billion annually. Yet President Obama, heedless of such
    costs, appears determined to expand the Afghan War. It seems
    clear that Obama has fallen increasingly under the influence of
    America’s powerful military-industrial-financial complex and
    neoconservative war party. In short, the same calculus of forces
    that guided the Bush administration.
    Even America’s mighty economy cannot for long support waging
    wars across the Muslim world. Unaffordable wars have been the
    ruin of many an empire, and the American Raj seems headed in
    the same direction as Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama
    plunges ever deeper into the Afghan quagmire.


  15. JA says:

    I like some of this article, but I do have a few points. First, while Americans do deserve some blame as a collective whole for the actions of their political leaders, it is certainly the case that many of us opposed the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the escalation, the erosion of civil liberties, etc. that has put us in this position.
    Hopefully what will happen (and by hopefully I have virtually no hope) is that people will come to truly understand the entaglements, the paradoxes, the lack of good choices that war entails. And I don’t mean this in the pithy throwaway manner that so many express. I mean that people are exposed to the brutality of every single live lost, that they understand the damage to our very own soldiers (practically still kids many of them), that they understand the economic cost (not just the price tag of how much the government has set aside) but what it does to other sectors. I want people to internalize that along with war comes the ability of government to give itself power and take liberties away from its citizens. There are so many more issues but I’m afraid that people are immune to the costs, that they will think they’ll have it all figured out the next time we want to start a war.
    What are we protecting? Our citizens safety? Well, it’s come at the price of thousands of our citizens death anyway, billions of dollars spent, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of just as innocent, good, and hard-working people as Americans like to see themselves. All because we needed vengeance after the truly horrible events of eight years ago.
    Obama has external pressures yes, but let’s not feel sorry for him for his own mistakes. He was very savvy in calling for an escalation in Afghanistan, and drawing down in Iraq. Democrats are looked upon as weak push-overs, and here Obama could convince the chest-pounders that he was one of them, but that he would do this intelligently not irrationally. Just as dedicated to the use of force as many of our fellow citizens. If this was dishonest representation of his ideals, then it was a cheap way of gaining the presidency. We shouldn’t pity him for snake-like calculations. McChrystal is his own hand-picked employee, as far as I know, America as a whole never chose him to be in this position. Now that Obama is having problems with McChrystal’s grandstanding is again a result of his own actions.
    What Americans should do is not rationalize Obama’s choices. I believe this is a problem with many intelligent people I’ve met, with many in the media that I read. When Obama creates a multi-tiered system for justice against alleged terrorists… one that is against the legal and moral foundations of this country we shouldn’t applaud his pragmatism, we shouldn’t marvel at how tough it was for him deftly handle the lunatics on one side and justice on the other. We should be the fire under his feet compelling him to the right choice.
    A lot of Democrats are disappointed because the sheen of the campaign rhetoric has worn off. Well Obama still at heart isn’t really that different from you, it’s just he’s not as much a progressive as he falsely presented himself. If you want to see your vision of America in place then keep shouting till he hears you.


  16. nadine says:

    Launching a campaign while announcing exit dates and wearing green eyeshades over the cost is like launching a boat with one foot in the boat and one foot still on the pier. Straddles at such times lead to predictably bad results.
    All the Taliban need say to the Afghans is “The Americans are going to leave. We’ll be back!”


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