Thursday ReadsPosted: January 9, 2014 Filed under: Barack Obama, FBI, Foreign Affairs, morning reads, The Media SUCKS, the villagers, U.S. Military, U.S. Politics | Tags: Afghanistan War, Betty Medsger, COINTELPRO, Doyle McManus, Edward Snowden, Fox News, Gabriel Sherman, George W. Bush, Glenn Greenwald, Iraq War, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe Biden, Robert Gates, Roger Ailes 119 Comments
The Villagers are still nattering on about excepts from retired defense secretary Robert Gates’ new memoir Duty, which will be released on January 14.
The DC media is focused on Gates’ criticisms of President Obama and how they will embarrass the administration and negatively affect Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016. What has impressed me so far in the excepts I have read is that Obama was wary of the military and willing to stand up to them. Some examples from an e-mail I received from Foreign Policy Magazine yesterday:
Gates on what Biden did to poison the military well: “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, every day saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.'”
On Obama’s approach to Afghanistan: “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission.”
On Obama’s approach to Afghanistan: “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”
On Obama and Bush: “During my tenure as secretary, Bush was willing to disagree with his senior military advisers on the wars, including the important divergence between the chiefs’ concern to reduce stress on the force and the presidents’ higher priority of success in Iraq. However, Bush never (at least to my knowledge) questioned their motives or mistrusted them personally. Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations. Bush seemed to enjoy the company of the senior military; I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation.”
On Obama as an ice man: “I worked for Obama longer than Bush and I never saw his eyes well up. The only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the law prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military that Obama successfully pushed to repeal.”
On an oval office meeting that deeply pissed him off: “…Donilon was especially aggressive in questioning our commitment to speed and complaining about how long we were taking. Then he went too far, questioning in front of the president and a room full of people whether Gen. Fraser was competent to lead this effort. I’ve rarely been angrier in the Oval Office than I was at that moment; nor was I ever closer to walking out of that historic room in the middle of a meeting. My initial instinct was to storm out, telling the president on the way that he didn’t need two secretaries of defense. It took every bit of my self discipline to stay seated on the sofa.
Every one of those quotes made me like and respect Obama and Biden more. I’m sure I’m not alone in that reaction.
A couple more “criticisms” quoted in The Atlantic: Robert Gates: The Iraq War Undermined U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan.
President Bush always detested the notion, but our later challenges in Afghanistan—especially the return of the Taliban in force by the time I reported for duty—were, I believe, significantly compounded by the invasion of Iraq. Resources and senior-level attention were diverted from Afghanistan. U.S. goals in Afghanistan—a properly sized, competent Afghan national army and police, a working democracy with at least a minimally effective and less corrupt central government—were embarrassingly ambitious and historically naive compared with the meager human and financial resources committed to the task, at least before 2009.
Who doesn’t agree with that? Well, sure some right wing nut jobs, but the majority of Americans have completely soured on the Iraq war, according to many polls over the past few years.
Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of. Those who ask about exit strategies or question what will happen if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers are demanding that we strike—as they did when advocating invading Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iran’s nuclear sites. But in recent decades, presidents confronted with tough problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun. Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents. Today, too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort.
So Obama’s approach might have kept us out of Iraq, right? I don’t see that as a problem. I want my president to be wary of the military and hesitant to go to war. I want my president to get teary-eyed over granting rights to people who have been historically discriminated against and stay dry-eyed and rational when contemplating “military matters.”
So let Gates have his day in the sun. Today some in the media are already questioning whether his book may damage his reputation. From Foreign Policy again: Did Bob Gates’ New Book Just Trash His Golden Reputation?
Gates, 70, has unmasked himself as just another former Washington official writing just another kiss-and-tell in the soon-to-be-released Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, in which he takes shots at a sitting commander-in-chief, his top aides and Congress, an institution with which he often expressed frustration – but also respect. Gates was known for being discreet and sharp-minded, loyal to the office he occupied and careful about what he said in public. So deliberate were his public pronouncements about wars or national security policy or budgets that he became the E.F. Hutton of the Pentagon — everyone leaned in every time he had something to say.
But now his brand seems diminished by the scrappy, petty nature of many of his criticisms — even though some are substantive and legitimate — and a legacy he seemed quietly determined to protect may be permanently reduced to something less than what it once was.
We’ll have to wait and see. It’s also possible that the furor over Gates’ memoir will fade quickly, because another book is coming out on January 21, and it looks to be a lot more entertaining–the tell-all book about Fox News’ Roger Ailes, The Loudest Voice in the Room, by Gabriel Sherman. Excerpts started leaking out yesterday and they are wild! Check these “key revelations” from Gawker:
- During a salary negotiation in the 1980’s, Ailes offered producer Randi Harrison an additional $100 each week she would agree to have sex with him whenever he wanted.
- He also privately thinks of Bill O’Reilly as “a book salesman with a TV show” and Brian Kilmeade as “a soccer coach from Long Island.”
- During a 1990’s power struggle with NBC executive David Zaslav, Ailes was accused of making an anti-Semitic remark involving an obscenity and “the words ‘little’ and ‘Jew’.” NBC’s chairman and counsel believe “he probably said it.”
New York Magazine has published a lengthy except from Sherman’s book and it is the most fascinating and horrifying thing I’ve read in ages. Ailes is far weirder than I ever imagined. The article opens with a description of how Ailes moved into a rural town in upstate New York, hoping to return to his small-town roots, but instead bought the local newspaper and tried to transform it into a mini-Fox News. It’s a riot! Just a small except to whet your appetite for the bizarre:
As summer turned to fall, political issues began to arise. Alison Rooney, the copy editor, at first found reasons to be optimistic about the ownership change. She liked using the new computers to put out the paper and looked forward to the newsroom moving into a renovated two-story building on Main Street. But that honeymoon ended when Rooney laid out a press release from the Garrison Art Center that described a work invoking the “mythological story” of the Virgin Birth. After the release was published, the priest of Our Lady of Loretto wrote a letter to the editor, and Beth Ailes lit into Rooney. A few weeks later, Rooney got another dressing-down as she formatted a promotion of the high school’s upcoming production of Urinetown, this time from an editor who found the language offensive and removed the title of the show from the headline.
Another drama erupted after a reporter named Michael Turton was assigned to cover Haldane Middle School’s mock presidential election. After the event, Turton filed a report headlined “Mock Election Generated Excitement at Haldane; Obama Defeats McCain by 2–1 Margin.” He went on, “The 2008 U.S. presidential election is now history. And when the votes were tallied, Barack Obama had defeated John McCain by more than a two to one margin. The final vote count was 128 to 53.” Reading the published version a few days later, Turton was shocked. The headline had been changed: “Mock Presidential Election Held at Haldane; Middle School Students Vote to Learn Civic Responsibility.” So had the opening paragraph: “Haldane students in grades 6 through 8 were entitled to vote for president and they did so with great enthusiasm.” Obama’s margin of victory was struck from the article. His win was buried in the last paragraph.
Turton was upset, and wrote a questioning e-mail to Hunt, but never heard back. Instead, he received a series of accusatory e-mails from the Aileses. Turton had disregarded “specific instructions” for the piece, Beth wrote. “Do you anticipate this becoming an ongoing problem for you?” A short while later, Roger weighed in. Maureen Hunt’s instructions to focus on the school’s process for teaching about elections had been “very clear,” he wrote, and Turton’s “desire to change the story into a big Obama win” should have taken a backseat. Ailes described himself as “disappointed” by Turton’s failure “to follow the agreed upon direction.”
Soon afterward, Turton learned that Maureen Hunt had resigned, and Ailes continued his quest to bring “fair and balanced” to Philipstown.
Since I’ve been discussing new books so far, I guess I might as well continue. On Tuesday, The New York Times published interviews with some of the activists who broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania on March 8, 1971 and stole a massive number of files. They took the files to a remote location, studied them for ten days, and found evidence of the illegal FBI domestic spying program COINTELPRO. Unlike Edward Snowden, the burglars swore to keep their identities a secret so that the story itself would get all the public attention. From the Times article:
They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups….
The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation. They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J. Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.
“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the F.B.I. was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” said one of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement. “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”
That’s heroism in my book. They revealed real government abuses that had been almost unknown until they found the proof. Now one of the reporters who helped get the story out, Betty Medsger, has written a book called The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. It came out this week, and I’m dying to read it.
By contrast Snowden and his PR man Glenn Greenwald have so far revealed very little that we didn’t already know or suspect about NSA domestic spying and have spent most of the seven months since they began rolling out their revelations 1) publishing articles about the NSA spying on foreign countries and their partnerships with foreign countries who have few espionage resources; 2) giving self-aggrandizing interviews and bragging about all the secrets they have; 3) Defending Snowden’s decision to defect to Russia. At the same time Greenwald has sold book and movie rights and worked on a media start up funded by libertarian E-bay and Paypal billionaire Pierre Omidyar. I haven’t heard anything about Greenwald sharing his earnings with Edward Snowden either.
Fortunately some in the media are beginning to point out inconsistencies in Snowden’s and Greenwald’s behavior. Here is an op-ed by Doyle McManus that lays out the case very well. Edward Snowden, in shades of gray I agree with just about everything he wrote.
Is Edward Snowden” Edward Snowden a whistle-blower or a traitor?
Debate over the renegade computer technician who leaked thousands of secret National Security Agency documents is too often reduced to that deceptively simple choice.
But it’s the wrong way to pose the question, because Snowden is both of those things at the same time. Yes, he’s a whistle-blower, and if that were all he had done, he would deserve our thanks for forcing a debate over the NSA’s swollen powers.
But he’s also a scoundrel who deserves prosecution and public condemnation. That’s because his leaks no longer seem focused on protecting U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights or toughening safeguards on the NSA. Instead, Snowden’s disclosures have expanded far beyond those laudable aims to exposing U.S. intelligence-gathering operations that appear not only legal but legitimate in the eyes of most Americans.
McManus is referring to revelations about the NSA doing it’s job, which is gathering foreign intelligence to protect national security. A little more:
“…most of those disclosures, from Merkel to Al Qaeda, have nothing to do with Americans’ right to privacy. Snowden has acknowledged that his ambitions go far beyond limiting what the NSA can do at home. “I have acted at great personal risk to help the public of the world, regardless of whether that public is American, European or Asian,” he told the Guardian in June.
Well, OK. But that makes him, by his own description, a global crusader against NSA spying anywhere, not merely a whistle-blower against potential abuses inside the United States. It means some of his disclosures have made Americans safer against government prying, but others have probably made us less safe.
And for a man who proclaims himself a fighter for universal rights, accepting asylum in Russia and praising his hosts for their devotion to freedom does not strengthen his claim to consistency, let alone nobility.