Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another play from the instruction manual Tyranny for Dummies: The Purge of the Officer Corps.

Previously, students, we have examined predictable gambits from the playbook of tyranny, such as the Manufactured Outrage (Reichstag Fire, Oklahoma City Bombing, Beslan School Massacre) and the Demonstration of Terror to Overawe the Subject Population (Waco, Kristallnacht). Today, boys and girls, we shall deal with another play that every tyrant must make before he sits secure on his bloody throne -- the Purge of the Officer Corps. Before we delve into history for context, however, you must first read the following materials from the present day.

First came this story in the Washington Post. A smippet:

McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'

Top U.S. Commander For Afghan War Calls Next 12 Months Decisive

By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, September 21, 2009

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

McChrystal concludes the document's five-page Commander's Summary on a note of muted optimism: "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."

But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.

He provides extensive new details about the Taliban insurgency, which he calls a muscular and sophisticated enemy that uses modern propaganda and systematically reaches into Afghanistan's prisons to recruit members and even plan operations.

McChrystal's assessment is one of several options the White House is considering.

His plan could intensify a national debate in which leading Democratic lawmakers have expressed reluctance about committing more troops to an increasingly unpopular war. Obama said last week that he will not decide whether to send more troops until he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."

Then came this analysis piece by Michael Crowley at The New Republic:

Obama vs the Generals?

Michael Crowley

September 21, 2009

This morning's Washington Post's account of Stanley McChrystal's Afghanistan review isn't very surprising. We already knew that McChrystal sees the Taliban as a formidable enemy and thinks the U.S. needs an ambitious coutinerinsurgency to succeed.

What is striking is the back-and-forth, by means of background quotes, between the White House and the Pentagon in the Post's accompanying analysis piece. In the wake of the tainted Afghan elections, Barack Obama sounds increasingly wary about a major escalation in America's support for a government widely seen as illegitimate (not to mention corrupt). Important people in the White House, including Joe Biden, understand that you can't wage a winning counterinsurgency on behalf of a broadly distrusted government. (For more on Biden see my print story this week, not yet online). But the military establishment obviously wants to proceed, and is increasinly relying on press leaks to pressure the Obama team to deliver the boots. Here's the most vivid example from the Post:

But Obama's deliberative pace -- he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal's report so far -- is a source of growing consternation within the military. "Either accept the assessment or correct it, or let's have a discussion," one Pentagon official said. "Will you read it and tell us what you think?" Within the military, this official said, "there is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration."

And from the White House, we get this irritated retort:

The president, one adviser said, is "taking a very deliberate, rational approach, starting at the top" of what he called a "logic chain" that begins with setting objectives, followed by determining a methodology to achieve them. Only when the first two steps are completed, he said, can the third step -- a determination of resources -- be taken.

"Who's to say we need more troops?" this official said. "McChrystal is not responsible for assessing how we're doing against al-Qaeda."

It's an awfully uncomfortable spot for Obama to be in. During the campaign he spoke often--albeit usually in the context of Iraq--about heeding the advice of his commanders on the ground. Now he's in a position where he may not want to accept it.

As I wrote in my last print piece, this line of thinking helped George W. Bush screw up Iraq. That said, what the generals want is not the only consideration here. Their job is to tell Obama how the war can be won. Obama's job is to decide whether, in the context of America's myriad priorities at home and abroad, it's worth the projected cost.

Obama on the spot, eh? Not necessarily. Now let us finish with this piece of what seems like arcane but interesting inside political baseball by Ben Smith at Politico.com, but isn't really.

A D.C. whodunit: Who leaked and why?

BEN SMITH | 9/22/09 4:51 AM EDT

Bob Woodward’s Monday-morning exclusive on a 66-page report from Gen. Stanley McChrystal to President Barack Obama about Afghanistan policy was a rite of passage for the new administration: the first major national security leak and a sure sign that the celebrated Washington Post reporter has penetrated yet another administration.

White House officials greeted the leak with a grimace, but none suggested they’d begin a witch hunt for the leaker. Woodward is famous for his access to the principals themselves — he recently traveled to Afghanistan with National Security Adviser James Jones — and leak hunters couldn’t expect with confidence that they’d find themselves disciplining just an undisciplined junior staffer.

But inside the White House and out, the leak touched off another familiar Washington ritual: speculation about the leaker’s identity and motives.

This is a capital parlor game that, for the Obama administration, has some dire implications. Unless the West Wing somehow orchestrated an elaborate head fake — authorizing what looks at first blush like an intolerable breach of Obama’s internal deliberations — the Woodward story suggests deeper problems for a new president than a bad news cycle.

Woodward — like other reporters, only more so — tends to shake loose information when he can exploit policy conflicts within an administration. There is now a big one over a critical national security decision, along with evidence that some people who ostensibly work for Obama feel they can pressure him with impunity. It took several years within former President George W. Bush’s administration before deep personal and policy fissures became visible.

So who did it?

The simplest theory — and one most administration officials Monday were endorsing — is that a military or civilian Pentagon official who supports McChrystal’s policy put it out in an attempt to pressure Obama to follow McChrystal’s suggestion and increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

But not everyone in Washington is a believer in Occam’s razor, so all manner of other theories flourished.

There are believers in the reverse leak, in which the leak itself is meant to damage McChrystal’s position by inducing White House anger at the general. There’s the fake leak, in which the White House may have been trying to back itself into a corner. A former government official with ties to the Pentagon said the talk in the building was that a senior military official had given it to the reporter for his book on the Obama White House — not realizing it could end up in print sooner.

“That places the ball clearly in the president’s court,” former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen said, noting that Obama had already publicly placed his trust in McChrystal’s judgment.

“It’s an effort — whether by [McChrystal] or by somebody in the Pentagon or maybe the White House — to say, ‘You’ve asked the military to give you not what you want to hear but what you have to know. Now it’s up to you as commander in chief to decide if you think you have a better idea.’”

The leak is a shot across the bows, he said, of Vice President Joe Biden and of leading congressional Democrats who oppose a buildup in Afghanistan.

Another Clinton veteran with experience in national security matters was not so sure, however, that Obama wasn’t helped by a piece that lays the public ground for an inevitable troop escalation. “This thing has to have some airing and consideration by the public — so in the tactical sense, there’s a benefit to considering it,” the official said.

But some said all this speculation may be overthinking the matter. Many people in Washington, after all, are motivated by personal vanities as much as by policy convictions.

“It’s most likely someone who has or is cultivating a personal relationship with Bob Woodward and positioning himself to look good in Woodward’s next book,” said Matt Bennett, vice president at the Democratic-leaning think tank Third Way, echoing the views of many inside government and out.

The history of Woodward sources portrayed as heroes is long, including the likes of Colin Powell and, for a time, George W. Bush. But Woodward’s take on the Bush administration also changed dramatically with time, and some portrayed positively in his early books were savaged in the later ones.

Whatever the motive, the appearance of McChrystal’s report makes it more difficult for Obama to defer, through an extensive series of consultations, a decision over which side he will take in a debate over the recommendation of adding more soldiers and civilians to a more robust mission with the goal of giving Afghanistan — perhaps for the first time — a strong, functioning central government. The release follows a letter from a range of Obama’s usual critics — from neoconservative foreign policy thinkers to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Bush adviser Karl Rove — pressing Obama to follow just that policy.

“The Pentagon hasn’t changed and there are a lot of people within the Pentagon who understand the strategic use of the leak,” said Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the Democratic-leaning National Security Network. One possibility you have to look at is this being leaked by someone who is in league with the neocon assault on Obama, where anything short of ‘all in’ is framed as weak and a defeat.”

In the larger sense, the document’s contents are completely unsurprising — McChrystal’s views were widely known, and the assessment just spells them out. But giving the document to a brand name like Bob Woodward, who has a flair for the dramatic, ensures big play in The Washington Post and broad pickup by other media.

“This leak would, by all appearances, be the act of someone who supports an increase in troop strength and resources,” said Kevin Kellems, a communications director for former Vice President Dick Cheney, who noted that “the power of Woodward going on page A1 is exceptional” in its ability to dictate to wire services and cable outlets, a vanishing power of the newspapers. “This is the act most likely of a civilian who is an advocate of this position and believes they were right to do this because lives were at stake.”

Third Way’s Bennett, whose group backs a bigger commitment in Afghanistan, said he thought the document would do McChrystal’s position more harm than good.

“It’s not going to pressure the president to go the way they want him to go,” he said. “It’s going to annoy people in the White House, and that’s never a good idea.”
Others argued that the White House itself benefits from the leak.

“It’s a helpful thing to have out in the ether for the White House,” said Dan Senor, a former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, who said the report would help beat back criticism on the left. “I think the White House wants to convey how much pressure they’re under from the military,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t speculate on the source of the leak.

Others simply welcomed the fact that the leak might force a quicker decision on an urgent question.

“It at least, for the first time, gives people a tangible picture of what the recommended options are, and it to some extent forces the issue,” said Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has been critical of an Afghan buildup. “The tendency in the White House is to try and slip this until health care and possibly the economy are taken care of, but nobody has that kind of time.”

Meet Mikhail Tukhachevsky

Now, students, a history lesson.

In 1935 Tukhachevsky was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union, aged only 42. In January 1936 Tukhachevsky visited Britain, France and Germany. Worried over Tukhachevsky's growing influence, Stalin determined to eliminate him and seven other high-level Soviet military commanders. Just before his arrest, Tukhachevsky was relieved of duty as assistant to Marshal Kliment Voroshilov and appointed military commander of the Volga Military District. It is believed that Stalin ordered this ruse (one employed with seven other arrested commanders as well) to separate Tukhachevsky from the troops and officers under his command. Shortly after departing to take up his new command he was secretly arrested on May 22, 1937, and brought back to Moscow in a prison van. . . All were charged with organization of a "military-Trotskyist conspiracy" and espionage for Nazi Germany. Brought before the court martial board, the Soviet military prosecutor alleged that during Tukhachevsky's foreign visits, the general had contacted anti-Stalin Russian exiles to foment plots against Stalin. The prosecution then introduced copies of confessions signed by the defendants as evidence. . .

After Soviet archives were opened to researchers after the fall of the Soviet Union, it became clear that Stalin actually concocted the fictitious plot by the most famous and important of his Soviet generals in order to get rid of them in a believable manner. At Stalin's order, the NKVD instructed one of its agents, Nikolai Skoblin, to pass to Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the German Nazi SD (Sicherheitsdienst) intelligence arm, concocted information suggesting a plot by Tukhachevsky and the other Soviet generals against Stalin. Seeing an opportunity to strike a blow at both the Soviet Union and his arch-enemy Admiral Canaris of the German Abwehr, Heydrich immediately acted on the information and undertook to improve on it, forging a series of documents implicating Tukhachevsky and other Red Army commanders; these were later passed to the Soviets via Beneš and other neutral parties. While the SD believed it had successfully deluded Stalin into executing his best generals, in reality they had merely served as useful and unwitting pawns of Stalin. It is notable that the forged documents were not even used by Soviet military prosecutors against the generals in their secret trial, instead relying on false confessions extorted or beaten out of the defendants.

Tukhachevsky at secret trial, 11 June 1937. You can plainly see he's had the crap beaten out of him.

Afraid of the consequences of trying popular generals and war heroes in a public forum, Stalin ordered the trial also be kept secret; author and Stalin Terror survivor Alexander Barmine doubted there was really any 'trial' at all, noting that Stalin had ordered in advance that the eight generals be shot immediately following their court-martial. In the book The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, it is said that Tukhachevsky's confession, written by him, is stained in blood. From this, one could assume that Tukhachevsky and his fellow defendants were tortured. After the secret trial, known as Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization, Tukhachevsky and eight other higher military commanders were convicted on June 12, 1937 and immediately executed. Tukhachevasky was killed by NKVD captain Vasili Blokhin. When Tukhachevsky was in his cell, Blochin shouted "Comrade Tukhachevsky is wanted at the plenary session of the political bureau!", and then shot Tukhachevsky in the cervical vertebrae (execution-style), causing immediate death. Perhaps afraid of army uprisings, Stalin ordered the communiqué announcing their arrest, trial, and execution withheld from broadcast until after the executions had already taken place. Tukhachevsky's military writings were then banned. -- Wikipedia.

Tukhachevsky's widow was arrested by the NKVD shortly thereafter. She later went insane and was last seen on the eve of her deportation to the Ural District, wearing a strait-jacket. Svetlana Tukhachevskaya, then twelve years old and the Marshal's only daughter, was sent to a special orphanage for the children of the people's enemies. She was arrested in 1944 and sentenced by an extrajudicial body Special Council of the NKVD to five years in Gulag. She died in 1982.

Once Stalin was able to eliminate the most famous and popular of the Soviet military commanders, he had free rein to continue purging the rest of the Red Army and the Soviet government. On January 31, 1957, Tukhachevsky and his colleagues were declared to have been innocent of all charges against them and were "rehabilitated." -- Wikipedia.

All dictators purge unreliable generals, especially if they're popular. Beck opposed Hitler, and General Beck's ouster was soon arranged. But this business above, this inside political baseball of who leaked what, and Obama versus the Generals, this is not on the order of Stalin or Hitler, surely?


Not yet.

But ask yourself this: what if this is not just the usual game of Washington elbows at the table of power? What if Obama has taken a good look at the stable of generals and has decided there are some he wishes to maneuver out of his way? The best way to do that is to contrive a crisis of conscience in the men and women he wants gone.

The generals have three solemn responsibilities in this order: to uphold the Oath to the Constitution, to defend the country from attack, and to take care of their soldiers.

Generals in the Sixties and Seventies destroyed their reputations, and almost, the Army itself, by slavishly obeying civilian commanders who forced them into violating all three of these responsibilities for the sitting president's political whim or benefit.

The officer corps collectively swore another oath after Vietnam, one that was personal, private and kept between themselves: "Never again." No more Vietnams. Next time the officer corps promised themselves and each other that they would resign their commissions rather than participate in political farce that got good men killed for nothing.

Even if Obama knows nothing about the military -- and he's only ever evinced an interest in defunding it as a waste of domestic program money -- General Jones, his military eminence grise has surely explained this to him.

To issue an unconstitutional order, have it refused, and then to fire a general would be very bad publicity, especially if that general speaks out. Far easier to contrive a resignation, even a mass resignation, over "policy differences." Then he can appoint whatever rubber-spined toady wearing a uniform that suits his appetite.

That's the play that's going on here, gentlemen and ladies, I'd bet my life on it.

Huh. In point of fact, I already have. But no matter.

The real question is, once this happens, what does the non-commissioned officer corps think of it? And the Lieutenants, Captains and Majors? And more importantly, what will they do?

The answers to THOSE questions may not be the ones Obama expects.

But the play? The play is right out of the handbook, Tyranny for Dummies.

But the thing is, this manual has never been applied to this country, not to its intended conclusion. In the end, it may not even work here as it has in countries and cultures all over the world.

Should be a good test of that "American exceptionalism" thing, don't you think?

Let's test their frigging tyrannical theory and see who wins.

Willing to bet your life?

Because somebody has already bet it for you.


"HEY! Who let that goddam dog in here?" "Grrrrrrr." "Oh, uh, nice doggy. Nice doggy."


Johnny said...

Interesting theory Mike. Particularly since it's falsifiable if you flesh out the details a little more - what counts as a purge in this context? When and what will we see, by your analysis, to observe that it's actually happening?

Tangalor said...

My life, my fortune, and my sacred honor.

Although, they've already stolen what fortune I had in monetary terms, so my life and sacred honor will have to suffice.

May God grant us victory, and may our enemies' conscience weigh heavily with what they have wrought, before they eternally rot.

rexxhead said...

"...a more robust mission with the goal of giving Afghanistan — perhaps for the first time — a strong, functioning central government."

I think it may have been William Lind who said 'Pigs will not simply fly, they will win dogfights against F-15s before anything in the Middle East resembles a functional democracy.

This is a fool's errand.

"Never again." No more Vietnams. Next time the officer corps promised themselves and each other that they would resign their commissions rather than participate in political farce that got good men killed for nothing.

Then what, pray tell, are we doing in Afghanistan? If those officers promised themselves 'Never again', they have failed the first test: identifying when 'again' is about to happen.

Unknownsailor said...

If I did not have 15 years in already, I would pull the loud handle and leave active service in an instant. As it is, I will retire one month and 10 days after the next President is sworn in.
That is, provided the current one can make it his full term without stepping on himself with golf shoes and getting impeached.

Happy D said...

Let's see we leave Afghanistan handing the Talibans a victory, secure operating and training bases, and more resources. I seem to recall this plan turning out badly about eight years ago.
If we withdrawal we better burn the place down on the way out. On the up side I don't live near the big targets. The big targets being major hopey changey population centers. It could cost Barry everything.
And with politically reliable generals replacing purged ones? Well I would be glad I don't live in New York, Chicago, Denver,
Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Washington D.C. to name a few.

It worked out so well for Stalin.