Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Symptoms and the Disease

One of my greater thrills was being invited to the dedication of the new campus for The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California back in the fall of 2005, since it gave me the opportunity to hear lectures by a significant number of scientists who had been familiar to me only through my reading experiences. It was on this occasion that I believe I first picked up an aphoristic summary of the "Hebb rule" from a talk given by Eric Kandel:

Cells that fire together wire together.

Under that rule it would have to be the case that any cells that fire when I am thinking about chutzpah have become rather intimately wired to the cells that fire when I encounter the name of Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich holds an admirable place in the Chutzpah of the Week archives not only for his own chutzpah but role in sharing awards. One might say that, in the extended community of our nation's government, Kucinich has the best appreciation for the extent to which "it takes a village" to raise serious chutzpah. The "population" of that village may vary in both size and membership; but Kucinich always seems to be there intent on raising the "chutzpah child."

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he should be putting a stake in the ground in the wake of the dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal as "head of the President’s occupation of Afghanistan;" and in this case, on the basis of today's post to The Beat by John Nichols (which is also responsible for that quoted turn of phrase), there are two fellow congressmen in his "village," Democrat David Obey, head of the House Appropriations Committee, and Senator Russ Feingold (like Obey a Democrat from Wisconsin), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Intelligence Committees. I am tempted to call these three Democrats the "Chutzpah Three" to evoke the "Chicago Seven;" but, given our cultural attitude towards history, I wonder how many know about the Chicago Seven and their relationship to one of our past military blunders. The point is that Kucinich, Obey, and Feingold have had the chutzpah to recognize just how much of a blunder the current situation is and to hold the Commander in Chief to account even while endorsing the dismissal of McChrystal.

Let us consider how each of these three has earned this week's Award. Here is Nichols' account of Kucinich:

“The counterinsurgency strategy is falling apart. The doctrine of counterinsurgency has broken down just as the chain of command has broken down. The Karzai Administration is broken by corruption. Our budget is broken. General Petraeus has served his country honorably, but we can’t expect a different outcome from a new general with the same old strategy. The only way to repair this mess is to get out of Afghanistan," says Kucinich.

Appropriately blunt and unapologetic in his opposition not just to General McChrystal as a commander but to McChrystal's wrongheaded policies -- wrongheaded policies that, tragically, remain in place even after the man is gone -- Kucinich concluded: “What we have to show for our strategy is the death of over 1,100 U.S. soldiers and countless innocent civilians. The U.S. has not been made safer, and the Afghan people are left to fend for themselves between the failure of their government, and ours, to protect them. Bring our troops home."

Obey, on the other hand, receives far more attention. Indeed, he has poll position in Nichols' post, which draws upon Jordan Fabian's post to the Blog Briefing Room maintained on the Web site for The Hill. Nichols' summary almost reads like one of those PowerPoint slides that came under so much attack in the "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan" report released (and made public through a Web page on the Web site of the Center for a New American Security) at the beginning of this year. Here is the "moral equivalent" of his bullet list:

The problem is not only that General McChrystal displayed contempt for the president, the vice president, ambassadors and others – although that is a serious matter.

The problem is not just that General McChrystal repeatedly displayed disrespect for the civilian chain of command – although that is an even more serious matter, which goes to the heart of the American experiment.

The problem is not even that General McChrystal refused to listen to opposing views regarding his plan to surge tens of thousands of addition troops into Afghanistan.

The problem is that General McChrystal put his blinders on and, for too long, Obama still followed his advice.

Thus, like Kucinich, Obey has concluded that, while the action against McChrystal was justified, it was dealing with only one symptom while ignoring the disease presented through that symptom, which is the mission we have set for ourselves in Afghanistan.

Nichols then reinforced this conclusion with a quote from Feingold:

The comments of General McChrystal and his aides were very troubling, and the president’s decision to accept his resignation is appropriate. But I continue to have strong concerns about our misguided policy in Afghanistan. The massive, open-ended military operation in Afghanistan will cost a hundred billion dollars this year with no end in sight. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continues to operate and recruit around the world. After nine years, it is time to give the American people, as well as the people of Afghanistan, a timetable to end this war so our nation is better able to focus on the global threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Will these three voices be heard beyond the bastions of progressive thinking, such as The Nation, which hosts Nichols' blog? History teaches us that this is unlikely to be the case. Those voices deserve more than a Chutzpah of the Week award; but, unfortunately, that is all I can offer.

No comments: