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A Tale of Two Victories and Two Falls

My co-blogger Charles Cameron is fond of his “DoubleQuotes” postings that feature frequently uncomfortable juxtapositions designed to prod thinking. Here’s a wordier one from me:

….Planning for a second term has been under way for months, with Lew and Pete Rouse, the counselor to the president and Obama’s internal management guru, preparing lists of possible promotions and nominations. The staff process has been gossiped about by the staff, but details have been kept secret, even from insiders.

“They haven’t even made calls. People haven’t been asked,” said a Democrat familiar with the situation. “They’re more targets than they are potential nominees.”

Now, officials will start to cement their departure dates, and aides will sound out colleagues about possible new roles. Among the top current officials expected to go: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood might not be far behind — or may even beat them out the door.

There’s also a growing list of people the administration is looking to find spots for: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick most of all, as well as former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and outgoing North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad.

Obama has overseen one of the most stable cabinets in history — the only departures have been Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Gary Locke and John Bryson from Commerce. But what’s about to happen amounts to an almost full-scale second transition: 

 

….At eleven o’clock in the morning, Nixon met with his staff in the Roosevelt Room. To many in the room he seemed oddly cool and quietly angry as he thanked them all for their loyalty and said something few of them understood. He said that he had been reading Robert Blake’s Disraeli and was struck by his description a century ago of William Gladstone’s ministers as “exhausted volcanoes” – and then mumbled something about embers that once shot sparks into the sky.

“I believe men exhaust themselves in government without realizing it” the president said “You are my first team, but today we start fresh for the next four years. We need new blood, fresh ideas. Change is important…..Bob, you take over.”

Nixon left then, turning the meeting over to Haldeman. The men and women of the White House stood to applaud his exit, then sat down. The chief explained what Nixon’s words meant: a reorganization of the administration. He told them that they were expected to deliver letters of resignation before the end of the day, then passed out photocopied forms requiring them to list all official documents in their possession. “These must be in by November 10,” he said. “This should accompany your pro forma letter of resignation to be effective at the pleasure of the President”. They were stunned. Speechless. Were they being fired? Haldeman said they would know within a month whether or not they could remain. At noon, the same drama was played out with the entire Cabinet, with Haldeman again passing out the forms.

Ironically, one of the many Cabinet secretaries Nixon ignominiously fired in his bid to centralize power in his White House staff was his former 1968 primary rival, HUD Secretary George Romney, father of 2012 Republican nominee, Governor Mitt Romney.  A blow from which George Romney’s political career never recovered. Nixon’s relationship with Romney had been an acrimonious one, formally polite on the surface with public shows of confidence by Nixon and machiavellian intrigues behind the scenes to undermine Romney and reverse the policies he had been advancing in Nixon’s name.

This latest Cabinet reshuffle to build a “Team without Rivals”, comes in the context of an explosive story, the abrupt resignation Friday of CIA Director General David Petraeus, citing an extramarital affair and accepting responsibility for “extremely poor judgment” and “unacceptable conduct”. The affair, allegedly conducted with his official biographer, came to light during a still not fully explained FBI investigation into unauthorized accessing of Petraeus’ private email account. The resignation of the highly regarded General Petraeus comes just before he was expected to testify before Congress regarding discrepancies and questions in the administrations handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans. It also coincides with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, declining to testify.

It is difficult to say if General Petraeus public career will survive this scandal that he has brought upon himself, an action which stands in jarring contrast to his sterling, some might say superhuman, record of service to America, or if he will, like George Romney, fade away. Certainly, the CIA badly needed to stop the revolving door on the Director’s office and have a strong, visionary, hands-on leader who could reform and invigorate the Agency not merely in terms of covert action but in terms of rebuilding of capacity in deep cover clandestinity and the acquisition of strategic intel. I do not often find myself in agreement with Senator Feinstein but she is correct, this resignation hurts because it is also a significant institutional opportunity cost for the IC. I too wish it had not been accepted  - at one time it wouldn’t have been – but that is the President’s prerogative.

What however are the real issues? What should we be looking for?

Two things: As with Richard Nixon’s second term machinations, with such sweeping changes personnel changes in the offing for the Obama administration, ask yourself as events unfold: “Where is power flowing? And Why?”

If you do you will be in a better position to game out the direction of the next four years, especially in foreign policy and national security.

The White House has attempted to sell a story that the FBI doing a low-level harassment investigation  stumbled upon a security breach and – on their own authority, mind you – tapped the email account of the Director of the CIA and kept him under surveillance and investigated his mistress and, oh, yeah, the President was only informed of this business after the election on Thursday. Wait! And the DNI ( a three star general whose career was primarily intel administration) on his own initiative called the CIA Director ( a four star general and former theater and combatant commander) in on the carpet and fired him told him to resign. Right.

No, what most likely happened was that the minute the special agents realized who was involved in their investigation and the magnitude of the implications, they stopped and informed their superiors and the matter went up the chain to the FBI Director’s desk. The FBI Director, a former prosecutor with a political antennae circumspect enough to be appointed by George W. Bush and have his term be extended by Barack Obama, would have duly informed the Attorney-General of the United States before proceeding further and – I expect – the National Security Adviser, White House Chief of Staff and the DNI. Worst case scenario thinking in terms of national security would have been one driver. Another would be the fear of an all too juicy story leaking and the media catching an unbriefed POTUS unaware on the campaign trail with a blockbuster scandal before the election. How would that have gone over?

I would further expect that we will in the next few days and weeks hear the most salacious contents of the emails between Petraeus and his biographer, leaked by anonymous officials, timed to coincide with difficult days of testimony regarding Benghazi or new appointments to the administration that could, on a slow media day, prove controversial.

Instead of being distracted by prurient nonsense unrelated to the stewardship of the Republic, time would be better spent scrutinizing the host of nominations to come, not as individuals but as “teams” for particular areas of national security and foreign affairs cutting across bureaucracies – ex. arms control, Russian relations, Mideast etc. What commonalities or congruencies emerge?

I suggest this because back when the Obama administration decided on their “pivot” to Asia, the people they selected for second to third tier workday management related to the Asia-Pacific region were all accomplished, decent, honorable public servants, but their greatest common characteristic was a lack of any professional expertise with China. We saw the same personnel gambit with the Bush administration in the run-up to the war with Iraq where the greatest disqualifier for a job with the CPA was familiarity with the Arab world, Islam or Iraq. When you want careful stratagems, you solicit the advice of experts; when you want grand and revolutionary gestures, the wheels of policy are better greased with bold ignorance. There’s a reason Nixon appointed William Rogers Secretary of State – he knew the State Department bureaucracy would largely oppose his foreign policy initiatives and he wanted someone ill-suited and uninformed in charge there who he could more easily manipulate and keep in the dark.

The sixties radicals used to assert “the personal is the political”; in the eighties, Ronald Reagan in staffing his first administration understood that “the personnel are the political” and picked people culled from Heritage and Cato. My intuition is that in the second decade of the 21st century, the inside circle of the Obama administration have discovered that ” the political are the patterns”.

The story unfolding is no longer the “smoking gun” or the compromising jigsaw piece but the entirety of the puzzle.

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25 Responses to “A Tale of Two Victories and Two Falls”

  1. Mr. X Says:

    Reading between the lines, perhaps too much as I’m wont to do, I find the juxtaposition of Nixon who won a landslide in 72′ and resigned in disgrace two years later with Obama’s recent ‘triumph’ and looming scandals ala Fast and Furious po Arabski intriguing. 

    “The story unfolding is no longer the “smoking gun” or the compromising jigsaw piece but the entirety of the puzzle.” Even the Government Electric bailout paid MSNBC koolaid drinkers didn’t claim this weekend that Petreus resignation had nothing to do with Benghazi. 

    Look even if the Obamanoids can intimidate everyone on Capitol Hill and keep Petreus silent on the all important question of whether the President ordered his CIA operators/armed drones to stand down, and make him avoid all Congressional questions about Benghazi as an arms conduit to Syria…how are they hell are the Obamanistas going to intimidate Putin? How do they think they’re so brilliant that they’ll be able to have the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood hang Assad, a Russian ally, and not have the Russians raise the ante by leaking everything they know about Benghazi, including possibly compromising SIGINT?

    We are past the point where if the Western intelligence communities want to use Wikileaks/fake Anon fronts to release the donkeys and pigs from the barn after the horses already ran away, that foreign intel services can’t do likewise.

    And recall that the Russians and Israelis have a history of swapping intel or cutting deals, at least where nixing S-300 sales to Iran in return for Israel withdrawing support for a certain tie-eating Columbia grad in Tblisi is concerned. If Obama pushes Bibi hard as well, whose to say the Israelis couldn’t go behind America’s back and cut their own deal with Moscow? Think it can’t happen because America’s BFF isn’t supposed to make deals with Geopolitical adversary no. 1? Think again. The radar station at Gabala could be down for maintenence on a day the IAF needs to make tracks to Iran from the north.

    It’s three D chess, not checkers of Petreus, Congress, and the White House. That’s just the theater. Just think of what foreign govs have on this guy, including his Saudi ties/early funding of his career. And that’s a problem no amount of magic voting machines in St. Lucie County Florida can fix. 

  2. Mr. X Says:

    In other words, what I’m suggesting above is that things have developed to the point where you know have a bizarre confluence of interests, completely setting the neocon worldview on its head. And Moscow wouldn’t even need to obviously release itself. It could use media friendly to Israel to do it. Recall how the Jerusalem Post was the only media outlet that said Putin was praying for the Jews to restore their Temple when he visited Israel and received the red carpet treatment this past summer? Think the NY Post, Weekly Standard and National Review were all too embarassed or ignorant to print that one? Think they can’t twist the knife in some more? It’s a twofer for them if they announce a big arms deal with the Israelis to the Russian military — they embarass the Obama Administration AND Washington’s anti-Russia lobby which always insisted Moscow was Israel’s eternal enemy.

  3. Mr. X Says:

    Sorry long rant short: it’s far better to air America’s own dirty laundry than have it aired for us by others.

  4. larrydunbar Says:

    To me, the most significant difference, between the war we fought in Vietnam and the war we fought in Iraqwas the relationship between the leaders of the US and the leaders of those we fought. In Vietnam we went to war against enemies; in Iraq we went to war against friends. Friends support your Orientation, but may hold different views–enemies may have the same views, but do not support your Orientation. In other words, the Iraq war was a Crusade, as BushII said.

    *
    We can see this “friendship” in BushII’s Act of giving the leaders of the country that is at the center of the religious movement, a look of the map showing what was going to happen as we penetrated Saddam’s defenses. I mean, maybe Kennedy just didn’t know anyone related to the leaders of North Vietnam, but I am pretty sure they were considered enemies, unlike Bush’s friends.

    *
    What I am really getting at, I think there are some really unsolved issues related to how and why we went into Iraq, and then left Afghanistan, pretty much on its own. And, while Petraeus “won” us the war in Iraq and influenced the war in Afghanistan, is Iraq being used as a staging area to carry on the Revolution that was started in Iran, or is it simply now full of entrepreneurs trying to sell oil and bring Democracy to its people? And does anyone know?

    *
    Then there is the question of where’s that Revolution is going, Iraq, Syria, Libya? The only place we can see it is not going is Egypt, because that and the Maghreb is pretty much the only places left that the structure holding the country together wasn’t completely destroyed by Western Powers. These Western Powers being was mostly (like Iraq) in the form of the US military, and General Petraeus, but also includes Israel and the EU.  

    *
    And so, while a “pivot” is towards the mostly unknown (other wise it wouldn’t be a pivot) and probably the people you want for that pivot are not experts on the way forward, I think there are some real left-over forces for destruction still in the area of the Middle East that need to be resolved after the pivot to the East.

    *
    Maybe it should be noted that the “pivot” happened in Obama’s first term, not the second, and the last person you would want in a land-battle into Asia would be Petraeus, any where in the system, to Orient from. Especially if that war is against enemies such as Iran and not friends such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

  5. Dave Schuler Says:

    Mark, you might want to take a look at Pat Lang’s take on the Petraeus scandal: 
     
     
    http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2012/11/petraeus-agonistes-ii.html
     
     
    “He was never much liked in the Army. “Clever” is a term of art in the Army for someone “foxy,” slippery and politically adroit. He was always clever. At West Point, which is, after all, a college like all others, the appreciation of teachers can be carefully cultivated by students. He excelled at that. Every WP graduate becomes an Army officer. Relationships established with officer staff there affect the rest of an officer’s career. Petraeus married the daughter of the superintendant (president) of the place. This officer was a major general. Later he was a four star general. Throughout his career Petraeus carefully maneuvered to maximize his potential for promotion. He has a terrible reputation in the Army for egomania smoothly concealed beneath the appearance of the warrior scholar. He can and has charmed all, or almost all. His fluency in the English language and his ability to interact with congressmen and the press are superb.”
     
    Other interesting observations there as well.

  6. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Dave, that’s a narrative that has been around and might accelerate given what has happened.
    .
    I would only say that it is not uncommon to find in great military and political leaders a big ego.
    .
    Of course, you find very large egos in abysmally horrible leaders also.  Differences may be whether it is primarily self-centered, where actions are self-serving primarily, or uber-centered: fame, position, and so forth are still desired, but the route taken for achieving those things is seen as necessarily passing through service to a country or cause and building those up as well.

  7. zen Says:

    Hey Gents,
    .
    Mr. X  - The WH can delay but cannot deny Congress this information if the Congress is determined to get it, which it often isn’t for partisan reasons. Disrespecting an intel committee chairman from your own party, as the administration has done to Feinstein on about 3 levels here, is a great way to unite MoC against the administration. Like Nixon, Obama doesn’t like to schmooze the Congress and having large egos, they get offended by the lack of contact. Presidents who “make the phone calls” like Reagan and Clinton did find that when they get into trouble, there’s a core of defenders on the Hill who will march to the gates of Hell for them. Another way to get into trouble is to let a situ become a media firestorm that acquires such a critical mass that it offers the prospect of relatively unknown Congressmen or junior Senators a national moment in the sun, or in history. That’s virtually like offering the Congress free cocaine by itself, never mind the opportunity for the right wing of the right wing of the GOP to tear into key figures of loathing for them like Holder or Hillary. If someone in the admin thew Petraeus under the bus in a calculated fashion – and I think they did – they are going to rue the spillover costs.
    .
    Larry – the unsolved issues are feeding the frenzy because ppl on the further Left see an opportunity to rip down Petraeus as an icon of the war and a psychological substitute for everything they dislike about America
    .
    Dave – I think Lang has accurately summed up how a good portion of P. critics inside the Army feel about him and they are relishing his fall from grace. There was always behind the scenes pushback and resentment of the myth of “King David”. Petraeus is, for a variety of reasons, a very significant military leader of his generation, he was one of the rising stars among an often undistinguished (by historical standards) cohort of general officers and the over-praise and media lionization Petraeus received (or cultivated) rankles some of his less noteworthy peers. Some of the praise was well-earned, some of it was pure hyperbolic sycophancy. Michael Yon, who has written some extremely caustic things about generals and gotten himself kicked out of Afghanistan embeds, surprised me with a more charitable view:
    .
     http://www.michaelyon-online.com/petraeus-a-sad-day-for-the-united-states.htm
    .
     

  8. Madhu Says:

    Wrote the following at SWC:
    .
    ….when it’s stuff like this, the media chases down every single lead and is insatiable in its curiosity but when it comes to the following:

    Quote:

    Was there a foreign government behind the 9/11 attacks? A decade later, Americans still haven’t been given the whole story, while a key 28-page section of Congress’s Joint Inquiry report remains censored.

    it is like cricket’s chirping except for a few stalwarts?http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/f…11-2011-201108I am not making a partisan point or falling into conspiracy-mongering or anything of the sort. The very nature of the national security apparatus (think tanks, appointees civilian and military, academics of PhD or whatever variety, journalists, hangers-on, bloggers, tweeters) fascinates and appalls, confuses and disappoints.11 years and basic questions unanswered, stories about celebrity instead of hard intellectual work and question asking, and even those that saw through the celebrity generals are just as clueless about influence agents that aren’t a part of the American scene.None of which excuses the behavior which is reckless and harmful.Ugh. What a colossal waste of my time all this reading milblogs etc. has been. I know it’s not true entirely but it feels like it. 

  9. Madhu Says:

    Formatting didn’t take.

  10. Madhu Says:

    I should probably leave this comment on SWJ somewhere but I’ll do it here: once again, TO STRESS THE POINT, some of the the people that are patting themselves on the back for not falling for “celebrity generals” are pretty clueless — or journalistically uninterested — in influence agents of a different kind.
    .
    Again, what a colossal waste of my time. 

  11. Justin Boland Says:

    Not sure if I’d call this the best article on the scandal, or the only good article on the scandal, but either way: thank you.

  12. Carl Says:

    Madhu:

    I don’t know if they are influence agents or just hens who peck any one of their number who manifests any flaw to death. There is something going very wrong with our culture.

  13. zen Says:

    Gracias Justin. At zenpundit.com we don’t aim to be the best, we aim to be different :)
    .
     

  14. Madhu Says:

    @ Carl:
    .
    Good point. I sometimes think there is something very wrong with our culture and other times I just think given the nature of communications we know so much about so much that it overwhelms.
    .
    @ Justin and Zen:
    .
    I agree that this is one of the best posts on the business that I’ve read. (I kinda figured that after years of reading my comments – and it has been years if counting CBz – people would know when I’m being dramatic….)
    .
    : ) 

  15. Madhu Says:

    This business of advisors is one of the most important points that badly educated and naive old me has learned about in the previous few years of “paying attention”.

  16. Madhu Says:

    On a more serious note than advisors of various types, I was so angry when I read the following:
    .
    “Read the story. Strikes me as some women more jealous of a young good looking woman having access to a general than the impact on women as advisors. ”
    .
    http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/women-worry-scandal-will-hurt-role-as-advisers
    .
    I know that it’s foolish to become upset over a random comment on a blog but that is just so #$%@ typical. I was there you know, in the Harvard system in 2006, when supposedly at the Kennedy school introductions were being made between two people caught up in scandal today.
    .
    I mean, I wasn’t at the Kennedy School but over on the medical side and like a lot of young faculty, male and female both, working very very hard seeing cases. I know exactly what those women are worried about and I know exactly how they feel. It is human nature to be bitter about one’s peer group, especially if that person is a massive self-promoter and unscrupulous to boot.
    .
    The bigger issue thought is corruption and the fact unqualified people are promoted within the system based on patronage relationships – of all kinds, not just the creepy sexual interest sorts.
    .
    Why would any self-respecting and capable woman want to have anything to do with the military, I sometimes think.
    .
    That comment and others like it that are infuriating. Suffering fools gladly must be the least of it for those women, or anyone remotely competent, in that environment. 

  17. Madhu Says:

    Sigh. I really shouldn’t comment here because I can’t seem to do it efficiently and leave a trail of comments.
    .
    I really don’t think Broadwell is the biggest issue and she’s already payed plenty. It’s really the people at the top and the general attitudes of the military (I’m guessing) that infuriate. 

  18. Carl Says:

    Sigh. This is all about Americans getting hung out to dry in Benghazi and 4 of them dying as a result. But because of this genius political ploy, nobody cares about that anymore. It will be submerged by prurient interest, professional jealousy and even talk about women resenting other women who are prettier than they are. You gotta admire how this one move completely obscures those deaths and why they happened. Of course that kind of genius may not be so applicable when dealing with genuinely lethal people overseas.

  19. Madhu Says:

    Gee Carl, did you miss the comment where I scolded the press for focusing on all the salacious aspects of a sex scandal instead of chasing down important documents related to 9-11?
    .
    Clearly, I am the kind of person to lose sight of what is really important.
    .
    And last time I checked, a lot of people have died during the Afghan “surge”, a campaign designed with a very poor understanding of the nature of “AfPak”. Maybe if some of our Generals didn’t surround themselves with clueless PhDs, sycophants and toadies (or worse, as it turns out) they just might have got better advice and come up with something else besides expeditionary pop-COIN with a heavy reliance on proxies that are not our ally, but actual belligerents.
    .
    Americans don’t pay much attention to the details of foreign policy but they sure do pay attention to scandals. A savvy bunch might use that attention to keep an eye on Benghazi and what happened. But to do that, you need people at the top that actually show up. Maybe, just maybe, discussion of the culture from which the Washington Consensus and its Ivy League advisors operates is kinda important when it comes to keeping Americans safe:
    .
     
    McCain Missed Private Benghazi Hearing Because of “Scheduling Error”
    .
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/11/15/mccain_missed_private_benghazi_hearing_because_of_scheduling_error.html

  20. Madhu Says:

    PS: Do you know who else I saw when I was doing penance in the Ivy Leagues? Why, a one Samantha Power being interviewed by a one Niall Ferguson about Right to Protect. Libya, Right to Protect, advisors, Samantha Power, Susan Rice. Gosh, I sure did go off on a useless tangent in my comments above, huh?

  21. Madhu Says:

    Hey, if you’re the Carl from SWJ that I always blog comment with, I think this is the first time we have disagreed on a point. We usually completely agree. I guess it was bound to happen one day :)

  22. Carl Says:

    Madhu:

    First I apologize for using “sigh” at the beginning of my entry. I did’nt mean anything by it, I just missed that you used it at the beginning of yours and it came across like I was making fun of you. I am sorry.

    Second, my entry was an observation about the political brilliance of the administration’s ploy. They have a keen appreciation of popular culture, but more importantly of the elite culture that you mentioned. They know what sells and what will obscure and distract from things that are actually important. My comment wasn’t directed at anyone really. I was just in wonder that the way the administration played it, they were people, smart people and maybe important people talking about possible jealousy of pretty women instead of Benghazi, like in that article. The comment wasn’t directed at you.

    Lastly, your point about elite culture is extremely important. Charles Murray says those people are not like the rest of the Americans and the consequences of that may not be good.

  23. larrydunbar Says:

    “the unsolved issues are feeding the frenzy because ppl on the further Left see an opportunity to rip down Petraeus as an icon of the war and a psychological substitute for everything they dislike about America”

    *
    The Left may see Petraeus as a way to rip America, but they were handed the way by the Right. It looks like it was even too much for Cantor, who I thought was at least as far Right as those now attacking Petraeus.

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  25. Madhu Says:

    Carl:
    .
    Please don’t apologize for anything! I am on one of my high-horses currently and am busy complaining about everyone and everything. 
    .
    I have no opinion on the particular partisan aspects of current events (I mean, I’m not taking sides), I was referring more to a sense of entitlement and corruption in various systems. Peggy Noonan (again, not interested in the partisan points but the overall cultural critique) puts it nicely:
    .
    “We are becoming a conceited nitwit society, pushy and self-aggrandizing. No one is ashamed to brag now. And show off. They think it heightens them. They think it’s good for business.
    It used to be that if you were big, you’d never tell people how big you were because that would be kind of classless, and small. In fact it would be a proof of smallness.” 
    .
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324556304578121424215017436.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop
    .
    Braggy, self-promoting, crisis-in-leadership, entitlement culture, celebrity worship, whatever you want to call it: Is that where we are as a society or is it always like that and events bring this in to focus from time to time?
    .
    Anyway, you make good points. 

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