Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "Commander-in-Chief" chat

There must come a time in every presidency when the generals whisper to the president that they, not he, are in charge — whenever they choose to be.

Call it the “Commander-in-Chief” chat.

My guess is that seasoned presidential candidates probably get this hush-hush lecture long before they hit the campaign trail. Who knows, it could come with the assignment of the secret service detail.

And who knows what the consequences of bucking the generals (and the intelligence establishment) might be. Conspiracy theorists will tell you that JFK learned the hard way.

What we are getting now is the “soft” (or is it semi-soft?) way.

General David Petraeus, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, has been publicly questioning President Obama’s withdrawal plans in Afghanistan. The general’s election-year timing is politically perfect to weaken the president.

Here’s a president who is reeling from domestic problems he didn’t create, and along comes Petraeus to question Obama’s military policy.

It’s a lose/lose situation for the president.

If Obama sticks with his stated July 2011 drawdown plan in Afghanistan, he can expect to suffer whatever the generals (and the spooks and the arms merchants) dole out.

If he goes along with them for the inevitable “quagmire” escalation and accompanying public protests, he can pull an LBJ and simply not run for a second term.

The problem with wars in fractured places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan is that once you get into them, you’re stuck — and end up making matters worse both here and there.

These are not words that generals, or presidents, like to hear.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

One parade/Two parades

I’ve been to two small-town parades this summer.

That’s actually four parades because each parade is really two parades.

How so?

The obvious parade is the one the curb-hugging spectators see. But the less obvious one — at least to the spectators — is from the paraders’ street perspective. Passing by to the left and right of the paraders is a parade of spectators.

Seen in this way, the roles are reversed: paraders become spectators; spectators become paraders.

And who's to say which parade is the more interesting?

Some larger point seems lurking here. Something about others as we see them and us as we are seen by others.

Can we ever see ourselves as others do? Can we be parader and spectator at once?

Perhaps there’s a third perspective that we can’t see, but which sees both parades as one — humanity as one big parade of comings and goings.