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March 15, 2012

The Lindsey Graham Clown Show
Posted by Michael Cohen

ClownOver the last three years I've read some pretty clownish things about the war in Afghanistan, but yesterday's comments by Lindsay Graham should win some kind of award. 

When explaining why he is against a faster withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which is opposed by the US commander there General John Allen, he had this to say:

"The problem with this administration is that every time the generals give them good advice, they've got to change it," said Graham. "Why is General Allen wrong? If I gotta pick between Joe Biden and General Allen, I'm picking General Allen.... The last thing we want is a bunch of politicians who have been wrong about everything controlling the war."

Literally everything in this paragraph is wrong. 

First, let's begin with some history. As Steve Metz reminded me on Twitter last night, in 2006 and 2007 when the Bush Administration was debating surging 30,000 troops to Iraq (a move supported by one Lindsay Graham) it was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the generals on the ground in Iraq including Chiarelli. That's right the politicians (who had by the way been wrong about everything in regard to Iraq up to that point) overruled the view of the generals on the ground. This apparently is ok, because the definition of when it is appropriate for a "bunch of politicians" to disagree with the military is when Lindsey Graham is one of those politicians.

Second, the first piece of "good advice" given to the Obama Administration by the "generals" came in 2009 when they recommended that the White House send surge troops to Afghanistan to fight a population-centric counter-insurgency. The White House, as we all know, went along with this plan (which of course was supported by Lindsey Graham).

So hey I haven't really paying much attention to Afghanistan . .  how is that working out?

Remember when David Petraeus guaranteed the President that the US could begin transitioning to Afghan control over security within 18 months of the surge. Good times, good times.

Third, as for Graham's rhetorical question of weighing advice from John Allen versus that of Joe Biden, remember who said a COIN mission in Afghanistan was a bad idea and wouldn't work and should be shelved for a counter-terrorism mission. Yup that was Joe Biden.

As for General Allen, since he took over in Afghanistan US warplanes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers seriously imperilling US relations with Pakistan; US troops urinated on the corpses of Taliban fighters; they burned Korans setting off deadly riots; and one of his staff sergeants massacred 16 people in an Afghan village. The result is that relations with the Karzai government are at perhaps their lowest part of the war. While not all of these are directly Allen's fault, he obviously maintains a share of command responsibility for what has been a cascading set of failures since he took charge. Doesn't mean he should be fired, but why suddenly his opinion should take precedence over the duly elected Vice President of the United States is a headscratcher.

That comes to the final issue - Lindsey Graham doesn't know a damn thing about civil-military relations. He's a modern-day General Jack D Ripper.

The notion that having a "bunch of politicians" rather than say having generals "control the war" is actually the way that the United States, as a nation, makes decisions about war. What Graham is proposing is radical, un-American and would violate the most basic principles of civil-military relations that have existed since the founding days of the Republic. 

Of course, Lindsey Graham knows this. He is after all a former JAG in the US Air Force. His comments are solely to put undue political pressure on the White House, embarrass them politically for ignoring military advice if they decide to drawdown troops from Afghanistan at a more rapid pace and nurture a "stabbed in the back by meddlesome politicians" narrative about what went wrong in Afghanistan. 

Quite simply, this is the worst sort of political meddling. To score a few cheap political points Graham is not just undercutting the president and the notion of civilian control of the military but he's creating political roadblocks for the US to find its way out of the war in Afghanistan with its interests (and those of the Afghan people) intact. 

Other than than, nice quote Lindsey.

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