Sunday, January 10, 2010

Conspiracy Theories

It's one of the preferred options in the Obama Political Playbook; when in doubt--or something goes wrong--blame the Bush Administration. Dating back to the 2008 campaign, President Bush and his team have been held responsible for everything from the lousy economy our supposedly "poor image" around the world. In other words, Mr. Obama inherited a real mess from his predecessor, so it's going to take longer for his "fixes" to work.

Of course, there are a few problems with that approach. President Obama has been in office for almost a year, and he now "owns" the economic situation and our challenges overseas. Moreover, many of the President's "cures" have been remarkable unsuccessful, by any definition. In early 2009, he promised that unemployment wouldn't go beyond 8.5% if we promised that stimulus package. Twelve months and $800 billion later, the unemployment rate is hovering at 10%.

Overseas, Mr. Obama's apologies for past American mistakes aren't having much of an impact, either. The Iranians thumbed their noses at the president's demands to enter serious negotiations, aimed at ending Tehran's nuclear program. The situation in Afghanistan continue to deteriorate while the commander-in-chief dithered about a troop surge. And, making matters worse, Islamic terrorists seem to be ramping up their campaign against the United States, launching three high-profile attacks since November.

Still, the Obama Team believes it's a winning strategy to "Blame Bush," and there's some evidence they're expanding that tactic. In recent days, White House aides have suggested that elements within the intelligence community "deliberately" dropped the ball on the underwear bomber, Farouk Abdulmutallab, in an effort to make the administration "look bad."

That theory got lots of play on MSNBC last week. Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe, who has written a flattering book about Mr. Obama's successful bid for the White House, told Keith Olbermann that some in the White House believe that intelligence officials deliberately withheld information, in an effort to make the administration look bad. The same officials also suggested that the failure to stop Abdulmutallab's plot may have been intentional, and not accidental.

Let that sink in for a moment. Such charges are absurd, belonging in the same league as claims that 9-11 was an "inside job." But this time, the accusations aren't coming from the lunatic fringe, but rather, from senior members of the Obama Administration. Never mind that the president's agenda enjoys wide support from key elements of the intelligence community--and that people now running the apparatus are his own appointees.

So if the failure to detect the Nigerian bomber was a conspiracy, it really was an inside job. Perpetuating such a plot would require the participation of key administration officials; that would suggest that elements of the Obama team are at war with each other, a very disturbing possibility, indeed. To be sure, all administrations are beset by turf battles, but it's rare (and disconcerting) for one group to accuse another of openly plotting against the president. You can only imagine how this increasingly poisonous atmosphere will affect our national security deliberations.

But the spy agencies aren't the only organizations accused of making Mr. Obama look bad. In Friday's edition of The New York Times, unnamed White House aides expressed "frustration" over the slow pace of troop deployments to Afghanistan.

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said.

The officials declined to be identified because they were discussing internal administration disagreements.

That last paragraph is priceless; the bureaucrats requested anonymity because of what they were discussing, but they had no qualms about airing their dirty laundry in public--particularly when it makes the military look bad. Reading between the lines, it's clear that the Obama Team is blaming the armed forces for its latest Afghanistan problems. Can whispers of another conspiracy theory be far behind? Don't bet against it.

But those charges (should they be made) won't carry much water. While the Times dutifully reports that Mr. Obama announced his troop surge on 1 December, that decision came months after General McChrystal made his initial request. In other words, by the time the President gave to "go" order, the clock was ticking, and the deployment plan was behind schedule.

There's also the matter of getting those additional troops--and their equipment--to Afghanistan. Most of it must be flown into the region and (as we've noted in previous posts), our strategic airlift assets are limited. The reinforcement effort is also impacted by winter weather which limits road mobility in much of the country, and access to forward airfields. But apparently, those factors mean little to the strategists at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Collectively, the finger-pointing at the intelligence community and the Pentagon should be reason for concern. To be sure, there were intel breakdowns in connection with the failed airliner bomb plot, and we will experience problems in getting all those troops to Afghanistan. And when things go wrong, they deserve their fair share of blame.

But, as we were recently reminded, the buck ultimately stops with senior-level officials and the President himself. With all the heavy lifting ahead in the War on Terrorism, the nation would be better-served by declaring a moratorium the conspiracy theories, focuing instead on the real problems facing our intelligence community and the armed forces.


apex said...

If I look at the photo of Obama lecturing his intelligence heads, I think it is safe to say the administration is at war with most of its intelligence career bueraucrats right now. Put yourself into the position of one of these veteran civil servants, and here comes Obama and lectures them like schoolchildren after sending out all the wrong messages.

This is the point where subordinates lose respect for their boss, permanently. Add to that a lack of even basic management technique (praise in public, criticism in private) and it's hard to see how one this can go on. In a company on a lower level, at this point one would nudge the executive to a different position or out, but with the POTUS, that's hardly an option. We're going to see more of this infighting, not less.


davod said...

Apex. I tend to agree. A public tongue lashing may look good as a PR excercise, but it certainly does nothing for the moral of anyone in the target organization, not just senior management.