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November 19, 2009

Afghanistan Leakers: Making Obama, Clinton Look Foolish

Clinton McChrystal Eikenberry.jpg

Rather than taking up the right wing’s “dithering” or “what’s taking SO long” meme when it comes to Obama’s Afghan strategy (in a situation that some see as having no practical urgency) perhaps the better question to ask is, what’s with the leaks? — and, what are they costing the Administration?

Arriving for Karzai’s swearing in, this photo of Hillary makes the Secretary of State, and Obama by proxy, look like fools caught between Gen. “Surge” and Ambassador “Hold on Now.”

American Ambassador Eikenberry (a former Army Lt. Gen. and U.S. Afghan Commander) — who had two cautionary classified cables to Obama leaked last week — feels that sending additional troops only ties us more closely, in the minds of the Afghan people, to the corrupt government inaugurated today. General McChrystal, on the other hand, whose his own recommendations to Obama were leaked last month, has been pushing for 40k more troops as part of a counterinsurgency, hearts-and-minds and Afghan military training strategy.

Eickenberry’s downward, inward and more circumspect, almost skeptical express ion, coupled with the cables that were publicized, expressing reservations with our strategy, and our support of Karzai, coupled with the event at hand, the Secretary of State’s arrival in the country for Karzai’s inauguration (underpinned by Hillary and America’s front row stamp-of-approval), coupled with Hillary’s exaggerated smile (like everything is rosy) as she enters town caught between two of Obama’s warring minions makes the supposed U.S. front here painfully postured.

Absent the leaking/lobbying war playing out in public, however, the photo would indicate something pretty normal, involving component players — under one roof — with their own agendas and points-of-view. Instead, however, aided by partisan talking heads and a controversy-hungry media, we get the worst interpretation of “a team of rivals.”
(revised: 4:30pm PST. removed version of photo with illustration)

(photo: Paula Bronstein /Getty Images. caption: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) walks with U.S Ambassador to Afghan Karl Eikenberry (R) after arriving on November 18, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. This is her first trip to Afghanistan as U.S Secretary of State. Clinton will meet with Afghan President Karzai before he officially starts his second term of office.)

  • http://www.agrippinaminor.com/wp/ Scarabus

    These are not just two individuals. They are the leading voices in Afghanistan of, respectfully, the “military/industrial complex” and civility and diplomacy.
    (Yes, Eikenberry used to be the voice for the military, but not now. He’s a civilian, as was former general Eisenhower when he warned against the “m/i complex.”)
    Documentation is fuzzy, but Clemenceau purportedly said something like “War is too important a matter to entrust to the military.” One might add that it’s also too important to be entrusted to those who benefit politically and/or financially from a permanent state of war. Not to mention a combination of the two!

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003935/theRanticore Julia Grey

    I don’t understand how this photograph makes Clinton “look foolish.” Because she’s there? Because someone drew thought bubbles on it? What?
    Not getting it, sorry.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bagnews Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    Eickenberry’s downward, inward and more circumspect, almost skeptical expression, coupled with the cables that were publicized, expressing reservations with our strategy, and our support of Karzai, coupled with the event at hand, the Secretary of State’s arrival in the country for Karzai’s inauguration (underpinned by Hillary and America’s front row stamp-of-approval), coupled with Hillary’s exaggerated smile (like everything is rosy) as she enters town caught between two of Obama’s warring minions does, I believe, make the supposed U.S. front here painfully postured.
    I do agree, though, that I’m bringing more to the photo, in terms of the political context, than the photo itself contains — which is the reason for the boots and suitcases.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bagnews Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    On second thought, maybe it’s the illustration on the photo that’s the problem — especially if it’s not clear the boots refer to “boots on the ground” and the suitcases mean reservation, or “getting out.” Anyway, I removed the version I drew on which you can see here. I’ll be curious to hear, from other readers, how the photo stands up.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003935/theRanticore Julia Grey

    Okay, now I see a cheerful, colorfully-dressed Hillary (she looks like she just saw someone she really likes out there ahead of her) and two no-worse-than-bemused companions. She (American diplomacy) is “arriving” on this scene suspended between the military and civilian authorities, although farther away from the military, and slightly in front of them both. She is from coming an aircraft that resembles Air Force one, which to my mind constitutes a symbol of American power “poking its nose” into the center of the photo/situation.
    Looks like good political theater on her part, and political theater is a critical part of her job. There is ambiguity and ambivalence around her, but HER expression is confident, positive and easily readable.
    As an image, and that’s all I can evaluate since I’m not keeping up with the background news as well as I should, I see it as a positive one for Hillary (American diplomacy). She HAS to project the image she’s projecting, it seems to me.
    I don’t see the “foolishness.” But again, I obviously don’t know enough about Eikenberry vs. McChrystal right now, so there are likely a lot of elements of the photo+situation that I’m just not able to perceive as you can.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003935/theRanticore Julia Grey

    P.S. I don’t see the smile as “exaggerated.”
    She may just be a very good actress (also very important in that job), but to me she looks genuinely glad to see SOMEONE.

  • http://motherrr.blogspot.com mcmama

    What Julia Grey said.

  • bystander

    Given my own understanding of McChrystal and Eickenberry wrt “the way forward” in Afghanistan, I read Clinton’s expression as through gritted teeth with a great big smile, “By damn, we will make the best of this situation, won’t we?” Hillary’s role here looks like her daughter’s role here.

  • lq

    I think Julia Grey nailed it. Thanks, Julia!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/pcalvin pcalvin

    It appears that she is looking up slightly, rather than at someone. (Maybe they are very tall.) Or perhaps she is just glad to have her feet on the ground after the long flight. I read it is as her optimistic campaign smile. That said, as a photograph, I like how she stands out from the other two characters in the dusk (or dawn) light. It is not just her clothing, but her face and hair are warm in the cool light, she is the important one in the image.

  • mjf

    This is a surreal image – a deserted concreted landscape – Afghanistan made real by the imposition of a western will (concrete, 24 hour electricity, planes, uniforms in the guise of camouflage or the suit). The leaks were like the brutality of a Kipling poem. The current General’s head is raised and looking straight ahead but he reminds me of Westmoreland in Vietnam –victory in the form of evermore boots in country. The existence of (all) military in Afghanistan depends upon the concrete, the hardware, the uniform, the protection of the base. When it ventures into the countryside it is overwhelmed by the physical, geopolitical realities of a tribal society that exists briefly in the words of a translator and then melts away into vague murmurings, exchanged glances, handshakes and subtle nods. Ask the Russians and the British from the century before the last because this lot have apparently forgotten. For me everything about Eikenberry – his posture, looking in a different direction, distance from the other two (the inferred sense of introspection) speaks to me about his recognition and acknowledgement of the complexities of the interactions and impossibilities between the ‘stans’. The most interesting thing in the photograph for me is Clinton’s shadow (or a tarmac mark that could pass for her shadow) read as sitting uneasily in front of the General. The political option mediated by diplomats and military resting somewhere in unknown shadows. Clinton has that bizarre shiny happy arrogance of people who know that the flight into the battle zone is made manageable by the ever present option of the flight out.

  • Supare Aude

    Snapshots rarely display a comprehensive perspective. Certainly this one does not. Allow these people whose experience and performance justified our confidence and/or the confidence of others we trust sufficient time to do what time requires before passing judgment. We will all be better for it.

  • http://winstonscat.blogspot.com Johnson

    The outfit?

  • nordmend

    “…realities of a tribal society that exists briefly in the words of a translator and then melts away into vague murmurings, exchanged glances, handshakes and subtle nods.”
    nicely written. that really sums up american understanding of the world.
    other surreal elements i like in the picture – the plane nose, like a giant maybe-benign, maybe-predatory bird, and
    the right hand of the hidden person behind eikenberry appearing as both an extra hand-leg on the distant mutant, or a stunted eikenberry right hand. combined with that extra shoe that looks kinda like eikenberry’s…weird.
    they’re like mutant extraterrestrials landing on some planet, you know, the one with the blue atmosphere. the housecoat.. very princess leia.
    “Clinton has that bizarre shiny happy arrogance…”
    they all do, even mccrystal. no cannon fodder here, boys.

  • yg

    my mistaken first read of the luggage icons was “bags of money with which to bribe the afghans with” instead of “packing up to go home.”
    i liked your adding your own take to the photos.

  • David Bundy

    I am just glad that Hillary is not ” running for her life through the bombs and mortar fire ”
    she claimed erroneously !!! . . .

    I am being Nice.

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