Afghanistan & “NGO” (No Guts Obama): A Retrospective

 Occasionally a New York Times writer like Mark Landler will be permitted to step up to the plate and write a sensible article about President “NGO” and how he caved in to folks he lacked the political courage to cross. Landler’s Jan. 1 article shows, among other things, how NGO’s bowing to heavyweights like Petraeus, Gates, and H. Clinton ended up getting thousands of people killed and prolonging the fool’s-errand Afghan war.


The pity, of course, is that Landler’s piece, “The Afghan War and the Evolution of Obama,” comes eight years too late.

There is a lot of numbness out there today about how we let ourselves be had by NGO.  There are many attempts to blame bad decisions on Afghanistan on his benighted advisers.  Benighted, indeed.  But you know where the buck is supposed to stop.  And VIPS et al. spared no effort to get through to NGO.

It would be entirely understandable if some of you will not want to risk being further depressed.  Others, however, may wish to have your memories freshened by recalling the efforts of Ray and his colleagues to warn NGO before he let himself be conned into doubling down on the Afghan folly.  They may wish to skim through the re-runs (linked below) of early warnings in March 2009 and January 2010, together with some retrospective comments.


“Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President

July 24, 2016

From the Archive: With still no end in sight for the Afghan War, President Obama can’t say he wasn’t warned. Barely two months into his presidency in 2009, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern welcomed Obama to his own Vietnam quagmire.

By Ray McGovern (Originally published March 28, 2009).”

Included in that piece was this quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur:

“Equally relevant to Obama’s fateful early decision on Afghanistan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur told another young President in April 1961: “’Anyone wanting to commit American ground forces to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined.’”


Could it be that the fellow we used to call windsock-Bobby Gates still reads articles by his old Soviet Foreign Policy Branch Chief.  Hard to tell.  But here’s what he later told aspiring officers at West Point.


“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa ‘should have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”

The “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President” article of March 28, 2009 added:

When JFK’s top military advisers, critical of the President’s reluctance to go against that advice, virtually called him a traitor  — for pursuing a negotiated solution to the fighting in Laos, for example — Kennedy would tell them to convince Gen. MacArthur first, and then come back to him. (Alas, there seems to be no comparable Gen. MacArthur today.)


Obama Ignores Key Afghan Warning

February 7, 2014

“From the Archive:  As the 12-year Afghan War grinds to what many Americans see as failure, ex-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other hawks won’t admit their counterinsurgency “surge” in 2009 was a waste of lives and money or that U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was right when he warned President Obama, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote in 2010.  (Originally published Jan. 27, 2010)”


“I imagine that in years to come, Eikenberry will proudly show his cables to his grandchildren. Or maybe he won’t, out of fear that one of them might ask why he didn’t have the guts to quit and let the rest of the country know what he thought of this latest March of Folly.”

The General/Ambassador

Eikenberry is an interesting case study showing, among other things, that lack of guts on the part of a commander-in-chief can be contagious.  A retired Lt. General and then Obama’s ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry knew more about Afghanistan than Petraeus, McChrystal, Gates, and H. Clinton (the entire Gang of Four) put together, and sent back to Washington some very important, sensible advice.  We do not know whether H. Clinton forwarded it on to her boss.  Nor do we know whether Eikenberry exercised his ambassadorial prerogative to contact the President directly.  Apparently, he preferred to avoid putting important noses out of joint.  My guess is that he opted instead to tell his story through leaks to the New York Times.

Eikenberry had served three years in Afghanistan over the course of two separate tours of duty. During 2002-2003 he was responsible for rebuilding Afghan security forces. He then served 18 months (2005-2007) as commander of all US forces stationed in the country.  Surely, he could see the toll in killed and wounded that would inevitably result from the follow being urged on NGO by the Gang of Four.

In any case, Eikenberry’s leaked cables show that he felt strongly about it.  He also saw the handwriting on the wall indicating that Obama was about to let himself be sandbagged by the Gang of Four and its clever use of the media.  So he sent two SECRET NODIS (“NODIS” MEANS No Dissemination) cables to H. Clinton, his boss (and a charter member of the Gang of Four), fully aware that she might not share them with her boss, NGO.  Did Eikenberry ever think of resigning loudly on principle?  Apparently not.

What did he choose to do when he was overruled?  He trod up to Congress and fully supported the feckless surge of troops launched out of NGO’s cowardice/stupidity in bowing to the Gang of Four.  It may never have occurred to him to blow the whistle.  For many a graduate of West Point, its motto seems to get garbled as one pins on star after star in climbing the ladder of success.  The motto is, after all, “Duty, Honor, Country (not Career, not President, not Sinecure Retirement – but Country!).

Or perhaps blowing the whistle did occur to Eikenberry.  But he would have been well aware that, if you challenge the Establishment in a serious way, you seldom end up with a cushy job like running a Research Center at Stanford.  Presumably, Eikenberry takes some gratification in the fact that he turns out to have been correct, as shown by his cables from Kabul, and relishes the applause of his academic colleagues.  As suggested above, it may have been he himself who leaked the cables to the NY Times with that future purpose in the back of his mind – something in the nature of a “modified limited hangout.”