The Obama-McChrystal Showdown


The fate of the top United States military commander and the chief architect of American policy in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is in the balance. General McChrystal has been summoned to explain to President Obama on Wednesday (June 23) a series of comments made by him and his aides to the Rolling Stone magazine. McChrystal’s remarks this time have gone beyond anything the rebellious general has said in public before, rocking America’s political and military establishments. Despite a prompt and profuse apology for displaying what General McChrystal admitted was poor judgment and a lack of integrity, considerable uncertainty hangs over his future.

In the article, one of McChrystal’s aides is quoted as saying the general was disappointed at his first meeting with an ‘unprepared’ Obama, his commander-in-chief. The aide continues, “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his ****ing war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed.”

As part of McChrystal’s strategy for ‘winning’ the Afghan war, President Obama agreed last year to deploy more than 30000 additional troops in the country. But he set a deadline of July 2011 for beginning a withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan – a political necessity before of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. McChrystal’s strategy team regards the deadline as ‘arbitrary’.

McChrystal says in the article that he felt ‘betrayed’ by his former boss, retired General Karl Eikenberry, the current U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan. An Obama loyalist, Eikenberry was appointed to the job soon after his retirement from the military. He provided a counter to McChrystal, a hawkish warrior for whom political solutions come way behind overwhelming military power.

General McChrystal has nothing but contempt for President Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. An email from Holbrooke prompts McChrystal to respond, “Oh not another email from Holbrooke.” The general says he doesn’t even want to open it.

“The boss [General McChrystal] says he [Holbrooke] is like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.” Then McChrystal’s staff mocks Vice President Joe Biden, seen as heading the list of people against the general. And President Obama’s national security adviser Jim Jones is described as a clown ‘stuck in 1985’.

Two members of the Obama administration regarded as supporters in the McChrystal camp are Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was retained from the Bush administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main opponent for the Democratic nomination before the 2008 presidential election.

Eighteen months after inauguration, this latest McChrystal episode illustrates something that is at the root of problems within the Obama administration. His decision to form what in effect is a coalition administration may have been well intentioned. He wanted to see potential opponents inside the tent, rather than outside. He thought he would hear differing points of view, then decide in his capacity as the nation’s commander-in-chief. And everybody will obey, because the U.S. president can overrule his entire cabinet where decision-making by majority vote does not happen. It was to be his way of achieving consensus and smooth running of the administration after eight years of extreme turbulence.

The experience of the last eighteen months has shown the opposite, however. President Obama inherited a toxic domestic and foreign-policy legacy from the Bush administration. Obama’s coalition of strong and ambitious personalities, of differing interests and hardnosed views, requires extraordinarily strong leadership at the top to prevail over the rest.

Outside, there is America’s powerful military-industrial complex, traditionally close to Republican thinking, to contend with. There is the Tea Party movement, a leaderless and raucous loose network of extreme rightwing spoilers, otherwise representing a dynamic similar to the movement of moderate and progressive Americans that catapulted Obama to the White House. And a growing body of disenchanted supporters that could be as damaging to the Obama presidency as it was helpful before November 2008.

In foreign policy, a defiant Israel bent upon thwarting Obama’s Middle East hopes. Iran and Turkey, largely a problem of America’s own making. And the drone attacks on the Afghanistan-Pakistan front that kill many more civilians than militants. Such behavior of the U.S. military violates international law, highlights double standards and creates the impression that the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful nation is not in control of his military.

The months between now and the November 2010 mid-term elections will be make or break time for the Obama presidency.



BP oil spill, Bhopal gas leak and America’s nuclear business

President Obama insists on BP paying every dime for the damage caused, directly and indirectly, by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, America demands a limited liability guarantee from the Indian government for US companies selling nuclear power stations to India.

What if a Chernobyl-type disaster happened at an American-designed nuclear plant in the world’s second most populous country? And remember the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster and the shameful treatment of its victims by the American company Union Carbide.

U.S. oil spill and politics

Deepak Tripathi


The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has attracted President Obama’s undiluted attention in recent days. His well-publicized tours of devastated coastal areas have been followed in the United Kingdom. His rhetoric has raised more than a few eye brows in Britain. On matters of environmental awareness, Europe has been ahead of North America for years. Energy and the environment are part of the mainstream political agenda. And Europe, too, has suffered oil disasters.

In March 1978, the giant oil tanker Amoco Cadiz split into two just off the coast of France, causing the largest spill of its kind to that date. However, since oil began to flow from the North Sea in 1975, nothing like the disaster now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico has occurred on this side of the Atlantic. Tougher safety regulations may have something to do with this. News of the oil spill wreaking havoc along the U.S. coast has caused shock and sadness in Europe. Tinged with that sentiment is a little disappointment over the Obama administration’s rhetoric, seemingly aimed at Britain, a country known for understatement.

Six weeks after it struck, the White House realized that the environmental disaster had the makings of a political calamity in the 2010 mid-term elections, and possibly in 2012. Back in 1998, what was then British Petroleum and the U.S. oil company Amoco merged together to form BP Amoco, a gigantic international oil corporation. With shares almost equally divided between U.S. and British investors, the name British Petroleum was no longer relevant. It simply became BP.

Few people will have sympathy with BP’s executives after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and rightly so. Its chief executive Anthony Hayward has done a poor job of leading the effort in the eyes of the American people. Its chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg was too late in coming forward to talk. With anger spreading in the United States, threatening serious political consequences for the Democratic Party and himself, President Obama’s references to the company as British Petroleum have been a step back into history.

Mr Obama’s comparison of the oil spill with 9/11 has not gone unnoticed in Britain. The country has been the staunchest ally in America’s wars in Afghanistan, and more controversially in Iraq, after 9/11. It has paid a high price in terms of lives lost and money spent in both wars. The president’s assertion that America’s coasts have been assaulted is emotive, inaccurate and hurtful. The spill is definitely not an assault from outside. Corporate deregulation in the United States must take some responsibility, too. Unfortunately, this sobering aspect is not coming across in the administration’s rhetoric or Congressional hearings.

People in the United Kingdom are hence exercised. Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the United States, was prompted to say that while it was right for the British government to have stayed out so far, eventually something needed to be said about the British interests involved in the oil disaster. Sir Christopher’s message contained a reminder that numerous American and British people’s jobs and pensions depended on investments in BP.

There followed a transatlantic phone call between Britain’s new prime minister David Cameron and President Obama. While Mr Cameron expressed his sadness and frustration over the disaster, he also emphasized the importance of BP for the United States and the United Kingdom. According to the Prime Minister’s office in London, Mr Obama told him that he had no interest in undermining the company’s value.

As the leader of the most powerful country, the United States president has to deal with multiple issues at any one time. When President Obama came to office eighteen months ago, he inherited a toxic legacy at home and abroad. Perhaps unrealistically, his victory promised a great deal: to improve America’s image abroad, launch a new Middle East peace drive and mend relations with the Muslim world, and deal with the economic crisis at home.

Events have taken a sharp turn for the worse in the Middle East in the past year. However, there is still a lot more the president can do. For that to happen, Mr Obama needs to avoid becoming a one-issue president. And be more mindful of the value of long-standing allies.

Crisis management, Obama-style

Crisis in the Mediterranean as the Israeli navy moves to intercept the Rachel Corrie humanitarian aid boat sailing toward Gaza.

President Obama cancels a planned foreign tour of Australia and Indonesia, leaves the White House and heads for Louisiana to inspect the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, his third inspection.