TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads
Good morrow, cuties, and welcome to your latest edition of Your Sunday Morning Liveblog of political chitty-chat. My name is Jason, welcome. Today, I'll be doing the fast typing routine as the contents of my sinuses attempt to force their way through the holes in my face. Gah! I don't know what it is about the summer varietal of headcold that makes it so tenacious in comparison to the cold-weather versions that tend to flare and subside, but I am really hoping that today will be the last day of it.
This shall hopefully not keep me from my appointed task of frantic typing. Nor should it, because folks, the liveblogging game done changed this week. I speak, of course, of the Guardian's Xan Brooks, who came to work last week expecting to turn in a routine liveblog of an early day of action at the Wimbledon All-England Club and ended up having his mind go the way of Hal Incandenza as the epic Isner-Mahut match went on for hours and hours and, later, days.
Now we can argue as to whether or not it's more difficult to liveblog a tennis match or maintain one's equilibrium during MEET THE PRESS, but Brooks is nevertheless an example of those classic Churchillian values that say when the going is hard you should just Keep Buggering On. So, no matter how much my sinuses throb today, we will see this episode of spasmodic typing through to the end. or at least to the middle. I think I'm good through about 11:10 today.
Okay, we're off.
So, today, Jake Tapper will be extracting all sorts of secrets from CIA director Leon Panetta. Also, did you hear about this whole Stanley McChrystal thing? Could be important. Might get mentioned. Someone could talk about it, on a panel.
So, okay, what's going on with all the people in the world who want to kill us, and what is Leon Panetta doing to stop them? We'll find out, beginning with Afghanistan.
Panetta says it's a "tough fight" with "real problems." Those problems include tribal societies and drug trade and widespread government corruption and the fact that the best travel guide for the area is titled "Let's Go: Graveyard of Empires."
But, nevertheless, Panetta says we are making progress. You know, like existential progress? We continue the process of "being" in "Afghanistan?" And quantum progress, in that we are a "cat" inside a "box" called "Afghanistan" getting "killed."
Also: INCREASING VIOLENCE. In Kandahar and Hellmand. Clear-hold-build-istan. But if we can just train up the security forces, we stand a good chance of being okay. But, Tapper asks, is there evidence that we're making progress on that front? "I think so," Panetta says, citing Marja as a place where commerce is "moving back to normality." He also says that the Taliban is having a harder time maintaining control. Nevertheless, the military will be there for a while, training the Afghans for accepting the responsibility.
Is the Taliban stronger now than they were when Obama takes office. Well, that depends on how you define strength! If by strength you mean, "the ability to kill the heck out of some people, with the violence," then, okay, yeah, they have strength. But, Panetta says, "in some ways they are weaker." We're targeting their leaders, and taking them out. So that makes them weak. Also, the Taliban's girl scout cookies are not as delicious. They haven't come up with a single good one-hour televised drama, yet. They're not solid speed skaters. Honestly, the Taliban: they're not so great.
So, they are good at "violence" but bad at "leadership."
How many al Qaeda are in Afghanistan? About 50-100. They are all in the Pakistan tribal areas, where only the robot planes dare go. For all the money we're spending in Afghanistan, couldn't we just buy al Qaeda out? We couldn't just retire 100 people to Dubai, or something?
Anyway, that Rolling Stone article sure made it sound like the War in Afghanistan wasn't this perfect, azure-colored gemstone of surpassing clarity and beauty, did it? What does "winning in Afghanistan look like?" Panetta says it's a country that's stable enough to not be a haven for al Qaeda. Which was part of the Bush idea of what winning in Iraq looked like, though we've given ground on the need to create a "stable democracy" or an "ally of the United States."
Osama bin Laden is in the wind, as usual, in the robot plane patrolled tribal areas. But we once again managed to kill the number 3 guy in al Qaeda. The number three guy in al Qaeda is mainly responsible for playing drums, in Spinal Tap.
So, what about all the crazy terrorist incidents here in the United States? What does that say about the fight abroad? Panetta says that the more pressure we put on our enemies abroad, the more they try to find other ways to attack us, which are "in some ways more difficult to plan for or thwart."
Panetta has, on a couple of occasions, blurred the distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban, today.
Is it true that Anwar Al Awlaki is on an assassination list? And what about the fact that he's an American citizen? Panetta says that he is first and foremost a terrorist, who has declared war on the U.S. He denies that there is an assassination list. There is, however, a "terrorist list," containing the names of people who will probably get assassinated, given the chance.
I'm sure nothing will wrong with these listicle-based counterterror plans!
What of reconciliation? The Pakistanis believe that they can make a deal with the Haqqani network that will end their part of the insurgency. Similar overtures are being made with members of the Taliban leadership. Panetta, however, throws cold water on that idea, saying that there is just no evidence that anyone in the Taliban or al Qaeda or the Haqqani network or the TTP wants to reconcile. But, I thought that peeling off persuadables was a vital part of counterinsurgency? If it's entirely without merit, the idea that we can peel off some of these militants, doesn't that mean the strategy is less effective that previously surmised?
"My view is that unless they are convinced that the United States is going to win and they are going to be defeated, reconciliation is not possible," says Panetta. Ahh, so THAT kind of "reconciliation."
Is the U.S. abiding by the law, with their drone strikes? Panetta says yes we are, and then he lapses into a monologue of 9-11 sophistry. (Did you know this nation was attacked on 9-11-2001? It's true!)
Will the Iranian sanctions work? Panetta says he thinks the sanctions will have "some impact" that "could help" to weaken the regime. Will it deter them in their nuclear ambitions? "Probably not." They are, perhaps, two years away from developing a weapon and a delivery system.
Are we sabotaging their nuclear program? Panetta will not comment on an intelligence operation that may or may not be, at this very moment, sabotaging their program. But they do seem to be having some problems!
What about North Korea? Was the South Korean warship attack a part of the succession underway, between Kim Jong Il and his son? Panetta says that some of the dust-up that's going on does seem to be partly geared toward setting up Kim's son as a credible leader.
Meanwhile, Blackwater! They keep getting drunk and killing people and screwing up royally in war zones and yet they keep right on winning defense contracts. What's up with that? Panetta says that he has contracts under review and the CIA is not contracting out their own activities to private firms. The reality is as Panetta states it: there are a few companies that can do private security, and Blackwater/Xe consistently underbids the rest, and heavens knows that we are miserable with THE DEFICITZ now, and if the difference between a bunch of drunk murdering Blackwater cockups and the next company of slightly fewer reprobates is $26 million, then we dance with the drunken, murdering cock-ups. Save the moral judgments for women who want to terminate their pregnancies, right?
What about all the CIA agents who went around torturing people? Panetta says that CIA officers have to "take risks." As for Eric Holder's investigation into the torture, Panetta thinks that "in the end it will all turn out to be okay." So, yay! It's always sunny in Langley!
What threat are we not paying enough attention to? Panetta says: loose nukes, and who's got them. Also: cybersecurity is an "area we have to pay a lot more attention to.
Okay, panel time with George Will, Robin Wright, David Sanger, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
Tapper asks the panel to reflect on the previous Panetta interview. Will says that it's clear we are there to prevent a sovereignty vacuum for al Qaeda to use, to clean their carpets and get in between the cushions on their sofas of terror. Will also highlights Panetta's admission on the lack of reconciliation -- it indicates that the Taliban's momentum has not been broken and that, to Will anyway, the July 2011 withdrawal date has "no meaning."
Chandrasekaran says the reconciliation admission was key, as well. No sign that any insurgent groups are ready to come to the table? Chandrasekaran says, "RED FLAG."
Sanger says it's notable that Panetta says that Iran is still working on their nuclear weapon -- it contravenes the last Bush era NIE. Wright says that the next NIE is going to make some waves, for sure. If it ever comes out!
No talk yet, by the way, of all the conflict minerals!
Anyway, back to McChrystal. Will says Obama handled the incident in the "right way, with the right words." And the pick of Petraeus was the best choice around. But the issue is the deadline of July 2011. I don't really know why everyone's decided that the withdrawal isn't conditions-based, or is pretending that on some date in July, we're going to just flip a switch and bring them all home. (Naturally, I don't ever expect to hear anyone arguing for withdrawal on the basis of the war being expensive and difficult and unpopular, because I guess that means "we lose" -- by which I mean "we lose" in the sense that we all feel bad for a while, emotionally. Better to stave off bad emotions by actually losing money and actually losing lives and actually growing weaker as a nation, potentially.
This is all beside the point however. Jake's not as up to speed on this issue as I'd like. To wit:
The G8 group of major world powers set a five-year timeframe for the government of Afghanistan to take increasing control of its own security.
The communique released at the end of the two-day Muskoka summit in Canada represents the first time the international community has put a clear timescale at the highest level for the conclusion of the foreign intervention in Afghanistan, which began in 2001.
And it sets a probable end date for the withdrawal of Britain's 10,000-strong deployment in the country.
It came a day after Prime Minister David Cameron indicated that he envisages the bulk of UK troops coming home from Afghanistan by the time of the next general election, scheduled for 2015.
So, don't look for 2011 to be a big year for homecomings.
Chandrasekaran says the situation in Marja is a long, hard slog, and not an exhibit of breaking the momentum of the insurgents. He points out that the hope was that they'd get enough accomplished by the July 2011 deadline that the insurgents might be brought to the table. He adds that the Petraeus-for-McChrystal switch will hold off short-term political trouble for Obama, but the road ahead is full of pitfalls. Come next spring, with Petraeus advocating for delaying the drawdown, the political blowback will be stronger.
Will points out that "conditions-based withdrawal" is a term that makes the idea of a deadline its first casualty. Wright points out that the military might not want to get to the point where its starts to look like they are duplicating the Soviet Union's experiences in Afghanistan. They should have maybe brought that up at the outset.
Will says that it sets up a collision between Obama and his base, which won't be energized by what's coming out of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the G8 is resisting the call to continue to stimulate the economy, which means welcome to the pro-cyclical rollercoaster. Wright: "Recovery is a lot about psychology." Everyone! Please start FEELING recovered!
Sanger points out that austerity is home, though, with the unemployed losing their benefits. Chandrasekaran points out that both sides have cause to draw this out. The GOP wants to look tough for their base, and the Dems want a few more weeks of hitting the GOP for picking on the jobless.
THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW
Okay, lets' get on with some perspectivizin' with Chris Matthews, salt of the Pennsylvania earth, along with the help of a NEW STUDIO OMGZ! It looks like the blue-walled stepchild of the MEET THE PRESS set.
Anyway, Dan Rather is here, and he says something I don't quite understand, but he thinks Petraeus is great! Maybe a new Eisenhower! Maybe he will run for President, and become a figure that no one from his old party talks about ever because he made too much sense at times!
Katty Kay noticed that Petraeus had a lot to do with creating counterinsurgency strategy, seeing as how the manual has his name on it. Gloria Borger says that the big lesson learned here is that the President has to stay in touch with his commanders. "Hey, commanders, how you doin'? Feeling okay? Or are you in the mood to get tore up at a bar in Paris and start complaining. You know I'm here for you, baby!"
Hooray, John Harris is here to tell us that there are people in the Democratic caucus who are against the war. That's some precious insight. Also, why won't he show the camera the right side of his face? Are his chancres a-foam, or something?
Now Rather is saying that the war is likely to be "more Lebanon than we would like," and that someone should keep an eye on Karzai, sounds like he's corrupt or something!
Kay thinks that the GOP in Congress will go along with whatever Petraeus says, even if he says we have to withdraw in July of 2011. But what if he says, "Hey, let's stay forever!"
Chris Matthews thinks the administration is maybe "talking out of both sides of its mouth" in the way that EVERYONE IN THE ADMINISTRATION SAYS WITHDRAWAL IS CONDITIONS BASED, but! -- and it's a big but! -- Joe Biden was quoted in Jonathan Alter's book of god-only-knows-the-sourcing gossip saying "a lot of troops" will be coming home. That's a curious balancing point: EVERYONE SAYING THE EXACT SAME THING versus one quote in a gossip-book. Naturally, John Harris thinks this is all so grave and interesting. He's figured out that Obama has not promised anything, but that enthusiasm for the war may wane. I guess other people will have to maybe give some consideration to why America is tiring of the longest war in the nation's history!
By changing the set around, this show has become a lot more jump-cutty and interruption-filled. AND I CAN'T SEE WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE OTHER SIDE OF JOHN HARRIS' FACE! Is that where his samurai tattoo is? Does he have a third nipple, puckering on his cheek? NO ONE KNOWS.
"ABLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH," for two minutes, as everyone interrupts everyone else!
Oh, wow. Now they are all watching a terrible Top Ten List, in it's entirety, from David Letterman. They cut to the panel, watching it, and OH LOOK THERE'S THE OTHER SIDE OF JOHN HARRIS' FACE. It's okay! There's nothing wrong with it.
Man, it must be awesome to hang out with Chris Matthews on a cavernous NBC studio set and watch his Comedy Clip Collection!
Okay, so, Sarah Palin, for some reason, is a topic. I think the crux here is that now that she's made all this money, will she run for President, or will she continue to be a rich Facebook status updater, accountable to no one. Kay seems to think that she's got a pretty sweet life of social media utilization and rolling in dough to look forward to, so probably don't count on her running for President.
What about her propensity for "picking winners," leaving aside the losers she's picked, liked the odd Mr. Hoffman from New York's 23rd district. I'm more interested in my take than anyone on this stupid panel, because mine happens to be right: Palin's gotten good at knowing who is guaranteed to win primary elections, and backing them, and then riding out the reaction of her idiot followers when they get angry. So, she can come in and pick a Carly Fiorina or a Terry Branstad, who Palinistas hate, without much worry. She did a good job getting in on some of that sweer Nikki Haley action, but wow: the forgotten ground floor investor was Mitt Romney!
What does all this get Palin? Well, it doesn't translate necessarily into a presidential run. SORRY EVERY DEMOCRAT IN AMERICA! But it's a cheap way of garnering some mystique in the eyes of some not-very-discerning people, and that's enough to perpetuate celebrity for a long time.
Harris, now back to hiding his face, says that Palin is essentially a fameball, nurturing a brand, and not a person who is building a political coalition. Rather, though, thinks she could run for President, which, again, is the dream of every Democrat in America. Kay and Borger and Harris all disagree.
Stuff Chris Matthews doesn't know includes Dan Rather saying that the new security problem is South America, Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay, where there are gunrunners and terrorists. Kay says that domestic violence has spiked in the Gulf region. Borger says the House will vote on the War in Afghanistan and a lot of Democrats are going to vote against it -- BUT THEY WON'T STOP THE WAR, EVER, DON'T WORRY. Harris says that labor is going to spend money on 2010 races.
Will the president's legislative successes translate into a net positive in 2010? Everyone agrees that it will be a positive, though perhaps slight.
MEET THE PRESS
Time now for the longest running vaudeville act in America! John McCain on MEET THE PRESS, for the 9,762nd time. Why? Because some war stuff happened and we got to talk to a war guy about the wars and maybe WE ARE ALL PETRAEUSES NOW. Clearly, John McCain's MEET THE PRESS appearances will be one of the few things that survive the annihilation of our species, and when the Tralfamadorian spaceships arrive to pick through our remains, they will surely find McCain and David Gregory, on the set of Tron, locked in a discussion about what the blasted heath of the world needs are more pointless displays of bellicosity and that any day now, we'll turn Afghanistan around. And the Tralfamadorian commander will say, "You know, we were going to ask how everything came to be destroyed, but after listening to you two prattle on senselessly for the past seven minutes, it's really starting to make perfect sense.
Also, Barbara Lee, Sebastion Junger, Tom Ricks, Wes Moore, and Pentagon message-force-multiplier Barry McCaffrey.
Hosted by unbiased bystander David Gregory!
Richard Engel is here, to tell us that the growing consensus in Afghanistan is that there is no military solution. Great! And Afghans are worried that we'll let the Taliban come back to power. The troops are said to have been initially shocked by McChrystal's cashiering, but now are embracing change, and looking for changes to the rules of engagement -- which is great news in a place where the consensus is that a military solution is impossible.
Let's get on with today's McCaining. McCain is happy that McChrystal was dispensed with in the manner that he was, that McChrystal is a good guy that he wishes well, but Obama "made the right decision."
What does McCain think that McChrystal was thinking, in the Rolling Stone article? McCain says it's "frustration" and the product of a bunch of drunk soldiers, and that when he was a drunk soldier he said terrible things about his CO, but never to Michael Hastings! David Petraeus should allow Mark Salter to embed with him, things will go better!
But, the war, it is not going well, and of course, it's all because the President wants to one day withdraw troops from the longest and unwinningest war in the history of the world. The only solution is to stay forever, which would really suit the Taliban just fine, too. Bankrupt us to death, and kill some soldiers for sport.
McCain says, yeah, it's a long war and it sucks when people die, but Karzai is already planning for our departure by getting all shirty and Talibanny.
How come we are having a hard time recruiting soldiers to our side, but the Taliban doesn't have the same trouble? McCain doesn't really have an answer to that good question. But we cannot promise to leave Afghanistan, ever. We must strive to be the geopolitical John Isner! And prevail over the terrorists in the longest tennis match in history. When we do, there will be certain glory for us!
Of course, the downside to that is that Isner went right out and got wiped out in his next match, because the cost of winning the previous one exacted too great a toll.
For whatever reason even though McCain has spent this entire segment bitching about the withdrawal timetable, is working through the logic of it again, probably because he's on a tight script and could not have anticipated that McCain, who is historically against timetables, dating back years, would show up in his studio to tell Gregory that he is against timetables. It's been the only substantive part of his war critique, for a year!
"I'm against timetables," repeats McCain, almost impatiently. But didn't all the military professionals sign off on the timetable, Gregory asks? They did, and they shouldn't have, says McCain. "And now General Petraeus is in an untenable position," McCain says. Oh, boo hoo! He only signed up for a career in being in untenable positions! Meanwhile, there's a whole nation, called America, that's also in a tricky spot.
Anyway, there's nothing untenable, because every adult in the country understands that the withdrawal has been, from minute one, conditions-based.
McCain: "We need the President to come out and say, this is conditions-based, and conditions-based only." You mean, we need for him to say that AGAIN, JOHN? For the 987th time? You not keeping up, John? Haven't got this stuff sorted, John? George Will has got this figured out, and he hates blue jeans! What will it take? Does it not count until the President goes into the Rose Garden to make a special announcement, just for John McCain, that the withdrawal he's been saying is conditions-based for years really is, John, just for you, John. And then Obama invites John to eat his very own funnel cake and jump around in his very own bouncy-house and ride his very own pony around the White House grounds.
Gregory points out that McCain agreed that the time period was necessary to conduct a review. He's for that, still. He's for constant reviews! Just the results of the review can never suggest that things are going bad, and maybe it's time to go home. Withdrawal cannot happen until success, and no result other than success can ever be presumed as a possibility.
David Gregory, for some reason is actually being a furtive questioner today. Isn't he worried he'll lose access to John McCain?! (Actually, no.) Anyway, he points out that our deployment to Afghanistan is massive. We have sent all the troops there. McCain says that President Obama must say that the withdrawal is conditions-based (no one but John McCain seems to think otherwise) and that we might even send more troops! Magical troops, that grow on trees, in the field of Monsanto!
Now, Gregory will ask McCain if their is a clear objective. McCain says that we must not let the Taliban return to power and influence there. "Return" being the word doing the heavy lifting.
One thing that even McCain can agree with is that "Tom Friedman was wrong in Iraq." I mean, he's wrong in McCain's eyes for reasons that don't jibe with mine, but still, Tom Friedman's wrongness is something that unites the nation.
"By the way," McCain says, "[The Afghans] are very excellent fighters." Okay, but are the Taliban immortal or something? Do they have lasers for eyes?
Now for some reason we are talking about Elena Kagan? Whatever. And will we have comprehensive immigration reform. "Not until the border is secure." So, never, right? "And by the way," McCain asks, "Why is Phoenix, Arizona the number two kidnapping capital of the world?" It's a good question, considering that there's been no radical reshaping of Phoenix's economy from Milton Friedmanites. That's what typically leads to abductions. But I think the answer is simply this: Phoenicians are delicious! Once you've had one, you will have more kidnapped, I promise you!