I saw Pat Buchanan on MSNBC’s Chris Matthews the other night, laughing off Bill Clinton’s latest invocation of the “vast right wing conspiracy.” Mr. Buchanan claimed Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, et al, couldn’t organize a softball game, much less hatch the kind of sturm und drang necessary to upend a presidential career. What he did not acknowledge is that while the blogosphere had yet to find its legs, so to speak, when the Clintons were whining about the VRWC in 1998, it is now a heat-seeking political weapon. In conjunction with You Tube, the blogosphere has arguably seen to the demise of more than a few politicians big and small — and not just to the advantage of the Right Wing. Sen. George Allen might have something to say about whether he would have survived his nascent presidential bid if his “macaca moment” had been off-camera.
The blogosphere has also been used in a more insidious way to develop a trope and turn it into a narrative that sticks. Take the newest by the warhawks on the Right Wing: “Obama isn’t listening to his commanders on the ground.”
It doesn’t matter that there is not one shred of evidence that the President has not “listened to his commanders.” It does not matter that this is a republic, not a military dictatorship, and the people elected a President, not a general, to lead the country through the next four years. It does not matter that it was probably someone inside the military establishment who broke protocol, who leaked Gen. McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment in order to force the administration’s hand on the issue of increased troop deployments.
What matters is the end-game — that tens of thousands more Americans are pumped into Central Asia to prove a point. Sen. John “the maverick” McCain lobbed the opening salvo on behalf of the warhawk elite when he told an audience at the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative last week that Obama needed to heed Gen. McChrystal’s (still undisclosed) recommendation for more troops.
“Apparently the administration does not want Gen. McCrystal’s recommendations on troop strengths,” McCain charged, adding he “has never seen a disconnect like this” between the White House and military brass before. “If you don’t have a recommendation on the troop levels that will be necessary to implement a strategy, then how do you decide on the strategy?”
The trope was cast. A day later, neoconservative Iraq War booster Eliot Cohen used a counterinsurgency conference to criticize Obama for not engaging in daily teleconferencing with his generals. Meanwhile, other senators like Mitch McConnell and James Inofe, weighed in on Obama’s lack of listening skills. Suddenly, there are calls for Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal to come to Washington to testify (read: intimidate) on behalf of Surge II.
But the real bumper sticker moment came in an interview with McChrystal aired by 60 Minutes over the weekend. As News Hounds points out, “rather than discuss the war in Afghanistan, rather than discuss General Stanley McChrystal’s rather damning assessment of how Bush prosecuted the war,” Right Wing talkers and bloggers have already fixated on this exchange:
DAVID MARTIN, “60 MINUTES” CORRESPONDENT: How often do you talk to the president?
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. COMMANDER OF NATO FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: I’ve talked to the president since I’ve been here once on a VTC (video teleconference).
MARTIN: You talked to him once in 70 days?
MCCHRYSTAL: That’s correct.
Those brief words have unleashed a torrent of whining that by Monday reached a crescendo throughout the blogosphere, peaking somewhere in “jilted girlfriend” territory: why doesn’t he call? why doesn’t he listen? doesn’t he know what’s best for him?
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was duly pressed on the issue:
Q Is this the first conversation the President had with McChrystal since receiving his report?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t believe that they’ve spoken since the report has been given. Understanding for a little context, the President receives a memo every week from General McChrystal, as he does from General Odierno, on — an update on how things are going in either Afghanistan or Iraq, respectively. Inputs also come from the diplomatic side. As well as each of those memos, the President meets, as he is today, regularly with the chain of command, including the two top people on that chain of command, Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen, both of whom will be a the White House today. [...]
Q You mentioned the memos that the President gets every week from General McChrystal and General Odierno. Is there a reason why the President hasn’t actually spoken with President — with General McChrystal, except for the one time, since June? President Bush obviously spoke with his commanders every week. Is there a reason why this President –
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has — receives tremendous input from the commanders on the ground; receives input from regional commanders like General Petraeus at Central; talks and meets weekly with, as I said, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, or the Vice Chair if Admiral Mullen is traveling; and meets weekly with the head of that chain of command, Secretary Gates, often.
Obama seems to be wisely observing the chain of command (unlike Bush’s own “teleconferences,” which produced their own fallout during Surge I, points out Tim Fernholz). However, the Right Wing has seized upon a narrative with which it hopes to enjoin the simple folk in what is condescendingly referred to by the elite as “fly over country” or “real America.” An oversimplified nugget of nothingness that is supposed to explain all of the complexities of the counterinsurgency debate: the“rookie” President, as Charles Krauthammer disdainfully called Obama on Sunday, versus the battle-hardened general.
It may not be a softball game Mr. Buchanan, but it’s a really effective way of setting the terms of the debate. Sadly, looking at how Gibbs weakly responded and the constant fumbling and bumbling of Democrats on the Hill, methinks the war skeptics don’t stand a chance.