Last week, in one of the more ill advised trips in recent diplomatic memory. Republican Senators John McCain (Arizona), longtime buddy Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), John Cornyn (Texas) and Jeff Sessions (Alabama) made an Independence Day-themed journey to Afghanistan. Though the group’s stated intent was benign enough – a morale-lifting Fourth of July celebration with American troops stationed in the country – many of us on the left had to wonder what other motivations the old war hawks might have for this surprise visit.
I actually have a longtime, highly vigilant friend of mine to thank for asking all the right questions about the precursive journey that led to Monday’s rather stunning headline on the front page of the New York Times: U.S. Considers Faster Pullout in Afghanistan. To quote my pal directly regarding the Gang of Four’s sojourn to the Greater Middle East: “I am not the only one who sees this going really wrong, correct?”
Indeed not. While a variety of news outlets have reported on McCain’s leadership of a re-enlistment ceremony for several soldiers in Kabul, the true purpose of the trip has been obediently downplayed by corporate media. Prior to engagement with the troops, the insubordinate Gang of Four met with Afghan President, and American frenemy Hamid Karzai.
Without the benefits of a wire tap or printed transcripts, suspicious parties such as myself cannot do more than guess at the meat of this exchange, but what we can say for certain is that just days after the meeting, President Obama is suddenly re-evaluating the withdrawal of American forces on a more extreme timetable. Times reporters Mark Mazzeti and Matthew Rosenberg speculate that pursuant to a tense June 27 teleconference between Karzai and Obama, and after the visit from McCain, Graham, et al. “the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.”
The two reporters go on to observe, “The Obama administration’s internal deliberations about the future of the Afghan war were described by officials in Washington and Kabul who hold a range of views on how quickly the United States should leave Afghanistan and how many troops it should leave behind.” And if we take a look behind this tidy sentence, we may have an answer to what the gray-haired Gang of Four discussed with erstwhile American ally, Karzai.
Consider the following headline from the Los Angeles Times, shortly after the lawmakers’ arrival: Republican senators criticize Afghan pullout plan. The article quotes McCain as characterizing the President’s official troop reduction blueprint as an “unnecessary risk…that can undermine the whole effort and sacrifices that have been made ever since this important surge.”
Senator McCain, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but that is a far cry from the rather treasonous act of venturing to Afghanistan to try to pit that nation’s leader against the POTUS to turn events your way. Again, I have no direct proof that this is what occurred, but how many possible explanations exist for this rapid evolution of strategy?
As my wizened friend offered: “[These four senators] tend to be very much for us continuing in everlasting wars, especially McCain and Graham, and they ran over there less than a week ago NOT as [representatives] for the State Department. It is highly unlikely this is a coincidence, and that they somehow made Karzai think he could manipulate this situation to [continue] being supported and funded indefinitely.
It would be a brilliant little turn of events if the result of their manipulation turned out to be early and complete withdrawal, not an indefinite dragging out. You’d think this same group would have learned from their little Pyrrhic victory in the Susan Rice debacle (that ended with Rice getting a more powerful position and, Markey in that Senate seat) that they aren’t good strategists at predicting how to effectively manipulate this President.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.