Arianna Huffington wants something. She believes in something. She has a conviction about something, a gut feeling about something, an internal piston moving her toward something, a kind of vision. She sits in a boardroom or in an office or in her house or in a cubicle or in a cab or on a plane and she’s on the phone, outlining that want, that belief, that conviction, that gut feeling, that vision. She has people working for her, salaried people. She expects, assumes their loyalty, honesty and trust. One of her key aides, perhaps even a most trusted aide, listens to the idea. He or she has a gut feeling, too. The most-trusted aide thinks Huffington’s idea is absolutely wrong.
What does the aide do? After all, this is business: There’s a boss, a chain of command, and the individual facing this dilemma is, on some level, being paid to let the boss be the boss, no matter how high on the corporate vine they sit. Yet, what if the decision Huffington makes could be of such colossal consequence that it could affect, say, the future of the Huffington Post or the entire Huffington brand? Does the aide ditch all that trust, loyalty and honesty, and allow Huffington to go tumbling into that good night? Or does the aide stay, even if Huffington goes forward with a decision the aide knows to be wrong. Does the aide fight? Or does the aide pick up all the marbles and go play somewhere else?
Someone should clip the above two paragraphs and email them to Huffington regarding her recent post, “Why Joe Biden Should Resign.” The vice president is known to be against a troop increase or surge in Afghanistan; Huffington refers to a new Newsweek story, by Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas, that features a quote from Biden speaking at a national security meeting on Sept. 13. I’ll use the same quote:
“Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?” Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. “And how much will we spend on Pakistan?” Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. “Well, by my calculations that’s a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we’re spending in Pakistan, we’re spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?” The White House Situation Room fell silent.
Huffington’s point is simple: If Obama gives General McChrystal what he wants — 40,000 more troops — Biden should resign out of principle. For one thing, she writes, she’s tired of these “mea-culpa-laden books” that come out following the departure of an administration. Why, asks Huffington, couldn’t Biden be
“making the mea culpa unnecessary? Instead of saving it for the book, how about future author Biden unfetter his conscience in real time — when it can actually do some good? If Biden truly believes that what we’re doing in Afghanistan is not in the best interests of our national security — and what issue is more important than that? — it’s simply not enough to claim retroactive righteousness in his memoirs.
But it’s also simply not enough, I would argue, to place a value on our military presence in Afghanistan on fiscal terms alone. Some Republicans say, for example, that all America has to do is visit the Afghan warlords with dollars in sacks and buy their loyalty. This, too, over-estimates the buying power of money when it comes to terrorists and enemies. Were the case otherwise, the $25 million bounty on the head of Osama bin Laden, the $25 million bounty on the head of Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the $10 million bounty on the head of Mullah Omar would have produced results by now.
Still, to underscore her belief that withdrawing from Afghanistan is the answer — and that if Obama agrees to a troop increase, Biden should resign — Huffington mixes four sources into her argument: conservative commentator George Will (“do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units”); former State Department wonk and Bush Administration figure Richard Haas (“If Afghanistan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort”); former CIA operative Robert Baer, quoted in Robert Greenwald’s Rethink Afghanistan (“the more we fight in Afghanistan, the more the conflict is pushed across the border into Pakistan, the more we destabilize Pakistan, the more likely it is that a fundamentalist government will take over the army — and we’ll have Al-Qaeda like groups with nuclear weapons”); and former GOP senator Chuck Hagel (“the more troops you throw in places, the more difficult it is to work it out because you have an investment to protect”).
Paragraph after paragraph driving home her belief that America must “wind down this disastrous war and focus on the real dangers in Pakistan” does not, however, explain how America would gain by Biden’s removal from Obama’s team. Indeed, does Huffington surround herself with those who yes her incessantly or those who stay and fight, who fight the good fight even after they lose, as they inevitably will from time to time. Last winter, I had a great conversation with a Republican moderate I met at Fox. She lamented the male-domination of the party, not to mention being a minority in the party because she’s pro-choice. After listening to her enumerate various other aspects of Republican dogma with which she disagrees or has misgivings, I asked her why she didn’t switch affiliations or go independent. “Because you fight for your party!” was her emphatic exclamation. Well, that’s why Biden shouldn’t resign, no matter what Obama decides. To suggest otherwise fundamentally distorts the power structure — and the needs — of the modern American presidency.
Now, let’s have a moment for the one part of the Afghanistan-withdrawal argument that is hardest to battle: the notion that there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda left there, that most of the enemy isn’t the Taliban, per se, but al Qaeda centered in Pakistan. I concede the point. Still, if we withdraw from Afghanistan, and if the idea is to “focus on the real dangers in Pakistan,” how, I would ask Huffington, do we do that? Indeed, what is Biden’s idea for neutralizing a nuclear threat from Pakistan in terms of al Qaeda gaining access to the weapon and then, maybe, to their disbursement and delivery? Are we to invade Pakistan? Really? As for other reasons for staying in Afghanistan, meanwhile, I concede a few of them are important but tinged with disingenuousness. For example, writes Huffington:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered up a few rationales for why Obama should rubber stamp Gen. McChrystal’s wishes. First, she said, “there has to be a process of finding out, which of these people can we work with and which can we not.” Really? Seven years in and we still haven’t checked that one off our to-do list?
Feinstein then broke out the latest trendy, new-for-fall reason why we need to up the ante in Afghanistan — it’s all about the women. ” I particularly worry about women in Afghanistan,” Feinstein said, “acid in the face of children, girl children who go to school, women who can’t work when they’re widowed, huddled on the streets, begging, women beaten and shot in stadiums, you know, Sharia law with all of its violence.”
….missing from the discussion was the fact that “Sharia law with all of its violence” has just been made the law of the land by President Karzai — you know, our man in Kabul. The Sharia Personal Status Law, signed by Karzai, became operational in July. Among its provisions: custody rights are granted to fathers and grandfathers, women can work only with the permission of their husbands, and husbands can withhold food from wives who don’t want to have sex with them. On the plus side, if a man rapes a mentally ill woman or child, he must pay a fine.
And how can anyone, especially Huffington, dismiss seven lost years of this war? The problem we face, in my view, is that we fought the wrong war for seven years and now it’s up to President Obama to determine how to fight the right war while we’re smack in the middle of it. No, we must not blame President Bush any further — his appalling neglect of the Afghanistan situation led us to this moment, but he’s no longer in the Oval Office. The fact is, terroristic elements in Afghanistan perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks and some of those same elements are now closer to Pakistan’s nukes, in terms of geography and politics, than at any time in the past seven years. For that reason alone, this is no time, and there is no reason, for Biden to resign. This is the time for Biden to fight for his country, even if he loses a battle along the way.