Mr. President: When are you going to stop beating your wife?

How did such a smart guy fall for that centuries old question with no safe answer when it was used by the US military and CIA while Obama was deciding whether or not to release some 2,000 detainee torture photos?  I have no way of knowing if this tricky question was used on him before this. I do know he got trapped on the photos and once trapped, escaping gets harder each time it is used against him.

The photo question was applied this way. When are you going to stop helping the enemy and endangering the troops by releasing more damning photos after you released the torture memos which you never should have done? The implication, you released the torture memos and gave the world and al-Qaeda proof of how piss poor a job was done in applying legal, advanced interrogation techniques. We tried very hard to not break the law and as can happen, some guys went beyond the very specific guidance they were given. The interrogators did their best to serve the country under very trying circumstances because they just wanted to prevent another 9/11.

Gen. Odierno and President al-Maliki along with CIA boss Panetta all said the photos would inflame al-Qaeda and terrorists throughout the world and bring down a reign of terror in Iraq. On May 16, I posted an article on this blog that attempted to make a case that releasing the photos would be a framing blame disaster for Obama and if released, all subsequent violence in Iraq would be blamed on Obama- he would thus own the war and so what if it was entirely unnecessary in the first place. I did not say and did not believe that the photos would inflame the terrorists because they were more than sufficiently inflamed already thanks to the Bush Administration’s invasion and mistake after mistake in war operations. ESPECIALLY STUPID operations when instead of realizing from the beginning that winning the hearts and minds was more important than winning battles, we became an occupation force that deserved to be tossed out almost every time we went into the streets.

The most recent and egregious use of the “beat your wife” question occurred this week. According to McClatchy reporter Nancy A. Youssef, Defense Department officials are debating whether to ignore an earlier promise and squelch the release of an investigation into a U.S. air strike last month, out of fear that its findings would further enrage the Afghan public. The military promised to release the report shortly after the May 4 air attack, which killed dozens of Afghans, and the Pentagon reiterated that last week. Youssef reported, “Pentagon leaders are divided about whether releasing the report would reflect a renewed push for openness and transparency about civilian casualties or whether it would only fan Afghan outrage and become a Taliban recruiting tool just as Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Any guess as to which option will be chosen? Not much chance the report will be released. Somehow, the truth doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much as perception. That poor husband who wasn’t beating or cheating on his wife, finds the truth very inadequate as long as he accepts the question.

Just because the chief investigator has briefed Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the report, and other top defense officials, including Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, doesn’t mean the Afghan President and his citizens deserve the truth too. Youssef said, “The air strike, in western Farah province, has drawn the ire of local and national leaders angered that U.S. forces may have killed as many as 140 civilians in pursuit of a band of Taliban fighters. Shortly after the attack, U.S. military officials told McClatchy that they thought the death toll had been roughly 50, some of them militants.”

Two U.S. military officials told McClatchy that the video shows that no one checked to see whether any women or children were in the building before it was bombed. The report acknowledges that mistakes were made and that U.S. forces didn’t always follow proper procedures, but it does little to reassure Afghans that the U.S. has done enough to avoid repeating those mistakes. According to Youssef’s story, “Lacking sufficient forces to patrol the vast Afghan countryside, the U.S. has relied heavily on airstrikes. The seven-hour incident on May 4 began when Afghan police were ambushed while they were patrolling a road. Some officers were killed, prompting the police to call in the Afghan army. The army then came under attack, too, and the provincial governor called in U.S. forces. The U.S. forces eventually called in air support, military officials said, and after the airstrike began, the Taliban moved into two remote villages separated by poppy fields that were a source of heavy enemy fire, and the fight continued into the night. The U.S. dropped 13 bombs on some buildings, military officials in Afghanistan have said. The report found that an Air Force B-1 bomber had to circle overhead before dropping a 2,000-pound bomb on a site where suspected Taliban fighters had fled. While it was circling, civilians could’ve entered the building or Taliban could’ve left, but the military had no one in a position to observe that.”

It is beyond common sense to believe hiding the truth would be better than admitting and apologizing. Not only does the “beating your wife” question trap a president, it can do the same to SECDEF Gates and other military leaders. The old adage “tell the truth and you won’t have to remember what you said,” is the only solution to keep off the slippery slope of telling half-truths, lies or hiding the truth. It can trap both the question giver and the recipient.

President Karzai has said over and over, stop the air attacks. Yet, we don’t stop and then we make a colossal error and kill 140 innocents and now we are seriously considering refusing to admit our tactics are tragically flawed. Winning hearts and minds is the primary aim of a successful counterinsurgency. It is 8 years since we invaded Afghanistan and only this year, are we going to seriously apply proven counterinsurgency tactics. That is beyond incompetent.

Regardless of what you may think about Gen. McChrystal, who took over Monday as the top commander in Afghanistan, regarding his role in torture or covering up the death in Afghanistan of an NFL football star, he is an expert on counterinsurgency and indications are he understands the importance of winning hearts and minds. His beliefs on the value of truth can certainly be questioned. A WaPo story this week by Greg Jaffe said, “The general also said he wants to revamp the way U.S. forces investigate and respond to civilian casualties, which have produced a tremendous amount of resentment and anger throughout the country. He said he might assemble a team that would fly to an area on only a few hours’ notice to investigate allegations of civilian deaths. And he pledged that the United States will try to be more culturally sensitive in how it responded to mistakes.”

If he really believes his words, he should insist that the report be released immediately. That would put him on a very good footing for the rest of his tour in Afghanistan. If he doesn’t do that, his tour will be even longer and more arduous, and his chance of succeeding in his mission will be significantly diminished.


  1. cocktailhag says:

    What a hideous string of SNAFU’s and what a price we’ll pay for them. Is the “when in doubt (or error) just cover it all up now standard operating procedure? Fooling only the American people, naturally; those bombed don’t need any “transparency” to figure out what happened. It’s quite depressing to keep seeing this.
    The new (old) M$M memes:
    1) Torture kept us safe.
    2) Bombing saves lives.
    3) We didn’t mean to, but they deserved it anyway.
    4) Let’s talk about something else.
    Repeat ad nauseum.
    Great post, RMP.

    • rmp says:

      When I did military public affairs, I always told commanders that truth was our ally and when you aren’t truthful you lose credibility that is very hard to gain back. If your military forces have integrity and deserve to be supported, they will be supported. If they don’t, in the long run they won’t be.

      I always had trouble with intell types because they did so much manipulation and secret stuff that they lost touch with reality and truth. They lived in their world, hung out with their guys, and began to believe their shit didn’t stink. The more insular, the more they stunk.

      • cocktailhag says:

        Which we’re seeing writ large at the moment. The most charitable explanation, that it’s politically impossible for Obama to buck the intelligence “community,” (what a crock of shit word that is in this case….) is more depressing than reassuring, to my eyes, booze-addled though they may be.
        In college, before I switched my major from Journalism to History, I remember a professor in a PR class telling us that flat-out lying, while convenient, came back to bite you in the long run. Too bad Condi didn’t take that class. The lesson involved comparing and contrasting Union Carbide/Bhopal with Johnson & Johnson/Tylenol (this was the early 80′s…) and showed that J & J’s openness beat the crap out of Union Carbide’s, “none of your business,” approach, with long-term implications for each company.
        Maybe I did learn a few things atU of O.

        • dirigo says:

          It “blows my mind” (as we used to say) to consider, as I am more and more inclined to do, that Afghanistan is looking – more and more – like Vietnam.

          “Hearts and minds.” [Destroy the village in order to save it.] Drop a two thousand pounder and hope for the best. Rationalize it to the natives who have no clue about our rationality and justifications.


          Let’s up the ante to nearly 50,000 troops and ship some more two thousand pounders.

          And then what?

          I’m staggering away from my computer screen and rubbing my eyes as I reflect on the continuing torture saga, considering use of the god damn psychologists who had influence on it, and whether releasing more “sadistic” pictures will lead to harming our troops. Apparently the shrinks have been re-hired, the pictures held back for now.

          What is the “psychology” of the intelligence community today, and that of the military? And how is that being “spun” to justify the atrocities committed at Gitmo, and other travesties, such as the bombing cited here? How could the new pictures be explained? What would be the point, since the initial “tranche” pretty much said it all? It’d be a bit redundant wouldn’t it, like trying to make the rubble bounce?

          Ah hah! Have a joint press conference, presided over by the Pentagon’s public affairs officer, the shrinks, and Gen. Mc Crystal, as he appears in our foggy glasses to look like a clone of both Gen. Westmoreland and Gen. Abrams.

          Oz is Oz, and it’s deja vu all over again.

          It’s almost impossible for me, having some experience in the military during certain famous fateful days of yore, to imbibe in this; which is why, perversely, I crank up the Stones when “depressed” on rainy, windy nights (I’m resisting providing another provocative You Tube link however).

          But hell, if you’re going to be perverse – or subversive – you might as well go all the way.

          Sympathy for the devil …

          • cocktailhag says:

            Hey, Dirigo, I just talked to Naomi, and that made me think of you. You’re right, of course, in the worst way… We are seeing Vietnam revisited, at least in the sense of no president wanting to “lose” a war, no matter how irretrievably lost it already is. Plus ca change, and all that. I’ll be out there again soon, by the way.

          • dirigo says:

            Send Naomi and Ben my best, and keep me informed of your travels back East.

          • rmp says:

            Obama was so eager during the campaign to claim his expertise on Iraq and speaking out against it much earlier than most, that he championed “we should have concentrated on Afghanistan” too much. So he has complete ownership of the “right” v. the “wrong” war. No one has succeeded in Afghanistan and it is unlikely that Obama will.

            Take all the war money and give it to the people to upgrade their lives. Stop the damn drug war and they will have to find other crops. Give them the means to protect themselves, instead of proteting them. Have an exit strategy, not if we are there long enough, we will eventually succeed. Right just like we did in Nam. We succeeded when we got the hell out of Nam even though it was not our choice.

            Our biggest mistake as the most powerful nation in the world was to escalate our enemy to equal status. Hell, they were only a few thousand crazies and we let them scare the shit out of us.

          • dirigo says:

            We need to teach men and women how to fish, not fish for them.

            There’s some psychology for you …

  2. cocktailhag says:

    They’re wildly excited by their garden, which has been a great success, no disheartening deaths or failures so far. The co-op has officially joined the Cocktailhag fan club, evidenced only in part by the nice check they just cut for me. And Jeff and Amy upstairs still want to build a deck above, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be back before fall. I’ll of course keep you posted. This time we’ll try to make it a lazy, boozy dinner, rather than a crunch-time project thing.

  3. I’m sorry, rmp, but I find this especially depressing: winning hearts and minds.

    Not our hearts to win. Not our minds. We have absolutely no excuse for being there in the first place. Imagine the Mexican Policia Federal strutting up and down your street, telling you about democracia, handing out dulces to your grandkids, and pointing machine guns at you in intersections.

    Until we understand what that feels like, it doesn’t matter what fucking general we send to places where he doesn’t belong, especially not one deluded enough to think that he owns it.

  4. rmp says:

    I’m not in favor of being in Afghanistan either, but no one is going to listen to us, so we might as well use the money to better their lives, not to bring democracy. From what I am reading, I don’t think Hillary, Barack or Holbrooke have democracy as a goal either. It’s better to live in the villages so those damn drones and their Las Vegas pilots will stay the hell away.

    Here’s some thoughts from my favorite senator about the general:
    Senator accuses general of misleading Congress over torture

    • If we want to give them money, fine. Let’s fly over and kick it off the back ramps of C-141′s, C-17′s, C-130′s, whatever have you, and come back where we belong. Until we renounce this magisterial nonsense once and for all, until we can’t find anyone willing to sit in the middle of the White House, or the Pentagon, and express grave concerns about all those places in the world which have the temerity to ignore our advice, until we prevent the idiot Congresspeople who can’t even tie their own shoes from pontificating about what Iran’s government needs to do before we deign to speak to it, I’ll have no willing part of any of this.

      I don’t really care whether we deem it monstrous, demi-benign, semi-enlightened, or unfortunately necessary. We have whole departments of government busily coining self-serving euphemisms for all manner of acts which are unjustifiable at best, and obscene at worst.

      There must be someone in this country who still has a sense of shame. On would think….

  5. rmp says:

    From this U.S. News and World Report story, it looks like civilian deaths have really gotten top level attention. The “protect the troops argument” can’t always win when you win battles and lose the war. Probably no matter how we fight, we will still end up losing a lot more than we will gain.

    Civilian Casualties Could End Airstrike Support