Tales from the Trail

Do wars and transparency mix?

President Barack Obama says he wants to have the most transparent administration ever.

But does that still hold when it comes to war? PORTUGAL/

There have been some subtle and not-so-subtle administration signals that perhaps General Stanley McChrystal publicly chatting about his views on Afghanistan strategy was not entirely welcome.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday urged advisers to offer their views to the president “candidly but privately” about a decision that “will be among the most important of his presidency.”

Gates named no names. But it would be difficult to ignore the timing of the comment, just days after McChrystal in London told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that a strategy being floated by Vice President Joe Biden to narrow the mission in Afghanistan was short-sighted.

Usually, presidents want their generals seen (behind the Commander-in-Chief) and not heard (in public ahead of them). And Obama barely knows McChrystal. They met last week on Air Force One in Copenhagen for the first time since McChrystal presented a grim assessment of the war and requested more troops.

The First Draft: Public option, Afghan policy under scrutiny

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee face off Tuesday over whether an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system should include an optional government-run health insurance plan.

The panel, which is debating changes to Chairman Max Baucus’s healthcare reform bill, is dealing with amendments about the public option Tuesday.

USA/The public insurance option has become a hot button issue. Many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, say it is needed to make sure there is enough competition to drive down prices.

Skelton making point on Afghanistan with turn of phrase

Sometimes it takes a colorful phrase to get the point across.

IRAQ-USA/PETRAEUSAnd these days when it seems almost everyone’s got an opinion on Afghanistan, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton’s words caught attention.

In a six-page letter to President Barack Obama, the Missouri Democrat bared his view that General Stanley McChrystal should have the troops and resources he needs for the war.

“The last administration allowed itself to be distracted from the fight forced on us in Afghanistan by the fight it chose in Iraq,” Skelton wrote.

An honest assessment of Afghan mistakes, but what is next?

It is encouraging that the U.S. administration finally seems to be getting a handle on what went wrong in Afghanistan these past eight years.

What is less encouraging is the fact there seems little political appetite around the globe to fix the mess.AFGHANISTAN

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s report is a stark and honest assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

The First Draft: Obama courts autoworkers, Biden visits Iraq

President Barack Obama courts autoworkers in Ohio and union leaders in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

Obama meets workers at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and later addresses a convention of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Pittsburgh.
Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq for visits with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders.

Back in Washington, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs lawmakers on the war in Afghanistan.

McCain says troop increase in Afghanistan needed

Republican Senator John McCain is clashing with Democratic Senator Carl Levin over Levin’s comments that he does not want to send additional troops to Afghanistan.

McCain, the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters a surge is needed like was done in Iraq and that Levin’s recommendations remind him of how then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to fight the Iraq war — “He thought that we could win on the cheap and at one point the entire Iraqi army collapsed,” McCain said. AFGHANISTAN/

“So in all due respect to Senator Levin and the others, we have to have a significant troop increase, otherwise we’re going to lose.”

Group accuses U.S. Kabul embassy guards of misconduct

Nearly naked, drunken guys dancing around a bonfire and engaging in lewd conduct. And there are pictures and videos. No it’s not a frat party gone wild.  It’s downtime for some private security contractors hired to protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul,  according to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.

The watchdog group says the alleged misbehavior by the guards working for ArmorGroup North America — along with serious under-staffing — has jeopardized security at the embassy amid rising violence in the Afghan capital.

The Project sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a lengthy letter documenting complaints about the guards. The group also sent pictures and videos backing its allegations.

The First Draft: missiles, jobs and a soldier captured

USA-SUMMIT/PROTESTAs sometimes happens in Washington, much of the news reverberating around town this morning started someplace else.

From the other side of the world, reports that North Korea has test-fired short-range missiles, including two surface-to-ship missiles, from its east coast. From Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed a U.S. soldier has been captured, and Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility. What is not known now is why and how.

There is some domestic news on this getaway morning — the official U.S. Independence Day holiday starts tomorrow, one day ahead of July Fourth celebrations — and it brings some gloom to the picture: U.S. employers cut 467,000 jobs in June, more than analysts expected. That brings the U.S. unemployment rate to 9.5 percent, the highest since 1983.

The First Draft: On The Road Again

EGYPT/Now that Congress is back from its week-long Memorial Day recess, it’s time for the U.S. top brass to hit the road. President Barack Obama heads to the Middle East today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Honduras, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in China and U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke promises a visit to Pakistan this week.

Closer to home, Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor starts making the rounds on Capitol Hill in advance of her confirmation hearings. Meantime, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal faces questions at his confirmation hearing today before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. McChrystal’s nominated to be the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

This might be an opportune time for travel. The Ipsos/Reuters poll indicates global consumer confidence is stabilizing, after dropping for 18 months.

Obama remembers U.S. war dead, including Civil War rebels

President Barack Obama sent a wreath Monday to a memorial for soldiers who fought on the side of slavery during the Civil War, continuing a 90-year-old Memorial Day tradition despite being urged by historians to “break this chain of racism.”
The first black U.S. president also started a new tradition by sending a wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington honoring the 200,000 black soldiers who fought for Union forces in America’s bloodiest conflict.
“We ask you to break this chain of racism stretching back to Woodrow Wilson and not send a wreath or other token of esteem to the Arlington Confederate Monument,” a group of historians urged Obama earlier this month.
“This monument should not be elevated in prestige above other monuments by a presidential wreath,” the scholars said. 

Obama did not mention the controversy in remarks at Arlington National Cemetary after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which holds the remains of unidentified soldiers from World Wars I and II and the Korean War.
The cemetary is built on the former estate of General Robert E. Lee, who led the Condederate forces and is revered in American history despite fighting on behalf of states who wanted slavery to continue and spread.
Lee’s home still stands at the top of the hill overlooking nearly a quarter of a million graves and across the Potomac River from the memorial to slain President Abraham Lincoln, who led the Union to victory in the conflict from 1861 to 1865 and was assassinated just after the war was won.
Obama paid tribute to the soldiers who have fought in all America’s wars and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“To walk these grounds then is to walk through that history. Not far from here, appropriately just across a bridge connecting Lincoln to Lee, Union and Confederate soldiers share the same land in perpetuity,” Obama said.
Section 60 at the bottom of the hill is the resting spot for many soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afganistan wars.