Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Gripes and Goblins

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton griping about Pakistan while in Pakistan. PAKISTAN USA/

She says it was “hard to believe” that no one in Pakistan’s government knew where al Qaeda leaders were hiding. She talked about her tough talk in a series of morning television interviews, and said on CNN “trust is a two-way street.”

Top military brass coming over to the White House this afternoon. President Barack Obama meets with the military Joint Chiefs of Staff on Afghanistan and Pakistan this afternoon in the Situation Room (so you know it’s important).

Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are also down to attend the meeting where they are all expected to go over recommendations on troop strength and strategy.

No definitive word yet on when Obama will issue his decision on a new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan, so the waiting continues…

On the economic front, consumer spending fell in September and sentiment turned gloomier, underscoring the fragile nature of the economic recovery, while signs emerged that manufacturing activity may be picking up.

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.”

White House waffles on Guantanamo Bay closing deadline

President Barack Obama is finding out what his predecessor experienced — closing Guantanamo Bay is easier said than done.

As early as May 2006, former President George W. Bush said he wanted to close the prison for terrorism suspects in Cuba that was constructed during his administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. GUANTANAMO/ACTIVITIES

But the Bush administration found it was not easy getting other countries to accept some of the prisoners and faced a dilemma of what to do with other prisoners who could not be released.

McChrystal report hits Obama with tough choices in Afghanistan

The general picked by Barack Obama to finish up the war in Afghanistan has presented the U.S. president with some hard choices.

The toughest one: Send more troops to implement a radically different strategy within the next year or risk losing the conflict.

USA“The campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today,” General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said in a 66-page report to the defense secretary.

What’s the view? Obama’s “new approach” on missile defense

President Barack Obama used “new approach” a couple of times to describe a shift in U.S. missile defense policy, but his statement was so steeped in diplo-speak that it led to much initial head-scratching over what was actually new and different. OBAMA/

It was left to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to shoot down as “misinformed” raging speculation that the United States was scrapping missile defense in Europe. He said the United States would initially deploy ships equipped with missile interceptors to Europe.

Keep in mind that Gates was also defense secretary under President George W. Bush who had pushed for the agreements to build missile interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that had royally angered Russia.

How long will U.S. forces be in Afghanistan? It’s a mystery…

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says it’s no secret how long U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan.

“In the intelligence business, we always used to categorize information … in two ways: secrets and mysteries,” the former CIA boss told a briefing Thursday.

GATES/“The secrets were things that were ultimately knowable,” Gates said. “The mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict.”

The First Draft: Sovereignty Day

IRAQWashington is a town of euphemisms, where “mistakes were made” but nobody takes responsibility, where lawmakers routinely refer to each other as “my good friend” before questioning their buddies’ sanity or moral character.

The Washingtonian art of the euphemism apparently has been learned in Baghdad, where to mark today’s departure of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared National Sovereignty Day and celebrated with a military parade.

As U.S. combat units get out of Iraq’s urban areas and move into rural bases, Pentagon leaders will be speaking, though not in Washington. Defense Secretary Robert Gates addresses a NATO change-of-command ceremony in Stuttgart while Army General Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, briefs reporters via video link.

The First Draft: Hello, summer!

USA/It’s almost Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer. No bottlenecks yet at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the gateway to Maryland’s Eastern Shore beach towns.

Traffic out that way is likely to get worse around 10:00 a.m., when President Obama delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He’ll also sign bills to limit abusive credit-card practices and reform the Pentagon’s weapons-buying process.

Vice President Joe Biden is in Lebanon, where he’s already managed to tick off Hezbollah. No, he hasn’t said anything unwise yet, they’re just upset that he’s there.

The First Draft: Presidential e-mail

SUNDANCE/If you just can’t get enough of the goings and doings of President Barack Obama, can’t wait for the blog posts, Twitter tweets, Washington whispers or even the newspaper and magazine stories about the U.S. chief executive, now there’s help. You can sign up for e-mails from the president. He sent his first one Wednesday. It’s hardly a window on the inner workings of the White House but it is a new way to communicate.

“My staff and I plan to use these messages as a way to directly communicate about important issues and opportunities, and today I have some encouraging updates about health care reform,” wrote in his first message, also posted here. “The Vice President and I just met with leaders from the House of Representatives and received their commitment to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill by July 31.”

He ended the note with,

“Thank you,
“Barack Obama”

and then added a postscript:

“P.S. If you’d like to get more in-depth information about health reform and how you can participate, be sure to visit http://www.HealthReform.gov”

The First Draft: Green shoots and budget talk

USA-OBAMA/After the Obama team’s big announcement on health care and an even bigger deficit, now comes the hard part — actually sitting down and figuring out how much it’s going to cost, and how to make it cost less. President Barack Obama’s first public appearance today is a round-table discussion with business leaders on cutting employer health care costs.

Later, behind closed doors at the White House, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Commanding General Raymond Odierno, the head of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. Then the president meets with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one day after Gates replaced the top U.S. Afghanistan commander.

In congressional action, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano faces questions about her department’s 2010 budget from both sides of Capitol Hill. Lisa Jackson, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, also faces budget questioning from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.