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Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2009

BRODER ON SPEED OVER ACCURACY.... I checked the byline a couple of times this morning, to make sure the column that was ostensibly written by David Broder wasn't, in fact, written by Charles Krauthammer. Regrettably, the so-called Dean of the D.C. Media Establishment actually wrote this.

The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose -- and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point.

It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right.

"Whether or not it is right." The Commander in Chief, in other words, should put expediency over merit. Speed is preferable to accuracy. It's only the longest military conflict in American history, with the future of U.S. foreign policy on the line -- the president should worry less about due diligence and thoughtful analysis, and worry more about picking a course, even if it's wrong. Other than the loss of American servicemen and women, untold billions of dollars, and undermining U.S. interests in a critical region, what's the worst that can happen?

What a crock.

I realize there's been a painful decline in the quality of Broder's analysis in recent years, but this column is a mess. He's effectively calling for President Obama to act and think more like President Bush -- make decisions first, and think through the consequences and implications second.

Worse, Broder goes so far as to castigate the administration for "all this dithering" -- using Dick Cheney's preferred choice of words.

The premise of the piece is that a decision is needed immediately. Where did this arbitrary deadline come from? Broder doesn't say; he just warns of the Taliban "coming back in Afghanistan," as if the Taliban hasn't already reclaimed much of the country.

Thinking back, I don't recall Broder ever showing this kind of Afghanistan-related antagonism towards the Bush administration -- which was, not incidentally, the team that allowed Afghanistan to deteriorate, watched as hard-earned gains slipped away, and never bothered to craft a strategy for the future of U.S. policy in the country.

Indeed, reading today's Broder piece I get the distinct impression that the columnist had lunch with John McCain at some point this week, and then rushed back to his desk to jot down the senator's criticism. That's a shame. Given the reality, Broder was facing an editorial deadline, and he decided the urgent necessity was to write a column -- whether or not it was right.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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Comments

Shorter Broder: "Obama thinks too much, he should just kill people like Bush did."

Posted by: neill on November 15, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

" . . . a painful decline in the quality of Broder's analysis in recent years . . . "

See also Will, George, and Cohen, Richard.

WaPo's op-ed page would benefit from a mandatory retirement age.

Posted by: penalcolony on November 15, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

I, too, made the mistake of clicking on Broder's column. I thought my morning tea hadn't kicked in yet because I read the whole thing and figured I must have skipped the part where Broder graces us with his preferred course of action.

What a dried up old fool Broder is. And shame on the WaPo for printing this drivel. Both jumped the shark a long time ago.

Posted by: worcestergirl on November 15, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

the problem is that crap like broder and the rest of the wingnuts have run out of patience waiting to criticize whatever decision obama makes. So they need to satisfy their need to criticize obama by turning to something, which for them is to criticize that he hasn't made a decision yet. In realty world of course it shows just how callous they all are that a decision affecting tens, and more likely hundreds of thousands of lives and costly the US taxpayer billions for years to come should be hurried so they can criticize it rather than make the best decision over a situation with no good decision possible.

Posted by: pluege on November 15, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

As bad as Broder's comments are (and many have come to expect no less)...it's KRISTOL who wins the prize this time with his "wheels are coming off Obama's administration" analysis...This smirking piece of dog excrement should be given no further attention (he's a favorite on WJ which has gone right down the tubes lately)...and watch this week to see that Kristol will be the focus on MSM stories about how after A WHOLE FRIGGING YEAR Obama hasn't managed to clean up all of Bush's crap...They really do count on the stupidity of the 'merican people...and, sadly, are seldom disappointed...

Posted by: Dancer on November 15, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

More shorter Broder: Obama has to hurry up and choose a course of action that I can spend the next year criticizing as the "wrong" choice, and pointing out that he should have taken his time before choosing a course of action.

Posted by: bcinaz on November 15, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Arm chair generals and Monday morning quarterbacking. What a way to earn a living. It seems to me there is time here to make the right choice. There are two factors to Afghan landscape. Mountains and flat earth. It is the mountainous area bordered by Pakistan that needs to be addressed and since it is winter up there, there is time to consider the right choice. It will take a few months to get the troops there in time for the spring thaw.

"Landlocked and packed with rugged mountains, Afghanistan's terrain produces some of the most extreme weather in Southwest Asia.

Afghanistan's summers are generally hot and dry. Temperatures as hot as 119 degrees have been recorded in the northern lowlands. Northerly winds from Russia and Kazakstan make winters bitterly cold with heavy snow, especially in the mountains. Chakhcharan, at an elevation of 7,162 feet, has been as cold as minus 51 degrees Fahrenheit, says the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which tracks global weather. USA Today, 10/4/2001 Chris Vaccaro

Posted by: Dave on November 15, 2009 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

I guess General Broder thinks Colin Powell is a dithering idiot:

"This is a very difficult one for him," Powell said. "And it isn't just a one-time decision. This is the decision that will have consequences for the better part of his administration. So Mr. President, don't get pushed by the left to do nothing; don't get pushed by the right to do everything. You take your time and you figure it out. You're the commander-in-chief and this is what you were elected for."

Powell said he had "advised him is to not be rushed into a decision because this one is the decision that will have consequences for years to come."

Posted by: Newton Whale on November 15, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Great leadership requires both judgment and decisiveness - either without the other is useless.

Posted by: m on November 15, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

The traditional denizens of the Fourth Estate are fundamentally corrupted.

They exist to confuse, obfuscate, and proffer a worldview that benefits only themselves and the existing power structures.

People who don't have the time to investigate issues themselves--which is unfortunately most people--read these columnists and make decisions based on what is said, and are thus conditioned to accept this 'conventional wisdom' (e.g., "if Broder's writing that, it must have some truth to it").

Posted by: terraformer on November 15, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

This is yet another example in the unending list of reasons why Print Is Dead.

Entrenched pontificators, Old White Men-with a token black/chick for cover-have been scratching each other's backs since Vietnam. They never offer a better alternative, they just sling mud, hoping it will raise advertising inches.

Fellas, the age of ink on dead trees is headed down the same road as the internal combustion engine.

Here in the virtual world, posters in their pajamas -many with day jobs at State, DOD, universities- can and do offer pithy commentary that far outstrips the partisan scribblings of The Press.

Posted by: DAY on November 15, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right...

i recall that back in 2000 there were many voices screaming the same thing...and look how that turned out

Posted by: e on November 15, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Perfect illustration of the "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach.

By God we need to DO something. The hell with actually knowing what it is we are going to do, how we got to where we are, or whether the doing we want to do is feasible given the circumstances and resources available.

All this time, and Broder can't even recognize that the reason we are in Iraq and Afghanistan and wrestling with the spillover in Pakistan and Iran is exactly because we "did something" virtually overnight and eight years later are paying the horrible consequences of having done so.....and worse yet....we still don't have any real answers to those basic questions....except that we are somehow "fighting terrorism."

Posted by: dweb on November 15, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

It is somewhat ironic that Obama is being criticized for not changing Bush's strategy in Afghanistan quick enough by people who never criticized Bush's strategy.

Posted by: Maineiac on November 15, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I've admired Broder for years. No one used shoe leather like he did. But in recent years he seems mired in The Village instead of traveling -- a sure sign of advanced laziness in this profession. David, it's time to take your pension and "go quietly into that good night." Bye.

Posted by: Russell Aboard M/V Sunshine on November 15, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

David Broder is a right wing hack, he always has been, it's just that these last few years his pretense of being anything else has become more and more absurd to keep up.

Broder's asinine right wing assertions adds to the heavy handed right wing bias of the Washington Post's editorial pages and PBS's Washington Week host Gwen Ifill.

Posted by: Independent on November 15, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

"...act and think more like President Bush -- make decisions first, and think through the consequences and implications second."

I can't let this one go. When did Bush ever think of consequences or implications? I think he even admitted himself that he never wasted time with introspection. That's for wusses.

Bush just went blindly from decision to decision, and each decision was based on one criteria: the Rambo factor.

Steve, please be a little more careful in your writing.

Posted by: garnash on November 15, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

While I don't agree with Broder about Afghanistan and the necessity for making a thorough decision about how to proceed there, I fear I must disagree with Steve's overall point. If you have ever been in a leadership position, or closely observed those who have and the outcomes of their actions, you do come to realize that it is often necessary to make the decision and move crisply ahead rather than agonizing over endless choices and possibilities, and that sometimes a leader who does that will end up making the wrong decision in preference to doing nothing. In fact I watched a 60-year-old company destroyed by a new president (family member of the founder) who couldn't make a single crisp decision in 5 years due to fear of the alternatives. Not doing something is often worse that doing something that isn't 100% right, since in fact we seldom know or will ever know what is or was 100% right anyway.

Now, having made a decision a TRUE leader will carefully monitor the outcomes resulting from the decision, and will adjust, change course, or even reverse himself and the decisions as needed. That was what made Bush, Cheney, and their supporters such deep failures: their inability to acknowledge that a course of action once decided upon might be off-course or mistaken and take actions to correct it. But the principle of needing to make crisp decisions is sound.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 15, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I've been reading Rick Perlstein's magnificent "Nixonland" (you should all read it, to see how >i>every Republican gargoyle of the past 50 years got their start and was "made" working for the Gargoyle-in-Chief, Richard Nixon). One very interesting point is his use of Broder columns going back to 1962 when he wrote for the NYT. EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM gets it wrong on the subject he's writing about. There is no more overrated pundit in America - 47 years of GETTING IT WRONG. It must be some sort of record. Of course, the truly sad thing about that fact is that for 47 years his fellow journalists and the DC villagers have been taking him seriously, reading his ignorant ill-informed bullshit as if it came from the burning bush. That says more about our "government" - in both parties - than anything.

Posted by: TCinLA on November 15, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry to not join in with the "yessir chorus" here, but sometimes making a decision "whether or not it's right" is a good thing. Obama himself has said that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." It's often better to make a decision and move than wait for the "best" option.

The real question is--What do we lose by waiting? As far as I can see, little or nothing. Which is probably why Obama is willing to take as much time as he needs.

Posted by: converse on November 15, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

if obama makes his decision a month from now, exactly what will have changed in Afghanistan in the intervening month? tailiban takeover - hardly.

Afghanistan, like what we turned Iraq into, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a perpetual conflict. Weeks, months, even years mean NOTHING in the scheme of things in Afghanistan. The ebb and flow is measured at least in decades. Anything less ONLY mean something to the US political circus where the catty gasbags need something to talk foolishly serious about and pretend that they are an important voice on something, when in realty they are one of the most useless, lowest form of societal members there is: decieving, lying, and misinforming the population.

Posted by: pluege on November 15, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Broder may have screwed up (yet again), but this is one of your best commentaries ever, & your commentaries are generally excellent. Thanks.

The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com

Posted by: Marie Burns on November 15, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

I don't agree that it is better to make a bad decision than to wait and make a better one; however, I don't think any of us knows whether more time will result in a better decision. If we had real insight into the internal process, I'd love to know 2 things:

1. What information do we not possess today that would help make a better decision? And the closely related question...when are we likely to be able to get that information?

2. Will circumstances on the ground change in such a way that new options will be open in the future that are not available today or will options no longer be available in the future that are available today?

If the answer to the above questions is none and no, then the appropriate course of action is to make a decision regardless of whether you like your options. I won't critique the President because I don't know what he does (and doesn't) know. I will say, the longer the process continues, the more likely the answer to question 1 is none. I personally believe that question 2 cuts the other way and options will be reduced over time (generally the case in a bad situation). As a consequence, I do believe a decision should come soon but I'm willing to give a bunch of smart people the benefit of the doubt that there is more information that will allow for a better decision.

Posted by: SteveinCH on November 15, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

"if obama makes his decision a month from now, exactly what will have changed in Afghanistan in the intervening month?"

1. More US and allied soldiers will have died.
2. Our troops will be even more demoralized.
3. Our President will look even more like a "ditherer" to our allies.


Those count, don't they?

Posted by: lndlyb4 on November 15, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Homer: "There's three ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way."

Lisa: "Isn't that the wrong way?"

Homer: "Yeah, but faster!"

Posted by: Ralph Dosser on November 15, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky Observer - Yes, a leader must make some decisions quickly. But the general charge is irrelevant to Obama, who has clearly decided some issues extremely quickly: authorizing the taking out of the Somali pirates, authorizing more drone attacks in Pakistan than Bush ever did [1], quickly moving to get a stimulus bill through Congress to deal with the current recession. Correctly or not, he has acted swiftly on some issues. In fact, some of the dust being kicked in the air about Obama since the spring is that he's "doing too much."

The most important thing about Broder's comments is that it shows the essential, inward-looking attitude of the Washington villager. The most important thing is not making the correct decision on a truly momentous national issue; but it is instead most important to impress this group of shallow circle-jerkers who have never had to face the lethal consequences of any decision.


[1] http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/revenge_drones

Posted by: Rathskeller on November 15, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

This piece backs Obama and castigates Broder on the events yet to unfold in the AFPAK theater.
With just the substitution of couple of words, it would be the castigation of Obama/Pelosi/Reid on the health care takeover. Here it is the speed to get something passed in short order to meet the political needs of the Democrats. Don't even read it. It can be amended, expanded, deleted and whatever else later.

Posted by: Mike on November 15, 2009 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

It is the mountainous area bordered by Pakistan that needs to be addressed and since it is winter up there, there is time to consider the right choice. It will take a few months to get the troops there in time for the spring thaw.

This is a good point. Rushing into Afghanistan in the winter would be like starting your march on Moscow in November -- the weather will kick your ass long before you actually make any progress. Since no one on either side is going to be able to do much beyond hunkering down right now, there's no reason to rush into anything.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on November 15, 2009 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

So, Broder is disappointed that Obama refuses to act like a Deciderer? Poor Broder...

Posted by: exlibra on November 15, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky
Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 15, 2009 at 10:41 AM

Ah come on, don't worry. Just remember everything depends on this.

There is a lot more at stake here than some small company's operations....like people's lives.

Bush was like the Gen. George Custard plan of attack getting millions killed with little regard for anything except political power and financial gain.

Thank God Obama is more deliberative and sees the troops as people rather than pawns. Taking his time allows for the universe to step in or unforseen elements to enter the situation and change it. Sometimes the best one can come up with is knowing what you "don't want" rather than what you do.

This is an ever changing situation currently being held in check as far as our involvement goes. So much of our success so far as not depended on military action. Direct funding to the communities to use as they see fit to build their communities with strong community involvement is but one tactic...there are so many options to consider besides...CHARGE.

Posted by: bjobotts on November 15, 2009 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

2yrs ago I listened to Broder talking without knowing who he was or anything about him and thought to myself, "Geez, this guy is full of shit and full of himself".

Since then he has given me no reason to change my mind. I was quite surprised to hear he was considered the "Dean" of Washington Beltway journalism thinking how is that possible...the guy is always wrong and full of condescending shit. Whoever gave him that title certainly had low standards or was personally involved with him.

WQhen in the last couple of years has he ever said or written anything that was 'right' or insightful...or worth remembering. It's too late for him to retire with a good reputation intact. Now he is just tainted as a neocon cheerleader and should just STFU and get out of the spotlight.

Posted by: bjobotts on November 15, 2009 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

> Ah come on, don't worry. Just remember
> everything depends on this.
>
> There is a lot more at stake here than some
> small company's operations....like people's
> lives.
>
> Bush was like the Gen. George Custard plan of
> attack getting millions killed with little
> regard for anything except political power and
> financial gain.
>
> Thank God Obama is more deliberative and sees
> the troops as people rather than pawns.

Well, my former coworkers who have not found new jobs, have no medical benefits, and are on the brink of losing their homes (16% official unemployment in our metro area) might not agree that the consequences of those slow decisions were such small potatoes.

But I don't actually disagree with you, Rathskeller, or SteveInCH (whose 12:30 post is highly insightful) as matters of principal. The problem is that there are costs to waiting (e.g. if the decision is to get out of Afghanistan totally as rapidly as possible, the 3 months of thinking it through cost dozens of NATO lives alone).

And it simply isn't possible to know with 100% certainty that a decision of this complexity is "right", or that thinking about it for another 2, 3, 7 months will make it "righter". Eventually you have to act, and not being able to decide when that point arrives is a very dangerous failing in an executive.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 15, 2009 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

If you disagree with Obama you are either a racist or senile...what's new? Wow...so many are beginning to disagree with our inexperienced community organizer that the majority of the country will soon be senile or racist.

Our inexperienced community organizer is performing just as advertised....like the inexperienced community organizer he is.

Posted by: dude on November 15, 2009 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

How dare the Washington Post allow an article that questions our amazing President who has saved or created over one million jobs in the last ten months!!! Perhaps Broder's job was one of those one million jobs saved. He must show gratitude to Obama and not question our President and allow for the possibility his job was saved by Obama. Or perhaps Steve Benen's blogging job was saved by Obama, hence the appreciation he shows Obama? Who knows it may have been my job or many of the other people making comments on this site. We should all worship Obama, he may have saved our jobs.

Posted by: davt on November 15, 2009 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

As Caesar said about Cassius

"He thinks too much -- such men are dangerous

Posted by: Dave in DC on November 15, 2009 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

I watched 60 minutes tonight, where they followed an EOD team in Afghanistan.

Byron Pitts asked two of the soldiers asked if this was "a fight that they could win".
One replied that "winning to me is going home", and the other said you measured success in Afghanistan by going home alive.

I know that you always asked "what are we doing here?" when you got sent overseas. I did it when I was in the Army, and I'm sure things haven't changed since my time.

But the US and other nations have been there for 8 years now. And I have to ask, what are we doing there?

Posted by: 2Manchu on November 15, 2009 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

The point made by the writer of this article, and by the people writing in with comments, seems to be that no criticism of Obama will be tolerated. I haven't always agreed with David Broder but he's no fool, nor is he senile. The writer, and his acolytes, are engaging in petty spite. To me the article, and the readers' comments, show just how out of touch Obama's fans are with the rest of the country. Will Obama end up like one of the unsteadier Roman emperors or Russian tsars, living in a fantasy world, surrounded by sychophants. Given his ego and their fawning adoration, that could happen.

Posted by: Spengler47 on November 16, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Broder is quite right; which is not to say that reflection hasn't been called for. However reflection is a quantity whose potency is limited in the face of things that are not fully calculable in the end. Afghanistan is, at some point, IRREDUCIBLY complex, which is to say that at some point further reflection actually has no ability to illuminate or teach you anything new. You enter, at that point, into the realm of needing to strike reasonable, practicable courses while being fully prepared to alter direction as the experience of subsequent events - true factual events - dictate. It is artifice to assume that you can figure out every detail on paper and, after eight multiple meetings of principals - and who knows how many multiple hours of meetings of sub-principals - on the AfPak matter, it is very dubious to imagine that there is something fundamentally brilliant or striking to be discovered or revealed that has not already been brought to fore long ago. The broad framework for understanding where we are and what is going on has not really changed much since earlier this year when Obama grandiloquently announced that he and his team had arrived at a viable new strategy. Sure, a Karzai government of dubious ethics perhaps stole an election, but strategic thinkers surely knew that would be a real possibility MONTHS ago. To use the hackneyed, but true, phrase � It is what it is. For the administration to spend much more protracted time in re-thinking things now at best indicates that the original pronouncement, those six months ago, was far too glib to have been thorough or meaningful, despite its claims at the time. There is no way forward that is not going to cost the US something and that is unfortunate. But that is the case. It's time now to get on with the process of making a commitment to something tangible and to move beyond the specious assumption that endless 'contemplation' leads to infinite enlightenment. In real world, complex situations, there is always a limit to the reach of studied �ration�.

Posted by: James on November 16, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

It gets interesting to hear of Viet Nam, Iraq and now Afghanistan called our longest war. What about the Indians. We fought them in three different centuries. And by maintaining a steady sense of Manifest Destiny, we built a continental econonmy and democracy. Get with it, challenge requires response, action, decision.

Posted by: sam vinson on November 16, 2009 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm forced to revised my comments from above giving the President the benefit of the doubt. Here he is in Asia today http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1109/29552.html.

The quote from the article follows:

With respect to Afghanistan, Jennifer, the president scolded, I don't think this is a matter of some datum of information that I'm waiting on. Critics of the process tend not to be folks who are directly involved in what's happening in Afghanistan. Those who are, recognize the gravity of the situation and recognize the importance of us getting this right.

So to my question above, the President admits there is no new information coming. So we are left to wonder why he continues to delay making a decision. If he has all the needed data, what is he waiting on? We aren't going to get more and better options by waiting.

Posted by: Steve in CH on November 16, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

> I haven't always agreed with David Broder but
> he's no fool,

Well, yes he is, actually. See the 8 years of the Clinton Presidency for as many examples as you need to convince yourself.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 16, 2009 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

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