When he took office, the new President actually thought the CIA knew what it was doing. But by the spring of 1961, the planned invasion became the fiasco known as the Bay of Pigs, for which Kennedy took full responsibility. He fired Dulles at the CIA and made his brother Bobby his watchdog at the agency. JFK soon discovered that Bobby fell in love with the idea that the CIA could make problems “disappear” through covert action. It took JFK two years and ten months to learn it was all nonsense. By the time he realized the truth, the Agency had botched the overthrow of the South Vietnamese Diem regime. Kennedy decided to close down the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and merge its functions into the Pentagon. Days before he was gunned down, President Kennedy called in Marine General David M. Shoup and asked him to take over the CIA in Kennedy’s second term for the purpose of “… taking it apart board by board and scattering it to the four winds.”
Kennedy never got the chance.
If Barack Obama is serious about applying the lessons of history, he needs to pay close attention to what nonsense the policy community is selling these days. One way he might have done that was to recognize that his reappointment of Robert Gates as the Secretary of Defense was hardly charting a new course. Gates has a long and fairly ugly political history. He earned his bones helping the Reagan campaign in a long-forgotten scandal called “Debategate.” Gates worked on Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council at the time Carter’s foreign policy briefing book was secreted to the Republican campaign, thus giving Ronald Reagan a huge advantage. Gates also played a major role in George H. W. Bush’s secret arming of Saddam’s operations in the mid-1980s. Longevity gave Gates a patina of respectability as the distance from the Iran-Contra scandal grew. By the time George W. Bush replaced “Rummy” with Gates, Americans were all so happy Rumsfeld had been forced out that only a handful of aging journalists remembered Gates’ not-so-secret history.
Barack Obama assures us he will be in charge and will make the decisions. Well let’s see what he does in Pakistan as his generals and Secretary of Defense are secretly pulling a plan together that will pay off elements of the Taliban to essentially stop fighting and cooperating with Al-Qaeda.
Is this change you can believe in?
This effort could easily be Barack Obama’s 2009 version of the Bay of Pigs. The irony, in a thicket of ironies, is that the Saudi royal family and our old friend, Prince Bandar is pushing the idea of “negotiating with the Taliban” to bring peace to Afghanistan. So far, representatives of the Taliban, which now controls 72% of Afghanistan, are not taking the proposal or the United States very seriously.
The news that the withering Bush Administration is considering negotiations with the Taliban is an acknowledgement of the tragic waste of the United States military in pursuing Al-Qaeda. From the dark day we prevented our own forces from going after Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and farmed out the job to local tribal leaders, our policy has been dictated by the Saudis who funded the 9/11 terrorists. The ugly truth is that our military is fighting two wars under a President who permitted the Saudi royal family to have veto power over our actions against Al-Qaeda. Are we going to compound this terrible mistake by listening to the Saudis and trying to make a peace deal with the same Taliban who stuffed bin Laden’s featherbed in Afghanistan as he trained his forces to kill Americans?
Now, in what is the most poignant and awful turn in the war on terror, General Petraeus wants to transfer the methods his team used in Iraq (where violence is already on the upswing) to Afghanistan: from paying off Sunni chiefs in Iraq to paying off Taliban chiefs to rat on Al-Qaeda. Out of fairness, this idea did not originate with the General, it originated with the House of Saud, home of the very princes who funded and sent jihadists into America, Iraq, and Afghanistan to murder. This is not the first or only time we have embraced this policy. The Bush Administration looked the other way as the Saudis paid for and sent a steady supply of jihadists to kill Americans in Iraq. Instead of going after our enemies in Saudi Arabia, we decided to pay off Sunni sheiks – before the surge – to create the “the awakening.” Our efforts at segregating Sunni from Shi’a in Iraq tamped down the bombings and violence while negotiations on who would be in the government and how the oil revenue would be divided dragged on. Our policy was to pay sectarians not to kill Americans to buy time for a stronger Iraqi government to take charge. When it became obvious that the Shi’a were not playing ball, the violence began anew.
As we learned from last month’s triple bombing of a girls’ school, “the awakening” can quickly lapse into the pre-surge pattern of Sunni/Shi’a violence. So the solution in Afghanistan is to give money to Al-Qaeda protectors not to kill us. The more rational approach might be for the new President to go to the House of Saud and say: If you don’t stop funding these murderous thugs, we will do what George Bush originally promised the American people: The United States will destroy anyone who provides material support to Al-Qaeda.
We have been waiting seven years for George Bush to do what he pledged to do: hunt down bin Laden and his followers. Bush always stopped short because to do the job would expose the Saudi regime for what it is: Thousands of spoiled princes bribing religious extremists to hang on to oil wealth and power.
The path President-elect Obama follows will define his Presidency. What President Obama will face in a few weeks is volatile and complex and requires an understanding that we can no longer exempt the Saudis from their responsibility for funding and encouraging extremists. Writer Gerald Posner’s sources are telling him the Saudis also are funding the recent terrorism in India. If what Posner discovered is verified, one can only hope we have a new President with the intestinal fortitude to confront the funding of terrorism by the princes of Saudi Arabia.