Tag: Mitch McConnell

“Get the Big Idea Right”

This morning, the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville hosted CIA Director David H. Petraeus.  The event was not publicized and required a ticket for admission. As chair of the Political Science Department, I was invited to hear the talk — and had a seat very near the front and center of the stage, less than 25 feet from the speakers. Unfortunately, very few students outside of the (approximately 40) McConnell Scholars were invited to the event.

The lecture hall was instead filled with older guests, including many veterans and some active duty servicemen (and women, though I didn’t see many), local elites important to the University and Center, faculty, administrators, etc. I sat between a veteran and a banker with a famous local name. Senator McConnell was on the stage with the scholars, as was his spouse, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, University President James Ramsey, and Center Director Gary Gregg.

Petraeus spoke on the subject of leadership, a central concern for the McConnell Center and its students. Unfortunately, the former four star General gave a half hour talk that began with a very long introduction thanking his various hosts (and a couple of jokes) and ended with many platitudes that were not especially provocative. 

In between that long intro and weak conclusion, the body of the speech addressed 4 main points (Petraeus called them tasks of leadership) and employed primarily examples from the 2007 Iraq surge “success” to illustrate them:

  1. Get the big idea right (in this case, counterinsurgency strategy)
  2. Communicate effectively throughout the organization
  3. Implement the ideas
  4. Capture the lessons: refine and repeat

Petraeus did not take questions at the end.

That last fact was especially disappointing to me since it seemed like Petraeus ignored the elephant in the room. After all, the Iraq war started in March 2003 and the insurgency was a fairly significant problem not long after the successful U.S. capture of Baghdad. Why did it take so many years to “get the big idea right”? More importantly, how was Petraeus able to convince political leaders of the need for his favored strategy in a context that so obviously started by getting the big ideas WRONG?

In some ways, I think the problems I had with this particular speech and event parallel many of the most common criticisms levied against the CIA.

Why was the event secret? Guests were asked not to publicize the event because of security, but the CIA is frequently accused of excessive secrecy in the name of security. The McConnell Center has often hosted serving Secretaries of State, Ambassadors, Senators,and other political dignataries. Most were advertised in advance and the events were milked for PR purposes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address was so highly anticipated that people on campus could watch a live-stream of the event. Does a former first lady, President’s spouse, prominent presidential candidate, and serving Secretary of State face lower security threats?

I suspect that the visit of the CIA Director was not advertised because someone feared that left-leaning members of the campus community might organize a distracting protest outside the facility. Even if this is CIA policy, I challenge the rationale behind the policy.

The failure to invite a larger sample of the general student population, the decision to invite dozens of local elites, and the lack of questioning suggests another problem with the CIA. It has a reputation for not being especially accountable to various constituencies.

I’m sure organizers felt as if the event went off well, like an uncontested slam dunk. 

Share

Liar, hypocrite or partisan hack?

Dick Cheney’s memoir apparently verifies an interesting political point from George W. Bush’s memoir. Last November, I noted that the former President claimed that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had approached him in 2006 prior to the congressional elections in order to urge withdrawal of some US troops from Iraq. This might save the Republican majority, argued the Majority Leader, even though McConnell was publicly taking the position that the US should remain in Iraq for vital security reasons. After the election, of course, Bush famously increased the US deployment in Iraq (“the surge”).

A local columnist in Louisville has identified a key passage in Cheney’s memoir that apparently confirms Bush’s account, based on the former Veep’s recollection of a July 2007 dinner he hosted (p. 462):

Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked over to me. Mitch had been one of the most concerned of the Republicans. He was up for reelection and had suggested to the president that he needed to begin a withdrawal in order to avoid massive defection of Republican senators.

As my original post noted, McConnell’s opposing public and private positions certainly make him look bad.

Was he lying when he said US troops were vital for security? Was he simply acting as a hypocrit? Or, and you can feel free to pick more than one choice, was he overtly expressing his partisan preferences in each situation, regardless of the security implications?

Share

Bush: McConnell plays politics with national security

In his new memoir, former President George W. Bush says that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) let electoral politics influence his advice about the Iraq war in 2006. Cincinnati’s CityBeat has the exchange from Bush’s memoir:

“In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching, my friend Mitch McConnell came to the Oval Office. The senior senator from Kentucky and Republican whip had asked to see me alone. Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble.

‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress’ …

‘Well, Mitch,’ I asked, ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ ‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘bring some troops home from Iraq.'”

The Louisville Courier-Journal, November 9 quotes Bush as replying that he would “set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls.”

Ouch.

My local paper (and McConnell’s) lets Michael Desch, a realist IR theorist and chair of political science at Notre Dame, explain the Senator’s problem:

“Because he [McConnell] had been a cheerleader for the president in the war, it makes him look like a bit of a hypocrite,” Desch said of McConnell. “It also makes him look bad because he seems to be trimming his sails in response to electoral politics, which doesn’t look very statesmanlike.”

Indeed, in an op-ed on November 11, the C-J detailed McConnell’s hypocrisy:

At the time that Sen. McConnell was privately advising Mr. Bush to reduce troop levels in Iraq, he was elsewhere excoriating congressional Democrats who had urged the same thing. “The Democrat[ic] leadership finally agrees on something — unfortunately it’s retreat,” Sen. McConnell had said in a statement on Sept. 5, 2006, about a Democratic letter to Mr. Bush appealing for cuts in troop levels. Sen. McConnell, who publicly was a stout defender of the war and Mr. Bush’s conduct of the conflict, accused the Democrats of advocating a position that would endanger Americans and leave Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaida.

Ouch again.

The op-ed notes that McConnell has three choices: call Bush a liar, admit that he was lying publicly at the time, or “explain why the fortunes of the Republican Party are of greater importance than the safety of the United States.”

In the original piece, University of Virginia’s election savant Professor Larry Sabato says that this revelation signals that George W. Bush is out of politics and that he’s settling some scores.

Virtually everyone quoted in the story agrees that McConnell was right — Bush’s war in Iraq did cost the Republicans the Congress in 2006.

Share

© 2019 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑