AFGHAN EXITS: Firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal and replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus won’t fix President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. Petraeus literally ;wrote the handbook on counterinsurgency (COIN), which in Afghanistan means a decades-long, trillion-dollar nation-building effort to secure the country village by village. That said, McChrystal has been a leading advocate of COIN, and his exit could ;provide an opportunity for a rethink.
McChrystal, of course, fragged himself. In a series of interviews with Michael Hastings for Rolling Stone, McChrystal and his inner circle engaged in an orgy of profane insubordination, replete with homophobic slurs, raised middle fingers and references ;to Vice President Joe Biden as “Bite Me.” ;Gen. Jim Jones, the national security adviser in the White House, was called a “clown.” And in a deft touch, McChrystal grimaced in disgust after getting an e-mail from Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy for Afghanistan. As McChrystal pocketed the phone, an aide said, “Make sure you don’t get any of that ;on your leg.”
But the issue is politics, not personalities. Last year, McChrystal engaged in a virtual insurrection to pressure the White House to escalate the war, forcing Obama to read him the riot act on Air Force One. Since December, he has seethed with resentment over the president’s July 2011 deadline for the start of a US pullout. As a commander, McChrystal has failed: the vaunted attack ;on Marja unraveled, and the much-touted Kandahar offensive has failed to materialize.
As the Rolling Stone profile reveals, Obama is at war with his own commanders in Afghanistan. As McChrystal departs and Petraeus takes over, the president has to take command of the war, press for a political settlement with the Taliban and work hard ;to ensure that the July 2011 deadline is met. ROBERT DREYFUSS
SENATE SUNLIGHT? My conservative friends have suddenly become ardent advocates for transparency. They want to know what goes on behind the closed doors of the Obama White House and Democratic Congressional offices. I agree: secrecy is the sin that destroys democracy, no matter which party engages in it.
Where to begin? How about with one ;of the most abusive practices in Washington: the use of anonymous “holds” to block Senate action on presidential nominations. Under Senate rules, individual members are allowed to anonymously block consideration of nominees for six days. Then the senators are obligated to reveal themselves and the reasons for their holds. In recent years, however, groups of senators have begun to game the system by coordinating a series of holds in a strategy that can delay action for months, even years.
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill is leading the fight for transparency. She’s gotten most Democrats and nine Republicans to back her proposal to abolish the rule that allows anonymous holds and back-room game-playing. McCaskill is right: nomination battles are fine, but they should be fought ;in public. JOHN NICHOLS
SPEECH CRIMES: In the peculiar universe defined by the Supreme Court’s recent First Amendment rulings, corporations have speech rights that allow them to drown out the voices of ordinary human beings, but human rights activists can be sent to jail for fifteen years merely for advocating for peace and human rights. In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Court ruled on June 21 that the First Amendment does not protect a human rights group that sought to provide rights training and peacemaking assistance to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The United States has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization and prohibited all “material support” to it, including speech advocating human rights. Six justices ruled, for the first time in the Court’s history, that Congress can make it a crime to advocate ;for wholly lawful, nonviolent ends.
According to the Obama administration (and the Bush administration before it), the “material support” law makes it a crime to write an amicus brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of a designated group, to assist it in advocating before the UN or Congress, or to write or publish an op-ed in conjunction with such a group. The Obama administration made the untenable argument that the law did not regulate speech at all but only conduct, and therefore it need not satisfy First Amendment review.
The Supreme Court dismissed that contention, acknowledging that the law criminalized speech on the basis of its content and therefore had to satisfy the same scrutiny, at least in theory, that the Court used to invalidate the McCain-Feingold ;campaign finance law. But in fact, the Court applied only the most deferential review. ;It reasoned that the mere possibility, unsupported by any evidence, that human rights advocacy might somehow advance a designated group’s illegal ends was enough ;to justify prosecuting human rights advocates ;as “terrorists” for their speech, even when that speech was indisputably designed to discourage terrorism. In the eyes of this Court, then, multinational corporations must be allowed to spend millions on political campaigns, but a human rights activist can ;be sent to jail for pursuing peace. DAVID COLE
THE LOST GENERATION: While the Great Recession has affected Americans of all ages, young people have been especially hard-hit. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May figures place the unemployment rate for 16- to 24- year-olds at 18.1 percent, nearly double the national average. Young job seekers are not only overrepresented in recession-prone industries like leisure and hospitality; the crisis has pitted them against more experienced and educated workers. Minorities have fared particularly poorly, with Hispanics and blacks experiencing the biggest jumps in unemployment in recent years.
The state of the youth labor force augurs ill for the country’s economic future. Studies show that the first years of employment are formative. Almost two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years ;of a career, and graduates entering the workforce during recession times often remain relatively underpaid throughout their careers. Of the working-age youth who still have jobs, almost one-third do not receive health insurance. This climate of discouragement, lack of opportunity, demographic inequality and health insecurity offers a ;grim forecast for the future workforce. AARON ROSS and LAUREN SUTHERLAND