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Joe Klein: Strategy is Strategy Once Again

John on September 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Following his master’s lead, Time’s Joe Klein has once again shifted his use of the terms “strategy” and “tactics.” Perhaps the best way to understand how this happened and why it mattered is to present a timeline:

  • January 2007 – In a short post complaining about Paul Krugman’s nonsensical views on the surge, Klein writes “[W]hat about retired General Jack Keane–whom Krugman doesn’t mention–and the significant number of military intellectuals who have favored a labor-intensive counterinsurgency strategy in Baghdad for the past three years?”
  • September 2007 – In a piece attacking Bush Klein writes “George W. Bush’s credibility on Iraq is nonexistent. And so he has placed David Petraeus, an excellent soldier, in a position way above his pay grade. He has made Petraeus not just the arbiter of Iraq strategy but also, by default, the man who sets U.S. policy for the entire so-called war on terrorism.”

On July 15, 2008, Obama gave a major foreign policy address in which he said:

Senator McCain wants to talk of our tactics in Iraq; I want to focus on a new strategy for Iraq and the wider world. It has been 18 months since President Bush announced the surge. As I have said many times, our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence. General Petraeus has used new tactics to protect the Iraqi population.

And so the surge was reduced by Obama to a “tactic” which was relatively insignificant compared to Obama’s grand strategy for engaging the world. Not coincidentally, this was also the day all criticism of the surge vanished from Obama’s campaign website.

  • September 2008 – It’s crunch time before the election and Klein is now writing about one of the debates, “As for McCain’s remark about Obama not knowing the difference between a tactic and a strategy” McCain was wrong. The counterinsurgency methods introduced by David Petraeus in Iraq were a tactical change, a new means to achieve Bush’s same strategic end of a stable, unified Iraq.”

Of course now that the election is over and Obama is safely in the White House, Joe can return to his previous use of the word strategy. From today’s Klein post:

McChrystal wants an unspecified number of additional troops to do the latter–that is, to focus on a counterinsurgency strategy.

What General McChrystal is asking for is more troops. Some have already dubbed this the Afghan surge. It is similar in scope to what Bush did in Iraq two years ago. And here’s Joe Klein back to saying that this is a strategy, exactly the way he used to before Obama’s ass was on the line in the debates. In the same post, Klein later writes:

Obama was absolutely right on the Sunday talk shows: troop levels aren’t nearly as important as strategy.

The only thing consistent about Joe Klein over the years is that Bush and McCain are always wrong and Obama is always “absolutely right.”

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