Leon Panetta: How John Kelly can fix the White House

Retired Gen. John F. Kelly has survived combat. The question now is whether he can survive as White House chief of staff.

.. The elements critical to improving White House operations are pretty basic:

.. 1. Trust. There has to be trust between the chief of staff and the president. Each must be honest with the other and be willing to back the other up on personnel and policy decisions.

.. 2. One chief. If there are too many assistants to the president who have no clear portfolio of responsibility but who can go around the chief of staff to the president, that is a prescription for chaos.

For the chief to be successful, he must control all staff, know what each person is responsible for and working on, and be fully aware of all policy discussions taking place with the president.

.. 3. A clear chain of command. Every staff member needs supervision, and that means having clear lines of authority.

.. 4. An orderly policy-development process. It is critical that there be a system for providing the president with the essential information and options required to make decisions on key issues.

.. It may be difficult to stop this president from tweeting, but at a minimum he needs to tweet based on a policy process managed by the chief of staff.

.. 5. Telling the president the truth. There has to be one person in the White House willing to look the president in the eye and tell him the truth — to tell him when he is wrong and when he is about to make a mistake — and that has to be the chief of staff.

.. No president likes to be told he is wrong. However, to be successful, all presidents have to accept the reality that they are not always right.

.. Whether President Trump is willing to make these changes will in large measure determine not just how long Kelly survives as chief of staff, but also the ultimate success or failure of Trump’s administration.

Trump’s presidency hinges on this choice

On one point above all, they were unanimous: The president cannot govern effectively, they said, without a chief of staff empowered to execute his agenda.

.. the president cannot govern effectively without a chief of staff who is first among equals. The chief wears many hats. But he is above all the person the president counts on to turn his policies into reality and, when necessary, to tell him what he does not want to hear.

.. Since the days of Richard Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, every president has learned, often the hard way, that he cannot govern effectively without empowering a chief of staff as his gatekeeper. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, tried to run the White House according to a model he called the “spokes of the wheel” — with a handful of advisers reporting directly to him, at the center. The result was chaos

.. Carter, horrified by the Watergate scandal personified by Haldeman, chose not to appoint a chief at all; but 2½ years into his term, unable to prioritize his agenda and bogged down in minutia, he realized his mistake and named Hamilton Jordan.

.. Panetta set the stage for Clinton’s reelection. He did it by telling Clinton hard truths.

.. Pitting advisers against one another may work in a family real estate empire, but modern history shows that it is a formula for failure in the presidency. Like Trump, Ronald Reagan wanted to shake up the establishment, but he intuited something Trump has yet to grasp: As a Washington outsider, he needed a consummate insider to get things done.

He found that person in James A. Baker III, a smooth-as-silk 50-year-old Texas lawyer. Baker knew what was doable on Capitol Hill and was not afraid to tell the president what he did not want to hear.

.. No competent chief would allow an executive order on immigration (a core Trump campaign promise) to be dispatched without vetting it with the departments involved.

It’s also hard to imagine Baker or Panetta allowing a president to squander his political capital on an ill-fated health-care bill with almost no chance of passing the Senate.

.. Priebus’s greatest failure has been his unwillingness to confront the president with the painful truth.

.. He cannot succeed as president if he is surrounded by sycophants.

.. Trump can continue to try to govern by himself — his gut instincts unchecked, his advisers warring, his executive orders mired in the courts and legislation dead on Capitol Hill. Or he can empower a chief of staff to take charge

The Death of Clintonism

With Hillary Clinton’s loss, Democrats are burying a once-winning way of politics.

She embraced bold approaches on hot-button issues like immigration and gun control that would have been shocking for a Democrat in her husband’s day, and accepted what was arguably the most liberal Democratic Party platform in history, but that never seemed to be enough to satisfy younger voters, especially. “People thought she’d been conceived in Goldman Sachs’ trading desk,” says one veteran Clinton aide, noting the irony that this was millennial voters’ jaded view of a woman often seen in the 1990s as reflexively more liberal than her husband.

.. A Democratic Party that was seen as more sympathetic to criminals than to victims was not a Democratic Party that was going to win elections. Bill Clinton had to correct that, and he did, and by 2015 we just did not have that kind of violent crime any more

.. It is heartbreaking to have so many young people see him not as the guy who shut down the government to save the Great Society from Newt Gingrich

.. Panetta, whose late-career turn toward national security has overshadowed a keen political mind, thinks the surprisingly tough Democratic primary knocked the Clintons off kilter. “They had to deal with Bernie Sanders and the left. They had to make sure they retained that base,

.. She could not, or would not, say aloud what others in her party knew: That Obama had not only largely overlooked the concerns of white working-class voters but, with his health care overhaul, had been seen as punishing them financially to provide new benefits to the poorest Americans. Fairly or not, he lost the public argument.

.. “You didn’t hear a lot of people putting in context that before Bill Clinton, Republicans had controlled the White House for 20 of 24 years, that his last six years in office were with an all-Republican Congress, or that the main reason he got crushed in 1994 was that he was perceived as being too progressive on health care.

Hugh Gusterson recommends the best books on Drone Warfare

I think what makes drones attractive to President Obama and other national security policy makers is that they don’t involve Americans coming back from the Middle East in body bags. It is a way of waging warfare invisibly. So although some people do have agreement about drones, I don’t know that they excite the kind of opposition that other forms of military intervention do, precisely because they seem to have such a minimal cost for the American people. A crashed drone isn’t 4,000 Americans coming back from Iraq in body bags.

.. It’s worth noting that the protests against using drones have been very small. If you go to air force bases [in the US], where drones are being protested, only a couple of dozen protesters show up. Compare that to protests on the eve of the Iraq war which had hundreds of thousands of people at one point. So there’s been difficulty drumming up a real protest movement against them.

.. That said, why do drones upset the people they upset so much? I think part of it is that they’re perceived as cowardly. Interestingly, I found that it’s often people in the military who feel most strongly about it. Someone recently sent me a favourable review of my book that’s about to come out in Military Review by a US army officer. I think many people in the army have an honourable sense of what warfare involves: the reciprocal vulnerability of combatants facing each other, wagering their bodies for a cause.

.. Chamayou asks some of the questions about whether warfare, when it is fought by drones, can even be called warfare. The lack of reciprocal vulnerability between the drone operator and the victim makes him think of drone warfare as being more like hunting.

.. Well, as well as blurring the distinction between warfare and police work, I think it is blurring the distinction between war and peace. In a place like Yemen or Somalia there could be long periods where there is no drone strike, and then suddenly there is a drone strike. There might be two or three in a week, and then several weeks with no strikes, and so on. So it is not clear if there is a state of peace or a state of war. Warfare is becoming indefinite.

.. Interestingly, he felt more at peace when he was deployed to Iraq than when he was working out of Nevada as a drone operator, because he didn’t have to deal with the daily back and forth between being in combat of a kind and then the same night being back at home with his wife.

.. I think there is something about the drone operator’s remoteness that adds to the trauma. If you imagine being a pilot in a war zone, as soon as you drop a bomb on the ground you disappear very quickly. You don’t get much of a chance to see what you did. But it is part of the protocol of a drone operator that they are supposed to circle for a long time, even for hours, after a drone strike – doing meticulous assessment of the damage and trying to count the bodies, which can be difficult if the bodies are in more than one piece. Although you are physically thousands of miles away, it feels as if you’re just a few inches away on the screen, and you have to look very carefully at what you just did.

..  In my book I quote a deputy administrator of the CIA saying “the gloves come off” after 9/11. That’s when the decision was made to weaponise drones.

.. It is children and civilians who are also being killed by drone strikes, and Chris Woods has been at the forefront of uncovering that.

.. Obama has a strong penchant for secrecy, and in a way drones have brought out the worst in Obama’s personality

.. Leon Panetta, the former head of the CIA, when writing his memoir, was not allowed to talk about the existence of drone strikes. The military censors took it out of his memoir, which is bizarre and ridiculous, as the media were constantly reporting drone strikes but he wasn’t allowed to confirm that they existed.

.. they claim to give a fairly definitive accounting of the number of civilians killed by accident by American drones. But I noticed that all the media that I read couldn’t report on it with a straight face. The statistics were condemned as inaccurate almost as soon as they were released.

.. Fair, balanced and objective are not his strong suits, but making a very strong polemical case is.

.. In this book he describes drone strikes as part of a particular military predilection for identifying enemy forces as networks, trying to find nodal people in these networks and knocking them out. According to him, this is a military strategy that goes back to WW2 where people in the Allies said if only we could get to senior Nazi officers – by, for example, killing Hitler – then everything would collapse.

.. When you identify someone in a senior position and you kill them, they get replaced pretty quickly, and often by someone even nastier.

.. So he sees drones as the latest instantiation of a particular strategy that has always been bankrupt.

.. One of the things that Scahill demonstrates is that the more people drones kill, the longer the kill list becomes – which is a very striking paradox.

.. One of the things that drone technology enables is distributed command, so the footage from a drone can be piped simultaneously into lots of different command centres. You can have people in Doha looking at it while someone in Washington D.C. is looking at it. That often produces collective decisions where people are frantically talking to people in command centres hundreds of thousands of miles away. And often by the time they make a decision, the chance to take a shot is gone.

.. We saw in the case of the Iraq war that the American people were largely happy to invade Iraq until the war went really wrong – until Americans started coming back in body bags – and then they turned against it and said that George Bush had been an idiot to invade. The same with Blair. We wouldn’t have the Chilcott report, and the turning of American opinion against the war in Iraq, if it hadn’t been for those 4,000 Americans who died there. They are the hostages of the democratic war-making process, in a sense. But drones have broken that link in the chain. They make possible perpetual war without costs.

.. But I think that it should be absolutely clear that you cannot attack people in countries with which you are not at war.

.. If American operatives went to Yemen, placed a car bomb in the capital and blew something up, everyone would recognise that as an act of international terrorism because the US is not at war with Yemen. I think we should see drones in exactly the same way. Instead of planting a car bomb they are attacking someone with a bomb from the sky, but it is basically the same thing.