The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went unarmed into his first meeting with the new commander in chief — no aides, no PowerPoint presentation, no briefing books. Summoned nine days ago to President-elect Barack Obama’s Chicago transition office, Mullen showed up with just a pad, a pen and a desire to take the measure of his incoming boss.
There was little talk of exiting Iraq or beefing up the U.S. force in Afghanistan; the one-on-one, 45-minute conversation ranged from the personal to the philosophical. Mullen came away with what he wanted: a view of the next president as a non-ideological pragmatist who was willing to both listen and lead…
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”
Military leaders have all heard his pledge to withdraw most combat forces from Iraq within 16 months — sooner than commanders on the ground have recommended — and his implied criticism of the Afghanistan war effort during the Bush administration.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”
These sources noted that Obama himself has said he would not be “careless” about withdrawal and would retain a “residual” force of unspecified size to fight terrorists and protect U.S. diplomats and civilians. The officer most concerned about untimely withdrawal, sources said, is the Iraq commander, Gen. Ray Odierno.
Even as the Iraq war continues, defense officials are far more worried about Afghanistan, where they see policy drift and an unfocused mission. With strategy reviews now being completed at the White House and by the chairman’s office, an internal Pentagon debate is well underway over whether goals should be lowered.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings…
Bush’s ideological objective of a modern Afghan democracy, several officials said, is unattainable with current U.S. resources, and there is optimism that Obama will have a more realistic view…
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”
The president-elect’s invitation to Mullen, whom Obama previously had met only in passing on Capitol Hill and whose first two-year term as chairman does not expire until the end of September, was seen as an attempt to establish a relationship and avoid early conflict.
“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?
One of the biggest long-term military issues on Obama’s plate will be the defense budget, currently topping 4.3 percent of gross domestic product once war expenditures are included.
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
Obama has said he will increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, finding savings in the Iraq drawdown and in new scrutiny of spending, including on contractors, weapons programs and missile defense.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
(*I’d apologize to Lewis Carroll, except, you know: He’s beastly dead.)