The U.S. military is not just fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s most renowned investigative journalist says.
The army is also “in a war against the White House — and they feel they have [President] Obama boxed in,” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh told several hundred people in Duke University’s Page Auditorium on Tuesday night. “They think he’s weak and the wrong color. Yes, there’s racism in the Pentagon. We may not like to think that, but it’s true and we all know it.”
In a speech on Obama’s foreign policy, Hersh, who uncovered the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and torture at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraqi war, said many military leaders want Obama to fail.
“A lot of people in the Pentagon would like to see him get into trouble,” he said. By leaking information that the commanding officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, says the war would be lost without an additional 40,000 American troops, top brass have put Obama in a no-win situation, Hersh contended.
“If he gives them the extra troops they’re asking for, he loses politically,” Hersh said. “And if he doesn’t give them the troops, he also loses politically.”
The journalist criticized the president for “letting the military do that,” and suggested the only way out was for Obama to stand up to them.
“He’s either going to let the Pentagon run him or he has to run the Pentagon,” Hersh said. If he doesn’t, “this stuff is going to be the ruin of his presidency.”
Hersh called the “Af-Pak” situation — the spreading conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan — Obama’s main challenge.
The war in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan, which has 80 to 100 nuclear weapons, said Hersh, who recently returned from a visit to South Asia. “And the nuclear situation [in Pakistan] is more dire than you could know. It sucks.”
The only way for the U.S. to extricate itself from the conflict, Hersh said, is to negotiate with the Taliban.
“It’s the only way out,” he said. “I know that there’s a lot of discussion in the White House about this now. But Obama is going to have to take charge, and there’s no evidence he’s going to do that.”
While critical of the president on Afghanistan, Hersh, who travels to the Middle East three or four times a year, did praise his foreign policy initiatives toward Iran.
“When it comes to Iran, he’s changed the paradigm,” he said. “[President] Bush always said we’ll negotiate with those duty Iranians about their nuclear enrichment plans when they stop enriching nuclear material. Obama understands there is some room there to maneuver. That’s a huge change.”
He also praised Obama for also changing the paradigm with his decision to shelve plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Doing that, he said, would help U.S. relations with Russia.
“It’s about time we realize we have a lot in common with the Russians, like worrying about China and global terrorism,” Hersh said.
The missiles, he added, were just a continuation of the Cold War, and “it’s about time for us to capture some of the benefit we were supposed to get from ending the Cold War.”