Something About Alfalfa

This is something that has been bugging me, and the question doesn’t seem to want to calm down.

To the one, the infamous Yemen raid is all the more notorious for being the first military action of President Donald Trump’s new administration. To the other, Rachel Maddow spoke with a Colin Kahl, formerly a national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden:

MADDOW: In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don’t know very much about it. We are told in terms of the timeline that his National Security Advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one day. The next day, at dinner with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and with his son in law Jared Kushner, and with Secretary of Defense and some other principal-level personnel, he made the decision around the dinner table that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately. That seems like a remarkably informal, small, quick process. Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you’ve seen around potentially deadly raids like this, in the past?

KAHL: Well, it is unusual, especially in a context where a raid like this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in Yemen. So it’s not just the raid itself, it’s that there’s a broader set of authorities that are behind that, that deserve deliberation, and what I mean by that is you need to have not just the Defense Department around the table. You also need your intelligence professionals, so that they can vet the intelligence to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment the Pentagon is making. You also need the State Department at the table, so that they can go through the political implications; what happens if civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or diplomatic relations? You need the communicators in the room so that you know that you’re on message and you can coordinate with your allies. You also need the legislative team in the room so that you can notify Congress. This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic assessment, and the problem is even if you’ve got a bunch of smart capable people around the table at dinner―like Secretary Mattis, who I think the world of, and Joe Dunford, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s an amazing man―you need a fuller picture than those two general can provide so the president to make a decision of this gravity.

Quite the question; quite the answer. Nor should we look past the rest of it but for the moment, well, the words “significant escalation” stand out. And it’s just one more reason.

NBC News reported earlier this week that as, “Almost everything went wrong”, according to an unnamed senior military official, “Defense Secretary James Mattis had to leave one of Washington’s biggest annual social events, the Alfalfa Club Dinner, to deal with the repercussions … He did not return.”

And it occurs to wonder why, on the occasion of a new president’s first military action, a significant escalation in the theatre, SecDef is at the birthday bash for the Confederate general instead of at Donald Trump’s side.

According to Maddow’s setup, Secretary Mattis was at dinner when President Trump approved the raid, which was subsequently launched. And Mattis said what? “Sounds great, boss; I’m off to the Alfalfa Club”?

Then again, why not? This is, after all, the Trump administration.

Then again, yet again … er … ah … right. But, yeah, it’s the Trump administration; it seems a strange question, but also pretty small given both the pace and magnitude of the tragic farce about this presidency. All else as it is, just how much effort is the question worth? And perhaps there is a context by which it will either answer itself or not, and we can easily enough believe it does not really matter either way because there will always be something more important going on, something more pressing or outright dangerous to worry about.


Maddow Rachel. “Trump tries rewriting history on disastrous raid’s planning”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 3 February 2017.

Windrem, Robert, William M. Arkin, Courtney Kube and Charlene Gubash. “SEAL, American Girl Die in First Trump-Era U.S. Military Raid”. NBC News. 31 January 2017.

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