Friday, August 17, 2007

Middle East Malaise

Our Middle East safari gets curiouser by the day.

The United States (i.e., George W. Bush) will designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard corps as a "specially designated global terrorist." The Revolutionary Guard will be the first military organization to ever be put on the U.S. list of terrorists, but that's not as big a deal as it seems at first blush. Outfits like Hezbollah and Hamas are still on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations even though--thanks to the "spread of democracy" throughout the Middle East--both have become legitimate political parties, so what's the big deal about throwing a uniformed armed service into the mix?

According to a Washington Post article by Robin Wright, "The move reflects escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over issues including Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions." One might think the move would have more to do with Bush administration accusations that Iran's government is actively arming and training Iraqi militants, but that makes no never mind either. The Bush administration has yet to produce one stick of tangible evidence to back up its claims regarding Iran's alleged desire to develop nuclear weapons or of its supposed aiding and abetting of Iraqi hooligans.

But since when has the Bush administration needed a paltry thing like proof to justify its actions, and when has it apologized for Mr. Bush's exercise of plenary (absolute) powers? As Wright notes, the terrorist designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, an order Mr. Bush signed on September 23, 2001, days before Congress passed the original Authorization for Use of Military Force or any other legislation that suggested Mr. Bush could exceed his normal legal and constitutional authorities. In other words, Mr. Bush is about to declare a military force of a sovereign nation to be a terrorist group in accordance with authority he gave to himself.

Wright also tells us that the Executive Order allows Mr. Bush to "block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that 'provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists.'" I'm not sure how Mr. Bush figures to disrupt the operations or business of Iran's Revolutionary Guard by calling it a bad name, but again it doesn’t matter. Naming the Guard a terrorist group is a sleight of hand stratagem designed to distract the American public's eye from the deal going on between Bush and General David Petraeus, military commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

The Great White House Hope

Mr. Bush calls Petraeus his "main man," and has said that the future deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq will "depend upon the recommendations of David Petraeus."

The hype over Petraeus has been bouncing around the echo chamber from the time Bush nominated him to replace George W. Casey as commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq. Tales of his previous command tours in Iraq make him sound like a latter day cross pollination of Erwin Rommel and Lawrence of Arabia. He is generally credited for having created the so-called "surge" strategy and many claim that he "wrote the book" on counterinsurgency. Petraeus's detractors accuse him of overstating his accomplishments, and it's fair to say that Petraeus's proponents overstate his accomplishments as well.

Petraeus was not the architect of the surge strategy. That dubious honor belongs to former West Point lecturer Fred Kagan and retired Army General Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane prepared the "Plan for Success in Iraq" for the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative think tank and parent organization of the now infamous Project for the New American Century.

"The book on counter-insurgency" Petraeus is said to have written is the Army field manual FM 3-24. Trust me on this one: three and four star generals don't write field manuals. Light colonels and majors and sergeants write them. A lot of three- and four-star officers have never even read a field manual. The best description of Petraeus's involvement with the counterinsurgency manual probably came from the January 2007 New York Times article that said he "helped oversee the drafting of the military’s comprehensive new manual on counterinsurgency" while he was head of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That most likely means that he skimmed parts of the document before he signed off on it, but whether he read it or wrote it or fed it to his dog isn't really relevant because a) surge or no surge, he doesn't have enough troops to conduct a counterinsurgency the way the field manual says he's supposed to and b) he's not really fighting a counter-insurgency, or even a civil war. He's trying to rein in a Hobbesian nightmare.

Reviews of Petraeus's previous tours in Iraq are mixed at best. Some laud his skill in administrating Mosul as commander of the 101st Airborne after the end of major combat operations, but others say he let the insurgency take root and left a mess for his successor to clean up. His next Iraq tour, as the officer in charge of training Iraqi security forces and police, well, nobody's standing in line to claim he knocked that one out of the park. To make matters worse, Petraeus's slugging average went straight through the cellar when a recent Government Accountability Office report revealed that over 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols and other military equipment distributed to Iraqi forces disappeared, largely during the period when Petraeus was in charge of training and arming those forces.

Baffle Them with Bull Feathers

Declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group is intended in part to draw attention away from General Petraeus's shortcomings through general confusion, and the administration is generating a lot of other confusion around the subject of General Petraeus.

Recent headlines suggest that Petraeus in considering recommending troop draw downs when he talks to Congress in September, but they're really referring to two separate issues, neither of which is the immediate sort of "draw down" that so many Americans are calling for.

The first kind of draw down Petraeus refers to is pulling troops out of areas where relatively firm security has been established. Those troops won't come home though. They'll reposition to hot spots or be held in theater as a quick response operational reserve. The second kind of draw down he's talking about is the kind where the troops come home, but it won't happen until next summer, after the "surge" will have become unsustainable. That's no big deal. Officials have been saying all along that the surge can't last much past April '08.

The latest Petraeus puzzlement, of course, is whether or not the White House is actually going to let him testify to Congress come mid-September. First we heard that the White House was actually writing his status report for him, and was insisting that the Secretaries of State and Defense (Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates), not Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, be the ones to testify before Congress in open session. Shortly after that story broke, White House spokes folks said, no, no, that's not what we meant at all, no, we're not trying to protect the general, we'll do what Congress wants, yadda yadda, yup yup yo...

We'll never completely slice through the fog this administration generates, but there's one canard regarding their Iraq propaganda we should drive a stake into right now. If the administration and its uniformed chambermaids have a shred of hard evidence--as they claim to have--that Iran's political leadership has had a direct hand in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, there is no excuse for us not to have dropped bombs on Tehran yesterday. If they have no hard evidence that Iran is responsible for U.S. casualties--and it appears that they don't--there is no excuse for them to continue to pretend that they do.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.


  1. William Bollinger1:00 PM

    Now, there's a thought...

    shrub: That pesky report's comin' up. Turdblossum, we need to d'clare someone a bad guy, so's no-one'll notice.

    brain: I don't think that'll be enough...

    shrub: Then, y're fired!

    brain: Brilliant! That'll do it! (quietly) Nice to see you finally think of something yourself.

    When they announced that on a Monday, I knew it was a distraction. Now it makes sense.

  2. For sleight of hand artists, it's all about distraction. ;-)

  3. "Declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group is intended in part to draw attention away from General Petraeus's shortcomings through general confusion"

    As you say, sleight of hand, and every time Bush is faced with diversity in his administration, we suddenly have a new 'whack-a-mole' game pop up to distract attention from Bush and his faux pas...

    And you hit it on the head Jeff, IF Bush and Company have proof, we should have already launched the air campaign, but there we really need to see that proof, hard proof, Bush has NO credibility, he could look me in the eye at this point in time and tell me the sun will rise in the east and I am going to become instantly suspicious, and that is the fault of Bush and all of his BS in the past...

    Would it be appropriate to refer to 'The boy who cried WOLF' here??

  4. Anonymous2:50 PM

    Hey TexasFred:

    I can almost agree with you. However, we on the low life enlisted puke side of the world have dealt with this type of thing long enough that we know the difference between diversity and adversity!

    "As you say, sleight of hand, and every time Bush is faced with diversity in his administration,"

    ADCS USNR-R(ret)

  5. Fred,

    I'd say it's not just appropriate, it's a dire necessity.


    Well said.


  6. "If the administration and its uniformed chambermaids have a shred of hard evidence--as they claim to have--that Iran's political leadership has had a direct hand in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, there is no excuse for us not to have dropped bombs on Tehran yesterday."

    Why would hard evidence of a direct hand in attacks be sufficient, by itself, to necessitate dropping bombs on Tehran?

    What would have happened if such a standard had applied in other wars?

    The US should have bombed Peking during the Korean war, after the Chinese crossed the Yalu?

    The USSR should have bombed Washington, DC, during the Afghanistan war?

    Heck, if we're looking for military provocations, in order to widen the war, we could use this week's Kurdish reports of the shelling of various locations in Kurdistan by Turkish forces and by Iranian forces as justification for the U.S. to bomb both Tehran and Istanbul.

  7. In your first two scenarios, the bombings would have been justified--it's a matter of risk and consequences.

    Your Turkish scenario is quite a different matter. I see no justification to retaliate unilaterally there.

  8. MME, Damn, I made a boo-boo huh?? Well, I am NEVER to big to admit it when I screw up, and that was a screwup, not even a typo, just a 'damn, did I really DO that?' screwup, I meant to type ADVERSITY, and apparently my brain was on break and my fingers didn't get the memo, as I get older that tends to happen more and more...

    Thanks for the 'catch'... :)

  9. Anonymous2:31 PM

    Texas Fred:

    You probably typed "dversity" and spell check did you in.


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