"It's one thing to attack me. It's another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus."
-- George W. Bush, September 13, 2007
People tell me all the time to lighten up on our senior generals like David Petraeus because they have such a hard job. Well, answer me this. If the job consists of saying "yes" to the boss, who in return protects you from any and all criticism, how freaking hard can it be?
Mr. Bush's reaction to MoveOn.org's "Betray Us" ad in the New York Times was, of course, a delectable bit of Dubya Speak. From one side of his mouth he skirts being held responsible for his Iraq disaster by saying he listens to his generals on the ground, and from the other side he says nobody can criticize the generals. Standard fare from the Decider, and you can almost feel sorry for Petraeus for being stooged like that. But then Petraeus turns around and reminds you that he himself is a master of Rovewellian mendacity.
In late November, Petraeus expressed his displeasure that Iran had not lived up to its promise to stop supplying arms to Shiite militias in Iraq. Now, one might reasonably deduce that Iran's promise to stop supplying arms to insurgents was a frank admission that they had been supplying arms in the first place, one that contradicted their previous denials. And one might justifiably wonder if the Iranians would really be dumb enough to accidentally admit something like that.
If one cared to get to the bottom of the mystery, one might bump into a recent article in which journalist and historian Gareth Porter notes that the "admission" came not from the Iranians, but from our own dear commander in Iraq David Petraeus, who told reporters on September 30th that in meetings with Iranian leaders, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had "pledged he would stop the flow of weapons, the training, the funding and the directing of these militia extremists."
Iranian leaders who were at those meetings tell a markedly different story. According to them, they promised to do more to police the Iran/Iraq border, which is a far cry from admitting to arming, funding and training Iraqi militias.
Petraeus has become a classic Bush administration general: that is to say, a bull feather merchant. Those who went before him set a high standard to emulate, but Petraeus is living up to the challenge and more.
His predecessor as commander of Multinational Force Iraq, William Casey, was known for his boast that his troops had never lost a battle in Iraq, echoing a hollow sentiment from Vietnam and revealing how far he was willing to go to support the administration's spin machine. When it was his job to deny that he didn’t have enough troops, Casey played ball and opposed talk of a surge right up to and including the moment when he realized Bush would make him Chief of Staff of the Army if he changed his tune and supported it.
Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq before Casey, complained as he retired from the Army that he'd missed getting a fourth star and a choice assignment as head of U.S. Southern Command over the Abu Ghraib incident. It never occurred to Sanchez that he was lucky to leave with the three stars he had, considering that Private Lynndie England, one of the junior enlisted people who took the fall for him over the scandal, was lucky to get only three years in a military prison. Sanchez later made a shameful spectacle of himself when he ranted in front of a conference of reporters, and blamed them along with the administration for his misfortunes and the failures in Iraq, never once admitting that, well, as commanding general he might have had a little something to do with the fates of both the war and himself. Sanchez personifies a key tenet of the Bush administration's leadership philosophy: responsibility and accountability should always be delegated to subordinates.
Air Force General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the onset of Iraqi Freedom, was the administration's blow up doll when it came to endorsing whatever cockamamie neoconservative strategies and propaganda campaigns came from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld's offices. Myers set the penultimate example of what a good Bush era general does when he retires. He kept his mouth shut and took his four-star retirement stipend, and a job as professor of military history at Kansas State University, and a chair on the board of defense industry giant Northrup Grumman Corporation. So we don't have to worry about Myers ever becoming one of those Iraq/Afghanistan era homeless veterans.
Myers's successor, Peter Pace, was capable of extraordinary ethical flexibility when it came to balancing his own military expertise with allegiance to the administration's blind mice policies. When it came to the idea of homosexuals serving openly in the military, though, Pace bravely stepped forward and avowed how immoral he considered gay sex to be.
That calls to mind one of Pace's distant forbears, Colin Powell, who was Joint Chiefs chairman during Big Daddy Bush's war with Saddam Hussein. Powell asserted that allowing gays to serve openly would erode unit cohesion. Powell also told us, during the run up to young Mr. Bush's war in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Imaging how relieved Powell must be this morning that he didn't go in front of the U.N. General Assembly and claim that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran only covers its nuclear intentions and capabilities, but one suspects that another estimate that debunks the Iran arming/training Iraqi insurgents myth will follow shortly. Porter decisively refuted administration claims on that score in September 2007. In a nutshell, the "evidence" consists of:
* Confessions gained under interrogation of which we've seen no transcripts.
* Seized documents and databases we haven't seen copies of.
* Iranian officials detained in Iraq on suspicion of conspiring to supply arms to insurgents who were later released when they prove to be "of no continuing intelligence value."
* A U.S. Army weapons expert who claimed that roadside explosive components found in Iraq may have come from either Iran or RadioShack.
* Photographs in a PowerPoint presentation that for all we know could have been taken in Ehud Olmert's basement.
* Politicians like Joe Lieberman and generals like David Petraeus who point to the above as hard proof of Iranian culpability in the deaths and maiming of American G.I.s.
What the Iran bashers want everybody to forget is that the single largest known supplier of weapons to the insurgency was David Petraeus himself. Petraeus failed to follow established procedures in distributing weapons to Iraqi security forces while he was in charge of training them in 2004 and '05. The Government Accountability Office reported in August 2007 that almost 190,000 pistols and rifles disturbed to Iraqi forces—mostly on Petraeus's watch—grew legs and walked away, never to be seen again. Guess who's got them now.
We have a lot fixing to do in this country once Bush is finally out of office. Purging our military of the likes of Petraeus is right at the top of the "must do" list. Here's hoping we're up to the task.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008. Visit here to listen to Jeff's recent conversation with Karen Kwiatkowski on National Forum.