Barack Obama scored major national security marks with his July 14 New York Times editorial "My Plan for Iraq" and his speech in Washington D.C. on July 15. He deftly addressed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's insistence that the U.S. make deadline-centric plans to end its occupation of Iraq and outlined the core of the coherent foreign policy and national security strategy he'll pursue as president.
I'm not saying Obama parked one out on Waveland Avenue. It's more like he safely bunted his way to first. He has a long way to go, and I'm concerned whether it's humanly possible to graft sanity onto the foreign policy of a country in which, after nearly eight years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the neocons, John McCain is a credible candidate for the presidency.
Obama characterized Maliki's call for us to leave Iraq as an "opportunity" to begin doing just that, and to retarget our focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it should have stayed from the beginning. He correctly identified oil as the commodity that funds terrorism. He aptly compared the effort it will take to fix the global nightmare team Bush has created to the Marshall Plan that resurrected Europe after World War II. Most importantly, he said that his administration "will make it clear that the United States seeks no permanent bases in Iraq."
Hence, with a fell stroke, Obama decisively disavowed both the means and the ends of the neoconservative agenda; but to truly purge American policy of neocon influence, Obama needs to take two more vital measures.
To begin with, he needs to decapitate the neocons' pet general. In his speech, Obama praised David Petraeus for using "new tactics to protect the Iraqi population." Petraeus protected the Iraqi population with the oldest tactic in the book: he bribed the bad guys, giving $216 million to Sunni militias since the surge began and arming them to the teeth. (Please don't ask me how talking to Iran is "appeasement" but bribing Sunni militants isn’t.) Petraeus is a 21st century Miles Gloriosus, a self-promoting humbug in the grand military tradition of Douglas MacArthur, the five-star political operative who abandoned his troops in the Philippines to the Bataan Death March, who hid in Australia until Chester Nimitz's naval forces won the war in the Pacific and then emerged to take credit for the Japanese surrender, and who later snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by goading the Chinese into the Korean War.
Petraeus, the "genius" who "wrote the book" on counterinsurgency, actually had next to nothing to do with producing the Army's new field manual on counterinsurgency operations. FM 3-24 was conceived and developed by a team led by Dr. Conrad Crane at US Army War College in 2004, while Petraeus, then in charge of training Iraqi forces, was in Iraq handing out AK-47 rifles and pistols like Hershey bars, about 190,000 of which lost their way into the hands of Shiite militiamen. The only part of the counterinsurgency manual Petraeus actually wrote was his signature at the bottom of the foreword.
"King David" made his reputation as a counterinsurgency guru following the invasion of Iraq when he was in charge of the occupation of Mosul. Like so many of Petraeus's successes though, his "victory" in Mosul was more a function of his pubic relations panache than of his ability to conduct fourth generation warfare. He left his successor with a time bomb; four months after Petraeus turned over command of Mosul, the police chief he trained defected, and the city became an insurgent stronghold.
"He's the Teflon general," a former U.S. diplomat who served in Iraq has said of Petraeus. "He hasn't been held to account for the fact that all the guys he was supposedly training in 2004 are nowhere to be seen and Mosul basically collapsed after he left."
A consummate flash merchant, Petraeus scored major media moments as operational commander in Iraq by stage managing outdoor market shopping sprees in Baghdad for Bush annointee John McCain, giving the press aerial tours of soccer games, and completely bowling over supposedly grizzled veteran Pentagon correspondents by challenging nineteen year old privates to one-arm push up contests.
Ironically, Petraeus has aggressively supported the Bush administration's unsubstantiated mantra that Iran is arming Shiite militias when the person most certifiably responsible for arming both Shiite and Sunni militants in Iraq is David Petraeus himself.
When Bush and Cheney decided to adapt the surge strategy proposed by Fred Kagan and retired Army General Jack Keane of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, the natural choice of a commander to execute the strategy was Keane's old protégé Petraeus. At that point, almost all of the other generals were opposed to an escalation in Iraq. Petraeus saw his chance to spurt to the top of the heap, and he took it. For a year and a half he has spared no effort to create the illusion of a pending success in Iraq, lowering casualty rates through temporary and artificial means, leaving a situation essentially a replay of the one he created in Mosul; a lull waiting for the next storm to break.
It's this four-star Zvengali who the Army brought home from a theater of war to preside over its one-star selection board so he could ensure the next generation of generals will be David Petraeus clones, and whose commander in chief (with approval from a still compliant Congress) has promoted to head of Central Command, a post made vacant by the forced retirement of Admiral William Fallon, perhaps the last four-star left on active duty with sufficient strategic acumen and moral courage to object to the administration's Iraq strategy and its push for war with Iran.
If Obama doesn't eviscerate Petraeus within ten minutes of taking his oath of office as president, he'll never wrest control of the military away from the neoconservative cabal.
The other thing Obama needs to do is turn his back on the neocons' Iran narrative. Recently, Obama correctly remarked that Iran spends one percent as much as we do on defense, yet he turned around shortly afterward and said, "Iran is a great threat." That's utter poppycock. Not only is Iran's defense budget a miniscule fraction of ours, our defense budget, in exchange rate terms, is more that twice as big as Iran's entire economy. After more than a year and a half of accusing Iran of being directly responsible for the deaths of American servicemen in Iraq, the administration hasn't produced a shred of proof to back its allegations, and if Iran actually had a nuclear weapons program to suspend in 2003, it was the sort of thing Stan and Kyle could have slapped together from the Junior Scientist kit Eric Cartman's mom bought him for Christmas.
If, as the Bush administration claims, we face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran, we have little to fear from any nation on earth.
And that is the message Obama must embrace if he hopes to liberate America from the militaristic oligarchs who presently own it.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.