Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama's Bunt

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.

44 comments:

  1. wkmaier8:57 AM

    Good stuff Jeff.

    Couple of things: the UK Guardian said today that the US will be establishing a "special interests" section in Tehran, I'm sure you saw that. Of course, the "wait and see" attitude is operative here.

    And you forgot Kagan's title! "Retired Feldmarschall and all-around bon vivant". ;-)

    Lastly, can President Obama just fire Petraeus?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Reality Kid10:51 AM

    Further to what wkmaier has written, you may be interested to visit the "War in Context" website (warincontext.org) which is today featuring a trio of articles regarding Iran and diplomacy (including the Guardian article to which mkmaier refers).

    My main reason for writing relates to Iraq. I'm not convinced we've heard the fully story (well, I suppose that goes without saying...) regarding the "Memorandum of Understanding" that may currently be at issue in negotiations between the Bush and Maliki administrations.

    Although widely viewed as Maliki showing strength, there have been reports that, in the middle east, Maliki's comments and position is open to interpretation - for example, it may not be clear whether he's insisting on a date-specific timetable or simply the incorporation of the 'concept' of a timetable into the document that may result from negotiations. And in either case, it may be a conditions-dependent withdrawal that the parties are discussing (and we all know what THAT means...).

    Further, I believe it's possible that, unlike a more formal "agreement" (and certainly unlike a "treaty"), using the vehicle of a "memorandum of understanding" may allow both Bush and Maliki to avoid each country's legislature reviewing the document - in other words, although framed somewhat as a "failure" to achieve more traditional agreement(s) (SOFA and security), this may actually be a ploy to allow Bush-Maliki to operate more independently.

    Finally, there is still the question of whether any resultant document will be binding on the next US president. While it may be the case that a MOU will allow for more flexibility, as I understand the function/intent/application of a MOU, it could still take "bad faith" on the part of the next president to deviate from its terms (depending on what those terms are, of course).

    In sum, I remain unconvinced that anything has changed yet. My money is still on tens (and tens and tens) of thousands of American troops and permanent - sorry, enduring - military bases. Throughout the term of the next U.S. president and beyond.

    But I hope I'm wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  3. WK,

    I'm still trying to figure out why Freddie left West Point after 10 years. Snot running down his nose?

    RK,

    He can fire Pet just like Bush fired Fallon.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Commander,
    Your excellent post is about the only positive take I've seen about Obama to date. One can only hope he will follow through and remove David Petraeus from any responsible military position.
    I have, however, learned the hard way over the last eight years to not hold my breath.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jeg,

    I'm not going to turn blue waiting either.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My one glimmer of hope comes from an article I read on the net (which I can't find this morning.) It has to do with the administration's "thorn in the side" -- Bill Delahunt. Mr. Delahunt circumvented the State Dept. once already -- to contract with Citgo to get low cost heating oil for low income people in his district. State fumed. Now, from what I recently read, Mr. Delahunt has circumvented the administration, (which has said it can circumvent Congress on an SOFA.) He's dealing directly with the Iraqi parliament, in an "advisory" capacity" kind of thing. And, letting them know -- (under their own constitution) what they do, and don't have to agree to on a SOFA, or anything else. He recently held hearings, with members of the Iraqi parliament, who told his committee, i.e. we don't want American forces here -- we don't need American forces here.
    Correspondence between the two, continues to be exchanged.

    Haven't seen any headlines on this, anywhere.

    I'm not going to turn blue either, Commander, waiting for the "mindset" change that Obama promises (if elected). And, I'm realistic enough to know that you can't fix, overnight, something that took almost eight years to break.

    This mess, made by the Bush administration, will take decades to clean up.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice takedown of Petraeus, Commander.

    I question whether Obama would replace Petraeus. It would require a serious dose of myth-busting, which never goes down well with the American public. Petraeus is the only general most Americans can name since Colin Powell.

    If Powell still retains a shred of a reputation, even after the neocons disowned him, you can see how hard it might be to disabuse Americans of Petraeus' sainthood.

    Thanks, Elder Lady, for telling us about Bill Delahunt. Will Google him.

    Finally, can anyone recommend a good biography of Douglas MacArthur -- one completely free of myths, that is?

    ReplyDelete
  8. EL,

    I'll have to look more into this Delahunt guy.

    Russ,

    If Petraeus has become that hard to scrape off,he is, indeed, an American Caesar.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jeff, have you read this?

    I will soon.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yeeesh, Jeff, my point was that Obama's got one hell of a fight ahead of him.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "I question whether Obama would replace Petraeus. It would require a serious dose of myth-busting, which never goes down well with the American public."

    Not knowing enough I have noticed how easily 'myths' become fixed into people's mindset here.. I suspect it results from the general populace knowing diddly squat about these things you just described. After somehow discovering your blog (don't remember how) I found that you inform me with your posts more than I could anywhere else in the MSM. Naturally, that is your expertise but unless the likes of Olbermann takes it on him to do an expose of Petraeus, no one will know unless they stumble upon your blog.
    As for Obama's challenge in 'cleaning' things up; it's also up the American public to stay more politically engaged as they seem to be now with Obama's campaign. If people's interest or impatience give way, then any good politician will feel the need to pander to the electorate, as fickle as they can be..

    Ingrid

    ReplyDelete
  12. Nunya,

    He has a fight all right. The MI complex has been printing the need for its product on the public's mind for a long time now.

    Ingrid,

    I'm hardly the only one saying these things about Petraeus. (If I were, I wouldn't have anything to say. All my sources are derivative.)

    But the weasel press isn't likely to feature any of the "bad news" about the post-modern American Caesar.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent post Jeff. Obama can fire Petraeus, but he will almost certainly have to take his time over it. The general didn't get where he is today be being politically inept. If Petraeus sees a realist chain of command going all the way to the C-i-C and his advisers and adjusts accordingly then there may be very little scope for giving him the boot, or indeed reason to. Perhaps the trick is to keep him in place (for a change) until those chickens come home to roost.

    Needless to say all of this assumes that the neocrazies don't pull down the temple on the way out the door.

    Gershom Gorenberg has written a similar-ish article at South Jerusalem on Obama's Israel policy (I comment on the similarities here). I am really curious to know to what extent he he would agree with your analysis.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Excellent points, Chris. Looking at P's old press quotes, one certainly sees him giving himself enough wiggle room to squeeze back into reality if the political situation necessitates.

    Also, thanks for the link.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  15. Chris,

    I'll have to ponder it a bit more, but yeah, I think I agree with what Gorenberg's saying.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  16. bobby shaftoe3:06 PM

    Obama can fire Petraeus by promoting him. Move him into the basement of the White House, and name him the Chief High Tsar of Strategic Thinkery. "I respect him so much, I moved him right into the White House." ("And do you read his reports and analysis, President Obama?" "Ohhhhh, I can assure you that his reports and analysis are widely distributed among the executive staff.")

    They could appoint a junior staffer to nod respectfully when he speaks.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Bobby,

    You know, that's sort of what they did with MacArthur. Gave him a theater of war where nothing would happen so he wouldn't come home and challenge FDR for the presidency.

    ReplyDelete
  18. "...All my sources are derivative"

    let me put it this way Jeff; I'm a still sleep deprived mom so my time and brain ability (ahem, sad but true) to read as much as you do to write your posts, is very much limited. So for me, for now, you are a one-stop deal that informs me more than if I were to open any newspaper as you put information and events into context for me. I have no doubt that your background helps as well.

    btw.. I finally heard from my brother in law (retired submarine commander) about your book that we send him..and I quote; "It is funny but the language is not for young eyes" end of quote..LOL! Now strong language in a book about the navy?? I'm shocked!!

    well, not really of course. I suspect his teenage sons got a hold of it but him saying it's funny must mean he likes it. He's a man of few words.

    Ingrid

    ReplyDelete
  19. wkmaier10:35 PM

    Jeff,

    Ever see the movie "Seven Days in May"? It's a Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas vehicle. I think our current dillholes use that movie as an "Owner's Manual".

    Excuse my language.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have a better way to handle Gen. Petraeus and put him to the test at the same time. Provided President Obama wins the election, he can immediately make good on his policy shift to Afghanistan/Pakistan by "promoting" Gen. Petraeus to command of all combat operations.

    To be safe, Gen. Petraeus' hand-picked successor (hand-picked by the President) would occupy the AC position (Assistant Commander). Quietly, it would be made quite clear to Gen. Petraeus that his leash is measured in millimeters. Furthermore, if he wants to retire with all the stars he's wearing now , he will achieve objective, measurable results or be sacked like a bag of potatoes thrown from a C-130 at 250 feet.

    The salient bonus of this approach is it would instantly put all flag-rank officers on notice that they will be judge on results and failure will not be tolerated. This is war, not a gentleman's golf game. Lincoln knew this well. Like McClellan, sometimes you need to push a general to the test.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Russ:

    Korea: The Untold Story is an excellent account of both this war and was brilliant about MacArthur (his insane audacity to attempt Inchon) and what was base (his staff was notoriously loaded with "yes" men; and MacArthur would never tolerate reality intruding on his plans). Gen. Bradley's autobiography has, I believe, a very balanced accounting of Gen. MacArthur from his days as West Point Commandant to his relief by President Truman. In addition, for all his faults, Gen. Bradley's military record and long years of public service are far closer to the ideal than Gen. MacArthur's. Yet, most people think Gens. Patton or Eisenhower commanded at D-Day.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Ingrid,

    The inscription in my 16 year old goddaughter's copy reads, "Don't drink too much, don't smoke at all, and don't use the kind of language that's in this book."

    WK,

    Yeah, isn't Burt the bad guy general in that one?

    John,

    Well, the tricky part is that Petraeus already is in charge of combat; being CENTCOM makes him the combatant commander in all the places where we have a war.

    Now, he could make Petraeus Joint Chiefs chairman--that job involves being the president's "adviser," and you know what advice is worth.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  23. Yes CENTCOM puts him on top, but if we created an "Army of Babylon" and made him commander, it would be more "real" to the general public (in both a positive and negative sense for Gen. Patraeus).

    ReplyDelete
  24. wkmaier12:17 PM

    That's the one Jeff. We watched it last night, a bit scary, I must say.

    ReplyDelete
  25. John,

    BABALCOM, yes!

    WK,

    I'm trying to think, was Bert trying to take control of the nukes because the wuss politicians didn't know how to be tough with the Russkis?

    ReplyDelete
  26. Commander,
    Reading the news this morning, with the Obama World Tour in progress, -- seems like there is a shift away from Iraq, to Afghanistan. Even Al Maliki says the Obama time frame, for withdrawal, sounds about right. Heck, I think even Bush says so.

    So, this bit of news from our favorite General Petreus. "Al Queda may be shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan."

    Is he the only one in the military that doesn't know that's where they have been all along?

    Or is this his way of letting an incoming administration know "I can do Afghanistan, as well as Iraq." ????

    The guys with brains, all quit, or got fired, didn't they??

    ReplyDelete
  27. Aha, that Scumbag Petraeus, still trying to make it sound like those Sand Scouts in Iraq who called themselves al Qaeda in Mesopotamia were the real AQ, and as if they were a major factor in the unrest there.

    ReplyDelete
  28. You might be interested in this piece by economist Andrew McKillop predicting a war with (who else?) Iran. (And everyone else, it looks like). And guess what? It's all about the oil! As Gomer used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

    I have a lot of respect for this guy (although his writing needs an editor, stat). He was the only economist to correctly predict the effect of high oil prices on the economies of China and India (amusingly recounted here by writer Dmitri Orlov).

    Is anyone else tired of being told that "it's not about the oil," only to find out that it's all about the oil (and then some)?

    ReplyDelete
  29. Big problem right here, JP.

    For many backers of ‘pre-emptive war’ against Iran, its decreasing oil export capacity and rising domestic demand gives Iran every possible incentive to ‘spread the word’ of Chi’ite power politics. They argue that, backed by Chi’ite demographic clout, its large population and rising industrial capacity, Iran menaces the minority Sunnite-controlled GCC countries like it did at the time of Khomenei’s Revolution and war against Saddam’s Iraq.

    Iran, as I have illustrated many times, is not a military threat to most of the Sunni world. It can't reach them. And it did not menace the Sunni world at the time of the Iran-Iraq war. That one was started by Hussein, and it was all Iran could to to hold on.

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  30. I think BABALCOM has a future as a book title.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Maybe I can fit the concept into 2020.

    ReplyDelete
  32. wkmaier10:19 AM

    Spot on Jeff. The President was negotiating a treaty with the Soviet Union, and Burt was having none of it.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Jeff,

    You're quite right that Iran did not pose a military threat to the Sunni nations of the Gulf in 1979. I really enjoy your insights into the country's mideast adventures, and would like to add a little more precision about Iran in 1979.

    Iran may not have been a military threat but it was a potent ideological threat. The Iranian Revolution definitely prompted a lot of potentates in countries surrounding Iran to summarily defecate.

    The Russians were certainly none too pleased to have a stridently anti-Communist Muslim revival in a country that bordered on oil rich regions of the old USSR. The Saudis, Iraqis, and other Gulf Arabs must have felt threatened too. The Arab world had essentially split up into oil-rich countries which had been extremely backward, which used Islam to legitimize a wealthy ruling family controlling the country, and having Western countries help extract their oil reserves, with a few countries such as Jordan sending manpower to help do so, and, on the other hand, Soviet allied countries that were - at least on paper - more democractic, but didn't have any oil (Egypt until Sadat, Syria, Aden).

    Khomeini threatened to upset many apple carts by demonstrating that a country could be a good Islamic country, but a) tell the Russians to jump in the lake and b) nationalize their oil reserves, and dictate terms to the West. If Iran could be be a good Islamic country and nationlize its oil reserves, without running into problems, the House of Saud and others stood to have to explain to its subjects why the same was not possible in their kingdom.

    Saddam Hussein, who didn't have the same enthusiasm for democracy and town meetings that New Englanders historically have had, cannot would hardly have been enthusiastic about his largest rival, which had close ethnic ties to many Iraqis, becoming a Republic guided by the clergy (the Ba'ath party, much maligned by the neocons began as a European-style socialist party, just like the Neocons.) When you consider that Hussein was close to the French and Russians, and not too hostile to the UK and USA, it seems quite likely that - at the very least - the Russians, the French, and the UK and USA didn't ardently try to dissuade him from invading Iran, and thereby taking the momentum out of the Iranian Revolution.

    In the run up to his incursion into Kuwait, Saddam Hussein sent an emissary to the Kuwaiti Royal Family, and essentially told them that he'd done their dirty work for them in keeping Iran down, and that their insistance that he pay off his debts to them was crushing him, that the time had come to convert debts he'd (wanted to believe) were pro forma into grants. Whoever his emissary was told him that that wasn't going to happen, but that he'd be free to pay his debts off with Iraqi war widows.

    Come to think of it, many of the same reasons still exist for Iran's neighbors wanting to limit its influence.

    ReplyDelete
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