Thursday, August 30, 2007

Iran Ate Lil' Bush's Homework

"I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities."

-- George W. Bush, in an address to the Annual Convention of the American Legion on August 28, 2007.

This could be trouble. I'm not entirely sure that Mr. Bush knows what "authorized to confront" actually means. If Dick Cheney is the guy who explained it to him, it's a sure bet he doesn't. To set the record straight: nothing in the U.S. Standing Rules of Engagement or in any supplemental ROE or weapons control measure limits or negates the inherent right of self defense. Acts of self-defense are constrained by the sensibilities of concepts like necessity and proportionality, but nobody is expected to absorb a first blow before reacting to a hostile act or a display of hostile intent. Any time, anywhere, under any circumstances, every American service member--from the lowliest private in Iraq to the four-star admiral in charge of Central Command--has the right to do what is necessary to defend themselves and their units without so much as a "by your leave" from the commander in chief.

So when a president makes a point of saying that he's authorized military commanders to "confront murderous activities," he's a) getting ready to start another preemptive war on fuzzy pretexts or b) pandering to a bunch of drunk pro-war Neanderthals at a convention in Reno or c) both.

By a remarkable piece of coincidence, "hours after" Mr. Bush's remarks to the Legionnaires came the news that American soldiers in Baghdad had arrested a group of Iranians that included two diplomats and six members of a delegation from Tehran's Ministry of Energy. They were in Baghdad at the invitation of Iraq's Ministry of Electricity to discuss construction of a new power plant. And why did the Americans detain these Iranians? The Iranians' bodyguards, it seems, were Iraqis, presumably supplied to them by their hosts, the Iraqi Ministry of Energy. The Iraqi bodyguards were carrying weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle and two 9mm pistols for which they had no weapons permits.

Heck, if that isn't proof positive that the Iranian government is behind the sectarian violence and attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, what is?


The Americans turned the Iranians over to Iraqi authorities the next morning. Maybe it occurred to the Americans that nobody in their right minds drives around Baghdad without armed bodyguards and that practically nobody in Baghdad carrying weapons has a permit for them. If they hauled in everybody carrying around and unlicensed weapon, there wouldn't be anybody left to…

Hey, there's an idea! Locking up everybody we run across toting heat without a permit will end that darn insurgency and civil war faster than you can say "Hakim Robinson." Scoff if you like, but that's as good an idea as anyone else has come up with, and has just as good a chance of working.

Nothing's Their Fault

Or maybe the Americans let the Iranian delegation go because it occurred to them that their bodyguards' weapons might be traced back to being from the almost 200,000 rifles and pistols that disappeared after the U.S. distributed them to Iraqi security forces. That would be embarrassing because most of those weapons vanished in 2004 and 2005 when golden boy David Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi troops.

The administration and the Pentagon don't want any more attention called to that end zone fumble, especially now when we're hearing that the missing weapons are part of a multi-federal agency investigation of fraud and corruption related to the Iraq conflict. One whistle blower who worked for Shield Group Security, an Iraqi-owned company, told the FBI tales of guns, land mines and rocket launchers being sold for cash to insurgents, American soldiers, State Department personnel and Iraqi government employees alike. The informant described Baghdad as "a Wal-Mart for guns" and added, “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”

That's the sort of news that might make Mr. Bush's claims that Iran is arming Iraq's insurgency sound pretty silly, if it got out where everybody could hear about it.

Journalists like Seymour Hersh and Larisa Alexandrovna have been telling us for some time about the Bush administration's long-term initiative-- largely driven by Dick Cheney--to attack Iran. When un-provable claims of Iran's ambitions to develop nuclear weapons proved insufficient to get America all Pavlovian about bombing Tehran, the administration turned to accusing Iran of providing arms to Iraqi militants for attacks on U.S. troops. Despite White House and Pentagon rhetoric to the contrary, those claims have also remained unproven. As Alexandrovna noted recently regarding improvised explosive devices (IEDs) said to have come from Iran, "Intelligence and military officials caution…that there is nothing tying the weapons directly to the Iranian government, nor is there a direct evidentiary chain of custody linking the IEDs to Iran."

One former CIA case officer told Alexandrovna that framing the Iranians for its own failures in Iraq would allow the Bush administration to avoid accountability. The Bush Administration “can say it’s [the Iranians'] fault we are losing the war in Iraq and that would be a convenient out for their failed policy,” the officer said.

It's been a little difficult to date for all but the most ardent conspiracy theorists to believe that Mr. Bush would attack Iran as a means of distracting attention from his historic blunders in Iraq. And yet, Wednesday night on MSNBC's Hard Ball program, bedrock conservative Pat Buchanan said of Mr. Bush's American Legion speech that he is "laying down the predicate for an attack on Iran."

Yep. Lil' Bush just might be that petulant.


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

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Senator Craig: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime for the Pay Toilet?

I normally don't comment on these sorts of things, but I think this Senator Bathroom Joke from Idaho episode is the latest in a string of incidents that indicate what the real GOP base consists of. Remember folks, just because you're sexually repressed or a closet homosexual doesn’t mean you have to vote Republican.



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Deathbed Confessions of Warner and Pace

Last Thursday the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq came out, stating that Iraqi leaders “remain unable to govern effectively” and that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki “will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months.”

On the heels of the NIE's release, Senator John Warner (R-Virginia), member and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, called for Mr. Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in time for Christmas. Then the Los Angeles Times reported that outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace was "expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half."

That's good, I thought, having these two establishment stalwarts coming out and saying what needs to be said. Too bad they're just now getting around to it. Congressman John Murtha, once an avid Iraq War supporter, came out in favor of redeploying our troops clear back in November 2005, and has consistently maintained that position despite having become the object of infantile vituperation from the lowest common denominators of the pro-war right.

Were Warner and Pace so afraid of taking a little heat that they had to wait until the end of their professional lives to finally confess what they really think about Mr. Bush's woebegone war?

Last Rites

People act from mixed motivations. 80 years old now, Senator Warner may be thinking about that heart to heart chat he's due to have with Saint Peter in the near future. Warner is also up for reelection in 2008. Based on his comments to Tim Russert on Meet the Press last Sunday, he has no interest in vying for another term because of his age, but he no doubt has concern for the future of his political party and doesn’t want to see it take a ten count on account of the Iraq War. By calling for some sort of withdrawal timeline, Warner makes it easier for other congressional Republicans to distance themselves from the White House's Iraq policy prior to the next election. I'm quite certain that Warner also has a genuine desire to do what's right for his country; I'm just not entirely jolly over the way he's gone about doing it.

Warner didn't need this latest NIE to realize that the Maliki government is "ineffective." In October of last year, he described the situation in Iraq as "drifting sideways," and said that if Iraq's government couldn't function effectively after several months, "It’s the responsibility of our government to determine is there a change in course we should take. I wouldn’t take any option off the table at this time.” But Warner made it clear that he was not trying to set a deadline for the Maliki government to take action, and that he supported the Bush administration's policy.

Now, almost a year later, Warner says that a declaration by Bush that the U.S. is beginning to withdraw will get Iraqi political leaders' attention--but as of last Thursday, Warner was still insisting that he would continue oppose congressional efforts to force a withdrawal. What, it's okay with Warner if Bush orders a withdrawal but not if Congress forces one? White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Thursday that while Mr. Bush "respects" Warner's advice, he'll wait to hear the advice of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus in mid-September before he makes any decisions on strategy changes.

That must have bent Warner's nose clear back to his right sideburn, because by Sunday he was telling Tim Russert that he might support Democratic legislation ordering withdrawals unless Bush orders timetables soon. But he's "going to have to evaluate it," he said. "I don't say that as a threat, but I say that is an option we all have to consider." If we wait until Warner is done evaluating and considering, we'll be debating troop levels in Iraq 'til kingdom come.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates chose to replace Pace as senior U.S. military officer when his present term expires at the end of September rather than expose him to another confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Friday we got the unofficial but sanctioned leak from anonymous "administration and military officials" that Pace would recommend severe troop level cuts in Iraq because he and the Joint Chiefs believe it's necessary to make the military able to respond to "other threats." This was the same concern Pace and the Joint Chiefs held in private regarding the surge strategy before they backed down and supported it publicly. Not surprisingly, "officials" told LA Times reporters that Pace expected to offer his advice to cut troop levels privately rather than issue a full report.

Shortly after the LA Times article hit the streets, Pace's office could neither "confirm nor deny" the report, and by later in the day his people declared that, "the story is wrong."

During his tenure as JCS chairman, Pace has typified the kind of general Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling described in his celebrated article "A failure in Generalship" as lacking in “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage." The actions of Warner and Pace recall Colonel H.R. McMaster's book Dereliction of Duty, in which McMaster pillories the Vietnam era Joint Chiefs for supporting strategies they knew to be "fundamentally flawed."

Passing judgment on human souls is above my paygrade, but I suspect that Warner and Pace will spend a hefty chunk of eternity explaining why they hemmed and hawed and prevaricated when their country needed them to stand tall and act like the leaders they pretended to be.

Related article: "Challenging the Generals" by Fred Kaplan.


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.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Operation Silent Blunder

War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.

-- Carl von Clausewitz

When the so-called "surge" strategy first came to our attention In January 2007, the administration and the Pentagon told us its purpose would be to provide sufficient security for a political reconciliation to take place--a political reconciliation in Iraq, that is. It was never meant to arrive at a truly bi-partisan policy solution between America's executive and legislative branches of government. Its purpose was to continue Mr. Bush's war despite domestic political opposition to it, and so far, by that measure of effectiveness, it's been a resounding success.

Wishin' Accomplished

By the time the surge was launched, we'd already been told there was no "purely military" situation in Iraq. In truth, there is no purely military situation to any war. As Clausewitz tells us, "the only source of war is politics" and "no major proposal required for war can be worked out in ignorance of political factors." Moreover, Clausewitz reminds us that the political objective will determine "both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires."

The administration and its generals may have had these Clausewitzean tenets in mind when they began to emphasize political solutions. Then again, they may have figured that talk of a military solution would be hard to sell, seeing as how four years and multiple prior "surges" into the Iraq conflict the world's best-trained, best-equipped armed force was nowhere near bringing the war to a favorable conclusion.

The problem now for the administration is that the longer the surge has dragged on, the more remote the prospects of a political solution in Iraq have become. The mid-July surge progress report stated Iraq's government had only achieved eight of its 18 assigned benchmarks. The White House tried to spin the news into a bolt of Egyptian cotton by boasting that Iraq had achieved nearly half of its requirements, but that canard went down in flames in early August when nearly a dozen Shiite and Sunni ministers waltzed out of Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's cabinet.

After that, not surprisingly, the administration's echo chamberlains began to suggest that those darn old political benchmarks probably weren't the best way to measure the surge's success any old how, but that dodge went over like a lead zeppelin as well.

From Bad to Worse

This week U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker described Iraq's progress "extremely disappointing." Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John Warner (R-Virginia), chairman and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee did Crocker one better. After a two-day visit to Iraq, they released a joint statement that said in part:
While we believe that the “surge” is having measurable results, and has provided a degree of “breathing space” for Iraqi politicians to make the political compromises which are essential for a political solution in Iraq, we are not optimistic about the prospects for those compromises.

Levin later dusted off the sugar coat when he told reporters "I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office."

Mr. Bush made a confusing series of statements in response to Levin's remark that seemingly alternated between endorsing Maliki and running him over with a tractor, but it really doesn't matter what Bush says any more because by now everybody who's right in the head knows that Bush isn't.

Almost everybody also knows there's no political solution to be had in Iraq, including what few members of the administration are still right in their heads. That's why the official rhetoric supporting the surge has shifted back to its military successes; but that's not exactly right-in-the-head thinking either. Many observers question how much of this vaunted military progress is genuine and how much of it is public relations manipulation. Here's what seven non-commissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division finishing up a 15 month tour in Iraq had to say on the subject in a recent New York Times editorial:
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere…

…We operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear…

…The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security.

In light of this, we should perhaps take claims of military progress as seriously as we're supposed to take The Daily Show's Operation Silent Thunder spoof.

But even if we are making genuine military progress in Iraq, it's largely meaningless. I don't know who first said "you can win a thousand battles but still lose the war," but as adages go, that one's as good as it gets. In war, especially at this especially at this point in this war, military success is of no use without a political solution.

One, Two, Three: What Are We Fighting For?

During a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday, Mr. Bush compared Iraq to Vietnam. Many wonder why he'd do such a seemingly self-defeating thing, but the answer is relatively simple. He's trying to guilt trip the country into staying behind his woebegone war.

The neoconservative right has spent decades nurturing the myth that we lost the Vietnam War on the home front, and Mr. Bush wants us to think the same sort of thing will happen with Iraq. This is, of course, utter bunker mentality bunk. We didn't lose Vietnam on the home front. We lost it in Vietnam, and we're losing Iraq in Iraq. Walter Cronkite and Jane Fonda and Abbie Hoffman didn't lose Vietnam. Guys like Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and William Westmoreland and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger lost Vietnam.

And the guy most responsible for losing in Iraq is the guy who excels at nothing better than blaming everyone else for his abject failures as America's commander in chief.


A National Intelligence Estimate released on Thursday says that Iraq remains "unable to govern" itself and that Maliki's government will become "more precarious" over the next six months to a year.

On the heels of the report's release, John Warner recommended that Mr. Bush set a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Rumor has it that outgoing Joint Chief chairman Peter Pace will advise Mr. Bush to cut the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half.

This all sounds like a deathbed confession sort of thing to me. What, these guys needed one more NIE to finally tell Bush what he needed to hear?


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.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Death by a Thousand Gradual Cuts

Iraq has become our perennial summer horror film. The plot is more or less the same as the years go by, as are the characters, and the monster never quite dies. The only thing that changes is the title, and that seems to be enough to keep us coming back for sequel after sequel after sequel.

From a Saturday New York Times article titled "White House to Offer Iraq Plan of Gradual Cuts" we learn that administration and military officials are planning a "new strategy" of troop reductions in Iraq to quell concerns of congressional Republicans whose constituents are fed up with the war. Scratching the surface of this new strategy, however, reveals it to be little more than Son of Stay the Course.

The Horror

Steven Lee Meyers and Thom Shanker of the Times tell us that "Many Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to unveil a new strategy, and even to propose a gradual reduction of American troops to the levels before this year’s troop increase--about 130,000--or even lower to head off Democratic-led efforts to force the withdrawal of all combat forces by early next year."

Let's get serious here. Reducing troop levels back to about 130,000 wouldn't be a new strategy. It would better be described as Return of the Status Quo. As for reducing the force size in Iraq below 130,000, don't bet a big tub of popcorn on it. General David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, is making an assessment of the situation and is expected to present a "wide range" of force size options, but we've already seen enough of the Petraeus production to have a pretty good idea what kind of "option" he'll come up with. Last week he told reporters "…everyone understands that, by about a year or so from now, we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now. The question is how do you do that . . . so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going."

Petraeus will want to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as the force can sustain. Even with the surge fully in place, he doesn't have enough troops to hold everything he's supposedly gained. We're already playing Whack Another Mole as it is, and now we're seeing coming attraction trailers for The Bride of Stand Up/Stand Down. Petraeus says that the post-surge U.S troop levels will depend in part on " the capability of the Iraqi security forces," which means we'll need to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as we possibly can because the Iraqi forces are no more capable or trustworthy today than they were when Petraeus was in charge of training and arming them in 2004 and 2005.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Surge

The "new strategy" of "gradual cuts" is little more than a low budget comedy, the same tired gags we've been hearing for four years plus. The strategy isn't new and the troop levels aren't being cut. Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, Petraeus's second in command, has been saying from the outset that the surge couldn't be sustained beyond April 2008, which is, coincidentally enough, when the gradual cuts of the new strategy will begin.

Amazingly, the Bush administration isn't even bothering to make a pretense of what it's up to any more. An administration official told Myers and Shanker that the goal of announcing a new strategy is "to try to win support for a plan that could keep American involvement in Iraq on 'a sustainable footing' at least through the end of the Bush presidency."

Hence, the new strategy is part of a two-pronged scheme to keep the war in Iraq going long enough that it will be "not won" on someone else's watch. From one direction, the administration scares the American population with boo noise about all the evildoers we'll be fighting in the streets of Saint Louis, Missouri if we pull out of Iraq. From the other direction, it dangles a fairy plum vision of victory, that elusive, impossible to define thing that just might make all the trouble and all the deaths and casualties and all the national treasure and credibility expended on this God-forsaken excursion seem worthwhile.

Administration officials involved with drafting the new strategy say the White House will argue that the surge has succeeded on "…several levels in providing more security [and has] established the conditions for a new approach that would begin troop cuts in the first half of next year."

Keep in mind, please, that those troop cuts the surge supposedly enabled had to begin in the first half of next year regardless of how the surge went. Also note that not everyone agrees that the surge has provided "more security."

Sunday's Times contained an op-ed piece authored by seven non-commissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division who are near the end of a 15 month tour of duty in Iraq. Of the numerous cogent points they make in the editorial, these are perhaps the most pertinent:
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere…

…we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear…

…The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Our military superiority gains us nothing in a conflict like the one we face in Iraq. Our enemies are inextinguishable and, in large part, indistinguishable from our friends. The perception of increased security in Iraq is one primarily manufactured by publicity stunts featuring pro-war members of Congress, reporters and other media personalities, and local men's league soccer teams. The Iraqi people see us as the cause of their security problems, not the solution to them. The longer we stay on our present course, which the Bush administration is bound and determined to have us do, the surer it becomes that Iraq will erupt into a Hobbesian nightmare, a civil war of annihilation that has more sides than the Pentagon, all of which we have armed to the teeth.


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.

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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Worst Commander in Chief Ever

Calling Mr. Bush the "worst commander in chief ever" brings wails of outrage from certain corners, but the sobriquet is a fairly easy one to justify. Bush is, after all, the first U.S. president to lead the country into two failed wars. And make no mistake--regardless of how they turn out, our excursions in Afghanistan and Iraq have failed. That the "best-trained, best-equipped" military force in history is mired in two third-world sand bunkers sends a clear message that America's days of being able to dictate global affairs through use of armed conflict are over for good.

Keep in mind that the Bush administration didn't necessarily embark on two bad wars purposely. It launched one good war--Afghanistan--that went bad when the administration left the job unfinished and diverted assets and national energies to the bad war in Iraq.

Jewels of Denial

In the Sunday August 12 New York Times, David Rhode and David E. Sanger related how the administration snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Afghanistan.

In "How a ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad," Rhode and Sanger write that after the early success of the 2001 war, "American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat." Two years after the Taliban fell to American-led coalition forces, "the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq."

Troops were diverted, intelligence-gathering resources like predator unmanned aerial vehicles were diverted, reconstruction funds were diverted. "We were economizing in Afghanistan," a former senior official of Central Command told Rhode and Sanger. “We’re simply in a world of limited resources, and those resources are in Iraq,” the former official added. “Anyone who tells you differently is blowing smoke.”

And guess who's trying to tell us differently.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was National Security Advisor at the time of the virtual abandonment of the Afghanistan effort, says, “I don’t buy the argument that Afghanistan was starved of resources.”

National Security Adviser Steven J. Hadley, who was Rice's deputy during the first Bush term of office, insists that there was no diversion of resources from Afghanistan.

Robert D. Blackwill, who was in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq policy at the National Security Council, claims that "…where we find ourselves now may have been close to inevitable, whether the U.S. went into Iraq or not.”

And they wonder why people make fun of them.

The Rear View Mirror

Given the unnatural disaster that our foreign policy under the Bush II administration has been, it's little wonder that the likes of Condi Rice and Steven Hadley still display such Rumsfeldian denial about it. For years now, administration stalwarts and supporters have been erasing their history faster than they can accuse their political opposition of rewriting it. These days, many argue that we have to stop looking backward, and quit playing the blame game, and concentrate on the future. If you take a look at who's saying that, though, you'll notice it's mostly a) members of the administration, b) Republicans who have been Bush liegemen all along, c) conspicuous neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and d) Democrats who voted for the war in Iraq and consistently cave when its time to vote on bills that might reign the administration in.

We need to take a good look at what's happened on Bush's watch for a number of reasons. First and foremost among them is that Bush is still in power, and despite the departures of the likes of Scooter Libby and Donald Rumsfeld and now Karl Rove, a hell of a lot of the folks who brought us our fiasco in the Middle East are still on the job. They can still do a whole bunch of damage and they have plenty of time to do it.

Second, they've spawned follow on generations of young neoconservative Republicans who believe--like Cheney, Rumsfeld and other neophytes of the political right during the Nixon era did--that "we would have succeeded if only…" Believe me, the neo-conservative movement has more lives than the monster in a summer horror film franchise, and they'll be back.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to remember the consequences of the philosophy that America's first, best destiny in the post-Soviet era was to make itself into a post-modern Roman Empire. In a September 2005 article, I wrote "Empires rise, empires fall. Some land softly, some crash into the back pages of other civilizations' history books. Almost without exception, empires that ended badly failed to understand that the military power that established them was not, in itself, sufficient to sustain them."

It seems I'm not the only one who worries that America will repeat the mistakes of hegemons of the past. David Walker, the United States Comptroller General, is concerned that the United States, like the Roman Republic and other organizations that failed to adapt "may not survive."

In a speech in Chicago last week, Walker, who heads the non-partisan Government Accounting Office, noted "striking similarities" between today's America and Rome in its final days: “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government."

"In my view," he said, "it's time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time."

I'm in wholehearted agreement with Mr. Walker on that score, and there's no better history to learn from than the history of America's past six years. If investigation of that history leads to a few more members of the Bush administration spending time in the big house, so be it. And while I have no expectation that the worst commander in chief ever will be impeached and convicted, if that were to happen, I wouldn't mind it one bit.


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

Friday, August 10, 2007

Iraq: The Latest Spin Cycle

"How the troops are configured, what the deployment looks like will depend upon the recommendations of David Petraeus."

George W. Bush, August 9, 2007

As I've said before, the Bush administration and the Pentagon have put more effort into spinning our Iraq escapade than they've spent on winning it. In the past week or so, we've seen a classic example of how the spin cycle works.

If you've been following at home, you know two of the administration's major pro-war propaganda points: A) newly appointed U.S. commander in Iraq David Petraeus is the second coming of Lawrence of Arabia and B) the Iranians are causing most of our problems in Iraq by supplying weapons to Shiite insurgency groups. The credibility of both of these assertions began eroding over time, and then…

Damage Control

On Monday August 6, the New York Times ran a story by Glenn Kessler revealing that a Government Accountability Officer report says over 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols and more than 200,000 helmets and pieces of body armor distributed by the U.S. to Iraqi security forces have disappeared, and many experts and officials fear this materiel has fallen into the hands of insurgents presently fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. This not only supported the argument that the U.S., not Iran, has been the main arms supplier to Iraqi militant groups. It put another ding in the armor of General Petraeus, who was in charge of training Iraqi security forces and police at the time most of the unaccounted for equipment disappeared.

Lo and behold, come Tuesday night, Petreaus was on the phone, giving an interview on Fox News Radio's Alan Colmes Show, and come Wednesday morning, Washington Post Iraq correspondent Josh Partlow had written an article that retransmitted--unchallenged--Petreaus's main talking points.

In "General Blames Clerical Errors In the Case of Missing Arms," Partlow wrote "Bookkeeping deficiencies allowed thousands of weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005 to then go missing, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday."

Bookeeping deficiencies? Amazing. Just what other kinds of deficiencies would allow issued weapons to disappear with no record of where they went? That question apparently didn't occur to Partlow, who further wrote:
Petraeus, who then led the security training effort, said Iraqi units were ready to fight but did not have the equipment they needed just as Moqtada al-Sadr's influence grew in the summer of 2004. He described one case in which U.S. forces flew into the war zone of Najaf at night, their helicopters under fire, and "actually [were] kicking two battalions' worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we still could."

This was an astounding piece of double talk on Petraeus's part. No military unit can be considered "ready to fight" unless it has trained with the equipment it's going to fight with. But according to Petraeus, two Iraqi battalions were not only ready to fight without ever training on their equipment, they were already in the middle of a fight before he got their equipment to them. If that was Petraeus's idea of readiness when he was training them to fight, no wonder the Iraqi forces are in such a sad state.

Partlow quoted Petraeus as saying of the arms dumped into the middle of the firefight at Najaf that "we believe those weapons all certainly were given to Iraqi units."

Well, no kidding, General. Certainly all the weapons unaccounted for on your watch were given to Iraqi units. That's who the insurgents got them from!

During the actual Fox News interview, Colmes twice asked Petraeus if any of the missing weapons were in the hands of our enemies. Petraeus dodged the question both times, and Colmes let him do it. Partlow's lack of experience makes one tend to want to forgive him for being such a willing administration echo chamberlain. After all, when we invaded Iraq in 2003, Partlow was still a Post intern, training to be a financial reporter.

Reporters on some of the other big eastern papers, though, don't have Partlow's excuse.

Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Also on Wednesday, the New York Times ran an article titled "U.S. Says Iran-Supplied Bomb Kills More Troops." The author was Times chief military correspondent Michael R. Gordon, who has worked for the "newspaper of record" since 1985 and has covered wars since the U.S invasion of Panama. You may also recall that Gordon was Judith Miller's partner in crime in helping the Bush administration disseminate false information regarding Iraq's WMD program during the run up to war. Gordon also has an established track record of giving bandwidth to the administration's as yet unsubstantiated claims that Iran is arming Iraqi militants.

Gordon's Wednesday piece opened with "Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military." As always, Gordon was vague in discussing who exactly says that Iran is providing these bombs or on what the allegations are based. Gordon did concede that "some critics of the administration" think that "the White House of exaggerating the role of Iran and Syria to divert attention from its own mistakes," but seriously, folks. It's not "some critics" who think the White House is exaggerating to divert attention from its mistakes. At this point in the program, everybody who isn't part of the non-sentient right thinks that.

Gordon saves the money message for the end of his article.
General Odierno [Petraeus's second in command] said Iran was increasing its support to Shiite militants in Iraq to step up the military pressure on the United States at a time when the Congress is debating whether to withdraw American troops…

…“I think they want to influence the decision potentially coming up in September,” he added.

On Thursday, NBC political director Chuck Todd remarked to Chris Matthews that if Petraeus gives a positive report on the "surge" strategy in mid-September, a third to half of anti-war congressional Democrats will cave in and vote to give Mr. Bush whatever he wants to conduct his woebegone war however he wants and for as long as he wants to.

In order for that stratagem to work, the administration must maintain Petraeus's façade of infallibility. I for one find it ironic that this façade is being reinforced by two mainstays of what AM talk radio, Fox News and the rest of the Big Brother Broadcasting network refer to as the "liberal media."

And I am horrified that, by fiat of the worst commander in chief in U.S. history, a vital decision on foreign policy is about to be dictated to Congress by a four-star general.


Related article by Jeff Huber: "The Cult of Petraeus."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Cult of Petraeus Personality

Secretary of State Robert Gates seemed sober and subdued on Meet the Press last Sunday. He was candid about the negative effect of Iraq's Parliament taking August off while American troops continue to fight in support of it, and of the Sunni ministers who resigned from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet last Wednesday.

Gates kept things matter-of-fact as he admitted that a troop drawdown might take place by the end of this year, and he even managed to deftly deflect the issue of one of his subordinates accusing Hillary Clinton of assisting enemy propaganda efforts by allowing as how a lot of people are "on edge."

Gates did, however, say a thing or two that set off my silent alarm. He's starting to echo a meme that places the future of our Iraq adventure firmly around the personality of General David H. Petraeus, United States Army.

Champ, Chump or Chimp?

Supporters of Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, hail him as our best and brightest military officer and one who knows how to conduct counter-insurgency warfare. His detractors seem of the opinion that the thing Petraeus knows how to do best is make himself look good.

While some praise Petraeus for his administration of Mosul and Ninevah after major hostilities ceased, others blame him for allowing the insurgency to establish itself in those areas. His tenure as the officer in charge of training Iraqi troops and police clearly did not go well, despite his own claims in a 2004 Washington Post article titled "Battling for Iraq" that praised the progress being made by Iraqi security forces. Of the article, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote "General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner."

As the U.S. four-star in charge of Iraq, Petraeus has shown a definite penchant for public relations, having staged a record setting reenlistment ceremony, a congressional shopping spree through an outdoor market in Baghdad, and treating journalists to an aerial tour of the city's soccer games. Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks, a huge Petraeus fan, refers to the general as a "force of nature," and often cites Petraeus's fondness for challenging soldiers half his age to one-arm pushup contests. Like Ricks, I'm impressed that a general in his mid-fifties can outdo fit men half his age in tests of physical fitness, but all the one-arm pushups in the world won't fix what's broken in Iraq.

It's not my purpose to run Petraeus down for the fun of doing so. Let's face it, nobody makes it to level he has reached in the military without rubbing people the wrong way or without a certain flair for flash and self promotion. My point is that General Petraeus may be able to walk on his hands, but he can't walk on water (as Mr. Bush seems to want us to think).

As Ricks noted in July, "Almost every time President Bush has defended his new strategy in Iraq this year, he has invoked the name of the top commander, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus." Mr. Bush calls Petraeus his "main man," and managed to fend off a revolt of congressional Republicans over the war by telling them "to wait to see what David has to say. I trust David Petraeus, his judgment."

That Mr. Bush trusts Petraeus's judgment should give us pause. Mr. Bush has an established track record of trusting the judgment of people who tell him what he wants to hear. This is not to imply that Petraeus is a spineless yes man. He probably does believe in the escalation strategy and in his own ability to pull it off. But beliefs and reality aren't always the same things. Believing to the depths of one's soul that the moon is made of green cheese doesn't make it so.

And so it is with our situation in Iraq. We've listened to four and a half years of "last throes" and "dead enders" and of criticism of the war as "Henny Penny sky is falling" talk from the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (who could both be described as "forces of nature" themselves).

Nobody in their right mind or otherwise expects that come mid-September, General Petraeus will tell Congress, "Sorry folks, I gave this surge thing my best shot, but it's time to yank the rug out from under this thing." No, Petraeus will walk in loaded with a full magazine of talking points about "signs of success" and the need for the legislature to give him more time to "get the job done."

The administration and its liegemen will point to Petraeus's testimony as "proof" that Congress needs to continue funding and supporting Mr. Bush's "Son of Stay the Course" strategy. They'll harangue the Democrats with the argument that says, "Hey, you confirmed him, now you have to do whatever he tells you to," and given what we've seen since January, the Democrats are likely to cave in.

The shame is that the Democrats will likely go wobbly because they can't understand or explain that decisions of whether or not to persist in conducting a war are not matters of strategy, they're matters of foreign policy, and in the United States, generals are not supposed to dictate policy, foreign, domestic or otherwise. And despite what Bush supporters would have you believe, the Constitution does not make foreign policy the exclusive privilege of the executive branch. It does quite the opposite.

Article II makes the president commander in chief of the military and allows him to receive foreign ambassadors and ministers. He appoints U.S. ambassadors to other nations, but they must be consented to by the Senate, as do "other officers of the United States" like David Petraeus. A president can make treaties, but those treaties must be approved by two-thirds supermajority of the Senate.

Article I gives the legislature authority, among other things, to punish "offenses against the law of nations," to declare war, to issue letters of marque and reprisal, to provide and regulate the military, and to call out the militia to repel invasions.

Nowhere does the Constitution dictate or allow Congress to cede its authority in matters of war and peace to the president's "main man." I hope the Democrats keep that in mind come the Ides of September.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Gonzales

We're about to lose focus on the key issue behind a Bush administration scandal. Again.

Discussion of the Valerie Plame affair largely centered on what White House official had leaked a CIA agent's identity and covert status, who had authorized the leak, and who was lying or refusing to talk to protect whoever it was who authorized the leak and leaked it. What really mattered--the extent to which the White House had gone to preserve the Niger Uranium hoax and save its justification for invading Iraq--got lost in the hoopla.

Similarly, the ado over whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales committed perjury in front of Congress is masking a more vital concern: we still don't know what Bush is up to with his National Security Agency surveillance program and if there is any congressional or judiciary oversight of it whatsoever.

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to see 'Fredo swing in the breeze as much as anybody. To a great extent, he's as responsibility as anybody for Mr. Bush's disregard of our Constitution's Bill of Rights, but impeaching or punishing Gonzales, by itself, won't restore those rights to us.

The Baby and the Bathwater

Because of the way the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings have gone, or the way the news media have reported them, the U.S. attorney firings and the NSA surveillance program have become a single issue to much of the public that's paying a dollop of attention to the Gonzales story. Gonzales may or may not have purposely misled the Committee on both subjects, but they're really two distinctly different issues. Regardless of what political agenda was behind the trash canning of nine federal prosecutors, it was legal for the Bush administration to trash can them.

Whether any part of the NSA domestic surveillance program is legal or constitutional is highly questionable.

Gonzales's defenders claim that his evasiveness in answering questions about the surveillance program were in keeping with proper security procedures because while the domestic phone monitoring aspect of the program had been acknowledged by President Bush, the data mining part of the program had not been. That's a mighty weak argument. The data mining piece was openly discussed when the domestic spying program story broke in December of 2005. Everybody who matters--including the bad guys--already knows the NSA is conducting electronic data mining, and they know it's doing so without any regard of the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.

Between September 11, 2001 and December 2005 when the New York Times broke the NSA story, Mr. Bush, by his own admission, had authorized intercepts of domestic phone conversations without seeking warrants from the special court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978 more than 30 times. He further announced that he intended "to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups."

On August 17, 2006, Detroit District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled in ACLU vs. NSA that the surveillance program was illegal under FISA and the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. In July of that year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Diggs's ruling. The Circuit Court did not rule on the legality of the surveillance program, but said that the ACLU and other plaintiffs did not have legal standing in the case because they could not demonstrate that they themselves had been direct targets of the surveillance.

Several prominent members of Congress exerted pressure on the administration to bring the surveillance program back under the auspices of the FISA court's control, and in January 2007 Gonzales told Congress in writing that "Any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." We now know that the administration considers the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" as the title of the phone intercept program, and regards the data-mining program as a separate entity. Hence, the data-mining program never was and still is not under any controls outside of the executive branch, nor is any other NSA domestic surveillance project that may or may not exist.

What's more, we're not really certain what Gonzales meant when he wrote that the domestic phone intercept program was once again "subject to the approval" of the FISA court. Back in the old days before presidents publicly claimed to have absolute powers, the FISA law allowed that in emergency situations, the Justice Department could file for wiretap warrants retroactively as long as they did so within 72 hours. I have yet to hear an explanation from the administration or its water carriers why they it was too difficult or presented a national security risk to have to apply for a warrant three days after the fact of breaking in on a U.S. citizen's phone conversation, but I also have yet to hear if the 72 hour requirement is actually back in place. For all we know, 'Fredo is now operating under a presidential interpretation of the FISA law that says the NSA can tap a citizen's phone for up to 72 hours before it has to apply for a warrant, and if the agency doesn't want to go to a judge at that point, all it has to do is stop listening for five or ten minutes before it turns the tap back on for 72 hours.

The Bush administration would like it a whole bunch if Congress just passed a law that said it was okay for them to tap Americans' phones without permission or oversight from anybody, and there's a distinct possibility that Congress is getting ready to do just that. Such a law would most arguably be unconstitutional, but that wouldn't keep it from going into effect. In fact, such a law might never be challenged. The 6th Circuit Court set the precedent that says only persons who can demonstrate they have been surveillance targets have legal standing, and since the program is top secret, no one can ever demonstrate that they have been surveillance targets.

Again, nothing would make me happier than watching Satan give 'Fredo a slow turn on a barbecue spit, but I'm afraid that by pursuing contempt charges or impeachment proceedings against Gonzales, the Democrats will just wind up with Grade A Large "partisan politics" eggs all over their faces and the rest of us will end up with our First and Fourth amendment rights permanently revoked by a stroke of Mr. Bush's pen.