Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ike: Dead and Loving It

There are days when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates makes you glad there's a guy in that office who's at least trying to keep Dick Cheney and the Crazies in their box. Other days, Gates says stuff that makes you want to scream. When he warned recently against a risk of "creeping militarization of some aspects of U.S. foreign policy," I wanted to scream "Yo, Rip van Winkle! Eisenhower told us all about it 47 years ago."

Disastrous Rise of Misplaced Power

President Dwight David Eisenhower's farewell speech was hauntingly prescient.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex, he said in 1961. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Nearly a decade into the "New American Century," our erstwhile republic has become a militaristic oligarchy. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations, Ike said. Today, we spend more on military security than the rest of the world combined.

In March 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate that, "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran." Iran's defense budget is less than one percent the size of America's. Al Qaeda, which Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell calls "the pre-eminent terrorist threat against the United States," has no defense budget at all.

China, consistently touted by the neocons as our next peer military rival, spends a tenth or less as much as we do on defense, and a large portion of China's defense budget goes to updating the arsenal they still have from when they shot down William Holden in The Bridges of Toko Ri. Hawks claim that the Chinese lie about how much they actually spend on arms, but they can't lie about it as much as we do. Dr. Robert Higgs of The Independent Institute says a good rule of thumb for determining America's actually defense spending is to take the Pentagon's publicized figure and double it. Some estimates project America's 2009 military spending at $1.45 trillion, 54 percent of the entire federal budget. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the actual figure is even higher.

Yet the neoconservatives insist that we continue excessive levels of defense spending, maintaining that we must exhaust a minimum of four percent of America's gross domestic product on our military. In another one of his remarks that make you wonder what he scored on the SATs, Secretary Gates said in November 2007 that four percent of GDP should be a "benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense."

I've said this before but it bears duplicate reiteration: if a nation's defense budget as a percentage of its GDP were representative of its armed might, military juggernauts like Qatar (10%), Eritrea (6.3%) and Barundi (5.9 %) would have us pinned in the receiving end of a kitchen table encounter.

Buck for the Bang

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades, Ike said, and he told us that we must be alert to the danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite .

Gates's endorsement of the four percent solution is consternating when we consider his public frustration with the military establishment's determination to arm for a war of national survival with an emerging power to be named later at the expense of focusing on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our obsession with fantastical weapons has led to an extravagant burlesque of asymmetrical warfare. F-22 stealth fighter jets carrying state-of-the-art air-to-air missiles have taken on the mission of intercepting commercial aircraft armed with box cutters, nuclear submarines equipped with cruise missiles bomb towns in Somalia on the chance that a terrorist may be hiding in them, and our $2 billion B-2 stealth bombers engage in mortal combat with moisture.

In an attempt to become more relevant to the war on terror, the commander of U.S. air forces in the Middle East, Lieutenant General Gary North, has cobbled together a "detailed plan" for how air power will be "refocused" in Iraq as ground troop strength there is reduced. It's mighty sporting of General North to get his Air Force involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but what's been holding them up for the last five years, a battle royal with Monty Python's Flying Circus?

Pouring more funds into Gates-favored programs like unmanned aerial vehicles and special forces may have more application to our woebegone war on terror, but those programs don't require an investment equal to four percent of our economy, and potential threats that warrant that degree of profligacy exist only in science fiction.

Total Influence

Ike told us that the military industrial complex affects the economic, political, even spiritual aspects of American life, and is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. At this point in our experiment in democracy, regional economies and political careers are wholly dependent on the influx of federal funds that feed the insatiable U.S. arms industry. It not only drives foreign policy, but every aspect of domestic policies as well, even, as Ike put it, the very structure of our society.

Though Ike cautioned that we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes, we have allowed the Machiavellian fabrication of the hollow ogres and bogeymen that justify our military industrial welfare state to transform the land of the free into the home of the Patriot Act, unwarranted wiretaps, torture and worse. More than half our tax dollars have bought us a security apparatus that didn't defend us from the 9/11 attacks or deter them, that has increased rather than decreased the threat of terrorism, and that only a Cheney-class lunatic would argue is promoting our interests overseas.

Reversing this sad state of our union will take a lot more than a new president who's a clone of the present one, and will require a Secretary of Defense far more astute than Robert Gates.

But the most important requirement will be the one Ike identified nearly a half century ago: Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

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.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Declare Victory and Don't Go Home

The Bush administration and its stepchild John McCain have opted for a bold new strategy to counter the overwhelming success of Barack Obama's whirlwind foreign policy world tour: they've declared victory in Iraq.

This could preserve the neocons' aim of establishing a permanent military footprint in the geographic heart of the Middle East. Their only problem will come when the American public starts believing we've won and begins to expect the administration to draw down the troop presence in Iraq for real.

But Dick Cheney and his leg breakers aren't sweating the next step. They'll turn that corner when they come to it.

Spin One for the Gipper

The march to victory in Iraq began in early July when Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki proposed a memorandum of understanding for continued U.S. presence in Iraq that contained a formula for withdrawal of American forces. "The goal is to end the presence (of foreign troops)," al-Maliki said.

Bush's Ministry of Truth shifted into over spin, insisting that Maliki wasn't really talking about a "hard date for withdrawal," but then Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, speaking through intermediary Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, put out the final word on the subject: "We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq."

Then, as Obama was visiting Afghanistan, Maliki told the German magazine Der Spiegel "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

At that point, John McCain had to drop his "Obama's foreign policy inexperience" chant and confess that, yeah, well, 16 months was "a pretty good timetable." I mean, if you like that timetable sort of thing.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, though, reports in the left blogosphere of the demise of the McCain presidential bid were, to put it mildly, greatly exaggerated.

Mission Accomplished Again

It didn't take long to fabricate the next chapter of the never-ending neocon fable. Most of the elements were already in place. The surge, which John McCain had bravely supported from the outset, had been an overwhelming success to hear the bull feather merchants tell it, and was the reason that Maliki could speak of a U.S. troop withdrawal at all. To create a convincing illusion of victory in Iraq, though, the administration needed to tap its resources in the "independent" media, and on Sunday July 27, two of its mainstay propaganda partners stepped up to the plate.

The Associated Press ran a piece by Robert Burns and Robert H. Reid that led with "The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost." This doesn't mean the war is ending, Burns and Reid assert, but it does mean that, "the combat phase finally is ending." Ambassador Ryan Crocker told them "that the insurgency as a whole has withered to the point where it is no longer a threat to Iraq's future." Burns and Reid further claim that, "Systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital." All this is due largely to the fact that "Shiite militias, notably the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr, have lost their power bases in Baghdad, Basra and other major cities. An important step was the routing of Shiite extremists in the Sadr City slums of eastern Baghdad this spring."

Echoing the theme of victory over the Mahdis was Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times. Tavernise revisited the matter of the spring offensive against al Sadr's organization, noting that "Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struck another blow this spring, when he led a military operation against it in Baghdad and in several southern cities."

If ever there were a prime example of rewriting history before the ink on the headline dried, this pile of balderdash by Tavernise is it. The only "blow" Maliki struck last spring was the one he almost chopped off his baby maker with when he launched an "offensive" against the Sadrists. The thing that saved Maliki's bacon was that Sadr offered a cease-fire contingent on several conditions that included amnesty for his fighters. To redraft this calamity into a victory by Maliki (or, as Burns and Reid put it, a "routing" of the Mahdi Army) is the sort of audacious, bald faced lying that only Dick Cheney would attempt, and that only the "liberal" New York Times would aid and abet.

Back in the day, the Times would require its Cheney mob connected reporters like Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller to at least keep up a modicum of pretense at honest journalism by citing anonymous government officials. Even that prerequisite seems to have been dropped. Tavernise makes sweeping unsupportable statements about things like how the Mahdi Army's "use of extortion and violence began alienating much of the Shiite population" and that Maliki "is increasingly seen as a true national leader" without bothering to quote or reference anybody. One expects this kind of shameless manipulation in an "analysis" column like the AP article by Burns and Reid. The Tavernise piece pretends to be straight news.

Next Throes

The key to Petraeus's "success" is pretty simple. He armed all sides of the Iraq civil war to the teeth, bribed the Sunni militants into leaving Maliki's security forces--made up largely of Shiite Badr militiamen--alone, and he caught a break when Sadr agreed to keep his Mahdi Army people quiet as long as they got amnesty and Maliki's Badr bubbas quit harassing them. Petraeus has largely managed to keep the open sore in the northern Kurdish region out of the public eye, and whenever anything bad happens that accidentally gets in the news, he simply blames it on Iran.

I haven't heard yet how he's trying to explain Monday's violence; Suicide bombers killed at least 47 people and wounded about 137 in the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Baghdad. In addition, gunmen shot and killed seven people on the outskirts of Baghdad. Maybe he'll say some folks got a liquored up at wedding celebrations and turned a little too rowdy (and maybe next time he'll squelch the outbursts with an air strike).

Whatever the case, Petraeus and the rest of the neocon puzzle artists also have to cope with the general assessment that Obama is correct in saying we need to draw troops out of Iraq and start focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan like we should have been doing all along. That gets dicey because they can't deny what he's saying, but agreeing with him is a tacit confession that the surge was yet another in a long procession of Bush administration strategic fumbles.

They're trotting out the standard Afghan excuse, of course: everything going wrong there is NATO's fault.

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but hey, it will probably work on the toe-is-to-foot as nose-is-to-smell crowd that voted for Bush twice.

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.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Iraq Event Horizon

event horizon: the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing can escape from within it

-- Merriam-Webster Online

After five years and change of turned corners and dead enders and last throes, is it possible that we're approaching an event horizon in our Middle East miasma? Stuff seems to happen faster than anyone can deny it occurred these days, and from the sound of things, it won't be too long before we're committed to getting out of Iraq in smart fashion or sucked into staying there until kingdom come.

The New American Decade

It hardly seems possible, but it was over ten years ago—January 26, 1998 to be exact—that Bill Kristol's Project for the New American Century (PNAC) wrote their infamous letter to President Bill Clinton demanding that he invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein. Clinton blew them off. Whether that was an act of wisdom on his part or he was simply occupied with more pressing matters we'll never know.

The PNAC was undeterred, however, and in September 2000 it published the neoconservative manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses, which called for America to secure global peace through military occupation of the entire planet. The PNAC was notably interested in using the "unresolved conflict with Iraq" as a fuzzy pretext to increase our military footprint heart of the Middle East. The PNACers knew, though, that it would be difficult to get America go to along with their yahooliganism "absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event." On September 11, 2001, they got the "new Pearl Harbor" they were looking for.

On March 19, 2003 young Mr. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, justified by "slam dunk" evidence that Saddam Hussein had an active weapons of mass destruction program and was probably at least sort of involved in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly after the invasion commenced, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced, "We know where the WMD are." On April 9 the Army staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, and on May 1 the Navy staged Mr. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" ceremony onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Later that year, Mr. Bush declared, "We found the weapons of mass destruction" even though the CIA knew we hadn't. When violence began to flare, Rumsfeld said, "stuff happens." Time passed and stuff kept happening. Rummy blamed the trouble on "pockets of dead enders." Bush said, "Bring 'em on." They came.

In January 2004 the CIA said that the "stuff" was turning into a civil war. Bush said the CIA was "just guessing" about that civil war stuff. 2004 was also the year Lieutenant General David Petraeus took over training Iraqi forces and started handing out AK-47s like they were soccer balls. About 190,000 of the weapons disappeared themselves into the hands of Shiite militiamen. In October of 2004 the CIA concluded that Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of WMD at the time of the U.S. invasion and had not begun any program to produce them.

2005 was a banner year for our woebegone war in Iraq. Dick Cheney declared the insurgency was in its "last throes." Mr. Bush said that "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand d`own." In November, the administration unveiled its new Victory in Iraq strategy. Lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman said Mr. Bush had turned a corner in Iraq.

On February 2, 2006 Rumsfeld said he did not believe Iraq would be a long war. On February 4, 2006 the Washington Post published an article titled "Ability to Wage 'Long War' Is Key To Pentagon Plan." On May 1 of that year, the third anniversary of "Mission Accomplished," Mr. Bush said the war had reached "a turning point" (mission accomplished again!). On August 19 Operation Iraq Freedom surpassed World War II in length. On August 21, Mr. Bush said, “We’re not leaving [Iraq] so long as I’m the president.” That day, he also admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. On August 29 Donald Rumsfeld called Iraq war critics "quitters." On November 8 he resigned as Secretary of Defense.

Also that year, Senator Arlen Specter admitted that Iraq was in a state of civil war. In November, the Pentagon began planning an escalation strategy that became known as "The Surge" and alternately as "Son of Stay the Course."

Bush announced the surge in January 2007. In February David Petraeus took over as the top U.S. military officer in Iraq and began handing out arms and bribe money to Sunni militants. Having armed, trained and funded both sides of Iraq's civil war, Petraeus proceeded to echo the administration in blaming Iran for arming, training and funding militants in Iraq.

Hello, I Must Be Going

The pace picked up. Dick Cheney started trying really hard to pick a war with Iran. New Defense Secretary Bill Gates got Admiral William Fallon installed as head of Central Command to keep Petraeus under control. Fallon let everybody know he thought Petraeus was an a** kissing little chicken s***, and that Dick Cheney was crazy, and that the surge was stupid because we needed those extra troops to get things in Pakistan and Afghanistan under control, and that he wouldn't let a war with Iran happen on his watch, so he got fired. Bush nominated the a** kissing little chicken s*** to take Fallon's place, and the a** kissing little chicken s***s in the Senate confirmed him.

Bush and Cheney said it would be appeasement to talk directly to the Iran about things unless they gave up their inalienable right to develop nuclear power, but they didn't mention how they'd characterize the bribes Petraeus was handing out to Sunni militants in Iraq. Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama said he'd talk to Iran without ridiculous preconditions, and his opponent, Senator John McCain, said that just showed how ridiculous Obama's notions of foreign policy were, that offering to negotiate without making ridiculous preconditions would only lead to negotiations. McCain's supporters said that showed how McCain had more foreign policy savvy than Obama.

Obama also said he'd withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months. McCain said he might keep them there for fifty, a hundred, a thousand or a million years. Obama, like Fallon, said that we need to pull troops out of Iraq to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Suddenly, in early July, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said any status of forces agreement would have to contain a timeline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, and later he said that he liked Obama's plan to have American G.I.s home in 16 months, and brother, did the stuff hit the fan after that!

People tried to say that Maliki hadn't said what he said, that he'd been mistranslated, or that he'd been snot slinging drunk when he said those things, or that he'd been possessed by aliens or demons when he said them, and what have you, but everybody pretty much got the message.

The neocons ramped up to full spin, trying to swing momentum back in their direction. Young Mr. Bush agreed to set a "time horizon" with Maliki, and the a** kissing little chicken s***, sensing the wind shift, allowed as how, yeah, maybe he should look at starting to bribe bad guys in the bananastans now, seeing as how well that had worked for him in Iraq.

Some in the warmonger camp were devastated, though. One high ranking ex former retired administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the silliness involved, said that upon hearing the news of a departure timeline Joe Lieberman cried like a girl and Lindsay Graham fainted dead away in his closet.

It's tempting to conclude that we've crossed the event horizon in the Middle East, that the end of the Iraq war has begun and it's too late for team Bush to start a war with Iran. Remember, however, that the neocons still have Karl (The Brain) Rove and Dick (The Dick) Cheney on their side, and the only neocon bastard more devious than either of those two is Lucifer (The Archangel).

It may be that we'll never quite cross the event horizon in Iraq, that if anything happens at all, it will happen with a whimper so soft that we won't know if we stayed or went, because the neocons will have cooked up some new and improved fiasco that once again has us so distracted we can't tell whether we're coming or going.

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.

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.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Iran + Iraq = Ironic

"As this law [of extremes] begins to lose its force and as this determination wanes, the political aim will reassert itself."

--Carl von Clausewitz

Young Mr. Bush has managed to irretrievably lose his Iraq misadventure, saving his successor the trouble of trying to put off defeat indefinitely.

Last week, at a meeting with ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki proposed a short-term memorandum of understanding on the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq that includes a formula for American troop withdrawal.

The Bush administration bull feather merchants accelerated to full pluck. According to White House spokesman Tony Fratto, Maliki's statement was consistent with the goals of the Bush administration. "The prime minister is reflecting a shared goal that we have," Fratto said, "which is that as the Iraqi forces become a more self-reliant force, we'll see reductions in U.S. forces.”

Gordon Jondroe, another Bush spell caster, said, "Negotiations and discussions are ongoing every day. It is important to understand that these are not talks on a hard date for withdrawal."

Nice try, fellows. What Maliki actually said was, "We are looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty," and that the goal of Jondroe's aforementioned negotations was to reach an agreement on "the departure of the forces" or "a timetable on their withdrawal."

Maybe Fratto and Jondroe were hoping Maliki was drunk when he said those things, and would apologize the next day about any confusion he may have caused, and say he didn't remember what he told those ambassadors but whatever he said, please ignore it. If so, Iraqi national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie sucked the wind out of their sails when, after a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, he said, "We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq."

So much for the New American Century.

The Aim Reasserts Itself

The Bush administration still hasn't supplied us with a consistent explanation for its woebegone invasion of Iraq. Young Mr. Bush has admitted that Saddam Hussein had no hand in the 9/11 attacks, even though his blow up toy Joe Lieberman continues to insist that "We're in a war against Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11."

Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz confessed in May 2003 that weapons of mass destruction became the casus belli of the Iraq invasion merely because it was "the one issue that everyone could agree on." That it took until summer of 2008 for the U.S. to remove the last of Hussein's uranium stockpile from Iraq illustrates the lack of seriousness with which anyone in the Bush administration actually regards weapons of mass destruction in general and nuclear proliferation specifically as a threat to the United States.

The real aim of the Iraq invasion is to be found in the neoconservative manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses, published by Bill Kristol's infamous Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in September 2000.

According to the PNAC, charter members of which included Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Doug Feith and Scooter Libby, the need for an increased U.S. military footprint in the Middle East "transcend[ed] the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." The "unresolved conflict with Iraq" merely provided "the immediate justification" for an influx of forces, and 9/11 provided the "new Pearl Harbor" they needed to convince the rest of America to support their ambitions.

So it is that John McCain, the neoconservative movement's crown prince, waxes manically about keeping American G.I.s in Iraq for "a thousand years." (In case you're wondering, no, McCain didn't come up with the thousand-year mantra all by himself. Like so many neocon slogans, that one came from an earlier politician who spoke of establishing a thousand-year something-or-other.)

Hence, whenever the neocons speak of their Iraq misadventure in terms of "victory" and "defeat," what they're really talking about is whether or not they get to park U.S. troops there forever.

The Persian Ploy

World-class sociopaths that they are, the neocons will continue to generate excuses and deflect blame for their failure to create "open arms" in Iraq. "Internal Iraqi political pressures" has already received generous bandwidth. The Bush spin machine was quick to declare that the administration is considering increasing the pace of the pullout from Iraq (as if they were actually considering a "pull out" in the first place), not as a reaction to Maliki's invitation to pack sand, or because the force is collapsing from the deployment tempo, but because the extra troops are needed in Afghanistan.

When somebody mentions extra troops are needed in Afghanistan because things have been going to hell there since we abandoned it to invade Iraq on fuzzy pretexts, the echo chorus will blame NATO for not giving us enough of the right kind of help, and when somebody mentions that we're lucky NATO is helping us at all after Donald Rumsfeld called Europe "irrelevant" back in 2003, well, somehow all that will become Barack Obama's fault for not supporting the Iraq invasion, and the need to take troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan will one way or another reflect how successful the "surge" was and how right John McCain was to support it.

When that unholy house of cards collapses under the weight of its own illogic, the administration will fall back on its favorite scapegoat: Iran. Why not go to the well again? They've been lying to us about the Iranian's involvement in the deaths of American G.I.s in Iraq and their supposed desire to acquire nuclear weapons for over a year and a half now, and thanks in large part to the mainstream media's assistance, they're still getting away with it.

The neocon artists will likely also get away with telling American that Iraq told us to leave because that's what Iran told Iraq to tell us. They won't tell America that the Iran they're talking about is the same Iran that in 2003 told us they'd stop supporting militant groups in Lebanon and Palestine and to help stabilize Iraq. Had we dealt with Iran then, our Middle East Miasma would be our Fertile Crescent Conquest, but Dick Cheney told them to go away. "We don't talk to evil," the Dark Lord said.

Alas, poor irony.

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.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Can't Get Enough of Them War Powers

I was heartened last February when the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Pubic Affairs announced the formation of the National War Powers Commission, and I was ecstatic to hear the commission would be headed by foreign policy heavyweights James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher. The results of the Commission's intensive studies have just hit the street, and I couldn't be more disenchanted.

The Commission proposes a new and improved War Powers Consultation Act of 2009 to replace the old broken down War Powers Resolution of 1973. Lamentably, when you read the old and new titles, you've seen all the substantial difference there is between the proposed Act and the standing Resolution.

Happy to Glad

The Commission might have created something worth considering if it had given itself an objective worth pursuing. According to former Secretary of State Baker, the aim of the proposed statute is "to create a process that will encourage the [executive and legislative] branches to cooperate and consult" on decisions to take the country to war. What we needed was a way for Congress to keep maniacal ideologues in control of the Oval Office from driving America off a cliff the way it did with Iraq and threatens to do with Iran. What Baker, Christopher and their Commission offer doesn't contain any speed bumps that don't already exist in the old War Powers Resolution.

In their July 8 New York Times editorial, Baker and Christopher assert that we need "a new law that would, except for emergencies, require the president and Congressional leaders to discuss the matter before going to war."

The president and Congress discussed going to war with Iraq for months before we invaded it, both publicly and behind closed doors. Baker and Christopher complain that the 1973 Resolution "has been regularly ignored." It was strictly adhered to for Iraq. The Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002 constituted "specific statutory authorization consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution."

The proposed Act would require a president to consult with Congress before ordering a "significant armed conflict" unless "the need for secrecy or other emergent circumstances" preclude such consultation. The existing Resolution requires that "The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities." All the shysters in George W. Bush's Justice Department combined couldn't come up with a compelling argument that there's a gnat's fingernail's worth of difference between those two requirements.

Christopher says the Act is superior to the Resolution because the Act has "defined the kinds of armed conflict that would be covered by the statute." The Act defines a "significant armed conflict" as "any conflict expressly authorized by Congress" or "any combat operation by U.S. armed forces lasting more than a week," or expected to last more than a week. That narrows things down, huh?

More significantly, the Act specifically denotes actions that are not to be considered "significant armed conflict" and would hence fall outside the control of Congress. Among these other-than-significant operations are "actions taken by the President to repel attacks, or to prevent imminent attacks, on the United States, its territorial possessions, its embassies, its consulates, or its armed forces abroad" and "acts of reprisal against terrorists or states that sponsor terrorism" and "investigations or acts to prevent criminal activity abroad" and "covert operations."

Holy Caligula! There has never been, nor will there ever be, a totalitarian despot on earth who wouldn't give his left baby maker for that kind of statutory authority to make war. I don't know what Baker and Christopher and the rest of the geriatrics on the War Powers Commission were thinking when they drafted their Consultation Act, but if passed by Congress, their proposal would transform our erstwhile republic into a perpetual form of the militaristic oligarchy it has become under the stewardship of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

We don't need a new war powers law that Congress can brag about passing on the Sunday morning vagina dialogues but which does nothing to stuff the executive branch back in its box. What we need is the kind of legislation that would allow stem cell researchers to discover a way for Congress to grow itself enough spine to enforce the limits on executive overreach that already exist.

Under order of young Mr. Bush, United States armed forces have been conducting overt offensive combat operations in Pakistan and Somalia for well over a year, without so much as a yes-you-may from Congress, and in flagrant violation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

Yet no one in Congress is saying boo about it, including tough guy Senator James "born to fight" Webb of Virginia.

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.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Spy vs. Congress

I have known and served with many military intelligence officers. A handful of them were brilliant. The preponderance of them validated the adage that says military intelligence is to intelligence what military music is to music.

I have also known and worked with many Air Force officers, and every one of those bug lovers is dedicated to the Air Force's primary mission, which is to prevaricate its way into possession of the entire defense budget.

Since CIA director Michael V. Hayden is an Air Force intelligence officer and a Bush appointee to boot, anything he says tends to be standard issue effluvium, and what he's saying now about his agency's right to privacy stinks to high heaven.

They'd Tell You But…

In a June ceremony in which he hung up his general's stars but kept the helm of the CIA, Hayden stressed the need for the country's top spy agency to "stay in the shadows," and to ignore the "sometimes shrill and uninformed voices of criticism."

Gee, Mikey, you know, criticism always sounds shrill to the person or thing being criticized, and it can be hard for those who criticize you to be informed when you don't inform them of anything.

The House and Senate intelligence committees want to know if the CIA influenced the military's decision to use harsh interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay, and whether senior CIA officers broke the law when they ordered the destruction of videotapes of al Qaeda prisoners being waterboarded. Legislators also want to put new restrictions on CIA practices; including banning the use of contractors to interrogate prisoners, requiring the CIA to notify the International Red Cross when they take a prisoner in custody, and limiting CIA interrogators to using only those techniques approved in the Army Field Manual. Congress is also curious to know whether the CIA has fixed any of the problems that caused it to produce so much bad intelligence during the Bush term and to produce so few tangible results in the war on terrorism.

Hayden isn't all hats and hooters about the legislature's scrutiny. "We exist in a political context," Hayden told the Washington Post. That's neocon Newspeak for "The GOP lost control of the congressional committees and the jig's up."

"We cannot have an approach to terrorism that only uses the hated words 'renditions' and 'detentions' and 'interrogations' [and] that has an on-off switch every other November," Hayden said. "It has to have stability." That, fellow citizens, is CIA Director-speak for "I want to be able to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it without restriction or oversight regardless of who's in charge of the country, and I don't want anybody to know about it when I screw up.

In short, Hayden and his CIA are the Bush administration in microcosm.

…They'd Have to Kill You Or…

Hayden uses a decades old argument to justify the need for the kind of autonomy he wants: restrictions on the CIA hamper its ability to "protect the country." One has to question, though, just how much protection the CIA has provided America during most of the Bush administration. The few post 9-11 terrorist plots we've been told about were foiled domestically by the F.B.I. or overseas by foreign intelligence and police agencies, and there's no reason to suspect that there have been foiled terrorist plots we don't know about. If there had been Hayden would have been the first to take credit for them.

Hayden, in fact, has a Cheney-esque penchant for claiming "victories" that haven't actually occurred. In a May 30, 2008 Washington Post exclusive, Hayden boasted of a "near strategic defeat" of al Qaeda in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and of causing "significant setbacks for al Qaeda globally."

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, immediately responded with a letter that said, "If today’s article describing an interview you gave to the Washington Post is accurate, I am surprised and troubled by your comments."

Of Hayden's claim that al Qaeda was "…on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” Rockefeller wrote, "I have seen nothing, including classified intelligence reporting, that would lead me to this conclusion."

Rockefeller noted that the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism stated, “Al Qaeda is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland." Rockefeller also noted that in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2008, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said, “…al Qaeda remains the preeminent terror threat against the United States, both here at home and abroad." Rockefeller mentioned as well that the State Department's April 2008 report on terrorism stated that, “Al Qaeda and associated networks remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners." Rockefeller's letter also included the May 6, 2008 confirmation hearing statement by National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter that, “…we have clearly not succeeded in stopping core al Qaeda plotting."

Rockefeller questioned why Hayden would "make statements to the press leaving the misimpression that al Qaeda is on the run?" Rockefeller further wondered why Hayden gave the interview in the first place, when at his 2006 confirmation hearing he'd said that the “CIA needs to get out of the news as source and subject."

I'm confident that Rockefeller actually knew the reason Hayden gave the interview: the most political factor in the CIA vs. Congress equation is Michael V. Hayden.

…At Least Rough You Up a Bit

Under the stewardship of young Mr. Bush and Lord Cheney, the CIA has become the ultimate political tool: it's at fault when things go wrong but its intelligence is "darn good" enough when the administration needs it to validate actions it couldn't otherwise justify. Many long time agency officials left under the tenure of Hayden's predecessor Porter Goss, complaining that Goss's focus had been overly political. Hayden hasn't managed to lure any of those disaffected professionals back.

The CIA has always been the loose cannon of American foreign policy, running silent around the Defense and State Departments and out of sight most of the legislature. Today's Central Intelligence Agency is becoming the kind of secret intelligence and paramilitary tool of the executive branch we saw in the worst totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

The way things work now, see, if a president wants have him a little war and he's afraid Congress won't let him use the military for it, he just signs himself a finding and has the CIA agitate it for him.

That's licker than snot on a doorknob, huh? You just got to make sure you got yourself a CIA Director who can keep a secret (heh).

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.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mission Accomplished ala Lieberman and Schieffer

Back in a day not too long ago, Bob Schieffer was one of two remaining television journalists with a hint of spine (the other being Keith Olberman). Every other TV news head in America was afraid of making Condoleezza Rice cry on camera and was just plain afraid of Donald Rumsfeld, but not Schieffer. Schieffer once snapped "let me just ask you to answer the question" at Condi and growled at Rummy, "Well, you really have not directly answered that question, if I may say so, Mr. Secretary."

I don't know what ever happened to that Bob Schieffer, but he was nowhere to be found on last Sunday's Face the Nation McCain campaign ad featuring Joe Lieberman. Last Sunday's Bob Schieffer was Tim Russert reincarnate.

Joe's on First

Lieberman's core message was that his boy John McCain is a better choice for commander in chief than Barack Obama because McCain was right in supporting the surge in Iraq, and Joe couldn't have picked a better straight man to help him get that message out than last Sunday's version of Bob Schieffer.

When Lieberman said "Things are really going well in Iraq today," the old Schieffer would have repied, "But what about the fact that General David Petraeus's vaunted Sons of Iraq program is unraveling?" Old Bob would have noted that the Sunni militants whom Petraeus has paid over $216 million to date to fight al Qaeda in Iraq are threatening to turn against Nuri al Maliki's government if Petraeus doesn’t keep bribing them. The old Bob might also have pointed out that our distraction in Iraq is now not only causing continued strategic and tactical setbacks in the Bananastans (Pakistan and Afghanistan), but is allowing al Qaeda to take a toehold in Algeria as well. The old Bob might have said a lot of things, but the Bob we saw last Sunday didn't say anything.

When Lieberman said, "We're in a war against Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11," the old Bob Schieffer would have hit the roof and said, "Are you seriously suggesting now that anyone in Iraq, including that gang of sand Webloes who call themselves al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, had anything whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks?" Sunday's Bob Schieffer just nodded and smiled contentedly.

At one point Schieffer said, "Well…" and it sounded like he might be ready to pounce after Joe's Freudian slip about how McCain "…puts his party ahead—excuse me, he puts his country ahead of his party."

I thought for sure Schieffer was going to burst out with, "Since when did that vainglorious mother-exploiting Miles Gloriosus McCain ever put anyone or anything ahead of himself?" Instead, Schieffer bailed Lieberman out of a jam with another straight line: "…do you believe Barack Obama is not ready to be president?"

Well I wasn't going to mention that, Bob, but since you brought it up…

It went on and on like that, and I kept thinking, boy, Schieffer has just gotten too old and too tired to do this job any more, but then it occurred to me: Lieberman has his head cross threaded so far up his wazoo it's a miracle he can talk and sit at the same time. He can't get through a five minute interview without castrating himself unless the interviewer carries him the whole way, and darned if it didn't seem like that's what Schieffer was doing last Sunday.

Any doubts I had that Bob was crutching up Joe disappeared when he came back from the break with Obama spokesman Wes Clark. It was as if Schieffer had chugged three cans of Red Bull during the commercials, and when Clark said of McCain that, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Schieffer made the sound of one jaw dropping and his eyebrows shot to his hairline, and his forehead furrowed and his wattles wagged and his baggy eyes bulged and snot ran down his nose and he gasped, "Really?"

Great Caesars ghost, Bob. Being a POW doesn't qualify anybody to organize a circle competition, much less be president of the United States. Come on, now. I mean, if getting himself shot down over Vietnam qualified McCain to be commander in chief, imagine how qualified he'd be if he'd managed to not get himself shot down.

The subsequent accusations of swiftboating and the denials of swiftboating and the apologies for the non-swiftboating and the other ado about Clark's McCain comment were enough to make you reach for the Rolaids, and maybe for that bottle of Zoloft too. It's depressing to realize how many people commenting on this year's election are as addled and anile as Bob Schieffer has become.

It's even more depressing to reflect that nearly all of the news media have fallen, once again, for the pro-Bush/McCain narrative on everything remotely related to the war on terror, especially after they fell so soundly asleep at the wheel in 2002-03. I don’t think there's much to be done about them. Our fourth estate has fallen so far and broken into so many pieces; and all the king's horses and men are likely to do is keep kicking the pieces and making even littler pieces out of them, until the only actual source of news and information and opinion is the king himself.

Schieffer needs to go, though, before he makes an even bigger embarrassment of himself. Let him take Hugh Downs's place hosting that alternative medicines infomercial. It won't be hard to find an acceptable replacement for him on Face the Nation. Heck, at this point, Katie Couric would be an improvement.

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 The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.