Sunday, November 09, 2008

Obama from the Bullpen

by Jeff Huber

Navy skippers immemorial wrote "He hit the deck running" on their new junior officers' fitness reports until the phrase became, well, ship-worn. You mean that the officer just checked aboard, seems eager, if a bit much so, has done a nice thing or two, but it's not time to recommend him either for your job or for immediate transfer to civilian command. In other words, it's an expression that sounds impressive but doesn't really mean anything, something common to at least 95 percent of Navy writing.

But the expression appears to mean something in the case of Barack Obama, whose orders just showed up on the message board, as we say in the NAV, and who doesn’t even check aboard for two more months. In the past week he's made three significant interrelated foreign policy moves that involve Iraq, Iran and Russia that have potential to look good, go bad or turn ugly, depending on how he follows up on them.

Cleaning Up the Mesopotamia

Obama's move on Iraq, as far as I can see, is all good, mostly. He has said that any bilateral agreement of the status of U.S. forces in Iraq has to be run through Congress, or deferred for the new administration so it can "negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.”

In one stroke, Obama has served notice that he will not sit by and watch the Bush administration dig an even deeper hole for him to climb out of, he's insisted on limiting executive power, and he's declared an end to the neoconservative agenda.

He's not only telling the warmongery that he won't stand for a slap job forces agreement in Iraq, but that he doesn't want to see any more wars started, most notably with Iran or Syria.

Some time ago, I don't know how far back, I wouldn't have expected even Bush to unilaterally stick his successor with a stink job treaty for a so-long-sucker present, but there's no doubt in my mind today that he'd do it in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away with it. To my thinking, any agreement on how we occupy Iraq amounts to a treaty, which the Constitution requires to be ratified by two thirds of the Senate. The administration's ambulance chasers would argue that when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, it sanctioned Bush to do whatever he wanted in Iraq from then until kingdom come without giving them so much as a courtesy reach around.

If Bush decided to ram a bad agreement down everyone's throat, Congress wouldn't likely grow a spine overnight and stand up to him, and challenging the agreement in the courts would take so long we might as well defer the matter to the next life.

Obama's insistence that the agreement be approved in some fashion or other by Congress more or less ties Bush's hands. Obama probably doesn't have any legal clout right now, but Bush is no doubt worried about his legacy, and maybe about a legal issue or two that might be lurking for him when the guy who owns the pardon wand isn't a Republican, and maybe, just maybe, he's starting to think there might be something to that "hell stuff" everybody talks about.

By insisting on congressional review of any bilateral agreement with Iraq, Obama has also sent a clear signal that he's not interested in duplicating Bush's "plenary powers" shenanigans, especially in light of recent revelations that in 2004, Bush authorized Donald Rumsfeld to start wars darn near wherever he wanted to, in some instances without even having to tell Bush about it.

Goodbye, Cruel Arab World

The neocon paper trail, specifically the Project for the New American Century's September 2000 manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses, makes it abundantly clear that the plan all along—before Colin Powell sold his soul at the UN, before 9/11, even before the Supreme Court made young Mr. Bush president—was to invade and permanently occupy Iraq. Geo-strategically, Iraq is the perfect military base of operations from which to physically bully the entire Middle East. Its central location allows for direct projection of land power into Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The rest of the region's countries are in reach of tactical air power from Iraq. Logistics wise, Iraq has sufficient sea access to sustain a major force indefinitely, and its flat terrain allows for nearly perfect interior lines of communication. No other country in the region comes close to filling the bill, including and especially Iran.

The neocons' objective, of course, was to control the flow of oil through the gulf. Make no mistake; control of the global energy market is the lebensraum of the Brave New World Order, and if you don't think our woebegone war on terror hasn't been conducted for the benefit of Dick and Dubya's Big Oil buddies, ask you self why, seven years and change into it, the world teeters on the brink of an economic Gotterdammerung but Exxon Mobil just broke its own record for the largest quarterly profit ever by a U.S. corporation.

Whether Obama's abandonment of the neocons' objectives for Iraq means he's showing Big Oil to the servants' door remains to be seen. Dropping out of the game for control of Middle East oil won't necessarily change bad energy habits home. To say we're addicted to Middle East oil is like saying someone is addicted to Colombian cocaine. If Obama is serious about allowing Big Oil to open its raincoat offshore and in ANWR, it doesn't seem like anyone interested in making money will be motivated to build a car that runs on spit and boogers.

But let's burn that fuel dump when we come to it. For now, it's heartening enough that Obama pulling the plug on Iraq has done something not too many folks are noticing: namely, he's cancelled the Second Cold War we were on the brink of entering into with Russia, China, Iran and the rest of the Axis of Energy.

Next: From fissile to missile to epistle and back.

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 Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.


  1. And?...finish the sentence, g@#d@#mit, what are they?

  2. Anonymous7:57 PM


    In case you haven't seen it. From today's Boston Globe...

    Pentagon board says cuts essential
    Tells Obama to slash large weapons programs

  3. Yowee!

    Thanks, Ed.


  4. Yep. People gave Barney Frank -- Heqq -- when he said that's what the Obama administration would do.

    Now, if we could just do something similar about the Treasury Dept. and the damage Paulson continues to do.

    DHL is going out of business. 9,500 jobs lost there. The banks, who are getting this bail-out money are buying up other banks, giving executive bonuses, paying dividends, and doing anything with it --- but what they should be doing.... extending credit to people and businesses who need it. Thanks to Paulson, and something called IRS Section 382.

    Once again, the Democrats have no spine on this.

    If they bail out the auto industry, (any further) there should be severe restrictions placed on how the money is spent.

    Congress should require these bozos to start the re-tooling they need to do, so that they can build hybrids, and more fuel efficient cars.

    You are left to watch in sheer wonder --- at the damage this Bush administration is willing to inflict upon this country, in their waning days.

    Absolutely friggin' amazing.

  5. Commander,

    On this Veteran's Day, 2008.

    Thank you for your service.

    Thank you to all who did serve, and who are now serving.

  6. Anonymous11:48 AM

    "The neocon paper trail" is going to require more than a two flusher!

  7. EL,

    The two edged sword of the Democratic party: they're too disorganized to do what the neocons did, but also too gelatinous to do anything much at all.


    Yeah, we're talking industrial strength waste management.


  8. Anonymous5:58 PM


    To my mind, the United States would have best preserved its hegemony or near hegemony in the Persian Gulf area by leaving Iraq (perhaps without its Kurdish parts) under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, who struck me as one of the few statesmen even less competent and beloved than our not soon enough outgoing president.

    Hussein could have played footsie with the Russians, Chinese and whomever else, but the more powerful he'd have become, the more the Iranians, Kuwaitis, Saudis, Syrians and other nations would have gravitated towards the US and UK. Even if the Russians and Chinese had made nice with Hussein, they'd have run into the paradox that multi-ethnic Iraq was inherently unstable, and that the prosperity they helped the country attain would have undermined the stability of the regime with which they'd made nice. The Iraqi people may not have been too fond of the countries that allied themselves with the Saddam regime. The Chinese and Russians diplomats would also have had the nightmarish task of trying to keep an ally who was irrational and brutal behaving something close to normal.

    The French and Germans would have been in a difficult spot; by allying themselves with a despotic and ignorant Iraq under Hussein, they'd have forfeited the sympathies of and alliances with much of the rest of the Arab world, which generally despised Hussein.

    Now, it seems to me, he's leaving an Iraq rid of its horrible leadership and possibly keen on loosening its links with the US and UK to look to other countries for partnerships; meanwhile the US no longer has quite the good name it once had in the Arab world.

    In other words, Bush made sure to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Does this analysis make sense?

  9. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense.


  10. You may be overestimating how much latitude Obama will actually have in making foreign policy decisions. This guy is far more likely to be driven by events than the other way around. When you have this hanging over the world economy like a Sword of Damocles, I think that all options are still on that proverbial table, no matter what statements are being made now. I know it's early yet, but Obama so far gives the impression of someone with no clear understanding of the position he's in, particularly vis-a-vis energy.

    Your assessment of the neocon's goals in Iraq is spot-on, but just let me say that I really hate that "addiction" line. The use of that word in the context of our utter dependence on oil has to have been the concoction of someone in marketing, obviously for the express purpose of downplaying the seriousness of the energy situation. Something that Obama will have to have explained to him at some point is America's particular vulnerability in that regard (i.e. a national infrastructure that will not run without cheap supplies of oil and natgas). This man represents our very last opportunity on the mitigation front, and I'm sorry to see him come in with such an apparently poor grasp of the situation.

    I am curious about one thing: is Obama's stated intent to get U.S. combat forces out of Iraq a stament of confidence in the viability of the current Iraqi government? My understanding has always been that a U.S. withdrawal would mean a virtual death sentence for Maliki and his cronies.

  11. Anonymous7:42 PM

    My personal feeling is that Obama has brought his handler to the White House. He, like Bush, will do exactly as he is told to do.
    His actions will speak louder than his words.

  12. JP,

    Some are saying our departure will turn Maliki into a Hussein style strong man and it is the Sunnis, not he, who will be toast after we go.


    We shall see.


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