Sunday, February 22, 2009

Obama's Bananastan

If you know neither your enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

--Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu maintained that proper planning secures victory before the battle begins. Carl von Clausewitz insisted that war must focus on the political aim. How is it, then, that we are about to put more troops into a war we know is unwinnable and have no coherent objective for them to pursue?

President Obama announced on Feb. 17 that he will send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. That’s just over half of the 30,000 troop escalation that’s been discussed in recent months. Gen. David McKiernan, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, says he needs another 10,000 troops on top on the 17,000 Obama has promised on top of the 32,000 already in Afghanistan. McKiernan says the pending escalation won’t be a “temporary force uplift.” He thinks we need to keep 60,000 troops in Afghanistan for the next three to four years. “We’ve got to put them in the right places,” he says; but he doesn’t appear to know where those places are.

As foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter tells us, Obama was ready to support the full 30,000 troop escalation, endorsed by Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus. A hunch must have told Obama to ask one more question, because he called McKiernan directly and asked him how he planned to use those additional 30,000 troops. McKiernan couldn’t give him a straight answer.

Obama’s hunch must have generated in a Jan. 28 meeting with the Joint Chiefs and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. According to NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, Obama asked his service chiefs “What is the end game” in Afghanistan? His service chiefs replied, “Frankly, we don’t have one.”

In a related story, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports that Danielle Pietka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, worries that Afghanistan is a "war that we may walk away from.” This remark came at a Feb. 28 meeting of AEI, the neoconservatives’ home think tank. Tom Donnelly, AEI’s top analyst and former deputy executive director of the infamous Project for the New American Century, hammered the Obama team for "the dumbing down of Afghanistan strategy," which is a phrase he appears to have stolen from fellow AEI and PNAC luminary Gary Schmitt. It’s hard to tell whether Donnelly and Schmitt know that their chambermaids Gates, Mullen, Petraeus and Kiernan, not team Obama, are the ones pushing for an escalation without knowing what they’re escalating to or what to do with the escalators. They don’t even know which escalators to send. According to the Washington Post, nobody has even decided what kinds of forces to deploy.

At the AEI hobnob, Fred Kagan—who was thought to be the principle architect of the surge until publicist Tom Ricks said the real architect was Petraeus’s pet ox Ray Odierno—expressed concern that the Obama administration is trying to “define success down.” One wonders what Kagan means by that since nobody at AEI, including him, has defined what success in Afghanistan would be at all. Schmitt slams the administration for bandying buzzwords like “realism,” “attainable,” and “end game.” How dare they?

According to Dreyfuss, Kagan hopes President Obama isn’t listening to any of that slacker talk about realistic goals. Kagan hopes Obama listens to Petraeus.

Petraeus is the guy who bribed everybody in Mosul, which went to heck in a handcar when he left. As general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Petraeus armed the Shiite militias before he left. As top commander in Iraq, he bribed and armed all the Sunni militias before he left. Now Iraq is a more dangerous place than it was before we invaded, so we can never leave or things will go back to the way they were under Saddam Hussein, and while things were better then, to go back to the way things were would be unacceptable after the hard work and sacrifice we’ve put in to make things the way they are now. As theater commander, Petraeus wants to repeat his “successful experiment” in Iraq by bribing and arming Afghan militias so we can never leave there either.

Yeah, Petraeus is just the guy we want Obama to listen to. Thanks for the tip, Freddie.

Obama should stop listening to whoever told him to commit 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Going along halfway with a stupid idea is twice as stupid as taking it hook, line and sinker. And Obama should rendition whoever told him it would be a good idea to step up the air strikes in Pakistan. What, we weren’t pushing enough locals into the arms of the militants as it was?

Our military’s senior officers are either unforgivably ignorant of the basic tenets of their profession or they’ve pawned their integrity for enduring job security through the “persistent conflict” of the “long war.” Whichever is the case, it’s time for a Stalin-esque purge of the Department of Defense. Every officer from the full bird level up should be ordered to submit a request to retire, and all DoD civilians with the word “secretary” in their titles need to submit a letter of resignation. Don’t worry that the folks next in line aren’t ready for greater responsibility. Ike was a light colonel when World War II broke out.

Note to the commander in chief: the people who tell you this is a bad idea are the ones you need to push out the hatch first.

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.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

American Caesar's Ghost

We are witnessing what a military takeover of a superpower looks like in the new American century. David Pertraeus became the most dangerous American general since Douglas MacArthur when George W. Bush announced that his “main man” would decide when, how and if an Iraq troop drawdown would occur, giving Petraeus unilateral control of U.S. foreign policy. In the summer of 2008, when then candidate Barack Obama started talking about a 16-month withdrawal deadline and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki said that sounded about right, you could almost hear Petraeus screeching What a world! What a world! from Baghdad to Washington. If you listened closely, you also heard the propaganda campaign to sell America on an endless occupation of Iraq click into high gear.

On February 2, foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter revealed that in a January 21 meeting, Petraeus, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were unable to dislocate President Obama from his 16-month redeployment policy. Porter also reported that a group of senior retired officers were preparing to support Petraeus, General Ray Odierno and their allies by mobilizing public opinion against Obama's decision. I estimated that support to be part of the larger information campaign that was an integrated effort of the surge strategy from the outset.

D-Day of the latest phase of that information campaign arrived on February 8 when Pulitzer Prize winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks launched a series of TV interviews and Washington Post articles to promote his new book, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008. It’s not pleasant to call Ricks out for prostituting his credentials, but you can’t sleep in a general’s tent for years the way Ricks has and pretend not to be a camp follower. Ricks has become for Petraeus what Ned Buntline was to Buffalo Bill Cody: his official legend maker.

In his 2005 book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Ricks painted Petraeus as the only division commander who got it right in post-invasion Iraq. By January 2007, when Petraeus became the new commander of forces in Iraq, Ricks described him in an interview as a “force of nature,” and recalling the sight of the general doing one-arm push ups with teenage privates sent Ricks into a breathless arrhythmia. With The Gamble, Ricks promotes Petraeus to five-star deity. Both Brainiac and action figure, Super Dave defies the establishment and changes the course of mighty strategies to save America from the agony of defeat in Iraq. He’s got a PhD from Princeton, he wears Kevlar, he’s a complicated man—but no one understands him but Tom Ricks, can you dig it? By the time you finish The Gamble, you’ll pray on your knees that Dave Petraeus runs for president in 2012.

Ricks used a crate of lipstick to make Petraeus’s sidekick, General Ray Odierno, look presentable in The Gamble. He savaged Odie in Fiasco: ox-like Odierno is “confused by criticism” that his 4th Infantry Division, the “worst outfit” in theater at handling prisoners and civilians, is a virtual corps of “recruiting sergeants” for the insurgency. Odierno himself denies an insurgency is in progress, and is the epitome of the dysfunctional leader who doesn’t want to hear the “bad stuff.” But in The Gamble, Odierno has experienced an “awakening.” It is Odierno, more than anyone else, who is responsible for the surge’s success. “White House aides and others in Washington…had nothing to do with developing” the way the surge was executed. Odierno made all those decisions. You can trust Ricks on that score because he got the information straight from source: Odierno.

In fact, almost the entirety of Ricks’s surge saga is told from the perspective of Petraeus, Odierno and the rest of the surgin’ safari. If Ricks picks up another Pulitzer for The Gamble, the inscription should read “best stenography.” Petraeus and Odierno are assisted by crafty retired Army general Jack Keane. Big Jack wields his mighty influence to break down the doors of the Washington bureaucracy, and helps his protégés maneuver around their chain of command to place their surge concept before young Mr. Bush himself. The three wise warriors vanquish a host of fakes, liars, fumblers and meanies, and put their enlightened counterinsurgency scheme to work in Iraq, so gosh, we can’t just give up now that things are going so good. Well, better. Sort of.

In his book, his Post columns and his interviews, Ricks manages to run through the gamut of neocon talking points on why we still need to stay the course, a compendium of doublethink mantras that in real-speak boil down to “Buy our war or we’ll shoot this soldier’s dog” and “Don’t forget to be afraid of Iran.” At the same time, remarkably, Ricks generates a mountain of fog in an attempt to cover the neocons’ tracks.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Ricks absolved the neocons, saying they get “too much credit and too much blame” for Iraq. Nothing was the neocons fault, really. It was that mean old Dick Cheney who duped the public into supporting the war, and that grouchy old Donald Rumsfeld who ran the war so badly. Never mind that Cheney and Rumsfeld were charter members of the Project for the New American Century, the neocon think tank that first publicly called for an invasion of Iraq in early 1998. Ricks makes a single passing mention of the PNAC in The Gamble. That’s a stunning omission when you consider that along with Cheney and Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Scooter Libby, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage and many other PNACers also held key positions on the Bush administration’s Iraq policy team. Eliot Cohen is a featured player in The Gamble, a key figure in the selling of the surge and, according to Ricks, the man who told Bush he should make Petraeus the top commander in Iraq. Not once does Ricks note that Cohen is a luminary in the neoconservative constellation and that, like Cheney and Rumsfeld, he was a founding member of the PNAC.

Also noteworthy is Ricks’s glaring omission of any reference to Rebuilding America’s Defenses, the September 2000 PNAC manifesto that delineated the foreign policy the Bush administration would adopt in whole. Unfinished issues from Desert Storm, it said, provided the “immediate justification” for an invasion of Iraq, but the need to establish a large, permanent military footprint in the geostrategic heart of the oil rich Gulf region transcended “the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” 9/11 gave the neocons the “new Pearl Harbor” they needed to launch their scheme, and the rest is history—as rewritten by the likes of Tom Ricks, who is now abetting them in pursuit of their original purpose.

As is the case with all revisionists, you’ll find grains of truth along the path of Ricks’s narrative, just as you’ll find grain in every pile of horse manure. The only honest thing you’ll find picking through Ricks’s prose, though, is the insanity behind the argument for staying in Iraq.

The real secret of Petraeus’s “success” at counterinsurgency is payola. As commander of the 101st Airborne in Mosul, “he bought everybody off.” The enemy “was just biding its time and building capacity, waiting him out.” When Petraeus left Mosul, it went up for grabs. As top commander in Iraq, Petraeus bought everybody off again, making “a lot of deals with shady guys” who are “just laying low,” so we can never leave, or the whole country will go up for grabs like Mosul did.

Odds are things will be worse if we leave than they were under Hussein, Ricks told NBC’s Chris Matthews. Hussein was a toothless tyrant, but now that Petraeus has “armed everybody to the teeth” it's too dangerous to get out. We’ve made the Iraqi security forces strong enough that they might attempt a coup if we're not there to stop them. The surge may have averted a civil war, but one colonel tells Ricks he doesn’t think “the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet,” so we have to stick around so we don't miss all the fun. As Iraq becomes more secure, it moves backwards. There’s a “long-term trend toward increasing authoritarianism,” so we have to stay in Iraq so things don’t go back to the way they were under Hussein even though, as Ricks just told us, things were better under Hussein than they are now.

Ricks says the surge is a strategic failure because it didn’t bring about the unification government it was supposed to produce. But that’s okay, because an analyst Ricks knows says “power sharing is always a prelude to violence,” so we have to stay in Iraq to make sure we don’t achieve our strategic objective, which will be easy because “the whole notion of democracy and representative government in Iraq” was “absolutely ludicrous" from the get go.

If you’re thinking Petraeus was plotting all along to create a situation we couldn’t extract ourselves from, you’re right. As Ricks notes, Petraeus needed time “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.”

Even Ricks seems uncertain that we’ve seen genuine progress; maybe we’ve actually just “poured more gas on the fire,” he says, and even though the surge is a failure, its “attitude is right” so it was “the right step to take,” and we should continue to support U.S. presence in Iraq because we’ll be there a long time whether we support it or not.

As Ricks explained to David Gregory on Meet the Press, Petraeus and his henchmen have Obama over a barrel. If Obama continues to stand up to them, they’ll accuse him of betraying the troops because of a campaign promise he made to get the peace poofter vote. If things go the way Ricks predicts, the president will fold, the military oligarchy will consolidate its hold on American political power, and the neocons will live to make other people’s sons fight another day because they conned Tom Ricks into covering for them.

How sad it is to see that Thomas E. Ricks, dean of the Pentagon beat, has been pants down, bent-over-the-table seduced by the neoconservative cabal. He is as mad as they are, and as madly in love with their eternal crusade in the Middle East as he is with David Petraeus.

UPDATE: Ward Carroll of, where I have contributed a weekly column for nearly three years, refused to run this essay.

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.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tom Ricks and the Neocons

Parts I, II and III of the “Ministry of Truth and Peace” series discussed how Pentagon propaganda operations represent the confluence of Big Oil, Big War, Big Bucks, Big Brother and the Big Schmooze in the new American century. Part IV examines how General David Petraeus and his followers are waging unrestricted information warfare on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy mandate.

Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks has become the center of gravity in the U.S. military’s information war on the American public.

On February 2, policy analyst Gareth Porter reported that General David Petreus, General Ray Odierno, retired Army general Jack Keane and others were preparing a campaign to mobilize public opinion against President Barack Obama’s pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months. Keane co-authored, with fellow American Enterprise Institute neoconservative Frederick Kagan, “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” the January 2007 study that outlined the Iraq surge strategy.

The onset of the information campaign came close behind Porter’s forecast. On Sunday, February 8, Tom Ricks captured the airways and the headlines, appearing on Meet the Press as the first of his two part series on the stratagem behind the surge strategy appeared in the Washington Post. Ricks’s new book on the surge hits the shelves, not surprisingly, on Tuesday February 10.

Ricks gives us an astonishing insider’s look at the machinations behind the campaign to force a “long war” of indefinite occupation on Mr. Obama. Some of Ricks’s narrative sounds wholly credible, some reeks of Orwellian fabrication, and none of it constitutes objective reporting.

In his Sunday piece, “The Dissenter Who Changed the War,” Ricks paints a doubtful portrait of Ray Odierno as the “true father” of the surge strategy. It was Odierno taking all the risks, Ricks assures us, “bypassing his superiors” like General George Casey “to talk through Keane to White House staff members and key figures in the military” to make the case for escalating the Iraq war.

Odierno may well have gone around his chain of command; that was standard operating procedure in the Bush years. But given the cast of Machiavellians in this three-ring kabuki, it’s unlikely that big Ray was the kingpin. Odierno more suitably fits the profile of fall guy; he’s been the one making public statements about how the military will stay in Iraq longer than 16 months whether the commander in chief likes it or not, something that would earn a less politically connected officer administrative punishment at the very least. Petraeus has been, as always, circumspect on this subject. You’ll have to look very hard to find a written record of an insubordinate syllable passing Petraeus’s lips at any moment in his career. If Petraeus wants to trash a superior, he’s the type to have somebody like his pet ox Odierno do it for him.

The most telling part of Ricks’s version of the surge genesis is what it omits. Ricks makes no mention of the American Enterprise Institute, or of Fred Kagan, or of the neoconservative movement’s role in selling the surge to the public, an effort spearheaded by Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, FOX News, the New York Times, AEI and the Project for the New American Century.

On Sunday’s Meet the Press and in his Monday Post article, Ricks describes with often horrifying candor how Petraeus set out to pave the way for a “long war” that would last well beyond the Bush presidency. Petraeus needed time “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” That the surge has, as Ricks acknowledges, “failed politically,” is of little consequence.

The generals’ gambit, as Ricks explained it to David Gregory on Meet the Press, is “they feel they have made huge sacrifices, that they have had friends die and sons bleed, and that they don't want to throw that all away on the—you know, because some guy said on the campaign trail, ‘We're going to get all these guys out.’”

Thus did Ricks, wearing the beard of an impartial journalist, deliver the ultimatum for Petraeus, Odierno, Keane, Kristol, and the rest of the warmongery. Obama can either accede to the their goal, which is and always has been a permanent military occupation of Iraq, or be vilified as the wimp who betrayed the troops because of a campaign promise he made to get the peace pansy vote.

Ricks saved the punch line for the end of his interview with Gregory. “Iran has…its fingers throughout the Iraqi government. This is something that General Odierno mentioned several months ago and got in some trouble for, for talking about so publicly. Iran really does worry me in, in this situation.”

The Petraeus gang has been stacking the deck around the Iran card since the surge was unveiled in January 2007, leveling one accusation after the next against the Shiite Persian state to frame it as the point defense rationale for staying in Iraq. They haven’t proven a single allegation in all that time, but most Americans, numb by now from the constant bombardment of messages demonizing Iran, have accepted them as gospel truth. And, hey, if Tom Ricks is worried about Iran, shouldn’t the rest of us be worried about it too?

I knew Ricks had fallen like a schoolgirl for Petraeus when, in an April 2007 interview for NPR, he described the general as “a force of nature” and gushed, “He’s famous, for example, for his one-armed push-up contest against privates. You know—challenging a guy half his age to one-arm push-ups. But basically Petraeus [is determined] he’ll do one more than the other guy will, no matter how many the other guy does.”

Ricks was once the respected dean of the Pentagon beat. As of Sunday, he displaced Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times as chief echo chamberlain of the neoconservative junta. One can’t help suspect Ricks is at the top of the list to become Minister of Truth and Peace in the Petraeus administration. He has all the qualifications.

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.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

War and Piece of the Action

Parts I and II of the "Ministry of Truth and Peace" series described the Pentagon propaganda program that the Department of Defense inspector general didn't judge to be a propaganda program because he couldn't find a definition of "propaganda." Part III examines how one retired military media analyst made a killing from our woebegone war on terror.

Retired military media analysts aided the Pentagon's propaganda campaign in support of the Bush administration's wars for a variety of reasons. The analyst with the broadest motivations was undoubtedly retired Army four-star Barry McCaffrey, who exemplified the confluence of Big War, Big Bucks, Big Message, Big Brother and the Big Schmooze in the new American century.

In a November 2009 New York Times profile of McCaffrey, reporter David Barstow described him as "a force in Washington’s power elite." That's putting it politely: it's understatement to call McCaffrey a great white military-industrial-media shark. His use of access and influence to pursue personal profit from war was singularly predatory.

McCaffrey was an early advocate of the Iraq invasion. He was board member of the now-defunct Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a group of influential neoconservative tank thinkers with ties to the George W. Bush administration and the now infamous Project for the New American Century. He started BR McCaffrey Associates in 2001 to "build linkages" between government officials and contractors. McCaffrey was also one of more than 75 media military "experts" recruited into the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst program, initiated in 2002 to help sell the public on the Iraq War. One of the analysts, retired Army colonel Ken Allard, called the program "PSYOPS [psychological operations] on steroids."

McCaffrey began his career as a media analyst for NBC shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Just prior to that, he had become a key member of the advisory council of Veritas Capital, a small player looking to grow in the defense sector. Veritas gave advisers like McCaffrey board membership in its military companies, along with profit sharing and revenue stakes. McCaffrey, like so many of the power elite, had much to gain from what the Pentagon would later refer to as the "long war."

In his first months on the air, McCaffrey called for increases in defense spending to fight the war on terrorism. He specifically touted the virtue of high tech weapons like precision munitions and unmanned aircraft supported by defense companies in the Veritas portfolio. He called the C-17 military cargo aircraft—also a source of Veritas contracts—a "national treasure."

McCaffrey had early doubts about the Iraq war plan; he was one of many observers who thought the invasion force was too small. But on NBC, he assured viewers that the war would be brief, telling Brian Williams “These people are going to come apart in 21 days or less.” Years afterward, McCaffrey claimed he knew the post invasion planning was a disaster. “They were warned very categorically and directly by many of us prior to that war,” he said. But before the invasion, he waxed ecstatic on NBC with Pentagon talking points about the “astonishing amount” of postwar planning.

Days before the invasion, when Tom Brokaw asked “What are your concerns if we were to go to war by the end of this week?” McCaffrey answered, “Well, I don’t think I have any real serious ones.”

In March 2003, shortly after the war began, McCaffrey shouted on MSNBC, "Thank God for the Abrams tank and…the Bradley fighting vehicle." That same month, Integrated Defense Technologies, a Veritas company, received more than $14 million in contracts relating to the Abrams and the Bradley.

In spring of 2007, a small defense company called Defense Solutions hired McCaffrey as a consultant. Four days later, McCaffrey wrote a letter to then commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General David Petraeus recommending the bid by Defense Solutions to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles. McCaffrey didn't his connection with Defense Solutions or his letter to Petraeus the next month when he told Congress that it should immediately buy a large number of armored vehicles for Iraq and criticized a Pentagon plan to use armored vehicles provided by a Defense Solutions competitor.

These incidents were not lapses of judgment; they were emblematic of McCaffrey's standard operating procedure, a behavior that any sane, intelligent adult can see is both unethical and immoral. Yet McCaffrey's apologists, under his employ or otherwise, are quick to defend his honor. "His motive is pure," says his publicist Robert Weiner. “It is national interest.” In this regard, McCaffrey is like every other megalomaniac; what's good for him is good for his country, the world, the solar system, the universe and whatever awaits us in the afterlife.

Other McCaffrey supporters excuse his mendacity by pointing to his criticism of the way former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld conducted the war, but that's like forgiving all mortal transgressions because the sinner condemns the way Satan runs hell.

One Pentagon correspondent, an "old friend" of the former general, admonishes us to "remember that McCaffrey is one of the most highly decorated combat Soldiers ever to wear general’s stars, with two awards of the Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts for wounds he suffered in the Vietnam War."

How sad it is to see heroism become, like patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel.

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.