Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananastan

President Barack Obama’s March 27 announcement of a “new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan” makes it official. He has no clue what he’s doing in the Middle East. Unless, of course, he’s leading us further down the road to ruin on purpose, in which case he knows exactly what he’s doing and is making an excellent job of it.

On February 17, Obama announced he would send 17,000 additional troops to the Bananastans to address the “urgent” situation there. The situation was so urgent that the troops were scheduled to deploy “sometime in the spring or summer,” according to General David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.

McKiernan at the time said the additional troops were not a “temporary force uplift," that we would need to “sustain in a sustained manner” for two to three years, throughout which time we would need to stay “heavily committed.” McKiernan noted that being heavily committed would require about 10,000 more additional troops than the 17,000 Obama had already committed to his theater of operations. (McKiernan had asked for 30,000 additional troops.)

That’s a standard tactic with the generals these days, making sure word gets out when Obama doesn’t give them exactly what they want. The generals’ boss, defense secretary Robert Gates, pulled a similar number recently on Meet the Press when he said the generals would obey the mandate to remove combat brigades from Iraq by August 2010, but if they “had had complete say in this matter, they would have preferred that the combat mission not end until the end of 2010.” Gates and his generals say things like that in the media whenever they can so when things go wrong they or their proxies can claim it was Obama’s fault for not listening to his generals. If the generals put as much thought and energy into winning their wars as they put into duping the American public they wouldn’t have to dupe the American public. But they know how to dupe the American public, whereas…

General McKiernan didn’t mention to anybody why Obama didn’t give him all the troops he asked for at once. That’s not surprising, because the reason was that Obama called McKiernan directly and asked him what he planned to do with all those additional troops, and McKiernan couldn’t give him a coherent answer. This is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that Obama only gave McKiernan about half the troops he asked for when he couldn’t say what he’d do if he had all of them. The bad news is that Obama didn’t do what he should have done when he heard McKiernan making the sound of one mouth breathing into the phone: tell McKiernan to pack his bags and come home and bring the 30,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan home with him.

In a March 23 interview, Obama said we need an “exit plan” for the Bananastans. He’s apparently been looking for one since a January 28 meeting with Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When he asked them, “What is the end game?” all he heard in reply was the sound of six mouths breathing.

At that moment, our planning for the Bananastans was standing on its head, facing backwards and advancing to the rear. Before you send extra troops into a fight, you’re supposed to have an idea what you want them to do, and before you come up with an exit strategy for bringing them home, you have to know what you sent them there to accomplish. Like every other human endeavor, war must have a lucid objective. Without that objective, armed conflict is nothing more than extravagant violence. Until Obama announced the new strategy on March 27, the closest he had come to expressing a suitable objective was to ensure the Bananastans "cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States."

That’s a lovely sounding national security goal that, if achieved, would do nothing whatsoever to improve national security. If you can attack the U.S. from a nosebleed seat in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, you can do it from any point between the Marianas Trench and the Sea of Tranquility. Not even the wet brain trust at the American Enterprise Institute would suggest we can grow a force large enough to occupy that much territory.

Obama’s security team rolled out the official objectives on March 27 and they are, to say the least, stupefying. Even more stupefying is the way the mainstream media is describing them. “A dozen officials who were involved in the debate” told the New York Times that the goals did not involve attempts at nation building. The Times also published the white paper that delineated the strategy’s goals: “promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan” and “developing increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces” and “assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan.” That’s not just nation building, it’s social re-engineering of an entire region. Moreover, the white paper describes these goals as “realistic” and “achievable,” which they most assuredly are not.

Even worse, the new strategy includes further escalation of our Bananastan bungle by 4,000 more troops and officially expands the conflict into Pakistan. We’re watching a train wreck about to happen, fellow citizens--one that will make our onanism in Iraq look like Hitler’s blitz of Poland. If you can believe the Times, the debate inside the administration pitted military advisers like Gates and Mullen, who said the Afghanistan war effort would be “imperiled” without even more troops, against Vice President Joe Biden, who “warned against getting into a political and military quagmire.” Great Gatsby, if Joe Biden can see through the Pentagon’s shenanigans, someone of Obama’s demonstrated intelligence should be able to.

So why is Obama going along with all of this? Come to think of it, why did Obama go along with the cockamamie relabeling of combat units for Iraq?

As investigative historian and journalist Gareth Porter observed recently, combat brigades will remain in Iraq beyond Obama’s August 2010 deadline through the hocus-pocus of renaming them “advisory and assistance brigades” and assigning a few dozen officers to them who will carry out the advising and assisting. By those rules you can assign a comedian and a hooker to a combat brigade and call it a USO Show.

The odds that this absurdity hasn’t penetrated Obama’s bubble are wafer thin. As Porter points out, the Times revealed the Pentagon’s rename game on 4 December 2008, and later reported that Mullen and Gates discussed this semantic sleight-of-hand with Obama at a meeting in Chicago on December 15. One has difficulty buying that Obama could have forgotten that discussion by February 27, when he publicly announced he’d get the combat brigades out of Iraq by August 2010.

Gates, Mullen, and National Security Adviser James Jones are all on record as being opposed to Obama’s withdrawal timeline. Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno, the general in charge of coalition forces in Iraq, has publicly aired his desire to see 35,000 troops remain in Iraq through 2015. Mullen and Odierno both snickered at the Status of Force agreement’s deadline to have all of our troops home for Christmas in 2011. We’ve built enough infrastructure in Iraq to base 180,000 something troops and as many civilians; none of it will evaporate until well into the next American century.

Speaking of infrastructure, the Army was spending $1.1 billion on new facilities to berth the troops in Afghanistan before Obama took office, and plans to spend another $1.3 billion this year. This is another Pentagon ploy that goes “We already bought the troopers’ tickets for Afghanistan and paid for their hotel rooms, so they have to go and they have to stay when they get there.” Those Pentagon scamps; you couldn’t wring a cogent war strategy out of them with a water board, but when it comes to cooking up stratagems, you can’t beat them with a stick.

The new Afghanistan strategy promises to repeat counterinsurgency tactics employed by General David Petraeus in Iraq. That’s more bad news. Even Petraeus hagiographer Tom Ricks admits that Petraeus, by bribing everyone and arming them to the teeth, merely “poured more gas on the fire,” and the “enemy” is biding its time, waiting for us to leave Iraq, so we have to stay there forever, just like we’re about to get stuck in the Bananastans forever.

It’s hard to say where Obama lies on the continuum that ranges from precocious fool to willing conspirator of the warmongery, but it looks more every day like the change we believed in has changed into the neoconservative agenda for everlasting pointless war.

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.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Long War Generals

If you’re not cheating you’re not trying.

--Anonymous U.S. military officer

As a naval aviator pal of mine once remarked, cadets in our military academies spend the summer before their freshman year learning an arcane honor code and spend the next four years learning how to violate it without getting caught. So is it any wonder our general officer corps is populated by Orwell-class doublethinkers who speak doubletalk like it’s their first language?

During the run up to the Iraq invasion, then Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki was the only four-star who had the strength of character to take a public stance against Donald Rumsfeld’s plan to conquer Iraq with a small force, relying on crackpot warfare theories like network-centric operations and shock and awe to make up for insufficient troop strength. Shinseki’s principled stand bought him a one-way ticket to Fort Palooka. Rumsfeld, not satisfied that any of the active duty generals would toe the line sufficiently, brought his old cow tipping buddy Peter Schoomaker out of retirement to replace Shinseki. Rummy had sent an unmistakable message: it was his way or the exit ramp. The remaining generals either fell into lockstep or kept their own counsel, and we got four years of dead-enders in their last throes.

As the 2006 elections neared, almost everyone at Defense, including Rumsfeld, was talking about lowering public expectations for Iraq and beginning a drawdown of U.S. presence. Narcissus, however, wouldn’t let young Mr. Bush lose a war that could be lost on his successor’s watch. Levers were pulled, wheels turned, somebody shoved a pie in the Iraq Study Group’s face and, voila, out trotted the surge.

For the longest time we thought neoconservative academic Fred Kagan was the chief architect of the surge. Recently, Thomas E. Ricks told us that the real genius behind the Iraq escalation was David Petraeus’s 300 lb. lapdog Ray Odierno. That assertion required a worm-to-butterfly transformation of Odierno, whom Ricks had earlier portrayed as the bull in the china shop who single-handedly fomented the Iraq civil war. Now Odie’s the Desert Ox.

Whoever actually cooked up the surge, the Joint Chiefs and commander in Iraq General George Casey were dead set against it. But then the dope dealing commenced and the four-stars’ objections faded like the Chicago Cubs. The ground service generals were promised a larger Army and Marine Corps, Casey got the Army chief of staff assignment and Admiral Mike Mullen was promised the chairman’s job.

January 2007 was a key month in American history. On the fifth, the American Enterprise Institute published Fred Kagan’s Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq. On January 10, Mr. Bush announced that he would increase U.S. presence in Iraq by 21,000 troops. On the twelfth, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain endorsed the surge and became the de facto presidential candidate of the neoconservative movement.

January 2007 was also the month David Petraeus assumed command of international forces in Iraq. Tom Ricks kick started the public image campaign to make Petraeus into a five-star deity, describing the general in the media as a “fascinating character” who was “just about the best general in the Army” and, oh yeah, “quite ambitious.” Ricks noted Petraeus’s “very successful first tour in Iraq in 2003-2004,” referring to his command in Mosul, but did not mention how Mosul collapsed after Petraeus left and the bribes he’d been handing out dried up. That January was also the month the Bush administration promised to provide evidence that Iran was providing arms to Iraqi militants. The administration never did prove those accusations, but that didn’t prevent it from repeating them loudly and often.

One of the loudest Iran bashers was Petraeus, who didn’t even pretend to have credible proof Iran was arming Iraqi militants. Reminiscent of the joke about the man beating his wife, Petraeus simply challenged Iran to prove that they had stopped arming Iraqis. Then Irony cleared its throat: in August 2007 a story broke that in 2004, while in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Petraeus had lost track of 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols that couldn’t have walked anywhere but into the hands of the Iraqi militants Iran was supposedly arming. Irony might also mention that as Petraeus was arming the insurgency, Doctor Conrad Crane and others at the Army War College began work on the new counterinsurgency field manual that Ricks and others would later claim Petraeus “wrote.”

Petraeus pursued an aggressive information campaign that promoted the agenda he shared with the neocons to establish a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq. His most outrageous publicity stunt was the March 2007 Baghdad shopping spree he staged for McCain and McCain’s office wife Lindsey Graham. At a news conference, McCain, Graham and other Republicans remarked that they could “mix and mingle unfettered” with Iraqis and that the market reminded them of “a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time." The next day, the New York Times and other sources revealed that Petraeus had put more than 100 of his troops in harm’s way to provide security for a propaganda demonstration supporting the surge strategy and the McCain candidacy.

Admiral Mullen also tried to tip the election toward the GOP. In a July 2008 Joint Force Quarterly article, Mullen wrote that every day, troops asked him questions like “What if a Democrat wins? What will that do to the mission in Iraq?” (Italics Mullen’s.) The article’s title (Irony winks) was “From the Chairman: Military Must Stay Apolitical.”

Also that month, right after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki agreed with candidate Obama that 16 months would be the right interval for a withdrawal timeline, Mullen warned on FOX News that a withdrawal timeline would be “dangerous.” In his July JFQ article, Mullen wrote that “we [in the military] defend the Constitution” by “obeying the orders of the commander in chief.” He didn’t specify whether he meant obeying all commanders in chief or just the Republican ones, but he didn’t have to. Everybody got the message.

By mid-summer 2008, Petraeus had beaten Admiral William Fallon two out of three falls for control of Central Command, he had hand picked the next generation of Army generals, and young Mr. Bush had announced that his “main man” Petraeus would be the decider of when and if U.S. troops would redeploy from Iraq. Petraeus and his long war generals owned American foreign policy, and they were determined to keep it. Fortunately for them, their best course of action was obvious: they merely had to keep doing what they were doing, which was entrenching America deeper and deeper in to Iraq. If McCain pulled an upset in the election, great, he was already on board. The beauty part was that Obama would have to go along with what the long warriors wanted as well. If he crossed them openly, and things went poorly (which they’re bound to whether Obama follows their advice or not), it would be Obama’s fault for ignoring his generals. Defense secretary Robert Gates turned a nice trick in this vein during a recent interview on Meet the Press. He told David Gregory that the generals would obey the mandate to end the combat mission in Iraq by August 2010, but if they “had had complete say in this matter, they would have preferred that the combat mission not end until the end of 2010.”

Obama played into the long war strategy by insisting he would finish the job in Afghanistan. Now his generals are pushing him into an aimless escalation of that conflict that will likely make us the latest superpower to embalm itself in that part of the world. Nobody in the Pentagon is taking the Iraq Status of Forces agreement’s December 2011 deadline seriously. The ink on the SOF was barely dry when both Mullen and Odierno smirked that “three years is a long time,” and that the situation cold change. Gates claims that Obama himself may force Maliki to renegotiate the agreement. Thanks to Ricks, Odierno is on record as wanting to keep 35,000 or more troops in Iraq through 2015. And if anyone thinks to question the need to sustain these two wars, the long generals can always tell another lie about Iran (like Mullen did recently when he said the Iranians have enough fissile material to make a bomb—they don’t) and claim that our presence in Iraq and the Bananastans is necessary to keep Iran contained.

Our generals are forcing a self-defeating security policy on us for the sake of preserving their institution, which means far more to them than the Constitution they swore to protect or the country they’re supposedly defending. In a finer era of American journalism, editorial pages across the nation would have demanded the forced retirement of every four-star on active duty. Today’s big news media, unfortunately, are either afraid of the Pentagon or in its corner. Congress has been on life support for nearly a decade, and as we have discussed, Obama political constraints are considerable.

It’s up to what few retired or active duty generals of integrity we have left to confront the junta in a very public “have you no sense of decency?” moment.

Unfortunately, that would amount to generals ratting out fellow generals, which would violate their honor code.

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.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

They Can't Even Type

Young Mr. Bush and his handlers managed to squander more than two centuries of American progress. Two interminable armed conflicts and the economic collapse they produced left President Obama with the worst combination of foreign and domestic policy disasters in our country’s history. He faces a conundrum; he needs to take care of the economic problems first, but they won’t fully heal until he straightens out the tangled web of war Bush created in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he made very bad decisions when he chose his foreign policy cabinet secretaries.

Smart Power poster girl Hillary Clinton bombed relations with the Iranians back to the Cheney age when she said that diplomacy with Iran probably won’t work. You can be assured it won’t work if she’s in charge of it. After two days of talks in Egypt and Israel, where she heard “over and over and over again” how worried Arabs and Israelis are about the Persian state, she accused Iran of “fomenting” divisions in the Arab world and seeking to “intimidate as far as they think their voice can reach.” That’s abject hypocrisy coming from the chief diplomat of a superpower that single-handedly placed the Middle East in a state of perpetual turmoil. If Hillary’s remarks were calculated, they were miscalculated. We need a secretary of state who sounds like an intelligent adult, not a two-faced harpy who flies around the world hurling fireballs at straw men. We just had four years of that from Keystone Kondi.

Hillary has confirmed that despite her campaign claim of possessing a foreign policy experience edge over Obama, it was Bill, not she, who was commander in chief during the Clinton administration. Like candidate Hillary, Secretary Hillary feels the need to act tough so the draft dodging neocons won’t call her a girly man. She shouldn’t worry. They’ll call her a girly man no matter what she does. And if she goes into high orbit every time the Arabs and Israelis lie to her about Iran, she’ll never come down to earth.

The neocons will never have anything bad to say about Hillary’s counterpart at Defense. Bill Kristol must have thought he’d ascended into heaven when young Mr. Bush named Bob Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld. Gates was brought in to serve as a welcome mat for the surge strategy, the key to attaining Kristol’s dream of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. Kristol especially likes having a warmonger around who says even dumber things than he does.

Gates is a grand master of self-contradiction, as he illustrated once again on a recent Tavis Smiley Show. He said that one of the “biggest lessons learned” from the Iraq experience “is if you are going to contemplate preempting an attack, you had better be very confident of the intelligence that you have.” Gates repeated that sentiment several times, then noted that the war in Afghanistan is now his “biggest challenge,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that he encouraged Obama to preemptively escalate the conflict there on the basis of no intelligence at all. We will never have good intelligence on the Bananastans. You can count the number of people who speak both Pashtun and English and can also pass a background check on the toes and fingers of a duck. Our best sources of intelligence on Afghanistan and Pakistan are Afghan and Pakistani intelligence officials. If we’re going to trust them, we may as well believe everything the Mossad tells us.

You’d think Gates would understand that, having been chief of the CIA, but you’d be wrong. Where Hillary made her mark in Washington by clinging to a coattail, Gates built his career as a bureaucratic dimwit the old fashioned way: by not rocking the boat. He “succeeded” as Secretary of Defense by telling Bush what he wanted to hear and being more popular with his subordinates than Rummy was, a feat considerably easier than falling off a log. You do everything General A tells you to do, say everything General B tells you to say, pretend you don’t know General C is tagging his enlisted driver and, by golly, you’re such a military genius the next administration simply has to keep you on for a year or so.

After Admiral William Fallon lost the showdown for control of Central Command, the generals that remained—including Admiral Mike Mullen, now the Joint Chiefs chairman—were all aboard the Petraeus train; there’s nobody left but the long warriors. The way things look now, the Status of Forces agreement won’t amount to a speed bump on the road to eternal occupation of Iraq, and we’ll continue to bury ourselves in the Bananastans whether we cook up a flimsy excuse to be there or not.

In a bizarre turn on the BBC comedy Yes, Minister, our State and Defense secretaries are little more than figureheads for the career military officers who have gained a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy. I recommended several weeks ago that Obama should order every officer from the full bird level up to submit a request to retire, but he may consider that politically untenable. And if he canned Hillary, oh, my: double, double, toil and trouble!

He can marginalize Hillary by encircling her with advisers and special envoys and such who report directly to him. Hopefully, by the end of Gates’s “year or so,” Virginia governor Tim Kaine will have been succeeded by a Democrat and can take Jim Webb’s Senate seat, freeing Webb to take over at Defense. The best way to “get rid” of King David may be to promote him to Joint Chiefs chairman. The chairman doesn’t have any command authority; he’s merely the president’s top uniformed military adviser. Obama can privately make it loud and clear that he expects Petraeus to have his ten-word advice memorandum to the Oval Office by 5 p.m. every tenth Friday, pronto.

With Petraeus neutralized, maybe—just maybe—Webb or someone like him can begin developing a new generation of generals who don’t believe that defending their country involves keeping it entangled in never ending, counterproductive wars that defeat its economy.

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.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Enduring Blunder

President Obama has committed 17,000 additional troops to Operation Enduring Freedom, our misadventure in Afghanistan. His generals don’t know what to do with those troops when they get there; they’re not even sure what troops to send. Someone on Obama’s sprawling national security team should have told him it’s a bad, bad idea to send troops into a combat zone without a well-defined task and purpose. Ronald Reagan’s 1983 end zone fumble in Beirut should serve as a shining example of that maxim, but today’s defense hierarchy isn’t keen on learning from the past. Neocon luminary Fred Kagan, chief architect of the surge strategy, taught military history at West Point for a decade, which shows you how little regard the Army has for the subject.

The Keystone Kollege of Armed Konflict Knowledge that all our generals seem to have attended doesn’t place much importance on coherent strategy making, either.

Who’s on First?

As investigative historian Gareth Porter revealed recently, Obama was willing to go along with the full 30,000 troop escalation monty for Afghanistan until the Joint Chiefs admitted they didn’t have an end game in mind and General David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, couldn’t tell him what he planned to do with the extra troops. Back in the day, all those four-stars would have kept smoke grenades handy so they’d have something to blow up the boss’s skirt if he asked a hard question. Things changed over the last eight years. McKiernan must have made the sound of one jaw dropping when he heard a commander in chief ask “why?” Talk about shock and awe.

Defense secretary Robert Gates and his rear echelon commandos have been working on an Afghanistan strategy for dog years and still haven’t hit the dartboard. One segment of the security brain trust thinks the center of gravity in Afghanistan is the Taliban. Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen says the Afghan people are "the real centers of gravity." Senator John Kerry says the center of gravity in Afghanistan is in Pakistan. Let’s hope Obama stays mindful of Kerry’s track record vis-à-vis winning strategies.

Like most military matters, the center of gravity concept is broadly misunderstood, especially among the military’s top brass. Clausewitz dictated that the center of gravity must be “the point against which all our energies should be directed.” For his admonition to have any meaning, centers of gravity must be related to our objectives. Hence, the enemy center of gravity is the main obstacle between us and our goal and is the thing we must defeat, destroy, annihilate, deceive, bypass, sucker punch, pacify, erode, eradicate, and otherwise put the whammy on in order to achieve victory. Once we formulate a reasonably concrete and achievable goal, the center of gravity becomes relatively easy to identify.

Unfortunately, the “concrete and reasonable goal” factor has been AWOL since the neoconservative movement turned U.S. foreign policy into a radical equation.

We won’t make western democracies out of either of our Bananastans. We won’t eliminate corruption in them. We won’t stem opium production. If we effect regime change we’ll just be swapping out puppets. It’s too late to keep them from becoming failed states because they already are. We might make things so Afghan girls can go to school, but that’s a cockamamie reason for a bankrupt hegemon to wage war, especially given that half the kids in urban America don’t finish 12th grade.

Young Mr. Obama has said he wants to ensure that Afghanistan—and by extension Pakistan—"cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States." That at least reflects a legitimate U.S. security goal, which is more than you can say for any of the gas his generals have been passing off as strategic acumen. Unfortunately, as objectives go, it’s so unrealistic as to be downright hallucinatory. If you can launch an attack on the United States from atop the Himalayas along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, you can launch one from any spot on the surface of the earth, or buried beneath it, or floating above it.

We can’t draft enough people to occupy that much territory.

We Don’t Know

We don’t know the enemy. The term “Taliban” describes an array of groups with different leaders. Warlords and drug lords are a whole separate power paradigm: some are aligned with one Taliban or another, some aren’t. The line between good guys and bad guys in the Bananastans is wafer thin; the official governments and their agencies are hardly more than sanctioned gang bangers. Then there’s the average Joe Bananastan who’s just fed up with the U.S. air strikes on all the weddings he goes to. And, oh yeah, none of those people had anything to do with 9/11.

Air strikes have, however, “heightened the threat” of al Qaeda “to Pakistan as the group disperses its cells [there] and fights to maintain its sanctuaries.” That’s according to the New York Times, the newspaper of record whose sources for that factoid were “senior analysts and officials of Pakistan’s main spy service” who “spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s policy.”

Great. Caesar’s. Ghost. Anonymous Pakistani intelligence officials are to reliable sources what Pig Latin is to Latin. Equally unreliable and equally anonymous CIA officials recently told NPR that their airstrikes in Pakistan have “decimated” al Qaeda leadership and that they now foresee a "complete al-Qaida defeat" in the region. That’s a remarkable conclusion considering that the CIA’s best sources of intelligence on Pakistan are Pakistani intelligence officials. It doesn’t take a bloodhound to sniff two separate agendas here.

Despite knowing nothing about ourselves and even less about the enemy—Sun Tzu’s recipe for disaster a la king—Obama is going ahead with the Bananastan escalation his feckless generals and defense secretary have recommended. Obama says “the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action.” He probably feels pressured to shoot first and think later, but that’s never a good idea. I’m not a world-class military historian, but I’m a fair one, and I know of no instance in war where doing nothing proved to be an inferior course of action to doing something stupid.

The closest thing we have to legitimate security concerns in the Bananastans are that evildoers might get control of Pakistan’s nukes and the oil pipeline that runs through Afghanistan. There’s a very simple military solution to both of those problems: blow up the nukes and blow up the pipeline. Blowing stuff up is the one thing Obama’s generals know how to do real good.

In a March 6 interview with the New York Times, Mr. Obama said he is considering a plan to “reach out” to moderate elements of the Taliban. That’s a fantastic idea, and the best possible way to reach out would be to have our troops line up and shake the hand of each and every one of those mother’s sons and then climb on a plane for home.

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, March 01, 2009

Mission Accomplished Indefinitely

[They] were not fighting this perpetual war for victory, they were fighting to keep a state of emergency always present as the surest guarantee of authoritarianism.

-- George Orwell, 1984

It looks like the fat lady will become a Victoria’s Secret model before she sings the finale of our woebegone war in Iraq. On Friday Feb. 27, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, young Mr. Obama announced that, “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” We can speculate till the troops come home why Obama chose to make this announcement on a Marine Corps base as opposed to, say, on an aircraft carrier, but it’s a dead cert that the mission will be no more accomplished by August 2010 than it was in May 2003.

Obama also said in his speech that 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq after August 2010. Re-label them trainers, force protectors or whatever you like, the troops that stay behind will be combat troops. They won’t be training Iraqi security forces to peel potatoes, nor will they be protecting the day care facility for children of single Iraqi soldiers.

What’s more, the enabling trainers are likely to be in Iraq past the December 2011 deadline called for by the Status of Forces agreement. Key Pentagon figures who have voiced opposition to any sort of withdrawal timeline include defense secretary Robert Gates, who may be the only civilian officer holder in Washington who understands less about warfare than Joe Lieberman. Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has said a deadline for withdrawal would be “dangerous,” and National Security Adviser James Jones, a retired Marine general, cautioned that a timeline to leave Iraq would be "against our national interest." General David Petraeus, as always, has avoided saying much on the subject that might stick to his body armor. Petraeus’s sidekick Ray Odierno, though, says he wants to keep at least 35,000 troops in Iraq through 2015, and the once credible Tom Ricks has echoed this metric over every major information outlet in America.

Both Odierno and Mullen kick started the “a lot can happen in three years” chant as soon as the Status of Forces agreement was signed. It’s evident that no one in the Pentagon considers the SOF and its 2011 benchmark a done deal, and why should they? They’re used to discarding treaties—the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Torture—like day-old candy wrappers. The SOF isn’t even a treaty. The Senate never ratified it, so how hard could it be to abnegate?

Time Bandits

The main vector of the warmongery’s timeline argument is that successful military operations can’t be conducted with time constraints. This flies in the face of reality, of course; if military operations didn’t have D-Days and H-Hours, the Normandy invasion would still be on hold.

Gates is probably unaware of this; he is quite possibly the only civilian officer holder in Washington who knows less about warfare than Joe Lieberman. Mullen and Odierno and Jones either a) know that timelines are essential to military operations and are lying or b) they’re as ignorant of the basic tenets of their profession as Gates and Lieberman are. It’s entirely possible that both a) and b) are true.

Ricks himself admits that Petraeus’s task was never to produce a victory in Iraq. He simply needed time, “to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” In other words, Petraeus needed time to fake us out of demanding a timeline.

Mullen and Gates were both circumspect message managers on last Sunday’s political gab show circuit. On CNN, Mullen said he is “comfortable” with Obama’s withdrawal schedule, but also said he is confident the president will be “flexible” with the timetable if conditions on the ground change. On NBC, Gates admitted that the troops remaining in Iraq will still be in harm’s way, “but at a very different level than in the past,” which is Newspeak for “the troops remaining in Iraq will still be in harm’s way.” Sounding eerily like Mullen, Gates noted that Obama has said he “retains the flexibility and the authority to change a plan or adjust it if he thinks it's in the national security [interest] of the United States.” Gates and Mullen both gave the impression that renegotiating the Status of Forces agreement would be along the same order of difficulty as getting a pizza delivered from Domino’s.

Both men also stressed the importance of following the advice of the military commander on the scene, who is now Ray Odierno. Thanks to a two-inch thick make-over by Ricks, Odierno has transformed from the raging ox who did nothing right in post-invasion Iraq to the military genius singularly responsible for the surge, so when he says he needs 35,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2015, gee, who’s to say he’s wrong? And oh, Gates made a point of confiding to David Gregory (with the rest of the world listening in) that “if the commanders had had complete say in this matter that, that they would have preferred that, that the combat mission not end until the end of 2010.” So anything that goes wrong after August happened because Obama didn’t listen to Ray of Arabia.

For the moment, Ricks is the chief propagandist of the Iraq Forever movement, but he has capable help from the likes of neocon luminaries Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollock. In a Feb. 25 New York Times op-ed piece, O’Hanlon and Pollock baldly assert “The mission ceased to be a ‘war of choice’ the moment American forces crossed the border in March 2003. Now we have no choice but to see Iraq through to stability.” This is akin to saying that once we board an airplane, we have no choice but to ride it until it runs out of gas and crashes into the sea. Wahoos like O’Hanlon and Pollock never admit that there is a broad menu of sane alternatives to what they propose, the best of which amount to taking control of the airplane, returning to the airport and landing safely.

One hopes that Obama can resist the pressure from the lunatic right to perpetuate the counterproductive occupation of Iraq, but it’s important to note that in his Camp Lejeune speech, he said, “I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

Even in the Newspeak Dictionary, you could drive the entire Army and Marine Corps through the distance between intend and shall.

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.