Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brave New World Order

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

A new world order began when the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989. The next new world order began when the U.S. Army staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue after the fall of Baghdad in late 2003. A brave new world order, the one we’re now in the early stages of, began in late 2008 when the U.S. economy dropped down a rabbit hole that may go all the way to China. The trajectory should look familiar; it traces a path taken by hegemons throughout the ages, straight to the cliff they fell from. As with great powers before us, the military might that created our empire has become became the instrument of its downfall.

Niccolo Machiavelli, who served as secretary to Florence and had extensive dealings with the infamous Caesar Borgia, is probably history’s premier political scientist. Machiavelli insisted that “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline.” So we can see that the guy was no hand-wringing peace pansy. Conversely, however, he said of war that, “a well established republic or kingdom would never permit its subjects or citizens to employ it for their profession.” Machiavelli asserted that, “…as long as [the Romans] were wise and good, never permitted that their citizens should take up this practice as their profession.” It was only when Pompeii and Caesar established the institution of Emperor as professional warrior that Rome’s republic began to erode. Eventually the army’s elite Praetorian Guard “became formidable to the Senate and damaging to the Emperor” and “gave the Empire and took it away from anyone they wished.”

In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned America to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the “military industrial complex” for the same reason Machiavelli cautioned heads of state of his day to beware of advisers who “in times of peace, desire war because they are unable to live without it.” In ’61, Eisenhower admonished that the “economic, political, even spiritual” influence of America’s new war industry was “felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.” A decade into the new American century, militarism has woven itself into the very fiber of our society. Political careers and regional economies are wholly dependent upon it. The defense industry has transformed America into warfare welfare state, and it doesn’t bother making a secret of it.

Witness the recent uproar over Secretary Robert Gates’s proposed defense budget “cutbacks” that are actually an increase. Lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman led the protest over Gates’s refusal to expand the F-22 stealth fighter purchase. At $360 million a pop, the F-22 is a cold war albatross that was designed to go toe-to-toe with the Russkies in the skies over Europe. Now, its mission involves air-to-air combat against jumbo jets armed with box cutters; but it’s built in Joe’s state of Connecticut, so it’s of vital importance to national security.

Even more deplorable than the persistence of Lieberman and other congressional war mongrels at investing in what defense analyst William Lind calls “a military museum” is their willingness to let the Pentagon dictate policy. From the beginning of our Mesopotamian mistake, the generals, supposedly, were calling the shots. When then Army chief of staff Eric Shinseky said we weren’t taking enough troops into Iraq, then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld handed him a Purple Heart for the bruise he got where the door hit him on his way out. From then on, all the generals said we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq than we already had there, so we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq.

Then the GOP lost the 2006 election, and Rumsfeld got his Purple Heart. Young Mr. Bush decided it was time to go on a surgin’ safari, and General David Petraeus signed on to play Bwana. Even the once credible Thomas E. Ricks, who has done more than anyone to exalt Petraeus, admits that his idol has been pulling a confidence game on the American Congress and public since he assumed command of forces in Iraq. In a February 2009 Washington Post article, Ricks wrote that Petraeus’s agenda was “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.” Congress, the public, and Petraeus’s critics in the military largely failed to recognize what he was up to, mainly because he patently misled them when he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "We're after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage."

He was, in fact, after conditions that would never allow his soldiers to disengage, at least not during his lifetime, and possibly not during theirs. Throughout his tenure in Iraq—first as commander in Mosul (where he made his reputation as a counterinsurgency “genius” thanks to Ricks’s fabrications), then as the general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, and finally as commander of international forces in Iraq—Petraeus has achieved short term results by handing out guns to everybody and bribing them not to use the guns against U.S. troops or Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s forces. As a result, Ricks admits, “we have poured “a lot of gasoline on the fire,” and if we leave, “it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there.” So we can never leave.

What Petraeus deserves for his perfidy would cauterize his exit ramp. He has been, instead, elevated to five-star deity status. David Petraeus is the Douglas MacArthur of the 21st century—a general so dangerous that he challenges the commander in chief’s constitutional authority. As MacArthur did with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Petraeus poses the threat of challenging Barack H. Obama for his job come the next general election. Don’t think for a minute that a Petraeus/Palin ticket is too absurd to come to pass. Look what’s happened so far in the new American century.

In April 2008, Mr. Bush announced that his “main man” Petraeus would be the decider of when and how U.S. troops would withdraw from Iran, and “King David,” now in charge of Central Command, has been the de facto commander in chief of the U.S. military ever since. Now, President Obama’s decisions must be sanctioned by Petraeus and the rest of the long war generals.

Petraeus, his pet ox Ray Odierno and Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen all publicly opposed withdrawal timelines (and the Obama candidacy) during the 2008 presidential race. Individually and as a group, they have waged an information campaign to desensitize the American public to the reality that their country may always be ensnared in counterproductive wars. Babe Odierno is on record as wanting to keep more than 30,000 troops in Iraq until 2015 or so. If you’re watching, you’ll see that they’re blaming the resurgent violence in Iraq on the pending withdrawals from Iraqi cities, i.e. the “timelines.” When the 2012 political season rolls around, the reasons we’re still in Iraq will be as slippery and amorphous as the reasons we invaded in the first place.

The Petraeus patrol is steering us into the same trap in the Bananastans, and President Obama either doesn’t see that the road ahead looks identical to the one in the rear view mirror, or he figures he’s powerless to reverse America’s vector toward self-immolation, or he’s dumber than he looks, or he just doesn’t care.

These generals of ours, whose authority is too formidable for either the president or the Congress to oppose, don’t have a clue how to win their wars. They don’t know their centers of gravity from their elbows, but that’s okay. They’re not supposed to win their wars. In fact, that would be counter to the real objective: to keep the gravy boat afloat and the cash caisson rolling along for as long as they possibly can. That they’re leaving tire tracks all over the Constitution they took an oath to support and defend by subverting the president’s authority matters little to them. Whether they’re Manchurian Candidate true believers, or Orwellian double thinkers, or simply take the Machiavellian position that ends justify means, I just can’t say. I knew officers of all those flavors during my career. I also knew officers of genuine moral vision and clarity (as opposed to the Ann Coulter/Pat Robertson version of moral vision and clarity), but few of them were invited into the generals’ club, and the few who managed to sip past the doorman have by now earned their Purple Hearts the way Shinseki did. The generals we have left lie like other people eat, sleep and go to the bathroom, all for the sake of preserving an institution that will never again have a peer competitor and will never be capable of defeating an ism of any kind.

I believe we still have a window of opportunity to become the “kinder gentler nation” and that “shining city on the hill” of a brave new world order, but the window is dwindling rapidly. Our generals, openly disdainful of their commander in chief and the legislature, have stolen our country. The zombie Republicans in Congress think it’s patriotic to back the generals against the president, and the Democrats have folded like the Chicago Cubs in August.

Obama needs to step up to the plate, fire all of his four stars and that bureaucratic dimwit Gates, and take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

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, April 16, 2009

Scurvy Dogs of War

The late William F. Buckley, political conservative icon and founder of National Review, must be clawing at his coffin lid. The print version of National Review, while Buckley held the reins, was often an over-the-top exposition of the more unsavory facets of the political right, but Buckley managed to keep it semi-respectable. National Review Online, however, always seemed to be written by the sort of thugs you’d find in a Berthold Brecht musical.

In a recent NRO piece, military historian and former classics professor Victor Davis Hanson comes across like a rabid war mongrel. Frothing over the recent Somali pirate caper involving a U.S. flagged merchant ship, Davis insists that, “To end Somali piracy, disproportionate measures against the shore should be taken—for every one pirate assault, a lethal air assault should immediately follow.” It’s perhaps understandable that Hanson doesn’t mention what Somalia offers in the way of suitable air strike targets; underdeveloped nations like Somalia don’t have any. Hanson probably doesn’t understand that, because like so many hawkish military historians, he doesn’t understand anything about the military. He doesn’t know much about warfare theory, either. He calls for extreme (though ineffectual) military measures in response to something he admits “may not be a matter of American national security” committed not by a peer competitor or a group of global extremists but by “two-bit pirates.” When a giant purposely crushes an anthill, he’s not pursuing a political objective; he’s feeding his perversions. That, like waterboarding someone 183 times, is not the sort of thing a global hegemon needs to be doing, Victor.

Thing are even wackier at the other end of the nut farm. In a December 2008 Weekly Standard piece, Barnacle Bill Kristol suggested that “the Marines would no doubt be glad to recapitulate their origins [on the “shores of Tripoli” during the Barbary Coast wars] and join in by going ashore in Africa to destroy the pirates' safe havens.” In the same issue, Seth Cropsey also proposed that we address the pirate peril by invading Somalia. “Americans ought to know the limits of relying on naval power alone to stop piracy as a result of the nation's experience in the Barbary Coast wars,” Cropsey wrote. “Notwithstanding the offshore victories of larger American frigates, a successful conclusion was only reached by combined naval, Marine, and mercenary action that captured the Tripolitan town of Derna.”

Comparing Thomas Jefferson’s Barbary Coast wars to today’s situation in the waters off Somalia is an apples and elephants analogy. The Somali government, such as it is, isn’t demanding “tribute” from the United States, and it’s as likely to get its pirates under control as the Afghan and Pakistani governments are likely to tame the Taliban. Moreover, today’s U.S. Navy isn’t a small fleet of wooden frigates. I’ll repeat this as often as necessary: simply placing two or even just one of our 11 carrier strike groups—with their self-contained wide ocean surveillance, maritime lift, escort, communications and special force capabilities—off the coast of Somalia would shut down the pirate shenanigans faster than you can say avast!

The opinions of Kristol and Cropsey on matters of war and peace are even less credible than Hanson’s. Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and founder of the infamous Project for the New American Century, is a sterling example of how far a boy with a low IQ can ride on his father’s connections and Rupert Murdoch’s money. Cropsey’s credentials as a warfare expert mainly consist of his membership in neocon think tanks like Kristol’s PNAC and its parent organization, the American Enterprise Institute. Still, Kristol and Cropsey have stronger grasps of military and foreign policy matters than their fellow PNAC and AEI denizen Long John Bolton. As the folks at Think Progress point out, Bolton, our former ambassador to the UN, told his chums at FOX News that attacking Somalia would be “the prudential response” to our buccaneer conundrum, just as he said last year that attacking Iran would be “the most prudent thing to do,” and as he asserted in 2002 that we were on a “prudent course” with Iraq.

In a saner American century, the likes of Hanson, Cropsey, Kristol, Bolton and the rest of the war clowns would have been laughed off the world stage years ago. Bathetically, in the American century we have, the masses, washed and unwashed, take them as seriously as they take professional wrestling and TV evangelists.

According to an April 13 Bloomberg story by Jeff Bliss, unnamed “defense officials” say “The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land.” One can’t help wonder what kind of bases the U.S. military thinks the pirates have: the ones Dr. Evil left behind when Austin Powers chased him out of Africa? I can guarantee you their “bases” look nothing like the embassy we’re building in Baghdad. Somali piracy is a direct result of abject Somali poverty. That’s why the pirate they captured on the recent caper is only 16 years old.

Hey. What do Somalis call a 16 year-old pirate? An intern. What does the Pentagon call a 16 year-old Somali pirate? A number two man.

James “Jim Boy” Carafano, a right wing tank thinker at the Heritage Foundation (Bolton, Cropsey and Hanson have Heritage ties as well), told Bloomberg’s Bliss “There really isn’t a silver-bullet solution other than going into Somalia and rooting out the bases.” There isn’t a silver-bullet solution at all, nor are there much in the way of bases to root out, but as we have discussed, there is at least one superior option that hopefully involves doing whatever the Navy comes up with (throwing carriers at the problem) after JCS chairman Admiral Mike Mullen makes the maritime service look "broadly and widely and deeply" at the problem. ("We've actually been focused on this issue for some period of time,” Mullen said on ABC’s Good Morning America. "We've had a focus on it," he reassured us. He promised us that, “There are many, many people working on it right now.")

Neil Livingstone, chairman and chief executive officer of ExecutiveAction LLC, a Washington-based anti-terrorism consultant, told Bliss it’s futile to concentrate anti-pirate efforts solely at sea. “It’s a massive area,” he said. “You can’t patrol all of it.” Livingstone is another security expert who knows nothing about military capabilities. The assets of a carrier strike group or two, directed by E-2C Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, can patrol that area handily.

Unnamed “security analysts,” most likely Carafano and Livingstone, told Bliss “The U.S. should take as its model the 1801 decision by then-President Thomas Jefferson to send a naval force to assault the land bases of Barbary pirates.” Gee, is there a network where all these war mongrels get together and decide on how they’re going to talk us into their next stupid war, do you think?

If they are going to cite historical precedent, they’d serve us better by pointing to more recent case studies. Operation Restore Hope, the Big Daddy Bush and Bill Clinton excursion into Somalia, began in December 1992 as a humanitarian mission and turned into a cluster bomb. That’s what happens when you put boots on the ground in a place you know nothing about. Things didn’t go appreciably better when we paid the Ethiopians to invade Somalia for us in 2006, and the air raids we supported them with reinforced what I said earlier about suitable air strike targets: the best ones our AC-130 gunships could find were Somali villages.

Somalia does not offer tangible military objectives. There are no pirate seaports or forts or barracks to bomb from the air. And if we invade, how do Kristol and the rest of the brown shirt bubbas suppose our Marines will tell the pirates from the other starving Somalis? By their jolly swaggers and the parrots on their shoulders?

Smart Power poster girl Hillary Clinton apparently has “many, many people” working on the pirate issue as well. An April 15 BBC headline read “US unveils plan to tackle piracy,” referring to Hillary’s announcement of her State Department’s new “counter-piracy initiatives” designed to address “the scourge of piracy.” (Arr, and that’s the salty kind of talk we like to hear, Madame Secretary). Hillary’s plan includes four “immediate” steps: 1) sending “an envoy to attend” a meeting, 2) calling “for immediate meetings,” 3) tasking a “diplomatic team to engage” in meetings and 4) directing her team to meet and “work with shippers and the insurance industry.” As silly as they sound, Hillary’s team meetings and make more sense that the standard kill-kill-kill mantra we get from the neocon Kilroys.

I will always maintain that a smooth operator in the back of an airborne E-2C Hawkeye controlling a carrier group’s assets could ensure that any pirate who boards a merchant ship in the in the NPZ (No Pirate Zone) would be mumbling into a Navy SEAL’s gun barrel within hours. But the simplest and cheapest way to tackle the piracy scourge might be for all ships transiting the POA (Pirate Operating Area) to pull up their metal boarding ladders and stow them on deck. You can count the number of Somali pirates who are really, really motivated to swing a grappling hook over a gunwale then climb hand over hand up the side of a pitching ship on the fingers and toes of a porpoise.

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, April 10, 2009

The Fog of Warmongering

We’re a decade into the new American century, the neoconservatives are still leading the country on a march to the cliff, and most of the citizenry still hasn’t caught on to what’s happening.

I’ve been bumping into a wandering soul at various stops along the information highway of late who claims to have “lost soldiers in war.” In one discussion thread, this ostensible leader of lost soldiers insists that the surge in Iraq was successful because “we had the lowest number of casualties ever last month, which sounds like a win to me.”

I can’t tell if this person really commanded troops in war, or is a Pentagon viral propaganda operative, or if he’s just a computer generated personality disorder. I’d like to believe that someone who led troops in combat knows that casualty rates (aka body counts) are seldom if ever accurate indicators of how a war is going. The Union suffered more casualties than the Confederacy in the Civil War. The best Vietnam casualty figures we have indicate that roughly 1.1 million North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong personnel were killed in action compared to 47,378 Americans (U.S. combat and non-combat deaths combined totaled over 58,000).

Alas, the people who wear four stars who are presently in command of our wars seem to believe body counts are a perfectly good measure of effectiveness. We hear reports all the time from the Pentagon about the deaths of more evil doing number two men than you can take a number one on, but very little comment about how, given our proclivity for collateral damage, we manage to make two or more new evildoers for every number two evildoer we do in.

My cyber bud who lost soldiers in war informs me that the “metrics of success in Small Wars are things like who collects the taxes, who runs the Courts, and who teaches the kids in the little villages and in the neighborhoods of the large cities.” In a saner American century, other countries’ taxes and courts and schools were their business, and if we stuck our nose in that kind of business, we did it with the Peace Corps, not the military. In the American century we have now, faux scholars of war use things like numbers of “soccer balls handed out to neighborhood kids” and “little Afghan girls going to school” to tout the “success” of COIN, or counterinsurgency, or what in that saner century we called being the world’s mommy.

I wonder if it will ever occur to my friend with the lost soldiers that if “lowest number of casualties ever” sounds like a win, bringing all the soldiers home and having no casualties at all would be an absolute rout. Interestingly enough, at the end of the discussion thread in question, my leader of lost soldiers noted that what “General [David] Petraeus and his brain trust” did to win in Iraq was the “antithesis of ‘body count,’” apparently having forgotten that he started the discussion by saying a favorable body count was the criteria by which we’ve “won” in Iraq. Maybe he got confused. So many people do that these days.

Defense secretary Robert Gates, America’s number two man in charge of losing soldiers, seems confused about the surge and General Petraeus as well. In a September 2008 press conference, as Petraeus ascended from commander of forces in Iraq to head of all Central Command, Gates called the general the “hero of the hour” for presiding over the “remarkable turnaround” of Iraq. Gates also used the opportunity to tell the press, "Let's continue to listen to the commanders in terms of the pacing of these withdrawals so that we don't put at risk the successes that we've had.” The commanders, of course, will always say we should withdraw at the pace of a very sick snail.

Journalist and Petraeus idolater Thomas E. Ricks may be confused about his hero’s merits, but his assessment of the surge is spot on. Ricks slipped Freudian at length about it in a February 2009 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. We’ve armed the militants “to the teeth” he said. We have “trained and organized” the Shiite dominated army and put the Sunni insurgency “on the payroll.” Thanks to Petraeus, we have poured “a lot of gasoline on the fire,” and if we leave Iraq, “it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there.”

In a February Washington Post article, Ricks confessed that Petraeus’s goal with the surge was “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.” Petraeus’s stratagem from the outset, Ricks revealed, was that “The surge itself would last 18 months,” but “what neither [Petraeus] nor Bush had articulated—and what lawmakers, the public and even some high up the military chain of command did not recognize—was that the new strategy was in fact a road map for what military planners called ‘the long war.’”

How lawmakers and the public and some military leaders failed to recognize the surge’s real agenda is understandable. As Ricks also notes, Petraeus testified at open hearings before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the surge’s purpose was to create "conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage." Petraeus didn’t bother to elaborate that he meant “allow our soldiers to disengage some time in the next American century.”

One would like to think a venerable Pentagon correspondent like Ricks would be outraged by mendacity of this magnitude on the part of the military, but that would be the wrong thing to think. In his latest book, The Gamble, Ricks states unequivocally that, "The surge was the right step to take.”

In a finer century of American journalism, Ricks’s peers would condemn him for endorsing Petraeus’s grand scale abuse of trust and power. But this century’s American journalists seem to agree with that pseudo-liberal popinjay Matthews, who at the end of their February interview on Hardball thanked Ricks and said, “You‘re going to help us learn.”

We live in confusing times; and this century’s American journalists seem confused about a lot of things related to national security. An amusing April 9 New York Times headline read “Standoff With Pirates Shows U.S. Power Has Limits.” The lead paragraph explained “The Indian Ocean standoff between an $800 million United States Navy destroyer and four pirates bobbing in a lifeboat showed the limits of the world’s most powerful military.” A U.S. warship being held at bay by a dinghy is the state of American foreign policy writ small, all right, but after our misadventures in Iraq and the Bananastans, we hardly needed this illustration to see the impotence of America’s military-centric grand strategy. The difference between our pirate pratfall and the bigger wars is that there is a military solution to the pirate pratfall: a single one of our 11 carrier strike groups, with its organic wide area surveillance, escort, lift and special operations capabilities, could shut down the jolly Somali buccaneering quicker than you can say Avast! Unfortunately, all 11of the carrier groups are occupied with things like dropping bombs and cruise missiles on Muslim weddings.

Whether they contribute to national security or not, all 11 carrier groups will stay in the arsenal until at least 2040 according to the defense budget proposed recently by Secretary Gates. Gate’s budget proposal is another national security issue this American century’s journalists are totally at sea about.

The New York Times, the newspaper that has been America’s propaganda portal of record since it helped Dick Cheney sell the invasion of Iraq, is talking about Gates’s “cuts to an array of weapons” that include the “cancellation of the F-22” stealth fighter. Gates hasn’t actually proposed a “cut” to much of anything. In most cases, he’s merely asking Congress not to give more money to questionable big-ticket projects than have already been allocated to them. The F-22 won’t go away. Lockheed will still make four more of them by the end of 2011 to bring the total buy to 187, as previously arranged, and nothing Gates recommends shuts off the possibility of ordering more F-22s after the present contract has been filled. That’s pretty much the way it is with everything Gates has supposedly “cut.” He’s just kicking the can down the street, a trick that weapons industry friendly defense secretaries have been pulling since President Dwight Eisenhower warned us they were pulling it in his 1961 farewell address.

No one is paying attention to the most far-reaching tenet of Gates’s proposal, his commitment to “completing the growth in the Army and Marines.” The only reason for growing a larger Army and Marine Corps is to continue to squander them throughout the eastern hemisphere in a type of war that the best available study done by the world’s finest national security analysts concludes should be pursued with “a light U.S. military footprint or none at all.”

In The Prince, his seminal work on the nature of power in 16th century Italy, Niccolo Machiavelli acknowledged that the fall of Rome came about largely because emperors like Commodus (the bad guy in the movie Gladiator) couldn’t keep their army under control. Keep that in mind when you read about things like General Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno’s recent decree that he may ignore the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement withdrawal timeline.

A decade from now, Chris Matthews will ask a round table of “experts” how we let our military maneuver us into a state of ruinous perpetual war. The experts will avoid addressing the question, but the answer will be obvious.

We’ll have spent too much time trying to “learn” from the likes of Tom Ricks.

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, April 03, 2009

Raging Bull Feathers

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -- Voltaire

The propaganda war on the American public appears to have entered a new phase.

In a March 30 post at his Foreign Policy blog, Thomas E. Ricks wrote, “I thought some of the surge-era deals in Iraq would unravel but I didn't think that would begin happening this quickly. It's only March 2009, and already Awakening fighters are fighting U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad.” Ricks cited a number of recent confrontations between members of the Sunni Awakening movement and Nuri al Maliki’s government and got all giddy about how he “wouldn't be surprised to see Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia re-emerge.”

At the end of his blog, Ricks asks “Question of the day: What should I say the next time someone tells me the surge ‘worked’?”

Ricks will almost certainly say the same thing he’s been saying to Chris Matthews and David Gregory and Washington Post readers and everyone else who’s wasted bandwidth on him since his latest book came out: “General Odierno…would like to see 35,000 American troops [in Iraq] in 2015.” That is, after all, neocon message number one these days: Status of Force agreement and campaign promises be damned; the generals say we need to stay in Iraq so that’s what we need to do. And Ricks, along with the rest of the so-called liberal media, is falling all over himself to help the neocons echo it.

Ricks might also answer along the line of propaganda operations hinted at by a March 31 New York Times story that leads with “As the American military prepares to withdraw from Iraqi cities, Iraqi and American security officials say that jihadi and Baath militants are rejoining the fight.” Obama’s announced withdrawal timeline, goes the narrative, is what has caused the “new insurgency.” That’s a branch of the original story line that said once we announced a withdrawal date the evildoers would “wait us out.” (“Branches and sequels” are the parts of operational plans that describe what to do when things don’t go according to plan.)

The new narrative argues that Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki wants to mop up on the Sunni Awakening fighters while we’re still around to help him do it. As journalist Gareth Porter notes, Maliki has drawn us into a fight—possibly a long term one—with the very Sunni militants we bribed to stop fighting Maliki and us, and whose cooperation we previously credited for the “success” of the surge. In a saner American century, this would have been the camel straw, the signal that finally, for God’s sake, it was time to roll up our tents and bring our sideshow home, two-headed chicken and all. But in the present American century, where Newspeak and Doublethink have supplanted logic and reasoned discourse, it is all the more reason to stay. As in George Orwell’s 1984, we switch sides whenever necessary in order to keep the war going.

It’s quite possible that all our yesterdays in Iraq will have merely led that country back to the dusky state it was in before we invaded it. Having consolidated his power with backing from us, al Maliki is on the brink of becoming another Saddam Hussein. That too, in the hands of bull feather merchants like Ricks, will become a reason for us to stay in Iraq. We’ll need to keep Maliki from becoming a new Saddam Hussein, or to make sure he becomes a new Saddam Hussein who plays ball with us, or to overthrow the new Saddam Hussein and make sure the next new Saddam Hussein does or doesn’t become like the old new Saddam Hussein and/or the original one.

Don’t think that justifying eternal occupation of Iraq is a cakewalk, though. Using the country’s unraveling as the excuse for staying throws a torpedo into the myth of a successful surge strategy. So first, the spin merchants have to re-revise their own revised history, then they have to plaster over the gash they’ve made in the time space continuum.

Ricks led the charge in that sector of effort. In February, he told NBC’s Chris Mathews that “we have armed to the teeth many Iraqis” and have “trained up and organized a Shiite-dominated army” and “made friends with the Sunni insurgency, put them on our payroll,” so “there‘s a lot of gasoline that Americans have potentially poured on this fire” and if we leave Iraq “it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there.” On Meet the Press, he told David Gregory “none of the basic problems that the surge was meant to solve have been solved.”

At first blush, that kind of talk doesn’t speak well of General David Petraeus, the Macarthur of Mesopotamia and, according to defense secretary Robert Gates, the “hero of the hour” who presided over the “remarkable turnaround” of Iraq.

Fear not, though, Ricks has King David’s back covered. According to Rick’s new book The Gamble, it wasn’t Petraeus or even neocon luminary Fred Kagan who invented the surge. It was General Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno, the guy Ricks earlier told us was the big dumb slob who made such a mess of things right after the fall of Baghdad with his 4th Infantry Division and caused the insurgency and the civil war and everything else that went wrong. Sometime after that, according to Ricks, Odie went through a “transformation.” An angel came unto him in the night and gave him an immaculate conception of what a counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq ought to look like, or something like that. The important thing is that when there’s anything good to be said about the surge, the warmongery can credit Petraeus (and to a lesser extent Kagan), and when it’s time to tell the truth about it, they can blame the oaf.

It’s important to maintain the illusion of Petraeus as “the best general in the Army,” which was how Ricks described him at the beginning of the surge. That’s because the warmongery needs Petraeus’s clout in mugging President Obama into further escalation of—and entanglement in—the war in the Bananastans. On April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough, Petraeus told a Senate panel that extremists in Pakistan ““could literally take down their state” if left unchallenged, thus endorsing John McCain’s initiative to send an additional 10,000 troops to the Bananastans on top of the 4,000 additional troops Obama just promised to send on top of the 7,000 additional troops he already promised a to send on top of the 38,000 troops already there.

Sadly, even if we have half a million troops in the Bananastans (like we did in Vietnam), they can’t accomplish anything without a coherent strategy, which they still don’t have despite the recent unveiling of Obama’s new Bananastan plan, the tenets of which sound like his policy team stole them from Scientology. The new strategy’s stated objectives include a “capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan” and a “stable constitutional government in Pakistan,” goals impossible to achieve without extraterrestrial intervention. Inexplicably, while these two aims would constitute the reengineering of an entire region’s social structure, presidential advisers who crafted the strategy maintain that it does not constitute nation building. Even more inscrutably, prominent foreign policy analyst Pat Lang agrees that the new strategy avoids “multi-decade nation building.” This observation suggests that Lang has been nipping at the Kool-Aid he accused so many of chugging during the Bush administration or that he’s suffering from the long-term effects of having been a military intelligence officer. It’s hard to say which; the symptoms are nearly identical.

The strategy’s objectives also include “Disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.” That might be achievable, but it’s not a goal worth pursuing. If evil ones can plan and launch terrorists attacks from a bleacher seat in the mountains on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, they can do it from the other side of the Van Allen radiation belt (and the North Koreans can put them out there now!)

The aspect of the new strategy I find hardest to believe is that none of the goals involve keeping the Islamofabulists from getting control of Pakistan’s nukes or the oil pipeline that runs through Afghanistan. Those are the only real national security concerns we have in that region, ones we can decisively address with military power by blowing up the nukes and the pipeline, declaring victory and bringing everybody home.

Alas, that would be counter to the real objective of the neoconservative agenda, which is progressive military entanglement. If you’re not yet convinced that’s what the war mongrels are after, take a look at what their most prominent pundits are saying about Obama’s new strategy. Bill Kristol cries, “All hail Obama!” Kritol’s partner Bob Kagan cheers, “Hats off to President Obama for making a gutsy and correct decision on Afghanistan.” Charles Krauthammer calls the Obama strategy one that you can imagine “John McCain having adopted had he been elected.”

This is the clearest signal I’ve seen to date that America’s collective brain activity has flatlined. Obama’s election was above all a national rejection of the militaristic adventurism of the previous regime. Yet here we are, not only continuing Bush era foreign policy but expanding it, and America is watching it unfold dumbly, like a dazed Jake La Motta, clinging to the top rope and rasping Come on, hit me. Harder.

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.