Remember when we all thought Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was just another Ahmed Pyle fresh off the bus from Palookadad? Now look at him: he’s a Machiavelli-class political operative, the head of a propped-up state who just told his masters to drive it up their exit ramps by demanding that they honor the status of forces agreement whether they like it or not.
Keep in mind, though, that in 1980 Saddam Hussein sentenced Maliki to death. Now Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death and executed, and Maliki has his job. How about them apples? Maliki is so powerful today, in fact, that he may be the only political figure who can help Barack Obama – the head of state of the most powerful nation in history – out of the crack he’s wiggled himself into.
The warmongery that controls the Pentagon and Congress never did take any of that Iraq withdrawal timeline jive seriously. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser James Jones, "King David" Petraeus, and Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno are all on record as having said withdrawal timelines are a bad idea. Odierno has, through Petraeus publicist Tom Ricks, broadly expressed his desire to see 35,000 or more troops in Iraq through 2015, status of forces agreement and Obama campaign promises be damned. Early in April, Odierno put out the word that he might ignore the June 30 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities, and it looked like another domino was about to drop in the Pentagon’s "hell no, we won’t go" strategy. Then Maliki said "not so fast" and told Babe Odierno to have his troops out of Mosul and the rest of the cities by the end of June and that they couldn’t go back without a hall pass.
Two aspects of this event should shock every American. First is that Odierno, who is four levels down in the chain of command (under Obama, Gates, and Petraeus) announced he might unilaterally abrogate an occupation arrangement agreed to at a level higher than his. Second, and perhaps more alarming, is that the only guy who threw the bull plop flag about it was the prime minister of the occupied country. Nobody in the White House or Congress did anything but put palm prints on the seats of their pants. The military’s takeover of America is now so complete that the Buck Turgidsons and Jack D. Rippers can do whatever they want and the rest of the body politic demurs as if it’s the Pentagon’s constitutional right to dictate policy to the executive and the legislature.
There’s one political journalist, though, who’s willing to pretend the Obama administration hasn’t been rolled flat by the military-industrial cash caisson. With his article in the May 14 edition of Rolling Stone, Robert Dreyfuss has become for Team Obama what Tom Ricks is for Team Petraeus and what Joseph Goebbels was for you-know-who. "Obama’s Chess Masters" is as stunning a piece of White House propaganda as anything Dick Cheney’s minions ever filtered through the New York Times. "The president has assembled a trusted circle of advisers to oversee all aspects of national security from the White House," Dreyfuss blares in the lede. "It’s the most centralized decision-making I’ve ever seen," one source tells him. G.W. Bush let Cheney and Rummy run the show and make all the decisions, Dreyfuss reports, but not Obama. No sir. Obama is the, uh… decider in this administration.
Dreyfuss manages to make Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller of the New York Times look like real journalists in comparison. His sources include "a well-connected defense and intelligence consultant," "a senior Capitol Hill staffer," "an insider," "several insiders," "one veteran of both the State Department and the Pentagon," and – perhaps the most credible voice in the article – "the Washington rumor mill."
The piece’s named sources are so blatantly sleeping in the commander in chief’s tent that Dreyfuss might as well have just asked Michelle who she thought was running the show. Leslie Gelb, who hasn’t been right about a single aspect of U.S. foreign policy from Vietnam on, avows, "They’re making decisions there, at the White House. On everything." Dreyfuss paints National Security Adviser Jones as the kind of hard-boiled hawk the neocons better not mess with. "He’s pro nuclear," Dreyfuss relates. "He likes oil drilling." As if those right-wing cracker credentials weren’t sufficiently malignant, Dreyfuss throws in "He was on the boards of Boeing and Chevron." Shudder.
William Cohen, whose chief accomplishment as Bill Clinton’s defense secretary was to hide in his office while his generals cocked up the Kosovo War, testifies that during his tenure he wanted James Jones on his team because "he knew where the bodies were buried, and I wanted to make sure that mine wasn’t among them." It sounds like Cohen is still afraid enough of Jones to play ball with Obama’s spin merchants and make the guy sound like a Cheney-class leg breaker. Scary, huh kids?
From Dreyfuss himself (supposedly) we hear that "The foreign policy vision that animates Obama and his team might be described best as a ‘Goldilocks’ approach: not too hot, not too cold. It’s a just-right philosophy." Jesus, Larry, and Curly. Do you think they had to waterboard Dreyfuss to get him to paste that piffle into the article?
All this smoke about Obama’s national security team being large and in charge would be well and good except that they’ve already revealed themselves to be a team of bus-riding Bozos. Their most spectacular pratfall has been their mumbling, bumbling, tumbling, fumbling Bananastan strategy. Get this:
During the campaign, Obama screws up and says that whatever success the surge in Iraq might have had (it really had none), it got in the way of putting enough troops into Afghanistan to "get the job done." The Pentagon’s long-war mafia chortles with glee, and the next thing you know, David McKiernan, the general in charge of the Bananastan bungle, says he needs at least 30,000 more troops for five more years or so. Gates and Mullen and the Joint Chiefs say, "Yeah, yeah, he really, really needs those troops, give them to him, okay?" So Obama asks the Joint Chiefs what they see as the "endgame" in Afghanistan, and they start staring at something a thousand yards behind Obama’s head. Obama calls McKiernan in Afghanistan and asks him what he plans to do with the 30,000 extra troops, and McKiernan says, "Hey, somebody’s at the door."
Then Obama hunkers down with his chess club, and they decide that the best compromise between doing nothing to doing something stupid is doing something half-baked. Obama agrees to send McKiernan a little over half the troops he wants – 17,000 – and tells his team to come up with a strategy for the generals, who are apparently so busy fighting wars they can’t be bothered with planning them.
On March 17, Obama’s national security team releases the new strategy for the Bananastans; it’s an eye-watering compendium of fog, friction, and humbug. It features an array of "realistic and achievable objectives," none of which are realistic or achievable or particularly connected to national security.
The New York Times quoted "A dozen officials who were involved in the debate" as saying the new strategy does not involve nation-building, even though its aims include things like "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." You know – nation-building. The strategy also speaks of denying al-Qaeda and other Islamofabulists "sanctuary" from which they can launch terror attacks. The notion that evildoers need a physical sanctuary is quainter than a tea cozy. Given the global proliferation of cheap communications equipment and even cheaper extremists eager to blow themselves to smithereens, the top terror guys can plan and execute attacks from a bleacher seat in the Himalayas or the Cannes Film Festival or the far side of the moon.
As Obama transitions from his 100-day honeymoon into his permanent bubble, I can’t help but wonder whether he knows he’s surrounded by fools and fanatics or if he’s been in the puzzle palace long enough now to have become as puzzled as everyone else in it.
Does he take what his loonies say seriously? I really want to think he puts on an elaborate show of listening to what they say, then shoos them out of the office and calls up guys like Maliki and says, "Listen, I need you to do me a favor."