The Emperor’s Ear

Back in Roman times when a general was celebrating a triumph against Pannonians, Gauls, or Parthians a slave would ride in the chariot with the conquering hero and would, at intervals, whisper in his ear "Remember, you are only a mortal!"  The Romans, much more adept at checks and balances than we Americans, were reminding the general that amidst the hero worship of the cheering mob he should remember that he was only human, not divine, and should not consider himself to be somehow above his fellow citizens.  Today’s American Caesars admittedly have a lot less to celebrate given the simmering cauldron they left behind in Iraq and the impending implosion in Afghanistan, but they too have someone whispering their ears.  The murmuring is not about maintaining humility amidst military splendor however.  It is rather about global dominance and how to achieve it as taught at America’s leading universities.  Yes, the neocons are back.

Actually, the neocons have never left us judging by the coverage they get on the major media and Sunday morning talk shows.  If anyone needs to be convinced that the interventionist nation building bad-Muslim-exterminating left essentially converges with the interventionist democracy-building all-Muslim-exterminating right one only has to read the editorial pages of the "moderate" Washington Post and the New York Times, not to mention the hard right National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.  And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the same old crew is continuing to whisper into the Emperor’s ear.  On October 12th, on the Wolf Blitzer show on CNN there was an exchange involving the network’s military affairs expert Chris Lawrence with leading neocon apologist Kimberly Kagan which deserves to be quoted in full:

WOLF BLITZER:  What are you learning Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE: Yes, Wolf, we came at this asking, why not 20,000 troops or 200,000? Why has 40,000 been so specifically brought up as an ideal amount of  additional troops? To understand why it’s believed General Stanley McChrystal  wants 40,000 more, you need to look at a map the way military  strategists see it.

KIMBERLY KAGAN, ADVISER TO GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: What 40,000 does is fill in the gaps around Kandahar, around Khost and Helmand Province.  It does not, however, cover the entire country.

LAWRENCE: Kimberly Kagan is an adviser to McChrystal. She says it’s the  minimum number to root out the Taliban and identify and protect  potential Afghan partners. But the military’s own counter-insurgency ratio dictates it would take well over half a million troops to secure Afghanistan’s 33 million  people. But General McChrystal is not applying this ratio to all of Afghanistan.  He feels certain parts of the country are peaceful enough, like the  north — or just not as important, like the west — that they don’t need  the same number of counter-insurgency fighters as these areas do.

KAGAN: And that’s what gets him from a figure of hundreds of thousands  of troops down to a figure such as 40,000 or 60,000 troops.

LAWRENCE: Kagan says McChrystal would use those troops to turn the tide,  so the Taliban doesn’t control every other town. She says 10,000 or even  20,000 troops just aren’t enough.

KAGAN: It’s not as though we can simply plug half as many holes with  half as many troops and somehow seize the initiative from the enemy. On  the contrary, half as many troops will probably leave us pinned down as  we are.

If it all sounds like fantasy numbers crunching used to support fictional scenarios of what might happen it could be because that is exactly what it is.  It is also somewhat disconcerting to note Kimberly Kagan is described as an adviser to General Stanley McChrystal and that she is brought on national television to speak authoritatively about strategy in Afghanistan.  Kagan admittedly has a resume studded with the sorts of sinecures that neoconservatives are so adept at inventing and filling, but she actually studied ancient history at Yale before marrying her professor’s son in what was a major career enhancing move.  She has never served in the armed forces of the United States and is so utterly shameless and clueless that she once wrote a hagiography of the plodding General Ray Odierno entitled "The Patton of Counterinsurgency."  Kimberly’s husband Fred also is a desk wallah who has never served in the US military.  The redoubtable two-for-the-price-of-one uber hawks were among the leading advocates of the surge in Iraq and Kimberly heads an oddly named think tank called The Institute for the Study of War

What is particularly disturbing is that Kimberly’s qualifications or lack thereof notwithstanding, the United States taxpayer pays General McChrystal $198,000 a year plus considerable perks and entitlements because HE is the expert on the fighting in Afghanistan and on counterinsurgency in general, not because he has been able to field a neocon heavy team of advisers who, surprise! surprise!, completed a sixty-day study advocating a major surge of troops for Afghanistan.  If McChrystal is worth his salary and emoluments he does not need a presumably well-paid team of advisers to tell him what to think, particularly an adviser like Kimberly who is so ideologically driven and narrowly focused that she cannot imagine any solution to a problem but more soldiers. 

It has to be accepted that Stanley McChrystal and the Barack Obama White House will not reach out for the advice of Andrew Bacevich, William Lind, Pat Lang, Ron Paul, or Antiwar’s own Jeff Huber, but until they do they will only be getting a replay of the catastrophes of the past eight years.  Obama is clearly feeling pressure from the usual voices who have been advocating endless war since 9/11, but the surfacing of Liz Cheney and her new organization "Keep America Safe" has creating additional pressure from the wingnuts and loonies on the right who maintain that the White House is soft on terrorists and on America’s enemies in general.  Cheney has herself been appearing on every available media outlet explaining how American "dominance" is a good thing for the world.  And her group has made an ad that features a promotional piece by none other than Charles Krauthammer, who wonders why Obama is wasting his time speaking to school children instead of ponying up an additional 60,000 troops for Afghanistan.   The ad oddly condemns Obama for playing golf and taking a vacation, a bizarre commentary in light of the fact that George W. Bush spent far more time on vacation than any president before or since.  Deborah Burlingame, the sister of one of the pilots killed on 9/11, who is rapidly emerging as the everywoman Joe the Plumber of the movement, claims that Obama is leading the drift back into a "pre-9/11 mindset." I think that is supposed to mean that he is weak on terrorism, an odd comment as the Obama foreign and security policy is pretty much that of Bush on steroids, with more soldiers in Afghanistan and more drone strikes against Pakistan.

Remember when Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "and so we beat on boats against the current borne back ceaselessly into the past"?  Yep, F. Scott had it right.  New president but same old advisers, selling the same old snake oil now appearing in a new bottle.  We’re marching backwards and the same old failure is coming down the road to greet us.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.