Look Who’s Not Talking

Iraq is back in the commode mode. Violence there is on the rise again. According to Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, the political goals of the surge have not been met and never will be. Iraq’s government and security forces are choked with ineffectiveness, corruption, cronyism, nepotism, laziness, and lack of initiative. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander in Iraq, says these are mere "tactical issues."

Things look even worse in the Bananastans. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, sold to Congress and the country as the second coming of David Petraeus, is getting his garrison cap handed to him and doesn’t seem to know which way to point his weapon. At his Senate confirmation hearings, McChrystal promised that the "measure of effectiveness" in Afghanistan would not be the number of insurgent guerillas killed but the number of Afghan civilians protected. Upon his arrival in Afghanistan he continued to conduct the air strikes that have killed so many civilians and ordered a major offensive designed to kill insurgent guerillas.

The major offensive didn’t work out. The guerilla insurgents did what guerillas are supposed to do – run away rather than stand and fight a superior force, choosing instead to strike unexpectedly at lightly defended outposts. McChrystal, who is supposed to be an "expert" at fighting insurgent guerilla forces, was "surprised" that the guerilla insurgent forces he was fighting fought the way insurgent guerilla forces typically fight. McChrystal was originally against trying to bargain with Taliban leaders. Now he says he wants to bargain with them.

It’s becoming easier by the minute to believe that McChrystal only eats one meal a day and just sleeps a few hours a night. In an Aug. 11 interview with NPR, McChrystal droned incoherently, sounding like Gen. Jack D. Ripper babbling about "precious bodily fluids" and the evil effects of putting fluoride in children’s ice cream.

In response to these crises, Gen. David Petraeus, chief of Central Command and responsible for both the Iraq and Bananastans theaters, says the U.S. will help Yemen fight terror. It sounds like he’s making Iraq and the Bananastans someone else’s problem.

The only successful strategies that "military genius" David Petraeus has been involved with so far have involved feeding David Petraeus’ ambition. He isn’t much of a warrior, but he’s a Rove-class spin merchant.

His tour as commander of Mosul after the fall of Baghdad was hailed as a shining success amid a sea of incompetence, but Petraeus merely achieved a false peace in the city by bribing everyone to lie low. After he left, Mosul went up for grabs, and it remains a trouble spot to this day. During his next Iraq assignment, while in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Petraeus allowed more than 100,000 AK-47s and other military gear to migrate into the hands of militants. Later, as top commander in Iraq, he repeated his tried-and-true methods, creating an artificial drop in violence levels by handing out weapons to militias and bribing the militias not to use them. Today, two-and-a-half years after the surge began, the situation in Iraq is as precarious as it has ever been.

Petraeus’ performances would have earned other military officers a permanent transfer to Fort Palooka. Incredibly, though, Petraeus is now the most important U.S. theater-strategic commander since Dwight Eisenhower had charge of the European Theater of Operations during World War II, and he may be the next former general to become, like Ike, a Republican commander in chief.

Petraeus’ spectacular rise was the result of the key methods used by most of today’s top power piranhas: connections and media manipulation. Among his most important connections has been his longtime mentor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jack Keane, who had access to both young Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney, and was a darling of the neoconservative warmongery nominally headed by Bill Kristol. It was Keane who championed Petraeus at the White House and who, during the early days of the surge, silenced Petraeus’ critics in the Pentagon.

Petraeus’ other golden connection is veteran military correspondent Thomas E. Ricks, who met Petraeus when he was a colonel or lieutenant colonel (Ricks can’t remember which). The myth of Petraeus’ "very successful tour" in Mosul largely sprang from Ricks’ 2005 book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. When Petraeus snagged the assignment to command the entire Iraq theater in early 2007, Ricks kicked the hagiography machine into overdrive, referring to Petraeus as a "force of nature" and a "fascinating character" who was "just about the best general in the Army." Ricks later went so far as to compare Petraeus to Alexander the Great.

The hapless U.S. media aped Ricks’ hyperbole. Petraeus became "the most admired American general of recent times" and the man who "wrote the book on counterinsurgency" (even though the only part of the new Army and Marine Corps manual on counterinsurgency he actually wrote was his signature on the endorsing letter). In December 2007 Time magazine named Petraeus its "Person of the Year." The next week, Kristol’s absurd Weekly Standard promoted Petraeus to "America’s Man of the Year."

Such hoopla for a general who has dug us into an even deeper hole than the one we were in before.

Petraeus is also the master of two other techniques of modern American leadership: knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut and how to delegate blame to one’s subordinates. Though he has pulled the strings of his public relations campaign, his accolades have come from mouthpieces like Ricks and Petraeus’ erstwhile personal public affairs colonel Steven Boylan, as have the declarations of surge strategy’s "success," and Petraeus attacks his critics through proxies like Boylan and the rabid right-wing blogosphere. Petraeus himself maintains a modest demeanor in public and always speaks cautiously about the status of his military operations.

If McChrystal is Petraeus’ second coming, Ray Odierno is a retroactive prequel. In the hands of Ricks, Odie made an eye-watering transformation from Desert Ox to Desert Fox. In Fiasco, Odierno’s hoof-fisted tactics were the irritant that gave rise to the Iraq insurgency. In Ricks’ 2009 book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Odierno became the "dissenter who changed the war" by pushing for the surge and embracing the new counterinsurgency manual. If Iraq reverts back to a fiasco and the quagmire gels in the Bananastans, Odierno and McChrystal will take the fall, as will their commander in chief Barack Obama.

Petraeus will emerge from the dung heap of U.S. foreign policy emitting the aura of an American Caesar and the aroma of rose petals.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.