Obama’s High Noon

Recent events indicate that President Barack Obama is considering cutting the Pentagon’s "long war" short.

First came his decision to drop the Bush administration policy of demanding that Iran cede its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes as a precondition to diplomatic talks. Then he canceled Bush’s pledge to deploy a missile-defense system that doesn’t work in the Czech Republic and Poland and promised to replace it with a missile-defense system that does work. Pro-war legislators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, John Boehner, and others howled like a coven of wicked witches. (What a world! What a world!)

Now it looks like Obama may be seeing the forest among the trees with regard to his Afghanistan policy. As Jason Ditz of Antiwar.com noted on Sept. 20, Obama is looking at Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan with skepticism. The Afghanistan question looks to be shaping up as the big showdown between Obama and the long-war cabal headed by Gen. David Petraeus and his lieutenants: Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Iraq commander Gen. Ray Odierno, and McChrystal.

The long warriors were openly skeptical of candidate Obama’s promise to end the U.S. presence in Iraq. When their allies in Congress and the right-wing media slammed Obama for having voted against the Iraq surge as a senator, Obama replied that the Iraq surge had drawn attention and resources from Afghanistan. Ever since, the warlords have used their echo chamber to stuff Obama’s words back in his face.

Afghanistan is President Obama’s war, they tell us. He’s the one who sent us there; he’s the one who gave us the strategy. He’s the one, the implication goes, who is making us quit in Iraq, so he better let us stay the course in Afghanistan. Republican senator from Kentucky Mitch McConnell said that Petraeus "did a great job with the surge in Iraq. I think he knows what he’s doing. Gen. McChrystal is a part of that. We have a lot of confidence in those two generals. I think the president does as well.”

Piffle. Petraeus knows what he’s doing all right; he’s setting himself up to be the GOP’s great white hope come 2012 or 2016. By any real measure, the Iraq surge has been a spectacular failure. Iraq’s government and security forces are corrupt and incompetent, Sunni reconciliation is still a pipe dream, and no progress has been made on the Kurdish issue. If McChrystal is a part of that, all the more reason to distrust him as much as we should distrust Petraeus (or Mullen or Gates or Odierno, who referred to the surge’s strategic malfunctions as mere "tactical issues." That’s a perfect illustration of why I call Odierno the "Desert Ox." Odierno, by the way, is the point man on pressuring Obama into keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline dictated by the status of forces agreement. Thanks to Petraeus hagiographer Tom Ricks, Odie is on record as wanting to see 30,000 to 35,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2015).

McChrystal has become the point man in the Pentagon mob’s unrestricted information-warfare campaign against its commander in chief. According to a Sept. 21 Washington Post article by Bob Woodward, McChrystal’s 66-page assessment of the Afghanistan situation "bluntly states" that "without more forces, the eight-year conflict ‘will likely result in failure.’"

McChrystal assessment states that “failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) – while Afghan security capacity matures – risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

Defeating insurgencies is never possible. The only folks who ever win an insurgency war own a majority share in the local gene pool. For us to "succeed" in Afghanistan would require at least 10 percent of us to move there permanently – something that might just happen, come to think of it, if Obama continues to accede to the Pentagon’s demand for escalations.

And there’s plenty of pressure for him to do so. Petraeus says, “I don’t think anyone can guarantee that it will work out even if we apply a lot more resources. But it won’t work out if we don’t.” That’s a lovely piece of obscuration; we should apply more resources, but don’t blame me when it doesn’t work out.

A Sept. 18 McClatchy piece says that the military is "growing impatient with Obama on Afghanistan" and complaining that "the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about its objectives there and how many troops are needed to achieve them." This information comes from unnamed "officials" and "senior officers" in Kabul and Washington, who hint that McChrystal might resign if he doesn’t get his way on additional troops.

The McClatchy article reports that "some [unnamed] members of McChrystal’s staff" said they "don’t understand why Obama called Afghanistan a ‘war of necessity’ but still hasn’t given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly." I bet you a shiny new Illinois quarter that these members of McChrystal’s staff included his personal public affairs officer, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, who is one of the Pentagon’s leading propaganda operatives.

McChrystal reports that the Afghan government is riddled with corruption, the same situation that we have in Iraq and the same situation we had in Vietnam. “The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption, and abuse of power by various officials … have given Afghans little reason to support their government,” McChrystal says. Those aren’t the kinds of things we can fix.

During his talk show telethon last Sunday, Obama said, "I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or … sending a message that America is here for the duration.”

That’s a direct answering shot to the Pentagon’s chief propaganda point: that in order to succeed in Afghanistan, we must promise the Afghan people to stay there forever and then do it. That doesn’t do the Afghan people a whole lot of good – they got along just fine before we showed up – but it gives the Pentagon a never-ending excuse to exist.

It might just be that Obama can reverse the insane tide of self-destructive militarism that Dwight David Eisenhower warned us about during his 1961 farewell speech. "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," Ike said. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Maybe, just maybe, Obama has the political skill and will to put our malignant obsession with war into remission. I sure hope so.

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.