The Velvet Junta

Time magazine’s Joe Klein observes that the leak of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s report on Afghanistan to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post was "a serious breach of conduct by someone, possibly in the military (or a supporter the military’s position).  This was an effort to lobby a quick decision on troop strength." 

It wasn’t a breach of conduct exactly; it was a sanctioned leak.  As journalist Gareth Porter notes, the fact that the copy of the report published online by the Post was heavily redacted indicates it was specially prepared to release to the press.

The document’s release was merely the latest volley in the Pentagon’s unrestricted information warfare campaign to coerce its new commander in chief into supporting a never-ending "long war."  A showdown between President Obama and the Pentagon has been coming for some time, and it looks like high noon is upon us.   

George W. Bush gave Gen. David Petraeus and the rest of the four-stars who signed on to support the Iraq surge (Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. Ray Odierno, Gen. George Casey, etc.) virtual control of U.S. foreign policy in April 2008 when he announced that Petraeus would make the call on troop levels in Iraq. John McCain would have given them the same latitude if elected, but when it became clear he probably wouldn’t win, the Pentagon and its supporters in Congress and the media began a drumbeat that signaled they expected the incoming Democrat to continue letting them run the show.   

The long war mafia made clear its opposition to candidate Obama’s campaign promise to establish a timeline to draw down the Iraq war.  Even after Obama had assumed office, Odierno, commander in Iraq, stated publicly (through Petraeus’s hagiographer Tom Ricks) that he expected to keep 30,000 more troops in Iraq through 2014 or 2015, well after the December 2011 exit deadline called for in the Status of Forces Agreement.   

Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has been a leading chanter of the mantra that says we must stay committed in Afghanistan.  In a recent Joint Force Quarterly article, Mullen wrote, "The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: ‘Will you really stay with us this time?’ ‘Can we really count on you?’ I tell them that we will and that they can." 

In a recent appearance on Al Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term." 

Every American should be stunned that our top military leadership made these kinds of foreign policy commitments without so much as a by-your-leave from the president or Congress.  This is a velvet-fisted version of the kind of military junta we’d expect to see in a banana republic.   

The warmongery’s information campaign against Obama heated up in a Sept. 18 McClatchy article titled "Military growing impatient with Obama on Afghanistan."  The article said the military is complaining that, "the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about its objectives there and how many troops are needed to achieve them." McClatchy’s information came from unnamed "officials" and "senior officers" in Kabul and Washington, who hinted that McChrystal might resign if he doesn’t get his way on additional troops.  If you haven’t caught on by now, "unnamed officials" are not, for the most part, whistle blowers.  They’re information operatives whose job it is to trickle propaganda into the media and make it sound like "news."  

Woodward’s Sept. 21 Post article led with McChrystal’s warning that without further troops, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure."  This appeared on the heels of Obama’s Sept. 20 Sunday telethon during which he 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."  

Congressional hawks joined the attack on the commander in chief. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that "any failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal’s request could serve to undermine the other good decisions the president has made." 

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled . . . by reports that the White House is delaying action on the General’s request for more troops" because "the longer we wait the more we put our troops at risk."  

John McCain told CBS’s Early Show that the longer it takes to send more troops to Afghanistan, "the more Americans will be put at risk."  (Do you think maybe these guys get their talking points from the same neoconservative think tank?) 

It never occurs to the likes of McConnell, Boehner and McCain that the best way to put American troops at risk is to commit more of them to combat without thinking about why you’re doing it.   

Obama said that he would only approve another escalation if he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be." McChrystal’s report is incoherent on the subject of strategy.   

It says, "We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations" and states that success depends not on "seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces" but on "gaining the support of the people."  That’s laughable in light of the fact that classic clear-hold-build counterinsurgency operations involve seizing terrain and destroying the insurgent forces that occupy it. 

The notion that we can separate the Afghan people from the insurgents is as ludicrous as the idea of invading Mexico to separate the Hispanics from the Latinos.  Nor can we pretend to be the good guys when the Karzai government we prop up is as bad or worse than the insurgents.  McChrystal admits that Afghans have "little reason to support their government." 

McChrystal says he sees no sign of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  So, his argument goes, in order to disrupt al-Qaeda terror network, we need 45,000 more troops to occupy a country al-Qaeda is not in to make sure it doesn’t come back.  And what exactly is this al-Qaeda juggernaut we’ve come to quake in fear of?  As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi recently noted, "An assessment by France’s highly regarded Paris Institute of Political Studies [suggests that] Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has likely been reduced to a core group of eight to ten terrorists who are on the run more often than not." 

If McChrystal and his allies get their way, we’ll have deployed over 135,000 troops to Afghanistan — on top of the roughly 130,000 troops still in Iraq — for the purpose of rounding up fewer than a dozen bad guys.  Daffy Duck and Wiley Coyote could come up with a better strategy than that.  Our military leadership and its supporters are a thundering herd of buffoons whose only real objective is to keep the cash caissons rolling and the gravy ships afloat and the wild blue budget sky high.   

Now that Petraeus and Mullen have officially endorsed McChrystal’s re-escalation strategy, the pro-war echo chamber will kick into warp drive.  If Obama can stand up to America’s militaristic madness, he’ll be the first president to successfully do so since Dwight David Eisenhower, who ended Douglas MacArthur’s botched Korean War and who warned us in his 1961 farewell speech against "the disastrous rise of misplaced power" that our military industrial complex would create. 

Here’s hoping Barry turns out to be a lot like Ike.

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.