The Five-Sided House of Usher

The tea leaves tell me we’re about to experience a seismic event that will produce the next collapse of our five-sided House of Usher, the Pentagon.

The last time we saw a temblor of that magnitude was in November 2006. Just before the mid-term election, young Mr. Bush assured us that then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would stick around long enough to “get the job done.” The day after the Democrats regained control of Congress, Bush announced that Rummy would receive a Purple Heart for the bruise he got where the door hit him on his way out. Robert Gates got the top Defense slot, the Iraq Study Group got a bruise in the same place Rummy got his, “King David” Petraeus got command of the Iraq surge, and the rest is historical fiction, especially the parts about how the Iraq surge was a success and how Stan the Man McChrystal was going to repeat that success in the Bananastans.*

The Bush administration announced its intention to escalate the Iraq fiasco in January 2007. The surge has been a dismal flop. Iraq’s government and security forces are congenitally corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective, and we will never fix that. Results of the country’s latest purple-finger poll have been rejected by both major candidates for the prime minister slot, violence is on the uptick, and the Obama administration is once again stuttering into the microphone about how American troops may not be able to withdraw from Iraq on schedule. Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno has been making that kind of boo noise since he took command in Iraq in September 2008. In February 2009, Petraeus hagiographer Tom Ricks quoted Odie as saying he wanted to see 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until 2014 or so.

AfPak is going to Helmand in a handbag. Banana Stan’s Marjah offensive, the “test” of his strategy (Obama’s strategy, according to the Pentagon’s bull-feather merchants), went over like a lead zeppelin. The only thing McChrystal has done well in command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is what he did well for five years as head assassin of the Joint Special Operations Command: kill a lot of civilians in the process of hunting down “suspected” terrorists. Even McChrystal knows he’s knocking up the puppy. On May 13, he told Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour, “Well, I think that, in the last year, we have made a lot of progress,” but “I think I would be prepared to say nobody is winning, at this point.” Shades of the Great Decider. Days before the 2006 election, Bush proclaimed, “Absolutely, we’re winning in Iraq.” Shortly after he put Rummy through the uprights, Bush allowed as how “We’re not winning” but “we’re not losing.”

When you’re the world’s sole superpower, and you’ve been bogged down for eight years by pismire adversaries who don’t have an air force or a navy or an army or even a defense budget, you’re not breaking even, you’re getting your heinie handed to you on a plate with a generous helping of grilled crow on the side. What could better symbolize our humiliating defeat than the recent spectacle of Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton kissing up in public to Afghan sleaze peddler Hamid Karzai? (What a revolting development. In February 2008, then-Senator Biden stormed out of a formal dinner Karzai was giving in his honor. President Obama has called Karzai “unreliable” and “ineffective,” and Hillary has said that Karzai presides over a “narco-state.”)

And at long last, the people in charge of our militaristic Christian oligarchy are starting to realize that our armed excursions overseas are about to torpedo our ship of state, and all the power rangers are scrambling to the rat lines to avoid sharing an ocean-bottom tomb with Bush, Rummy, and Tommy Franks, the first chain of command in American history to both win and lose not one but two separate wars.

McChrystal, as witnessed by his performance on Newshour, is startling to look like a deer wondering what that red dot halfway up his muzzle might be. He’s the prime candidate for being the guy without a place to sit when the music stops. As journalist Gareth Porter points out, the recent Pentagon report indicates that Washington brass hats have “serious doubts” about McChrystal’s plan for Bananastan. In a May 9 piece for the Washington Post, David Ignatius quotes a “senior military official” calling Marjah a “mixed bag” and saying “we [i.e. McChrystal and Obama] don’t have a plan yet” for reconciling the disparate political entities in Afghanistan.

Ignatius doesn’t name the senior military official, but there’s a darn good chance he’s talking about the senior military official, a guy who learned how to leak messages through his pals in the media from his father, who was a high-rolling Hollywood publicity agent. Whoever Ignatius’ unnamed senior military official actually is, the senior military official named Mike Mullen undoubtedly hopes that nobody remembers he soundly endorsed McChrystal’s nomination to take charge in AfPak, and that he urged not one but two escalations in support of McChrystal’s strategy. Mullen likely also prays that nobody mentions too loudly about how he was against the Iraq surge as chief of naval operations but foursquare behind it when he became the Joint Chiefs chairman (and probably a little before that, one would imagine).

Teflon General” Petraeus has been keeping a low profile of late as the counterinsurgency doctrine he supposedly wrote goes down in flames. Gates is beginning to agree with tank-thinkers like Andrew Exum of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, who says, “I think everyone realizes counterinsurgency is a losing proposition for U.S. combat troops.” (Get out! Really?) Gates says we “can’t afford” another Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s funny how when Gates took over we could afford to surge in Iraq and later to re-re-surge in Afghanistan.

Newsweek‘s Johnathan Alter has a new book out that says in the first week of October 2009, Obama, unhappy about being “boxed-in” by his military, called Gates and Mullen into his office and gave them “a presidential dressing-down unlike any in the United States in more than half a century.” One can’t help wonder how the administration spin merchant who fed that story to Alter came by such intimate knowledge of the last 50 years of presidential dressing-downs. It’s nice to think that Obama actually ran a cheese grater across his generals’ faces at one point, but he should have transferred them to civilian command when he took office, and he should have transferred them to Fort Palooka when they couldn’t describe an end game in Afghanistan, and he should have transferred them to Fort Leavenworth when they used the media to extort him into going along with the AfPak escalations.

Were irony were still among us, it would have chortled with glee at the “ridiculous spectacle” of Obama in the Rose Garden last Friday, angrily denouncing the oil executives who pointed fingers at each other over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill while he and his generals play the same shameful blame game over our woebegone war on -ism.

* The Bananastans are Afghanistan and Pakistan, our Central Asian banana republics.

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.