Now we know why “King David” Petraeus fainted like a girl at his Senate testimony [.pdf] two weeks ago. Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin put Petraeus on the ropes by asking if his allegiance to President Obama’s withdrawal timeline for Afghanistan reflected his “best personal professional judgment.” Petraeus rope-a-doped his way out of that one with his “qualified yes” answer, but he hit the canvas when John McCain dared him to deny an open-source report that he’d promised Obama his 18-month timeline would work. Petraeus sputtered something about how he didn’t see anything productive in discussing an Oval Office conversation, McCain gave him a yeah, right wink, and Petraeus did a half-gainer into his microphone.
The Teflon General has faced tough questions before and lived to prevaricate another day. The difference this time, I’m pretty certain, is that he knew his former protégé Stan McChrystal was about to pull a Barnum-class stunt that would vaporize Petraeus’ hopes of escaping to safety before everyone realizes the situations in Iraq and the Bananastans* are irretrievably botched and that he’s the one who botched them.
It’s obvious from information above and below the radar that Petraeus has been hiding in the background behind his phony laurels for the past year or so, hoping to let his little buddies McChrystal and Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno take the falls for the Bananastans and Iraq. That’s been Petraeus’ standard operating procedure throughout his meteoric career: take charge of a situation, slap a band-aid on whatever troubles exist, let the underlying problems fester, and then bail out in time for the disaster to erupt on his successor’s watch. He played this stratagem three times in Iraq.
As commander in Mosul after the fall of Baghdad, he spread around enough bribes to keep a lid on the insurgency in that region. Four months after he left, the police chief defected to the militants, and Mosul remains a trouble spot to this day. During his next Iraq tour, when he was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Super Dave allowed nearly 200,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols to fall into the hands of militants. As commander of all forces in Iraq Dave blamed Iran for giving the insurgents all those guns, and created a false perception of a successful “surge” by cooking the violence statistics and bribing the insurgents to lay low with money and arms. Today’s Iraq, the one he left hapless Odie, still looks like a big-ride theme park 10 minutes after the earthquake hit.
There’s a good chance that Odierno isn’t sufficiently sentient to realize that his mentor Petraeus has set him up on a blind date with a red-hot poker, but McChrystal clearly saw what was going on, and he was not about to let his boss play him for a Shemp.
The son of a two-star general, McChrystal was always better connected than any boss he ever had prior to Petraeus, and every boss he ever had prior to Petraeus knew it. Cadet McChrystal racked up demerits galore while at the Military Academy, but no one in charge of West Point ever seriously thought of expelling him. McChrystal began to attract a following of like-minded hooligans eager to share the sanctuary of his high cover. Years pass, McChrystal’s networks grow, he is given command of the Bananastan theater of war, and voilà, we have Gen. Stan and His Howling Entourage, an unholy collection of assassins, spies, frogmen, snake eaters, bull-feather merchants, fighter pilots, lawyers, and other patriotic personality disorders who called themselves “Team America” and who are in virtual control of U.S. foreign policy.
We meet this cross-section of our nation’s finest in a Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings titled “The Runaway General.” Drunk as Blazes Boylan, the boys are, spouting suppressed angst at an Irish pub in Paris named Kitty O’Shea’s, bellowing a haunting lilt about dear old Afghanistan, and mouthing the vilest sorts of slanders pertaining to their civilian superiors that they oughtn’t be flinging about among the general population, and most assuredly not in front of a reporter from the Rolling bloody Stone.
President Obama appears to be “uncomfortable and intimidated” by military brass, and he doesn’t “seem very engaged” in the war he wants McChrystal to win for him, young Hastings relays. Special Bananastans envoy Richard Holbrooke is dangerous as a “wounded animal” because he fears he’s about to get the axe. National Security Adviser James Jones is a “clown.” Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who in a stunning piece of understatement recently noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “not an adequate strategic partner,” is trying, McChrystal himself tells Hastings, to “cover his flanks for the history books.” Politicians like John Kerry and John McCain are “not very helpful,” and the Team’s pet name for Joe Biden is “Bite Me.”
Well, Joe Biden can bite me too. McCain and Kerry aren’t very helpful; they never have been. Karzai isn’t an adequate partner, Eikenberry is trying to cover his kiester, banquet-circuit beast Holbrooke has ample reason to worry about losing his job, and Obama’s palpable fear of his generals is a national embarrassment.
But those aren’t the sorts of things a general and his staff – even an Animal House-variety general and staff like McChrystal and company are – blab to a cub reporter from a magazine for long-haired freaky people; unless, of course, the general and his staff want to get fired from being responsible for a catastrophe they manage to compound with every move they make. If they’d wanted to party with a reporter they could trust to keep his mouth shut, they would have brought along Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, who has dutifully kept mum about their shenanigans and faithfully passed along every propaganda message they’ve fed him.
The Rolling Stone piece by Hastings recalls the April 2008 Esquire article by Thomas P. M. Barnett on then-head of Central Command Adm. William Fallon, who was about to collide with the doorknob on his way out of a job. Barnett’s article gave Fallon the opportunity to take a parting shot at “a**-kissing little chicken s***” Petraeus and the neocon “crazies” before transitioning to a new career in beltway banditry.
McChrystal’s predicament was far more precarious than Fallon’s had been. He had executed a blatantly insubordinate display of information warfare designed to pressure Obama into going along with further escalation of the Bananastans conflict that culminated with his September 2009 infomercial on 60 Minutes. The next month, when asked at a speech to a right-wing tank thinkery in London if he could support a decision on Obama’s part to heed Joe Biden’s proposal to fight al-Qaeda with drone and special forces strikes alone, McChrystal replied, “The short, glib answer is no.”
According to The Promise, a recent book by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek about Obama’s first year in office, McChrystal’s October 2009 London antic was the camel straw that prodded Obama into doing what a man had to do. Alter – who has become the hagiographer to Obama that Dexter Filkins is to McChrystal and Tom Ricks is to Petraeus – tells us that the president and his senior staff believed McChrystal’s hijinks “had [Joint Chiefs chairman Mike] Mullen’s and Petraeus’ fingerprints all over it. They were using McChrystal to jam the president, box him in, manipulate him, game him.” Not a bad assumption.
Obama and McChrystal supposedly had a me-father-you-son talk aboard Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, and shortly after that Obama invited Mullen and Defense Secretary Bob Gates over to the Oval Office for a taste of cheese grater. Obama wanted to know “here and now,” Alter says, if the Pentagon would be on board with any decisions he might make. Alter reports that Mullen “described himself as ‘chagrined’ after the meeting” and that Gates put out the word through back channels that generals should give their advice “candidly but privately.” Things looked all hunky-bunky to the administration. “They swore an oath of loyalty,” a senior official told Alter, and the feckless White House chose to believe that oaths mean anything to the likes of Gates and Mullen.
The part of the Alter narrative that McCain confronted Petraeus with in the recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearings involved a November 2009 Oval Office meeting at which Petraeus was present.
Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”
“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.
“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.
As Alter tells it, Obama got the drop on Mullen and Gates as well.
“Yes, sir, Mullen said [agreeing that no one would suggest we stay in Afghanistan beyond 18 months].
The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.
The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on al-Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.
“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.
“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.
“Ditto,” Petraeus said.
Alter asserts, “Obama was trying to turn the tables on the military, to box them in after they had spent most of the year boxing him in.” The thinking was that if “conditions didn’t stabilize enough to begin an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces” in 18 months, the generals “couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.”
If Obama has the sociopaths who run his military in a box, they needn’t worry too much: it’s a box with an escape hatch in the bottom and no lid. At the June 15-16 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates and Mullen stressed the need for “patience” with the Bananastan strategy. (If you haven’t noticed, everyone from the Pentagon calls it “Obama’s strategy” and everyone in the administration’s camp refers to “McChrystal’s strategy.”) Petraeus, who swore allegiance to Obama’s timeline both in Alter’s book and at the hearings, also assured McCain and the committee’s other war mongrels that the July 2011 date is “the beginning of a process,” and is “not a date where we race for the exits. It is the date where we, having done an assessment, begin a transition.” So I guess we should conclude that July 2011 is a conceptual deadline, or perhaps it’s a virtual deadline, or maybe it’s just total motherf***ing bull****.
If you think Obama got the military back under control by firing McChrystal, you need to quit taking those statin drugs. Replacing “Bananas” Stan with King David was like shooting the rabid sheepdog and turning the flock over to the head wolf.
Next: Surging Back to the Future.
* The Bananastans are Afghanistan and Pakistan, our banana republics in Central Asia.