We are witnessing what a military takeover of
a superpower looks like in the new American century. David Petraeus became
the most dangerous American general since Douglas MacArthur when George W.
Bush announced that his "main man" would decide
when, how, and if an Iraq troop drawdown would occur, giving Petraeus unilateral
control of U.S. foreign policy. In the summer of 2008, when then-candidate
Barack Obama started talking about a 16-month
withdrawal deadline and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that
sounded about right, you could almost hear Petraeus screeching What a world!
What a world! from Baghdad to Washington. If you listened closely, you
also heard the propaganda campaign to sell America on an endless occupation
of Iraq click into high gear.
On Feb. 2, foreign policy analyst Gareth
Porter revealed that in a Jan. 21 meeting, Petraeus, Joint Chiefs chairman
Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were unable to dislocate
President Obama from his 16-month redeployment policy. Porter also reported
that a group of senior retired officers were preparing to support Petraeus,
Gen. Ray Odierno, and their allies by mobilizing public opinion against Obama's
decision. I estimated that support to be part of the larger information campaign
that was an integrated effort of the surge strategy from the outset.
D-Day of the latest phase of that information campaign arrived on Feb. 8 when
Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks launched a series
of TV interviews
to promote his new book, The
Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq,
2006-2008. It's not pleasant to call Ricks out for prostituting his
credentials, but you can't sleep in a general's tent for years the way Ricks
has and pretend not to be a camp follower. Ricks has become for Petraeus what
Ned Buntline was to Buffalo Bill Cody: his official legend-maker.
In his 2006 book Fiasco:
The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005, Ricks painted Petraeus
as the only division commander who got it right in post-invasion Iraq. By January
2007, when Petraeus became the new commander of forces in Iraq, Ricks described
him in an interview
as a "force of nature," and recalling the sight of the general doing
one-arm push-ups with teenage privates sent Ricks into a breathless arrhythmia.
With The Gamble, Ricks promotes Petraeus to five-star deity. Both Brainiac
and action figure, Super Dave defies the establishment and changes the course
of mighty strategies to save America from the agony of defeat in Iraq. He's
got a Ph.D. from Princeton, he wears Kevlar, he's a complicated man – but no
one understands him but Tom Ricks, can you dig it? By the time you finish The
Gamble, you'll pray on your knees that Dave Petraeus runs for president
Ricks used a crate of lipstick to make Petraeus' sidekick, Gen. Ray Odierno,
look presentable in The Gamble. He savaged Odie in Fiasco: ox-like
Odierno is "confused by criticism" that his 4th Infantry Division,
the "worst outfit" in theater at handling prisoners and civilians,
is a virtual corps of "recruiting sergeants" for the insurgency.
Odierno himself denies an insurgency is in progress, and he is the epitome
of the dysfunctional leader who doesn't want to hear the "bad stuff."
But in The Gamble, Odierno has experienced an "awakening."
It is Odierno, more than anyone else, who is responsible for the surge's success.
"White House aides and others in Washington … had nothing to do with developing"
the way the surge was executed. Odierno made all those decisions. You can trust
Ricks on that score because he got the information straight from source: Odierno.
In fact, almost the entirety of Ricks' surge saga is told from the perspective
of Petraeus, Odierno, and the rest of the surgin' safari. If Ricks picks up
another Pulitzer for The Gamble, the inscription should read "best
stenography." Petraeus and Odierno are assisted by crafty retired Army
general Jack Keane. Big Jack wields his mighty influence to break down the
doors of the Washington bureaucracy, and he helps his protégés
maneuver around their chain of command to place their surge concept before
young Mr. Bush himself. The three wise warriors vanquish a host of fakes, liars,
fumblers, and meanies and put their enlightened counterinsurgency scheme to
work in Iraq, so gosh, we can't just give up now that things are going so good.
Well, better. Sort of.
In his book, his Post columns, and his interviews, Ricks manages to
run through the gamut of neocon talking points on why we still need to stay
the course, a compendium of doublethink mantras that in real-speak boil down
to "Buy our war or we'll shoot this soldier's dog" and "Don't
forget to be afraid of Iran." At the same time, remarkably, Ricks generates
a mountain of fog in an attempt to cover the neocons' tracks.
In an interview with MSNBC's Chris
Matthews, Ricks absolved the neocons, saying they get "too much credit
and too much blame" for Iraq. Nothing was the neocons' fault, really.
It was that mean old Dick Cheney who duped the public into supporting the war,
and that grouchy old Donald Rumsfeld who ran the war so badly. Never mind that
Cheney and Rumsfeld were charter
members of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neocon
think-tank that first publicly
called for an invasion of Iraq in early 1998. Ricks makes a single passing
mention of PNAC in The Gamble. That's a stunning omission when you consider
that along with Cheney and Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Scooter
Libby, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, and many
other PNACers also held key positions on the Bush administration's Iraq policy
team. Eliot Cohen is a featured player in The Gamble, a key figure in
the selling of the surge and, according to Ricks, the man who told Bush he
should make Petraeus the top commander in Iraq. Not once does Ricks note that
Cohen is a luminary in the neoconservative constellation and that, like Cheney
and Rumsfeld, he was a founding member of PNAC.
Also noteworthy is Ricks' glaring omission of any reference to "Rebuilding
America's Defenses," the September 2000 PNAC manifesto that delineated
the foreign policy the Bush administration would adopt in whole. Unfinished
issues from Desert Storm, it said, provided the "immediate justification"
for an invasion of Iraq, but the need to establish a large, permanent military
footprint in the geostrategic heart of the oil-rich Gulf region transcended
"the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." Then 9/11 gave the neocons
the "new Pearl Harbor" they needed to launch their scheme, and the
rest is history – as rewritten by the likes of Tom Ricks, who is now abetting
them in pursuit of their original purpose.
As is the case with all revisionists, you'll find grains of truth along the
path of Ricks' narrative, just as you'll find grain in every pile of horse
manure. The only honest thing you'll find picking through Ricks' prose, though,
is the insanity behind the argument for staying in Iraq.
The real secret of Petraeus' "success" at counterinsurgency is payola.
As commander of the 101st Airborne in Mosul, "he bought everybody
off." The enemy "was just biding its time and building capacity,
waiting him out." When Petraeus left Mosul, it went up for grabs. As top
commander in Iraq, Petraeus bought everybody off again, making "a lot
of deals with shady guys" who are "just laying low," so we can
never leave, or the whole country will go up for grabs like Mosul did.
Odds are things will be worse if we leave than they were under Hussein, Ricks
told NBC's Chris
Matthews. Hussein was a toothless tyrant, but now that Petraeus has "armed
everybody to the teeth" it's too dangerous to get out. We've made the
Iraqi security forces strong enough that they might attempt a coup if we're
not there to stop them. The surge may have averted a civil war, but one colonel
tells Ricks he doesn't think "the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet,"
so we have to stick around so we don't miss all the fun. As Iraq becomes more
secure, it moves backward. There's a "long-term trend toward increasing
authoritarianism," so we have to stay in Iraq so things don't go back
to the way they were under Hussein, even though, as Ricks just told us, things
were better under Hussein than they are now.
Ricks says the surge is a strategic failure because it didn't bring about
the unification government it was supposed to produce. But that's okay, because
an analyst Ricks knows says "power-sharing is always a prelude to violence,"
so we have to stay in Iraq to make sure we don't achieve our strategic objective,
which will be easy because "the whole notion of democracy and representative
government in Iraq" was "absolutely ludicrous" from the get-go.
If you're thinking Petraeus was plotting all along to create a situation we
couldn't extract ourselves from, you're right. As Ricks notes, Petraeus needed
time "not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine
progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer."
Even Ricks seems uncertain that we've seen genuine progress; maybe we've actually
just "poured more gas on the fire," he thinks, and even though the
surge is a failure, its "attitude is right" so it was "the right
step to take," and we should continue to support U.S. presence in Iraq
because we'll be there a long time whether we support it or not.
As Ricks explained to David Gregory on Meet
the Press, Petraeus and his henchmen have Obama over a barrel. If Obama
continues to stand up to them, they'll accuse him of betraying the troops because
of a campaign promise he made to get the peace poofter vote. If things go the
way Ricks predicts, the president will fold, the military oligarchy will consolidate
its hold on American political power, and the neocons will live to make other
people's sons fight another day because they conned Tom Ricks into covering
How sad it is to see that Thomas E. Ricks, dean of the Pentagon beat, has
been pants-down, bent-over-the-table seduced by the neoconservative cabal.
He is as mad as they are, and as madly in love with their eternal crusade in
the Middle East as he is with David Petraeus.