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March 17, 2009

These Secretaries Can't Even Type

by Jeff Huber

Young Mr. Bush and his handlers managed to squander more than two centuries of American progress. Two interminable armed conflicts and the economic collapse they produced left President Obama with the worst combination of foreign and domestic policy disasters in our country's history. He faces a conundrum; he needs to take care of the economic problems first, but they won't fully heal until he straightens out the tangled web of war Bush created in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he made very bad decisions when he chose his foreign policy cabinet secretaries.

Smart Power poster girl Hillary Clinton bombed relations with the Iranians back to the Cheney age when she said that diplomacy with Iran probably won't work. You can be assured it won't work if she's in charge of it. After two days of talks in Egypt and Israel, where she heard "over and over and over again" how worried Arabs and Israelis are about the Persian state, she accused Iran of "fomenting" divisions in the Arab world and seeking to "intimidate as far as they think their voice can reach." That's abject hypocrisy coming from the chief diplomat of a superpower that single-handedly placed the Middle East in a state of perpetual turmoil. If Hillary's remarks were calculated, they were miscalculated. We need a secretary of state who sounds like an intelligent adult, not a two-faced harpy who flies around the world hurling fireballs at straw men. We just had four years of that from Keystone Kondi.

Hillary has confirmed that despite her campaign claim of possessing a foreign policy experience edge over Obama, it was Bill, not she, who was commander in chief during the Clinton administration. Like candidate Hillary, Secretary Hillary feels the need to act tough so the draft-dodging neocons won't call her a girly man. She shouldn't worry. They'll call her a girly man no matter what she does. And if she goes into high orbit every time the Arabs and Israelis lie to her about Iran, she'll never come down to earth.

The neocons will never have anything bad to say about Hillary's counterpart at Defense. Bill Kristol must have thought he'd ascended into heaven when young Mr. Bush named Bob Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld. Gates was brought in to serve as a welcome mat for the surge strategy, the key to attaining Kristol's dream of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. Kristol especially likes having a warmonger around who says even dumber things than he does.

Gates is a grand master of self-contradiction, as he illustrated once again on a recent Tavis Smiley Show. He said that one of the "biggest lessons learned" from the Iraq experience "is if you are going to contemplate preempting an attack, you had better be very confident of the intelligence that you have." Gates repeated that sentiment several times, then noted that the war in Afghanistan is now his "biggest challenge," seemingly oblivious to the fact that he encouraged Obama to preemptively escalate the conflict there on the basis of no intelligence at all. We will never have good intelligence on the Bananastans. You can count the number of people who speak both Pashtun and English and can also pass a background check on the toes and fingers of a duck. Our best sources of intelligence on Afghanistan and Pakistan are Afghan and Pakistani intelligence officials. If we're going to trust them, we may as well believe everything the Mossad tells us.

You'd think Gates would understand that, having been chief of the CIA, but you'd be wrong. Where Hillary made her mark in Washington by clinging to a coattail, Gates built his career as a bureaucratic dimwit the old-fashioned way: by not rocking the boat. He "succeeded" as secretary of defense by telling Bush what he wanted to hear and being more popular with his subordinates than Rummy was, a feat considerably easier than falling off a log. You do everything General A tells you to do, say everything General B tells you to say, pretend you don't know General C is tagging his enlisted driver and, by golly, you're such a military genius the next administration simply has to keep you on for a year or so.

After Adm. William Fallon lost the showdown for control of Central Command, the generals that remained including Adm. Mike Mullen, now the Joint Chiefs chairman were all aboard the Petraeus train; there's nobody left but the long warriors. The way things look now, the status of forces agreement won't amount to a speed bump on the road to eternal occupation of Iraq, and we'll continue to bury ourselves in the Bananastans whether we cook up a flimsy excuse to be there or not.

In a bizarre turn on the BBC comedy Yes, Minister, our state and defense secretaries are little more than figureheads for the career military officers who have gained a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy. I recommended several weeks ago that Obama should order every officer from the full bird level up to submit a request to retire, but he may consider that politically untenable. And if he canned Hillary, oh, my: double, double, toil and trouble!

He can marginalize Hillary by encircling her with advisers and special envoys and such who report directly to him. Hopefully, by the end of Gates' "year or so," Virginia governor Tim Kaine will have been succeeded by a Democrat and can take Jim Webb's Senate seat, freeing Webb to take over at Defense. The best way to "get rid" of King David may be to promote him to Joint Chiefs chairman. The chairman doesn't have any command authority; he's merely the president's top uniformed military adviser. Obama can privately make it loud and clear that he expects Petraeus to have his 10-word advice memorandum to the Oval Office by 5 p.m. every tenth Friday, pronto.

With Petraeus neutralized, maybe just maybe Webb or someone like him can begin developing a new generation of generals who don't believe that defending their country involves keeping it entangled in never ending, counterproductive wars that defeat its economy.

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Jeff Huber's Bio

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

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