"If you're not cheating, you're not trying."
- Anonymous U.S. military officer
As a naval aviator pal of mine once remarked,
cadets in our military academies spend the summer before their freshman year
learning an arcane honor
code and spend the next four years learning how to violate it without getting
caught. So is it any wonder our general officer corps is populated by Orwell-class
who speak doubletalk like it's their first language?
During the run-up to the Iraq invasion, then-Army Chief of Staff Eric
Shinseki was the only four-star who had the strength of character to take
a public stance against Donald Rumsfeld's plan to conquer Iraq with a small
force, relying on crackpot warfare theories like network-centric
operations and shock
and awe to make up for insufficient troop strength. Shinseki's principled
stand bought him a one-way ticket to Fort Palooka. Rumsfeld, not satisfied
that any of the active-duty generals would toe the line sufficiently, brought
his old cow-tipping buddy Peter
Schoomaker out of retirement to replace Shinseki. Rummy had sent an unmistakable
message: it was his way or the exit ramp. The remaining generals either fell
into lockstep or kept their own counsel, and we got four years of dead-enders
in their last throes.
As the 2006 elections neared, almost everyone at Defense, including Rumsfeld,
was talking about lowering public expectations for Iraq and beginning a drawdown
of U.S. presence. Narcissus, however, wouldn't let young Mr. Bush lose a war
that could be lost on his successor's watch. Levers were pulled, wheels turned,
somebody shoved a pie in the Iraq Study Group's face, and, voilà,
out trotted the surge.
For the longest time we thought neoconservative academic Fred
Kagan was the chief architect of the surge. Recently, Thomas E. Ricks told
us that the real genius behind the Iraq escalation was David Petraeus' 300-lb.
Odierno. That assertion required a worm-to-butterfly transformation of
Odierno, whom Ricks had earlier portrayed as the bull in the china shop who
single-handedly fomented the Iraq civil war. Now Odie's the Desert Ox.
Whoever actually cooked up the surge, the Joint
Chiefs and commander in Iraq Gen. George Casey were dead set against it.
But then the dope dealing commenced and the four-stars' objections faded like
the Chicago Cubs. The ground service generals were promised a larger Army and
Marine Corps, Casey got the Army chief of staff assignment, and Adm. Mike Mullen
was promised the chairman's job.
January 2007 was a key month in American history. On the fifth, the American
Enterprise Institute published Fred Kagan's Choosing
Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq. On Jan.
10, Mr. Bush announced that he would increase U.S. presence in Iraq by
21,000 troops. On the twelfth, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
endorsed the surge and became the de facto presidential candidate of the neoconservative
January 2007 was also the month David Petraeus assumed command of international
forces in Iraq. Tom
Ricks kick-started the public image campaign to make Petraeus into a five-star
deity, describing the general in the media as a "fascinating character"
who was "just about the best general in the Army" and, oh yeah, "quite
ambitious." Ricks noted Petraeus' "very successful first tour in
Iraq in 2003-2004," referring to his command in Mosul, but he did not
mention how Mosul collapsed after Petraeus left and the bribes he'd been handing
out dried up. That January was also the month the Bush administration promised
to provide evidence that Iran
was providing arms to Iraqi militants. The administration never did prove those
accusations, but that didn't prevent it from repeating them loudly and often.
One of the loudest Iran-bashers was Petraeus, who didn't even pretend to have
credible proof Iran was arming Iraqi militants. Reminiscent of the joke about
the man beating his wife, Petraeus simply challenged Iran to prove that they
arming Iraqis. Then Irony cleared its throat: in August 2007 a story broke
that in 2004, while in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Petraeus had
lost track of 190,000
AK-47 rifles and pistols that couldn't have walked anywhere but into the
hands of the Iraqi militants Iran was supposedly arming. Irony might also mention
that as Petraeus was arming the insurgency, Doctor
Conrad Crane and others at the Army War College began work on the new counterinsurgency
field manual that Ricks and others would later claim Petraeus "wrote."
Petraeus pursued an aggressive information campaign that promoted the agenda
he shared with the neocons to establish a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.
His most outrageous publicity stunt was the March 2007 Baghdad
shopping spree he staged for McCain and McCain's office wife, Lindsey Graham.
At a news conference, McCain, Graham, and other Republicans remarked that they
could "mix and mingle unfettered" with Iraqis and that the market
reminded them of "a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time."
The next day, the New York Times and other sources revealed that Petraeus
had put more than 100 of his troops in harm's way to provide security for a
propaganda demonstration supporting the surge strategy and the McCain candidacy.
Adm. Mullen also tried to tip the election toward the GOP. In a July 2008
Quarterly (JFQ) article, Mullen wrote that every day, troops
asked him questions like "What if a Democrat wins? What will that do
to the mission in Iraq?" (Italics Mullen's.) The article's title (Irony
winks) was "From the Chairman: Military Must Stay Apolitical."
Also that month, right after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed with
candidate Obama that 16
months would be the right interval for a withdrawal timeline, Mullen warned
News that a withdrawal timeline would be "dangerous." In his
July JFQ article, Mullen wrote that "we [in the military] defend
the Constitution" by "obeying the orders of the commander in chief."
He didn't specify whether he meant obeying all commanders in chief or just
the Republican ones, but he didn't have to. Everybody got the message.
By mid-summer 2008, Petraeus had beaten Adm.
William Fallon two out of three falls for control of Central
Command, he had handpicked the next
generation of Army generals, and young Mr. Bush had announced that his
"main man" Petraeus would be the decider
of when and if U.S. troops would redeploy from Iraq. Petraeus and his long-war
generals owned American foreign policy, and they were determined to keep it.
Fortunately for them, their best course of action was obvious: they merely
had to keep doing what they were doing, which was entrenching America deeper
and deeper into Iraq. If McCain pulled an upset in the election, great, he
was already on board. The beauty part was that Obama would have to go along
with what the long warriors wanted as well. If he crossed them openly, and
things went poorly (which they're bound to whether Obama follows their advice
or not), it would be Obama's fault for ignoring his generals. Defense Secretary
Robert Gates turned a nice trick in this vein during a recent interview on
Meet the Press.
He told David Gregory that the generals would obey the mandate to end
the combat mission in Iraq by August 2010, but if they "had had complete
say in this matter, they would have preferred that the combat mission not end
until the end of 2010."
Obama played into the long-war strategy by insisting he would finish the job
in Afghanistan. Now his generals are pushing him into an aimless escalation
of that conflict that will likely make us the latest superpower to embalm itself
in that part of the world. Nobody in the Pentagon is taking the Iraq status
of forces agreement's (SOFA) December 2011 deadline seriously. The ink on the
SOFA was barely dry when both Mullen
smirked that "three years is a long time," and that the situation
could change. Gates claims that Obama himself may force Maliki to renegotiate
the agreement. Thanks to Ricks, Odierno is on record as wanting to keep 35,000
or more troops in Iraq through 2015. And if anyone thinks to question the need
to sustain these two wars, the long-war generals can always tell
another lie about Iran (like Mullen did recently when he said the Iranians
have enough fissile material to make a bomb – they
don't) and claim that our presence in Iraq and the Bananastans is necessary
to keep Iran contained.
Our generals are forcing a self-defeating security policy on us for the sake
of preserving their institution, which means far more to them than the Constitution
they swore to protect or the country they're supposedly defending. In a finer
era of American journalism, editorial pages across the nation would have
demanded the forced retirement of every four-star on active duty. Today's big
news media, unfortunately, are either afraid of the Pentagon or in
its corner. Congress has been on life support for nearly a decade, and
as we have discussed, Obama's political constraints are considerable.
It's up to what few retired or active-duty generals of integrity we have left
to confront the junta in a very public "have you no sense of decency?"
Unfortunately, that would amount to generals ratting out fellow generals,
which would violate their honor code.