Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:04 AM
Gen. David Petraeus, June 23, 2011, in confirmation hearings before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee
In an April 2011 column, I argued that both Barack Obama and the COINdinista Right had good (for them) reasons to perpetuate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama's reason is obvious. He doesn't want the nation to watch Iraq and Afghanistan falling apart during the 2012 election year. I wrote:
And falling apart -- I call it reverting to type - is the inevitable result of U.S. withdrawal. "Who lost Iraq and Afghanistan?" is not a question Obama wants to answer during the election.
Thus, Obama will slog on with counterinsurgency in stalemate, maintaining his weirdly logical wartime alliance with the neoconservative, democracy-project Right. On Obama's part, this is a political calculation, pure and simple. On the Right, something else is going on.
As long as we are still in Iraq, still in Afghanistan, the policy born of neoconservatism's lights, embraced by nation-building Bushies, promulgated by Gen. David Petraeus, still has a theoretical chance of working.
"Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as warriors," Petraeus himself co-wrote in the foreword of the 2007 COIN manual (with Gen. James F. Amos,
recently tapped to serve as the new Marine Commandant). "They must be prepared to help re-establish institutions and local security forces and assist in rebuilding infrastructure and basic services. They must be able to facilitate establishing local governance and the rule of law. The list of such tasks is long ..."
You can say that again.
A constant refrain from these camps is that prematurely withdrawing from either country would jeopardize what Petraeus has dubbed for four years "fragile and reversible" security gains.
To them, staying forever is leaving too soon. It isn't so much that in withdrawal lies defeat; it's that in withdrawal lies confirmation of the defeat of their prized counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. In the strategy's defeat lies the abyss.
And so they must keep reality at bay. And they do that by keeping Iraq and Afghanistan works in progress. As such, it is up to our troops to try harder to win "hearts and minds," walk more IED-strewn patrols, distribute more cash to buy loyalty. In this way, the COINdinistas are hamster-footing it to keep the ride from stopping at any cost. ...
How to keep Iraq and Afghanistan works in progress got easy when Petraeus was confirmed as the new director of the CIA. Such a post presents Petraeus with the temptation to shade and shape intelligence to justify his COIN record of unreckoned disaster -- precisely why he was the wrong man for the job. At Huffington Post, Michael Brenner underscores this terrible potential in a piece imperially titled "I, Petraeus":
General David Petraeus, newly installed Director of the CIA, is now the most influential figure in making American foreign policy. He has unrivaled prestige in Washington and among the public at large, he has close allies in the Pentagon and White House, and receives reflexive deference from President Obama. Moreover, he has vaunting ambition and a steely will -- his boyish looks notwithstanding.
His foremost objectives will be to ensure that the end game in Afghanistan, the tense standoff with Pakistan, and the question of the United States' presence in Iraq in no way detract from his reputation as being the master of counterterrorism who has salvaged a measure of success from those dubious operations. Since that reputation is based on image more than on hard accomplishment, how the game of intelligence appraisal and threat assessment is played will be critically important. Petraeus will not hesitate to use the authority and influence at his disposal to push for actions that improve the odds on avoiding unspinnable outcomes in any of those locales.
He has the means; he has the motives. Will he use them? Brenner thinks so.
Concretely, that points to an all-out campaign to maintain the maximum American presence in Iraq that the leadership in Baghdad can tolerate.
To that end, Brenner notes elsewhere: "There are reports that already he has communicated personally with Prime Minister Maliki, offering in effect his good offices to assist Maliki in finessing an understanding between Baghdad and Washington that would allow some American troops to remain despite fierce opposition from some of his coalition allies. It included an invitation to communicate directly with Petraeus."
That's highly unusual and highly disturbing. "I, Petraeus" continues:
It means pressing ahead in Afghanistan in an unrelenting attempt to weaken the Taliban enough so as to force them into accommodation on terms acceptable to Washington.
Brenner fails to note the equally unrelenting, unrealistic and unworkable COIN attempt to simultaneously nation-build the Islamic population, Pygmalion-like, into something acceptable, period.
It means a no-holds-barred wrestling match with the Pakistani leadership, both to give American forces a free hand in the Northwest and to commit themselves fully to a military campaign against all elements hostile to the United States. To justify these policies, Petraeus will take steps that place the CIA imprimatur on intelligence reports that paint a dark picture of the continuing terrorist danger from the region even while celebrating successes for which he will take full credit. They also will stress the critical stabilizing role of an active American military presence in the [area] running from the Persian Gulf deep into Central Asia. ...
A dire prediection. Will it come true? The fact remains that a gigantic, personal conflict of interest will always taint the Petraeus CIA.