Reprinted from Empire Burlesque
These days, the always noxious air of the Beltway is astir with the machinations of the military junta that now dominates the gutted and looted ruins of the American republic. Two recent articles provide excellent guides to the brazen Pentagon squeeze play to ensure that the civilian government does not stray from the militarist agenda of more war, all the time, everywhere, always -- a condition best captured in the marvelous title of the latest volume of Christopher Logue's serial reworking of The Illiad: All-Day Permanent Red.
First up, Tom Englehardt focuses on the powerful proconsul who is directing the squeeze play from the shadows. Yes, we speak of General David Petraeus, an ambitious little beaver with an eye on the White House. Curiously, Petraeus seems to think that -- unlike victorious generals-turned-presidents like Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower -- he can win the Oval Office after directing not one but two failed wars. Even more curiously, he just might be right, especially given the slavishly kowtowing treatment he has always unaccountably received from the political establishment and the corporate media. Good PR, not battlefield prowess, is the only thing that counts these days, in our vastly altered state of permanent war. As Englehardt notes:
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment [firing the overreaching General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War], the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals?
I would say that it already has. Obama may or may not have "buyer's remorse," but as Englehardt notes, he has long wanted to "own" this war -- it was a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, the means by which he sought to prove his "national security" cajones -- and now he's got it. I doubt very much if he really is being "forced" into escalating the war -- and I would be astonished if he does not give in and send more troops into Afghanistan, while continuing to expand his deadly, destabilizing forays into Pakistan.
In any case, Harry Truman got away with sacking MacArthur not only because the Pentagon was less overwhelming in those days -- but also because the Joint Chiefs and the rest of the top military brass were themselves sick of the ageing prima donna and his high-handed ways, which had unraveled an imminent victory in Korea and led to the slaughter of thousands of American troops at the hands of the Chinese whom MacArthur had deliberately baited into the war. (This tale is well told in David Halberstam's last book, The Coldest Winter.)
Now the Pentagon is far more powerful. And our modern, cut-rate MacArthur (at least MacArthur had several genuine military triumphs to his credit, unlike Petraeus) is fully backed by the top brass (many of whom are his creatures, as he now controls promotions in the Army). And they are all acting in brazen concert to hogtie the civilian government into doing their bidding, as Jeff Huber, our second good guide, reports:
The long war mafia made clear its opposition to candidate Obama's campaign promise to establish a timeline to draw down the Iraq war. Even after Obama had assumed office, Odierno, commander in Iraq, stated publicly (through Petraeus's hagiographer Tom Ricks) that he expected to keep 30,000 more troops in Iraq through 2014 or 2015, well after the December 2011 exit deadline called for in the Status of Forces Agreement.
Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has been a leading chanter of the mantra that says we must stay committed in Afghanistan. In a recent Joint Force Quarterly article, Mullen wrote, "The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: 'Will you really stay with us this time?' 'Can we really count on you?' I tell them that we will and that they can."
In a recent appearance on Al Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term."
Every American should be stunned that our top military leadership made these kinds of foreign policy commitments without so much as a by-your-leave from the president or Congress. This is a velvet-fisted version of the kind of military junta we'd expect to see in a banana republic.
And of course, as both Huber and Englehardt note, the power structure's mouthpiece par excellence, former military intelligence officer Bob Woodward has played a key role in what Huber calls the Pentagon's "unrestricted information warfare campaign." Woodward passed along a carefully edited "leak" of the "strategy review" by General Stanley "Dirty War is My Business" McChrystal, who is Obama's new commander of the "Af-Pak" front. The heavily redacted document virtually screamed its warning that if the sissy civilians in Washington didn't keep Afghanistan burning at white heat -- by throwing more cannon fodder into the furnace, along with giant bales of cash -- then they, not the Pentagon, will be to blame for the FUBAR that follows.
Then again, any rational, sentient being knows that an escalation of the war will be a FUBAR of monstrous proportions, further destabilizing the most volatile region on earth, killing more and more civilians, driving more Afghans into the insurgency, propping up an utterly corrupt puppet government, wasting billions upon billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, and exacerbating extremism around the world. This is glaringly obvious, but our militarists simply don't care. As Huber notes, McChrystal and Petraeus scarcely bother to put together a coherent strategy for the war: