Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Petraeus throws Obama into the Briar Patch

I've never thought Barack Obama was an idealist. Nor did I ever think that his "lack of experience" as a legislator was a critical factor. It's the "community organizer" aspect that caught my attention. You see, in Chicago, that means you learn to deal with a lot of various sorts of people, and this very much includes fronting up to stone killers and squeezing a donation or some leverage out of them.

I think he's a man who is very much a realist, and very familiar with dealing with things as they are and the people on the ground that are there, and rather less affected by the various idealistic and doctrinal slants that people on the "left" and the "right" try to assign to him.

I consider him to be the very sort of person that you would want piloting an crippled airplane toward a distant airfield with one single chance of putting it down in one piece. I don't think for a moment that he's confused about the real "mission at hand."

So I'm amused to see this headline: "Petraeus Locked Obama In."

At this morning’s hearing, General Petraeus tamped down talk of an early withdrawal from Afghanistan—and warned of greater U.S. casualties to come.
With his four stars and battle ribbons speaking for themselves and his reputation soaring, Gen. David Petraeus Tuesday told the Senate Armed Service Committee just what President Obama wanted its members to hear: (1) fighting the Taliban and al  Qaeda in Afghanistan remains essential to U.S. security; (2) the president’s counterinsurgency strategy and U.S. troop reductions projected to begin on July 2011 were fine; and (3) this general and this president are in harmony unlike the departing U.S./NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

But make no mistake, the thrust of the general’s remarks in these confirmation hearings was to further lock Mr. Obama into the Afghan war and to protect his right flank against Republicans and conservatives who have begun charging that the president is about to cut and run from the war. He offered very little to Democrats and liberals who have stepped up their demands for an exit strategy.

There are many stories written by the Terribly And Professionally Sincere from the left, the right and the clueless, who don't see that the "exit strategy" for a politically-driven war has to be, first and foremost, a political maneuver, one that places the price of failure on the heads of those who carry the banners for the satus quo ante.

President Obama absolutely must achieve a fundamental shift in the way Americans think about the projection of power, the use of military force and the expense in terms of guns, of butter and human life. Given the things he has expended political capital to achieve, he is either working in this direction or accepting it more readily than many others.

His critics haven't read their Sun-Tsu or their Von Clauswitz or their Rommel - or they would understand that victory comes from creating conditions in which your enemy will make some very critical mistake.

Jay Gould
American financier Jay Gould
After hiring strikebreakers, he said "I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half."[Wikipedia >Wage Slavery;#35]

In order to win a war, you need to know exactly what the war is about, which side you are on, and who your enemy is.  For President Barack Obama, the most direct threat to his policies, and indeed, to the people who gave him his mandate is the Military Industrial Complex and the National Security State types - the ones who are all in favor of the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, the War on Terrorism - that is to say, the war on you.

He's fighting the war that Eisenhower predicted, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq give him cover and opportunity to bleed his opponents dry, discredit or kill them and created conditions whereby a long-term socio-political shift might be achieved.

What Obama needs to do is allow his enemies the opportunity to make mistakes - and then use the mistakes they make against them. So when someone says this out loud, I giggle.

 Peter Galbraith writes in the Daily Beast:

The U.S. will have to be deeply engaged diplomatically to keep the erratic and ambitious Karzai from destroying his own country. Eikenberry and Holbrooke understand the man and the terrain. The last thing President Obama needs now is a group of new faces who believe the U.S. strategy is working, and who take his recent Karzai charm offensive seriously.

Clearly there have been strains in the relations between Eikenberry and Holbrooke, which is hardly surprising since both men sit atop large organizations devoted to making progress in Afghanistan. But both Eikenberry and Holbrooke are exceptionally competent and they know it is essential to work together.

With Afghanistan possibly headed for a full-scale civil war, this is not the time to replace an experienced and accomplished diplomatic team. The mission in Afghanistan is difficult enough without the Afghan leader believing he has the upper hand in his relations with the United States.
Yep. A terrible mistake. Assuming that Obama actually thinks the situation in Afghanistan is actually more critical to the national security of the United States than the threat to the United States presented by it's National Security establishment. But Iraq and Afghanistan are both wars of political choice, based on neoconservative assumptions about the role of the US in the world and what it should use it's military and economic power to achieve, at the expense of the entire demographic that President Obama grew up with, went to church with and was largely elected to represent.

I'd be looking to see what Obama has Eikenberry and Holebrooke do next. Because I think that giving Karzai what he thinks HE wants, and giving Petraeus what he thinks HE wants, Obama is achieving three important goals. Setting up Karzai to fail, sooner rather than later. Setting up Petraeus to personally fail to make make his Counter Insurgency plan work - sooner rather than later. And getting his people out of the way so they will not be damaged by the inevitable association with a huge military and foreign-policy failure.

The COIN doctrine is what much of the Pentagon and the civilian Neo-Conservative hangs it's hat upon, and the doctrine justifies and necessitates a commitment to indefinite, potentially global low-level counter-insurgent warfare - a prospect that is the life-blood of the military-industrial complex.

It is a strategy that absolutely depends on a very close diplomatic support and skilled intelligence. If Obama "acceeds to pressure" to replace "his people" with those who are philosophically inclined to support Karzai and COIN, it will be a strategic maneuver to generate victory in the very real cold civil war that is raging in the United States right now. Afganistan is a sideshow for Obama, but the "graveyard of empires" could indeed become the undoing of those who thought the United States had the right and the need to become one. But of course, that's not the sort of thing a President can say out loud.

Obama may be the titular commander in chief, but the tail has been wagging the dog for several Administrations. What he's doing is slipping the leash, and letting the puppy try and bite the tires off of the rolling semi.

Obama will be be handed a political exit, and he will take it like a statesman. In part, I think this perception will be genuine, but in order to achieve it, he must first get his enemies to eliminate each other - and ideally, it should occur all at once. What it will be - well, I can't say for sure. But it might look something like this...

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