by Jeff Huber
We got through Christmas without having NORAD accidently blow Santa out of the sky, but don’t let your guard down yet. While visions of sugarplums danced in our heads, the Pentagon flew another escalation strategy under the radar. On the eve of Christmas Eve, Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reported “Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban.”
Merry Christmas, fellow citizens. Odds are now almost certain that your country will be in a state of war throughout your lifetimes, and possibly throughout your children’s lifetimes as well.
They Lied With Their Boots On
It’s hard to be surprised any more when the NYT echoes the Pentagon’s G.I. jingo, but the experience of watching the newspaper of record cut and paste phrases like “a page from the successful experiment in Iraq” is aging poorly. From the outset, a key component of the surge strategy was the propaganda piece that would make it sound “successful” regardless of how it went.
As in the principles of war, “objective” is a prime tenet of information operations; but there’s a difference between the way objectives work in warfare and how they’re used in propaganda. In warfare—theoretically, anyway—the objective is supposed to be straightforward and tangible, and all operations and tactics should support the primary goal. In information operations, the objective, at least the stated one, is so vague and flexible that it doesn’t need to have anything at all to do with the actual military operation. In fact, it’s best if it doesn’t; the less any statement meant for public consumption has to do with reality, the greater freedom of movement the information operator (aka “bull feather merchant” or “BFM”) has.
When Bill Kristol pal Fred Kagan and the rest of the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute rammed their surge strategy past the Joint Chiefs’ tonsils, the BFMs had to justify escalating the war to the public. Too many brass hats had admitted there was no military solution to the Iraq fiasco, so the “political unification” canard was adopted.
Political unification has proven to be as elusive as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction; with the provincial elections just a stone’s throw away, there’s talk of a coup to oust Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki. That’s been no problem for the BFMs, though; looking ahead, they nested the “security” piece of the puzzle in the original mission statement: establish security in order to allow political unity to come about. Since some measure of decreased violence has been achieved in Iraq, the BFMs can point to it as proof of the surge’s success, and be reasonably confident no one will remember that improving security was the task, not the goal. They can also be fairly sure that not too many folks will ask hard questions about how that “security” was achieved.
In his three tours of duty in Iraq, David Petraeus has followed the same operational formula: he hands out a lot of weapons, bribes everybody he gave the weapons to not to use them, and transfers the heck out of Dodge before the time bombs he set blow off his successors’ thumbs and noses (Hey, what’s this?).
Four months after Petraeus turned over command of a “tamed” Mosul, the city’s police chief defected and insurgents overran the city. When Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, his recruits disappeared into the desert night along with about 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols. As commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, he created “Awakening Councils,” groups of former Sunni militants that Filkins says “are credited by American officials as one of the main catalysts behind the steep reduction in violence there.” More that 100,000 of these former anti-U.S. guerillas have been armed to armpits and put on the dole so they won’t attack Nuri al Maliki’s government forces. Creating the Awakening Councils was the single dumbest thing—among a field of highly qualified contenders for the title—that we’ve done in Iraq, and now, it’s one of the most compelling reasons for us to stay there forever: if we leave, the gravy spigot runs dry, and all our beautiful ugliness will melt out the drain pipe when the Sunni gunmen go back to their old line of business.
And thus it is that our catalyst of victory is the machinery of our failure; we’ve succeeded so well in Iraq that we must stay there always. Permanent occupation of Iraq was the operational and strategic objective all along, of course, even before 9/11, even before young Mr. Bush was selected to head the neoconservative ticket.
But the BFMs are still doing a good job of keeping the system from acquiring that target.
Hell No, They Won’t Go
They’re also doing a good job of camouflaging what the junta is up to these days. As of December 28, Barack Obama’s web site still promises to phase “combat troops” out of Iraq in 16 months. His Secretary of Defense and top generals must not have looked at his web site lately. (I’m sure they’ve been busy.)
Retired Marine General James L. Jones, the incoming National Security Adviser, and ongoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and legacy Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen are all on record as being opposed to withdrawal timelines. Jones has said a timeline would be “against our national interest.” Mullen warned that a deadline would be “dangerous,” and Gates objected to the 16-month plan during the presidential campaign.
General Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and boy sidekick to David Petraeus, recently announced that U.S. troops would stay on in Iraqi cities beyond the summer deadline called for in the Status of Forces agreement. Gates, who was on a tour of the region blaming Iran for everything wrong in the world, didn’t say boo about Odierno’s public defiance of the agreement. That’s not surprising. In a recent article Foreign Affairs article, Gates Wrote, “there will continue to be some kind of U.S. advisory and counterterrorism effort in Iraq for years to come.” From the tenor of the rest of the piece, it sounded like he meant “years to come after 2011.”
The BFM work-around to ignoring international agreements and mandates from the commander in chief is pure magic:
Q: When are armed troops in a combat zone not combat troops?
A: When we call them something else.
Presto, change-o, give them a different name and grind the new president’s campaign promises into his eye like a broken whiskey bottle. Maybe the BFM expression for that sort of thing is “following orders from the bottom up.”
The folks who brought us war without end in Iraq are rolling out advance publicity of their planned sequel set in the Bananastans, and nobody, including Barack Obama, seems to notice or care. In propaganda art that’s called “desensitizing.”
Maybe we used up what was left of our national outrage on the Iran strike that never happened. Or maybe we have this waifish notion that Barack Obama couldn’t possibly let a bad thing like Iraq happen again.
He sure isn’t stepping up to the plate on this Gaza atrocity, is he? Maybe he’s waiting for the Pentagon to give him permission.
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. Also catch Scott Horton’s interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.