Posts Tagged ‘Petraeus’

Sign our petition to tell the next journalists on Petraeus’ media tour to ask tough questions and expose his effort to extend the Afghanistan War.

General Petraeus is on a media tour to sell the idea that the U.S. military is “making progress” in Afghanistan, a well-worn message aimed at convincing elites to extend this brutal, futile war. So far, it looks like the mainstream media is buying it, hook, line, and sinker.

Petraeus kicked off his spin campaign this morning with an hour-long special on Meet the Press with David Gregory. The piece opened with a montage of Petraeus doing sit-ups, and later showed him jogging, with Gregory opining about him wearing out troops half his age. Gregory went out of his way to set up a "Petraeus saves the day" narrative, asking the general if the situation in Afghanistan reminds him of the "dark days" in Iraq just before Petraeus "succeeded" with the surge. Petraeus hammered home his one-word message relentlessly: progress. Gregory feigned tough skepticism, but betrayed his hero-worship with setups like, "Watch how savvy Petraeus is when he answers my tough question." Throughout, Gregory’s sheepish grin conveyed the sense that he wanted to hug Petraeus instead of critically probe his assertions.

As Petraeus battered viewers again and again with his "making progress" theme, Gregory failed to ask probing, skeptical questions. When Petraeus mentioned "oil spots," as if the stain spreading across Afghanistan were one of security, Gregory failed to press him on the huge increase in civilian deaths, the 87-percent spike in violence and the incredible explosion of IED attacks over the last several months. When he brought up the outrageous TIME Magazine cover showing a woman’s mutilated face, Gregory failed to mention the attack happened last year and that TIME Magazine’s cover grossly distorts the choices before the United States. When Petraeus denounced the Taliban’s recent killing of a pregnant woman, Gregory failed to press Petraeus on ISAF’s own killing of pregnant women earlier this year in which bullets were reportedly dug out of a screaming woman by special forces troops before she bled to death. Gregory didn’t do journalism today. He provided a platform for military spin.

Petraeus and Gregory jovially closed the interview by quoting Generals Grant and Sherman, with Petraeus saying he’s no politician. Don’t believe that for a second. The military wants to extend this war, and it sees American public opinion as an obstacle in getting what it wants. Petraeus admitted as much when he told Gregory that the point of his upcoming media appearances were scheduled in the hopes of showing "people in Washington" and the public that we’re making progress (Finish your drink!) and to shore up support for the failing war effort. This media blitz is about Petraeus shaping public opinion to affect the political environment for a future push to extend the war far beyond the bounds implied by Obama’s December 2009 West Point speech. In short, the military is turning its several-billion-dollar public relations apparatus on the American people, and the mainstream media is so far complicit. To quote one of my favorite bands, "There is a war going on for your mind."

If the media fail to ask hard questions, there’s a chance Petraeus could get what he wants: the freedom to extend an extremely unpopular war that’s not making us safer. We’ve got to push back, and we’ve got to do it now.

CBS’ Katie Couric is next in line to talk to Petraeus during his high-profile spin campaign, so we’re starting with her. Sign our petition to Couric and push her to ask tough questions about Petraeus’ claims of “progress” and his attempt to extend the Afghanistan War. If you’re not a Twitter user, don’t worry–there are instructions on how you can participate without it.

General Petraeus’ media blitz is just getting started. We’ve got to push our media–hard–to ask real questions and prevent easily disproved spin from polluting the debate. Petraeus wants to change public opinion, and he’s spending your money to sell you a brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer. If you’re tired of this kind of manipulation, join the tens of thousands of other people working to end this war with Rethink Afghanistan.

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Watch "Don’t Let General Petraeus Move the Goalposts on Afghanistan" in HD on Facebook.

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing shed even more light on what exactly those qualifications are, and the troll tusks were showing. Responding to a question from HASC Ranking Member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Petraeus said that yes, he supports the July 2011 date as the beginning of a process. But, he complained, that date was based on a projection from last Fall. He said we’ll do everything humanly possible (well, everything humanly possible within the constraints of a brutal, costly strategic frame that’s not working) to achieve those conditions. When asked by McKeon whether July 2011 was based on conditions and not just a date on the calendar, he said, “That’s correct.” And, when asked whether he’d recommend delaying the withdrawal if those conditions didn’t materialize, he confirmed it.

America, get ready for this excuse:

“Well, we tried, but it’s just not possible for us to keep President Obama’s promise to start a withdrawal this month.” –General David Petraeus, July 2011.

Compare that General Petraeus, who only gives the July 2011 date his qualified support and who wants us all to know he might change his mind when crunch time arrives, with this General Petraeus, described by Jonathan Alter:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Expect the Alter quotation above to become cliche in a hurry. Petraeus revealed this week that he has no intention of standing by his word to the president. This week, he said explicitly that if we can’t do the things he says in 18 months, he will, in fact, suggest we stay.

Petraeus says he supports the president’s policy. His comments this week, though, serve only to validate the critics of the withdrawal portion of the president’s policy. He’s not a supporter of this policy. He’s a concern troll.

Don’t let him get away with moving the goalposts. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook as we work to end this brutal war that’s not worth the costs.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. and Allied forces have killed and injured more civilians than have the insurgents during Operation Moshtarak. Incredibly, the Pentagon continues to insist that this operation "protects the people." AIHRC’s Feb. 23 press release reports [h/t Josh Mull, our new Afghanistan blog fellow]:

"AIHRC is concerned at the loss of life and civilian harm already caused by this operation. AIHRC found that in the first 12 days of Operation Mushtarak 28 civilians, including 13 children, were killed and approximately 70 civilians, including 30 children, were injured.

"Witnesses suggested the majority of the casualties were caused by PGF artillery and rocket-fire."

Late last year, just after the President announced his escalation, I wrote:

The president’s decision to add more troops is a mistake that will result in deep costs which we cannot afford; increased U.S. casualties; and increased civilian casualties as our troop increase further raises the temperature in the conflict.

A separate update from Brookings shows that President Obama’s escalation and subsequent military operations have indeed raised the temperature of the conflict, increasing the level of violence across Afghanistan:

“In terms of raw violence, the situation is at a historic worst level, with early 2010 levels of various types of attacks much higher than even last year at this time. Much of that is due to the recent Marja campaign and, more generally, the deployment of additional U.S. (and Afghan) troops to parts of the country where they have not been present before.”

War does not protect civilians. War doesn’t make us safer. The Afghanistan war needs to end, now.

Had enough? Join us: become a fan of Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

All hail the birth of Afghan democracy!

The willingness of Americans to allow our political leaders to spend $1 million per troop, per year in Afghanistan has been rewarded: we can now stand back in awe as the unpunished perpetrators of massive election fraud vie for control of the criminal enterprise called the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Extra-constitutional President Hamid Karzai (whose initial vote totals were 32.2 percent fraudulent) and prime challenger Abdullah (whose initial vote total was 12.8 percent fraudulent) will face off on November 7. The process of the last election was so corrupt that the UN is replacing 200 — more than half — of the top election officials who were complicit in the fraud. No matter who loses, fraud wins.

So here’s a question for those who are pushing COIN who haven’t totally abandoned their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success (and believe me, those are few and far between these days): what systemic changes have or will be made prior to November 7 that will prevent a replay of the August fiasco? While replacing bad apples is essential, it won’t prevent rot if the barrel itself is corrupted. Recall that during the last round of voting, fraud schemes included:

  • Alliances with warlords, who will deliver votes from their territories for Karzai by hook or by crook. Some have already made threats of reprisal against village elders if they did not cooperate with the vote fraud schemes.
  • Massive registration of underage voters (up to 20 percent of the rolls)
  • Rampant (as in 85-percent occurrence) issuance of multiple voting cards to single individuals, including one case where one person was given about 500 voting cards.
  • Issuance of voting cards to people before they registered.
  • Issuance of cards to women without their physical presence based on lists provided by family (in some provinces this practice was used in 90-99 percent of registration stations).
  • Allowing men to take registration books home for the ostensible purpose of obtaining their women-folk’s fingerprints for registration. This practice, combined with the list practice mentioned above, led to outrageously fraudulent numbers of “women” being issued cards–between double and thirty percent more than the number of cards issued to men. Female Members of Parliament in Afghanistan have called these numbers not credible.
  • Purchase of voting cards from locals by warlord vote organizers.
  • Manufacture and sale of many thousands of fake registration cards.

What steps have been taken to prevent these sorts of violations of the process from recurring? I’ve not seen a single indication that the systemic factors that allowed and rewarded election fraud have been addressed. Not one. Have you?

In this context, it’s understandable that Nagl and Co. would want to wave their hands and assert that counterinsurgency can work when host-nation elections break, but that’s contemptible, dishonest, face-saving bull. Sarah Sewall’s introduction in the COIN manual calls host-nation government legitimacy a “north star.” The main text of the manual defines victory flatly as the moment when “the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” And Nagl’s backpedaling in the L.A. Times’ opinion section aside, it’s clear throughout the manual he helped write that he wasn’t talking about the local mayor: he was talking about the host-nation government. And there’s not a single possible outcome now for the ’09 Afghan elections that leaves us with a credible, legitimate partner. What we’ll get is a regime staffed with former warlords, human rights abusers and drug lords, headed by Mr. 32.2 Percent, Mr. 12.8 Percent, or both. Take your pick.

I can’t prove it, but the willingness of the pro-COIN crowd to fudge their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success and definitions of victory makes me suspect the American people have been the victims of what’s essentially an intra-military turf battle, with the Petreauses and the Nagls and the McChrystals of the world (all Army men) fighting to return the infantry to primacy in a world of stealth bombers and killer drones. The Army’s doctrinal weapon in that fight, COIN, seems to have fit perfectly with the Bushies’ PNAC-sponsored imperial eschatology, paving the way for a civilian/military public relations campaign to make infantry-heavy pacification campaigns the new, sexy way of war. Congrats on the snow job, gentlemen.

Someone holding the purse strings (that’s you, Congress) better decide right now how much taxpayer money and how many dead U.S. soldiers are a fair price for “victory” in Afghanistan, because any minute now you’re going to receive a request for more blood and treasure. Specifically, the Pentagon wants more money to grow the Afghan military and may be about to push for more troops.

A January 23rd Congressional Research Service report, “War in Afghanistan: Strategy, Military Operations, and Issues for Congress,” contained this exercise in passive-voice-understatement:

One critical issue is funding the development and sustainment of the ANSF. Senior Afghan and international officials estimate that it will cost approximately $3.5 billion per year to increase [Afghan National Security Forces] ANSF force structure, and then $2.2 billion per year to sustain it. Unlike Iraq, whose oil revenues have funded an increasing share of the costs of growing and sustaining the Iraqi Security Forces in recent years, Afghanistan has few natural resources and little economic activity, other than poppy production, that could generate significant revenue in the near future. [The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] GIRoA, which contributed $320 million to the ANSF in 2008, is not a realistic source of ANSF funding in the near term.251 International support, and particularly U.S. support, is expected to bear the near-term burden of developing the ANSF, until it reaches its current endstrength targets…

It is expected that the currently planned ANA growth will be funded by the international community; the United States is currently the leading contributor.

Translation: Afghanistan’s government lacks the revenue to support its own military and police as-is. The U.S. taxpayer pays for it, and if the U.S. cajoles the Afghan government into increasing the size of the military, the U.S. taxpayer must pay for that as well.

General McChrystal’s response? Hooah!

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

…The Afghan army is already scheduled to grow from 85,000 to 134,000, an expansion originally expected to take five years but now fast-tracked for completion by 2011. Several senior Pentagon officials indicated that an adequate size for the Afghan force may be twice the expanded number.

The Post also reports that WHOA HEY Defense Secretary Gates never said anything about a cap on U.S. troop levels!!!!

Despite concerns that too large a U.S. military presence would undermine efforts to eventually put the Afghans in charge of their own security, Jones said McChrystal is “perfectly within his mandate as a new commander to make the recommendation on the military posture as he sees it…There was never any intention on my visit [to Afghanistan] to say, ‘Don’t ever come in with a request or to put a cap on troops.’ ”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen, told reporters Wednesday that the White House and the Pentagon are “committed to properly resourcing this endeavor.”

…”If you’ve got Stan’s word . . . and Petraeus standing behind him” in requesting more resources, the official said, Obama can stress the need for a “marginal adjustment” based on advice from commanders on the ground.

“Marginal adjustment?” Yeah, about that…

“Escalation” is a word for a methodical process of acclimating people at home to the idea of more military intervention abroad — nothing too sudden, just a step-by-step process of turning even more war into media wallpaper — nothing too abrupt or jarring, while thousands more soldiers and billions more dollars funnel into what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “demonic suction tube,” complete with massive violence, mayhem, terror and killing on a grander scale than ever.

…In the spring and early summer of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson decided to send 100,000 additional U.S. troops to Vietnam, more than doubling the number there. But at a July 28 news conference, he announced that he’d decided to send an additional 50,000 soldiers.

Why did President Johnson say 50,000 instead of 100,000? Because he was heeding the advice from…a secret document…about the already-approved new deployment, urging that “in order to mitigate somewhat the crisis atmosphere that would result from this major U.S. action . . . announcements about it be made piecemeal with no more high-level emphasis than necessary.”

Solomon’s article is not about Vietnam; it’s about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Each small increase in funds and troops for this war sounds so reasonable, with victory lurking just around the next corner. But sometimes, all those corners turn out to be a labyrinth, and all those small, reasonable troop and resource increases total up to a massive investment of blood and treasure.

There are many, many things I wish the U.S. government would learn from pacifists. “There are realistic alternatives to war,” comes to mind. For right now, though, I’d settle for this:

  • One should decide before an endeavor what means you are willing to use to achieve your ends.
  • Then, renounce ends that cannot be achieved by those means.

Fred Charles Iklé, no pacifist he, wrote that nations often make the mistake of “launch[ing] upon a dangerous course of action because one cannot think of any better means to pursue one’s old ends, but fail to examine whether one’s ends ought to be changed” (Every War Must End p. 49).We need to decide what we’re willing to do to “fix” Afghanistan before we commit another dime or drop of blood. We have limits.  Failure to consciously decide on those limits before we make further decisions does not mean those limits do not exist; it only means that we will be incrementally pushed toward and then past them, painfully and to our regret, before we discover them.

Rare is the political or military leader who explains their failure to achieve a stated goal in terms of their own shortcomings and blunders. The problem is never that we lacked a good plan, that we executed it poorly, that the assumptions of the plan were wrong, that we were wrong. The more common tune follows disaster like night follows day: We didn’t have enough resources; we lacked support; we would have won if not for the stab in the back. This stab-in-the-back narrative, Iklé says, “often provides the convenient self-justification that moral cowardice demands” (p. 50). The prequel to the stab-in-the-back storyline, however, is always a general or a president firmly convinced that we can win this thing if we just go in for one more “marginal adjustment.”

Requests for a never-ending line of credit for the Afghan military and for additional U.S. troop deployments are on the horizon. Congress should say no.

Pardon a Brief Interruption

Posted: September 17, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I have to help run a two-day conference at work, which will prevent me from blogging again until Saturday, September 20th.  See you then.  In the meantime, here’s a letter to the editor I wrote in response to a breathless editorial praising General David Petraeus’ performance in Iraq.  Here’s hoping it gets published:

I was disappointed to see the Statesman editorial page take its eye off the ball (Quiet transition of Iraqi command shouts success, Sept. 17). Only by drastically reducing the scope of discussion can one use the word “success” regarding any facet of the U.S.’s Iraq policy. The event you claim “shouts success” provides no model for future action and highlights the increasing belligerence of the Bush administration toward other nations. Wednesday’s editorial indicates ludicrously low standards for foreign policy outcomes after eight years in the wilderness.

Military and international relations expert Andrew Bacevich, himself an Army colonel and West Point graduate, recently said:  “In Iraq, President Bush’s vision of regional transformation [died]…No amount of CPR credited to the so-called surge will revive it. Even if tomorrow Iraq were to achieve stability and become a responsible member of the international community, no sensible person could suggest that Operation Iraqi Freedom provides a model to apply elsewhere.”

Petraeus and Odierno rose to their current positions in large part because they share President Bush’s view of the Middle East. Both share the President’s tendency to view our problems in Iraq stemming not from bad decisions and a lack of planning and foresight, but rather from our current boogeyman: Iran.  Odierno in command of Iraq under a Petreaus at CENTCOM gives President Bush what he wants: a consistent worldview throughout a command structure that will not challenge his basic — and horrendously counterproductive — assumptions about the region.

Success? Hardly. The removal of dissenting voices from the CENTCOM command structure indicates a Bush Administration unchastened by its repeated, disastrous run-ins with reality, and an active attempt to deepen its own myopia.

The anti-war movement in the U.S. has been described as the weakest social movement in America, and for good reason. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) 2.0 is very, very smart.  It understands that Congress wields the power of the purse, and so it distributes its business across every single congressional district, thereby investing most Members’ constituencies economically in the various defense contractors’ well-being. How do you vote against the economic interests of your constituents (in a very concrete way, irrespective of whether your tax/budget policies in a wider sense harm your constituents) and keep your House or Senate seat? Let me give you a hint: you usually don’t.

It’s hard to tell what happened first in this chicken-egg situation: was the MIC 2.0 able to seed every congressional district in the country because the anti-war movement in the U.S. was so weak, or is the anti-war movement so weak because the MIC seeded every congressional district in the country? It really doesn’t matter. We’re hear now, with the Pentagon unable to wage war without the help of corporations, and a vast swath of U.S. citizens happy with it that way.

I had a thought while stuck in traffic this morning.  NPR aired a story about Gen. Odierno taking over in Iraq, which has been considered by some as an ominous indicator for our Iran policy, and I pondered what could be done to slow down what might be a very ugly process unfolding. It occurred to me that, while protests and symbolic action are important, considering where I was sitting at the moment, they’d be wholly insufficient.  The militarism of the U.S. is my daily routine multiplied by 350 million or so: my 30-minute, gasoline-powered commute to work, my patronage of companies-turned-defense-contractors, etc. In an important way, the typical daily routine of a typical American is the military-industrial complex, atomized and spread over the entire economy.  Those daily routines, and the howling protest that would ensue should they be altered by government policies (not to mention the economic strain on dependent communities), are the leverage used to generate ever more government patronage of not just a handful of egregious war profiteers, but a diffuse system of military corporate profit-sharing.

So. I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture here. What’s the point?  The point is that since, in a very real sense, the MIC has succeeded in turning itself into almost every American, every American has the ability to act on it.  The dynamics of the system emerge from us, so we can alter what emerges.

The traditions of the early Christians provides good guidance on how to deal with this situation.  For around three centuries, the church remained relatively uniform in its nonviolence.  The Apostolic Code of Hippolytus makes it clear that Christians serving in the military or in the civilian government who might be called on to kill or order the deaths of others must renounce the power of life and death over others or be rejected by the church. Kurlansky has noted that this attitude made the early Christians history’s first totally anti-war, anti-violence sect.  While the early church faced a rampant militarism hostile to the peace of Christ, they could probably never have imagined the sophistication of a military-industrial complex of today.  But, drawing on their general attitude, I’d cautiously offer the following update:

  • Christians should renounce killing in all forms, period. National interest and self-defense do not free us from Christ’s teachings and example.
  • Christians should renounce positions of authority that include the power to order the deaths of others.
  • Christians should withdraw from industries that profit from the production of weapons and should do all in their power to avoid patronizing such organizations.

This last point is not as simple as it sounds, though.  Nick Turse’s book The Complex details how pervasive military contracting is in our society. Endeavoring to follow this last bit of guidance will take constant effort, vigilance, and intentionality. But considering the state of the anti-war movement in general and the pervasiveness of MIC 2.0, it’s really the only viable option for either stopping the growth of American militarism, or at least removing Christian complicity with it.

Many Christian communities are working on what this could look like: check out The Simple Way and the New Monastics.