Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Iraq: Obama vs Petraeus? Or Good Cop, Bad Cop Kabuki?

After historian, national security policy analyst and investigative journalist Gareth Porter's February 2 IPS article US-IRAQ: Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision, which TomP essayed about here Tuesday, Porter then was interviewed by The Real News about his story that the Pentagon and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq General Ray Odierno, and retired Generals, have launched the beginnings of a media campaign to undermine President Barack Obama and his stated plans to withdraw all "combat troops" from Iraq within 16 months and his order to Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Gates, and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan for doing so.

Real News: February 3, 2009 - 7 minutes 55 seconds
Petraeus versus the President?
Gareth Porter: US military leaders are pressuring Obama to cancel his Iraq withdrawal promise

The base premise of Porter's article and his Real News interview is that The Pentagon and the Generals, presumably backed by the foreign policy establishment, are creating a narrative of 18 months of "success" in Iraq and Obama blowing it and throwing away all the supposed "gains" made beginning with Bush's "surge", to pressure Obama into easing up on plans to withdraw from Iraq, and thus pitting Obama as the deliverer of "change" against the Bush policy of occupation of Iraq and domination of the Middle East in direct opposition to and counterbalancing the "threat" posed by Iran.

Obama the "anti-imperialist" vs hegemony and imperialism, in so many words.

But is this what is really happening, or are we witnessing a smoke and mirrors kabuki in which both sides are playing their roles perfectly? Is the whole play meant to fog the situation and enable Obama, who has said in the past that he will "listen" to his Generals, to appear to have done his best and eventually relent on his campaign promises in the face of "reality" and continue the occupation of Iraq for years to come?

As I quoted back in July 2007 in George W. Obama? Or Hillary R. Bush? during the run-up to the Democratic National Convention and before Obama become the nominee, Ira Chernus, Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, had this to say about Iraq and the US foreign policy Gordian knot in Tomgram: Ira Chernus, Democratic Doublespeak on Iraq

Start with the simplest, most basic fudge.  Newspapers and the TV news constantly report on various plans for the "withdrawal of American troops" from Iraq, when what's being proposed is the withdrawal of American "combat troops" or "combat brigades." This isn't a matter of splitting hairs; it's the difference between a plan for full-scale withdrawal and a plan to remain in Iraq in a different military form for the long term. American combat brigades only add up to perhaps half of the troops we presently have in that country.

Pity the poor Democratic candidates for president, caught between Iraq and a hard place. Every day, more and more voters decide that we must end the war and set a date to start withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Most who will vote in the Democratic primaries concluded long ago that we must leave Iraq, and they are unlikely to let anyone who disagrees with them have the party's nomination in 2008.

But what does it mean to "leave Iraq"? Here's where most of the Democratic candidates come smack up against that hard place. There is a longstanding bipartisan consensus in the foreign-policy establishment that the US must control every strategically valuable region of the world -- and none more so than the oil heartlands of the planet. That's been a hard-and-fast rule of the elite for some six decades now. No matter how hard the task may be, they demand that presidents be rock-hard enough to get the job done.

So whatever "leave Iraq" might mean, no candidate of either party likely to enter the White House on January 20, 2009 can think it means letting Iraqis determine their own national policies or fate.
So the Democratic front-runners must promise voters that they will end the war -- with not too many ideologically laden ifs, ands, or buts -- while they assure the foreign-policy establishment that they will never abandon the drive for hegemony in the Middle East (or anywhere else). In other words, the candidates have to be able to talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time.

Chernus continued in his article with a neocon delighting quote from Obama that sounds for all the world lifted directly from the PNAC/Bush playbook:

"The single most important job of any president is to protect the American people," he affirmed in a major foreign-policy statement last April. But "the threats we face.... can no longer be contained by borders and boundaries.... The security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people." That's why the U.S. must be the "leader of the free world." It's hard to find much difference on foreign policy between Clinton and Obama, except that Barack is more likely to dress up the imperial march of U.S. interests in such old-fashioned Cold War flourishes.

That delights neoconservative guru Robert Kagan, who summed up Obama's message succinctly:  "His critique is not that we've meddled too much but that we haven't meddled enough.... To Obama, everything and everyone everywhere is of strategic concern to the United States."  To control everything and everyone, he wants "the strongest, best-equipped military in the world.... A 21st century military to stay on the offense." That, he says, will take at least 92,000 more soldiers and Marines -- precisely the number Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recommended to President Bush.

A beautiful play? A set piece?