As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Man Called Petraeus Storms The White House

Well, we expected this, didn't we? From an excellent piece by Gareth Porter:

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

One thing we can say about Obama is that, for good or for ill, he has generally kept to his bigger campaign promises. In this case, he knows that his foreign policy success is in large part predicated on getting us out of Iraq, and he refuses to bend to both the foreign policy establishment and institutional military pushback. Not only that, but reneging on a signed agreement with the Iraqis would endanger American troops and ensure chaos in Iraq and abroad. Sure, the warmongers will get a war (Obama is likely to hold to his promise in Afghanistan), but not Iraq.

According to Porter, the Gates-Petraeus plan was to reclassify combat troops as "support troops" to get around that little status of forces agreement mandating set withdrawals of US forces. Apparently Obama wasn't willing to risk American credibility in that shell game.

Of course, Petraeus is trying to circumvent his commander-in-chief, which I believe they call insubordination:

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

Looks like Petraeus is using those handy Pentagon embeds to implement this strategy, too:

The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama's withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the Jan. 21 meeting when retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Gen. Petraeus, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.

Keane, who had certainly been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months". He asserted that it would jeopardise the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable".

The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus's strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.

Here we go again. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would even want the Presidency, beset as it is by palace intrigue on all sides. Then again, nobody told Obama to hang on to Bob Gates. By the way, this epic whine about Obama actually following through on his promise is all about properly assigning blame:

The source says the network (of military officials), which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.

If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.

I heard Bill Kristol parrot this strategy on Fox News Sunday, answering a question about why Obama hasn't officially announced drawdowns in Iraq by saying "Because he's a responsible man, and he won't withdraw if it isn't safe to do so." Kristol, who has never met a disaster he wasn't responsible for, has his own neocon fantasy agenda of keeping troops in the region to teach Arabs a lesson and enable them to fight in the 8 or 9 other wars he keeps in a list on his Blackberry. And the people who have been wrong about every foreign policy situation for decades upon decades are certainly not the people to listen to about "collapse."

As for Petraeus, it was clear that he was nothing more than a political animal for a while. He figured that his public stature was such that the President of the United States would have to take orders from him. And now he wants to use the media, which is enamored of him, to exact a price on Obama for disobeying him. Maybe he should just declare for 2012 now.

You could see this clash between the military and the young President coming. They don't like taking orders from lowly Democrats and they don't mind undermining their superior officer to make their point.

...By the way, defense spending will increase by 8% in the 2010 FY budget and unnamed sources at the Pentagon are pissed because it's 10% less than what they asked for, portraying this increase as a spending cut. It never stops.

...Shorter PowerTools - You can't cross David Petraeus because he got a lot of applause at the Super Bowl.

Actually that's almost verbatim.

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