New faces, same "ugly mirror" for Iraq

Vietnam was never about Gen. Westmoreland, or Gen. Abrams… or the genius of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. It was always about those who commanded them: Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. In like manner, Washington’s search for a solution to its long ago discredited casus belli for the Middle East – both in Iraq and in Afghanistan – will not rest in the military skills of either Adm. Fallon or Gen. Petraeus; or in the way they report progress, or lack of it, against the two insurgencies.

Petraeus and Fallon are two thirds of the team headed by Gates that replaced the old team of Rumsfeld, Abizaid and Casey. To Bush and his bunkered cadre of dismally incompetent elves, is not what these two gentlemen can do that counts, or even their views; what’s important for the encircled neocons is that these individuals with four silver stars on their epaulets can be seen by the American public as a source of interim hope – a “new team” with new ideas replacing the “old team.” To the skeptics among us, Fallon and Petraeus are but scapegoats who are asked to hold the fort until the hawks come up with a plausible reason to launch a wider, more weapons-intensive war. Yes, Iran does come to mind. Hopefully, our assessment will turn out to be wrong.

As much as I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, going over Petraeus’ accomplishments during these last four years, one might conclude that he is not only overrated, but that his conduct is typical of what is expected of a good “political soldier” in the general ranks. It’s not a question of challenging his intellectual ability to be able to draft a better plan to fight the insurgency in Iraq, but what really bears scrutiny is how well he performed during his two deployments there, particularly the all-important second tour.

During his first tour, Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division in its drive to Baghdad, later receiving much acclaim for his success in Mosul, although such success might appear overstated since he operated in an area populated mostly by Kurds. But it’s the second deployment that tells us much about then Lt. Gen. Petraeus, when as commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I) he was put in charge of training the new Iraqi Army and all security forces. Here, however, he gets mixed results at best. A good motivator to Iraqis as well as Americans, within a year and a half he had “created” more than 125 Iraqi combat battalions… and just as many acronyms for myriad groups to make the most demanding bureaucrat proud.

Some will be wowed with admiration, except that all those units and master units our genius general helped create had been infiltrated by insurgents, spies and members of the different Shi’a militia. It just looked good on paper… and that’s how’s done in the military. It continues to be a numbers game, just like it was in Vietnam – then, the infamous daily dead count that tragicomically ended killing more Vietnamese than the entire population in Vietnam. What makes the comparison even more apropos is that the title of David Petraeus’ doctoral dissertation (1987) at Princeton is: “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” Comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

For Bush to search for “victory” – or whatever downgraded equivalent word du jour – in some individual or scheme is either the last gasp of a madman at a loss on what to do, or simply a way to wait out his remaining months in the presidency. Now it’s genius Petraeus, just two months after receiving his fourth star, who will be de-facto reporting directly to Bush, telling America come next September just where “we are.” Could anything be more out of touch with reality… in how the military is supposed to work; or in how a president is expected to lead a nation? Forget about paper-shuffling by Fallon at U.S. Central Command; or Gates, the Pentagon figure-head replacing Rumsfeld. Americans, in ecstatic idiocy, are being asked to wait for the September grading of how the escalation (surge) went… just like they waited for the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group… just like they’ll wait for Washington’s next postponement of a call to peace.

America’s predicament with the state of martial affairs in the Middle East has very little to do with military power or prowess, and everything to do with a sane foreign policy and good governance. The reality which confronts 300 million Americans today is that a former Air National Guard Lieutenant from Texas with a questionable record, and a small and thoroughly confused mind, is the man calling the shots for a Gates, a Petraeus and a Fallon. Shouldn’t someone be reminding Americans about now what happened to the powerful German Wehrmacht when a lunatic ex-corporal, Adolf Hitler, was proclaimed as its commander-in-chief?

All the current political games being played in Congress have little or nothing to do with funding the troops, but rather with the funding of an unjust, imperialistic war that should never have been waged, and under no circumstance maintained. Terrorism, that’s what is being funded, and it’s being done with astounding success. At the rate terrorists are birthed in occupied Islamic territories – and given its multiplier effect – by the time the Oval Office is swept and disinfected in 20 months, Americans traveling overseas will be hard-pressed to forge Canadian identification, and have maple leaf flags decaled all over their luggage and knapsacks.

Forget about Petraeus’ surge or any military doctrine that disguises the nature of both domination and occupation. Superiority in firepower simply is not enough to achieve victory… not in the long run. Like in comic books, military commanders refer to their troops as “the good guys”… the enemy being “the bad guys.” But when you are the invader in someone’s motherland, you have ceased to be the “good guys” even if you are still wearing “Screaming Eagle” patches.

America’s present predicament is not about soldiers, but those who send them to kill and conquer. US’ fate does not rest on Petraeus or Fallon, only on George W. Bush.