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The Terrorism Issue That Wasn’t Discussed

By: Gareth Porter Sunday September 11, 2011 8:26 pm

In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.

The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.

During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item shouldn’t have been on his list. “You’re right,” he answered. And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”

“Why not,” I asked. “Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”

His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.
The National Intelligence Estimate on “Trends in Global Terrorism” issued in April 2006 concluded that the war in Iraq was “breeding deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim World and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” It found that “activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.” And in a prophetic warning, it said “the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance…particularly abroad but also at home.”

Given the way intelligence assessments get watered down as they ascend the hierarchy of officials, these were remarkably alarming conclusions about the peril that U.S. occupation of Iraq posed to the United States.

And that alarm was shared by at least some counter-terrorism officials as well. Robert Grenier, who had been head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center in 2005-06, was quoted in the July 25, 2007 Los Angeles Times as saying the war “has convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam and is attacking Muslims, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq.”

As the war in Iraq wound down, the U.S. war in Afghanistan — especially the war being waged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — was generating more hatred for the United States. As JSOC scaled up its “night raids” in Afghanistan, it never got the right person in more than 50 percent of the raids, as even senior commanders in JSOC recently admitted to the Washington Post. That indicated that a very large proportion of those killed and detained were innocent civilians. Not surprisingly, the populations of entire districts and provinces were enraged by those raids.

If there is one place on earth where it is obviously irrational to antagonize the male population on a long-term basis, it is the Pashtun region that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan, with its tribal culture of honor and revenge for the killing of family and friends.

Meanwhile, after fleeing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2001, al Qaeda had rebuilt a large network of Pashtun militants in the Pashtun northwest. As the murdered Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad recounted in Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, President Pervez Musharraf, under pressure from Washington, began in 2003 to use the Pakistani army to try to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda by force with helicopter strikes and ground forces. But instead of crushing al Qaeda, those operations further radicalized the population of those al Qaeda base areas, by convincing them that the Pakistani government and army was merely a tool of U.S. control.

Frustrated by the failure of Musharraf to finish off al Qaeda and by the swift rise of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the Bush administration launched a drone war that killed large numbers of civilians in northwest Pakistan. An opinion survey by New American Foundation in the region last year found that 77 percent believed the real purpose of the U.S. “war on terror” is to “weaken and divide the Muslim world” and to “ensure American domination.” And more than two-thirds of the entire population of Pakistan view the United States as the enemy, not as a friend, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

The CIA and the Bush and Obama administrations understood that drone strikes could never end the threat of terrorist plots in Pakistan, as outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden had told the incoming President, according to Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars. And if Obama administration didn’t understand then that the drone war was stoking popular anger at the government and the United States, it certainly does now. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has pointed out that “hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan” because of the drone strikes.

Yet the night raids and the drone strikes continue, as though the risk of widespread and intense anger toward the United States in those countries doesn’t make any difference to the policymakers.
There is only one way to understand this conundrum: there are winners and losers in the “war on terrorism”. Ordinary Americans are clearly the losers, and the institutions and leaders of the military, the Pentagon and the CIA and their political and corporate allies are the winners. They have accumulated enormous resources and power in a collapsing economy and society.

They are not going to do anything about the increased risk to Americans that the hatred their wars have provoked until they are forced to do so by a combination of resistance from people within those countries and an unprecedented rebellion by millions of Americans. It’s long past time to start organizing that rebellion.

 

The Obama-Gates Maneuver on Military Spending

By: Gareth Porter Thursday April 21, 2011 1:17 am

Last week Barack Obama announced that he wants to cut $400 billion in military spending and said he would work Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs on a “fundamental review” of U.S. “military missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world” before making a decision.

Spokesman Geoff Morrell responded by hinting that Gates was displeased with having to cut that much from his spending plan. Gates “has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without future cuts in force structure and military capability,” said Morrell, who volunteered that the Secretary not been informed about the Obama decision until the day before.

But it is difficult to believe that open display of tension between Obama and Gates was not scripted. In the background of those moves is a larger political maneuver on which the two of them have been collaborating since last year in which they gave the Pentagon a huge increase in funding for the next decade and then started to take credit for small or nonexistent reductions from that increase.

The original Obama-Gates base military spending plan – spending excluding the costs of the current wars – for FY 2011 through 2020, called for spending $5.8 trillion, or $580 billion annually, as former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb noted last January. That would have represented a 25 percent real increase over the average annual level of military spending, excluding war costs, by the George W. Bush administration.

Even more dramatic, the Obama-Gates plan was 45 percent higher than the annual average of military spending level in the 1992-2001 decade, as reflected in official DOD data (pdf).

The Obama FY 2012 budget submission reduced the total increase only slightly – by $162 billion over the four years from 2017 to 2020, according to the careful research of the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA). That left an annual average base military spending level of $564 billion – 23 percent higher than Bush’s annual average and 40 percent above the level of the 1990s.

Central to last week’s chapter in the larger game was Obama’s assertion that Gates had already saved $400 billion in his administration. “Over the last two years,” he said, “Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again.”

The $400 billion figure is based primarily on the $330 billion Gates claimed he had saved by stopping, reducing or otherwise changing plans for 31 weapons programs. But contrary to the impression left by Obama, that figure does not reflect any cut in projected DOD spending. All of it was used to increase spending on operations and investment in the military budget.

The figure was concocted, moreover, by using tricky accounting methods verging on chicanery. It was based on arbitrary assumptions about how much all 31 programs would have cost over their entire lifetimes stretching decades into the future, assuming they would all reach completion. That methodology offered endless possibilities for inflated claims of savings.

The PDA points out that yet another $100 billion that Gates announced in January as cost-cutting by the military services was also used to increase spending on operations and new weapons program that the services wanted. That leaves another $78 billion in cuts over five years also announced by Gates in January, but most of that may have been added to the military budget for “overseas contingency operations” rather than contributed to deficit reduction, according to the PDA.

Even if the $400 billion in ostensible cuts that Obama is seeking were genuine, the Pentagon would be still be sitting on total projected increase of 14 percent above the profligate level of military spending of the Bush administration. Last week’s White House fact sheet on deficit reduction acknowledged that Obama has the “goal of holding the growth in base security spending below inflation.”

The “fundamental review” that Obama says will be carried out with the Pentagon and military bureaucracies will be yet another chapter in this larger maneuver. It’s safe bet that, in the end, Gates will reach into his bag of accounting tricks again for most of the desired total.

Despite the inherently deceptive character of Obama’s call for the review, it has a positive side: it gives critics of the national security state an opportunity to point out that such a review should be carried out by a panel of independent military budget analysts who have no financial stake in the outcome – unlike the officials of the national security state.

Such an independent panel could come up with a list of all the military missions and capabilities that don’t make the American people more secure or even make them less secure, as well as those for which funding should be reduced substantially because of technological and other changes. It could also estimate how much overall projected military spending should be reduced, without regard to what would be acceptable to the Pentagon or a majority in Congress.

The panel would not require White House or Congressional approval. It could be convened by a private organization or, better yet, by a group of concerned Members of Congress. They could use its data and conclusions as the basis for creating a legislative alternative to existing U.S. national security policy, perhaps in the form of a joint resolution. That would give millions of Americans who now feel that nothing can be done about endless U.S. wars and the national security state’s grip on budgetary resources something to rally behind.

Three convergent political forces are contributing to the eventual weakening of the national security state: the growing popular opposition to a failed war, public support for shifting spending priorities from the national security sector to the domestic economy and pressure for deficit and debt reduction. But in the absence of concerted citizen action, it could take several years to see decisive results. Seizing the opportunity for an independent review of military missions and spending would certainly speed up that process.

Why Washington Clings to a Failed Middle East Strategy

By: Gareth Porter Monday January 31, 2011 5:42 pm

The death throes of the Mubarak regime in Egypt signal a new level of crisis for a U.S. Middle East strategy that has shown itself over and over again in recent years to be based on nothing more than the illusion of power. The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy.

But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up. The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society, as former NSC official Gary Sick hinted in a commentary on the crisis.

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, every U.S. administration has operated on the assumption that the United States, with Israel and Egypt as key client states, occupies a power position in the Middle East that allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy of unrelenting pressure on all those “rogue” regimes and parties in the region which have resisted dominance by the U.S.-Israeli tandem: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was only the most extreme expression of that broader strategic concept. It assumed that the United States and Israel could establish pro-Western regime in Iraq as the base from which it would press for the elimination of resistance from any of their remaining adversaries in the region.

But since that more aggressive version of the strategy was launched, the illusory nature of the regional dominance strategy has been laid bare in one country after another.

• The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq merely empowered Shi’a forces to form a regime whose geostrategic interests are far closer to Iran than to the United States;

• The U.S.-encouraged Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 only strengthened the position of Hezbollah as the largest, most popular and most disciplined political-military force in the country, leading ultimately the Hezbollah-backed government now being formed.

• Israeli and U.S. threats to attack Iran, Hezbollah and Syria since 2006 brought an even more massive influx of rockets and missiles into Lebanon and Syria which now appears to deter Israeli aggressiveness toward its adversaries for the first time.

• U.S.-Israeli efforts to create a client Palestinian entity and crush Hamas through the siege of Gaza has backfired, strengthening the Hamas claim to be the only viable Palestinian entity.

• The U.S. insistence on demonstrating the effectiveness of its military power in Afghanistan has only revealed the inability of the U.S. military to master the Afghan insurgency.

And now the Mubarak regime is in its final days. As one talking head after another has pointed out in recent days, it has been the lynchpin of the U.S. strategy. The main function of the U.S. client state relationship with Egypt was to allow Israel to avoid coming to terms with Palestinian demands.

The costs of the illusory quest for dominance in the Middle East have been incalculable. By continuing to support Israeli extremist refusal to seek a peaceful settlement, trying to prop up Arab authoritarian regimes that are friendly with Israel and seeking to project military power in the region through both airbases in the Gulf States and a semi-permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the strategy has assiduously built up long-term antagonism toward the United States and pushed many throughout the Islamic world to sympathize with Al Qaeda-style jihadism. It has also fed Sunni-Shi’a tensions in the region and created a crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.

Although this is clearly the time to scrap that Middle East strategy, the nature of U.S. national security policymaking poses formidable obstacles to such an adjustment Bureaucrats and bureaucracies always want to hold on to policies and programs that have given them power and prestige, even if those policies and programs have been costly failures. Above all, in fact, they want to avoid having to admit the failure and the costs involved. So they go on defending and pursuing strategies long after the costs and failure have become clear.

An historical parallel to the present strategy in the Middle East is the Cold War strategy in East Asia, including the policy of surrounding, isolating and pressuring the Communist Chinese regime. As documented in my own history of the U.S. path to war in Vietnam, Perils of Dominance the national security bureaucracy was so committed to that strategy that it resisted any alternative to war in South Vietnam in 1964-65, because it believed the loss of South Vietnam would mean the end of Cold War strategy, with its military alliances, client regimes and network of military bases surrounding China. It was only during the Nixon administration that the White House wrested control of national security policy from the bureaucracy sufficiently to scrap that Cold War strategy in East Asia and reach an historic accommodation with China.

The present strategic crisis can only be resolved by a similar political decision to reach another historical accommodation – this time with the “resistance bloc” in the Middle East. Despite the demonization of Iran and the rest of the “resistance bloc”, their interests on the primary issue of al Qaeda-like global terrorism have long been more aligned with the objective security interests of the United States than those of some regimes with which the United States has been allied (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan).

Scrapping the failed strategy in favor of an historic accommodation in the region would:

• reduce the Sunni-Shi’a geopolitical tensions in the region by supporting a new Iran-Egypt relationship;

• force Israel to reconsider its refusal to enter into real negotiations on a Palestinian settlement;

• reduce the level of antagonism toward the United States in the Islamic world and

• create a new opportunity for agreement between the United States and Iran that could resolve the nuclear issue.

It will be far more difficult, however, for the United States to make this strategic adjustment than it was for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to secretly set in motion their accommodation with China. Unconditional support for Israel, the search for client states and determination to project military power into the Middle East, which are central to the failed strategy, have long reflected the interests of the two most powerful domestic U.S. political power blocs bearing on national security policy: the pro-Israel bloc and the militarist bloc. Whereas Nixon and Kissinger were not immobilized by fealty to any such power bloc, both the pro-Israel and militarist power blocs now dominate both parties in the White House as well as in Congress.

One looks in vain for a political force in this country that is free to press for fundamental change in Middle East strategy. And without a push for such a change from outside, we face the distinct possibility of a national security bureaucracy and White House continuing to deny the strategy’s utter failure and disastrous consequences.

From Military-Industrial Complex to Permanent War State

By: Gareth Porter Monday January 17, 2011 8:36 am

Fifty years after Dwight D. Eisenhower’s January 17, 1961 speech on the “military-industrial complex”, that threat has morphed into a far more powerful and sinister force than Eisenhower could have imagined.  It has become a “Permanent War State”, with the power to keep the United States at war continuously for the indefinite future.  

But despite their seeming invulnerability, the vested interests behind U.S. militarism have been seriously shaken twice in the past four decades by some combination of public revulsion against a major war, opposition to high military spending, serious concern about the budget deficit and a change in perception of the external threat.  Today, the Permanent War State faces the first three of those dangers to its power simultaneously — and in a larger context of the worst economic crisis since the great depression.

When Eisenhower warned in this farewell address of the “potential” for the “disastrous rise of misplaced power”, he was referring to the danger that militarist interests would gain control over the country’s national security policy. The only  reason it didn’t happen on Ike’s watch is that he stood up to the military and its allies.

The Air Force and the Army were so unhappy with his “New Look” military policy that they each waged political campaigns against it. The Army demanded that Ike reverse his budget cuts and beef up conventional forces. The Air Force twice fabricated intelligence to support its claim that the Soviet Union was rapidly overtaking the United States in strategic striking power — first in bombers, later in ballistic missiles.  

But Ike defied both services, reducing Army manpower by 44 percent from its 1953 level and refusing to order a crash program for bombers or for missiles.  He also rejected military recommendations for war in Indochina, bombing attacks on China and an ultimatum to the Soviet Union.

After Eisenhower, it became clear that the alliance of militarist interests included not only the military services and their industrial clients but civilian officials in the Pentagon, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, top officials at the State Department and the White House national security adviser.  During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, that militarist alliance succeeded in pushing the White House into a war in Vietnam, despite the reluctance of both presidents, as documented in my book Perils of Dominance. 

But just when the power of the militarist alliance seemed unstoppable in the late 1960s, the public turned decisively against the VietnamWar, and a long period of public pressure to reduce military spending began.  As a result, military manpower was reduced to below even the Eisenhower era levels.

For more than a decade the alliance of militarist interests was effectively constrained from advocating a more aggressive military posture.

Even during the Reagan era, after a temporary surge in military spending, popular fear of Soviet Union melted away in response to the rise of Gorbachev, just as the burgeoning federal budget deficit was becoming yet another threat to militarist bloc.  As it became clear that the Cold War was drawing to a close, the militarist interests faced the likely loss of much of their power and resources.   

But in mid-1990 they got an unexpected break when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. George H. W. Bush – a key figure in the militarist complex as former CIA Director — seized the opportunity to launch a war that would end the “Vietnam syndrome”.  The Bush administration turned a popular clear-cut military victory in the 1991 Gulf War into a rationale for further use of military force in the Middle East.   Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s 1992 military strategy for the next decade said, “We must be prepared to act decisively in the Middle East/Persian Gulf region as we did in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm if our vital interests are threatened anew.”  

The Bush administration pressured the Saudis and other Arab regimes in the Gulf to allow longer-term bases for the U.S. Air Force, and over the next eight years, U.S. planes flew an annual average of 8,000 sorties in the “no fly zones” the United States had declared over most of Iraq, drawing frequent anti-aircraft fire.

The United States was already in a de facto state of war with Iraq well before George W. Bush’s presidency.

The 9/11 attacks were the biggest single boon to the militarist alliance.  The Bush administration exploited the climate of fear to railroad the country into a war of aggression against Iraq.  The underlying strategy, approved by the military leadership after 9/11, was to use Iraq as a base from which to wage a campaign of regime change in a long list of countries.  

That fateful decision only spurred recruitment and greater activism by al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, which expanded into Iraq and other countries.  

Instead of reversing the ill-considered use of military force, however, the same coalition of officials pushed for an even more militarized approach to jihadism.  Over the next few years, it to gained unprecedented power over resources and policy at home and further extended its reach abroad: 

The Special Operations Forces, which operate in almost complete secrecy, obtained extraordinary authority to track down and kill or capture al Qaeda suspects not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in many more countries.

 The CIA sought and obtained virtually unlimited freedom to carry out drone strikes in secrecy and without any meaningful oversight by Congress.

 The Pentagon embraced the idea of the “long war” – a twenty-year strategy envisioning deployment of U.S. troops in dozens of countries, and the Army adopted the idea of “the era of persistent warfare” as its rationale for more budgetary resources.

 The military budget doubled from 1998 to 2008 in the biggest explosion of military spending since the early 1950s – and now accounts for 56 percent of discretionary federal spending.

 The military leadership used its political clout to ensure that U.S. forces would continue to fight in Afghanistan indefinitely, even after the premises of its strategy were shown to have been false.

 Those moves have completed the process of creating a “Permanent War State” — a set of institutions with the authority to wage largely secret wars across a vast expanse of the globe for the indefinite future.  

But the power of this new state formation is still subject to the same political dynamics that have threatened militarist interests twice before:  popular antipathy to a major war, broad demands for reduced military spending and the necessity to reduce the Federal budget deficit and debt.

The percentage of Americans who believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting has now reached 60 percent for the first time.  And as the crisis over the federal debt reaches it climax, the swollen defense budget should bear the brunt of deep budget cuts. 

As early as 2005, a Pew Research Center survey found that, when respondents were given the opportunity to express a preference for budget cuts by major accounts, they opted to reduce  military spending by 31 percent.  In another survey by the Pew Center a year ago, 76 percent of respondents, frustrated by the continued failure of the U.S. economy, wanted the United States to put top priority in its domestic problems.   

The only thing missing from this picture is a grassroots political movement organized specifically to demand an end to the Permanent War State.  Such a movement could establish firm legal restraints on the institutions that threaten American Democratic institutions through a massive educational and lobbying effort. This is the right historical moment to harness the latent anti-militarist sentiment in the country to a conscious strategy for political change.

The Petraeus Bait and Switch Maneuver

By: Gareth Porter Sunday September 19, 2010 12:10 pm

In interviews in recent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus has been taking a line on what will happen in mid-2011 that challenges President Barack Obama’s intention to begin a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by that date.  This new Petraeus line is the culmination of a brazen bait and switch maneuver on the war by the most powerful military commander in modern U.S. history. 

It represents a new stage in the process by which Petraeus, abetted by his allies in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, has appropriated much of the power over decisions on war policy that rightly belongs to the commander-in-chief.

President Obama agreed to the troop surge for Afghanistan last November on the explicit condition that Petraeus and the Pentagon agreed to begin handing over real responsibility for security to the Afghan army and begin a real drawdown of U.S. troops by July 2011. The account by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, based on interviews with those who participated in the meetings on Afghanistan last fall, shows that Obama was quite clear and determined about the war policy he wanted in Afghanistan: 

There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

Alter reports precisely what happened in the climactic meeting of November 29, 2009:     

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 that we stay, right?”

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

Petraeus was agreeing that, if the counterinsurgency strategy was not going well at the end of the 18-months, he would not use that as an argument that he needed more time to demonstrate the success of the strategy.  Obama was using a JFK-like tactic to “box in” Petraeus.  

But Petraeus has now revealed in the media offensive that began in mid-August that his agreement to the Obama plan was the “bait” in his bait and switch maneuver. 

He has now let it be known that he may not go along with beginning a troop drawdown in July 2011 as he had agreed with Obama. When asked on “Meet the Press” on August 15 whether he might tell Obama that the drawdown should be delayed beyond mid-2011, Petraeus said, “Certainly, yes”.  

And in an another challenge to the agreement with Obama, Petraeus suggested in an interview with ABC news last week that there could no clear-cut “hand-off” of primary responsibility for security to the ANA next July.  Instead, Petraeus described the July 2011 “transition” in Afghanistan as, “You do a bit less and the Afghans do a little bit more instead of saying, ‘Tag, you’re it.  You take the ball and run with it. We’re out of here.’” 

Setting aside his obviously tendentious characterization of a real security hand-off,  Petraeus’s  baby steps approach to the post-July 2011 transition is clearly at odds with Petraeus’s assurance to Obama last November that he could “train and hand over to the ANA” by July 2011.    

These new Petraeus line on July 2011 represents the “switch” in his bait and switch maneuver.  Along with Gates and Mullen, Petraeus had agreed to one set of terms for the troop surge last November. Now he is advocating an altogether different war policy.  

Given the widely-publicized excerpt from Alter’s book in Newsweek last May, Petraeus’s commitment to Obama last November is hardly a state secret. But in American politics, if the news media decide not to refer to an event, it is equivalent to expunging it from effective historical memory.     

That is exactly what has happened to the Obama-Petraeus agreement.  Not a single reference to that agreement has appeared in news media coverage of Petraeus’s statements relating to July 2011. 

Instead of firing Petraeus for his perfidy on the November 2009 agreement, meanwhile, Obama has thus far passively accepting Petraeus’s bait and switch maneuver, just as he truckled to Petraeus and Odierno on withdrawal from Iraq last year. 

The Petraeus bait and switch is a yet another fire-bell in the night – a warning that Petraeus has gained unprecedented power over U.S. war policy. By drawing Obama into a deepening of U.S. military involvement in an unnecessary and self-destructive war on the false pretense that he supported Obama’s policy and then turning on that November 2009 policy once he became commander, Petraeus is acting as though he intends to prevent the President from carrying out the policy on which he had decided.

Unless Petraeus’s bait and switch is decisively rebuffed by the White House, the country’s descent into de facto military control over war policy will continue and accelerate.

Biden and the False Iraq War Narrative

By: Gareth Porter Sunday September 5, 2010 4:03 pm

In an interview on the PBS NewsHour last Wednesday, Joe Biden was unwilling to contradict the official narrative of the Iraq War that Gen. David Petraeus and the Bush surge had  turned Iraq into a good war after all.  That interview serves as a reminder of just how completely the Democratic Party foreign policy elite has adopted that narrative.

The Iraq War story line crafted by the Petraeus and the new counterinsurgency elite in Washington assures the public that U.S. military power in Iraq brought about the cooperation of the Sunnis in Anbar Province, ended sectarian violence in Baghdad and defeated Iranian-backed Shi’a insurgents.

In reality, of course, that’s not what happened at all. It’s time to review the relevant history and deconstruct the Petraeus narrative which the Obama administration now appears to have adopted.

The Sunni decision to cooperate in the suppression of al Qaeda in Iraq had nothing to do with the surge.  The main Sunni armed resistance groups had actually turned against al Qaeda in 2005, when they began trying to make a deal with the United States to end the war.

At an Iraqi reconciliation conference in Cairo, November 19-21, 2005, leaders of the three major Sunni armed groups (one of which was a coalition of several resistance organization) told U.S. and Arab officials they were willing to track down al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and deliver him to Iraqi authorities as part of a negotiated agreement with the United States.  The Sunni insurgent leaders were motivated not only by hatred of al Qaeda but by the fear that a Shi’a-dominated government would consolidate power and exclude the Sunnis permanently unless the United States acted to rebalance its policy in Iraq.

Two months later, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad actually entered into secret negotiations with the three major Sunni insurgent groups 2006, as later reported by the Sunday Times and confirmed by Khalilzad. The Sunni leaders even submitted a formal peace proposal to Khalilzad.  They insisted on a “timetable for withdrawal” as part of the deal, but it was “linked to the timescale necessary to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces and security services”, according to Sunday Times.

Khalilzad cut off the negotiations in February 2006, because such an agreement would have conflicted with a broader strategy of standing up a Shi’a army to suppress the Sunni insurgency.

The major Shi’a factions, determined to eliminate any possible threat to its power from the Sunnis in Baghdad, unleashed death squads, mostly from the Mahdi Army, in Sunni neighborhoods across the entire city in 2006 and early 2007.

The result was the defeat of the Sunni insurgents’ political-military bases in Baghdad, and the  transformation of the capital from a mixed Sunni-Shi’a city into an overwhelmingly Shi’a city, as shown dramatically in this series of maps, based on U.S. military census data.

As a result, by late 2006, the Sunni leaders were feeling much more vulnerable to Shi’a power.    Col. Sean McFarland, U.S. Army brigade commander in Al Anbar province throughout 2006, found Sunni sheiks expressing “[a] growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias….”

It was that fear of the Shi’a power that drove local Sunni decisions to join U.S.-sponsored Sunni neighborhood armed groups in Anbar.

The sectarian violence in Baghdad began to abate by August 2007, but not because of additional U.S. troops as the official narrative of the war suggests.  It was because the Shi’a had accomplished their aim of confining the Sunni population to relatively small enclaves in Baghdad.  That relationship between the achievement of that aim and the reduced violence was noted by the September 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The main Petraeus conceit about his strategy in Iraq is that it defeated a Shi’a insurgency that represented an Iranian “proxy war” in Iraq.  But the main premise on which that claim was based — that Iran was backing “rogue elements” of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army — was simply a psywar ploy by Petraeus and his staff. The objective of the “rogue elements” line was to divide the Mahdi Army, as military and intelligence officials admitted to pro-war blogger Bill Roggio.

The official narrative suggested that Iran exerted political influence in Iraq by supporting armed groups opposing the government. In fact, however,Iran’s key Iraqi allies had always been the two Shi’a factions with which the United States was allied against Sadr — the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party.  They had both gotten Iranian support and training during the war against Saddam, and the fiercely nationalist Sadr had criticized SCIRI leaders as Iranian stooges.

The al-Maliki government had no problem with Iranian training and financial support of the Mahdi Army in 2006, when the Mahdi Army was eliminating the Sunni threat from Baghdad.  But once it was clear that the Sunnis had been defeated, the historical conflict between Sadr and the other Shi’a factions reemerged in spring 2007.

The Iranian interest was to ensure that the Shi’a-dominated government of Iraq consolidated its power.  Iran’s “supreme leader” Ali Khamenei told al-Maliki in August 2007 that Iran would support his taking control of Sadr’s strongholds.  Later that same month, al-Maliki went to Karbala and gave the local police chief “carte blanche” to attack the Sadrists there.  After two days of violence, Sadr declared a six-month “freeze” on Mahdi Army military operations August 27, 2007.

By late 2007, contrary to the official Iraq legend, the al-Maliki government and the Bush administration were both publicly crediting Iran with pressuring Sadr to agree to the unilateral ceasefire – to the chagrin of Petraeus.

Al-Maliki launched the attack on Mahdi Army forces in Basrah in March 2008 in the knowledge that Iran would back him against Sadr.  And when it went badly, he turned to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard official in charge of day-to-day Iraq policy, to force a ceasefire on Sadr.  Soleimani told Iraqi President Talibani that Iran supported al-Maliki’s efforts to “dismantle all militias”, and Sadr agreed to a ceasefire within 24 hours of Iran’s intervention.

So it was Iran’s restraint — not Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy — that effectively ended the Shi’a insurgent threat.

It was Soleimani who had presided over the secret April 2006 meeting of Shi’a leaders that had chosen al-Maliki as Prime Minister, after having been smuggled into the Green Zone without telling the Americans. And that was only one of a several trips Soleimani made to the Green Zone over a two-year period without U.S. knowledge.

But Biden doesn’t want to know this and other historical facts that contradict the official narrative on Iraq.  For the Democratic foreign policy elite, staying ignorant of the real history of the Iraq War allows them to believe that deploying U.S. military forces in Muslim countries can be an effective instrument of U.S. power.

Serial Denial and the Permanent War System

By: Gareth Porter Tuesday August 10, 2010 8:56 am

Two months ago, I wrote that the Obama administration and the U.S. command in Afghanistan faced an “Iraq 2006 moment” in the second half of 2010 – a collapse of domestic political support for a failed war paralleling the political crisis of Bush’s Iraq War in 2006. Now comes Republican Congressman Frank Wolf to make that parallel with 2006 eerily precise.

Wolf published a letter to President Obama last week calling for the immediate establishment of an “Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group”. It would be the son of the Iraq Study Group. Wolf is the Congressman who authored the legislation in 2005 creating the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to come up with fresh ideas for that failing war. The Wolf proposal came nearly a year after American public had turned against the war decisively in January 2005, when support for the war fell to 39 percent.

The U.S. public had withdrawn its support because it had become obvious that the war was a failure. The Bush administration had overthrown the Saddam Hussein regime only to unleash a violent Sunni-Shi’a sectarian power struggle that the U.S. military couldn’t control. Even worse, the U.S. military presence was objectively supporting one side in that power struggle by building up a clearly sectarian military and police sector, even as it pretended by the honest broker between Sunni and Shi’a.

By 2006 it had become apparent even to the political elite that the war was failing and that something had to be done. But for war supporters like Wolf, the idea was not to find a way out of a criminally stupid war but to tweak the war strategy so that the administration could rebuild public support for it.

The problem with the Baker-Hamilton group was not that it didn’t have the information it needed to call for end to the U.S. war. Bob Woodward’s The War Within reveals that the commander of all U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Pete Chiarelli, told the Iraq Study Group that the sectarian character of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government was the primary problem. And the officer in charge of training the Iraqi army, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told the group that, without Sunni-Shi’a reconciliation, “[T]here are not enough troops in the world to provide security.”   . . . 

The Real Aim of Israel’s Bomb Iran Campaign

By: Gareth Porter Thursday July 29, 2010 10:02 pm

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s screed justifying an Israeli bombing attack on Iran coincides with the opening the new Israel lobby campaign marked by the introduction of  House resolution 1553 expressing full support for such an Israeli attack.

What is important to understand about this campaign is that the aim of Gerecht and of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is to support an attack by Israel so that the United States can be drawn into direct, full-scale war with Iran.

That has long been the Israeli strategy for Iran, because Israel cannot fight a war with Iran without full U.S. involvement. Israel needs to know that the United States will finish the war that Israel wants to start.

Gerecht openly expresses the hope that any Iranian response to the Israeli attack would trigger full-scale U.S. war against Iran. “If Khamenei has a death-wish, he’ll let the Revolutionary Guards mine the strait, the entrance to the Persian Gulf,” writes Gerecht. “It might be the only thing that would push President Obama to strike Iran militarily….”

Gerecht suggest that the same logic would apply to any Iranian “terrorism against the United States after an Israeli strike,” by which he really means any attack on a U.S. target in the Middle East.  Gerecht writes that Obama might be “obliged” to threaten major retaliation “immediately after an Israeli surprise attack.”

That’s the key sentence in this very long Gerecht argument. Obama is not going to be “obliged” to joint an Israeli aggression against Iran unless he feels that domestic political pressures to do so are too strong to resist. That’s why the Israelis are determined to line up a strong majority in Congress and public opinion for war to foreclose Obama’s options.

In the absence of confidence that Obama would be ready to come into the war fully behind Israel, there cannot be an Israeli strike.

Gerecht’s argument for war relies on a fanciful nightmare scenario of Iran doling out nuclear weapons to Islamic extremists all over the Middle East. But the real concern of the Israelis and their lobbyists, as Gerecht’s past writing has explicitly stated, is to destroy Iran’s Islamic regime in a paroxysm of U.S. military violence.

Gerecht first revealed this Israeli-neocon fantasy as early as 2000, before the Iranian nuclear program was even taken seriously, in an essay for a book published by the Project for a New American Century.  Gerecht argued that, if Iran could be caught in a “terrorist act,” the U.S. Navy should “retaliate with fury”. The purpose of such a military response, he wrote, should be to “strike with truly devastating effect against the ruling mullahs and the repressive institutions that maintain them.”

And lest anyone fail to understand what he meant by that, Gerecht was more explicit: “That is, no cruise missiles at midnight to minimize the body count. The clerics will almost certainly strike back unless Washington uses overwhelming, paralyzing force."

In 2006-07, the Israeli war party had reason to believed that it could hijack U.S. policy long enough to get the war it wanted, because it had placed one of its most militant agents, David Wurmser, in a strategic position to influence that policy.

We now know that Wurmser, formerly a close adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and during that period Vice President Dick Cheney’s main adviser on the Middle East, urged a policy of overwhelming U.S. military force against Iran.  After leaving the administration in 2007, Wurmser revealed that he had advocated a U.S. war on Iran, not to set back the nuclear program but to achieve regime change.

"Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians,” Wurmser told The Telegraph.  The U.S. attack was not to be limited to nuclear targets but was to be quite thorough and massively destructive. “If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you’re not going to kill it."

Of course, that kind of war could not be launched out of the blue.  It would have required a casus belli to justify a limited initial attack that would then allow a rapid escalation of U.S. military force.  In 2007, Cheney acted on Wurmser’s advice and tried to get Bush to provoke a war with Iran over Iraq, but it was foiled by the Pentagon.

As Wurmser was beginning to whisper that advice in Cheney’s ear in 2006, Gerecht was making the same argument in The Weekly Standard:

Bombing the nuclear facilities once would mean we were declaring war on the clerical regime. We shouldn’t have any illusions about that. We could not stand idly by and watch the mullahs build other sites. If the ruling mullahs were to go forward with rebuilding what they’d lost–and it would be surprising to discover the clerical regime knuckling after an initial bombing run–we’d have to strike until they stopped. And if we had any doubt about where their new facilities were (and it’s a good bet the clerical regime would try to bury new sites deep under heavily populated areas), and we were reasonably suspicious they were building again, we’d have to consider, at a minimum, using special-operations forces to penetrate suspected sites.

The idea of waging a U.S. war of destruction against Iran is obvious lunacy, which is why U.S. military leaders have strongly resisted it both during the Bush and Obama administrations.  But  Gerecht makes it clear that Israel believes it can use its control of Congress to pound Obama into submission. Democrats in Congress, he boasts, “are mentally in a different galaxy than they were under President Bush.” Even though Israel has increasingly been regarded around the world as a rogue state after its Gaza atrocities and the commando killings of unarmed civilians on board the Mavi Marmara, its grip on the U.S. Congress appears as strong as ever.

Moreover, polling data for 2010 show that a majority of Americans have already been manipulated into supporting war against Iran – in large part because more than two-thirds of those polled have gotten the impression that Iran already has nuclear weapons.  The Israelis are apparently hoping to exploit that advantage. “If the Israelis bomb now, American public opinion will probably be with them,” writes Gerecht. “Perhaps decisively so.”

Netanyahu must be feeling good about the prospects for pressuring Barack Obama to join an Israeli war of aggression against Iran.  It was Netanyahu, after all, who declared in 2001, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way.”