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.


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    • Edger on February 4, 2009 at 5:04 pm

  1. Democratic and Republican foreign policies? If not, let’s face that squarely, because if we don’t we will continue to live in the American political fantasy of entitlement, the military cult, and the myth of the hero (a U.S. president or general) on a white horse, as the world burns.  

    • Edger on February 4, 2009 at 7:45 pm


  2. thanks Edger…….

    hope you are well…..

    • Edger on February 5, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Emasculating Obama, A Generals’ Revolt?

    Dave Lindorff at Counterpunch, February 4, 2009

    If an article by Gareth Porter is correct that CentCom Commander Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq Commander Gen. Ray Odierno, backed by a group of lower-ranking generals, are planning to mount a public campaign to try and undermine President Obama’s plan for a withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months, Obama needs to act fast and nip this dangerous act of insubordination in the bud.

    It was a similar act of insubordination on the part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that effectively destroyed the Clinton administration almost from day one.  Recall that one of President Clinton’s first acts following his inauguration was to make good on a campaign promise to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military. His initial order was to simply end the ban on homosexuality in the military. But the Joint Chiefs publicly rebelled, and Clinton caved, coming up with the ridiculous and unworkable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, under which gays and lesbians could serve in the military, but had to hide their sexual orientation or face ouster.

    When Clinton, as commander in chief of the armed forces, allowed his generals to defy his orders, and, instead of sacking them all for insubordination and stripping off their stars, left them in their offices and surrendered to their objections, he didn’t just cave in to the military. He also alerted the Republican opposition that he was a political pushover.

    Obama, on a much more serious issue-the conduct of and termination of a war-is now apparently being more or less openly defied by his top generals, who after all get their glory and power by having troops in battle, and who are also worried that a collapse of the puppet regime in Iraq could leave them looking like losers.  They are thus opposing a pullout from Iraq (and a hardly precipitous one at that!) out of self-interest and self-preservation.

    If Commander in Chief Obama allows this insubordination and political opposition to exist among his senior generals, his presidency is toast. He will be a prisoner to a militarist policy in Iraq and Afghanistan that will drag down his presidency in the same way that Lyndon Johnson’s presidency was destroyed by the generals running the Vietnam War. Furthermore, just as Republicans in Congress saw Clinton’s weakness in his dealings with the Joint Chiefs and began dogging his every more, they, and Obama’s opponents among the Blue Dog Democrats in Congress, will see weakness and move against him.

    There is only one answer to this challenge to presidential authority: President Obama must sack both Petraeus and Odierno, and any other general who tries-openly or behind the scenes–to move politically against his military strategy and orders. The model for this action is President Harry Truman-widely viewed, whatever his faults, as a forceful leader-who fired the popular Gen. Douglas McArthur when McArthur went behind his back to Republicans in Congress to push for a wider war in Korea.

    This is not just a matter of salvaging an Obama presidency. It is also a profound constitutional issue. There is no greater threat to democratic freedom than a military that refuses to accept, or that actively works to undermine civilian authority.  Generals and admirals certainly have a right to object to the decisions made by their commander in chief, but they cannot act in defiance or those decisions while in uniform. Admiral William Fallon took the right course of action. Opposed to Bush/Cheney administration plans to attack Iran, he chose to resign his post as CentCom Commander and to resign from the military. If Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Odierno oppose Obama’s plan for a pullout from Iraq, they should do the same and then speak out if they wish.

    And if he doesn’t fire them, what does that say? 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?

  3. The “origin” of all this?  It’s conjecture, I guess!  But based on what I know and believe, it is a very “contrived” effort from Petraeus (now a candidate, see

    And, there is a 2nd segment to this!  Why you should know Gen. Jack Keane

    Porter: Keane key player in campaign to attack Obama’s plans to withdraw forces from Iraq.

    What a MF, Edger! Who is pushing the buttons, Edger? Obama? Or the behind the scenes “evil doers?”

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