Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The bad Petraeus legacy that matters

Our star reporters and pundits love them a sex story. Without the David Petraeus scandal, they might have to sort through government reports and talk to economists about what is really up about this "fiscal cliff" thing and whether Social Security really is going bankrupt as its opponents like to falsely claim.

I'm sure the Petraeus story already has scriptwriters for Law and Order SVU, Covert Affairs (!) and Nikita at work on their own versions of it. A movie version is sure to come along. But unless it turns out that US intelligence was seriously compromised, the story's salacious interest for our press corps will be its main significance to the larger public.

Michael Hastings takes a look at The Sins Of General David Petraeus, the ones that affected many more lives than this affair seemingly did (Buzzfeed 11/11/2012):

There’s his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called "surge," he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.

He did it by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the Shiites' side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into thinking we’d help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise — over 800 Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus’ policies fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni Awakening to fend for themselves. A journalist friend told me a story of an Awakening member, exiled in Amman, whom Petraeus personally assured he would never abandon. The former insurgent had a picture of Petraeus on his wall, but was a little hurt that the general no longer returned his calls.
And he spread his bad policies and destructive leadership to Afghanistan:

Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad that he manipulated President Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul. In Afghanistan, he first underhandedly pushed the White House into escalating the war in September 2009 (calling up columnists to “box” the president in) and waged a full-on leak campaign to undermine the White House policy process. Petraeus famously warned his staff that the White House was "fucking" with the wrong guy.

The doomed Afghanistan surge would come back to bite him in the ass, however. A year after getting the war he wanted, P4 [a Petraeus nickname) got stuck having to fight it himself. ...

The Afghan war was a loser, always was, and always would be — Petraeus made horrible deals with guys like Abdul Razzik and the other Afghan gangsters and killed a bunch of people who didn’t need to be killed. And none of it mattered, or made a dent in his reputation. This was the tour where Broadwell joined him at headquarters, and it’s not so shocking that he’d need to find some solace, somewhere, to get that daily horror show out of his mind.
Hastings describes ways in which "Petraeus more or less had journalists from many major media outlets slurping from the Pentagon’s gravy train."

Spencer Ackerman tells his own story of being (journalistically) seduced by the famous general in How I Was Drawn Into the Cult of David Petraeus Danger Room 11/11/2012. Glenn Greenwald discusses the problem of US press worship of our glorious generals in Petraeus scandal is reported with compelled veneration of all things military The Guardian 11/10/2012:

... military worship is the central religion of America's political and media culture. The military is by far the most respected and beloved institution among the US population - a dangerous fact in any democracy - and, even assuming they wanted to (which they don't), our brave denizens of establishment journalism are petrified of running afoul of that kind of popular sentiment.
Jeremy Schahill also writes of Petraeus' accomplishments at the CIA in The Petraeus Legacy: A Paramilitary CIA? The Nation 11/14/2012:

... the scandal opens a window onto a different and more consequential relationship—that between the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. In a behind-the-scenes turf war that has raged since 9/11, the two government bodies have fought for control of the expanding global wars waged by the United States—a turf war that JSOC has largely won. Petraeus, an instrumental player in this power struggle, leaves behind an agency that has strayed from intelligence to paramilitary-type activities. Though his legacy will be defined largely by the scandal that ended his career, to many within military and intelligence circles, Petraeus’s career trajectory, from commander of US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to the helm of the CIA, is a symbol of this evolution.

Retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former senior defense intelligence official, says that Petraeus’s arrogance—“smoothly concealed beneath the appearance of the warrior scholar”—made him deeply unpopular among the military’s high-ranking officers. Dismissing the media’s portrayal of Petraeus as a “super soldier” and great military leader as “phony bullshit,” Lang describes him as the product of a military promotion system that encourages generals to think of themselves as “divinely selected.” “In fact, he didn’t write the COIN manual, the surge was not the main thing in improving the situation in Iraq…. They sent him to Afghanistan to apply the COIN doctrine in the same glorious way he did in Iraq, and it hasn’t worked. So, if you look beneath the surface from all this stuff, it’s just a lot of hot air. There are great generals, but this guy is not one of them.” Arriving at the CIA, Lang says, Petraeus “wanted to drag them in the covert action direction and to be a major player.”

As for Petraeus’s future, the State Department liaison said, “There will be a lot of profits to be made by him and his immediate circle of advisers, as they’re given a soft landing, whether it’s in academia or within the nexus of the military-industrial complex.”
Speaking of Col. Lang - who once had occasion in an online discussion over neo-Confederate history to let me know he thought I was a prick myself - writes about The Lebanese Factor in the generals' downfall at his Sic Semper Tyrannis blog:

Lebanese society circles in the larger cities, especially Beirut, are centers of intense social and political intrigue at all levels. Both Christian and Muslim communities are devoted and obsessed with conspiracy as a way of life. "Plotting" is to the Lebanese as Sunday TV football is to most "gringo" Americans. There are circles within circles within circles. For the city Lebanese power and influence are to be acquired through association with the politically, militarily and financially powerful. To that end they scheme endlessly and the seductiveness of their culture and frankly, their women, are powerful tools. Whether or not that seduction is carried to fulfilment is a sometimes thing

This culture driven behavior has been exported to the world with the Lebanese diaspora. In the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, there is a large, prosperous, well educated and politically active Lebanese "colony" distributed along the Gulf littoral. It is no surprise to me that there is an attractive, socially prominant [sic] and pretentious Lebanese American woman [Jill Kelley] at the heart of this melodrama. ...

Such outreach programs exist at most bases and are an understandable product of military desire to have friendly relations with surrounding civilian communities. These are communities with which the military on the base would usually have little contact because so many military personnel and their familes [sic] live on the base, shop on the base and send their children to school on the base. Civilian elites react well to such programs because they have the chance to develop contacts and friendships with senior officers that are prestigious in places like Tampa. The chance that such contacts might lead to business opportunities on the base or "the inside track" in a variety of matters adds to the attraction. For the senior officers involved, such programs build relationships that are likely to be useful if they choose to retire from the military in that area.

These two generals are a case study in juvenile irresponsibility. Their emotional vulnerability to the two women who are "showing" thus far in this drama is ridiculous, and they are ridiculous. Their absurdity calls into question the process by which they were repeatedly selected for promotion and assignment to the highest ranks and commands the country possesses. The sense of entitlement that they have displayed to the public through their foolishness is breathtaking. There may well be a lot more to be learned of the circle of intimacy that surrounded this queen bee in Tampa.
Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman point to some possibly serious security concerns in this business between Petraeus and his girlfriend Paul Broadwell in Mistress Revealed CIA Ops as Petraeus’ Mouthpiece ("mistress" has an old-fashioned and odd ring to me) Danger Room 11/12/2012.

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