Mutiny Among the Military

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    UPDATE: This was first published in bluecommonwealth.com over a year ago; in view of the Rolling Stone article I am re-printing it now. At the time, I was concerned about the politicization of the military by President Bush, and the growing power of the military-industrial complex under his administration, coupled with a virulent anti-Obama group of rising younger officers. Today we see the results. Note unedited e-mails circulating among younger officers.

    One week after his inauguration Barack Obama is facing the first security test of America and his presidency, and the attack is coming not from sinister jihadist cave-dwellers, but from the Pentagon and a disgruntled cabal of both retired and active-duty top-ranking military officers. Included in the group are General David Petraeus (author of the “Surge” in Iraq, named CENTCOM Commander by Bush in October 2008), General Ray Odierno (replaced Petraeus as top commander in Iraq), General Jack Keane, US Army, ret. (Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army 1999-2003), a network of senior (and some not-so-senior) military officers, and very possibly Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense, held over from the Bush administration by Obama). Frustrated by President Obama’s determination to withdraw troops from Iraq, there is evidence they are mounting a public relations campaign to trivialize and intimidate Obama into doing as they want, in what amounts to acts of insubordination, thereby creating a constitutional crisis.

    During the closing days of 2008 then-President Bush’s administration was frantically negotiating a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, because the UN resolution authorizing the  use of Coalition forces (mainly American) in Iraq ran out on 31 December 2008. The new SOFA, signed just in the nick of time, stipulated that US troops would be withdrawn from all Iraqi cities by 30 June 2009 (this year), and all troops would leave Iraq completely by New Year’s Day 2012 (within 36 months).

    In mid-December 2008 Secretary Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen (became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1 October 2007), met with President-elect Obama, according to a New York Times story dated 18 December, and told Obama they recommended re-categorizing “large numbers” of combat troops as support troops. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…

    This re-labeling subterfuge was intended to permit Obama to keep his campaign promise to withdraw American troops within 16 months without actually removing any combat forces at all- thus also subverting the SOFA’s intent, in a “rose by any other name” maneuver designed to fool the media and, hopefully, the Iraqis. On 21 January 2009 General David Petraeus, supported by Secretary Gates, met with now-President Obama in the Oval Office, and “tried to convince (him)… that he had to back down from his campaign pledge.” Obama refused and directed Gates, Petraeus, and Admiral Mullen, to return quickly with a detailed 16-month plan for withdrawal. Petraeus was “visibly unhappy” when he left the Oval Office, according to a staffer who was present, who explained “Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama.”

    Retired General Keane has been from the beginning a key player in the entire Surge policy.  He was Petraeus’ mentor and political ally, persuading President Bush to ignore the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the stress on the military of Iraq combined with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and to appoint Petraeus top commander in Iraq when General George Casey refused to support the Surge. President Bush in September 2007 even promised that Petraeus could have as many troops as he needed “for as long as wanted” (as Bob Woodward reports in his book The War Within).  Keane also persuaded Gates to make Petraeus the new commander of CENTCOM by arguing that keeping Petraeus over there would be insurance against a Democratic administration’s changing Bush policies in the Mid East.  

    An outline for the public relations campaign against Obama turned up the very evening of 21 January, right after a stunned and angry Petraeus left the Oval Office, when General Keane was on the Lehrer News Hour. The theme was that Obama’s withdrawal policy would threaten the gains supposedly won by Bush’s Surge. Keane insisted that Obama’s plan would jeopardize what he called the “stable political situation in Iraq,” and was unacceptably risky.

    The New York Times published an interview with Odierno on 29 January which hinted that President Obama was “open to alternatives.”  The point was that Odierno had his own plan for a slower draw-down, hinting that it might take the rest of the year to determine when a significant withdrawal might begin. This was, of course, a direct contradiction of the President’s express orders on 21 January. The Keane network includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon who will begin working the journalists who cover the Pentagon, making the case that Obama’s reckless withdrawal plan will create an eventual political collapse of Iraq, supposedly because, with American troops out of the way, civil war will surely break out, and all of America’s hard work will be for naught. Who will bankroll such a public relations effort? I suspect the industrial-military complex, those corporations who make bundle out of constant warfare.

    Gareth Porter in the Huffington article believes that Keane convinced Gates, Odierno, and Petraeus that no Democratic President could stand the political risk of rejecting Petraeus’ recommendation to delay troop withdrawal—- hence Petraeus’ bitter shock, and the plans of Keane’s network to take Obama down.  Joe Klein, writing in Time magazine, claims that Obama told Petraeus during his July trip to Iraq that, if he were elected, he would “regard the overall health of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the situation in Afghanistan as more important than Petraeus’ obvious interest in maximizing U.S. troop strength in Iraq.” It seems that Petraeus believed his mentor Keane rather than the Democratic candidate.  And, why not? The Pentagon had Bush completely under their thumb, and Keane’s far flung network can ruin Obama.

    I myself have received copies of some alarming e-mails from younger mid-level officers, those who will be our next generation of generals, spouting  attacks on Obama, picking apart his every utterance and every appointment he makes, and wildly defending Bush and his policies, sounding more like Rush Limbaugh and talk radio than commissioned officers as they spout right-wing talking points. Example: In going over Obama’s Inauguration speech, every phrase was rebutted or scorned: “We reject as false the choice between our own safety and our ideals,” said Obama (whom they call “the enlightened one” whenever possible). The rebuttal by the officer: “this is simply slander, pure and simple. This is the old “shredding the Constitution” line cloaked in lofty rhetoric…. Furthermore, virtually everything the administration has done with respect to security has been upheld by the courts. No-one’s ideals were rejected except perhaps the ACLU’s.”  When it comes to climate change there is an orgy of sneering, including “Still spreading the old global warming fear, just as scientists are coming forward to admit that the theories were flawed… the planet has actually cooled over the past 10 years.”

    The intent of these e-mails is to trivialize and debase respect for President Obama, and that is even more explicit in a rather pompous e-mail from another young officer, purporting to offer advice to Mr. Obama on how to change his performance before he becomes a laughing stock and humiliates America before the entire world. Sample phrases: “Even the fawning media—- that is responsible in some way for the crisis, given that they chose to be Pravda-like in encouraging the messianic style that got a haughty Obama in his present mess—- will start bailing in efforts to restore their lost fides.”  And more “Then there were the inflated lectures on historic foreign policy to be made by the clumsy political novice who trashed his own country and his predecessor in the most ungracious manner overseas.” And finally the free advice, “Drop all the talk about the best, the most, the greatest ethical, moral, legal…I think Geithner cannot now stay… Never trash your predecessor or the US abroad.  Trust Billary, Gates, and Jones on foreign policy. Hush about the Bush homeland security measures. Just accept them as necessary evils. Halve the stimulus. Insist on tax-cuts rather than hand-outs…Replace Gibbs…. So stop ‘Bush did it’ refrains. And stop the trash Rush/Hannety/talkradio/Fox.” It is as if these officers are psyching themselves up to attempt a coup d’etat.

    Obama is under a planned assault on several fronts, including not merely the openly political Republican element but, worse, from the Pentagonese military cabal. The Capitol Hill Republicans (including retirees like Newt Gingrich) are specializing in the so-called stimulus package; we will never hear the end of it. The Pentagonese are specializing in the Iraq withdrawal and military policy. Bill Clinton ran into a buzz saw when he started his Presidency with an attempt to eliminate the ban on homosexuality in the military; his top generals defied him successfully, and he caved in, leaving us with “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Republicans took notes, and concluded that “Clinton was a political pushover,” said David Lindorff, writing in The Smirking Chimp on 4 February (http://www.smirkingchimp.com)  Obama is about to receive the same treatment from this disgruntled group of the military, aided by the disgruntled Republicans.

    Mr. Lindorff’s recommendation is that Obama move swiftly to nip the mutiny in the bud, or his presidency will be toast.  “Obama must sack Petraeus and Odierno, and any other general who tries —- openly or behind the scenes—- to move politically against his military strategy and orders.”  I concur. Remember how Truman fired McArthur when that egotist went behind the back of his Commander in Chief to Republicans in Congress to lobby for a wider war in Korea. Id Petraeus and Odierno disagree with their CIC, they can do as Admiral Fallon did when he opposed Cheney’s plans to invade Iran: he resigned.  

    This is a very serious constitutional question. My own father, a general officer, told me on more than one occasion, that the greatest invention of the American system, and its greatest protection, was the absolute subordination of the military to the elected civil authority. That is what at risk with our new egotist, Petraeus, and his mentor, Keane. As Lindorff says, “For the past eight years, the biggest threat to American democracy was that a president and vice-president attempted to convert the office of president into a military dictatorship, with the position of commander in chief subsuming and replacing the position of president. Now the danger is that the nation’s top generals are trying to eliminate or emasculate the president’s rule as commander in chief, making the generals the leaders of the nation’s military. Both dangers are equally threatening to constitutional government.”  

    • walkabout

      the President needs to not only do some housecleaning, he also needs to seriously review the Bush policy in Afghanistan.  I agree that this is a miserable way to put pressure on the President to increase the war, something McChrystal  did earlier.  No more assaults are needed on Obama when he has so much on his plate on the home front.