Friday, September 10, 2010

AfPak and the new great game....

AfPak and the new great game....
By Pepe Escobar

Nine years ago - one day before Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, Lion of the Panjshir, was killed by two al-Qaeda jihadis disguised as journalists; and three days before 9/11 - who would have thought that Afghanistan would still be mired in a war of 150,000 United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops against 50 or 60 al-Qaeda jihadis plus a horde of Pashtun nationalists vaguely bundled up as "Taliban"? Not even the Bearded One upstairs who, by the way, according to Stephen Hawking, had nothing to do with creating this valley of tears we all inhabit.

Another year. Another 9/11 anniversary. The same Afghanistan war. It may not be the "war on terror" anymore - rebranded
overseas contingency operations" by the Barack Obama administration. It may have become Obama's "good war" - rebranded as AfPak and costing US taxpayers US$100 billion a year (and counting). But Obama still wallows in the mire of being a hostage to George W Bush's wars.

As much as Washington may entertain the illusion that it's in command, it's actually Hamid Karzai, the wily Afghan president, who is playing an attacking game in this latest installment of the New Great Game in Eurasia. And, as usual, there's never a mention anywhere of the key Pipelineistan game.

Round up the usual suspects
As it must be clear by now, Pakistan is essentially an army/intelligence establishment disguised as a country. The army/Inter-Services Intelligence tandem has been and will always be pro-Taliban. Anyone who believes the tandem will "reform" - with or without billions of dollars of US aid - believes in the Easter bunny.

For Islamabad it's still - and will always be - about "strategic depth", the doctrine that rules Afghanistan as a privileged Pakistani-controlled backyard (that's exactly what it was between 1992, at the start of the intra-mujahideen wars, till the end of the Taliban "government" in 2001).

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani - a darling of the Pentagon - has been granted a three-year extension to his mandate. Karzai took no time to duly note the obvious: Kiani will continue to pull all stops to be the top dog in Kabul. So he must be accommodated.

All of this, considering that the utmost objective for the Pakistan army remains to collect more nuclear weapons in view of that particular South Asian version of Armageddon - a do-or-die confrontation with visceral enemy India.

For all his infinite shenanigans, Karzai has - correctly - concluded that US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) firepower and General David Petraeus' COIN-drenched operations will never defeat the resistance-to-foreigners fighting umbrella commonly described as "Taliban".

Karzai has also sensed that Obama's Afghan strategy is in tatters. Inside the US, Republicans - with their eyes on capturing congress in November's elections - will go on overdrive to portray the president as a non-military wimp, while the Pentagon will force him to back off his imposed July 2011 deadline for the beginning of a transition to a measure of Afghan sovereignty. And all this while Petraeus sells the current Afghan surge as a "victory", as he did with the Iraqi version, thus burnishing his CV with a view to a run for the White House in 2012.

As more than anything he is committed to perpetuating himself in power, Karzai saw which way the wind was blowing and has decided to cultivate his own garden, and improve relations with his two key neighbors east and west - Pakistan and Iran. He has seen the future as a power-sharing deal in Kabul with no Americans involved.

Thus Karzai's formal announcement this past weekend of a High Peace Council tasked with engaging in peace talks with the Taliban. The idea had been approved three months ago by a jirga in Kabul including 1,600 tribal, religious and political leaders from a few Afghan provinces. Karzai basically wants to seduce Taliban foot soldiers with cash and job offers in the administration machine, and Taliban leaders with asylum in selected Muslim countries.

One is bound to expect all the usual suspects engage in the travesty of being peace council members. They include former mujahideen leader Burhanuddin Rabbani (to whom Massoud was subordinated); former Saudi-connected mujahid Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (suspected until today of having a role in Massoud's assassination); and certainly a higher-up from the Hizb-i-Islami, led by former mujahid Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the only prime minister in history (in the mid-1990s) to have bombed his own capital.

Hizb-i-Islami and the Taliban - although extremely suspicious of each other - are more or less fighting for the same objective, ie the expulsion of the "foreign invaders". The Taliban are more predominant exactly where US and NATO troops are concentrating - in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, while Hizb is strongest in the north and eastern provinces.

What's left of this Karzai-engineered gambit is the Taliban agenda. Taliban leader Mullah Omar - invisible somewhere near Quetta, capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province - wants the invaders out immediately, and his unlimited power back. There's no chance in heaven - or hell - he'll fraternize with Karzai over a goat's head/Kabuli rice banquet.

Moreover, Karzai certainly won't seduce what remains of al-Qaeda. There are no more than 60 Arab al-Qaeda jihadis in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, along with a few Uzbeks, Chechens and
Turks. And there are around 50 Arab al-Qaeda jihadis who have crossed the border to Afghanistan - more or less the same estimate expressed by US Central Intelligence Agency supremo Leon Panetta over two months ago.

So essentially Washington is spending tsunamis of cash to fight a bunch of Arab jihadi instructors. Worse; what the US/NATO are actually fighting is a remixed version of the anti-Soviet 1980s jihad - a liberation war against foreign invasion.

Then there's the complicating factor of the Pakistani Taliban. There's hardly a day when their top spokesman, Qari Hussain Mehsud, does not issue threats. He has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 50 Shi'ites in Quetta last Friday. He has insisted "targets" now comprise not only the "foreign invaders" but Shi'ites as well, and has promised attacks inside Europe and the US.

What is certain is that attacks in Peshawar, Quetta and Lahore (which, for the Pakistani Taliban, is like New York for al-Qaeda) are bound to intensify. For Islamabad, the riddle is how to dismantle the collaborative network involving al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shi'ite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the anti-Iran, Balochistan-based Jundallah. But Karzai is not worried about any of this; he believes he now has a masterplan to "secure" Afghanistan.

All about Pipelineistan
What the Islamabad establishment wants for Afghanistan is diametrically opposed to India's interests. So no wonder India is counter-attacking - by improving its relations with both Russia and Iran.

For Russia, the key national security challenge in Afghanistan is not so much the spread of Talibanization to Central Asia; rather it's the massive heroin trafficking that is corrupting and devastating Russian youth. Moreover, instead of just gleefully watching the US flounder in its own quagmire - Afghanistan as a new Vietnam - Russia has also decided to unleash its own version of nation-building in Afghanistan, investing in infrastructure and natural resources while
making some money on the side.

As for the India-Iran rapprochement, it is inevitable even with the avalanche of cumulative United Nations/US/European Union sanctions against Tehran - as
New Delhi is actively encouraging Indian companies to invest in the Iranian energy sector, and the Foreign Ministry has made it a priority to engage Iran diplomatically. Russian, Indian and Turkish companies - they have all spectacularly ignored Western sanctions and will continue to trade with Iran.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Team B-style outfits such as the Afghanistan study group - which releases its report on Wednesday [1] - multiply their efforts in trying to find a way out of the Afghan quagmire. But for all their intellectual firepower, there is not a word about one of the absolutely key reasons for the US to be in Afghanistan: Pipelineistan (the other key reason is of course the Pentagon's crush on maintaining bases to monitor/survey both "strategic competitors" China and Russia).

We're back once again to the TAPI vs IPI Pipelineistan "war"; TAPI as the natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan crossing Afghanistan to Islamabad and then India, and IPI as the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.

In a few days, as Turkmenistan officials are spinning, there may be a potentially crucial meeting in Ashgabat, when TAPI officials from all four countries may lay down the basics for a pipeline deal (if built only as TAP, the pipeline would be 2,000 kilometers long and cost $7 billion).

But while TAP or TAPI is an eternal pipe dream, the $7.5 billion, 1,100-kilometer-long
IP is already rolling. That's what Iran and Pakistan announced over two months ago, with operations starting in 2014. This proves, once again, that Western sanctions against Iran also don't mean a thing to Pakistan - as its energy needs are a vital matter of national security trumping Washington's designs.

And the same applies to India. New Delhi's pragmatic leaders cannot possibly believe that TAPI will ever see the light of day. It's also crucial to remember that IP was originally IPI - the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, widely dubbed in Southwest Asia as "the peace pipeline".
India pulled out because of - what else - relentless Washington pressure. But now India is back on the table - discussing not only IPI but a second, although remote, possibility - an underwater II (Iran-India) pipeline.

Delhi very well knows that China is salivating with the prospect of a northern extension of IP, alongside the Karakoram highway, towards Xinjiang in western China. Already Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has suggested that if India keeps on wobbling, this will be the Iran-Pakistan-China pipeline.

The next contours of the New Great Game in Eurasia widely reside on who will win in these Pipelineistan wars involving
Central Asia, South Asia and Southwest Asia. Considering the accumulated Western package of sanctions/blockades/embargoes, the ball would be on Iran's court to fight tremendous odds and upgrade its technology, build IP or IPI, and guarantee natural gas flowing non-stop.

Any moves against Iran will be seen all across Asia as an attack against the Asia Energy Security Grid; a classic, Pipelineistan-configured, war of Washington against Asian integration. As for the competing option, it's pure surrealism; who can possibly believe Karzai will convince the Taliban not to profit from the same pipeline the Americans wanted to build before they decided to bomb the Taliban out of power?

1. Click

Will our generals ever shut up?
By Tom Engelhardt

The autumn issue of Foreign Policy magazine features Fred Kaplan's "The Transformer," an article-cum-interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It received a flurry of attention because Gates indicated he might leave his post "sometime in 2011". The most significant two lines in the piece, however, were so ordinary that the usual pundits thought them not worth pondering. Part of a Kaplan summary of Gates' views, they read: "He favors substantial increases in the military budget ... He opposes any slacking off in America's global military presence."

Now, if Kaplan had done a similar interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, such lines might have been throwaways, since a secretary of state is today little more than a fancy facilitator, ever less central to what that magazine, with its
outmoded name, might still call "foreign policy". Remind me: When was the last time you heard anyone use that phrase - part of a superannuated world in which "diplomats" and "diplomacy" were considered important - in a meaningful way?

These days "foreign policy" and "global policy" are increasingly a single fused, militarized entity, at least across what used to be called "the Greater Middle East", where what's at stake is neither war nor peace, but that "military presence".

As a result, Gates' message couldn't be clearer: despite two disastrous wars and a global "war on terror" now considered "multi-generational" by those in the know, trillions of lost dollars, and staggering numbers of deaths (if you happen to include Iraqi and Afghan ones), the US military mustn't in any way slack off. The option of reducing the global mission - the one that's never on the table when "all options are on the table" - should remain nowhere in sight. That's Gates' bedrock conviction. And when he opposes any diminution of the global mission, it matters.

Slicing up the world like a pie
As we know from a Peter Baker front-page New York Times profile of Barack Obama as commander-in-chief, the 49-year-old president "with no experience in uniform" has "bonded" with Gates, the 66-year-old former spymaster, all-around-apparatchik, and holdover from the last years of the George W Bush era. Baker describes Gates as the president's "most important tutor", and on matters military like the Afghan war, the president has reportedly "deferred to him repeatedly".

Let's face it, though: deference has become the norm for the Pentagon and US military commanders, which is not so surprising. After all, in terms of where our money goes, the Pentagon is the 800-pound gorilla in just about any room. It has, for instance, left the State Department in the proverbial dust. By now, it gets at least $12 for every dollar of funding that goes to the State Department, which in critical areas of the world has become an adjunct of the military.

In addition, the Pentagon has taken under its pilotless predatory wing such previously civilian tasks as delivering humanitarian aid and "nation-building". As Gates has pointed out, there are more Americans in US military bands than there are foreign service officers.

If it's true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then you can gauge the power of the Pentagon by the fact that, at least in Iraq after 2011, the State Department is planning to become a mini-military - an armed outfit using equipment borrowed from the Pentagon and an "army" of mercenary guards formed into "quick reaction forces", all housed in a series of new billion-dollar "fortified compounds", no longer called "consulates" but "enduring presence posts" (as the Pentagon once called its giant bases in Iraq "enduring camps").

This level of militarization of what might once have been considered the Department of Peaceful Solutions to Difficult Problems is without precedent and an indicator of the degree to which the government is being militarized.

Similarly, according to the Washington Post, the Pentagon has managed to take control of more than two-thirds of the "intelligence programs" in the vast world of the US intelligence community, with its 17 major agencies and organizations. Ever since the mid-1980s, it has also divided much of the globe like a pie into slices called "commands". (Our own continent joined the crew as the US Northern Command, or Northcom, in 2002, and Africa, as Africom in 2007.)

Before stepping down a notch to become Afghan war commander, General David Petraeus was US Central Command (Centcom) commander, which meant military viceroy for an especially heavily garrisoned expanse of the planet stretching from Egypt to the Chinese border. Increasingly, in fact, there is no space, including outer space and virtual space, where our military is uninterested in maintaining or establishing a "presence".

On October 1, for instance, a new Cyber Command headed by a four-star general and staffed by 1,000 "elite military hackers and spies" is to hit the keyboards typing. And there will be nothing shy about its particular version of "presence" either. The Bush-era concept of "preventive war" (that is, a war of aggression) may have been discarded by the Obama administration
, but the wizards of the new Cyber Command are boldly trying to go where the Bush administration once went. They are reportedly eager to establish a virtual war-fighting principle (labeled "active defense") under which they could pre-emptively attack and knock out the computer networks of adversaries.

And the White House and environs haven't been immune to creeping militarization either. As presidents are now obliged to praise American troops to the skies in any "foreign policy" speech - "Our troops are the steel in our ship of state" - they also turn ever more regularly to military figures in civilian life and for civilian posts. Obama's National Security Adviser James Jones is a retired US Marine Corps four-star general, and from the Bush years the president kept on army Lieutenant General Douglas Lute as "war czar", just as he appointed retired army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry as our ambassador to Afghanistan, and recently replaced retired admiral Dennis Blair with retired air force Lieutenant General James Clapper as the Director of National Intelligence. (He also kept on David Petraeus, Bush's favorite general, and hiked the already staggering Pentagon budget in Bushian fashion.)

And this merely skims the surface of the non-stop growth of the Pentagon and its influence. One irony of that process: even as the US military has failed repeatedly to win wars, its budgets have grown ever more gargantuan, its sway in Washington ever greater, and its power at home ever more obvious.

Generals and admirals mouthing off
To grasp the changing nature of military influence domestically, consider the military's relationship to the media. Its media megaphone offers a measure of the reach and influence of that behemoth, what kinds of pressures it can apply in support of its own version of foreign policy, and just how, under its weight, the relationship between the civilian and military high commands is changing.

It's true that, in June, the president relieved Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal of duty after his war-frustrated associates drank and mouthed off about administration officials in an inanely derogatory manner in his presence - and the presence of a Rolling Stone magazine reporter. ("Biden? ... Did you say: Bite Me?") But think of that as the exception that proves the rule.

It's seldom noted that less obvious but more serious - and egregious - breaches of civilian/military protocol are becoming the norm, and increasingly no one blinks or acts. To take just a few recent examples, in late August commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway, due to retire this autumn, publicly attacked the president's "conditions-based" July 2011 drawdown date in Afghanistan, saying, "In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance."

Or consider that, while the Obama administration has moved fiercely against government and military leaking of every sort, when it came to the strategic leaking (assumedly by someone in, or close to, the military) of the "McChrystal plan" for Afghanistan in the autumn of 2009, nothing at all happened even though the president was backed into a policy-making corner. And yet, as Andrew Bacevich pointed out, "The McChrystal leaker provid[ed] Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership a detailed blueprint of exactly how the United States and its allies were going to prosecute their war."

Meanwhile, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen, on a three-day cross-country "tour" of Midwestern business venues (grandiloquently labeled "Conversations with the Country"), attacked the national debt as "the most significant threat to our national security". Anodyne as this might sound, with election 2010 approaching, the national debt couldn't be a more political issue.

There should be, but no longer is, something startling about all this. Generals and admirals now mouth off regularly on a wide range of policy issues, appealing to the American public both directly and via deferential (sometimes fawning) reporters, pundits, and commentators. They and their underlings clearly leak news repeatedly for tactical advantage in policy-making situations. They organize what are essentially political-style barnstorming campaigns for what once would have been "foreign policy" positions, and increasingly this is just the way the game is played.

From combat to commentary
There's a history still to be written about how our highest military commanders came to never shut up.

Certainly, in 1990 as Gulf War I was approaching, Americans experienced the first full flowering of a new form of militarized "journalism" in which, among other things, retired high military officers, like so many play-by-play analysts on Monday Night Football, became regular TV news consultants. They were called upon to narrate and analyze the upcoming battle ("showdown in the Gulf"), the brief offensive that followed, and the aftermath in something close to real time. Amid nifty logos, dazzling Star Wars-style graphics, theme music, and instant-replay nose-cone snuff films of "precision" weapons wiping out the enemy, they offered a running commentary on the progress of battle as well as on the work of commanders in the field, some of whom they might have once served with.

And that was just the beginning of the way, after years of post-Vietnam War planning, the Pentagon took control of the media battlefield and so the popular portrayal of American-style war. In the past, the reporting of war had often been successfully controlled by governments, while generals had polished their images with the press or - like Omar Bradley and Douglas MacArthur - even employed public relations staffs to do it for them. But never had generals and war planners gone before the public as actors, supported by all the means a studio could muster on their behalf and determined to produce a program that would fill the day across the dial for the full time of a war.

The military even had a version of a network Standards and Practices department with its guidelines for on-air acceptability. Military handlers made decisions - like refusing to clear for publication the fact that Stealth pilots viewed X-rated movies before missions - reminiscent of network show-vetting practices.

When it came time for Gulf War II, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the military had added the practice of putting reporters through pre-war weeklong "boot camps" and then "embedding" them with the troops (a Stockholm Syndrome-type experience that many American reporters grew to love). It also built itself a quarter-million-dollar stage set for nonstop war briefings at Centcom headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

All of this was still remarkably new in the history of relations between the Pentagon and the media, but it meant that the military could address the public more or less directly both through those embedded reporters and over the shoulders of that assembled gaggle of media types in Doha.

As long as war took its traditional form, this approach worked well, but once it turned into a protracted and inchoate guerrilla struggle, and "war" and "wartime" became the endless (often dismal) norm, something new was needed. In the Bush years, the Pentagon responded to endless war in part by sending out an endless stream of well-coached, well-choreographed retired military "experts" to fill the gaping maw of cable news. In the meantime, something quite new has developed.

Today, you no longer need to be a retired military officer to offer play-by-play commentary on and analysis of our wars. Now, at certain moments, the main narrators of those wars turn out to be none other than the generals running, or overseeing, them. They regularly get major airtime to explain to the American public how those wars are going, as well as to expound on their views on more general issues.

This is something new. Among the American commanders of World War II and the Korean War, only Douglas MacArthur did anything faintly like this, which made him an outlier (or perhaps an omen) and in a sense that's why president Harry Truman fired him. Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Ridgeway, et al, did not think to go on media tours touting their own political lines while in uniform.

Vietnam War commander General William Westmoreland was an early pioneer of the form. He had, however, been pushed onto the stage to put a public face on the American war effort by president Lyndon Johnson, who was desperate to buck up public opinion. Westmoreland returned from Vietnam in 1968 just before the disastrous Tet Offensive for a "whirlwind tour" of the country and uplifting testimony before congress . In a speech at the National Press Club, he spoke of reaching "an important point where the end begins to come into view," and later in a televised press conference, even more infamously used the phrase "the light at the end of tunnel". Events would soon discredit his optimism.

Still, we've reached quite a different level of military/media confluence today. Take the two generals now fighting our Afghan and Iraq wars: General Petraeus and General Ray Odierno - one arriving, the other leaving.

Having spent six weeks assessing the Afghan situation and convinced that he needed to buy more time for his war from the American public, in mid-August Petraeus launched a full-blown, well-organized media tour from his headquarters in Kabul. In it, he touted "progress" in Afghanistan, offered comments subtly but visibly at odds with the president's promised July 2011 drawdown date, and generally evangelized for his war.

He began with an hour-long interview with Dexter Filkins of the New York Times and another with Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post. These were timed to be released on August 15, the morning he appeared on NBC's Sunday political show Meet the Press. (Moderator David Gregory traveled to the Afghan capital to toss softball questions at Washington's greatest general and watch him do push-ups in a "special edition" of the show.) Petraeus then followed up with a Katie Couric interview on CBS Evening News, as part of an all-fronts "media blitz" that would include Fox News, the Associated Press, Wired magazine's Danger Room blog, and in a bow to the allies, the BBC and even NATO TV, among other places.

At almost the same moment, Odierno was ending his tour of duty as Iraq war commander by launching a goodbye media blitz of his own from Baghdad, which included interviews with ABC's This Week, Bob Schieffer of CBS's Face the Nation, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, CNN's State of the Union, PBS Newshour, and the New York Times, among others. He, too, had a policy line to promote and he, too, expressed himself in ways subtly but visibly at odds with an official Obama position, emphasizing the possibility that some number of US troops might need to stay in Iraq beyond the 2011 departure deadline. As he said to Schieffer, "If [the Iraqis] ask us that they might want us to stay longer, we certainly would consider that."

Offering another scenario as well, he also suggested that, as Reuters put it, "US troops ... could move back to a combat role if there was ‘a complete failure of the security forces' or if political divisions split Iraqi security forces." (He then covered his flanks by adding, "but we don't see that happening.")

This urge to stay represents one long-term strain of thinking in the military and among Pentagon civilians, and it will undoubtedly prove a powerful force for the president to deal with or defer to in 2011. In February 2009, less than a month after Obama took office, Odierno was already broadcasting his desire to have up to 35,000 troops remain in Iraq after 2011, and at the end of 2009, Gates was already suggesting that a new round of negotiations with a future Iraqi
government might extend our stay for years. All this, of course, could qualify as part of a more general campaign to maintain the Pentagon's 800-pound status, the military's clout, and that global military presence.

A chorus of military intellectuals
Pentagon foreign policy is regularly seconded by a growing cadre of what might be called military intellectuals at think-tanks scattered around Washington. Such figures, many of them qualifying as "warrior pundits" and "warrior journalists," include: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security and Petraeus adviser; former US Army officer Andrew Exum, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, founder of the Abu Muqawama website, and a McChrystal advisor; former Australian infantry officer and Petraeus adviser David Kilcullen, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security; Thomas Ricks, formerly of the Washington Post, author of the bestselling Iraq War books Fiasco and The Gamble, Petraeus admirer, and senior fellow at the same center; Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, the man Gates credits with turning around his thinking on Afghanistan and a recent Petraeus hiree in Afghanistan; Kimberley Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War, an adviser to both Petraeus and McChrystal; Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution; and Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and another Petraeus as well as McChrystal adviser.

These figures, and numerous others like them, are repeatedly invited to US war zones by the military, flattered, toured, given face time with commanders, sometimes hired by them, and sometimes even given the sense that they are the ones planning our wars. They then return to Washington to offer sophisticated, "objective" versions of the military line.

Toss into this mix the former neo-conservatives who caused so much of the damage in the early Bush years and who regularly return at key moments as esteemed media "experts" (not the fools and knaves they were), including former deputy
secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) L Paul Bremer III, and former senior advisor to the CPA Noah Feldman, among others.

For them, being wrong means never having to say you're sorry. And they and their thoughts are dealt with remarkably respectfully, while those who were against the Iraq War from the beginning remain scarce commodities on op-ed pages, as sources in news articles, and on the national radio and TV news.

This combined crew of former warriors, war-zone bureaucrats, and warrior pundits are, like Odierno, now plunking for a sizeable residual
US military force to stay in Iraq until hell freezes over. They regularly compare Iraq to post-war South Korea, where US troops are still garrisoned nearly 60 years after the Korean War and which, after decades of US-supported dictators, now has a flourishing democracy.

Combine the military intellectuals, the former neo-cons, the war commanders, the retired military-officer-commentators, the secretary of defense and other Pentagon civilians and you have an impressive array of firepower of a sort that no Eisenhower, Ridgeway, or even MacArthur could have imagined. They may disagree fiercely with each other on tactical matters when it comes to pursuing American-style war, and they certainly don't represent the views of a monolithic military. There are undoubtedly generals who have quite a different view of what the defense of the United States entails. As a crew, though, civilian and military, in and out of uniform, in the Pentagon or in a war zone, they agree forcefully on the need to maintain that American global military presence over the long term.

Producing war
Other than Gates, the key figure of the moment is clearly Petraeus, who might be thought of as our Teflon general. He could represent a genuine challenge to the fading tradition of civilian control of the military. Treated as a demi-god and genius of battle on both sides of the aisle in Washington, he would be hard for any president, especially this one, to remove from office. As a four-star who would have to throw a punch at
Michelle Obama
on national television to get fired, he minimally has significant latitude to pursue the war policies of his choice in Afghanistan. He also has - should he care to exercise it - the potential and the opening to pursue much more. It's not completely farfetched to imagine him as the first mini-Caesar-in-waiting of our American times.

As of yet, he and other top figures may plan their individual media blitzes, but they are not consciously planning a media strategy for a coherent Pentagon foreign policy. The result is all the more chilling for not being fully coordinated, and for being so little noticed or attended to by the media that play such a role in promoting it. What's at stake here goes well beyond the specific issue of military insubordination that usually comes up when military-civilian relations are discussed. After all, we could be seeing, in however inchoate form, the beginning of a genuine Pentagon/military production in support of Pentagon timing (as in the new bases now being built in Afghanistan that won't even be completed until late 2011), our global military presence, and the global mission that goes with it.

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, you can see that Pentagon version of an American foreign policy straining to be born. In the end it could be stillborn, but it could also become an all-enveloping system offering Americans a strange, skewed vision of a world constantly at war and of the importance of planning for more of the same.

To the extent that it now exists, it is dominated by the vision of figures who, judging from the last near decade, have a particularly constrained sense of American priorities, have been deeply immersed in the imperial mayhem that our wars have created, have left us armed to the teeth and flailing at ghosts and demons, and are still enmeshed in the process by which American treasure has been squandered to worse than no purpose in distant lands.

Nothing in the record indicates that anyone should listen to what these men have to say. Nothing in the record indicates that Washington won't be all ears, the media won't remain an enthusiastic conduit, and Americans won't follow their lead.