Birds of a Feather

In some ways, it would be liberating to be a chickenhawk.  You get to be proven demonstrably wrong all the time and get praised for it, and you get to dress up like George W. Bush and go winging around the Imperium with manly men like Stanley McChrystal, or in a pinch David Petreaus.  Best of all, you get a lifetime sinecure at the Washington Post, or some other Paper of Record, where you can endlessly share your “war” stories, (none of which ever involve actual war), with the few remaining readers of American newspapers, who evidently have to read such provably demented tripe for something called “balance,” as the facts never are good enough.  Nice work if you can get it.  Here’s David Ignatius, as served up by The Oregonian, on a Sunday that also featured the ever prescient Victor Davis Hanson.  Whither that ol’ liberal media?

General Petraeus didn’t sign on as the New Afghanistan Commander because he expects to lose.
I see.  In other words the guy isn’t all that bright.
That’s the boldest aspect of President Obama’s decision: He has put a troubled Afghanistan campaign in the hands of a man who bent what looked like failure in Iraq toward an acceptable measure of success. Obama has doubled down on his bet, much as George W. Bush did with his risky surge of troops in Iraq under Petraeus’s command.
Never mind that that war is lost, too; Petraeus did win a decisive victory over MoveOn and succeeded in making that war permanent, along with its funding, thus allowing its chickenhawk cheerleaders like Ignatius to call it hunky-dory.    (Note:  The use of the word “bold” by a fawning media always indicates a politician is about to do something disastrously stupid, but Ignatius hasn’t put two and two together yet).

Here’s a simple way to think about the change of command: If the Taliban sold stock, its price would surely have fallen after Wednesday’s announcement. It’s hard to see how Petraeus can rejigger the pieces of this puzzle, but as I’ve heard him say: “The thing about winners is that they know how to win.”
Petraeus can’t speak from experience, never having personally won anything, but he can craft a nifty, Bushian tautology just like ol’ George W, and that’s good enough for Ignatius.

Petraeus is, among other things, the most deft political figure I’ve seen in uniform. In just two years he has gone from being Bush’s go-to general to Obama’s. He accomplished that transition with some artful dancing, to be sure. But he always remembered that no matter how much of a military rock star he might have become (and how much envy and resentment that created among some of his peers), he still worked for civilian leadership, one president at a time.
Which is a lot easier when they both do the same dumb and crazy things, and you only job is to sell, not execute.

If I were Petraeus, I would have bargained for one thing before agreeing to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan: the time needed to succeed. That means a flexible, conditions-based interpretation of Obama’s July 2011 timetable for beginning to withdraw troops.
Of course, Ignatius is an even bigger coward and pussy than Faintin’ David, but he loves that tough talk, and knows in his shriveled heart that all wars simply must go on forever.

Petraeus offered a carefully worded, deliberately ambiguous formula when he testified before the House and Senate Armed Services committees last week: “It is important that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits.” The administration is still split on what this means — and it’s Petraeus’s biggest potential problem.
Not the billions, the deaths, nor the fuzzy and shifting “objectives” of America’s longest war, but the prospect of ending it is what Makes Petraeus reach for the smelling salts.  Do go on; I bet this is going to get even better.



Petraeus watched McChrystal’s troubles with mounting concern. For someone as attuned to political nuance as Petraeus, it was a shock to see McChrystal stumble in his public statements — and allow his aides to speak to Rolling Stone in language that bordered on insubordination. Petraeus, surely the most media-savvy commander in uniform, will not make those mistakes
You see, selling wars is the next best thing to winning them, and unlike the reality-tainted McChrystal, Petraeus has his eyes on the right prize..

I’ve traveled extensively with Petraeus over the past six years in Iraq and Afghanistan. What stands out, beyond his extraordinary ambition and willpower, is his willingness to experiment — especially when the chips are down. In putting together the surge strategy, he gathered a team of iconoclasts — officers who were willing to think outside the box about what would work.
Not that it worked, of course, but it did seem to for someone as dumb as Ignatius, who evidently hasn’t noticed that Iraq is also a permanent quagmire from which Americans will never really recover.  He got to “travel” with a real General.  Ooooh.

Creativity will be crucial in Afghanistan, where the strategy McChrystal devised is, frankly, spinning its wheels. I would bet that Petraeus will put more emphasis on bottom-up experiments. He’s good at working both sides of the street — placating presidents and prime ministers while he dickers with local militia leaders.
In other words, he knows how to keep the borrowed dollars flushing down the toilet despite negligible progress.

Petraeus is also an operator, in the sense that he likes to use back-channel emissaries to communicate with a wide range of players. That strategic edge has been missing in our Afghanistan policy, and it will become crucial next year, as we enter a likely phase of contact with the Taliban and its allies to explore a possible reconciliation deal. Nobody in the U.S. military is better at the mix of fighting and talking in such ambiguous situations.
Well, nobody David’s met, anyway, which would be anyone who could find his ass with both hands and a flashlight.

Petraeus must now bring order to the discordant members of Obama’s “team of rivals” on Afghan policy. The new commander understands, too, that this strategy might better be called “Pak-Af,” since the key to success is Pakistani willingness to close the Taliban’s havens in the tribal areas. He also has a clear vision of how the Kandahar campaign must unfold, with U.S. and Afghan forces working together in “joint security stations” across the city, as happened in Baghdad during the surge.
Um, that war is not over, for the hundredth time, you chickenhawk ninny.  Stop counting chickens that will never hatch.

Traveling with Petraeus in Afghanistan last October, I watched as he turned a routine visit to the wondrously named village of Baraki Barak into a lesson in hands-on counterinsurgency. He drank glass after glass of tea from dirty mugs, scarfed down loaves of flatbread, breathed the place in whole — all to give the residents a personal sense of the American mission. That’s the creative, manipulative, media-age commander that Obama has chosen for Kabul.
Which is one of the dumber things Obama has ever done that will haunt his Presidency far into the future, culinary choices of the anointed General notwithstanding.  Like many in the media, Ignatius clearly occupies the fantasy-based community we heard about during the Bush years, and it’s gotten so bad that he would write something like the above to be read by an audience that has turned against both wars, and now Obama because he continues to prosecute them.  The firing of Dave Wiegel raised a bit of a stink about the shabby and cowardly excuse for a newspaper we call the Washington Post; David Ignatius continued presence there is far more damaging, in the only way that matters:  what Wiegel said was, well, true.  What Ignatius says each day?  Not so much.

14 Comments

  1. Was Ignatius ever a Plaster Caster? He sure sounds like one — and not the one with the plaster, either.

  2. dirigo says:

    In the comment section of the Post, where the following appears, the writer is, in one instance, called a hippie.

    Rich, i’n't it?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502160_pf.html

  3. michlib says:

    The problem in Afghanistan is a failed strategy which keeps coming back like a bad COIN. Until that gets remedied, changing military honchos only prolongs the quagmire. Another blown opportunity for this administration to discard failed policies of the previous admin and choosing ” more of the same “.

  4. nailheadtom says:

    It turns out that “Cocktail Hag” is basically a sophomoric hate fest on the media first and anybody with more money than “Cocktail Hag” second, or the reverse on sunny days in Portland. Which makes one wonder how, hidden away on the banks of the Willamette, you have gathered in all this knowledge of, for instance, the Afghan conflict, 6900 miles away from your balcony. Apparently, you’ve spent some time there and know the conditions well from first-hand experience, updating it regularly. Otherwise, you would have to depend on some form of media input to form an opinion, and who is to say that the particular media that you care to rely upon is any more reliable than any other? Or is it possible that all information is filtered through your own particular prejudices?

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, where I live doesn’t matter as much as whether or not I’m retarded. I’m not. Both wars are irretrievably lost, as anyone getting the right amount of oxygen to their brain can see. I do have a lovely view from my balcony, but it doesn’t include cotton candy and/or sandcastles.

    • michlib says:

      So, per your criteria, ONLY those with direct, physical involvement in the theatre of operations are qualified to render any opinion or assesment of the success or failure of an eight year strategy. So stay the course, which has done so well, would be your advice ? How many are YOU prepared to bury ?

    • dirigo says:

      I’ve been here before with you, Tom.

      What do YOU know of war – in any way, shape, or form?

      • cocktailhag says:

        The CBS piece was great…. Refreshing.

        • dirigo says:

          Yoo, Tom, and others like them consistently demonstrate a knowledge deficit with respect to how the military chain of command works in our armed forces and the history of the breakdown in trust between flag officers and civilian authority.

          It (something called the “revolt of the generals”) began during the Vietnam era under Johnson, and it was greatly aggravated under Nixon.

          You could say the political reaction among elected leaders was bipartisan, in the sense that the problem carried over from one president to another; but being around then and also in uniform, I would just say that Nixon was in charge when the shit really hit the fan.

          MacArthur was really a different case, rather unto itself, when Vietnam is factored in, as it must be.

          McChrystal crossed a line he should not have crossed. Whether he was tone-deaf when it came to dealing with reporters, or arrogant in what he thought would play, doesn’t matter. It’s surprising, given the hostility shown toward reporters by military leaders since Vietnam, that McChrystal seemed so cavalier.

          Who cares what congressional Democrats might have thought?

          Firing or keeping the general wasn’t their call.

          UPDATE: The general will retire sometime next week. Maybe he’ll take a crash course at the Rupert Murdoch School of Broadcasting and accept a certificate and a job with Faux News, just in time for the mid-terms.

  5. I like this blog so much, saved to fav. “American soldiers must be turned into lambs and eating them is tolerated.” by Muammar Qaddafi.