For a man with two wars to run and both of them going badly, US Central Command head General David Petraeus sure seems to have a lot of time on his hands. A cynical person might conclude that winning those wars is not his highest priority.
Could this ass-kissing little chicken-shit REMF* actually be running for president? Consider the following activities in 2010, only a few of his many side trips this year:
January 22 – Speech at Georgetown University, Washington DC
February 20 – Received the James Madison Medal from Princeton University, where Petraeus got an MPA and PhD. In the award announcement, he was hailed as a world leader:
Petraeus has gained renown both as a military leader and public intellectual.
He is a superb example of a scholar-soldier and recognized around the world as a man of intelligence and integrity.
Paul Krugman has some observations regarding Petraeus’ integrity.
March 2 – HELP USA’s Award for Veterans in New York City
March 4 – Person of the Year Arthur R. McMillan Award from the Massachusetts Bay Chapter of the Association of the United States Army
March 23 – Lecture at Yale, New Haven Connecticut
March 24 – Lectured at St. Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, where he made a point of denying he was running for the presidency. What is small, out-of-the-way St. Anselm most noted for? Oddly, for hosting presidential campaign debates. And in an even odder coincidence, who is a resident of New Hampshire and would thus benefit from being Favorite Son in a key early primary? None other than General Petraeus, registered as a Republican no less.
March 25 – Lecture at Brigham Young University, Provo Utah
April 15 –Leader of Principle Award, from Citadel Military College of South Carolina. Petraeus was one of five honored with awards from Citadel. The others all had close connections to the school, as alumni or teachers. Petraeus has no such connection.
May 6 – American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol Award in Washington DC
May 20 – Speech to the World Affairs Council, Virginia Beach VA
May 27 – Intrepid Freedom Award in New York City. Previous winners of this award from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum include President Ronald Reagan, President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and near-miss presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not that there’s a pattern or anything.
June 21 – Speech at Independence, Missouri marking the Korean War 60th Anniversary veteran’s ceremony
[There were two additional award ceremonies in 2010, about which I have been able to find nothing for particulars: Lotos Club Award of Distinction and Medal of Merit, and the Pilgrims of the United States’ Medallion for Service to the Nation. Both of these are exclusive, private, low-key organizations comprised of very wealthy, highly influential East Coast elites. He has also reportedly given many more lectures, especially at universities with large ROTC classes, but I am unable to find a formal listing.]
CENTCOM’s main headquarters is located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, with a forward headquarters established since 2002 at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar. With Petraeus running all over hell and gone for these speeches and awards, not to mention meetings with the Pentagon and Obama and testimony before Congress, who the hell is watching the store?
It has been this way for Petraeus for a couple of years now. In 2009 he received and showed up to accept the following:
Sam M. Gibbons Lifetime Achievement Award
American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal
Atlantic Council’s Military Leadership Award
Union League Club of Philadelphia’s Abraham Lincoln Award
National Father’s Day Committee’s Father of the Year Award
National Committee on American Foreign Policy’s George F. Kennan Award
National Defense Industrial Association’s Eisenhower Award
Office of Strategic Service Society’s William J. Donovan Award
No Greater Sacrifice Freedom Award
Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Distinguished Citizen Award
Along the way, the drumbeat by the MSM to picture him as the ultimate warrior-scholar has been rapidly escalating:
In 2005, Petraeus was selected as one of America’s top leaders by US News and World Report
In 2007, Time short-listed him for Man of the Year and named him one of the 100 most influential leaders and revolutionaries. The Daily Telegraph named him Man of the Year and the second most influential American conservative.
In 2008, the Static Line Association named Petraeus as its Man of the Year and Der Spiegel named him “America’s most respected soldier. GQ named him “Leader of the Year: Right Man, Right Time”, Newsweek named him the 16th most powerful person in the world, Prospect magazine named him the “Public Intellectual of the Year”, and a poll conducted by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines selected Petraeus as one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals.
In 2009 he was named one of the “75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century.” by Esquire. [And we’re only 1% of the way into it! Damn, he’s good.]
He’s getting plenty of overt encouragement from conservative media as well, including here at home:
David Petraeus for president in 2012?
Enter a new potential candidate for the presidency of the United States. He is four-star Gen. David Petraeus, whose military tactics have crushed a democracy-threatening insurgency in Iraq, and whose tactical game plan in Afghanistan may do the same there.
Petraeus may be a soldier-scholar, but he has always responded to the call of duty. If he indeed becomes the victorious mastermind behind America’s two longest wars, and his countrymen told him they need him to lead the nation as president, it would be hard for him to turn a deaf ear to the call.
and from overseas:
David Petraeus for President: Run General, run
Americans have never been so disgusted with their politicians. More than three-quarters of Americans disapprove of Congress. President Barack Obama’s favourability ratings have slumped to below 50 per cent and he is no longer trusted or believed by many who voted for him.
Republicans are faring little better and the growth of the Tea Party movement reflects the widespread disgust with Washington and the political class. Incumbents across the board are vulnerable in November’s mid-term elections.
Many voters yearn for an outsider, someone with authenticity, integrity and proven accomplishment. Someone who has not spent their life plotting how to ascend the greasy pole, adjusting every utterance for maximum political advantage.
In this toxic climate, perhaps the only public institution that has increased in prestige in recent years is the American military. Its officers are looked upon, as General George Patton once noted, as “the modern representatives of the demi-gods and heroes of antiquity”.
Where better to look for Obama’s successor, therefore, than in the uniformed ranks? Not since 1952, when a certain Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War, was elected President, have the chances of a military man winning the White House been more propitious.
Within those ranks, no one stands out like General David Petraeus, head of United States Central Command, leader of 230,000 troops and commander of United States forces in two wars. Having masterminded the Iraq surge, the stunning military gambit that seized victory from the jaws of defeat, he is now directing an equally daunting undertaking in Afghanistan.
Pretty funny, that greasy-pole-climber-political-calculation claim, since that is all Petraeus has ever done. The Telegraph has been pimping Petraeus for years.
The latest bit of cheesy self-promotion has Petraeus on television in full fruit salad, providing inspirational homilies about the glory of war as part of the American Movie Channel’s marathon of war movies on Memorial Day (all but one of them pure fiction, all of them triumphal). What, you ask, could that portend? Well, last year’s host was none other than that great American war hero and presidential nominee, John McCain. (Apparently AMC execs don’t know any military brass who, y’know, actually won a war.)
What can all of this be about? Did General Eisenhower give these many speeches and get all these civilian interest group awards during WWII? How about General Westmorland during Vietnam, or General Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm? Certainly General MacArthur tried playing with the press during Korea and made speeches trying to set policy, but that did not end well for him. Grant, I’m pretty sure, didn’t do this sort of thing because when he wasn’t busy killing the enemy he was drunk. And of course Washington literally led his troops into battle and suffered with them in their deprivations throughout the Revolution. Petraeus seems to have an awful lot of free time for a commander responsible for several wars and brewing conflicts in multiple theaters. Or perhaps winning those wars is not the sole object of his attention, as it ought to be.
Petraeus is running for something, there wouldn’t be all this promotional activity otherwise, and if it was inside the military, a Joint Chiefs position say, he would be spending more time on inside politics and winning wars instead of strutting around in a monkey suit with gongs to pursue all this fluffing by the press and the socioeconomic elites.
He certainly wouldn’t be doing unmilitary things like giving public speeches where he enthusiastically describes the philosophy and tactics behind US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq (with slides!) for all the world to watch including our enemies. Nor would he be debasing the Commander’s Coin, a much-coveted token of personal appreciation handed out to service members and support staff who have performed a notable service, as well as to civilians who have made some special contribution to the welfare of the military. The distribution is supposed to be selective and limited, thus their value, but Petraeus hands them out like candy at Halloween to anybody he thinks might be useful to him some day. Of course, it may be that the coins Petraeus hands out, bearing his signature and command insignia, are privately funded and thus their use is outside military regulation and oversight. If so, it would be very interesting to know who pays for them. If not, he needs to knock it off.
Am I being too hard on the guy? Isn’t he exactly what he’s billed as, a brave warrior who also has immense intellectual ability and prescient instincts? Actually no, he isn’t.
He certainly presents a fine picture, a chest full of medals, his uniform festooned with patches and insignia like an obsessed Eagle Scout with a mother who could barely sew fast enough, but that picture is deceiving.
I’ll let Jess Wendell, an actual military man, do the honors for the takedown on Petraeus’ seemingly impressive medal display and what it truly tells us:
In a career spanning decades, General David Petraeus who has truly had his choice of career, choose to stay in nice safe promising positions, and away from those nasty grunt dangerous positions with the sharp sticks and pointy things.
Awards for Valor: 2
Awards for Everything Else: 53
I bet he’s had some nasty paper cuts too.
Bottom line on Petaeus, he’s as close to being a genuine REMF as you can be in today’s 4-star general. He’s managed to avoid actual combat to a level which has to be seen to be believed, while having his lips firmly attached to the ass of every superior officer and staff position that could get him promoted, all while keeping his own body safely out of harm’s way.
Normally I wouldn’t expect a general officer to only have a Bronze Star. I’d expect a Silver Star and maybe a Distinguished Flying Cross or even a Distinguished Service Cross. I sure as hell wouldn’t expect any senior officer to earn their first award for valor as a flag officer. Or for this to be their only medal for valor (his other award is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.)
Everything else here is just junk, the kind of shit people pick up in their career. None of it means anything other than they’ve served and got their ticket punched. It raises many, many, hundreds more questions about why they’ve been in the rear, than in the front. To someone who knows how to read it.
He’s the same ass kissing suck up REMF he’s always been.
Don’t believe a goddamn word he says.
As for that intellectual firepower, he is a smooth talker but kiss-ups usually are. I’ve watched him testify and seen a couple of speeches and I’m not all that impressed. He uses the standard bureaucrat’s tricks to evade answering questions, changing the subject or deliberately misrepresenting the question or simply falling back on the “I’ll have to get back to you” ploy, but I don’t see the kind of creative evasion under pressure of a Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton or any number of other very smart people, and his speeches are…boring. If he really is brilliant, as opposed to being good at regurgitating for tests and having a knack for kissing ass, he’s keeping it well-hidden.
His publications are actually very limited in number, scope and depth. The early ones are just assigned works, written to satisfy academic requirements and curry favor with superiors. The later work, for which he is most renown, consists entirely of claiming that counterinsurgency must be developed in a systematic way rather than allowed to emerge ad hoc (Doh!), that the counterinsurgency lessons of Vietnam are only partially applicable to other locations and cultures (Jungle full of Buddhists not the same as desert full of Muslims!). His bold new counterinsurgency strategy which when put into practice essentially boiled down to handing out sacks full of money to get people to cooperate (Totally Innovative!). His supposedly magnificent effort at reconstruction in Iraq consisted of doing not very much so as to not piss off the locals and then handing it over to the next guy and bolting for the States, letting his successor take the fall when it all came apart. Clever, in a street-smart con man sort of way, but the work of a “leading intellectual”? I don’t think so.
Is he really running for president? Spencer Ackerman, who actually is a brilliant intellectual, says he doesn’t think so anymore. Myself, I think Petraeus is being shepherded along by the Big Money Boys in the Republican Party in case they can use him sometime in the future. I think his ego is big enough to believe he can pull it off, and like all little men who have had to make their way by sucking up to those more powerful he relishes the idea of someday being on top of the heap and having everyone kiss his ass; cf, George W. Bush.
Two conditions would make it reasonable for the Republican honchos to draft Petraeus. (Don’t expect him to step out on his own, oh no; he’ll want to be begged, and they will want the theatrics.) One is if things go swimmingly in Iraq and Afghanistan and he can be portrayed as The Man Who Won The Wars, but that isn’t probable. The other is if things don’t go well at all, and that is a very likely course over the next 24 months.
Iraq will undoubtedly descend into some level of chaos as US troops pull out, leaving Obama (and the rest of us) with tough choices and likely mounting US casualties. Afghanistan will natter on at best, which is bad, but if the scheduled mini-“surge” thingie doesn’t do its job things could actually get much worse. And if the surrounding states decide the US is easy pickings we could see a more unified pan-Arab and Persian assault, multiple low-level but insistent attacks from a whole host of directions. And of course there is always the possibility of a successful terrorist attack on the US homeland.
In that second gloomy scenario, Petraeus could if he plays his cards right be portrayed as the long-suffering noble warrior who with uncompromised integrity tried his best but was hamstrung by a cowardly incompetent Liberal Democrat who probably is a Muslim from Kenya by way of Indonesia and not a real American citizen anyway. If only he were in command, we’d show them terrorists a thing or two and put the fear of the Christian God in them heathens, by crackey! Petraeus for President! Save America! From Muslims! And Mexicans! And Libruls!
He’ll need a bible-thumper for a running mate, and I can’t see Palin as a retread though Heaven knows she’s gonna try, but there are any number of homophobic xenophobic demonstrably heterosexual Christianist breeders like Huckabee available so that’s not a problem. I think it’s very possible they’ll try to run him in 2012; failing that and with a second Obama term, almost certainly in 2016.
The truly awful thing here is that for Petraeus to succeed he’ll have to make sure Obama comes out as the strategic loser, and pull it off in such a way that it won’t come back on him. Signs of that kind of maneuvering are what to watch for.
Oh, look, here’s one:
The first of 10 “AFPAK” meetings came on Sept. 13, when the president gathered 16 advisers in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House. This was to be the most methodical national-security decision in a generation.
The AfPak sessions led to an explosion of unauthorized disclosures, spin, and cutthroat bureaucratic gamesmanship, including the leak of the McChrystal Report to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.
In fact, the military, practiced in the ways of Washington, now ran PR circles around the neophytes in the Obama White House, leaking something to the Pentagon reporters nearly every day. The motive for all the leaks seemed clear to the White House: to box the president into the policy that McChrystal had recommended, at least another 80,000 troops and an open-ended commitment lasting 10 years or more.
Scheduled to give a speech on Oct.1 before the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, McChrystal wasn’t sure if he should make the trip, but Mullen told him he should definitely go; it would help the transatlantic alliance. The speech was unexceptional until the question period, when McChrystal crossed his commander in chief in ways that would have consequences. When a questioner asked if he could support a presidential decision to fight the war with drone aircraft and Special Forces that focused on defeating Al Qaeda, McChrystal replied, “The short, glib answer is no.”
If the president sided with Biden, the commanding general couldn’t support it? This was insubordination, and the White House was livid. Was McChrystal out of control or just naive? (The consensus was naive.) Obama and his senior staff believed this had Mullen’s and Petraeus’s fingerprints all over it. They were using McChrystal to jam the president, box him in, manipulate him, game him–use whatever verb you like. The president had not yet decided on a policy and didn’t appreciate the military sounding in public as if he had.
Some aides worried at least briefly that Petraeus was politically ambitious and was making an implied threat: decide Afghanistan my way or I just might resign my command and run for president in 2012. It wasn’t a crazy thought.
No, not crazy at all. In the end Obama flipped the dialogue and, for the moment, has gotten the upper hand by getting Petraeus on the record as accepting fewer troops (40,000 versus 80,000 requested) and a shorter timetable (18 months versus open-ended), but if that constrained approach doesn’t work it will be Obama holding the bag and Petraeus in a position to say “I told you so.”
And Petraeus hasn’t stopped undermining Obama in spite of that presidential assetion of authority. The whole time he was in a struggle with the President that led to a dressing-down, he was working to expand his own authority independent of civilian oversight by the Executive or Congress.
The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.
The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.
The directive, the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order, signed Sept. 30, may also have helped lay a foundation for the surge of American military activity in Yemen that began three months later.
The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.
Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress. [emphasis added]
A hugely ambitious, self-aggrandizing egotistical general with political ambitions and 200,000 armed-to-the-teeth troops at his disposal now has the power to undertake unbounded clandestine operations without civilian oversight. What could possibly go wrong?
And then there’s this decision by CentCom, a bit of reaching down into the weeds that doesn’t make any sense at all from a short-term strategic gain standpoint:
ONCE AGAIN, the stupid sonofabitches in the White House and the even stupider motherfucker that is in charge of military operations in U.S. Central Command, which included Afghanistan, are doing the EXACT same shit that got tens of thousands of Marines killed in Korea and Vietnam.
The REASON they are doing this is purely political. Its good old General “Betray us” fucking over the Marines again.
He did that in Iraq. Go take Fallujah. So we took it. A lot of good men died taking Fallujah but it was okay because after we cleaned out the insurgents the people started living their lives again. We reached out to the people. We were making it better for them. Then General “Betray us” said withdraw. The people returned to being murdered or in fear. When we went back the second time the people we knew were dead or no longer trusted us because we deserted them.
That’s retired Marine Sergeant Major Sandy Fox talking. Go read the whole thing, it just gets better.
It will pay to keep a close eye on Petraeus over the next year or so, to see whether or not he actually tries to clean up the mess we’re in (mostly) and get out as he’s been told to do, or follows orders by the book so when things don’t work out he can’t be blamed, or if he makes a lot of little moves like what Sergeant Major Fox is reporting that totally jack things up. As Tom Engelhardt has written,
The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: “Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.” Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone.
On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours. It’s a basic lose-lose proposition.
For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
Digby has been watching Petraeus closely as well, and is receiving steadily more frequent comments denigrating her concerns. That might be another indicator to track, the number of trolls pressing her to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain with the massive ego. Petraeus has lots of friends, and they have lots of friends; all of them will want to help keep the image of integrity properly polished, and the feet of clay well-hidden.
Petraeus is plenty clever, but he isn’t as brilliant as he’s been led to believe. Obama thinks he is the smarter person, and can use Petraeus to advance his own agenda. Here’s hoping it is the President who still has a few pieces standing at the end of this chess game.
[* REMF: Rear Echelon MotherFucker. Military slang for someone who stays in the rear, directing maneuvers from a safe distance while sending front-line troops into harm’s way.]