Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.
Just as John Kennedy did, Barack Obama had a Bay of Pigs early in his presidency. He became the target of a covert operation that trapped and compromised him as president. In Obama’s case, the challenge to his authority as commander-in-chief came not from the CIA but from the Army, and not in Cuba but in Afghanistan. As in Kennedy’s case, Obama’s response to the entrapment established the pattern of his presidency, but in a direction opposite to Kennedy’s. Obama has become an obedient servant to his national security state, and as a result, a source of despair to many of his supporters.
The critical background to President Obama’s June 2010 firing of General Stanley McChrystal for his outlandish Rolling Stone interview was McChrystal’s close relationship to the man Obama named to replace him. The president’s newly appointed Afghan commander, David H. Petraeus, was McChrystal’s boss and mentor. In September 2009, in a more significant subversion of Obama’s authority than the later interview, McChrystal had been Petraeus’s point man in a Pentagon threat of revolt unless the president escalated the Afghan War.
Heavily supported by Republican leaders, McChrystal pressured Obama publicly by a series of statements questioning the president’s initial resistance to the general’s recommendation of 40,000 more troops. Petraeus also went public, telling a columnist the United States would fail in the war unless the president gave them the troops they needed. Obama’s generals were conducting a media war to force him into a decision they had chosen for him. As Secretary of State Colin Powell’s former top aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, observed, “Petraeus and McChrystal have put Obama in a trick bag.”
As Bob Woodward reported in Obama’s Wars, the president was blocked at every turn by his war cabinet, as he sought alternative troop options and an exit plan from the war. However, the generals wanted their troop surge and an open-ended strategy. They provided no exit plan.
“You’re not really giving me any options,” Obama told them. “You agreed to go back and work those up.” Instead they kept pressuring him for the same troop increase, under different guises, in a war without end. “It’s unacceptable,” he said.
Obama told civilian advisers that the military heads were “really cooking the thing in the direction they wanted. They are not going to give me a choice.”
The president finally gave them 30,000 more troops, while setting a shaky, condition-based date of next July for a beginning withdrawal. The generals claimed victory. Petraeus was pleased. His counterinsurgency strategy was alive and well. As he let Woodward know, “If the president had told him at the beginning that it would come out with this strategy and 30,000 troops, Petraeus would have taken it in a second.”
Moreover, Petraeus said privately, he continued to see no end in sight in Afghanistan: “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”
When Obama replaced McChrystal half a year later by the more subtle, more controlling Petraeus, it was a further submission to the military authorities that the president was elected to command.
After JFK was set up by the CIA (with the Pentagon’s support) at the Bay of Pigs, that new, young president bucked his national security state by firing his main adversary, Cold-Warrior-in-Chief Allen Dulles. When Obama was set up by General Petraeus, General McChrystal, and their colleagues to escalate the war in Afghanistan, our new, young president, after (to his credit) months of deliberation, reluctantly went along. His later insertion of Petraeus as his new Afghan commander put the most likely GOP candidate for president in 2012, General David Petraeus, in an ideal running position. Because Bush’s “surge” of occupying troops in Iraq (under Petraeus) has somehow been judged a “win,” Obama will be scapegoated with the “loss” if a proxy government in Iraq fails after his troop withdrawal.
In August General Petraeus warned, “If the U.S. loses [in Afghanistan], there would likely be a bloody civil war followed by a takeover by extremists.” He added, “If the U.S. succeeds and Afghanistan stabilizes, the country could become the region’s new Silk Road with the potential to extract trillions of dollars worth of minerals.”
If Petraeus fails in his counterinsurgency war to pacify that new road to corporate profits, he can keep on saying he needed more troops and more time to “win” there — preparing the political ground for another Obama “loss.” Petraeus can then return home for a GOP draft to run for president. Obama, by surrendering to his generals, has been trapped in the same kind of plotting Kennedy had the insight and courage to resist.–James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable