February 9, 2009

Thomas Ricks on MTP decribes Petraus "lecturing" Obama - and admits the real winner of the war is Iran. Thanks, Heather!

David at C&L Video Cafe has already noted this Sunday how Thomas Ricks, the Washington Post's Pentagon correspondent, said on Meet The Press that "the surge succeeded militarily, failed politically" but added that "Iraqis, many of them, used the breathing space we created to step backwards to become more sectarian, become more divided." That quick addition is a convenient way to blame only Iraqis for what was widely anticipated before the surge and was put forward as the best reason not to waste more blood and treasure in Bush's sandpit by those that believed Iraqis had to confront their own problems in order to have any motivation to solve them. He also said that Afghanistan is loseable, but Pakistan isn't. (Pakistan being where the US has propped up a two-faced military dictator and lately a two-faced civilian puppet for his generals over the last eight years.)

There's none of that really controversial except to those determined to declaim "mission accomplished" at every opportunity, but in a long article for the WaPo today, Ricks diverges off into revisionist history and at times pure hagiography as he calls General Raymond Odierno the "dissenter who changed the war" and hands Odierno all the credit for thinking up the surge that is such a victory for Ricks - except when he admits it isn't.

Now, President Obama, an opponent of the war and later the surge, must deal with the consequences of the surge's success -- an Iraq that looks to be on the mend, with U.S. casualties so reduced that commanders talk about keeping tens of thousands of soldiers there for many years to come.

The most prominent advocates of maintaining that commitment are the two generals who implemented the surge and changed the direction of the war: Odierno and David H. Petraeus, who replaced Casey in 2007 as the top U.S. commander in Iraq and became the figure most identified with the new strategy. But if Petraeus, now the head of U.S. Central Command, was the public face of the troop buildup, he was only its adoptive parent. It was Odierno, since September the U.S. commander in Iraq, who was the surge's true father.

It's ridiculous cheerleading, mainly sourced to neoconservative and real Surge co-architect Gen. Jack Keane. Over at FDL, emptywheel has a comprehensive takedown of Rick's article, which is an excerpt from Rick's forthcoming book:

[H]e mentions neither the Iraq Study Group nor the AEI-Kagan plan for the surge. Silence about the former leaves out the entire context of the decision to push a surge--not least Saudi pressure not to adopt the ISG's recommendations. And silence about the latter leaves out a critical force in the generation of the plan; plus, Ricks describes the decision as happening shortly after December 19, after the AEI-Kagan plan was already released.

...Odierno's decision to push for a surge probably post-dates Keane's lobbying for it. Not only does Woodward describe Keane--having already discussed the issue with Newt Gingrich and written up a fully-developed plan on a yellow legal pad--presenting his concerns to Rummy on September 19. But Ricks suggests that Keane already had well-developed doubts about US strategy by the time Odierno spoke to him.

...Woodward places a preference for a surge to before Odierno was lobbying for it, a decision on it for the same time his lobbying hit high gear (and still before he went back to Iraq), and a final decision before Ricks describes a final decision.

Ricks, however, is glad to repeat Odierno's belief that Odierno created the surge out of whole cloth - a version quite a few others, including Col H.R. McMaster who had set the scene with a "mini-surge" in Tal Afar well before all this, might have an issue with.

Odierno appears to have spun Ricks as effectively as spin-meister General Petraeus did when Ricks was writing "Gamble", which isn't too surprising - these generals are adept at using the massive military PR machine to their advantage. And reporters do have a tendency to get too close to, and be too gentle with, their sources - who in turn tend to cut off access to hostile questioners.

But revisionism and cheerleading aside, there's a wider story going on here. Ricks said on MTP today that 2009 will be "a surprisingly tough year" in Iraq - which is again something that's already been said by anti-occupation writers - as Petraeus' tactic of bribing insurgents not to attack breaks down in the face of the Awakening's greivances. Yet conservatives and their pet generals see that as a reason to stay, keep troops high, and spend even more blood and treasure. The cynic might suppose that there's an entirely mercenary reason for that.

Faced with Obama's intention to withdraw the bulk of US troops and keep the remainder out of direct combat, there's a strong pushback from within the military and pro-war conservative groups. That pushback is centered around Gen. Keane - military and then political patron to both Petraeus and Odierno - who has assembled a cadre of serving and retired generals to work alongside neocon think-tankers in a PR campaign designed to weaken Obama's resolve. The point man is General Odierno, who may not even realise he's potentially a sacrifice - with Obama forced to fire him for continually questioning his Commander-in-Chief - thus providing the news scandal that can force the issue to the top of the media's agenda this Spring. Ricks, however, is almost certainly aware he's been primed to further that pushback.

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