Corrupting the Military: Petraeus as Bush’s Political Spear-Carrier


petraeus bush.jpg
Given the complicity between the Executive branch and the military industrial complex in feeding at the trough of the treasury, I’m not sure that there has ever been much “objectivity of voice” among the military leadership — but perhaps the myth itself was useful.
When I think of Eric Shinseki’s brave counter to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz though, I see that I’m overstating this, but generally — I think that there has been a widely held if not mistaken belief that the military work to defend the nation as a whole and not just the prognostications of one party over another, or of the White House over the Congress.
Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman has a very interesting piece in the Financial Times today highlighting the ways that President Bush is corrupting military leaders and the Pentagon in putting them to work on his political message:

President George W. Bush’s campaign to stay the course in Iraq is taking a new and constitutionally dangerous turn. When Senator John Warner recently called for a troop withdrawal by Christmas, the White House did not mount its usual counterattack. It allowed a surprising champion to take its place. Major General Rick Lynch, a field commander in Iraq, summoned reporters to condemn Mr Warner’s proposal as “a giant step backwards”.
It was Maj Gen Lynch who was making the giant step into forbidden territory. He had no business engaging in a public debate with a US senator. His remarks represent an assault on the principle of civilian control — the most blatant so far during the Iraq war.
Nobody remarked on the breach. But this only makes it more troubling and should serve as prologue for the next large event in civilian-military relations: the president’s effort to manipulate General David Petraeus’s report to Congress.
Once again, nobody is noticing the threat to civilian control. Mr Bush has pushed Gen Petraeus into the foreground to shore up his badly damaged credibility. But in doing so, he has made himself a hostage. He needs the general more than the general needs him. Despite the president’s grandiose pretensions as commander-in-chief, the future of the Iraq war is up to Gen Petraeus.
The general’s impact on Congress will be equally profound. If he brings in a negative report, Republicans will abandon the sinking ship in droves; if he accentuates the positive, it is the Democrats who will be spinning.
In fact, if not in name, it will be an army general who is calling the shots — not the duly elected representatives of the American people.
Wars are tough on constitutions, but losing wars is particularly tough on the American separation of powers. Especially when Congress and the presidency are in different hands, the constitutional dynamics invite both sides to politicise the military. With the war going badly, it is tempting to push the generals on to centre stage and escape responsibility for the tragic outcomes that lie ahead. But as Iraq follows on from Vietnam, this dynamic may generate a politicised military that is embittered by its repeated defeats in the field.

Ackerman’s sense of things is validated in the interviews that biographer Robert Draper did with Bush and which were reported in the New York Times. Here is a clip on Bush’s comfort with using Petraeus as his political messenger:

For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, “I’m playing for October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”
But fully aware of his standing in opinion polls, Mr. Bush said his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American people than he could.

I am reminded as well of Wesley Clark’s call at YearlyKos to Bush to stop hiding behind Petraeus.
More later.

— Steve Clemons


17 comments on “Corrupting the Military: Petraeus as Bush’s Political Spear-Carrier

  1. steambomb says:

    Wow. A headline on TWN that actually doesn’t pull any punches and cuts right to the truth of the matter.


  2. JohnH says:

    As I wrote in the first comment on this thread, “As the military leadership sees Bush and his policies circling the drain, how long can it be before they realize they need to escape the vortex?”
    Bruce Ackerman writing in the Financial Times pursues a similar line of thinking: “With the war going badly, it is tempting to push the generals on to centre stage and escape responsibility for the tragic outcomes that lie ahead. But as Iraq follows on from Vietnam, this dynamic may generate a politicised military that is embittered by its repeated defeats in the field.”
    Like I said, let’s hope they react in a way that defends the Constitution…


  3. Sandy says:

    It certainly IS “a question worth asking”. How come no one is?


  4. bob h says:

    We are seeing the downside of having an officer corps that is 90% Republican. One wonders too whether Karl Rove’s Hatch Act tiger teams made it over to the Pentagon; it sue seems like it.


  5. pauline says:

    Staging Nuke for Iran?
    By Larry Johnson
    Why the hubbub over a B-52 taking off from a B-52 base in Minot, North Dakota and subsequently landing at a B-52 base in Barksdale, Louisiana? That’s like getting excited if you see a postal worker in uniform walking out of a post office. And how does someone watching a B-52 land identify the cruise missiles as nukes? It just does not make sense.
    So I called a old friend and retired B-52 pilot and asked him. What he told me offers one compelling case of circumstantial evidence. My buddy, let’s call him Jack D. Ripper, reminded me that the only times you put weapons on a plane is when they are on alert or if you are tasked to move the weapons to a specific site.
    Then he told me something I had not heard before.
    Barksdale Air Force Base is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations. Gee, why would we want cruise missile nukes at Barksdale Air Force Base. Can’t imagine we would need to use them in Iraq. Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?
    His final point was to observe that someone on the inside obviously leaked the info that the planes were carrying nukes. A B-52 landing at Barksdale is a non-event. A B-52 landing with nukes. That is something else.
    Now maybe there is an innocent explanation for this? I can’t think of one. What is certain is that the pilots of this plane did not just make a last minute decision to strap on some nukes and take them for a joy ride. We need some tough questions and clear answers. What the hell is going on? Did someone at Barksdale try to indirectly warn the American people that the Bush Administration is staging nukes for Iran? I don’t know, but it is a question worth asking.


  6. pauline says:

    Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
    By Sidney Blumenthal
    Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam’s WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell’s speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.
    Both the French intelligence service and the CIA paid Sabri hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least $200,000 in the case of the CIA) to give them documents on Saddam’s WMD programs. “The information detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissile material, which they didn’t, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons,” one of the former CIA officers told me.
    On the eve of Sabri’s appearance at the United Nations in September 2002 to present Saddam’s case, the officer in charge of this operation met in New York with a “cutout” who had debriefed Sabri for the CIA. Then the officer flew to Washington, where he met with CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who was “excited” about the report. Nonetheless, McLaughlin expressed his reservations. He said that Sabri’s information was at odds with “our best source.” That source was code-named “Curveball,” later exposed as a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer.
    The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. “Tenet told me he briefed the president personally,” said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush’s response was to call the information “the same old thing.” Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. “The president had no interest in the intelligence,” said the CIA officer. The other officer said, “Bush didn’t give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up.”
    more at –


  7. erichwwk says:

    Great post and link to FT and Ackerman. It is SO on target!
    Also, let’s not forget:
    “In the penultimate draft of the address, Eisenhower initially used the term military-industrial-CONGRESSIONAL complex, and thus indicated the essential role that the United States Congress plays in the propagation of the military industry. But, it is said, that the president chose to strike the word congressional in order to placate members of the legislative branch of the federal government.”
    Without Congressional complicity with the military-industrial complex we would have some check on it’s influence. It is because so many politicians are now financed from this source, and themselves benefit, that we have such a huge problem. As Ackerman noted in the piece Steve quoted “Nobody remarked on the breach”.
    If we had an independent Congress, they would be more than remarking, they would be SCREAMING.
    And is the public at large also not complicit? Wasn’t our nation built on exploitation of others and theft of resources? Don’t we like the fact that our energy plan consists of the use of the M-I-C complex to ensure $3/gallon gasoline rather than the $6 -$9/gallon gasoline implied by fair and free markets? Aren’t we now all fearful of the implications of abandoning the advantages of forceful expropriation of resources, and facing the consequences of the infrastructure created by cheap oil and having to compete with countries that have an infrastructure built on honest and fair prices?


  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Like I said in a prior thread, there can be no more despicable creature than a General that curries political favor on the lives of his troops.
    You can bet there are more than a few boots out there that would love to frag him. And rightfully so.


  9. Drew says:

    Bush may be too stupid to know the differnce, but his team subscribes more to fascist ideology than to the democratic principals enshrined in the Constitution. The rest of this team, Cheney in particular, are not as stupid, but they just don’t give a damn about principal or integrity. They are all pathetical about power and control for its our sake, like a junkies rush. George, the dry drunk, is their apt leader.
    Their continued demagoguery and blatant lies to distract from their responsibility for the continued needless deaths and maiming of American troops, and to justify their horrific decisions. (Fight them there not here, continue the war or betray the troops, support Guantonomo and destruction of the Constitution)
    They have positioned themselves squarely against the democratic process (lie to the public and use fear, not to mention use the Justice process to maintain a one party state). They are positioning the Constitution as their enemy.
    They subscribe to an anti-democratic, authoritarian, fear mongering ideology that is looking more and more like the popular authoritarian fascist views of the 30s.


  10. TonyForesta says:

    Patreus will carry the presidents spear, and perhaps better “sell” the horrorshow in Iraq to the dim sheeple in America and cowards in congress, – but nothing will change the realities in Iraq.
    Kieth Oberman let it rip last night shredding the Presidents “fraudulance” in “playing” with the lives of American troops, and the peoples’ treasure to stick out the Iraq war in order to force the next leadership(if that actually happens)to “stay longer.” Is this not criminal?
    While there is a long and festering litany Bush deceptions, imbecilic comments, pathological lies, and disturbing admissions, this confession is the most extreme and wildly repugnant, and pernicious statement I have ever read from any American politician. Sickening.
    Why America tolerates this fascist is a nightmarish mystery, and we are all going to pay a painful price for out collective somnabulance, and apathy.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  11. S Brennan says:

    Just as a historical note, the Bush Family, outside of it’s well known perchant for associating with villians, has had a long history of engaging in political purges.
    Bush the First, systematically removed, transferred, demoted and did not promote, people who could not be identified as loyal party adherents at the CIA in the 70’s. His methodology was so crude that his political machinations became very public at a very secretive agency. The CIA has never recovered, nor will it. 911 stands as quiet testimony to the political purification of the CIA. Notice how “clever” the CIA was at tossing the blame onto the FBI in the early days, when in fact, the CIA knew of the operatives, the threat they posed and the date and time of their arrival in the USA…and yet they didn’t think to notify the FBI? So now we have a CIA that is good at politics and bad at doing it’s job. Heck of job, George the First.
    The US Army has always had a bent towards Republicans, but in many respects, through the necessity of the cold war, programs like ROTC and some good professionals at West Point, the lessons of the WWII enlightenment were not smothered. That changed dramatically with the appointment of Collin Powell [who felt free to buck a Dem CIC] and the cold war drawdown. With decreasing opportunity, came the ability to purify the ranks of those who chose not to be part of the Party machinery, this was made easier by Bill Clinton’s declared intention to allow gays to serve openly. Anybody who supported Clinton’s position was identified as a Democrat, liberal or worse yet…gay. And they became marked men. Many an investigation was started by voicing support for allowing gays to serve openly. Those who supported Bill Clinton policy were betrayed to a man, but Bill’s penchant for betraying his friends to the benefit of enemies [can you say, triangulation] is another story for another time…
    …oh yeah, on our other Royal Family, betray me once shame on you, betray me twice, shame on me…I’ll vote for Hillary when hell freezes over.


  12. Carroll says:

    Petraeus sounds like another yes man Powell to me…currying favor in hopes of some future political payoff.


  13. claptrap says:

    Surgin’ General Petraeus is not going to win his war, no matter how far he projects himself into U.S. politics. He is the chump who agreed on a promotion to buy Bush time at the expense of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. Neither Bush nor Petraeus has shown any ability to see beyond short-term goals.
    Bush had to hack through his top commanders to get to a man willing to undertake something as destructive and self-destructive as the Surge. He is destroying U.S. resources and credibility as well as our armed forces.


  14. pauline says:

    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build the big bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks
    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly
    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain
    You fasten the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud
    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins
    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    Even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do
    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul
    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand o’er your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead
    Copyright 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music


  15. nal says:

    Maj Gen Lynch is doing just what his political masters in Washington told him to do. Sounds like civilian control to me.


  16. fmrdodlogmgr says:

    My experience was that the military has always, at least tacitly, supported the politcal party that is willing to give them as much money as they request. In recent history, that has been the Republicans. But, I also noticed the military does not really want to fight a war. What they do want is money for new armament, weapons, etc, and jobs with defense companies or defense consulting waiting for them when they retire from military service. IMO, this is not necessarily politicization of the military but the military seeing supporting Republicans as in their own interest. We shall see if that changes as casualties mount and public sentiment turns against war and defense spending, as it will eventually.


  17. JohnH says:

    Of course Bush has been politicizing the military. He also politicized justice and blatantly used other government agencies to bolster his re-election campaign.
    As the military leadership sees Bush and his policies circling the drain, how long can it be before they realize they need to escape the vortex? And fast! As Wesley Clark said, Bush needs Petraeus more than Petraeus needs Bush.
    When it happens, let’s hope it’s in defense of the Constitution, as their oath stipulates.


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