by Jeff Huber
"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
- Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1572)
A new world order began when the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989. The next new world order began when the U.S. Army staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue after the fall of Baghdad in late 2003. A brave new world order, the one we’re now in the early stages of, began in late 2008 when the U.S. economy dropped down a rabbit hole that may go all the way to China. The trajectory should look familiar; it traces a path taken by hegemons throughout the ages, straight to the cliff they fell from. As with great powers before us, the military might that created our empire has become the instrument of its downfall.
Niccolo Machiavelli, who served as secretary to Florence and had extensive dealings with the infamous Cesare Borgia, is probably history’s premier political scientist. Machiavelli insisted that “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline.” So we can see that the guy was no hand-wringing peace pansy. Conversely, however, he said of war that, “a well-established republic or kingdom would never permit its subjects or citizens to employ it for their profession.” Machiavelli asserted that “as long as [the Romans] were wise and good, never permitted that their citizens should take up this practice as their profession.” It was only when Pompeii and Caesar established the institution of emperor as professional warrior that Rome’s republic began to erode. Eventually the army’s elite Praetorian Guard “became formidable to the Senate and damaging to the emperor” and “gave the Empire and took it away from anyone they wished.”
In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned America to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the “military-industrial complex” for the same reason Machiavelli cautioned heads of state of his day to beware of advisers who “in times of peace, desire war because they are unable to live without it.” In ‘61, Eisenhower admonished that the “economic, political, even spiritual” influence of America’s new war industry was “felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.” A decade into the new American century, militarism has woven itself into the very fiber of our society. Political careers and regional economies are wholly dependent upon it. The defense industry has transformed America into a warfare-welfare state, and it doesn’t bother making a secret of it.
Witness the recent uproar over Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed defense budget “cutbacks” that are actually an increase. Lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman led the protest over Gates’ refusal to expand the F-22 stealth fighter purchase. At $360 million a pop, the F-22 is a Cold War albatross that was designed to go toe-to-toe with the Russkies in the skies over Europe. Now, its mission involves air-to-air combat against jumbo jets armed with box cutters; but it’s built in Joe’s state of Connecticut, so it’s of vital importance to national security.
Even more deplorable than the persistence of Lieberman and other congressional war mongrels at investing in what defense analyst William Lind calls “a military museum” is their willingness to let the Pentagon dictate policy. From the beginning of our Mesopotamian mistake, the generals, supposedly, were calling the shots. When then-Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki said we weren’t taking enough troops into Iraq, then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld handed him a Purple Heart for the bruise he got where the door hit him on his way out. From then on, all the generals said we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq than we already had there, so we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq.
Then the GOP lost the 2006 election, and Rumsfeld got his Purple Heart. Young Mr. Bush decided it was time to go on a surgin’ safari, and Gen. David Petraeus signed on to play bwana. Even the once credible Thomas E. Ricks, who has done more than anyone to exalt Petraeus, admits that his idol has been pulling a confidence game on the American Congress and public since he assumed command of forces in Iraq. In a February 2009 Washington Post article, Ricks wrote that Petraeus’ agenda was “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” Congress, the public, and Petraeus’ critics in the military largely failed to recognize what he was up to, mainly because he patently misled them when he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “We’re after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage.”
He was, in fact, after conditions that would never allow his soldiers to disengage, at least not during his lifetime, and possibly not during theirs. Throughout his tenure in Iraq – first as commander in Mosul (where he made his reputation as a counterinsurgency “genius” thanks to Ricks’ fabrications), then as the general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, and finally as commander of international forces in Iraq – Petraeus has achieved short-term results by handing out guns to everybody and bribing them not to use the guns against U.S. troops or Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forces. As a result, Ricks admits, we have poured “a lot of gasoline on the fire,” and if we leave, “it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there.” So we can never leave.
What Petraeus deserves for his perfidy would cauterize his exit ramp. He has been, instead, elevated to five-star deity status. David Petraeus is the Douglas MacArthur of the 21st century – a general so dangerous that he challenges the commander in chief’s constitutional authority. As MacArthur did with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Petraeus poses the threat of challenging Barack H. Obama for his job come the next general election. Don’t think for a minute that a Petraeus/Palin ticket is too absurd to come to pass. Look what’s happened so far in the new American century.
In April 2008, Mr. Bush announced that his “main man” Petraeus would be the decider of when and how U.S. troops would withdraw from Iran, and “King David,” now in charge of Central Command, has been the de facto commander in chief of the U.S. military ever since. Now, President Obama’s decisions must be sanctioned by Petraeus and the rest of the long-war generals.
Petraeus, his pet ox Ray Odierno, and Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen all publicly opposed withdrawal timelines (and the Obama candidacy) during the 2008 presidential race. Individually and as a group, they have waged an information campaign to desensitize the American public to the reality that their country may always be ensnared in counterproductive wars. Babe Odierno is on record as wanting to keep more than 30,000 troops in Iraq until 2015 or so. If you’re watching, you’ll see that they’re blaming the resurgent violence in Iraq on the pending withdrawals from Iraqi cities, i.e., the “timelines.” When the 2012 political season rolls around, the reasons we’re still in Iraq will be as slippery and amorphous as the reasons we invaded in the first place.
The Petraeus patrol is steering us into the same trap in the Bananastans, and President Obama either doesn’t see that the road ahead looks identical to the one in the rear view mirror, or he figures he’s powerless to reverse America’s vector toward self-immolation, or he’s dumber than he looks, or he just doesn’t care.
These generals of ours, whose authority is too formidable for either the president or the Congress to oppose, don’t have a clue how to win their wars. They don’t know their centers of gravity from their elbows, but that’s okay. They’re not supposed to win their wars. In fact, that would be counter to the real objective: to keep the gravy boat afloat and the cash caisson rolling along for as long as they possibly can. That they’re leaving tire tracks all over the Constitution they took an oath to support and defend by subverting the president’s authority matters little to them. Whether they’re Manchurian candidate true believers, or Orwellian double thinkers, or simply take the Machiavellian position that ends justify means, I just can’t say. I knew officers of all those flavors during my career. I also knew officers of genuine moral vision and clarity (as opposed to the Ann Coulter/Pat Robertson version of moral vision and clarity), but few of them were invited into the generals’ club, and the few who managed to slip past the doorman have by now earned their Purple Hearts the way Shinseki did. The generals we have left lie like other people eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, all for the sake of preserving an institution that will never again have a peer competitor and will never be capable of defeating an -ism of any kind.
I believe we still have a window of opportunity to become the “kinder, gentler nation” and that “shining city on the hill” of a brave new world order, but the window is dwindling rapidly. Our generals, openly disdainful of their commander in chief and the legislature, have stolen our country. The zombie Republicans in Congress think it’s patriotic to back the generals against the president, and the Democrats have folded like the Chicago Cubs in August.
Obama needs to step up to the plate, fire all of his four stars and that bureaucratic dimwit Gates, and take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.