Towards the Eighteenth Brumaire of General David Petraeus?
Prodded doubtless by forces above and behind the Oval Office, Obama has ousted General McChrystal in favor of General Petraeus, who now combines the post of CENTCOM theater commander with that of NATO commander in Afghanistan. This is a move deriving from the inherent fecklessness and incompetence of the Obama administration, especially from the imperialist point of view. Recent events have highlighted Obama’s total lack of executive ability, leaving him weakened as he faced the bizarre flap about some barrack-room gripes by McChrystal’s staff collected by a correspondent from Rolling Stone magazine. Because of Obama’s weakness, he felt obliged to react to the scuttlebutt peddled by Rolling Stone, when a stronger president could have dismissed it or ignored it. As Fletcher Pratt once wrote, Abraham Lincoln was capable of laughing an attempted coup d’état out of existence with an off-color joke. Obama is far too weak for that.
As for General McChrystal, he was critically weakened and made vulnerable to ouster by the total failure of his counterinsurgency strategy, with the Marja offensive faltering and the Kandahar offensive indefinitely delayed, even as NATO losses rise exponentially, President Karzai turns towards Tehran and Beijing, and many of the NATO coalition partners prepare to defect.
One effect of the sacking of McChrystal is likely to be the accelerated breakup of the US-led Afghan invasion coalition, which was already in bad shape before this incident. The Netherlands and Canada are leaving, the British and the Poles want to join them, and the Turks can hardly be enthusiastic. Who else will join them in the race for the exit door? NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, anticipating such a result, spoke out yesterday in favor of keeping McChrystal, who works for him as well as for Obama. More countries may now announce their departure even before the November NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal.
Another of McChrystal’s bosses, Afghan President Karzai, also made clear that he wanted McChrystal to stay. He will now use Obama’s flaunting of his wishes to accelerate his own playing of the China card in economic policy and the Iranian card in cultural and religious affairs. Afghanistan is likely to slip into the Chinese orbit.
Obama’s Feckless Blunder: Making the Neocon Petraeus Great
In addition to all this, important results of the McChrystal ouster will probably be seen in US domestic politics. Obama has now committed the absolutely idiotic blunder of making General Petraeus far greater and far more important than he already was, despite the fact that General Petraeus is his most likely and credible Republican presidential challenger in 2012, and the one most capable of defeating Obama, as postings on this site have already made clear. As outlined here, Petraeus has clearly emerged as the preferred candidate of the entire neocon camp, including William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Max Boot, Frank Gaffney, the American Enterprise Institute, the Weekly Standard, and many others. Obama can usefully be compared to the earlier Democratic party Wall Street stooge and puppet, President Harry Truman, who destroyed what was left of his own popularity by firing General MacArthur in a dispute about the limited war policy in Korea in April of 1951. The beneficiary of the public revulsion against Truman was General Eisenhower, who became president in 1952 after Truman had dropped out of contention in despair over his abysmal poll numbers.
Petraeus Doomed To Fail Militarily, Will Turn to Politics
Obama has now chosen the tactic guaranteed to concentrate public attention on the ambitious and unprincipled Petraeus, who has all the character weaknesses of a Hindenburg. At the same time, Obama has given Petraeus the totally impossible assignment of winning victory in the Afghanistan quagmire, the graveyard of empires. Petraeus is doomed to fail on the purely military level, and the more he fails the more he will he impelled to pick a political quarrel with Obama about strategy and the conduct of the war as a way of shifting the opprobrium of defeat off his own four-star epaulets and onto the back of the feckless Obama. The most obvious issue to use for this purpose is Obama’s timetable, established in the West Point speech last December, of beginning the departure of US forces from Afghanistan in July of 2011, timed of course to coincide with the Iowa straw poll and the beginning of the 2012 presidential primary campaigns.
Petraeus’ obvious option will be to break with Obama during the late spring or early summer of 2011 over Obama’s intent to protect his own vulnerable left flank in the Democratic Party base by initiating an Afghan pullout, which Petraeus and his neocon backers have already branded as Obama’s cut and run policy. Petraeus will be able to wave the bloody shirt of the US Afghanistan dead, condemning Obama for making their sacrifices vain for his own self-serving political purposes. Petraeus will be able to claim that he is reluctantly leaving his military post because the appeaser and weakling Obama has tied his hands to the point that he has no other alternative but to take the issue to the voters in the primaries and in the presidential election itself. Ironically, the worse the military situation in Afghanistan becomes, the better this strategy would work.
Unless something changes very soon, we may soon witness here in the United States the classic process of the disintegration of a form of government which often occurs when a weak civilian regime decides to place a major bet on the ability of a charismatic military commander to save them politically by winning a foreign war in the way that the civilians and their previous military appointees had been unable to do. Historically speaking, the tendency is for the charismatic military commander to return home and seize power, ousting the civilians who had tried to benefit from his victories.
Napoleon Returns from Egypt for the Eighteenth Brumaire, November 9, 1799
One obvious example is the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, who came back from Egypt to seize power in France just as Petraeus may figuratively come back from Afghanistan to seize power in Washington. Napoleon, who had already covered himself in glory with his Italian campaign (just as Petraeus is widely viewed as the victor of Iraq), lost most of his army in Egypt. But this did not prevent him from returning to France and staging his coup d’état of the Eighteenth Brumaire of the Year VIII of the revolution, corresponding to November 9, 1799. In taking power, Napoleon swept aside such civilian politicians of the weak and financially bankrupt Directory as Sieyès, Barras, and even the devious Talleyrand. Napoleon soon set up a new form of government, the Consulate, with himself as first Consul, and then first Consul for life. Later he proclaimed himself Emperor. When might Petraeus stage his own Eighteenth Brumaire, either by resigning and declaring himself a presidential candidate, or in some other way? Within the next 12 months or so, we would expect.
When Will Petraeus Cross the Rubicon?
Another example comes from the death agony of the Roman Republic. With Rome being ruled by a three-man triumvirate, Julius Caesar was able to outclass his two rivals, Pompey and Crassus, by conquering Gaul. He soon felt strong enough to bring his victorious army back across the Alps to Rome. The point of no return in this bid for power occurred when his forces crossed the Rubicon River in Romagna on January 10 of 49 B.C. Soon Julius Caesar was exercising virtually total power in Rome. Petraeus is likely to cross the Rubicon in about a year or less, this time around.
Hindenburg-Ludendorff Tell the Kaiser to Abdicate, November 1918
A final instance of the dynamic we may now be facing comes from the history of the German Empire in World War I. As that conflict dragged on into its fifth year with ghastly losses, the civilian governments in Berlin and even the Emperor counted for less and less, and the supreme command of the German army counted for more and more. Military power was in the hands of a two-man tandem, with Field Marshal Hindenburg, the victor in the great battle of Tannenberg in 1914, as the popular public face, but with more and more real power been gathered into the hands of the protofascist General Ludendorff, the virtual dictator of the German war economy. Soon Hindenburg and Ludendorff, operating out of their headquarters in Spa, Belgium, were incomparably more powerful than such weak figures in Berlin as Count Hertling, the Chancellor from November 1917 to September 1918, or Prince of Baden, who was Chancellor in October 1918, just before the final collapse. Hertling, like Obama, was a professor. In November 1918, with German armies reeling and the home front in revolution, Hindenburg-Ludendorff told the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II that it was time for him to abdicate and go into exile so that an armistice with the allies could be signed and thus preserve the German army and above all its officer corps. Within a couple of years, Field Marshal von Hindenburg had become the President of Germany under the Weimar Republic. He did not turn out to be a good president. This time around, CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida may eclipse Washington just as Spa gave orders to Berlin in 1918. The CENTCOM website department “From the Commander” already looks like a campaign website for Petraeus. When, one wonders, will Petraeus inform Obama that it is time for him to abdicate?
In one of the final chapters of my book, Barack H. Obama: The Unauthorized Biography I pointed to the obvious by saying that the US officer corps was very unlikely to ever accept a figure like Obama, the friend of Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dorn, and Jeremiah Wright, as a legitimate commander in chief. Numerous commentators appearing on cable television of the past 24 hours have confirmed that the contempt expressed by McChrystal for Obama and his appointees is widely shared among active duty military officers. What may come of this is anybody’s guess, but it is unlikely to bring good results. What is certain is that 18 months of the Obama regime have already significantly weakened representative government and the democratic process in the United States.
As for McChrystal, he should be answering for war crimes disguised as special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not a pillorying in the media because his remarks supposedly amounted to lèse majesté against the bungling imposter in the White House and his gaggle of cronies.