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“One-Dimensional Foreign Policy Thinking”: Leon Panetta Is What’s Wrong With D.C.

When Harry Truman apocryphally said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” he might have had someone like Leon Panetta in mind. Not content with letting Republicans pummel his old boss, President Obama’s former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense released a new memoir this week that attacks Obama for “losing his way” on foreign policy, for sending “mixed messages” to allies and enemies alike and for failing to use military force more promiscuously in protecting US interests in the Middle East.

There is more here, however, than just DC-style situational loyalty. In Panetta’s obsessive focus on the politics of national security, his fetishization of military force and his utter lack of strategic vision, what is also evident is the one-dimensional foreign policy thinking that so dominates Washington—and which Panetta has long embodied.

None of this should come as a surprise. When Panetta became CIA director in 2009, he was demonstrably unqualified for the job. He had no background in foreign policy, intelligence or national security. His most apparent and highly-touted skill was that he understood his way around bureaucratic Washington.

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

Take, for example, Panetta’s now oft-repeated position on troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2011, a move that as Secretary of Defense he praised but now three years later labels a failure. While Panetta acknowledges that the adamant refusal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain a troop presence in Iraq was a key impediment, he has a brilliant after-the-fact solution: the US should have just turned up the heat on Maliki.

According to Panetta, the US could have simply said that we would withdraw both reconstruction and military aid to Iraq until Maliki bent to America’s will. That Panetta thinks that threatening and demeaning the Iraqi leader was a worthy step to make in order to maintain a US force that the Iraqis clearly didn’t want is remarkably short-sighted. Panetta seems utterly uninterested in the question of what happens if Maliki called the US bluff or, if he said yes, how would that affect the long-term relationship between the US and Iraq. For Panetta, the only thing that mattered in 2011 was maintaining a residual US military force in the country, which he says—without much in the way of evidence—would have helped prevent the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is fond of such retrospective certainty. He asserts that if the US had backed Syrian rebels militarily it would have built up a moderate counter-weight to ISIS. He also labels the president’s failure to use force against Syria when it crossed Obama’s “redline” and used chemical weapons against his own people a damaging “blow to American credibility.” According to Panetta, “the power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.” The implication is that if the US had merely bombed Assad, those clear signals would have been sent and received by enemies and allies alike.

Of less concern to Panetta are not only the potential negative consequences from using force but also the actual diplomatic agreement negotiated by the US to completely destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons. While he gives a perfunctory nod to this “important accomplishment” in his memoir, he complains that “hesitation and half-steps have consequences.”

As for what those specific consequences are, other than vague platitudes about credibility and signals: your guess is as good as mine. For Panetta, the act of using force is seemingly more important than the actual tangible result achieved by using force.

Nowhere is this mindset of war as a presentational tool more evident than Panetta’s discussion of the 2009 surge in Afghanistan. While Panetta says the focus on the Taliban, rather than al Qaeda, was misplaced and he complains that the military actively tried to box in Obama on troop levels … he says that there was no reason for the decision on the surge to have taken so long.

“For him to defy his military advisers on a matter so central to the success of his foreign policy and so early in his presidency would have represented an almost impossible risk,” says Panetta. Translation: the surge was a bad idea, but the politics of national security demanded that Obama send American troops to fight a war that Panetta in his memoir calls “not a ringing success.”

Ironically, in his public appearances Panetta has been forcefully stating that a commander-in-chief must keep all options on the table—an implicit criticism of Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground to fight ISIS. But in Afghanistan, the one option that Panetta appears to believe we should not have had on the table was defying the military and not surging, which is nothing if not an interesting twist on the principle of civilian control of the military. For Panetta, “all options” means only one thing—use of force.

Here, Panetta could not be more explicit. He says President Obama was a “strong leader on security issues” in his first term and cites as evidence Obama’s support for CIA military operations and the fact that he was “tough on terrorism.”

Now, however, Panetta believes that the president has “lost his way” because since then because he’s shown greater “ambivalence” about using military force. If Obama is willing to “roll up his sleeves” on ISIS he can restore that strong legacy. For Panetta, might always equals right.

Panetta likes to present himself an “honest,” “straight-talking,” aw-shucks kind of guy—the son of Italian immigrants who has lived the American Dream. But in reality he is the quintessential example of how Washington corrupts. Principles are conditional and where you sit is where you stand; politics trumps policy, even bad policy that puts American lives at risk; military force is a magic elixir not only in solving international problems but in burnishing one’s public image (though it appears for Panetta that this mainly applies to Democrats); it’s also the most important criteria in how you judge a president’s national security decision-making and his or her requisite strength.

During a recent interview on CNN, Panetta took a break from bashing the president who appointed him to two Cabinet offices to offer one of those platitudes that long-time DC denizens love to state without a moment of introspection. “Logic doesn’t work in Washington,” he said.

You can say that again.

 

By: Michael Cohen, The Daily Beast, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Leon Panetta, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“de-Baathification Program”: Bush/Cheney Created Conditions That Led Directly To ISIL

It takes a lot of gall for people like Dick Cheney to utter even one critical word about President Obama’s strategy to eliminate the threat of ISIL in the Middle East.

In fact, it was the unnecessary Bush/Cheney Iraq War that created the conditions that led directly to the rise of the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL).

Former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said as much on this week’s edition of “Meet the Press.” He noted that after the first President Bush had ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. had refrained from marching on Baghdad precisely to avoid kicking over the sectarian hornet’s nest that was subsequently unleashed by the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq in 2003.

But it wasn’t just the War in Iraq itself that set the stage for the subsequent 12 years of renewed, high-intensity sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shiites in the Middle East. It was also what came after.

Bush’s “de-Baathification program” eliminated all vestiges of Sunni power in Iraqi society and set the stage for the Sunni insurrection against American occupation and the new Shiite-led government. Bush disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and bureaucracy. He didn’t change it. He didn’t make it more inclusive of Shiites and Kurds. He just disbanded it. It is no accident that two of the top commanders of today’s ISIL are former commanders in the Saddam-era Iraqi military.

General Petraeus took steps to reverse these policies with his “Sunni Awakening” programs that engaged the Sunni tribes against what was then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the progress he made ultimately collapsed because the Bush/Cheney regime helped install Nouri Al-Maliki as Prime Minister who systematically disenfranchised Sunnis throughout Iraq.

And that’s not all. The War in Iraq — which had nothing whatsoever to do with “terrorism” when it was launched — created massive numbers of terrorists that otherwise would not have dreamed of joining extremist organizations. It did so by killing massive numbers of Iraqis, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees, imprisoning thousands, and convincing many residents of the Middle East that the terrorist narrative was correct: that the U.S. and the West were really about taking Muslim lands.

And after all, contrary to Dick Cheney’s absurd assertion that U.S. forces would be greeted in Iraq as “liberators,” no one likes a foreign nation to occupy their country.

The War did more than any propagandist could possibly do to radicalize vulnerable young people. And by setting off wave after wave of sectarian slaughter it created blood feuds that will never be forgiven.

The Iraq War — and the Sunni power vacuum caused first by U.S. policies and then Al Maliki — created the perfect conditions that allowed a vicious band of extremists to take huge swaths of territory.

And now many of the same people who caused this foreign policy disaster have the audacity to criticize President Obama’s measured efforts to clean up the mess they created. And they do so often without ever saying what they themselves would do to solve the horrific problems that they created.

It reminds you of a bunch of arsonists standing at the scene of a fire criticizing the techniques used by the firefighters who are trying to extinguish the blaze they themselves have set.

Oh, they say: “If you had just left a residual force after the withdrawal of U.S. troops everything would be hunky dory.”

Do they really think that several thousand U.S. troops would have solved Iraq’s problems when hundreds of thousands failed to do so?

And of course they conveniently forget to mention that neither the Iraqi’s nor the U.S. voters wanted a “residual” force to remain in Iraq. And they forget that the Iraqi government would not agree to conditions that would allow a “residual” force to be stationed in Iraq.

Or perhaps they wish U.S. troops were now going door to door in Iraq cities rooting out adherents to ISIL? Only a few neo-con die-hards want more U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East.

Or then there is the refrain that President Obama should have helped “arm” the moderate Syrian opposition earlier. Let’s remember that had he acted at an earlier point it is entirely likely that many of those arms would now be in ISIL hands — and we must be extremely careful even now to avoid precisely that problem in the days ahead.

The president’s response to ISIL is supported by almost two-thirds of Americans because it seems to be the only reasonable response where the cure is not worse than the disease.

It recognizes that the problem posed by ISIL must first and foremost be dealt with by other Sunni’s in the region. It is aimed at building an international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the ability of this vicious organization to threaten people in the Middle East or elsewhere. And it relies on American airpower to bolster the abilities of other Sunni forces to accomplish this goal.

But most Americans also realize this will not be easy — and they’re right. It won’t be easy to clean up the horrific mess created by the Bush/Cheney policies in the Middle East.

Frankly, I don’t think that any of the architects of the Iraq War should ever be invited on TV to say one word about foreign policy — and especially the Middle East. They have zero credibility to comment. They have been wrong over and over again and created the conditions that spawned the problems we face today.

But if they are invited to act as “talking heads,” interviewers must at least have the common decency to point out their failed track record — and to demand that they do more than criticize the president’s efforts to clean up their mistakes. They must also be required to tell us exactly what they would do to fix it.

And if any of them actually do propose a course of action, you can pretty much be sure that based on their past track records, that course of action is wrong.

 

By: Robert Creamer, Partner, Democracy Partners; The Huffington Post Blog, September 15, 2014

 

 

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheney’s Iraq Facts Are Still All Wrong”: Factual Errors, Misleading Statements, A Continuation Of His Eight Years As Vice President

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s September 10, 2014 speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was particularly bad from both a timing and protocol perspective given that the President was going to lay out his strategy to confront ISIS that same day. But more importantly, the many factual errors and misleading statements about the Obama administration in his speech did not contribute to a “fair and balanced” debate about the foreign policy challenges facing this country. The abundant factual errors and misleading statements in Cheney’s speech are very serious. Jarring to the ear, they should remind us of Cheney’s lack of foreign policy skill and his poisonous decisions over the past decades. Let me mention but a few.

The most obvious was Cheney’s praise of President’s Nixon for making the tough choice of “standing by Israel in the Six Day War,” and implying that Obama was not doing so. Unfortunately for Cheney, the Six Day War actually occurred two years before Nixon took office, in 1967. Nixon was president during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt in 1973, but Cheney’s recollection of staunch support for Israel is mistaken. Nixon’s National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir not to launch a preemptive strike against the Egyptian forces massing on Israelis’ border, as well as slowing our resupply of Israel during the battle. By contrast, Obama rushed extra funds to Israel for its Iron Dome anti-missile system during its recent conflict with Gaza.

Cheney is also wrong in trying to blame Obama for his “arbitrary and hasty withdrawal of residual forces from Iraq.” It was President Bush and Vice President Cheney himself, who in December 2008 signed the Framework Agreement with the Iraqi government, requiring all American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Since this original agreement was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament, any modifications to the Bush-Cheney agreement would also have to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament — something US military lawyers also insisted on. Obama was willing to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq. But when Maliki told Obama that there were not enough votes in the Iraqi Parliament, all the troops had to leave.

Cheney is also wrong to blame Obama for the establishment of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq. It is Malikis dictatorial and narrow-minded governing style and politicization of the Iraqi security forces that created distrust among the Sunnis and weakened the Iraqi Army, allowing ISIL to seize the territory they now control. Maliki was Bush and Cheney’s handpicked candidate for Prime Minister.

Cheney’s comments about the defense budget are also way off the mark. According to him, the Nation’s Armed services constantly are being “subjected to irrational budget cuts having nothing to do with strategy.” However, this has nothing to do with Obama. The caps on the defense budget are mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, pushed by the Republicans after they took control of the House in 2010 in order to reduce the deficit. In fact for the past two years, Obama has sought to mitigate the impact of the cuts by proposing over $115 billion in additions to the regular defense budget over the next five years, and used the Overseas Contingency Budget (OCO) to fund about $30 billion in regular budget items.

But Cheney’s most egregious mistake is to ignore the fact that the chaos in the Middle East is a direct result of the mindless, needless, senseless invasion and occupation of Iraq that he helped engineer. He seems to forget that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003 he pushed for. There would be no ISIS without the U.S. invasion. Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, was a nobody until we imprisoned and tortured him.

Cheney is also wrong in arguing that Obama has a distrust of American power. I guess he missed the hundreds of drone strikes and Special Forces troops that Obama has launched against Al Qaeda and terrorist leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to Osama bin Laden, Obama’s use of American power and the American military took out the head of the Al-Shabab terrorist group behind the Kenyan mall shootings.

Cheney’s hypocrisy is best summed up in his comments about our Armed Forces. He credits them with maintaining the structure of our security that has been in place and defended by the United States since World War II. However, Cheney’s public support rings hollow. During the war in Vietnam — which claimed the lives of over 60,000 young Americans — Cheney dodged the draft, racking up five deferments. His praise for the armed forces now stands in contrast to his actions then.

Cheney’s factual errors, misleading statements and hypocrisy are a continuation of his eight years as vice president. Blaming Obama for everything that is not right in the world does not help this country deal with the challenges it faces in the Middle East. As a starting point, Cheney should have acknowledged his own errors in the Middle East that destabilized the region in the first place.

 

By: Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; The Huffington Post Blog, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Return Of The Ruthless Cyborg”: Republicans Just Can’t Get Enough Of Dick Cheney

It was just a few months ago when the Republican Study Committee, a group of far-right House GOP lawmaker, invited former Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to complain about President Obama for a while. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), now a member of the House GOP leadership, said at the time, in reference to Cheney, “He’s got a lot of credibility when it comes to talking about foreign policy.”

I don’t think he was kidding.

Apparently, this thinking remains quite pervasive among GOP lawmakers, who keep extending invitations to Cheney, his spectacular failures and incompetence notwithstanding. The Washington Post reported late yesterday:

The leading architect of the Iraq war will be on Capitol Hill for a private chat with House Republicans on Tuesday, just as Congress is grappling again with how involved the United States should be in the region’s snowballing unrest.

Yes, as in Dick Cheney, one of the war’s most ardent defenders. The former vice president was invited by the GOP’s campaign arm to speak at its first weekly conference meeting since Congress’s five-week break, a House GOP official confirmed.

It says something important about Republican lawmakers that to better understand international affairs, they not only keep turning to failed former officials, they keep seeking guidance from the same failed former official.

Indeed, this isn’t a situation in which Cheney was just wandering around, looking for someone who’d listen to his mindless condemnations of the president who’s cleaning up Cheney’s messes, and GOP lawmakers agreed to listen as a courtesy. Rather, Congressional Republicans have gone out of their way to make the former V.P. one of their most sought after instructors.

Just in this Congress, Cheney has been on Capitol Hill advising GOP lawmakers over and over and over again.

It’s tempting to start the usual diatribe, highlighting all of Cheney’s horrific failures, his spectacular misjudgments, and his propensity for dishonesty on a breathtaking scale. But let’s skip that, stipulating that Cheney’s tenure in national office was a genuine disaster, the effects of which Americans will be dealing with for many years to come.

Let’s instead note how truly remarkable the timing of Cheney’s latest invitation to Capitol Hill is.

Republicans are concerned about the threat posed by ISIS? The group’s existence is largely the result of the disastrous war Cheney helped launch under false pretenses.

Republicans are outraged that the White House is completing a plan for the next phase of the U.S. counter-terrorism policy? Cheney’s the guy who helped invade Iraq without a plan for what would happen after the war began.

I talked to a Democratic source last night who also reminded me of the current circumstances in Iraq, which are illustrative of a larger point. During Cheney’s tenure, the U.S. policy in Iraq was incoherent – the Republican White House couldn’t figure out what to do about the terrorist threat, parts of which they inadvertently helped create; picked Maliki to run the country almost at random; and struggled to understand the value of political solutions.

President Obama, meanwhile, has been adept where Cheney was clueless – patiently pushing Maliki aside and helping produce tangible political results in Baghdad, including the ones we saw just yesterday.

I don’t imagine any of this will come up during today’s “private chat.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 9, 2014

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, GOP, House Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paying For Bush’s 2003 Invasion Of Iraq”: Decision To Launch An Unwarranted Invasion Is Directly Responsible For The Chaos Today

As President Obama struggles to deal with the crisis in Iraq, it’s useful to remember who gave the world this cauldron of woe in the first place: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Their decision to launch a foolish and unwarranted invasion in 2003, toppling Saddam Hussein and destroying any vestige of the Iraqi state, is directly responsible for the chaos we see today, including the rapid advance of the well-armed jihadist militia that calls itself the Islamic State.

Bush has maintained a circumspect silence about the legacy his administration’s adventurism bequeathed us. Cheney, however, has been predictably loud and wrong on the subject of, well, just about everything.

“Obama’s failure to provide for a stay-behind force is what created the havoc we see in Iraq today,” Cheney told CNN last month. “When we left, Iraq was a relatively stable place. We defeated al-Qaeda, we had a coalition government in place.”

Cheney predicted “the history books will show” that Obama bears much responsibility for squandering the peace and stability that the Bush administration left behind. If so, they will have to be books that don’t go back very far.

Let’s review what actually happened. The U.S. invasion toppled a Sunni dictatorship that had ruled brutally over Iraq’s other major groups — the Shiite majority and the ethnic Kurds — for decades. It seems not to have occurred to anyone planning the invasion that long-suppressed resentments and ambitions would inevitably surface.

The leader of that “coalition government” Cheney mentioned, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, turned out not to be a Jeffersonian democrat. Rather, his regime acted quickly and shamelessly to advance a Shiite sectarian agenda — and to marginalize Sunnis and Kurds.

What followed, predictably, was anger and alienation among the disaffected groups. The Kurds focused largely on fortifying their semi-autonomy in the northeast part of the country. Sunni tribal leaders twice cast their lot with violent Sunni jihadist forces that stood in opposition to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad — first with al-Qaeda in Iraq and now with the Islamic State.

Obama opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation from the beginning. He was nominated and elected president largely because of his pledge to end the war. He withdrew all U.S. troops only after Maliki refused to negotiate a viable agreement to leave a residual force in place.

Could Obama have found a way to keep more of our soldiers in Iraq if he really wanted to? Perhaps. But this would have required trusting Maliki, who has proved himself a far more reliable ally to the terrorist-sponsoring government of Iran than to the United States. And anyway, why would U.S. forces be needed to keep the peace in the “relatively stable” democratic Iraq of Cheney’s hazy recollection?

As I write, Maliki has barricaded himself inside Baghdad’s Green Zone and is refusing to leave office, despite that Iraq’s president has named a new prime minister. The United States has joined with respected Iraqi leaders to try to force Maliki out, but he holds enormous power — he is not only prime minister but also heads the Iraqi armed forces and national police.

Rewind the clock. If there had been no U.S. invasion, Iraqis surely would have suffered grievously under Saddam’s sadistic rule. But at least 110,000 Iraqis — and perhaps several times that many — died violently in the war and its aftermath. Is it likely that even the bloodthirsty Saddam would have matched that toll? Is it conceivable that the Islamic State’s ad hoc army would have even been able to cross the Syria-Iraq border, much less seize huge tracts of territory and threaten religious minorities with genocide?

Even after the invasion, if the U.S. occupation force had worked to reform the Iraqi military rather than disband it, there would have been a professional army in place to repel the Islamic State. If Maliki had truly acted as the leader of the “coalition government” that Cheney describes, and not as a glorified sectarian warlord, Sunnis likely would have fought the Islamic State extremists rather than welcome them.

Why is Obama intervening with airstrikes in Iraq and not in Syria, where the carnage is much worse? My answer would be that the United States has a special responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Iraq — because, ultimately, it was our nation’s irresponsibility that put their lives at risk.

Obama’s cautious approach — ask questions first, shoot later — may or may not work. But thanks to Bush and Cheney, we know that doing things the other way around leads to disaster.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 11, 2014

August 13, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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