Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

  Say goodnight to President Petraeus

Today Gen. David Petraeus was being questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the quagmire in Afghanistan. As John McCain bemoaned that the US was planning not to extend indefinitely the surge Petraeus had wanted (on which see yesterday’s PR blitz by the Pentagon about vast Afghan mineral wealth), the general suddenly gawped and fainted. The hearing was suspended for a day to allow Petraeus to recover. He claimed afterwards that he was simply dehydrated…as if there were no beakers of water around.

With this public relations catastrophe, it’s now much less likely that Petraeus will be able to convert his apparent presidential ambitions into reality. For one thing, it raises further concerns about Petraeus’ physical fitness. Anyhow it’s simply not presidential to faint when you’re being asked difficult questions about your job performance, especially for a general. And, yes, Petraeus is painfully aware that his failure to stem the tide in Afghanistan is going to be a huge obstacle in his further ambitions.

I’ve never bought the hype about Petraeus’ supposed military genius and capabilities.

General Petraeus had built up the local police by recruiting officers who had previously worked for Saddam Hussein's security apparatus.

Although Mosul remained quiet for some months after, the US suffered one of its worse setbacks of the war in November 2004 when insurgents captured most of the city. The 7,000 police recruited by General Petraeus either changed sides or went home. Thirty police stations were captured, 11,000 assault rifles were lost and $41m (£20m) worth of military equipment disappeared. Iraqi army units abandoned their bases.

The general's next job was to oversee the training of a new Iraqi army. As head of the Multinational Security Transition Command, General Petraeus claimed that his efforts were proving successful. In an article in The Washington Post in September 2004, he wrote: "Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being re-established." This optimism turned out be misleading; three years later the Iraqi army is notoriously ineffective and corrupt.

General Petraeus was in charge of the Security Transition Command at the time that the Iraqi procurement budget of $1.2bn was stolen. "It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history," Iraq's Finance Minister, Ali Allawi, said. "Huge amounts of money disappeared. In return we got nothing but scraps of metal."

In any case Gen. Petraeus’ regular interference in domestic politics, such as his infamous op-ed published late in the 2004 presidential campaign, and even more his intrusion into the political debates regarding proposed surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been dangerous for our democracy. The Founders of our Republic were rightly worried that military officers’ ambitions would destabilize the nation. Petraeus has not only pushed his ambitions to an extreme not seen perhaps since Douglas MacArthur, he has even gone so far as to provide misleading testimony to Congress to further those ambitions. In his September 2007 testimony on the surge in Iraq, Petraeus used falsified maps that seemed designed specifically to obscure the extent of ethno-sectarian cleansing that had gone on in Bagdad while he was in command. Petraeus has never alerted Congress to that falsification much less publicly corrected his testimony.

I don’t trust the man, and I’ll be happy to see any presidential ambitions go quietly into the night.

crossposted at

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 14, 2010

  Vast deposits of naïveté discovered in America

This morning political commentators are all atwitter about James Risen’s NYT article about mineral reserves charted in Afghanistan by a USGS survey. In years to come these reserves could turn Afghanistan into another Saudi Arabia, we’re told. Bloggers have lapped this “news” up.

Risen presents the information as if he had a major scoop.

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

In fact, however, the survey was conducted between 2004 and 2007. Risen claims that it’s results were ignored until recently, when the Pentagon “came upon” the geological survey data while looking for ways to boost the country’s economy.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

Utter nonsense. In 2007 the Afghan government touted the survey to the world. In the time since then, it has been working to attract international developers for its copper and iron reserves – which appear to be the most valuable and accessible ones. Already in 2007 a Chinese company won a competition to lease the largest copper mine, agreeing to pay the Afghan government $400 million per year in taxes.

It’s hard to conceive that in the foreseeable future Afghanistan will be able to derive more than a few billion dollars per year in taxes/mineral royalties by exploiting its reserves to the fullest possible extent. For comparison, the current Afghan GDP is thought to be around $16 billion. In 2007, the UNODC estimated that opium accounted for half of the country’s ‘licit’ GDP, or about $4 billion. So mining is not going to turn Afghanistan into a rich state much less eliminate the opium trade.

Risen and his sources are trying to sell us a pipe dream.

The fact that the USGS survey is being recycled now as "news" tells you everything you need to know about how grim the actual news coming out of Afghanistan has become this year. The Pentagon “heroes” of Risen’s story are selling this “news” to (a) buy time with the US public for military policies that are failing in the field, and (b) distract attention from the fact that America is doubling down on behalf of a corrupt, ineffective, and illegitimate Karzai government. If Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth, as we’re supposed to believe, then perhaps it makes slightly more sense (in a blood-for-copper kind of way) that the US now appears to be committed to staying there forever.

The genesis of this NYT article can be attributed to the Pentagon’s domestic propaganda machinery, as Marc Ambinder at least recognizes to his credit.

The way in which the story was presented -- with on-the-record quotations from the Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, no less -- and the weird promotion of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to Undersecretary of Defense suggest a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war.

That could hardly be clearer. The narrative as presented by Risen is bizarrely slanted in favor of the Pentagon, and furthermore is full of glaring holes. What’s more the outdated “news” is being recycled in a way that is highly reminiscent of the DoD’s standard operating procedures under the Bush administration, whenever it needed to distract attention.

What it shows is that the US government thinks we’re suckers. The reaction of commentators to Risen’s “blockbuster” suggests that the government has pretty much got it right.

crossposted at

Labels: , , ,