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Vol. 75/No. 19      May 16, 2011

New U.S. ‘defense’ team
reflects CIA-military ties
(lead article)
President Barack Obama announced a shift in top military and spying posts in late April. Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, is being appointed director of the CIA. Leon Panetta, who currently holds that position, will take over as defense secretary, with Robert Gates leaving that post in July. With Senate confirmation virtually assured, Petraeus will take charge of the CIA in September.

With regard to both Washington’s nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan and its “war against terrorism,” an April 27 Atlantic magazine column noted, Petraeus and Panetta will act with “an ever-closer joint military and intelligence force that is increasingly secretive and assertive… . This week’s staff change announcement suggests that [the lines between U.S. military and intelligence operations] will only become more difficult to distinguish.”

During the current Democratic administration, the CIA has been escalating drone strikes in Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan. The agency deploys its own special forces and maintains secret bases there. Since Obama took office there have been 194 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, killing about 1,900 people, including many civilians as well as Taliban militants.

Under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s defense secretary through 2006, the Pentagon expanded its own spying operations, substantially reducing the military’s reliance on CIA “intelligence.”

The Pentagon has also been expanding clandestine warfare. In September 2009 General Petraeus, then head of the U.S. Central Command, signed a secret order authorizing U.S. Special Operations troops to conduct reconnaissance missions throughout the Middle East and Central Asia to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat and destroy” militant groups and “prepare the environment” for future military attacks.

In approving that order, wrote the Atlantic, “Obama authorized one of the largest expansions of clandestine warfare since September 11, 2001.”  
Kicked upstairs?
Some voices among the U.S. capitalist rulers, however, suspect that Petraeus is being “kicked upstairs” by Obama, who was at odds with the general over the Iraq war prior to the 2008 elections and has clashed with him over troop levels in Afghanistan since the new administration took office.

“General Petraeus may be miscast at [CIA headquarters in] Langley,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial April 29. “The leader of the Iraq and Afghan surges has earned a promotion to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military job that comes open in September. But the White House appears to prefer a lower-profile four-star with less of an independent streak, General James Cartwright, the current vice chairman. The CIA post looks like a consolation prize—and perhaps a political shunting aside.”

Cartwright, known in the White House as Obama’s “most favorite general,” is considered a likely replacement for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, when Mullen retires later this year.

Petraeus has also been talked about by some as a possible 2012 Republican presidential or vice-presidential challenger to an Obama second term. By placing him at the CIA, “he could be hidden,” notes Investor’s Business Daily.

Petraeus rose to prominence as a combat officer during U.S. imperialism’s bloody war against Iraq. He was the chief U.S. commander there during the “surge” in 2007, through which the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops turned the tide in Washington’s favor and established a degree of political stability for the U.S. rulers.

When Obama took office in January 2009, the U.S. government faced deteriorating military conditions in Afghanistan. In contrast to all his Democratic and Republican predecessors in the White House, however, Obama—and the social layer of well-paid university professors, foundation staffers, and middle-class professionals (many of them former “campus activists”) from which he emerged—had little experience or interest in military affairs or passion for fighting and winning wars to protect the U.S. capitalist rulers’ far-flung economic and strategic interests worldwide.

What’s more, members of this privileged layer—who live in comfortable urban and suburban neighborhoods and university towns across the United States—rarely have children facing death or maiming in U.S. imperialism’s volunteer armed forces, or even know anyone with sons and daughters in uniform. Today, only 0.5 percent of the U.S. population is on active military duty—with the heaviest concentration from working-class and farm families across the South and Great Plains, or urban neighborhoods with the highest joblessness and lowest incomes. This is a substantial drop from the years of the Vietnam War, when some 1.5 percent of the population was in the military.

Given this situation, writes Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in his recent book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, “More than any other administration in the history of U.S. imperialism, [the Obama administration’s] foreign, military, and ‘domestic security’ policies are stamped by near total deference to the top echelons of the professional officer corps of the U.S. armed forces.”

But the challenges posed for the Democratic administration by unrelenting economic, social, and political disorder throughout the capitalist world have pushed Obama since taking office to look for those in the top brass with a cast of mind closer to his own.

Conflicts in the administration and the Pentagon over Washington’s wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Libya take place in that context.

As the U.S. rulers’ need to stem mounting setbacks in Afghanistan lurched toward crisis in late 2009, Petraeus—then heading the U.S. Central Command, responsible for U.S. military operations in the Mideast and Central Asia—pressed for a course similar to the Iraq surge. But his proposals met resistance in the administration, especially from the new president himself, as well as Vice President Joseph Biden.

Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward, an associate editor of the Washington Post, provides a useful account.  
Debate on Afghanistan
A key disputed question was how many additional troops Obama should send to Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. forces there, along with Petraeus, McMullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, favored sending 40,000.

Obama, however, insisted on a smaller buildup, and on a timeline for withdrawal to ensure there would not be large numbers of U.S. troops there “after my presidency.” As an alternative to Petraeus’s course, Biden proposed a smaller number of special operations forces to take more aggressive action against the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and inside the border with Pakistan.

Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, backed Biden and drew up a military plan along these lines. That proposal, dubbed “the hybrid option,” was to send two special forces brigades, totaling 10,000 troops and another 10,000 “trainers” of Afghan forces. “Rather than sitting there protecting people these troops would engage and kill the enemy,” Woodward quotes Cartwright as saying. “We can sort of use [the Taliban’s] tactics against them.”

Fearing he could be blamed for “losing” Afghanistan during his race for a second term, Obama—after a two-month-long review—settled on a compromise figure of 30,000, which brought U.S. forces there up to some 100,000, where they remain today.

“I don’t think you win this war,” Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying privately. “I think you keep fighting… . This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

“Using the Taliban’s tactics against them” and fighting wars “for the rest of our kid’s lives.” That’s what the imperialist war makers and their career-climbing generals have to offer workers and farmers in the United States and our fellow working people from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Libya—and who knows where else in the years and decades ahead.
Related articles:
White House ‘justice’ and workers rights  
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