Is Petraeus Preparing to Betray the Neo-Cons?

The Wall Street Journal had a good news piece today on where things are going with respect to a U.S. withdrawal — at least of combat troops — from Iraq entitled “Consensus May be Nearing on Iraq Pullout: Target Year of 2010 Gains Some Traction Among Principals as U.S. Looks Toward Afghanistan.” I would add that, in addition to Obama, the Bush administration and now even the McCain Campaign, it appears that Gen. David Petraeus, who will take over as CentCom commander some time around Sep 1, is also preparing the ground for a move in that direction, suggesting in a Sunday interview with AP that al-Qaeda may “start to provide some of those resources that would have come to Iraq to Pakistan, possibly Afghanistan.”

“We do think that there is some assessment ongoing [by al-Qaeda] as to the continued viability of [its] fight in Iraq,” he said. “There is some intelligence that has picked this up,” he went on, adding, “It’s not solid gold intelligence.”

In fact, of course, evidence that al-Qaeda and its allies have shifted their focus back to Afghanistan and, more important from a strategic point of view, Pakistan has been accumulating for much of the past year; hence, Mullen’s and Gates’ increasing and increasingly vocal agitation about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the growing influence and infrastructure of al Qaeda and Taliban forces across the border in Pakistan. In the two weeks before Petraeus’ interview, AP, the always-excellent Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times published articles providing detailed evidence that al-Qaeda made its assessment some months ago and has been acting on it by sending many more fighters to Southwest Asia, including Iraq war veterans. That Petraeus says that he believes al-Qaeda is only now making its assessment suggests the degree to which, as U.S. commander in Iraq, he has been focused exclusively on that theater and has fought tooth and nail against the Pentagon’s desire to accelerate its drawdown in troops there in order to free up more for Afghanistan.

Now, however, as commander-designate of Centcom, southwest Asia is about to become his responsibility, and he most certainly doesn’t want to lose — or be perceived as losing — there any more than he has in Iraq. In that respect, I think he is preparing to join the consensus, a consensus that, significantly, embraces the concept — pushed hard by Obama in recent days — that Afghanistan/Pakistan really does constitute the “central front” in the war on terror. (He may also believe that Obama is going to the next president and that continuing to insist that Iraq is the “central front” might be detrimental to his long-term career goals.) If Petraeus does indeed move into the Southwest Asia camp, it will mark a huge setback for the neo-conservatives — whose Israel-centered agenda has accorded paramount priority to the Middle East and the Gulf — and whatever residual hopes they harbor for a U.S. attack on Iran. Tehran’s capacity to cause trouble in Afghanistan and even Pakistan is considerable, and I think that is one reason why Mullen and Gates have pushed for dialogue and detente.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Petraeus has shown himself to be very much a “Yes Man”, which is a very dangerous thing for any senior military figure.

    Particularly if McCain wins in November.

    If Obama wins, he may yet come up smelling like roses, but it wont be thanks to his own fertilizing agent.

  2. Senator Obama is a very dangerous man. Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made. While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.

    There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this latter argument:

    Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable middle class is established in Pakistan.

    Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).

    Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119, 121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army. “Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a] non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army, accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for terrorists.

    The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani population; let’s consider a few past encounters:

    On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.

    On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam.
    On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.

    Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid … the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials. One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan). Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the United States.

    A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base” with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational lieutenants.”

    In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against them, but they were not able to prevail against them.

    The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support. Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

  3. I expect Obama, as Zbignew Brzezinski’s puppet, will shift the focus off Israel’s obsession with Arab and Persian countries, and back to what Zbig loves best, messing with Russians. All the rest is theatre for the consumption of the rubes.

    I wonder how many of the coffins we’re not allowed to see return to the States full of heroin, like in Vietnam days.

  4. Journalist, Patrick Cockburn, made a very interesting observation about Musharraf. He points out that Pakistan’s leadership learned a bitter lesson after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

    During the conflict, Pakistan received aid and political support from Washington. Once the Soviets were driven out, the money dried up and Washington became staunch critics of the Pakistani leadership. The lesson learned from this was that Pakistan would in future, support both sides of the conflict, which is what we have today. Musharraf’s government is supporting the left and the right against the middle. Being allied with Washington keeps the money rolling in (US$100 million per month), while giving sanctuary to AQ and the Taliban ensures the conflict continues.

    None of this has anything to do with Obama,

  5. The US economy is already tanking and we’re about to join Zimbabwe in hyperinflation territory. Obama’s proposed redeployment will impose an unsustainable financial burden on the US and accelerate what is already an enveloping depression.

    But a shift to the Afghanistan/Pakistan arena conforms with Zbigniew Brzezinski’s obsession to encircle Russia with the formidable military might of the US. Brzezinski will not rest until Russia and China are crushed.

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