The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Petraeus Wants to Arm al-Qaeda

(This will be the last column until Sept. 8th, as the Wrongologist goes to work preparing the fields of Wrong for fall. Happy Labor Day!)

General David Petraeus, possible VP candidate on the Moar War ticket, wrote an article in which his bright idea is to arm al-Qaeda in Syria in order to fight ISIS. The Daily Beast reports that Petraeus has been quietly urging US officials to consider using so-called “moderate” members of the al-Nusra Front, a spin-off of al-Qaeda, to fight ISIS in Syria.

Sound familiar? Every neocon has preached this idea since 2011.

The idea stems from Petraeus’ experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency, the US persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military. That led to the fiction called the surge, which was compounded by the fiction that says the surge “worked”. But as Emptywheel says: (parenthesis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Al-Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, [which] has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, (a spin-off of al-Qaeda) particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy.

The concept of arming al-Nusra, which purports to be opposed [in some cases] to our latest enemy ISIS, which itself emerged out of a prior enemy (al-Qaeda in Iraq), ensures we will have an environment of continual enemies, and thus, continual warfare. The “arm one of our enemies to fight another of our enemies” is a bad strategy that keeps getting trotted out, usually by neocons, even though it inevitably leads to more enemies to fight down the line.

Perhaps you remember the Taliban? In an article called “McJihad: Islam in the US Global Order”, Timothy Mitchell reports the following: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

On 3 February 1997, a delegation of the Taliban government of Afghanistan visited Washington, D.C. Ten days earlier Taliban forces had won control of the countryside around Kabul, and with the south and east of the country already in their hands they were now making preparations to conquer the north. In Washington the Taliban delegation met with State Department officials and discussed the plans of the California oil company Unocal to build a pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan. A senior U.S. diplomat explained his government’s thinking: “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.

The enemy of my enemy strategy didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The US has always found radical, conservative Islamism preferable to nationalist or communist currents in the Middle East. It has been in bed with Salafi-Wahhabism since the Saudis founded their theocratic, reactionary state. In fact as Tom Friedman said yesterday, current day Wahhabism cannot be understood outside the dynamics of petroleum-based geo-politics.

Perhaps the headline about Gen. Petraeus’s idea should be:

David Petraeus, after overseeing a series of failed training efforts and covert efforts that led to increased radicalization, wants America to try again.

It is one thing to work clandestinely with a few bad guys, and it’s a completely different thing to do so publicly, as Petraeus would like. The Obama administration’s legal backing for fighting ISIS is based on the 2003 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) which holds:

[t]hat the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

The Department of Defense’s term of art is usually “Al-Qaeda and associated forces” or “affiliated forces” when it describes those defined in the AUMF. How then can we legally claim to fight ISIS under the AUMF when an ally in that fight is the only enemy cited in the AUMF?

And what would be DC’s plan if al-Qaeda actually won?

When ex-generals need to be consulted about foreign policy, our foreign policy has failed.


Monday Wake Up Call – April 27, 2015

Last week saw the sentencing of David Petraeus, former CIA director and the highest-profile general from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to two years’ probation for providing classified information to his mistress. Mr. Petraeus was also fined $100,000.

Petraeus remains a four-star US Army general. His retired pay is $220,000/year, plus the perks of shopping at the PX and the commissary store, full medical benefits, free travel on government aircraft, free legal advice; the list goes on.

A US officer convicted in a US civilian court of a felony is subject to dismissal from the service, at the discretion of the service secretary. A dismissal is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge for an enlisted soldier. It strips the former member of all the perks, everything.

What Petraeus was convicted of would normally be a felony in a civil court. But he was charged by the Obama Administration with a misdemeanor so he wasn’t vulnerable to an administrative dismissal. This misdemeanor conviction will have about the same impact on his life as a conviction for littering. From the New York Times:

As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Petraeus admitted that he gave his lover, Paula Broadwell, who was writing a biography about him, black notebooks that contained sensitive information about official meetings, war strategy and intelligence capabilities, as well as the names of covert officers.

War strategy. That would be the strategy written by the guy giving it to Broadwell, along with the names of covert officers? Compare that to the crimes for which Jeffrey Sterling and 8 others are facing hard time in prison. Sterling was convicted on 9 counts of violations of the Espionage Act for providing much lesser information to a guy writing a book, James Risen. Manning got 35 years, John Kiriakou gets 2, Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for 3 years and counting, Snowden is on the run, and no military brass is doing time for Abu Ghraib.

Petraeus gave Broadwell that information for personal profit. It helped him in his amorous adventure and, most likely, helped the sales of her book. He has since moved on to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P., a New York investment firm where he is a partner.

That makes Petraeus just another example of too big to fail.

The Justice Department and the Obama administration need today’s wake-up, for not pursuing Mr. Petraeus to the fullest extent of the law.

So here is your Monday wake-up, the White-Throated Sparrow. These guys are all over our property right now:

If you read the Wrongologist via email, you can view the video here.

Your Monday Hot Links:
Everyone wants to appear smart when in a meeting. Here are a few tricks:

Kochs were defeated in Montana after spending a bundle to defeat Medicaid expansion. What? Medicare expansion passed in a Red state?

How much water is in your food? See this graphic. Everyone should look at this, not just Californians.

Wall Street Journal says more people are out of the stock market than are in it. About 52% of Americans are not investing in the stock market, and 53% of them say they don’t have the funds to invest. A different study from the National Institute on Retirement Security found that 45% of working-age households had no retirement savings at all; among the 55-64 age group, the average was only $12,000.