Well, yeah, that’s a problem….

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...

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Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst, tells us that:

The news that President Barack Obama has picked Gen. David Petraeus to be CIA director raises troubling questions, including whether the commander most associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will tolerate objective analysis of those two conflicts.

What if CIA analysts assess the prospects of success in those two wars as dismal and conclude that the troop “surges” pushed so publicly by Petraeus wasted both the lives of American troops and many billions of taxpayer dollars? Will CIA Director Petraeus welcome such critical analysis or punish it?

The Petraeus appointment also suggests that the President places little value on getting the straight scoop on these key war-related issues. If he did want the kind of intelligence analysis that, at times, could challenge the military, why is he giving the CIA job to a general with a huge incentive to gild the lily regarding the “progress” made under his command?

McGovern does not dwell upon the most relevant question in all of this, namely, “What danger does the United States confront by putting a military man in charge of a key component of the surveillance apparatus?” The relevance of this question ought to be obvious. In fact, it is so obvious that an important legal-constitutional and thus political goal of every administration ought to include the confining the military to its proper sphere. Boundary maintenance between the civilian and military functions of the government is an elemental institutional component of a modern political freedom. Thus, having a member of an already politicized officer corps lead the CIA will only undermine civilian control of the military and, more generally, the security-surveillance apparatus.

The Petraeus appointment is another unfortunate and disturbing move by a President that ought to know betters.

Update (5.1.2011)

Another warning that targets the Petraeus nomination:

David Petraeus’ appointment as CIA director speaks to the increasing dominance in counterinsurgency in policy and raises a series of troubling questions about general militarization of American society. Petraeus is the man who literally rewrote the book on counterinsurgency and is set to lead the most powerful covert agency in human history. His appointment means that the CIA is going to be even more involved in the shadowy, protracted, ambiguous conflicts that involve building up governments and social movements that support US policy and destroying those that do not.

McQuade continues:

What will Petraeus’ tenure as CIA director mean for future political developments in the United States? “Counterrevolutionary chickens,” [Eqbal] Ahmad presciently noted in 1971, also “have a tendency to come home to roast. Whether the ‘homecoming’ is complete or partial depends on the strains and stresses of involvements abroad a government’s ability to extricate itself from the war in good time. The [French] Fourth Republic survived the first Indochinese war but collapsed during the Algerian. It is impossible to tell how many more Vietnams the American republic can sustain. There is, however, considerable evidence that forces of law and order, including the army and several local police departments are applying the theories of pacification and counterguerilla warfare to problems at home.”

Yet, the Petraeus nomination may be best considered a symptom, not a cause, of America’s current predicament. As Glenn Greenwald points out.

The nomination of Petraeus doesn’t change much; it merely reflects how Washington is run. That George Bush’s favorite war-commanding General — who advocated for and oversaw the Surge in Iraq — is also Barack Obama’s favorite war-commanding General, and that Obama is now appointing him to run a nominally civilian agency that has been converted into an “increasingly militarized” arm of the American war-fighting state, says all one needs to know about the fully bipartisan militarization of American policy. There’s little functional difference between running America’s multiple wars as a General and running them as CIA Director because American institutions in the National Security State are all devoted to the same overarching cause: Endless War.

In other words, Petraeus is not the real danger to Americans; the real danger is the American political system as a whole.

A case of humanitarian imperialism?

It’s just amazing that the Iraq invasion and occupation were about Oil. The Independent now reports that:

Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

As Patrick Cockburn points out:

The supposed disinterest expressed by international oil companies in the outcome of the invasion of Iraq in the year before it was launched never quite made sense. Iraqis used to ask ironically if the rest of the world would have been quite so interested in the fate of their country if its main export had been cabbages.

Nevertheless, Cockburn believes:

It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil. Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11 was surely a greater motive. The UK went along with this in order to remain America’s chief ally. Both President Bush and Tony Blair thought the war would be easy.

But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not.

Cockburn is right about the role of oil in the push for war. After all, the United States can invade and decimate nearly any country it wants to destroy. But Iraq and its oil had strategic value for the faltering superpower, and Iraq could serve to announce to the world that the United States could defend its interests when pushed. Fortunately, the Iraqis also had designs on their country! The Iraq invasion and occupation have thus produced a political nightmare for the United States and Great Britain. It can be said that the United States prevailed in Iraq. But it is clear that it weakened America as a whole and as a military power.