Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to spend $20 billion to double the size of Afghanistan’s army as part of a program designed to bring the country that was once the “crown jewel” of our woebegone war on terror under control.  We might be better served by simply bribing the Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan to take a little breather.  That’s how General David Petraeus got the Sunni militias in Iraq to play ball with him, and that only cost us about $216 million.  As peace making measures go, it’s cheaper to buy guerillas than it is to make soldiers, so why not take the path of least resistance?

Of course, the cost of victory through bribery in the bananastans could get twice as expensive now that “top Bush administration officials” are looking to step up ground force forays into Pakistan.  I guess the top officials finally realized that bombing Pakistani weddings with nuclear submarines isn’t getting the job done.  

Not to worry, though. General David Petraeus, young Mr. Bush’s “main man,” is about to take charge of the bananastans, and if he can’t win there, nobody can.  

Our Man in Bananastan

As top military official in Iraq, General David Petraeus followed the same formula that he used in his previous tours there, first as commander of the Mosul district and later as the officer in charge of training Iraqi security forces.  He gained short-term results by passing out crates of weapons and bags of money to anybody who wanted them (which was everybody), then he posted press releases telling everyone how brilliant he was, and then he shrugged when things fell apart for the poor knee knocker who relieved him.

As top dog in Iraq, Petraeus caught an enormous break in Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s decision to declare a cease fire in August 2007, and again when Sadr agreed to a second cease fire in March 2008 after Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki launched an offensive against Sadr’s Mahdi Army and botched it, and yet again when Sadr recently announced that he’ll turn his Mahdi force into a social service organization.  For those small blessings, Petraeus can probably thank the influence of Grand Ayatolla Ali al Sistani and Shiite brass in Iran (i.e., the guys he blames for all his blunders.)  

The downside to Sadr’s peace, love and understanding initiative is that it comes at a cost; his followers will lay down their arms if the U.S. agrees to a timeline to pull forces out of Iraq.  That, of course, would deny the neoconservatives of their war aim; the whole point of going into Iraq was to stay there, and the whole point of putting Petraeus in charge of Iraq was to get the neocons what they wanted.      

Also note that Sadr isn’t talking about having his people throw their weapons on a big bonfire.  He’s talking about having them not walk around with them.  If the time comes to take them back up again, you can be assured they’ll remember where they put them.  

Sadr–and possibly his Shiite elders–are adeptly executing a “force in being” strategy.  A “force in being” is similar to a “fleet in being,” which Wikipedia defines as “a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port.”  By staying in port, a fleet in being forces the enemy to “continually deploy forces to guard against it” while avoiding the risk of being destroyed in battle.  

Land forces, especially irregular ones like Sadr’s Mahdi Army, have certain inherent advantages over fleets; among them are that the force is impossible to sink, and, also unlike a fleet, it can blend into the population.  Hence, it cannot be “bottled up” in port the way a fleet can.  It can deploy in parts, execute strikes and raids, and disappear back into its hobbiton.  A fleet, whether at sea or in port, costs a lot of money to maintain.  An irregular army like Sadr’s, whether active or dormant, costs next to nothing to keep up.  Unlike the fleet that may be lured out of port for a decisive battle, Sadr’s army will almost certainly never throw itself enmasse in a head to head confrontation with a superior force the way the Vietcong did in the Tet Offensive.

Sadr has the hearts and minds thing pre-won.  He’s already done a lot of these community angel operations. The majority Shiite population, on the whole, already doesn’t trust U.S. forces, they don’t trust Maliki’s security forces, which are mostly made up of Shiites from the Badr Brigade organization, and they most certainly don’t trust the Sunni militias.  By putting his fighters on the street as beat cops/precinct captains/social workers, Maliki keeps them employed and gains them community loyalty, so if the guns come out again, the peeps will cover their backs.  

The best hope for a reasonable resolution to our Iraq miasma is to take Maliki’s (and Sadr’s) offer to go home, and to negotiate, as part of the exit plan, the kinds of economic and security agreements that will make Iraq the “partner” in the war on terror we supposedly want it to be as well as get us in on the ground floor as the senior partner in Iran’s regional nuclear energy industry.  Unfortunately, that won’t go down well at all with the neocons, who want the exact opposite: an eternal occupation with a perpetual low level conflict that will justify the military commitment without producing enough own force casualties to goad the American public into authentic rebellion, or make the middle class realize that, economically, our fruitless wars have made it like the boiling frog that’s still breathing but already cooked.

The question is, which way will Pretraeus jump?

The Kitchen CINC

Come September, King David will move upstairs and take the reins of Central Command, at which point he’ll be praetorian governor of Egypt, the Arabias, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the rest of the ‘Stans.

He’ll be tempted to stick with his strengths and start handing out guns and money in the bananstans, but that’s been tried and has failed.  We’ve already tried the puppet government thing too.  One of his pet tinhorns–Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf–is about to get impeached, and his other one–Afghan President Hamid Karzai–is a wimp who keeps whining at us to quit killing innocent Afghan civilians before they vote him into the next life.  Petraeus might try to replicate our early tactical victories in Afghanistan.  Cavorting around the desert on horseback to wow the press would certain appeal to his penchant for self-promotion, but it won’t do any more to improve the strategic situation in the banastans any more than more of his beloved one-arm pushup contests will.  He’ll blame everything that goes wrong in the on NATO the way he blamed everything on Iran, but shirking will produce the same goose egg in the bananastans that it netted him in Iraq.  

Ultimately, David Petraeus will most likely pursue a scenario that achieves the ambitions of David Petraeus, and that’s bad news for the rest of humanity.  He’ll probably slap his standard quick fix on the problems in the bananastans and leave a time-release booby trap that will blow off his Obama appointed successor’s thumbs.  

That scenario creates more of the everlasting low-level conflict the neocons want in order to justify continued U.S. military presence in the region.  It also gives the neocons an opening to say they told us Obama didn’t have the experience needed to be commander in chief.

Most importantly, though, it paves the way for David Petraeus’s nomination as the Great Foreign Policy Hope of 2012.  

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance, is on sale now.  Also catch Russ Wellen’s interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and  Scholars and Rogues.

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