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Ear to the Ground

Petraeus Shows Obama the Sights

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Posted on Jul 21, 2008
DoD photo / SSG Lorie Jewell, U.S. Army

Gen. David Petraeus gave his potential boss, Barack Obama, a helicopter tour of Baghdad on Monday. It’s a technique the general has used in the past to show normal life in Baghdad—from a safe distance. John McCain suggested recently that Petraeus would change Obama’s mind and his plan about withdrawing from Iraq, but that plan has newfound momentum and it could easily be Gen. Petraeus who is asked to carry it out.


It’s been a whirlwind war zone tour for the candidate eager to establish his foreign policy gravitas - and who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He spent Sunday in Afghanistan, which he says should be first priority in the fight against terrorism, and flew into the Iraqi city of Basra Monday morning, where American-backed government forces took control of the city from Shiite militias in March. In addition to the meetings with Iraqi luminaries, he was expected to meet with Crocker, U.S. troops and Gen. David Petraeus, who gave Obama a helicopter tour of the city. During Petraeus’s term as commanding general, he has frequently led reporters on helicopter flights intent on showing the normal life activities - like soccer games and rush-hour traffic - that have increased as violence as dropped to its lowest levels in four years. Obama has said that, if elected, he will listen to Petraeus and other commanders about the pace for withdrawing troops. Republican opponent John McCain, who backed Petraeus’s surge plan, says withdrawals should be tied to the growing capabilities of the Iraqi government and improved security—a position echoed by Iraqi leaders until recently. But now it seems the Iraqis are making their new preferences known.

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Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, July 22, 2008 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment


I would love to meet you somewhere but Santa Barbara is 3 1/2 hours from where I live in Ontario, maybe 5 hours in traffic, and I don’t feel quite up to it tonight. Another time, I hope.

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By Tony Wicher, July 22, 2008 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment

Purple Girl, July 22 at 9:21 am #

He will do what ever he has been told to do- like a good soldier is supposed to…
Public Servants are not to listen to mere Generals when the People have clearly Demand THEY change THEIR course of Action!Such acts against our basic founding Principle constitutes TREASON

Quite right, it’s the civilian leadership that sets policy. Obama has stated over and over that he will give his generals a new mission: to get out of Iraq with all deliberate speed. That will be the new policy. That is not arrived at by consultation with generals, but with the Congress and the American people. The plan of how to accomplish this, how rapidly the troops will be withdrawn, etc. will obviously depend on the facts on the ground and will be determined by generals within this broad policy guideline.

That is what I understand Obama’s position to be and that is what I expect to happen after the election. Petraeus may well be the best general Obama can find to manage such a withdrawal.

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By Tony Wicher, July 22, 2008 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment

By P. T., July 21 at 9:54 pm #

I would not describe millions being made homeless as protection

Millions have been made homeless and hundreds of thousands killed by this war. For this I blame Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld and would like to see them at the end of a rope. But I don’t blame Petraeus for the policy decisions that caused this; instead I tend to give him credit for doing his best to clean up the mess.

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By Purple Girl, July 22, 2008 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

He will do what ever he has been told to do- like a good soldier is supposed to.
I don’t give a shit about his opinion on the Ground in Iraq, when the conditions here in the US are in peril!
The’Surge’ has cost US financially and in human lives and welfare. The only ‘Surge’ that has appeared to be successful is that waged by the Corps to bring down the United States. We are now billions more in debt to foreign countries, which we will be held responsible for well into the next generation. Our economy and Freedoms have been nullified to the point we look more like Saddams Iraq because of the crimes committed by this adminstration and their co- conspirators in congress and Industry.
Public Servants are not to listen to mere Generals when the People have clearly Demand THEY change THEIR course of Action!Such acts against our basic founding Principle constitutes TREASON!

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By cyrena, July 22, 2008 at 12:35 am Link to this comment


I read the piece from Juan Cole as well, which gives us a different picture (of course) then what we were hearing then, and since.

I admit that I honestly don’t know how much Patreaus had to do with the suggestion of the partitioning, because I can remember back to pre-surge days, when the plans for that were already in the works. So, maybe it was his idea, but it was also a resolution sponsored by Kay Baily Hutchison and I believe Joe Biden, to PARTITION IRAQ. I remember being mortified.

I don’t think that ever came to anything, (the partition resolution) but I know that the Iraqis were in a sheer terror as their neighborhoods began to be walled in by huge concrete walls with barbed wire on the tops, and one way in and out, controlled by the US military. I mean, what does THAT sound like to Arabs in the Middle East?

Now that’s not to say that this walling them up didn’t stop some of the sectarian violence, though I don’t actually know that. Information like that is hard to come by, unless we get it from the foreign media, or people like Juan Cole. (and a few of our own scholars here do as well, but I’ve been in a different venue for the past several months).

So, I’m admittedly going partially on memory of the time when that all began to happen. It was after the first few ‘layers’ of the social infrastructure had fled, since academics and other members of that portion of the professional society were targeted first, and fled first, probably being more financially equipped to do it. But it was before the far larger exodus of so many millions of other Iraqis, who were in effect driven out of their homes, as a result of that ‘surge’. So in all fairness, any seeming reduction in that part of the violence could have been as much to do with millions fleeing to Jordan, Syria, and the few others that would allow limited numbers of them in, as it did to do with building those walls that shut them into their newly ‘cleansed’ areas.

It’s so heartbreaking to even think of it, since the Iraqis didn’t have such ‘sectarian’ problems before, aside from the abuses of Saddam to the Shia. And, I’m not making light of those abuses. I’m only saying that Sunni and Shia certainly were NOT killing each other! Their neighborhoods were mixed, and their families often inter-married as well. They don’t LOOK any different from each other, so the only distinguishing thing was generally a name.

And, I remain convinced that civil war was part of the plan of attack by Dick Bush Rumsfeld to begin with. That doesn’t take much imagination or strategic intelligence. It’s a trick older than war itself, and frequently practiced by the US military over the centuries, in more than a few places.

So, I’ll accept that Patreus may have done the best he could with a bad situation, if only because I honestly don’t know one way or the other. I just find it difficult to believe that he was doing anything more than following orders, which is NOT the same as it being ‘his’ idea. And that’s what has continued to piss me off every time bush has berated Congress in their attempts (feeble as they’ve been) to insist on a withdrawal time table. Each time he’s tried to say that only the ‘generals on the ground’ can decide that, even though I don’t believe that the ‘generals on the ground’ decided to do a surge, or any of the rest of it. Dick Bush decided, and then found a general that would follow orders.

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By cyrena, July 21, 2008 at 11:56 pm Link to this comment


Sorry this took me so long. I’ve been dodging bullets, so I just read your response. Here’s what I have on it, and I can fill you in with more of the general theme of the entire series, (this is one event of a whole series for this summer).

If you’re in the general LA area (which is what I thought I remembered from before) then a couple of hours up the coast will put you here. The weather’s great.

Subject: FYI July 22 public lecture and “Taxi to Dark Side” @ 7:30 Campbell Hall PUBLIC LECTURE


Chair, UCSB Law and Society Program


TUESDAY JULY 22, 2008 ? 5:00 PM

Lisa Hajjar is the Chair of the UCSB Law and Society Program and an expert on the uses of torture and post-9/11 human rights abuses.  She is the author of Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System
in the West Bank and Gaza (2005).  Her lecture is part of a summer series of lectures and films sponsored by OISS exploring the political context for US immigration regulations affecting international
students and scholars.  Her lecture will be followed by a screening of the 2007 Academy Award-winning documentary film by Alex Gibney, Taxi to the Dark Side, in Campbell Hall at 7:30 PM.  Admission to both events is free and open to the public.

For more information contact the Office of International Students and
Scholars at (805) 893-2929.

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By P. T., July 21, 2008 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment

I would not describe millions being made homeless as protection.

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By Tony Wicher, July 21, 2008 at 10:48 pm Link to this comment

Well, General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy did not call for “sending troops into battle” but for using them in a way that made some strategic sense. The segregation of neighborhoods to protect the population from each other was part of the plan. So was buying off those who could be bought off. Working with what he had, and given the fact that his commander in chief is a moron, he did a pretty good job. As far as I know, Obama should keep him on when he becomes President. Competent generals are not easy to come by.

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By P. T., July 21, 2008 at 7:44 pm Link to this comment

Despite all the talk about Iraq being “calm,” it should be pointed out that the month just before the last visit Barack Obama made to Iraq (he went in January, 2006), there were 537 civilian and Iraqi Security Forces casualties. In June of this year, 2008, there were 554 according to AP. These are official statistics gathered passively that probably only capture about 10 percent of the true toll.

That is, the Iraqi death toll is actually still worse now than the last time Obama was in Iraq! The hype around last year’s troop escalation obscures a simple fact: that Obama formed his views about the need for the US to leave Iraq at a time when its security situation was very similar to what it is now! Why a return to the bad situation in late 2005 and early 2006 should be greeted by the GOP as the veritable coming of the Messiah is ridiculous. You have people such as John McCain and Joe Lieberman saying silly things such as, if not for the troop escalation, Obama wouldn’t be able to visit Iraq. Uh, he visited it before the troop escalation just fine.

The troop escalation, which actually allowed the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis of Baghdad and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the country, has largely been pushed as propaganda by the White House and the American Enterprise Institute.

Source:  Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East History, University of Michigan

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By Will Park, July 21, 2008 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I find it extraordinary that people believe adding 30,000 American troops in Iraq brought down American casualties. This was a very clever ploy by our military and civilian leaders designed to credit the surge with success, which they were in desperate need of. The only possible way we could have reduced casualties instantly was to have our troops (including the additional ones) pull back to safe enclaves, to disengage from the enemy except for our air strikes and a few patrols. If the new forces had gone right into battle, there would have been more casualties on both sides, not fewer. But once again, the press was complicit, and the American people bought it.

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By Tony Wicher, July 21, 2008 at 6:44 pm Link to this comment


What is the topic of the lecture and where is it showing?

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By Tony Wicher, July 21, 2008 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment


I think you are essentially right about Afghanistan. There is some such problem as “terrorism”, but when we look closely we might find that CIA, Mossad, ISI and other shadowy gangs and agencies are as much or more responsible for terrorism than Islamic militants. This is a matter to be objectively determined by investigations and trials in the International Criminal Court, and then actions taken to bring terrorists to justice should be carried out under the court’s jurisdiction. This is never going to happen unless the United States becomes a member of the ICC and agrees to fully support its decisions even against its own citizens - and proves it means what it says by delivering Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to the ICC for trial. If we do that, then we can bring charges against bin Laden and the whole world will be with us. Until then, I’m not sure what is to be gained by the U.S. roaming around Waziristan.

As to Petraeus, sure he is a suck up, but I am willing to forgive him. Generals pretty well have to suck up to the civilian leadership or resign. I do give him credit for formulating a military strategy, called “the surge” that to my surprise was more than empty propaganda but did actually produce a significant lowering of casualties. It wasn’t just the extra troops but the way they were deployed that made more sense. We should all cheer, the situation seems to be somewhat stablilized and we can get the hell out of there.

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By cyrena, July 21, 2008 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment

Well Tony, I agree with you on how things seem to be ‘so good so far’. I’m always inclined to be extremely cautious these days. Guess the environment of the past several years has had that effect. So, I’m into the tiny steps at a time mind set.

I don’t share your opinion of Patraeus though. I think he’s a suck up. Maybe he’s been able to do a decent job in terms of the reality on the ground, and from a tactical viewpoint only, but if the ‘surge’ was actually his idea, (and I’m not sure I believe that) it was still stupid. He should have suggested ‘surging’ out of Iraq long ago. Of course those who’d suggested similar things before were always dismissed. Those who’ve questioned the wisdom of more aggression have found themselves conveniently retired.

I’m also still doubtful about what or how much the US military can actually accomplish in Afghanistan/Pakistan. That’s not to say that I don’t believe there is a problem in the area, or that it’s not a dangerous problem, because of the fact that Pakistan IS a rouge state, and in possession of nuclear weapons. But then, so is Israel and I believe the international community needs to deal with them.

So, I dunno. Maybe there’s more information to be considered. But if we’re talking about continuing the so-called ‘war of terror’, it gives me the willies. Again, NOT because I don’t recognize the danger of global terrorism, or that the area provides the perfect environment for it to flourish. I just don’t know that the US military should be the sole entity to deal with it.

I’m more inclined to agree with those who would prefer to leave it to the neighboring nations like India, or China, or even Iran. They should all have an interest in containing any terrorist activities in that area. Or, convene an international force to deal with it the same way that they would deal with the prevention of the other endemic crimes like genocide.

The problem (at least for many of us) is the same as it’s been all along. This whole idea of fighting against ‘terror’ which is nonsensical to begin with, since terror is simply a tactic. Well, I shouldn’t say ‘simply’ since it’s certainly standard fare in any war. So, maybe that whole concept needs to be redefined. Is it an ‘ideology’ that is being fought? If so, that’s bad news. We can’t do that. Is it the narco operation that is being fought? If so, it doesn’t have to be our job.

The RESULTS of whatever it is, have prompted a humanitarian crises, and we can certainly provide types of assistance in dealing with that. But again, I don’t think it should just be an ‘American’ effort. Nor do I believe that this should be some sort of a settling of scores for the events of 9/11, and that’s where I’ve always had a departure with Obama. I think we would do far better to figure out who is really responsible for 9/11 first, and while I believe that some of those tracks may lead to Pakistan, they are bit players in the whole thing…the money launderers mostly. In other words, I don’t think we need to take on the burden of hunting down OBL, who is most likely dead or living at the compound in Kennebunkport.

Of course I’m not ‘running’ anything, and we know perfectly well that McCain has the same objectives in maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan. So, it’s not like we get to ‘decide’. Still, I don’t honestly see that as the best way to deal with the issues in that area. Then again, there’s no doubt that most of us average folks don’t have anything close to a real picture of what’s going on there.

Speaking of which. There is a lecture here tomorrow afternoon/evening, followed by a showing of the documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. If you’re nearby and want the details, (open to the public and free) let me know. It should be excellent.

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By Pacrat, July 21, 2008 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wasn’t it dummy rummy who, after a flight over Iraq, said.“It doesn’t look like there’s even a war when you fly over the country.”

Does anyone think that Obama will fall for that nonsense? Of course, he doesn’t have time for a stroll through the market like his opponent McCain - not enough rooftop snipers, helicopters and troops fore and aft just happening to stroll along with him!

Just like Bush never sees the real Washington DC or anyplace else where he isn’t protected from the crowds and poverty - right?

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By Tony Wicher, July 21, 2008 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

This sounds good to me - Maliki, Petraeus and Obama singing in happy harmony. Personally, my impression of Petraeus is that he’s a completent general who has done a good job under difficult circumstances, and he will be happy to get a commander-in-chief who isn’t a moron. Get out of Iraq, let the Iraqis and the Iranians sort out their own affairs and move to Afghanistan/Pakistan. I think the key thing there is not so much the military struggle as the problem of poppy cultivation. The idea of essentially driving Al Quaeda out of business by buying up the farmers’ opium crop seems to me the right way to win over the people.

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