According to the Wall Street Journal of 24 June 2010, Republican supporters of a prospective 2012 presidential bid by Gen. David Petraeus were thwarted Wednesday when President Barack Obama tapped him to take over as commander in Afghanistan after ousting Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But they’re not giving up hope.

To provide a new and spurious economic looting argument for making the US occupation of Afghanistan virtually endless, and to advance the candidacy of General David Petraeus as the principal neocon warmonger candidate for president on the Republican ticket in 2012 – these are the purposes of the story planted in the June 13, 2010 New York Times under the byline of James Risen, who is acting as stenographer for the neocons in the great tradition of his predecessor Judith Miller. In retrospect, this article may well be seen as the opening gun of an overt push to place General Petraeus in the White House in 2012 as the new Field Marshal von Hindenburg.

According to this story, a Pentagon survey has determined that Afghanistan possesses at least $1 trillion worth of valuable minerals, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium – with lithium being especially valuable because it is used in batteries for computers and for the new designs of electric automobiles. Of course, none of this is news, as the article itself concedes. The surveys done by the US occupation authorities over the last several years are explicitly based on careful studies done by the Soviets during their own occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. The basic outlines of what is being presented by Risen as front-page news were already published in a May 2004 World Bank report, which was used to dictate minerals legislation to the Afghan government. More recently, Afghan mineral wealth has been hyped by the Afghan embassy in Washington on various occasions, and was a featured theme of the visit here last month by Afghan President Karzai.

Candidate Petraeus Touts “Stunning Potential”

This planted puff piece is based on anonymous “senior US government officials.” The only exception is General David Petraeus, the warlord of the US Central Command, the theater of operations in which Afghanistan is located. Petraeus is directly cited as saying that the Afghan mineral riches whose presence the US has confirmed represent a “stunning potential” for the future development of the country. The implied message from Petraeus to the Washington elite is, to paraphrase, support me and cash in on the riches of Afghanistan, or else wimpy Obama’s self-serving pullout timetable will allow the Chinese to move in.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, newly appointed Commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, said in an interview on 12 June 2010. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The repackaging and rehashing of the Afghan mineral story at this time represents a bid to mobilize political support by Wall Street, major minerals corporations, and other predatory interests to keep the US occupation of Afghanistan going far beyond the July 2011 date set by Obama for the beginning of a gradual pullout of US forces. The article makes clear that, if the US should depart from Afghanistan, the immense mineral wealth will fall easy prey to China. China, it is noted, has already taken over a copper mine in Afghanistan. In March of this year, it was a sudden alarm in Washington that Karzai’s Afghanistan was slipping into the Chinese orbit that motivated Obama’s hasty visit to Kabul. The implication is that, whether or not these minerals can actually be developed by the United States, it is imperative to stay in Afghanistan to make sure that they are denied to the Chinese.

The planted story is also designed to counter the growing war fatigue and defeatism among the US-led coalition, which is building up in advance of the NATO summit scheduled for Lisbon, Portugal this coming November. This coalition currently includes 46 nations, representing one third of the military forces deployed, and an even larger portion of the logistics necessary for the occupation. The new British regime has been signaling that its commitment to Afghanistan will not be eternal. Prime Minister David Cameron told British Tommies in Afghanistan that they will be brought home just as soon as their task is finished. Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, the highest ranking uniformed military figure in the UK, is being ousted in a signal of deep cuts to come for the British military establishment. Poland has demanded that NATO come up with a detailed exit plan for ending the Afghan engagement. In Germany, the most recent poll shows about 70% opposition to the endless war, and budget cuts are looming in that country as well. The Netherlands and Canada both intend to withdraw their contingents from Afghanistan next year. Turkey is another country with a presence in Afghanistan that may soon become fed up with this adventure, especially because of the contemptuous and shoddy treatment meted out to the Turks by the State Department over the Iran uranium enrichment and Gaza aid flotilla issues. All signs suggest that, when the Afghan engagement comes up for discussion at the November NATO summit in Lisbon, disaffection and defection will be the dominant notes.

NATO defeatism comes on top of growing disaffection with Obama’s endless war inside the United States: the newest poll has a majority of 53% convinced that prolonging the Afghanistan war is not worth the sacrifices involved. Even more acute is the growing backlash from inside the Democratic Party. Congressman Charlie Rangel of Harlem recently assailed Obama as being “consistent with” Bush and Cheney when it comes to lying about the wars he is conducting.

Petraeus the Neocon, The Thinking Man’s Warmonger

The neocon cabal in Washington has been largely booted out of government by the Brzezinski-Trilateral-Bilderberg financier faction who run Obama. But the neocons are determined not to stay in the wilderness forever, and their chosen vehicle for a comeback is the Petraeus presidential candidacy. Petraeus is now the main unifying figure of the neocon war party. The allegedly thoughtful general was recently lionized at neocon central, the American Enterprise Institute, which gave him its Irving Kristol Award in early May. As AntiWar noted:

" … many have speculated of late he is selling himself – as a potential Republican candidate for commander in chief. …. And he probably won’t become the Republican nominee without some heavy lifting from the star-maker machinery at the AEI, which would enjoy nothing more than to get its own pocket general into the White House. …. This mutually beneficial relationship is already off to a great start. Thanks to ‘Team Kagan,’ AEI’s Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, and a battery of sycophantic pundits and mainstream journalists, Petraeus’ lack of authentic exceptionalism has been transformed into an unshakable ‘warrior-scholar’ persona with his own ‘legacy’…. But his recent pandering to AEI and the lip-smacking response from Kristol & Co. should make anyone who still maintains a thread of common sense and an institutional memory very concerned." [1]

Petraeus is getting kudos from Max Boot, the Kagans, Frank Gaffney, and other ambitious neocon careerists.

Peter Beinart has compared Petraeus to Dwight Eisenhower, the 1952 GOP candidate, and thinks that Petraeus may be highly effective as a candidate in the current anti-politician atmosphere. Beinart, currently at the New America Foundation, comments:

"Today’s GOP has a right-wing base that can damage Obama, but none of its favorites have a prayer of winning the White House. The reason is that just like the Republican right of the early 1950s, which kept insisting that the New Deal constituted socialism (or fascism), today’s conservative activists have not accommodated themselves to some basic shifts in public mood…. powerful forces within the GOP will begin looking for a candidate who doesn’t have to kowtow to the party’s activist base. They’ll need someone with enough personal appeal to avoid the culture war food-fights that obsess the Republican base, someone who exudes moral traditionalism and fiscal prudence without appearing fanatical or intolerant. Such obfuscation won’t satisfy the GOP’s hard-right core, of course, but John McCain—another soldier-turned-pol—has already shown that the right’s stranglehold on the nominating process can be broken. Like McCain in 2008, Petraeus could largely skip the Iowa caucuses, which evangelicals dominate, and instead focus on New Hampshire, where independents can vote. In both 2000 and 2008, it was New Hampshire that boosted McCain, and New Hampshire, as it turns out, is the closest thing Petraeus has to a home state. From there it would be on to South Carolina, where military pedigrees go a long way…. Parties that have grown narrow and extreme tend to spiral downward until they nominate someone who is not beholden to their narrow, extreme base. That person has to be so popular that he or she can defy the normal rules about how candidates get nominated. Right now, David Petraeus is the only Republican who fits the bill. In the weeks ahead, McChrystal may become a conservative folk hero for opposing Obama on Afghanistan. But for Democrats looking toward 2012 and 2016, it’s Petraeus who represents the real threat." [2]

The warmonger regroupment around Petraeus has been noticed across the Atlantic by the June 12 London Economist, which measures a Petraeus-Daniels ticket against a Palin-Huckabee one. In another article, the city of London house organ notes that, in addition to Huckabee, Romney, Palin, Pawlenty, and Barbour, “a few even hope that General David Petraeus could be lured in.” In reality, Petraeus is more than eager. If current US reactionary politics resembles the mad Hatter’s tea party with Alice and the white rabbit, as the Economist cover suggests, perhaps Petraeus can bring power out of chaos.

Once we know that the neocons are running the Petraeus for President campaign, much else becomes clear, especially if we recall the neocon methods used in connection with the Iraq invasion of 2003. The planted puff piece about Afghan minerals has neocon fingerprints all over it; it may have been concocted at the AEI. It implies that NATO states that stick with the US might receive a piece of the action when it comes to looting these natural resources. This is exactly the way that reconstruction contracts in Iraq were employed under neocon auspices. Back in those days, the Germans and the French were excluded because they had opposed the neocon-induced war hysteria of 2003.

One big objection to making the Afghan occupation infinite has to do with the tremendous monetary costs involved, which the sovereign debt crisis has made it harder for the participating governments to bear. Here we should remember the pie-in-the-sky promised by Wolfowitz and other neocons in 2002-2003, when they proclaimed that an invasion of Iraq would be self-financing, thanks to the promised looting of Iraqi oil, which in reality has never materialized in the promised form. Back in those years, there were even more extravagant neocon fantasies about what could be done by bringing Iraqi oil production under US control. Some neocons recommended a massive increase in Iraqi oil output with the goal of radically lowering the world price of oil and busting the OPEC cartel. All of this, we note in retrospect, was never accomplished.

Exercitus facit imperatorem: The Army Creates the Emperor

The most important General in the United States, David Petraeus, the architect of American strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida, where he heads the U.S. Central Command (May 2007).

The presidency has been won by Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Grant, Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, so there is no doubt that military leaders have often represented formidable contenders. By contrast, the current Republican field represents a collection of largely discredited hacks and ideological crackpots who would have a very difficult time winning a presidential contest. Palin is an imbecile. Huckabee is a clown. Jindall is a bungler. Pawlenty is a nonentity. Barbour could be a deep south favorite son at the very most. DeMint is in the same regional minor league.

W. Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts
Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana

Romney, the asset stripper from Bain Capital, is wired into Wall Street and does well with country club plutocrats, but lacks appeal to the social issue and warmonger reactionary currents inside the GOP. Earlier this year, Romney’s future appeared to be that of vice president and de facto prime minister/austerity enforcer in a Petraeus-Romney administration. But now, many have figured out that the Obama health care bill, with its capitulation to the insurance and big pharma cartels, is directly based on the individual mandate to buy overpriced insurance under government coercion instituted by Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. Given the current agitation of the Tea Party Romney’s identification with the Obama health bill is now an obstacle to his future aspirations. In response to this problem, various media have begun to tout Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a former Reagan appointee who does not share Romney’s Massachusetts problems, although he is less effective in other ways. For the moment, we must conclude that the choice between a Petraeus-Romney ticket and a Petraeus-Daniels GOP ticket is still up in the air.

Petraeus: the New von Hindenburg

Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, German Commander of WW I (1847 - 1924).

If the Petraeus candidacy materializes in the way that now seems likely, it will mark a new phase in the ungovernability, economic immiseration, and erosion of democracy in the United States. Unfortunately, the historical parallels for a Petraeus candidacy do not point in the direction of Eisenhower. They point rather towards Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the German commander of World War I who became president of the Weimar Republic in 1925 and during whose reactionary and authoritarian presidency the Hitler movement rapidly grew in power. It was Hindenburg who allowed Hitler to take state power in 1933 by appointing him as Chancellor, leading to the swift consolidation of a totalitarian dictatorship. Hindenburg’s appeal was that he was a general and not a politician, not a creature of corrupt parliamentary haggling and backroom deals, but only accustomed simply to obey or to command. This meant that the Hindenburg presidency had a definite anti-parliamentary and anti-democratic thrust from the very beginning, and that is what we can expect to see if Petraeus ever gets to the White House. With the German parliament paralyzed by about March 1930, Hindenburg’s presidency soon became a continuous state of emergency rule, in which the Field Marshal approved or disapproved emergency decrees submitted by a series of chancellors – Brüning, von Papen, von Schleicher, and finally Hitler.

Petraeus has the advantage of being able to play on the sense of military discipline and loyalty which is ingrained in many Tea Party activists. Even a cursory survey of the Tea Party folk shows that a very large number of them are retired military, and their movement is full of militaristic overtones favorable to foreign aggression. There is reason to believe that many of these activists would immediately place Petraeus, whom they naïvely might view as the victor of Mesopotamia, in a special privileged category above other candidates, and rapidly fall into line. This probable ability to deliver the recalcitrant Tea Party gives Petraeus a great advantage over other Republican hopefuls like Romney, who might be competitive in the general election, but who would have a very hard time fighting their way through Republican primaries dominated by ideological fanaticism.

Obama has been doing yeoman service as a union buster, forcing the United Auto Workers to give up games they had acquired through decades of bitter struggle and sacrifice. Obama and his Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan are leading the charge to bust the teachers’ unions as the centerpiece of a general assault against public employees of all types conducted under the banner of ferocious austerity. Right now, Obama still remains the best strike breaker the Wall Street financier elite can deploy. But Obama is collapsing rapidly, and the ruling elite must prepare an alternative option for 2012. But G. W. Bush left the Republican Party in a shambles, racked by internal dissent and lead by the group of reactionary clowns, mountebanks, and misfits we have already mentioned. Would the Republican Party as it currently exists be sufficient, if put into power, to break the kind of strike wave that that might emerge (as in Greece) from the current policies of retrenchment, drastic austerity, savage cuts in social services, union busting, and tax gouging? There is some doubt that it could.

Petraeus could certainly mobilize the Tea Party to break strikes and protests by workers, students, immigrants, and supporters of social services, but his big advantage would be his ability to lean on the uniformed military establishment and the secret intelligence agencies in a more overt way than other presidents could. Again, the example of von Hindenburg is instructive. A Petraeus presidency would most likely be an exercise in emergency rule, a de facto dictatorship by Executive Order under the color of the existing 9/11 national emergency, or of some other emergency which Petraeus could declare. Petraeus could maintain a certain public detachment in order to preserve his credibility longer, while leaving the dirty details to a vice presidential Prime Minister like Romney or Mitch Daniels, both of whom have experience as state governors. The content of the emergency decrees would inevitably be economic austerity of the most brutal type, combined with unprecedented attacks on civil liberties, against a background of new and catastrophic foreign military adventures.

During this week’s hearings on the wretched state of the Afghan military adventure conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, committee chair Senator Carl Levin asked if, in the professional military judgment of General Petraeus, Obama’s announced goal of starting the US departure from Afghanistan were advisable. Petraeus pointedly refused to endorse Obamas July 2011 target, first remaining silent for a prolonged interval, then hemming and hawing, and finally offering a highly qualified and grudging assent, while warning that it is necessary to be very careful with timetables. In other words, Petraeus has decided to leave open the option of clashing with Obama over the conduct of the Afghan war. One can imagine a scenario in which Petraeus sometime around July 2011 resigns his command in protest over Obama’s desire to cut and run, and vows to take the issue to the voters. He might even take a leaf from von Hindenburg’s book and accuse Obama of wanting to stab his gallant forces in the back, just when final victory is within their grasp. The precedents for this kind of politics are not good.

[1Kelley B. Vlahos, President Petraeus, AntiWar, May 17, 2010.

[2Peter Beinart, Petraeus for President?, The Daily Beast, October 12, 2009.