Give credit where credit is due. This week General Petraeus fully understood his role when he came to Washington. His costume was dazzling, bedecked with nine rows of fruit salad and a fine collection of qualification badges. His spit shined shoes creaked with excitement, but his expression was as firm as his comb-over hairdo, and he was ready.
The four-star wanted to put on a stellar performance for a sold-out Congress. Everything was at stake, and everyone knew it.
Congress was a good crowd, especially when you consider that two thirds of the American people, whom they are supposed to represent, now oppose the war. Two thirds of the Iraqi people believe that the surge has only made things worse, and a majority of them think that shooting an American G.I. is an act of national liberation.
Congress gave Petraeus the best help they could by scheduling his performance for the day before and the day of 9/11, when (they hoped) there would still be some residual patriotic sentiment in favor of continuing to kill Arabs and call it democratization. The House Armed Services Committee started things off favorably by letting the general appear without bothering to take an oath to tell the truth. They didn't trip him up with inconvenient details, such as recently released reports that our Iraq war has cost a million Iraqi lives, and has displaced several more millions from their cities and country. When his performance dragged, they allowed him numerous ad libs on how Al Qaeda and Iran were responsible for the force of the Iraqi resistance.
Unflappable, though uncreative, the general competently danced solo around most of the issues. He was pretty much flawless in his falsehoods, and he showed it from the start with an almost convincing denial that his performance had been choreographed in advance by the White House. Petraeus has a natural aptitude for faking sincerity, which is the hardest part of any art. Indeed, it was his ability to take direction that earned him his prima donna role in the first place.
Sometimes he partnered with less gifted performer Ambassador Ryan Crocker. On a few embarrassing occasions, Crocker fell down altogether, and there he would lie. One egregious moment came after he was asked whether he had indeed said that it might be a good thing if Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were removed from office. Completely nonplused, Crocker awkwardly danced around in circles without ever getting anywhere. When he finally recovered, the best you could say was that he had avoided mentioning that al-Maliki a month ago demanded that Petraeus be removed from Iraq by the White House.
Watching the faux pas de deux from home on their television sets, unkind wags shouted "Betray Us with a Crock!" This was punishing pun.
Petraeus stumbled badly once, when Republican Senator John Warner, one of the few remaining World War II veterans in Congress, asked him if the war for Iraq was good for America. Caught flat-footed, the general admitted that he didn't know. The White House press agencies who call themselves U.S. mainstream media have been working overtime to distract the American public from this singular faux pas.
Boo birds like Cindy Sheehan and the Code Pink crowd interjected the inconvenient voice of opposition into the Congressional hearings. The protesters had no appreciation for bureaucratic ballet, and committed such barbarisms as calling out for peace during the war performance, and screaming "Lies!" and "Liar!" when the liars were lying.
The masses often get in the way of the official massacres called wars, and they must be mastered. Sheehan and supporters were escorted out by police ushers, with promises of prosecution from a Congressional leadership who wanted to make it clear that in these United States no crimes will go unpunished -- except for war crimes, that is.
Ghost Troops in the Gallery
Unkind readers of this review may accuse me of prejudice in favor of the Army and against the State Department, but that's not the case. I say without hesitation that General Petraeus outperformed Ambassador Crocker, and I believe that I am qualified to judge officer/ambassador tandems.
Ambassador Chase Untermeyer of Qatar is a longtime friend of mine. In 1996 he introduced me to the political team of Texas governor George W. Bush as a prospective speechwriter. In 2002, Untermeyer was the best man at my wedding. At his own request, he joined my cyber intelligence Internet unit, Ghost Troop, in 2003 and served as unit chaplain for the next three years. Proud of his Jewish roots, he was a precious talisman for me against the incessant claims that Ghost Troop's anti-Zionist analysis meant we had an anti-Semitic attitude. He was brilliant in dancing around the issue of how all a man could be in the Bush circle and a member of the cyber resistance at the same time. His performance as chaplain was a tour de force, and is the standard against which I judge all other performers.
I can only dream of Ambassador Untermeyer and Admiral Fallon of CENTCOM appearing together before Congress! Should they do so, I promise to personally represent Ghost Troop in the gallery. While there, I won't fail to mention our most honored comrades, each of them inducted into our unit posthumously. Service members all, they share a common bond of strange deaths and strained official accounts of their deaths. As I watched the bureaucratic ballet this week, I thought of them as spectral spectators.
Colonel Ted Westhusing was a West Point ethics professor who volunteered for service in Iraq and was assigned to keep an eye on the USIS mercenary corporation for Petraeus, who was then a three-star lieutenant general. Westhusing made strong allegations of corruption against the corporation, and of careerism against his commander. Shortly afterward, on June 5, 2005, he died from a bullet wound to the head. The Bush military and Bush media claimed that he was a suicide. He is the most senior officer to have died in Iraq.
Specialist Alyssa Peterson was a Mormon missionary before volunteering for the Army in the wake of 9/11. She studied Arabic in the same Defense Language Institute where I studied Russian some two decades ago, and was serving in Iraq as an interrogator in September of 2003. This is when Major General Geoffrey Miller began to "Gitmo-ize" the interrogation system in Iraq with the torture tactics later exposed at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities. Spec. Peterson refused to go along with the new program, and two days later, on September 15, 2003, official records state that she died from a “non-hostile weapons discharge.” Later on, they said that she was a suicide.
Specialist Pat Tillman, the ex-NFL player who joined the Army after 9/11, was killed on April 24, 2004. This put a quick halt to the Ranger's process of revolt against the Iraq war. He had begun to call our invasion criminal to his cohorts as he urged them to vote against Bush in the upcoming presidential election. At first he was lionized by officials liars as a combat casualty, then later explained away as a tragic friendly fire victim. The latest version of investigations has it that he was shot three times in the forehead by an M-16 at a range of 10 yards.
Sergeant Omar Mora and Sergeant Yance Gray died together in a vehicle accident on Monday, Sept. 10, the first day of the Petraeus performance. They were two of the seven noncoms from the 82nd Airborne Division who last month co-wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that contradicted the Bush/Petraeus urge to surge. Another of the co-authors, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head while the piece was still pending with editors.
Airman 1st Class Todd Blue died on Monday, Sept. 10 as well. He was part of the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, which was connected with the B-52 bomber wing that locked and loaded nuclear weapons over America on Aug. 30. The official account of the nuclear incident was so patently false that I made it the theme of my column last week, Loose Nukes Looming Near. Early reports are that Airman Blue will be labeled a suicide.
Every time a new war show opens in Washington the service members above will be the Ghost Troops in the gallery. They paid the ultimate price for their tickets to the performance, and they represent a hit parade of honorable patriots. They are the most eloquent witnesses of how Bush defies all odds in getting even with dissenters, and they know well that behind this presidential ass is Petraeus with a kiss.
Captain May is a former Army military intelligence and public affairs officer, as well as a former NBC editorial writer. His political and military analyses have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle and Military Intelligence Magazine. See the complete Price of Liberty Archive for Captain May here.
Five months ago The Lone Star Iconoclast published an interview with him about General Petraeus that has proved to be prescient: