Obama Appoints Petraeus CIA Director – Triumph of Style Over Substance
By Staff News & Analysis - April 29, 2011

New CIA boss has political gravitas . . . US president Barack Obama's choice of General David Petraeus (left) as CIA director will bolster his national security team with a Republican favourite who is sometimes seen as a future White House aspirant. The appointment put a quick end to occasional Washington speculation that the commanding general in Afghanistan might ride to the rescue of Republicans as a 2012 White House or vice- presidential candidate against Obama. Petraeus, credited with turning around the war in Iraq, had denied interest in a post-military political career in recent years even while giving interviews and making speeches with the zeal of a politician during his trips home. – Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: The hero of the war shall be the hero of the peace.

Free-Market Analysis: The promotion of General David Petraeus to head the CIA seems to us something of a triumph of style over substance. The Afghanistan war, so far as we can tell, is not going exceptionally well and Iraq, as we reported recently, is liable to lapse back into violence, with its majority Shia population threatening mass protests over perceived injustices perpetrated by the current central government. But none of this seems to make a difference from the standpoint of Petraeus's anointing. Petraeus will be the next CIA director.

The Reuters' article even implies that one reason for the appointment is to get Petraeus out of the running as a Republican presidential or vice-presidential candidate. Petraeus, of course has denied any interest in political office, yet there are some in Washington who don't believe his denials. In any event, the departure of defense secretary Robert Gates, gave Obama the pretext he needed to make the pick.

It's a well-received one, generally, within the mainstream media. Reuters quotes Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Texas, as saying that, "Republicans see him as a solid conservative with obviously strong ties to the military and the intelligence aspects of defense policy. This is good for everybody involved. It's good for Obama and it's good for Petraeus."

Jillson calls Petraeus, "the leading military officer of his generation." And Senator Lindsey Graham: "Without question, General David Petraeus is a national treasure. I believe his talents will be well utilised as the new director of the CIA."

What is interesting to us about the various new appointments and Petraeus in particular is how unremarkable they seem from the standpoint of Western mainstream media. Petraeus's appointment in particular is seen as merely one more appointment in an already lustrous career. And yet when one probes either the CIA itself or Petraeus' in more detail, one can come up with numerous questions to challenge the mainstream analysis.

The CIA in particular has always been an agency with a questionable brief when one looks at the larger ambit of American democracy, at least from a rhetorical standpoint. The CIA is built around the idea of projecting American power abroad; it now has more than a half-century of assassinations and various kinds of covert implementations of "regime change" to its credit. As more of its history has emerged online in the past decade or so, questions are continually raised about its functions and the scope of its mission.

As a Cold War entity its rationale was at least justifiable (as far as the US public was concerned). In the post Cold War era one cannot help but wonder about the scope of its brief and the reason for its existence. Presumably the War on Terror (phony as it is) has reinvigorated the CIA's international efforts and given them a more topical dimension. But in fact when it comes to the War on Terror, the FBI has been seen as leading the way with its expansion overseas. How and why the FBI has turned itself from a domestic entity into an international one is a story for another day.

Petraeus himself most recently made headlines in Afghanistan for suggesting that Afghan parents burn their children as part of their attempts to discipline them. As we reported in early March, courtesy of Registran.Net, Petraeus had "suggested publicly that Afghanistan parents were burning their children to exaggerate injuries they'd received at the hands of allied troops. He later corrected this perception, stating what he'd meant was that Afghan parents burned their children to discipline them."

The comments were made after several more NATO and American bombing "accidents" that had killed Afghan children, and Registran.Net observed that Petraeus might well be doing damage to his own cause and to the war effort with such statements. The pertinent observation from one Steve Magribi, was as follows: "The thing about 'saying sorry' is that it only works for a while. P4 lost all credibility again with his attack on Afghans parents. It really was a key moment in this war and a key moment in the myth of Petraeus here in Afghanistan. I hope they are cutting his orders very quickly. He does need to go soon."

So there it is. The war that Petraeus was sent over to win grinds on without surcease and actually seems to have taken a turn for the worse from the standpoint of generalized violence. Petraeus' campaign to win the "hearts and minds" of Afghan citizens ends with him accusing Afghans generally of setting their children aflame to extort additional American reimbursements for damages. And the agency that he is taking over has likely lost most of whatever justification it had for existing with the end of the Cold War.

None of this is mentioned, let alone debated in the mainstream announcements of Petraeus's new post. Iraq's precarious position is not noted, nor is the general worsening of the allies positioning vis-à-vis Afghanistan or even Pakistan, which has been inflamed by various cover CIA black ops and misguided drone operations into Northern provinces.

Petraeus is still touted (even promoted) as presidential material as if none of his credentials are even questionable. The agency he is to run does not come under much scrutiny either. It is a kind of scripted affair and the mainstream media plays its role without hesitation. In fact, these moves, for the most part, are being presented with the same lack of questioning that might surround a coronation. They are, in aggregate, a kind of promotional mechanism.

After Thoughts

Despite the questions, it is business as usual. The power elite continues to send a very specific message with the Obama administration. We would tend to think at some point reality will catch up to these memes and expose them. From the standpoint of the mainstream Western media that day has yet to come.