Wednesday, April 29, 2009


We seem now to be getting strategic plans from the scripts of B-level horror movies. General Petraeus, as reported by H.D.S. Greenway, has come up with a plan called ‘Anaconda’.

But the General would like Us to think not about B-level movies (and actors) but rather of General Grant.

Unhappily, as Greenway relates it, the General reports that he has “often fallen asleep at night ‘reading about Grant in tough times’”. One might have hoped that Grant’s exploits might have been enough to keep the General awake, but I can certainly imagine that a mind constrained to come up with the boggling sentences and vaguely upbeat nostrums of his CEO ‘philosophy’ would need a whole lot of time to recover.

I get the queasy feeling last felt in Reagan’s first administration: it was ‘morning in America’, although a morning that looked not forward to the future that America could master, but to the decades of the 1920s through 1940s, Reagan’s and America’s ‘salad days’. Suspenders came back in, conspicuous consumption to signify the return of Robber-Baronry, and a company began making expensive cars that were simply re-makes of the old Cords and Duesies of a bygone era.*

Petraeus, when he gets to military thinking, goes back to the Civil War, which happened – for those who have joined Us recently and gotten a thoroughly modern college education – even before Reagan was born.

The ‘Anaconda’ plan was not Grant’s. It was Scott’s – Winfield Scott, the military’s commander-in-chief who in 1861 was already too old and fat to mount a horse. But he came up with a plan to defeat the Confederacy, and quickly: strangle it by cutting off its sources of overseas supply through blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports and by controlling the Mississippi basin and its ancillary river systems. Then wait.

Lincoln couldn’t afford to wait that long. Public opinion required a more forceful government response. Armies would be raised and sent against the Confederacy and its forces. Grant finally emerged as the one general able to beat the rebels in the field, and by 1864 he had enlisted his friend Sherman to continue a deep invasion of the South while he himself would go back East and take the Army of the Potomac against ‘Bobby Lee’.

But the Navy, in the meantime, was increasing its ability to effectively blockade the South as Scott had wanted years before.

And it worked, eventually, after stupendous casualties in battle after battle.

Petraeus is interested "in the strangling part”. In the terrorist-wars, or whatever they are calling them this week, he wants to cut off the supplies of the terrorists. He is wise enough to realize that much of these ‘supplies’ are not of a military nature, but are rather matters of political support, economic resources, and judiciously made and effectively maintained alliances. Which is a good insight. If not particularly insightful, it is accurate – which is still head-and-shoulders above the dreck that the Beltway and its uniformed Pentagon minions have come up with so far.

What seems most significant, I think, is that this is not a plan you would expect a general to come up with. This is a comprehensive foreign-policy plan that you would expect from – ummm, oh say – an expensively-maintained, mature, competent political leadership.

But no.

And for many reasons.

Among which I would include: First, that maturity and competence have not been hallmarks of American political leadership for quite some time. Second, that accuracy and efficacy have not been required characteristics of plans or laws for quite some time. Third, that as they have increasingly insulated themselves from the interference of The People and then even from the consequences of evading The People, the Beltway elites have no motivation to undertake strenuous change, let alone self-change. Indeed, probably quite the opposite.

And fourth, an America maturely and judiciously pursuing a Plan among the governments in that part of the world will seriously diverge from the plans of a certain ‘realm’ to which the Beltway pols have for decades and for great reward indentured themselves. And will seriously annoy the bloody-minded bosses of that ‘realm’, who – from a certain early-20th-century-Chicago point of view – may rightly feel that they are being cheated out of something which has been bought and paid for.

It is a sad commentary – and here I understate – on the condition of Our political affairs, and Our governing elites, that a worthwhile plan, in a crucial matter of national interest, must be broached by a general because the pols want ‘cover’.

Nor can We neglect the possibility that even if they start moving in the direction called for by the new Plan, they will try to have their cake and eat it too by still trying to keep their de facto masters in that ‘realm’ happy. And that will be impossible to accomplish.

Petraeus is no Grant, and has proven himself simply shrewd enough to latch onto an idea that somebody else came up with long ago. But he will have to do.

But no general can be allowed to have the power to do what it will require to carry ‘Anaconda’ to whatever success it might achieve.

And it is a profoundly disturbing question whether there are any members of the political class, elected and sworn, who can muster the character to do (what should be) their job up front and upright.


*I recall thinking at the time that Yes, these souped-up hotrods are all very nice, but by now cars were supposed to be able to fly.

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