We Drone Strike, Ergo We Are at War

Check out the logic top pundit David Ignatius employs here:

The United States just decided to step up its drone war [in Yemen], which is a sure sign that al-Qaeda poses a significant, continuing threat.

Ignatius has long served as a mouthpiece for the CIA, so it’s not like he lacks sources he could ask about why we’re going to start using signature strikes in Yemen. If he asked, he might find out that we’re using signature strikes because the civil war Ali Abdullah Saleh’s leadership failures incited is considered a threat to the US (or to the Saudis), independent of any threat AQAP might represent.

But instead, David Ignatius, DC insider, says we’re ramping up drone strikes, ergo al Qaeda must pose a significant, continuing threat.

The line actually serves as the punch line of a larger, equally poorly argued piece “proving” that because people are rebelling against the dictators who used the war on terror as yet another excuse to oppress their people, Osama bin Laden has won.

Egypt is a case in point: This has been a year of mostly nonviolent democratic revolution. But it has brought to power some Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood groups that share common theological roots with bin Laden. And the al-Qaeda goal of driving the “apostate,” pro-American President Hosni Mubarak from power has been achieved.

I would dismiss all this as more beltway inanity. But Ignatius wields this (il)logic even while he waves around those OBL documents he got in an authorized, exclusive leak from the Administration.

As Wednesday’s anniversary of bin Laden’s death approaches, I have been going back over my notes of these messages. I found some unpublished passages that show how bin Laden’s legacy is an ironic mix: His movement is largely destroyed, but his passion for a purer and more Islamic government in the Arab world is partly succeeding. In that sense, the West shouldn’t be too quick to claim victory.

The message the Administration has deemed Ignatius solely worthy to interpret and read is that OBL turned to unifying Muslims behind reformed governance at the end of his life, and therefore reformed governance must be opposed because it would represent a victory of what he calls “electoral bin Ladenism.”

And by pointing to documents that have purportedly been declassified but the rest of us aren’t permitted to see, and deploying the logic that says just because we’ve resumed targeting drones at people whose identity we don’t know, Ignatius “proves” there must be a reason to target those people and that reason must ultimately be OBL.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    “electoral bin ladinism”?

    christ a’mighty!

    “…The message the Administration has deemed Ignatius solely worthy to interpret and read is that OBL turned to unifying Muslims behind reformed governance at the end of his life, and therefore reformed governance must be opposed because it would represent a victory of what he calls “electoral bin Ladenism” …”

    every now and again, i tell myself that a fair number of reporters are just lower order intellects, i.e., just plain stupid . since this often happens when i am in disagreement with a reporter, the fairer view may be that i am disapproving of what is being reported. reporters and editors love to use “you’re jut shooting the messenger” to defend themselves from criticism of their reporting.

    but ignatius’ argument is stupid enough to bring his actual intelligence into question.

    throughout the muslim world for at least three decades (let’s start counting from ’70’s iran) there has been a revived interest in the importance of the muslim religion (just as there has been of the christian religion in the u.s.) in muslim nations.

    even in self-consciously, legally secular turkish society, religion is becoming prominent in society and hence politics.

    so how can ignatius possibly argue, except in a literal, pointless way, that muslim nations moving toward muslim religious involvement in politics is a victory for bin ladinism?

    it was this general movement in the direction of greater awareness of religious tradition that swept bin laden up and allowed him to become an intellectual leader. a bin laden was “dictated” by the social movement; he didn’t invent the social movement or even delineate its form.

    i wouldn’t be surprised to read an expert on the arab world write what i believe to be the case – that religious institutions are one of the few cohesive, effective social institutions in many arab countries. certainly there are secular political parties, but i doubt their ability to communicate with and command adherence from arab citizens ever approaches that of religious institutions.

    one thing one can say with confidence of this ignatius comment: it is a justification for endless war –

    bin laden is dead, but the sucker won.

    we must try harder to prevail, lads!

    onward from malta! oops, i meant djibouti.

  2. thatvisionthing says:

    I don’t know who bin Laden is. We are never allowed to listen to the people we bomb. All we hear is puppetry and ventriloquism. There’s a tell. If you find nothing questionable about the official story of 9/11, then bin Laden is that guy. Seems to me, though, whoever did 9/11 (a success with many parents?), the plain thing that was achieved is that the United States government outed itself as a lawless murderous terrorist at heart. They don’t believe in the Constitution or the people or people at all. No of, by and for. More like on, to and against. They are not me. The more I am not allowed to see, the more I do see the state rotting away. They think they can get away with turning Abe Lincoln’s right makes might upside down, but I think as they crumble it’s going to come back and bite them with a vengeance.

    In that sense, I see “bin Ladin” won.

    But it’s a stupid story.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Being “at war”, at least rhetorically, is the best friend a politician ever had. She can ignore dissent, even call it treasonous, subversive or unpatriotic. He can spend money and lives at a whim, with no one to object. She can break the law without risk of jeopardy and call it “protecting us”. Being “at war” is a politician’s crack cocaine, a high from which he can’t come down, lest the public again start speaking of accountability and having its own needs met, instead of endlessly deferring them to some fictional greater good known only to the politician, his sponsors and his speechwriters.

  4. MadDog says:

    Only tangentially OT – One might want to unpack in detail the commentary from both the interviewer and the interviewee in this evening’s 60 Minutes interview between CBS’s Lesley Stahl and the former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Services Jose Rodriguez.

    For those so inclined (and I am one), this is the 9 page transcript of the 60 Minutes piece as provided by CBS itself.

  5. MadDog says:

    On topic, John Brennan on Fox News (For Dummies) had this to say about our drones:

    “…This week it was reported that the Obama Administration granted greater leeway for the use of drone strikes in the ongoing effort to eliminate terrorists. Brennan praised their capability by saying, “tremendously capable tool to use against the terrorist abroad.”

    He went on to defend their use, “When we’re doing this, we are doing it in full consent and cooperation with our partners internationally. This is something that the president has told us we need to work closely with these partners. And so, in Yemen in particular, these groups, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in particular, are determined to kill Americans…”

    Uh John? Do you mean that when Pakistan’s parliament says no more US drone strikes they really mean “hit me again”?

    And uh John? Isn’t the US drone program classified as a US national security top secret? And nobody is allowed to talk about it? Isn’t that what your DOJ lawyers have been saying to the Federal courts?

  6. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And continuing the theme of John Brennan putting his foot in his mouth on the legally unmentionable US drone program, this from his ABC This Week interview this morning on the US drone strikes killing of innocents:

    “…STEPHANOPOULOS: This was a raid. Most of the attacks against Al Qaida over the last couple of years have been by unmanned drones. And they have decimated the top leadership. Are you concerned, though, that this is a technology that is now going to be exploited by our enemies? And do you stand by the statement you have made in the past that, as effective as they have been, they have not killed a single civilian? That seems hard to believe.

    BRENNAN: Well, what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed. Unfortunately, in war, there are casualties, including among the civilian population. We’ve done everything possible in Afghanistan and other areas to reduce any risk to that civilian population. Unfortunately, Al Qaida burrows within these areas, you know, safe havens as well as areas where there are civilians, but we’ve been very, very judicious in working with our partners to try to be surgical in terms of addressing those terrorist threats. And the president has told us, we want to make sure that we protect the American people. And unfortunately, sometimes you have to take life to save lives, and that’s what we’ve been able to do to prevent these individual terrorists from carrying out their murderous attacks…”

    (My Bold)

  7. What Constitution says:

    @ MadDog — Sigh. There you have it. Whatever we’re doing we deny actually doing, but if we’re doing it we’re right to do so, and if we’re erroneously describing how we’re doing what we insist we deny we might be doing, well, then it turns out we misspoke and what we’re actually doing (if we’re doing it, which we deny or at least won’t admit if there might be consequences for either admitting or doing) is the best thing to be done. So aren’t we doin’ great? If we’re doin’ anything, which we are — we’re doin’ great — but don’t quote me on that. Unless you approve.

Comments are closed.