As I have repeatedly noted, I think President Obama will protect John Brennan — and the CIA more generally — because of the mutual complicity built in between CIA and the White House over covert ops.
It’s not just that CIA knows the full details of the drone killings Obama authorized on his sole authority. It’s also that the CIA is still protecting the Office of the Presidency’s role in torture by withholding from the Senate documents over which the White House might — but did not formally — claim Executive Privilege. Obama did the same thing when he went to some lengths to prevent a very short phrase making it clear torture was Presidentially-authorized from being released in 2009; it wasn’t just the Finding that still authorized his drone strikes the President was protecting, but the Office that George Bush sullied by approving torture.
I also think Obama will stand by Brennan because they have worked closely so long Brennan is one of Obama’s guys.
Bloomberg View’s Jonathan Bernstein doesn’t agree, however. After dismissing Conor Friedersdorf’s version of the mutual incrimination argument, he suggests Obama is simply demonstrating to the national security bureaucracy he’s on their side.
Obama is concerned -– in my view, overly so -– with demonstrating to the intelligence bureaucracy, the broader national security bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in general, that he is on their side. The basic impulse to stand up for the people he appointed isn’t a bad one; nor is the impulse to demonstrate to the intelligence community that he is no wild-eyed peacenik softie who opposes the work they do. For one thing, he’s more likely to effect change in national security areas if experts in the government believe he’s at least sympathetic to them as individuals and to their basic goals, even if he questions some of the George W.Bush-era (or earlier) methods. For another, the ability of bureaucrats to hurt the president with leaks doesn’t depend on the existence of deep dark secrets. Every president is vulnerable to selective leaks and a drumbeat of steady negative interpretations from the bureaucracy.
And yet, overdoing support for the bureaucracy can have severe costs. On torture, for example, emphasizing the good intentions of those faced with difficult choices during the last decade makes sense. But failing to take action, and leaving bureaucrats with serious liabilities because the status of their past actions is unresolved, only may have made reassuring them of presidential support increasingly necessary. That’s not a healthy situation.
Again: some of the incentive to (at least at first) stand up for presidential appointees is inherent in the presidency, and a healthy thing to do even when the president believes people have misbehaved and should go. But throughout his presidency, Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to potentially crossing his national security bureaucracy, and I strongly suspect that torture and other Bush-era abuses are both part of the original cause and will cause more of that timidity down the road.
Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to crossing his NatSec bureaucracy?
First, as I have already noted, Obama was perfectly happy demanding David Petraeus’ resignation for fucking his biographer. While I have my doubts whether that was really the reason — and while by firing him, Obama undercut a potential 2012 rival — he didn’t shy away from firing a man with some of the best PR in DC.
You might also ask the 19 top Generals and Admirals Obama has fired (most with the help of Bob Gates; also note the 20th on this list is Petraeus) — so many that conservatives accuse him of “purging” — whether he’s squeamish about crossing the NatSec bureaucracy. And while Micah Zenko’s comment on Twitter is correct that intelligence officials have largely escaped this treatment, Obama seemed happy to use Michael Leiter’s National Counterterrorism Center’s failure to stop the UndieBomb attack to fire then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.
President Obama is not a man afraid to fire members of the national security bureaucracy.
The starkest contrast with Brennan’s treatment comes from the case of Stanley McChrystal.
Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation not because his night raids were exacerbating extremism in Afghanistan. Not because many service members felt he had left them exposed. Not because, even then, it was clear the surge in Afghanistan was going to fail.
Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because Michael Hastings exposed McChrystal and his top aides (including Michael Flynn, who quit in April because of differences on policy) being insubordinate. Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because doing so was necessary to maintain the primacy of civilian control — like separation of powers, one of the bedrocks ensuring national security doesn’t trump democracy.
That, to me, is the important takeaway from comparing McChrystal’s fate with Brennan’s.
When a top member of the national security bureaucracy challenged the control of the civilian executive, he got canned, appropriately, in my opinion.
But when the Director of the CIA permitted his Agency to strike at the core of the separation of powers by investigating its overseers, Obama offered his support. Obama may have fired a top general for threatening Executive authority, but he has supported a top aide after he threatened Legislative authority.
You can come up with any number of explanations why Obama did that. But being afraid of taking on his National Security bureaucracy — as distinct from taking on the intelligence agencies, as Obama chose not to do when Clapper lied or when Keith Alexander oversaw the leaking of the family jewels even while getting pwned in his core cyberdefense capacity — is not the explanation.
Obama has proven to have no qualms about upsetting his national security bureaucracy. Just that part of it run covertly.
On Monday, I could only reply with the Twitter equivalent of uncontrolled laughter when Robert Caruso tweeted a quote from Stanley McChrystal, who was appearing on Morning Joe to hype the paperback release of his book. Responding to a question from Al Sharpton, McChrystal said, in Caruso’s transcription, “the military doesn’t have goals…we follow the policy of the nation”.
Of course, as Michael Hastings so exquisitely documented, McChrystal and his band of merry operators had as their primary goal the advancement of their own careers while also promoting the concept of forever war. And as Gareth Porter points out, David (ass-kissing little chickenshit) Petraeus gamed Obama on the end date for the surge in Afghanistan, significantly extending the time of maximum troop presence (and maximum fund flow to contractors). It is equally important not to forget the Pentagon operation that places “analysts” with television news operations, somehow always finding analysts whose views align with Pentagon goals of forever war (and more purchases from the defense contractors who employ these same analysts when they go to the other side of the revolving door). Yes, Eisenhower foresaw all of this and yet we ignored his warning in 1961.
But somehow last night’s headline from the Wall Street Journal seems on first blush to run counter to the concept of forever war. We are now told that the military’s latest plan for a troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year (pending a signed BSA, which is certainly not a given) would be only 10,000 troops (a significant reduction from previous ideas that have been floated) and that these troops would be drawn down to essentially zero in another two years, ending precisely with Obama’s term in office. The Journal offered this by way of explanation:
The request reflects a far shorter time frame for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan than commanders had previously envisaged after the current international mission ends this year. The new approach is intended to buy the U.S. military time to advise and train the Afghan army but still allow Mr. Obama to leave office saying he ended America’s longest war, the officials said.
So the military is pitching this latest plan as being an opportunity for Obama to claim “success” in ending the war. But we all know that the effort in Afghanistan has been an abject failure that has achieved absolutely nothing beyond killing a huge number of Afghans along with far too many coalition troops while squandering an obscene amount of US money. Instead, this looks to me more like the military moving to try to hang its failure on Obama by not extending the quagmire into yet another presidential administration. And that view seems to me to be reinforced by the military’s framing of Obama’s options:
Military leaders told Mr. Obama that if he rejects the 10,000-troop option, then it would be best to withdraw nearly all military personnel at the end of this year because a smaller troop presence wouldn’t offer adequate protection to U.S. personnel, said officials involved in the discussions.
The military wants this debacle to end during Obama’s term no matter what, and you can bet that is because their goal is to blame him for their failure.
But lest we raise our hopes that sanity has finally broken out within the walls of the Pentagon and that the generals finally have learned to hate war, we have this gem from Reuters: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Writing yesterday in the Daily Beast, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis provides a moving tribute to the late Michael Hastings. In the piece, we learn that Hastings didn’t merely help Davis by publishing Davis’ long-form unclassified report detailing how “progress” in Afghanistan as reported by the military has no basis in reality, but Hastings actually provided some of the inspiration for Davis to enter into his process of exposing military lies:
I first met Michael in early May 2011, while I was in Washington on leave from the combat zone in Afghanistan. I agreed to meet him at the behest of a mutual friend, though I was hesitant. Prior to that meeting the only thing I knew about Hastings was that he had authored the Rolling Stone piece that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Most people I knew in the military believed Hastings to be a raging liberal who hated the military. Yet because our mutual friend held him in such high esteem, I agreed to meet. I am so thankful I did so.
Within 10 minutes of meeting him my opinion had changed dramatically. I found him to be a very rational, honest, and respectful guy. He also showed real interest in and concern for the regular combat troop and was definitely not some “military hater.” Over the course of lunch that day I shared with him my frustration at what I believed to be a significant chasm between what some of our senior military leaders were saying in public and what I knew to be true behind the scenes. Michael told me that didn’t surprise him, because he’d seen it in his own experience over the years and had many soldiers tell him the same thing.
Note what fuels the relationship between Davis and Hastings. Both care deeply about regular combat soldiers and see that high-ranking officers are lying about what is taking place in Afghanistan. It is clear from Davis’ piece that this meeting with Hastings, and the understanding of Hastings’ motivations that the meeting provided, served as inspiration for Davis: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Yesterday, the Guardian published an article detailing how the US turned to the use of death squads in Iraq to quell the rise of Sunni militias. The article provides convincing evidence that this was an intentional policy and was in fact a central tenet of David Petraeus’ often-praised counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy. The key person in the Guardian’s reporting is James Steele, who was a veteran in organizing Central American death squads on behalf of the US during the Reagan years.
In reading the material from the Guardian, however, it should be kept in mind that Petraeus did not institute his COIN strategy only in Iraq. He put it into place in Afghanistan as well, and the fact that it lead to widespread allegations of torture and murder there demonstrates that the atrocities committed by these militias is a feature of the funding and training provided to them and not an unfortunate outgrowth, because this practice has now produced death squads in Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan. Recall that less than two weeks ago, Hamid Karzai called for the expulsion of US Special Operations forces from Maidan Wardak province due to allegations of abuse by the Afghan Local Police there. The Afghan Local Police are in reality groups of local militias trained and funded by US Special Operations forces and operating separately from the Karzai government. The ALP became one of the primary features of Petraeus’ COIN strategy when he moved it to Afghanistan.
Here’s the opening of the Guardian article:
The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.
Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic shows.
Via email, my friend Kirk pointed out this report from Newsweek back in early 2005 where the concept of the Salvador option was floated openly by the Bush administration:
What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called “the Salvador option”–and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. “What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are,” one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. “We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing.” Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking “the back” of the insurgency–as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time–than in spreading it out.
Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported “nationalist” forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success–despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras. There is no evidence, however, that Negroponte knew anything about the Salvadoran death squads or the Iran-Contra scandal at the time. The Iraq ambassador, in a phone call to NEWSWEEK on Jan. 10, said he was not involved in military strategy in Iraq. He called the insertion of his name into this report “utterly gratuitous.”)
The most disgusting aspect of this apparent “trial balloon” floated by the Bush administration is that the program quite possibly was already underway when the Newsweek article came out. The Guardian article reminds us that Petraeus, the architect of this program, was sent to Iraq in June of 2004 (this was his second deployment to Iraq) to begin training Iraqis, and the Newsweek article wasn’t published until January of 2005. Steele, who was reporting directly to Rumsfeld, first went to Iraq in 2003 (Rumsfeld delighted in running his own people separately from the chain of command; he did this at times with McChrystal as well).
More evidence that the program was entirely intentional comes from the role of torture in the program and the moves the US made to ignore torture just as the program was put into place. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Happy Monday. Insert a picture of that cat here–you know which one. I resemblez it.
• Good gravy, people. When National Geographic Magazine covers drones, it’s way past time for a national dialog about their use domestically. Crop dusting, my backside; there’s nothing except for the subhead in this article to genuinely suggest the designers, manufacturers, and potential buyers of drones are thinking about non-surveillance, non-policing applications for these unmanned aerial devices.
• Of course it hasn’t helped our current condition that not one but at least two generations of military were shaped into the “Generation Kill” mold, about which Foreign Affairs learns from retired General Stanley McCrystal.
“People hear most about the targeting cycle, which we called F3EA — “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze.” You understand who or what is a target, you locate it, you capture or kill it, you take what intelligence you can from people or equipment or documents, you analyze that, and then you go back and do the cycle again, smarter.”
Color me skeptical, but this doesn’t sound like appropriate training future civilians–those now serving in our military–will use for guiding crop dusting or weather monitoring drones.
• “Generation Kill” has a shadow identity, as well; the legitimately uniformed forces have dark counterparts in crime, which is likely shaped by the same attitudes as the military and police who chase them. Thwarted in illegal weapons sales, the supply chain arms traffickers use may be put to use in purveying goods of a different kind of kill. The horsemeat contamination scandal in Europe appears to be built upon the infrastructure of criminal arms dealer Viktor Bout. Where once illegal weapons might have been hidden in dog food, now illegal dog food is hidden in, well, our food.
• Of course, when this all gets too serious and we need to be distracted, somebody offers up a clown since bread and circuses always work to appease the masses. Today’s fool is Gérard Depardieu, savaged for his luxe lifestyle and his exile from his mother country. France’s current “supertax” policy–75 percent assessed against all income above one million euros, intended as a short-term fix to a national budget deficit–ostensibly drove Depardieu into the arms of the ever-execrable Russia. The actor whose work is synonymous with modern French cinema is now reviled as minable, pathetic. What seems incredibly pathetic to me is the strident ignorance of both policy makers and the French; only 3000 countrymen were subject to the tax, and it is too easily escaped. Was the problem really with these 3000 that the budget suffered, or were other structural problems at fault that might not yet be repaired? One can see readily how a similarly simplistic law enacted in the States could have similarly ridiculous and ineffective results. But Depardieu is an easy, large, and slow-moving target, not unlike the French royals who could not outrun the guillotine. Minable, indeed; how readily the populace is distracted by redirection to a clown.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a fascinating story about how the NeoCons–in the form of Fred and Kim Kagan–kept control of the strings on our Generals in (Chandrasekaran’s story is limited to) Afghanistan. The Kagans effectively moved to Afghanistan and served as private, high level advisors for Petraeus, all funded by the defense contractors funding AEI and Institute for the Study of War.
The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.
The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.
The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. [my emphasis]
Perhaps more frightening than that is the way the Kagans threatened Stanley McChrystal to be allowed to check his work in Afghanistan.
The Kagans should have been thrilled, but they soon grew concerned. They thought McChrystal’s headquarters was not providing enough information to them about the state of the war. The military began to slow-roll their requests to visit Afghanistan. In early 2010, they wrote an e-mail to McChrystal, copying Petraeus, that said they “were coming to the conclusion that the campaign was off track and that it was not going to be successful,” Fred Kagan said.
To some senior staff members in McChrystal’s headquarters, the e-mail read like a threat: Invite us to visit or we will publish a piece saying the war is lost.
Worried about the consequences of losing the Kagans, McChrystal authorized the trip, according to the staff members.
The story notes that John Allen has afforded them access as well.
So effectively, Neocons who have repeatedly led the cry to escalate our wars have been given personal access to the war, paid for by the people profiting off these escalations.
As fascinating as the story is, it doesn’t yet tell the full narrative of what the Kagans were doing.
For example, why is Chandrasekaran just reporting it now? Has David Petraeus’ star fallen sufficiently for sources to start revealing what was apparent to all of us watching, he was a NeoCon puppet? Or is it surfacing because of the review by military lawyers, bolded above?
Or is it coming to light now because of the close scrutiny Petraeus’ communications and actions received after he was caught diddling his biographer? Chandrasekaran’s sources claim the people running the war didn’t know Neocon advisors were camped out with SCI clearances reading Taliban intercepts (hey! didn’t we try to make peace with the Taliban?!?!).
The extent of the couple’s involvement in Petraeus’s headquarters was not known to senior White House and Pentagon officials involved in war policy, two of those officials said.
So if they just discovered it after the Paula Broadwell affair, it would make sense that it is now leaking.
Then there’s a temporal feint Petraeus’ allies are trying to pull off. A former aide suggests Petraeus brought the Kagans in simply because he had less knowledge of Afghanistan than he had in Iraq.
“Petraeus relied on the Kagans for a fresh set of eyes . . . because he didn’t have the same nuanced understanding of Afghanistan that he had of Iraq,” a former aide to Petraeus said.
That is, Petraeus wants to suggest this arrangement existed only in Afghanistan (not insignificantly, the period of time when Petraeus’ communications would be under review because of the Broadwell scandal).
But Chandrasekaran makes it clear it goes back further. Petraeus started providing Neocons access back in Iraq, and he did so, in part, because they served as publicists for the publicity hound General.
The Defense Department permits independent analysts to observe combat operations, but the practice became far more common when Petraeus became the top commander in Iraq. He has said that conversations with outside specialists helped to shape his strategic thinking.
The take-home benefit was equally significant: When the opinion makers returned home, they inevitably wrote op-eds, gave speeches and testified before Congress, generally imparting a favorable message about progress under Petraeus, all of which helped him sell the war effort and expand his popularity. [my emphasis]
These think tankers, funded by defense contractors, were selling Petraeus right along with their escalating wars.
Besides, we know Fred Kagan, at least, was getting this kind of access during Iraq and using it to sell the escalation. As I noted in 2008, the back channel between Dick Cheney–who after being instructed by the Saudis, was pushing the surge–and Petraeus through Jack Keane is the untold story of the official narrative of Iraq.
And then there’s the curious near-total absence of Dick Cheney from the first three-fifths of the book, the part describing the debates over a new strategy in Iraq, even while Woodward admits Cheney continued to “offer his views directly to the president.” Cheney’s absence is particularly problematic given the reports that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “summoned Cheney” to Riyadh to express displeasure (andissue threats) about the Iraq Survey Group’s proposals just before the time when–Woodward reports–Bush made up his mind to support a troop escalation.
According to Hadley, that moment [when Bush decided in favor of a surge] had come when the president called him in mid-December 2006 and said, “I’m getting comfortable with my decision, but I don’t want to give a speech yet.”
Particularly given Woodward’s portrayal of the way Cheney later fiercely guards his back channel access through Jack Keane to David Petraeus–breaking the chain of command to protect the surge from all regional considerations–the description of Cheney as distanced from the decision to support the surge seems odd.
Woodward made it clear, though, that AEI (that is, Kagan) was getting classified information to build his theory of the surge.
So this puppet mastery is in no way new to Afghanistan. It’s just that the Afghan story is coming out, without yet being connected to the escalation that still remains the fictional success story orchestrated by the heroic General Petraeus and his merry band of think tanker-publicists.
And aside from my point above–that their access to Taliban intercepts means the Kagans would have had a view on any peace negotiations–there’s Chandrasekaran subtle suggestion that the Kagans dictated the surge in Afghanistan, too, advocating for the targeting of the Haqqani network at a time when President Obama was trying to reel in the war.
Their immersion occurred at an opportune time. Petraeus was fond of speaking about the importance of using troops to protect Afghan communities from insurgents, but he recognized that summer that the Obama White House wanted to narrow the scope of the war. As a consequence, the general decided to emphasize attacking insurgent strongholds — and so did the Kagans.
The Kagans believed U.S. commanders needed to shift their focus from protecting key towns and cities to striking Haqqani encampments and smuggling routes, according to several current and former military and civilian officials familiar the issue.
In the late summer of 2010, they shared their views with field officers during a trip to the east. “They implied to brigade commanders that Petraeus would prefer them to devote their resources to killing Haqqanis,” said Doug Ollivant, a former senior adviser to the two-star general in charge of eastern Afghanistan.
But Petraeus had not yet issued new directives to his three-star subordinate or the two-star in the east.
The suggestion is the Kagans drove the new focus on the Haqqanis–indeed, were even issuing orders to officers before Petraeus was doing–just at the time Obama was trying to de-escalate the war.
The implications of this story are quite sobering, though Chandrasekaran has just begun to map it all out. Paid representatives of the war industry twice intervened with David Petraeus to get him to extend and expand the war. And in the case of Afghanistan (and I suspect even in the case of Iraq) they did so by bypassing the entire chain of command.
It is time for the Formula 1 Grosser Preis Santander Von Deutschland 2012. There is that.
Then there is the fact Jon Lord has died. If you do not know Jon Lord, he was a founding member of, and keyboard player for, Deep Purple. One of the more underrated keyboard players, and bands, of all time (by my book anyway). RIP
And, indescribably, twelve more souls died in Aurora, with scores more injured gravely. I would love to say something pithy, profound and appropriate. However, I have no clue what that would be.
A lot of other stuff has also transpired demanding extreme talking of the trash. The video embedded to the upper right is custom made by my daughter, Jenna, and I, from CGI runs of the Hockenheimring set to the sounds of the timeless Deep Purple classic Highway Star. All for this F1 Trash and wake for the Lord thread. Okay, mostly her work, but she swears even I can be taught the necessary skills. We’ll see about that. With no further adieu…..
We are in the summer doldrums. No football. No basketball. Do they even play hockey in the States? I forget. I understand there is some kind of athletic contest coming up across teh pond. In a move that may well INCREASE the safety of one and all, in Olympic Village and the world over, actual stiff British upper lip troops will be filling in for corrupt, fraudulent and incompetent G4 Mercenary Contractors.
Other than that, there is the start of the second half of the baseball season and……Formula One! This week is the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
Uh, BREAKING NEWS: My TeeVee just told me:
“For years people have been working to perfect the margarita. At last, the wait is over. Introducing Bud Light Lime Margaritas. The ready to drink margarita. With the refreshing twist of Bud Light Lime.”
At any rate, qualifying is about to go off at the German Grand Prix. Hockenheimring is a relatively flat, and traditionally very fast circuit. The video really gives a good feel for it. Although shorter than originally laid out to be, it is still nearly three miles long and presents numerous opportunities for overtaking.
At practice, the rain spoiled the fun, and especially so for the German favorite, Michael Schumacher. The Mercedes team may be further plagued by a five place penalty on the grid due to a gearbox change in Nico Rosberg’s equipment. Things were brighter, however, for McLaren, who saw Jenson Button be fast with Lewis Hamilton close behind.
The skies do not look to clear for Saturday’s qualifying, but the rain may hold off. [Quick addendum: watching Q3 now and the track is soaking wet. Both Alonso and Schumacher are radioing that it needs to be stopped, but the stewards do not appear so inclined. The ability of these drivers to keep their cars on the track in these conditions is simply stunning] Race day will be a crapshoot though. Updates after qualifying will be in comments below.
Which brings us to Aurora. I was still up early Friday morning when the first word of the tragedy started coming in. I thought about posting something, but was so numb there was just nothing to say. Not sure much has changed in that regard. The root facts are on the usual relentless babble stream of cable news etc. and I have not even checked in in a bit to see the latest. The one take that really stuck out to me was by David Sirota, who lives literally right by the scene in suburban Denver:
Confronting that question, of course, is mind-bending and painful — in the age of “War on Terror” agitprop that purposely defines terrorism in one specific, narrow and politically convenient way, it’s akin to the cognitive difficulty of pondering the size of the universe … or, perhaps, death itself. It takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to consider the causes of all kinds of extremism and violence — not just the foreign Islamic kind that we so flippantly write off as alien. Indeed, at a time when so many bloodlusting Americans cheer on our government proudly assassinating the imams who allegedly inspire Muslim terrorism, a shooting like this (if, indeed, it had nothing to do with Islamic extremism) begs us to wonder why we don’t feel similarly bellicose or enraged at the inspirations fueling so many other forms of terrorism — whatever those inspirations may be.
These contradictions and omissions, of course, are why such a question will almost certainly be ignored in the now-practiced kabuki theater of horror porn — the kind where vote-seeking politicians issue meaningless platitudes, ratings-stalking reporters breathlessly recount the gory details and attention-starved pundits preen in front of cameras to prognosticate about the electoral implications of mass murder in a presidential swing state. Carefully avoiding the T-word, it is a conspiracy of distraction and reduction, playing to our reflexive desire for soothing diversions and simple answers. The conspirators expect that when the cameras eventually pan away from the cataclysm, we will slip back into hyper-sleep for another few weeks, until the next massacre hits, and then the cycle will begin anew.
Yep. About right.
There may not be much front line sports on this weekend, but there is certainly a lot to talk about. What have you all been up to? What is on your mind? Let’s talk.
In addition to saying something I’ve said for a while–that our poor education outcomes are a bigger threat to our country than al Qaeda–Stanley McChrystal also had this story to tell at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
“I hope we won’t be a country that uses [drones] to the exclusion of” trained personnel on the ground, he said. He noted the importance of U.S. forces living in foreign countries and learning the local languages. To hit home his point, he described a chilling account of the wrongful execution of a civilan farmer in Afghanistan by a U.S. drone strike. “We fired a missile and killed him and found out he was a farmer,” McChrystal said. After the assassination, McChystal replayed the event to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a laptop who told McChystal the farmer was engaged in routine irrigation work just prior to the missile strike–an activity the U.S. military should’ve been familiar with. “You have to know these sorts of things,” McChrystal told the crowd. [my emphasis]
On Twitter I joked that assassinating farmers in arid countries who try to irrigate their fields is a plot to sell Monsanto seeds (the guy we killed with Fahd al-Quso was reportedly also a farmer tending his fields); that was, of course, just snark.
But consider what it is: an example of the way that our drone strikes terrorize the kinds of productive activities Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen need to reestablish some kind of stability.
Which brings me to this point from a guest poster at Tom Ricks’ blog: the targeting rules in Afghanistan (the farmer described by McChrystal notwithstanding) are far more strict than they are in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia because our troops are there.
Panelists noted that in Afghanistan, ISAF has been very effective at using drones as part of the larger military campaign. Strict rules govern the use of drones under ISAF command. Under no conditions, for example, are drones used to attack buildings, given the possibility that unidentified civilians may be inside. Such rigidity results not solely from a belief in abiding by the rules of war, but from a conviction that any civilian deaths threaten greater instability. In the hinterlands of Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, where ground troops are unable to help vet potential targets or engage with local populations to redress errors, drones have struck more fear and resentment in local populations than confidence, one panelist concluded. [my emphasis]
The implication is that our troops are there and therefore we have firsthand knowledge, and I’m sure that’s a big part of things (though I suspect one reason McChrystal recognizes the need to improve education is that our troops will only figure out things like local irrigation customs if they’ve got a more sophisticated education than most American high school grads). But I wonder, too, whether having troops stationed locally makes the value of stability more readily apparent to American planners.
It’s always the people on the ground–whether they’re Pakistani, Afghan, Yemeni, or American–who best recognize the value of stability.
With the importance of stability in mind, consider this post from Chris Swift, which purports to refute the “drone blowback fallacy.”
Back in February of 2010, US President Barack Obama’s surge of troops in Afghanistan began its offensive by trying to take the Marja district of Helmand Province. Then US commander of forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal famously touted his counterinsurgency program for the area, saying “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in”.
Eight months into the battle for Marja, we had this:
As U.S. involvement in the war enters its 10th year, the failure to pacify this town raises questions about the effectiveness of America’s overall strategy. Similarly crucial operations are now under way in neighboring Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace.
There are signs the situation in Marjah is beginning to improve, but “it’s still a very tough fight,” said Capt. Chuck Anklam, whose Marine company has lost three men since arriving in July. “We’re in firefights all over, every day.”
“There’s no area that’s void of enemy. But there’s no area void of Marines and [Afghan forces] either,” said Anklam, 34, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It’s a constant presence both sides are trying to exert.”
The result, so far at least: Residents say the town is more insecure than ever.
“There was peace here before you came,” farmer Khari Badar told one Marine patrol that recently visited his home. “Today, there is only fighting.”
Of course, the Defense Department would have us believe everything is now fine in Marja. They staged a stroll through the marketplace back in February by a Deputy Defense Secretary, presumably to mark the two year anniversary of the offensive. I wonder if this stroll was as heavily protected as John McCain’s 2007 stroll through a Baghdad marketplace.
But even though we are supposed to believe the offensive worked in Marja and the Taliban were routed, there was this from DoD on actions from April 15 of this year: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Coming so quickly on the heels of Lt. Col. Daniel Davis documenting the depraved level of lying that characterizes the primary mode of action for many at the top levels in our military, it’s galling that Admiral William McRaven would take to the front page of today’s New York Times to advance his efforts–hilariously and tragically labeled by the Times as a “quiet lobbying campaign”–to gain an even freer hand for the Special Operations Command, which he heads.
Never forget that it was from within Special Operations that Stanley McChrystal shielded Camp NAMA, where torture occurred, from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Never forget that it was Special Operations who instituted the dark side of the COIN (counterinsurgency) campaign in Afghanistan that relied on poorly targeted night raids that imprisoned and tortured many innocent civilians. Never forget that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld bypassed the normal chain of command to work directly with Stanley McChrystal when he headed JSOC, sending McChrystal on missions not reported to area command. This relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld had a strong effect on JSOC, as noted by Jeremy Scahill:
Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch.
Among the military commanders being bypassed by Cheney and Rumsfeld was the head of SOCOM, the position that McRaven (who was McChyrstal’s deputy when most of McChrystal’s war crimes were carried out) now occupies, but this same attitude of teaming with the executive branch to bypass the regular defense chain of command has survived intact.
Today’s article in the Times opens this way:
As the United States turns increasingly to Special Operations forces to confront developing threats scattered around the world, the nation’s top Special Operations officer, a member of the Navy Seals who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels.
The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.
At least the Times does pay a short homage to the quaint, old way of the chain of command as it currently exists:
While President Obama and his Pentagon’s leadership have increasingly made Special Operations forces their military tool of choice, similar plans in the past have foundered because of opposition from regional commanders and the State Department. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading