I’ll Take Choice “C:” Civil Society

Barely expressed in the NYT’s long story about our use of paramilitary strikes in places we’re not officially at war is a conflict between three choices. The NYT piece describes the first two–a covert war run by CIA and briefed to Congress, or a covert war run by JSOC subject less oversight–as the choice the Administration is currently debating.

The Yemen operation has raised a broader question: who should be running the shadow war? White House officials are debating whether the C.I.A. should take over the Yemen campaign as a “covert action,” which would allow the United States to carry out operations even without the approval of Yemen’s government. By law, covert action programs require presidential authorization and formal notification to the Congressional intelligence committees. No such requirements apply to the military’s so-called Special Access Programs, like the Yemen strikes.

Implicit in the choice, is the question of whether or not we want to partner with the Yemeni government as we launch attacks on extremist groups in the country.

In part, the spotty record of the Yemen airstrikes may derive from another unavoidable risk of the new shadow war: the need to depend on local proxies who may be unreliable or corrupt, or whose agendas differ from that of the United States.

American officials have a troubled history with Mr. Saleh, a wily political survivor who cultivates radical clerics at election time and has a history of making deals with jihadists. Until recently, taking on Al Qaeda had not been a priority for his government, which has been fighting an intermittent armed rebellion since 2004.

And for all Mr. Saleh’s power — his portraits hang everywhere in the Yemeni capital — his government is deeply unpopular in the remote provinces where the militants have sought sanctuary. The tribes there tend to regularly switch sides, making it difficult to depend on them for information about Al Qaeda. “My state is anyone who fills my pocket with money,” goes one old tribal motto.

The Yemeni security services are similarly unreliable and have collaborated with jihadists at times. The United States has trained elite counterterrorism teams there in recent years, but the military still suffers from corruption and poor discipline.

So we are partnering with forces with occasional ties to our enemies, but the Administration fights fully briefing this stuff to Congress for fear it will be leaked?

Partnering with local governments also make them a target for al Qaeda retaliation, effectively setting off a contest between the government and al Qaeda about who does more damage. It seems to me this creates a need for a counterinsurgency strategy–but with a governmental partner that (like the corrupt Hamid Karzai) we don’t particularly want to partner with.

Meanwhile, this expanded secret war always seems to be expanding into places were the absence of real government and civil society creates a haven for extremists.

Which is presumably why the former Ambassador to Yemen suggests we need to do far more to develop government and civil society.

Edmund J. Hull, the United States ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to 2004, cautioned that American policy must not be limited to using force against Al Qaeda.

“I think it’s both understandable and defensible for the Obama administration to pursue aggressive counterterrorism operations,” Mr. Hull said. But he added: “I’m concerned that counterterrorism is defined as an intelligence and military program. To be successful in the long run, we have to take a far broader approach that emphasizes political, social and economic forces.”

Obama Administration defenders say they are–but they emphasize training troops, not investment in things that would lead to civil society.

Obama administration officials say that is exactly what they are doing — sharply increasing the foreign aid budget for Yemen and offering both money and advice to address the country’s crippling problems. They emphasized that the core of the American effort was not the strikes but training for elite Yemeni units, providing equipment and sharing intelligence to support Yemeni sweeps against Al Qaeda.

As I read the article and thought about these issues, I kept thinking back to one of the better responses to the flap over the Time cover showing the mutilated Afghan girl. Richard Sanchez argues that the problem for women in Afghanistan–indeed for all Afghans–arose from a US policy that served to strengthen warlords. He argues that the solution must aim to eliminate the divisions that empower warlords.

The answer to the warlords — and more importantly to what Afghans, especially the young, call “warlordism” — is the economic strengthening of the popular base. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently unveiled a program to lure the economic Taliban, that is, fighters who fight mainly for the wage, away from the insurgency with the lure of jobs. In this she has heeded the words of Karl Eikenberry, now the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, but formerly the commander of U.S. forces there, who told the House Armed Services Committee in 2007: “Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families.”

But Clinton’s proposal threatens to fail by not going far enough. If jobs, preferably involving the construction of basic infrastructure, are politicized and given only to those who quit the Taliban, then those ex-combatants and their families will become targets for retaliation. This would add yet further impetus for violence.

A decade after it was a central topic of debate in the Presidential election, we still haven’t figured out how to “nation build,” how to eliminate the vacuums of power that al Qaeda’s affiliates exploit. And we seem to have little imagination of how to do so outside of the context of militarization which tends to polarize communities in dangerous ways.

The Administration seems focused on whether to conduct such polarizing strikes with or without a discredited partner. But both options, it seem to me, serve to undermine the most powerful alternative to al Qaeda, the development of a credible alternative.

Now, I presume the COIN folks would say that’s precisely what they’re trying to do. But so long as we’re dropping cluster bombs, so long as we’re choosing one corrupt leader over other corrupt alternatives, how seriously can we be trying?

  1. JohnForde says:

    The false dilemna- still one of the most effective informal fallacies in politics. Should we invade or just bomb?

    • Mary says:

      Or help them train their own military assassination squads to operate domestically “training for elite Yemeni units.”

      Interesing how what makes someone out of uniform a common criminal converts someone in uniform to the ranks of the “elite.” It’s always been such a stabilizing force – training domestic assassination squads. Too bad Pinochet’s not around anymore for Obamaco to hire as a consultant.

      • DWBartoo says:

        Yeah, poor ole Obamaco have to make do with the wacky-likes of Kissinger.

        Tough times, fur shore.


        • Mary says:

          & @6 – of course, he’d have to be willing to hire him away Fox News – offering fair & balanced commentary on the pros of assasinating your way to stability.

        • mattcarmody says:

          Poppy Bush is still around and through his acolyte Clinton he can still spread death and destruction as the foundation for arms deals. His family firm Brown Brothers has a long history of mayhem going back to Nicaragua in 1910. Why else would he allow Somoza to seek refuge in Texas after Ortega was elected back in the 80s?

          Now there’s talk of Hillary in a primary against Obama? Where’s the change in that? War profiteers and AIPAC wins no matter who gets the nod.

          • bmaz says:

            Where do you come up with this crap?? Calling Bill Clinton, or was it Hillary, an “acolyte” of Poppy Bush is bizarre, if not asinine. Whatever their record is, not that it is any great shakes I agree, it is not that. But, hey, why let facts slow you down, you are on a roll with bizarre crap, might as well keep it going, eh? Or is anybody named Clinton an acolyte of Poppy Bush? Roger? Chelsea? George Funkadelic Clinton? What a bunch of deluded rhetorical bunk.

      • klynn says:

        Too bad Pinochet’s not around anymore for Obamaco to hire as a consultant.

        Mary, your comments are on target. No pun intended.

    • Mason says:

      The false dilemna- still one of the most effective informal fallacies in politics. Should we invade or just bomb?

      We should withdraw all of our troops from the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, stop messing in their internal affairs, and eliminate all financial and military support the insane Israeli government.

      We wouldn’t have to worry about any terrorists except the home grown right wing types.

      The whole GWOT is just an excuse to invade countries with valuable natural resources, topple their governments, subdue the population, and turn over access to the natural resources to corporate America.

      That’s it. That’s all there is to it. That’s been our foreign and military policy since WWII. Terrorists and Communists are interchangeable terms — just someone to hate and kill to make the world safe for corporate exploitation.

    • DWBartoo says:

      “The false dilemma- still one of the most effective informal fallacies in politics. Should we invade or just bomb?”

      When added to the classic argument backed by a stick, “You are either with us or against us!” …

      Is generally sufficient “edvidence” to end the rational thought-process of many human beings. Especially when (never-to-be-questioned) “National Security” is tossed on “top” … secret.

      Until and unless this changes, through widespread discussion and broad popular understanding of the nature of fallacious argument and informal fallacy, the attainment and sustainment of “civil society” would be difficult, however otherwise, golden, our collective circumstance.

      When the legal “system” of society (“society”, understood as simply being how individual people treat other individual people), has been successfully perverted, and “captured” as our legal system appears to be, by money and by “power”, then the prospect of anything, less than true and utter catastrophe, of whatever kind, being able to change minds, and the behavior that follows along, would be most welcome. Yet, short of manifest individual conscience, what might that thing be?

      Somehow, the integrity of the law seems always, to me, however many times I might consider it … the nature and the quality of law, the import of the essential principles of it, seems crucial, central and primary, to improving such odds as may be in our favor.

      Reason must open the door, however, the law holds the key.


  2. klynn says:

    A decade after it was a central topic of debate in the Presidential election, we still haven’t figured out how to “nation build,” how to eliminate the vacuums of power that al Qaeda’s affiliates exploit. And we seem to have little imagination of how to do so outside of the context of militarization which tends to polarize communities in dangerous ways.

    (my bold)

    Just to put everything into perspective. The Peace Corps, founded in 1961, has only had nearly 200,000 serve to date. Only 4% of those volunteers have served in North Africa/Middle East.

    Peace Corps Volunteers have helped people build better lives for themselves. Their work in villages, towns, and cities around the globe represents a legacy of service that has become a significant part of America’s history and positive image abroad.

    8000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in North Africa/Middle East since 1961, in 39 years.

    As of Friday:

    US KIA Irak: 4,414

    US KIA Afghanistan: 1,225

    Iraki and Afghan casualties: estimates vary to over 1.5M

    US MBS 2010: 27,776 and counting

  3. DWBartoo says:

    Presumably, EW, all the uncivil, destructive, and ultimately, counter-productive “things” you describe are being done in the name of justice, of freedom, and of the American people?

    Well then, it is no wonder that these things are to be kept from the ken of “the people”.

    First, such “knowledge” would raise questions about what is happening, here, in the “Homeland”, regarding what Superman referred to as, “Truth, justice and the American way.”

    Second, such “knowledge” would require Congress to get up, off their big, fat, collective assets and engage in “oversight”. A state of affairs the Unitary Executive AND Congress clearly are disposed to avoid at all costs (literally), as apple-carts would be upset and profits would languish.

    Third, well revealing such “knowledge” would result in more searching and embarrassing questions and raise the specter of “Civil Society”, just as you have done.

    What would only be the beginning, of course, because other uncomfortable little “issues” like the rule of law and the intent of that quaint old rag, the Constitution would be on too many lips and ringing in too many ears.


    I’ll second you. Choice “C”, Civil Society … that’s for thee, for me, for most of “we” …


  4. fatster says:

    Oh, joy. Apparently, there is no end to all the riches that lie beneath Afghani sand. Each and every one requiring continued occupation, no doubt.

    Afghanistan Finds 1.8 Billion-Barrel Oilfield

    “The U.S., which has spent $27 billion since 2002 training Afghan forces, is promoting development of Afghan resources in an attempt to stabilize President Hamid Karzai’s government, U.S. Deputy Under-Secretary of State Paul Brinkley said earlier this year. During an Aug. 13 video teleconference, U.S. President Barack Obama and Karzai discussed the need to jointly keep the pressure on the Taliban and to build Afghan capacity.

    . . .

    “Afghanistan plans tenders for more than five mineral and energy projects by the end of 2011, including gold, copper, iron ore, gemstones, marble, lithium, oil and gas, Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani said in June.”


  5. Mary says:

    Geez louise, that NYT piece is disturbing in its entirety. The irony, with the Binyam Mohamed investigations pending, of Brennan and NYT repeatedly using the “scapel” metaphor, is really unfunny.

    It’s no wonder the many many Yemeni detainees, so many of whom seem to have been picked up and kept basedon the info supplied by the mentally disturbed detainee, have caused such a problem. It’s not just whether Yemen can provide security to hold them, it’s how their stories could do anything but destabilize Yemen further and act as seed for other countries as well. But the reaction has never been to make apologies, offer up compensation, etc. – just to use cluster bombs to take out civilians both originally and for days and weeks to come.

    An inquiry by the Yemeni Parliament found that the strike had killed at least 41 members of two families living near the makeshift Qaeda camp. Three more civilians were killed and nine were wounded four days later when they stepped on unexploded munitions from the strike, the inquiry found.

    And while, as you note, NYT limits the choices to using JSOC or CIA for the nationbombing Obamaco policy, apparently no matter who you use, Obamaco is happy firing off those cluster bombs and sending out those assassination squads to kill pregnant women based on info from, “local proxies who may be unreliable or corrupt, or whose agendas differ from that of the United States.” Oh, and double agents too.

    And not only is he using contractors (making it much more easy to understand why no one does anything about Blackwater/Xe and their contracts with State), but he’s gone back to the likes of Vickers (it’s not like there were any long range problems from Vickers mujahadeen building in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion) and Clarridge (who was indicted over Iran Contra) to implement his policies.

    I’ve said it before, but it needs to be resaid I think with this article – he can’t investigate Bush abuses bc he’s doing worse himself and he needs the Bush torturers and civilian assassains for his policies.

    He’s not a good man and the things he’s become responsible for are beyond awful.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      I’ve said it before, but it needs to be resaid I think with this article – he can’t investigate Bush abuses bc he’s doing worse himself and he needs the Bush torturers and civilian assassains for his policies.

      He’s not a good man and the things he’s become responsible for are beyond awful.

      Well said.

      There is no way the U.S. is going to do a better job of “nation building”. Nation building is simply imperialism. When the Soviets tried to enforce a more secular regime upon Afghanistan, and then tried to enforce that with military forces, the West called it Soviet imperialism. Well, the U.S. is engaging in Western imperialism. And it is using the classic tools of counterterror and counterinsurgency (hearts and minds), that were used in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, etc.

      The only reasonable program is withdrawal. But the powers at the top are way too frightened of losing access to oil, and they are not serious about developing alternative energy methods, or rationally planning for a transformation from a gasoline-based economy to something different. They are all about the profits and the bottom line this fiscal year or maybe the next. In the blindness of the drive for profits lies the Achilles heel of our society, and the direction taken to maintain that holy right leads straight to more and more war, a collision with the entire world itself. At home, the blind lead the blind.

      More jobs in Afghanistan? One needs access to Homeric forms of laughter to be able to respond adequately to such a cry from the politicians of a country whose inability to address the job issue in their own country is going to land them out of office fairly pronto.

      • Mary says:

        And so many of the “jobs” they are making is expansions of domestic military forces in those countries.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Those “target dates” seem to have been stage make-up for the US electorate, not a limit on government planning, not assurances to our allies and the government serving as “host” for our occupation and “nation building”.

    We seem intent on sticking to the prime directive of foreign policy, to borrow a phrase from a fictional federation that helped other worlds prosper. Our prime directive, though, has nothing to do with avoiding interference with a society not yet able to appreciate our “advanced state”. It has nothing to do even with the medical oath aspiration of “first, do no harm”. It is to redistribute upwards American tax dollars – paid predominantly by a shrinking and painfully squeezed middle class – to government contractors, analysts and advisers (shades of Art Buchwald).

    The latter aren’t interested in “getting it right” after our failures in Vietnam, the Carribean and South America, or in learning the lessons of failure in earlier occupations of Afghanistan, Algeria, SE Asia, India, and most of Africa. They are interested in growing their profits and do so by deepening the US Government’s dependence on their “services”. Symbiotic for the power elite in and outside of government (and for those executives living in both worlds simultaneously), that pattern is deeply harmful on the civil societies we claim to want to help as much as our own. The universal excuse of “national security” seems a more transparent a lie by the day.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      The universal excuse of “national security” seems a more transparent a lie by the day.

      For them, “national security” translates to the security they feel in stealing other people’s resources and maintaining a decent profit rate.

      Petraeus on MtheP today made it clear that there are “trillions” of dollars of resources in Afghanistan and that the U.S. is not relying on “political” considerations in regards to a withdrawal timetable. We’re there to “win”, he said.

      The future only augurs a more and more repressive government, insistent on protecting its program of imperial rule through military adventures abroad, until… a more coherent and organized political opposition in this country is formed. And it will not come from the Democratic Party, and certainly not from the likes of Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, much less (stifled guffaw) Harry Reid.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Reminds me of the best line in the Bourne Ultimatum, borrowed from some Dick Cheney speech:

        “Where does it end?”
        “It ends when we’ve won.”

        Won what, one might ask, how and at what price.

      • fatster says:

        Re Petraeus on the tee vee (which I didn’t see as I have no tee vee service): Did he say what it is we’re supposed to win (other than the vast wealth of natural resources which the corporations want)? Biden just a few weeks ago said we were there to get al-Qaeda (all 50 to 100 of them who are in Afghanistan, according to Panetta). And, of course, we had to go into Afghanistan nine years ago because Bin Laden was there and we were going to get him (as we should). Well, he seems to still be there, elusive as ever. Meanwhile, mission creep is flourishing as the NYT article so clearly laid out (I was quite surprised reading the article last night in reaction to its unusual clarity and specificity).

  7. Rayne says:

    There’s one shift occurring under our noses which bothers me: the word clandestine has almost disappeared, as has the distinction between covert and clandestine.

    Why are we allowing our military to take on covert actions? This was supposed be the realm of the CIA because covert ops needed to mask the identify of the operators. Shouldn’t any and all military action be fully identified as that belonging to a nation-state, and in this case, ours?

    • mattcarmody says:

      Big Brother and the Holding Company: The World Behind Watergate, Steve Weissman, ed., Ramparts Press 1974.

      Everything Nixon and the boys had planned has been implemented over the years and the band plays on.

  8. Cujo359 says:

    The Yemeni security services are similarly unreliable and have collaborated with jihadists at times.

    I’ve come to realize that this is always a potential problem when dealing with people you don’t know very well. Heck, it’s sometimes a problem with people you do know well. Police departments can be corrupted by mob money, or drug cartel money. Folks providing information often have their own agendas. Relying on too few sources inevitably means a significant risk of being wrong.

    I suppose the question is what we want to be wrong about. Do we want to be wrong about trying to bring someone to trial, or just killing them outright? I like the former better, because it’s still possible to correct the error.

  9. whattheincorporated says:

    Cultivates radical clerics?

    Mccain cultivated a number of radical clerics.

    Palin cultivated a witch hunter that probably had people he found as witches killed.

    Hey Russia, tell US that theres a Chechneyan terrorist ringleader hiding in DC and drone strike him. I’m sure if Medvedev took out the Chechneyan leaders hideout and part of the pentagon we wouldn’t complain because we do the same shit to other countries setting the ****ing precedant.

    China could say theres a chinese leader fomenting rebellion and drone strike a hideout on downing street, or maybe theres a fugitive hiding from North Korean justice in the US so they can drone strike us at will.


  10. whattheincorporated says:

    Oh good news Russia found a guy who might be a chechneyan terrorist in New York and dropped a hundred cluster bombs on the city…Medveded applauds his intelligence agencies surgical striking prowess and declared the 50 new yorkers taken out with the chechneyan collateral damage.

    If other countries did this shit to us wouldn’t we go to war with them in a heartbeat?

  11. rmwarnick says:

    I worked for a United Nations Development Program project in Yemen years ago. There are a lot of good things to say about Yemen, however unfortunately it’s a graveyard of well-intentioned development aid efforts by many countries.

    The goals of development, such as tech transfer and building the capacity of Yemeni ministries to solve their own problems, ran up against political and cultural factors. Yemen government officials tend not to take ownership of projects in order to guard against the likelihood of failure, leaving foreign expatriate “experts” to write reports and make recommendations that often don’t get implemented.

    Since I was there, the Yemen’s population has doubled. It would take a book to describe all the problems the country faces. The oil resources of Yemen seem to be limited, which means President Saleh (or his successor) won’t be able to buy the loyalty of the various tribes forever.

    • bmaz says:

      You know, in a way, that sounds like it could describe a great many significant countries in the mid-east really, in one way or another. Makes you wonder what the region might could have looked like with a more consistent, evenhanded, less militaristic and positive treatment from the west, and by far most significantly the US (and a curbing of Israeli militaristic wedging). Things could have been better there AND the US more secure here.

  12. fredcdobbs says:

    Why are we allowing our military to take on covert actions? This was supposed be the realm of the CIA

    Argghhh! The CIA is supposed to be an intelligence gathering organization. It’s use misuse as a paramilitary organization providing plausible deniability (at least for domestic audiences – the countries where these actions were taken had little doubt who was behind them) for covert military actions that were in violation of US and international law has been one of the most common and egregious abuses of executive power by US Presidents, Democratic and Republican alike since the end of WWII.

    After the Bay of Pigs, JFK specifically ordered the Pentagon to take control of covert military operations in order to reign in the unaccountable, freelancing activity of the CIA that was often taken without his knowledge and in direct contravention of his stated foreign policies. Unfortunately, his directives were never really implemented (examples: the continuation of Cuban exile raids during the missile crisis and the coup against Diem in South Vietnam) and this initiative ended with his murder in 1963.

    Obama is demonstrating why he is only a common political hack interested only in holding the office of President for his own, personal aggrandizement rather than to make the country a better place and a better world citizen. His actions, as described in the Times story show that his conduct of foreign affairs comes out of the same slime-bucket as those of Nixon (secret war in Cambodia, backing of corrupt, unpopular regime in Vietnam) and Reagan (Iran-contra).

    I guess we will never learn from history.

  13. gimlet says:

    this does not look like a journalistic article but one planted by the Pentagon.

    Google: Yemen Saudi America Houthis
    Then pick various articles to read what’s going on in Yemen.

    This link has a lot of background

    The US is fighting a proxy war for the Saudis in Yemen against the Houthi. The Houthi are a Shiite sect not Sunni. The article deliberately misrepresents them as al Qaeda.

    There are even earlier NYTs articles that deal with this conflict.

    the Saudi’s are nervous and confused as to how to deal with the situation in Yemen, with what is being described as a `Yemeni style Hezbollah’ on Saudi Arabia’s southern border. Especially threatening to one of the last theocracies in the world is a movement, like that of the Houthi’s based upon, as Bhadrakumar puts it, `ideas of political justice and equality with a highly disciplined and trained cadre that may come to inhabit the Saudi border areas’ . But it is not as if the Houthis are about to invade Saudi Arabia, rather it is the Houthi example that is so threatening.

    The movement’s early slogans did not target the central government in Sana’a but the Saudis, the United States and Israel in the aftermath of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel’s long mistreatment of the Palestinians. As Ali Abdullah Saleh’s was held together by the thread of US and Saudi support, he could not permit public expression of opposition to his allies to continue, fearing his funding base would be cut off. As a result, he felt pressure to try to crush the Houthi movement.

    There is a deliberate attempt to undercount Zaidi (Houti) numbers in the overall population but they could make up as much as 45% of the population according to one account.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I don’t see the process as the US fighting proxy wars for others so much as the US inventing ever more ways to keep its military spread and employed around the world with the latest toys. It’s about us, not what our putative allies want, I think.

      • gimlet says:

        I was only speaking about Yemen and did not mean it in general. However if they did it there they could be doing it elsewhere.

    • lareineblanche says:

      Good catch gimlet, that makes a lot of sense to me.
      …ideas of political justice and equality with a highly disciplined and trained cadre – yup, a Yemeni “Hizbollah”. It also makes sense that they would try to squash a Shiite movement, and that the US would want to back them covertly.
      Will read article.

  14. Synoia says:

    Osama Bin Laughing all the way to his cave, based on this latest news.

    Nation building by air strike? Nice. Ask the Germans in Dresden how well that went. Or the Londoners who survived the Blitz.

  15. stsmytherie says:

    Excellent work, Marcy. I’ll take choice C, too. But I’ve been saying that for a long time with little to show for it…

  16. bluedot12 says:

    The question you pose at the end is most difficult to answer. But the alternative, I would also suppose, is not to disengage. Yemen is becoming a center for al Queda and the xmas bomber was launched from there. As the article notes the admin is trying to figure out the best way to deal with these covert wars, i.e. the new “cold war” of choice with al Queda. I am afraid this sort of war (or threat if you like) will be around for some time. It immediately poses the question of whether you want this kind of “secret” war or a hot one like Afghanistan and nation building with a corrupt partner. I think the third alternative is to walk away, but that is neither popular with congress or defensible if we are again attacked.(and in Afghan there is a nuclear Pakistan to consider.) In a way this is simply the choice between the Biden formula or the Petraeus one. Stand back and shot, or jump right in and get messy. But either way we have to find a way to limit civilian casualties and, Oh how I wish, to get rid of, or limit, the “private contractors.”

  17. whattheincorporated says:

    Covert wars are bullshit.

    Would we let another country fight a covert war on american soil? Fuck no.

    We either declare war or we leave them alone.

    If we want to declare it fine, have a mission and objectives that are within reach not BushBomma’s “find the magical unicorn in Afghanistan”

    If we start bombing Yemeni cities people that aren’t radicalized will want to kill us. Not because they hate our freedomz or religionz but because we blew up half of their family in a “covert” drone strike. The “collateral damage” has mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, friends, loved ones and they’re all going to want a piece of us if we blow away people they love.

    They’ll be laballed terrorists, a lot of them might be, but the rest will be people that saw Abu Ghraib, had loved ones killed in cia terrorist bombings, friends that were disappeared in the middle of the night by JSOC and they will want blood.

  18. bobschacht says:

    Please excuse me for not reading all the way through the comments, but I’ve just gotten back from a weekend campout at a bluegrass festival and am trying to catch up. This from the top post jumped out at me:

    A decade after it was a central topic of debate in the Presidential election, we still haven’t figured out how to “nation build,” how to eliminate the vacuums of power that al Qaeda’s affiliates exploit.

    First, let’s start out by making a distinction, courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Nation-building:

    Traditionally there has been some confusion between the use of the term nation-building and that of state-building (the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in North America). Both have fairly narrow and different definitions in political science, the former referring to national identity, the latter to the institutions of the state. The debate has been clouded further by the existence of two very difference schools of thinking on state-building. The first (prevalent in the media) portrays state-building as an interventionist action by foreign countries. The second (more academic in origin and increasingly accepted by international institutions) sees state-building as an indigenous process. For a discussion of the definitional issues, see state-building and the papers by Whaites, CPC/IPA or ODI cited below.

    “The first (prevalent in the media) portrays state-building as an interventionist action by foreign countries” reveals what we are mostly talking about. We decide to try “nation-building” after invading a country and alienating its native population. We then try “nation-building” at the point of a gun. Of course, it doesn’t work. This is truly unfortunate because we, of all countries, ought to be the world’s experts in nation-building. But because of the way the term has been used in American politics, it almost always has a negative connotation– which it ought to have, if what it really means is forced conversion to American institutions at the point of a gun. As the Wikipedia article states,

    The confusion over terminology has meant that more recently, nation-building has come to be used in a completely different context, with reference to what has been succinctly described by its proponents as “the use of armed force in the aftermath of a conflict to underpin an enduring transition to democracy.”

    “This process aims at the unification of the people or peoples within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run.” Unfortunately, this is usually taken to mean the development of the State Army, and Police forces– which is what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, enforced by our imperial presence, and thus resented by the local population.

    In other words, we’ve gone about it all wrong.

    What we ought to have is something like a “National Institute of Nation [or “State”]-building,” staffed by teams with expertise in various aspects of building state institutions. For example:

    1. Building a national system of education.
    a. One team would specialize in Greg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea” approach to building primary schools in localities all around the country. Note that this process is driven at the grass-roots level, and not by imposition from a central authority.

    b. Another team would specialize in building a national system of higher education, to compete with the “Madrasah” which often foment anti-American propaganda. This system would be secular, and emphasize science, local literature and the arts, agricultural development, and particularly whatever was wanted and needed in the country, as defined by the country.

    2. A national system of health care, consisting mostly of (a) building hospitals and clinics, as desired by local populations, (b) setting standards of professional competence, and (c) establishing national systems (infrastructure) for supplying medications and other needed hospital supplies.

    3. Technical support in establishing local democratic institutions. Not just voting, but the whole idea of civics and citizen participation. Teams would be sent only in response to local demand, and not as part of U.S. government policy to “convert” the population.

    In other words, nation-building as a response to specific requests from foreign governments, and not as part of a program of colonialism.

    Bob in AZ

    • Mary says:

      Deep in EPU land – but great comment.

      THe one thing that I did like about Obama during the campaigning was the initiative he was going to launch, a worldwide education initiative, focusing on the failed state/poverty ridden areas. It was about the only thing that felt like it was real, not poll-crafted. But since it is, literally, taking an act of Congress to even keep teachers teaching here at home, I don’t see much likely progress in the future.

      • bobschacht says:

        Deep in EPU–
        Since my last comment I drove 7+ hours from Flagstaff to So.Cal. and am now catching up. Good to see kudos from you & klynn. Thanks!

        Bob in AZ (now CA)

  19. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nice comment. Since we’re not much into nation building at home, it seems irrational to expect us to be better at it far away.