Posts Tagged ‘War on terror’

9/11: the path not taken

September 11, 2016
Photo by National Park Service

Photo by National Park Service

After the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including the Muslim world, sympathized with the United States.

The whole world, including the Muslim world, condemned the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians.

The U.S. government had an opportunity to unite the world in bringing the Al Qaeda terrorists to justice.   This could have been a step to unite the international community behind a rule of law.

Instead the Bush administration chose to implement pre-existing plans to invade Iraq, whose leaders had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks.  The Obama administration has done likewise with Libya, Syria and other countries.

The result has been militarization of American life, eclipse of civil liberties and the deaths of many more innocent civilians in majority-Muslim countries than ever were killed in jihadist attacks on Americans and Europeans.

Even worse, a generation of Americans has grown up in which all these things are normal.

And jihadist terrorism, partly and maybe mainly as a result of U.S. policies, is stronger than ever before.

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Islam Karimov: death of a dictator

September 3, 2016

Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who died a few days ago, was a ruthless dictator comparable to the Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

uzbekistan-C-Asia-MAPA holdover from the Soviet era (appointed by Mikhail Gorbachev, no less), Karimov was known for his repression of the Muslim religion and of dissent of all kinds, and for forced child labor in cotton fields, his country’s chief export industry.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, said growing a beard or being seen praying five times a day could be enough to get you thrown in jail or to “disappear” mysteriously.

Yet Karimov was courted by Russia, China and the USA as an ally against radical Islamic terrorism.   Uzbekistan was an important transit point for supplies going to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

What should US policy have been?  Should our government be like China’s, which scrupulously refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, no matter how odious their governments?

Or should the US have armed Karimov’s opponents, as was done in Libya and Syria, to being about a change in the regime?

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Is Russia a worse threat than terrorism?

August 12, 2016

The justification of the whole military buildup of the past 15 years has been the need to protect Americans against the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.

Ashton Carter

Ashton Carter

Yet Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in recent testimony (actually several months ago, but I’m just catching up with it) ranks ranks terrorism as a lesser threat to the United States than Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The governments of Russia, China and Iran are in fact enemies of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the successors of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.  Targeting them indirectly strengthens terrorism.

What do Russia, China and Iran threaten?  They do not threaten American citizens.  They do not threaten the American homeland.

What they threaten is U.S. military superiority in eastern Europe, eastern Asia and the Middle East.  Protecting Americans from terrorism takes a back seat to what the Pentagon calls full spectrum dominance.

Risking war with any country without a good reason is both stupid and morally wrong.   But of all the countries in the world, Russia and China are the worst ones to pick as enemies.

Russia is the world’s second-largest nuclear power.  It is the only country in the world with the military capability to literally destroy the United States as a nation.

China is the world’s second-largest or maybe largest economic power.  It has the power to ruin the United States financially by ceasing to lend money and by cutting off supplies of essential U.S. imports.

The leaders of Russia and China, being rational, would not do this because they would ruin their own countries in the process.  The only ways this would happen would be if they were backed into a corner where they thought they had nothing to lose or—in the case of Russia—they found themselves in a situation in which nuclear war could be touched off accidentally.

The United States has by far the world’s most expensive military.  We Americans spend more on our armed forces than the next 10 countries put together.  But that doesn’t mean we have the world’s most effective military, especially when fighting far from home.

In fact, the big U.S. military budgets may be counter-productive.  Decision-makers may think the U.S. is so rich and powerful that individual instances of waste and ineffectiveness don’t matter.  Or that it is not necessary to set priorities.

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Comparison of wars

January 18, 2016

tumblr_nw0jagRPTt1ssb95mo1_500

Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

Two other similarities:

  • The war on terror is also a war at home; the war on drugs is also a war abroad.
  • U.S. forces keep eliminating “kingpins,” but never get any closer to victory.

Reflections on Deep State America

July 30, 2015

“Thoreau” on Unqualified Offerings called attention to an article by Philip Giraldi in The American Conservative about a favorite topic of mine—the Deep Statethe hidden government that seems to operate no matter who wins the elections.

Consider for a moment how Washington operates.  There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. 

quibvulturecitizenrydeepstateNevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion: Banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law.  Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved.  Citizens are assassinated by drones, the public is routinely surveilled, people are imprisoned without being charged, military action against “rogue” regimes is authorized, and whistle-blowers are punished with prison.  The war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far-flung battlefields, as well as torture and rendition, are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is rare.

America, the warlike predatory capitalist, might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.

via The American Conservative.

In many countries of Latin America and the Middle East, it is obvious that ultimate power rests with the military, working with an oligarchy of wealth.   Turkey is a good example, Giraldi wrote.  Such an alliance also exists in the United States.

America’s deep state is completely corrupt: it exists to sell out the public interest, and includes both major political parties as well as government officials.

1olPoliticians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards.   A bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives.

And no one is punished, ever. 

Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm, even though he knows nothing about financial services.  More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell has become a Senior Counselor at Beacon Global Strategies.  Both are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system and for providing current access to their replacements in government.

What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power, by creating bipartisan-supported money pits within the system. 

Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries, and financial services that feed off it. 

Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that make no sense, to include the un-winnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan.

via The American Conservative.

It will take more than a few individuals winning a few elections to root out this system.  It would take a strong and committed mass movement, embracing a majority of the American people, and astute leaders working over a long period of time.

I think it’s unlikely that the United States faces a danger of a military coup as in the movie “Seven Days in May” or in Chile in real life in 1973.  But there are other ways to topple an elected government.  The financial and national security elite have the power to create crises which the public will turn to them, and not the elected politicians, to solve.

The US is the enemy of the enemies of ISIS

July 30, 2015

One reason that Al Qaeda and ISIS are strong is that US attacks on Muslim countries create the conditions of chaos in which they flourish.  Another is that the US government has been more interested in undermining nations that happen to be enemies of Al Qaeda and ISIS that in fighting Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Kurdish people

Women of Kurdistan

The latest example of this is President Obama’s support of the Turkish government in its attack on the Kurdish people.  The Kurds are dedicated and effective enemies of ISIS and support democracy, religious toleration and women’s rights, which are supposedly the ideals the US government represents.

But Kurdish nationalism threatens the unity of Turkey, and the support of Turkey is essential to the covert war being waged by the United States against Syria, whose government also is an enemy of ISIS.

The “war on terror” which the United States began on Sept. 12, 2001, is on the one hand so urgent that we Americans are being asked to give up basic Constitutional liberties, but on the other hand not important enough to distract from overthrowing regimes that Washington has targeted—first Saddam, then Qadaffi and now Assad.

LINKS

The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish guerillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Has Iran cut off Hamas?  Is Hamas Turning to Saudi Arabia? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Libya invasion fostered chaos and terrorism

April 21, 2015

I read this morning about Islamic State militants beheading Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

So far as I know there was no ISIS / ISIL presence in Libya until after the U.S.-backed invasion and reduction of the country to chaos.   That has been the result of all the U.S. invasions—the creation of chaos in which terrorism spreads.

What Could Go Wrong?Muammar Qaddafi, the ruler of Libya, was a dictator and a supporter of terrorism in his day.  He was an imperialist who had designs on Chad and other countries to the soul.

But he was an enlightened despot who channeled his country’s oil revenues into schools, hospitals, roads and other internal improvements, provided free education and health care and improved the condition of women.

Libya under Qaddafi was a country in which a law-abiding person could lead a normal life without living in fear.  Now Libya has been reduced to chaos, many innocent people have been killed and the country has been given over to lawless militia bands and religious fanatics.

Who did that benefit?  Not Libyans.  Not ordinary Americans.  Qaddafi had tried to make peace with the West.  His overthrow and murder will be remembered by other rulers who are tempted to do the same.

Refugees are swarming across the Mediterranean from Libya and other countries, and being turned back.  Maybe the governments of Italy and France should have thought about that possibility before initiating the invasion of Libya.

Empires of the past imposed order.   We the American people do not want to take on the burden of empire, so all our government’s accomplsih is to spread death and destruction.

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U.S. actually backs al Qaeda rebels in Syria

March 6, 2015

It’s surprising how little of the “war on terror” has been directed against the actual killers who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” included Iraq and Iran, two nations whose rulers were enemies of al Qaeda, and North Korea, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The U.S. attacks on Iraq and Libya, and the attempted overthrow of the Assad government in Syria, created chaos and lawlessness in which al Qaeda could flourish.  The rulers of Libya and Syria had proven their willingness to co-operate with the United States, so what U.S. policy showed is that there is nothing to be gained in being a friend of the USA.

syrianrebelsNow the U.S. government is supporting the Nusra front, an al Qaeda unit, in Syria, as an alternative to the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) insurgents there.  Joseph Cannon of Cannonfire wrote an illuminating post about this.

If the U.S. government’s top priorities were to eliminate al Qaeda and ISIS, we would co-operate with their enemies, namely Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.  They are more effective fighting forces than the U.S.-trained Iraqi army.

Why don’t we?  Is it because Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and not al Qaeda and ISIS, are the main enemies of Israel and Saudi Arabia?  Do the Pentagon and State Department think it is possible to get control of Middle East oil by military force?  Or does continuous war have a self-perpetuating momentum that nobody is willing to stop?

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An excellent question

January 20, 2015

Why is it not OK to kill people in the name of a religion, but it is OK to kill people in the name of a nation?

via Ian Welsh.

A wall of secrecy hides graft and waste

December 29, 2014

In his new book, PAY ANY PRICE: Greed, Power and Endless War, which I finished reading last week, James Risen revealed the mass of corruption, waste, incompetence and failure hidden behind the wall of secrecy around the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security state.

The CIA and other secret agencies after 9/11 acquired enormous new powers of surveillance and control of ordinary American citizens.  But this only worked in one direction.  Ordinary American citizens had no knowledge of how their money was being wasted nor any way to hold culprits accountable.

Risen.PayAnyPrice41oSAThe basic problem was that, after 9/11, the security agencies were literally given more power and more money than they knew what to do with.

The decision-makers did not have a plan in place to wage a “war on terror,” but they plunged ahead anyway.

The imperatives of government bureaucracy are such that if you have money and resources, you had better use them, usefully or not, or else some other government bureaucracy will claim them.  Much of policy was shaped by the struggle for power and prestige.

One reason the CIA embraced torture was to expand its role in the war on terror.  One reason the American Psychological Association changed its ethics code to allow cooperation with CIA interrogators was to improve the standing of psychologists at the expense of psychiatrists.

Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had been trainers for the Air Force on how to withstand torture if taken prisoner, received millions of dollars in grants to reverse engineer the program for CIA interrogators.

The problem, as is now well known, is that the training program was based on Communists techniques intended to elicit false confessions.  It generated false statements about Saddam Hussein to justify the Iraq invasion, but, as the Senate torture report confirmed, it never produced useful information.   I find it hard to believe that torture never produced any useful information, but multiple sources, not just Risen, say this is so.

James Risen

James Risen

While the CIA attempted to duplicate the mission of Special Operations troops, the Pentagon set up an intelligence operation to compete with the CIA.  The Pentagon set up dummy corporations which became entangled with money launderers and arms smugglers in the Middle East.

The program was terminated, and Special Operations spokesman denied knowledge of the dummy corporations. An FBI investigation was begun and then called off.  Risen uncovered many suspicious associations but no proof of wrongdoing.  Probably nobody except those directly involved will know for sure.

Kellogg Brown Root, originally a Halliburton subsidiary, is a prime example of profiteering in Iraq.  KBR was given a no-bid contract to supply troops in Iraq, a job which otherwise would have to be done by troops.  This helped make it possible for the USA to go to war without a draft.  But there was no oversight, either of quality or waste of money.  Some 18 American troops died of electrocution blamed by faulty wiring installed by KBR.

Calling attention to problems through regular channels didn’t help.  Risen told of loyal employees within the government who reported lawbreaking, graft and waste to higher authority, all going through proper channels, and were sidetracked and reprimanded for their pains.

There are individuals who have much to answer for, but the corruption that Risen described is systemic.  It is the predictable result of what happens if you give people enormous authority and funding to use in secret, without meaningful accountability from above and without being subject to the law and Constitution.

The only people suffering legal consequences are the truth-tellers.  Risen himself is being prosecuted by the government for refusing to reveal his sources of information for his previous book, State of War.  His response, he wrote, is to go on writing.

∞∞∞

The Government War Against Reporter James Risen by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler for The Nation.  [Added 12/30/14]

History of changing allegiances in the Middle East

October 8, 2014

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Source: 15 Maps That Don’t Explain the Middle East in The Atlantic.

This chart shows America’s changing friends and foes in the Middle East.  The blue countries are friends, the red countries are foes.

Changes in allegiance come about through coups (gun), invasions (tank), treaties (pen), elections (check mark) or uprisings (man with flag).

U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East had some logic when its goal was trying to keep the region from coming under control of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  I don’t see any equivalent goal now.

graphical_version

Click to enlarge.

 Source: Slate

Bill O’Reilly wants anti-terror mercenary army

September 25, 2014

oreilly-mercenaries

The above is from Bill O’Reilly’s Monday evening appearance on Fox News. Source: Media Matters.

CBS_This_Morning_-Oreilly

The above is from O’Reilly’s Tuesday morning appearance on CBS News.  Source: Daily Kos.

§§§

For what it’s worth, the United States government already has an elite force for fighting terrorists.  It is called the Joint Special Operations Command.  Whatever can be accomplished through valor, training and military professionalism, they can do.

The problem is that if the U.S. government does not have a clear purpose in waging war, American troops can not accomplish that vague purpose, no matter how dedicated they are nor how skilled in use of deadly force.

The “global war on terror” does not have a clear purpose.  The U.S. government fights against certain terrorists under certain circumstances in the interest of advancing U.S. geopolitical power, while supporting other terrorists (and sometimes the same terrorists) when this fits the U.S. purpose.

Outsourcing U.S. military operations to mercenaries—and the dictionary definition of “mercenary” is “serving merely for pay or sordid advantage”—is intended to solve a political and Constitutional problem, not a military problem.

The political problem is that we the American people are not interested in fighting wars of geopolitical advantage.  We are only willing to fight when we think our own country is threatened.

Terrorism is not such a threat.  We Americans (and the world) are more in danger from the Ebola virus than we are from the Islamic States and its predecessors.  That is why our government has had to lie and exaggerate our perils in order to talk us into war.  Each time, the lies and exaggerations become less believable.

With a mercenary army, the political problem goes away.  Mercenaries would fight whomever they are paid to fight, no questions asked.  The drawback is that they wouldn’t necessarily be American citizens or have any loyalty to the United States.

We would face the historical problem of countries that depend on mercenary fighters, which is how to prevent mercenaries from turning against their employers when that is the more profitable option.

LINK [added later]

10 Frightening Facts About Private Military Companies by Pauli Poisuo for ListVerse.   Hat tip to djgarcia94.

Why we fight

September 25, 2014

ByX_Ou3IYAADiaHAbove is a letter to the editor to The Daily Mail in London concerning what military intervention in the Middle East is all about.  Actually it’s a bit out of date.  The Saudi Arabian government doesn’t officially support the Islamic State militants any more, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t get any support from individual Saudi Arabs.

Another interesting question is where Israel stands in all this.  The Islamic State (ISIS) and the other Sunni Muslim militias fighting in Iraq and Syria are enemies of Israel’s Shiite Muslim enemies, especially Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia and political party in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s backer, Iran.

I am always in doubt at moments such as this as to whether the President (whoever he is at the time) lacks a clear purpose, or whether he has a purpose that is not revealed.

LINKS

War Without End: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 by Jack Shafer for Bloomberg News (via Naked Capitalism).

The War Nerd: Bombs away in the Middle East!  But why is Israel so quiet? by Gary Brechter for Pando Daily.

Why the U.S. lost the war on terror

September 4, 2014

The war on terror is over …  Terror won. [1]

Following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began what was called the “war on terror.”  This war [2] has been lost.  Anti-American terrorists are many times stronger now than they were back then, and the U.S. government lacks a feasible strategy for fighting them.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including most of the Islamic world, was outraged at the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians, and rallied to the side of the USA.  There were pro-American demonstrations even in Tehran!

This would have been a great opportunity to shut down Al Qaeda for good.  Al Qaeda was a criminal conspiracy and a would-be mass movement.  The way to fight a mass movement is to cut it off from its popular support.  The way to fight a criminal conspiracy is to cut if off from its sources of money.  Both of these, in my opinion, were feasible at the time.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600But this was not the path that was taken.

Instead of targeting Al Qaeda, the U.S. government decided to target hostile governments—perhaps on the theory that the Pentagon does not know how to fight mass movements, but does know how to invade small foreign countries.

Instead of targeting countries in which Al Qaeda had its roots, such as Saudi Arabia, the U.S. invaded Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of Al Qaeda, while continuing its cold war with Iran, also an enemy of Al Qaeda.  Later the U.S. helped overthrow the government of Libya and plotted to overthrow the government of Syria, whose leaders, Qaddafi and Assad, were not anti-American, but eager to stay in the good graces of the U.S. government.

U.S. invasions reduced Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to bloody chaos, which are precisely the conditions in which radical and terrorist mass movements flourish.  Since the U.S. military has yet to figure out how to deal with insurgencies, the U.S. government has relied on assassination teams, flying killer robots and use of local forces as proxies.

Assassination teams are effective in taking out leaders.  I can’t count the number of times the death of Al Qaeda’s “second in command” has been announced.   Flying killer robots are less so.  But mass movements throw up new leaders.  Osama bin Laden is dead, and his original organization probably is need, but new Al Qaedas have sprung up in Yemen and Iraq, and the so-called Islamic State is even more radical than Al Qaeda.

Use of proxies has backfired time and time again.  The weapons the U.S. government gives to its supposed friends wind up in the hands of its enemies, either because the supposed friends are not willing to fight or because the supposed friends have their own objectives which are different from what we Americans think.

The USA has had too many enemies in the Middle East, so that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies.   We were enemies of the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran, but supported their Shiite allies in Iraq against Saddam’s loyalists and radical Sunni Muslim jihadists.   We were enemies of the radical jihadist Muslims, but we supported them against Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad.  Now Washington journalists and politicians talk about supporting Iran and its Syrian and Iraqi allies against the jihadist Islamic State.

It is no wonder there is no faction in the Middle East the U.S. government can trust.  Nor is it any wonder there is no faction that trusts the U.S. government.

Having no clear aims of its own, the U.S. government follows the lead of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchs such as Qatar, all of whom naturally follow their own perceived interests,

I am as horrified by the actions of the so-called Islamic State movement as anybody else.  But I can’t think of anything the Obama administration could do that won’t make matters worse.   Bomb the Islamic State forces?  Bombing from the air terrorizes and alienates the mass of the people below.  Arm the Iraqi government?  The U.S. arms they were given previously wound up in the hands of the Islamic State.   Arm the Kurds?  Maybe.

We Americans have lost all moral standing in the Middle East to denounce the crimes of the Islamic State.  That is because hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died as the result of U.S. military action, and hundreds of thousands more have been turned into refugees.  [3]   Nobody in that part of the world has any reason to take seriously anything an American says.  [4]   The Islamic State is an evil for the Arabs to deal with (or not), not us.

The best thing for us Americans to do is to admit defeat, wind down our presence in the Middle East and concentrate on rebuilding our own nation.

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Mark Mazzetti on The Way of the Knife

June 2, 2014

Lt. Col. John Paul Vann famously said during the Vietnam War that the best weapon in a war against insurgents was a knife, and the worst possible weapon was a bomb.   That is, in order to win, it is necessary to kill your enemies without killing indiscriminately and making new enemies.

Unfortunately for the United States, our armed forces in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan used the way of the bomb against enemies who used the way of the knife.

I recently finished reading THE WAY OF THE KNIFE: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth by Mark Mazzetti (2013), which is a study of the American attempt to substitute targeted killing for indiscriminate killing and why it failed.

wayoftheknifeIt is based on interviews with members of the CIA and Special Operations forces as well as freelance operatives.  Mazzetti is fair to their point of view and to the risks they ran to do their duty as they saw it.  He gives a good picture of the war on terror as they experienced it.

His book is excellent for what it is, keeping in mind that it does not deal with the war as experienced by civilians on the ground nor does it explore the higher-level economic and geo-political aims of the war (controlling oil, containing Russia and China).

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have become powers unto themselves, with their own policy agendas that are separate from that of the elected leadership .

This is not only a problem of implementation of military and foreign policy.  It is a Constitutional question which calls into question the possibility of limiting power by means of checks and balances.

Leon Panetta as a congressman was a strong critic of the CIA.  But when President Obama appointed him director of the CIA, he was warned of the danger of endangering CIA “morale,” which, according to Mazzetti, he took as a veiled warning.  Panetta quickly became a strong advocate for the CIA’s viewpoint within the administration.  And the Obama administration itself doubled down on the policies for which Barack Obama as candidate criticized the Bush administration.

Instead of checks and balances, the government has an internal conflict between the CIA and the Pentagon.  The CIA does not trust the Pentagon to react quickly and has developed its own para-military forces.   The Pentagon does not trust the CIA’s intelligence and has developed its own sources of intelligence.  In general, the CIA works with intelligence services of foreign governments, such as Pakistan, while the Pentagon regards them as quasi-enemies.

The CIA and Pentagon operate independently of each other, and often disrupt each others’ missions.  Then there are mercenaries, and independent operators which are only loosely controlled by the U.S. government.

American foreign policy is implemented and largely determined by the CIA and Pentagon.  The State Department and career diplomats have no say at all, as has been made clear at top-level meetings.

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NSA: a bureaucracy in search of a function

April 22, 2014

Edward Luttwak, a historian and long-time consultant to the Pentagon on military strategy, wrote an article in the Times Literacy Supplement of London recently arguing that the National Security Agency’s all-encompassing surveillance is simply the result of a bureaucracy looking for a way to justify its existence.

Compared to the days of the Cold War, he wrote, there is little scope for the NSA is trying to keep track of scattered Islamic militants who don’t even use phones for communication.  The NSA’s response was, in its own way, a stroke of genius.  Don’t just track people who are threats to the United States.  Track everybody who is a potential threat, which means tracking everybody.

Luttwak’s article is behind a pay wall, but Peter J. Leithart wrote a good summary in First Things magazine.

In a TLS review of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Edward Luttwak traces things back to dynamics within the post-9/11 intelligence bureaucracy. In Luttwak’s telling, it’s a case study of bureaucratic expansion.

He argues that “Only a few hundred were really justified of the many thousands employed to service collection antennae on land, at sea and in the air operated by the signals’ branches of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and of the many thousands of translators, cryptologists, decoders, super-computer operators, and analysts of all sorts as well as more thousands of managers. As the Cold War receded, there was an increasing danger that the fiscally prudent on Capitol Hill might uncover the situation, and demand mass firings.”

Edward Luttwak

Edward Luttwak

After all, “the sum total of emitters in Afghanistan was tiny, while communications identified as suspect worldwide were scarcely more numerous. . . . things looked up for the signals intelligence business with the 2003 Iraq war, but again the volume of business was not substantial, compared to the huge size of the installed capacity – so long, that is, as it was suspects that were to be intercepted.

If there wasn’t enough work, the solution was not to cut personnel, but to make more work: “the answer to the problem of the shortage of suspects was simply to intercept ‘possible’ suspects as well.”

On the other hand, he charges, the CIA doesn’t do what is necessary actually to have a major impact on terrorism – they aren’t engaged in operations: “terrorist groups simply cannot be defeated without action on the ground, to infiltrate them with volunteers, to detect them in the dodgy places where they can still emerge, to lure them into false-flag traps, and such like – all the activities that the CIA performs splendidly in films, but which in real life interfere with intra-office, other-office, interagency and intra-embassy meetings, so that in reality they are not performed at all. . . . Operators are outnumbered even by fairly senior managers, they are outnumbered by the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office, they are outnumbered by the human relations and affirmative action.”

When Congress increased the CIA budget, little went to improving operations: “The CIA knew exactly what to do with the money: it promptly added new layers of management on top of the old ones, just in time for the arrival of a whole new intelligence Directorate for all intelligence organizations placed over it, increasing the administrator/operator ratio to levels scarcely credible.”

The intrusions that Snowden revealed arose, Luttwak claims, in a context of incompetence and cowardice: “the mass intercept of everyone’s telecommunications became just another way of evading the penetration and disruption tasks that need to be done – the tasks that the CIA will not do because of sundry inconveniences and possible dangers.”

via Snowden and Bureaucracy | Peter J. Leithart | First Things.

In  Luttwak’s opinion, Edward Snowden is a true patriot for revealing the extent of the NSA’s improper opinions.  He said Snowden should be invited to return to the United States and granted amnesty for his lawbreaking.   He said the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency should be scaled back to what is needed to collect information, and a new agency, separate from the CIA, should be created to conduct operations against terrorists as Israel’s Shin Bet does.  The new agency should consist of people who speak foreign languages, understand foreign cultures and are willing to get out of the office and take risks.   This all sounds reasonable to me.

Click on The interception scandal for something else by Luttwak on Edward Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance.  He thinks the disclosures will result in a drastic change in U.S. policy.  I’d like to think he’s right.

Big Brother scene: Links & comments 10/23/13

October 23, 2013

The United States is not a totalitarian country, but there are all-too-many Americans with a totalitarian mentality.

The US government’s secrecy problem just got worse by Elizabeth Goiten for Al Jazeera America.

A federal judge ruled that the U.S. government is justified in keeping information secret when its disclosure could be used as propaganda by terrorist organizations.  In other words, the worse the crime committed by the government, the more reason to keep it secret from the public.

In the long run, the best defense against anti-American propaganda is not to commit crimes and abuses of power.  This decision goes the other way.  It gives the government the legal right to enforce coverups.

We already know that the government classifies information as secret in order to cover up mistakes and wrongdoing.  This court decision says that the government has a legal right to do this.

Why I Will Never, Ever, Go Back to the United States by Niels Gerson Lohman.

A Dutch novelist describes his experience trying to cross from Canada into the United States—hours of questioning about his life followed by a determination that he should be barred from the USA because he had visited too many majority-Muslim countries.

Many foreigners report that the experience of entering the United States is much like entering the old Soviet Union before it fell.  Aside from the wrongness of giving low-level government employees such arbitrary power, is this the face that we Americans want to present to the world?

Authors Accept Censors’ Rules to Sell in China by Andrew Jacobs for the New York Times.

The Chinese government demands the right to censor and alter books by Americans before it will allow them to be translated and published in China.  Many (but not all) American authors go along with this for the sake of royalties in the huge Chinese market.

Support for Legalizing Marijuana Grows to Highest Point Ever in Gallup Poll by Ariel Edwards-Levy for the Huffington Post.

Gallup reported that 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.  The war on drugs does great harm, especially to young black men in U.S. cities.  But there is a vested interest for continuing in the prison industry and especially among police departments that get income from property seizures in drug cases.

 

Ex-chiefs of Shin Bet warn of Israel’s bad path

April 6, 2013

The other night I saw “The Gatekeepers,” a documentary movie about the history of Israel’s struggle with the Palestinians told through interviews with six living former chiefs of Shin Bet, the secret Israeli anti-terrorism agency.   The movie is now playing at The Little here in Rochester, NY.

Shin Bet has for decades been doing all the things which the U.S. government says are necessary to keep Americans safe—”targeted killings,” “enhanced interrogations,” military occupations of hostile territory.  Shin Bet has thwarted terrorist plots and killed terrorist leaders, but the Shin Bet chiefs said Israel has not been made safe from terrorism, because the killings, torture and occupation generates more support for terrorism.   They said the only hope for Israel is to negotiate with a truly independent Palestinian state.

I am impressed with the seriousness and realism of these six men.   Their frankness is a contrast to the evasiveness of the architects of our American “war on terror,” who seek to protect their own reputations by pretending failure is success.

The fact that this documentary was made does credit to Israel’s democracy.  I can’t imagine six former heads of the Egyptian or Syrian security services giving such interviews, or a documentary being made freely available in their countries.   I hope that Israelis, and also us Americans, take their warnings to heart.

[Added 4/21/13]  Click on Filmmakers capture Israeli spy chiefs’ doubts about covert killing operations. for a review in The Observer of London.

Why was Latin America a rendition-free zone?

March 15, 2013
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

A report by Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a New York-based human rights organization, has identified 54 governments that helped in the United States “extraordinary rendition” program.

This involved seizing people thought to be aiding the enemies of the United States, and sending them to secret sites around the world for interrogation, usually involving torture.  Some were interrogation centers operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, some were operated by foreign governments.   The most common destination, according to OSJI, was Syria.

If you think this is a good idea, what would you think about such a program being operated by some other powerful country, such as Russia or China.

It is interesting that both Libya and Syria hosted detention sites.  I bet this made Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad think they were in the good graces of the U.S. government.   They must have been surprised when Washington turned on them.

What is especially interesting about the map is that one big region of the world, namely Latin America, had no governments known to have helped with the rendition program.   Greg Grandin, writing in Mother Jones, explained this is because of Latin America’s experience with a previous U.S. “war on terror”.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”

In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other US officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces—the police, military, and paramilitary squads—to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the US greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.

Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The US had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to US organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents—Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega—were victims of this reign of terror.

via Mother Jones.

After the 9/11 attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew to Chile to urge Latin American governments to join in the current “war on terror.”  Leaders in Latin America remembered their history too well to go along.  What, I wonder, will be the legacy of the present policy 20 or 30 years from now?

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Looking back on the Cold War

March 8, 2013

ColdWarCompos

The roots of our present malaise are in the half-century of Cold War.  That’s how long the United States was on a quasi-war footing, and we Americans accepted the necessity of a global military establishment, military intervention and covert warfare as a requirement in our global duel with the Soviet Union.

Revisionist historians say that the Cold War was simply a huge mistake, like World War One, or something more sinister.  But I’m old enough to remember the origins of the Cold War, and I think there was good reason in the late 1940s to regard the Soviet Union as an enemy.

At the end of World War Two, the Soviet Union was ruled by Joseph Stalin, a dictator who had carried out mass killings on the same scale as Adolph Hitler, and whose totalitarian control was even more thorough.   In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, you could be executed or sent to a forced labor camp for having parents who belonged to a proscribed social class, or for expressing a forbidden thought in a private conversation, or even (in at least once case) being the first to stop applauding a government spokesman’s speech.

Stalin insisted on re-creating the same totalitarian system in all the countries through which the Red Army passed during World War Two.   Military bases and friendly governments were not enough.  The countries of eastern Europe had to become little replicas of the USSR.

Cold War Berlin

Cold War Berlin

The Red Army was the world’s most powerful military force and, but for the United States possession of the atomic bomb, could have marched from the middle of Germany to the English channel, if its generals so chose.

Stalin evidently did not have a master plan for world conquest, but, as a rational imperialist, he sought to expand Soviet power where he could.  He blockaded Berlin and ordered the North Korean puppet government to attack South Korea.

Communist parties in the Stalin era were like one of today’s religious cults.  The Communist parties attracted millions of goodhearted people all over the world, who thought the Communists were in the forefront of the struggle for a better world.  In this they were unlike the Nazis, who had the virtue of not being hypocritical about their objectives.  But in fact the Communists were servants of Stalin and the Soviet Union.   The day after Stalin announced his pact with Hitler, Communists all over the world went from advocating a “popular front” against fascism to a struggle against an “imperialist war” in which all sides were equally bad.  The day after Hitler’s troops invaded the Soviet Union, they switched back again.  This terrifying blind obedience to Stalin made his power more threatening, and was a foretaste of what would be expected under his rule.

In 1949, the Chinese Communists came to power in China, and immediately started to transform China into another clone of the Soviet Union.   Mao Zedong later broke with the Soviet Union, and China has evolved into something very different from what it was then, but during the lifetime of Stalin, Mao was a completely loyal follower of Stalin.  Also in 1949, the Soviet Union tested its atomic bomb, ending the U.S. monopoly.   You didn’t have to be paranoid to see this constellation of forces as a real threat.

Based on the situation at the time, President Truman was completely justified in the policy of containment of Communist expansion, including formation of NATO and other anti-Communist alliances, and (I say with a little more hesitation) authorizing CIA covert warfare to match the Soviet covert warfare.   Truman also was right in what he did not do—to launch a preventive war against the USSR when the United States had enough of a lead in nuclear weapons to make that seem feasible.

Over the decades the situation changed.  Communist China’s government broke with the Soviet Union.  Communist parties around the world, while still mistakenly pro-Soviet, ceased to be slavishly devoted to the Moscow party line.   The Soviet Union and other Communist countries, while still undemocratic, ceased to be as relentlessly totalitarian as in Stalin’s day.   The potential threat did not go away, but it ceased to be monolithic.

At the same time it became apparent (or rather should have become apparent, because I didn’t see it) that U.S. foreign policy served other objectives besides containment of Soviet imperialism.   Cold War liberals such as myself were anti-Communist because we believed Communism was a lie.  We believed it was an ideology that promised liberation, but delivered tyranny.  But American foreign policy was being conducted largely by people who were anti-Communist not because of the Communist lies, but because of the Communist promise.  These were the people who engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Iran and Guatemala.

I was aware that the U.S. government did bad things, but I thought they were aberrations.  I didn’t think there was anything systemically wrong with American foreign policy or with the United States itself.   I thought U.S. intervention in Vietnam was justified as part of the global struggle with the Soviet Union.   I soon came to think that the intervention was being bungled, and then I came to think that the intervention was a huge mistake, but it took me a long time before I came to think of it as a crime.

Memorial plaque in Lexington, Ky.

Memorial plaque in Lexington, Ky.

I started to see things differently after 1991.   After the fall of Communism, I expected the United States to get back to what I regarded as normal.   I though the huge military establishment and secret intelligence establishment would fade away, now that they were no longer needed to check the Soviet Union and its allies.  Instead the U.S. government found other excuses for military intervention and covert warfare.  The definition of “normal” was no longer what I thought it was.

After the 9/11 attacks, I was shocked by how easily Americans accepted basic Constitutional rights being wiped off the blackboard, and how easily we accepted a state of perpetual warfare as normal.  But I put the blame on individuals, specifically Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

I once again looked forward to a return to normal with the election of Barack Obama.   This didn’t happen, either.

My loyalty is still to the ideals of American freedom and democracy, as I was taught to believe in them.  I still believe it is my duty as a citizen to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  If the Cold War taught us Americans to forget our ideals and ignore our Constitution, then Stalin, in a sense, really won.

Obama supporters vs. Obama policies

November 3, 2012

A citizen journalist named Luke Rudkowski interviewed supporters of President Obama in New York City about Obama’s policies as President with regard to kill lists, drone warfare, warrantless surveillance and warrantless detention, but with one twist—he presented these policies as Mitt Romney’s proposals rather than as things Obama has done.   The Obama supporters were outraged at Romney, and startled and confused when told the truth.

I wonder whether the same thing could have been done in reverse with Romney supporters.  I’m not sure.  I suspect, although I can’t prove, that a large fraction of Republican voters support authoritarian government on principle, rather than merely out of party loyalty.

Luke Rudkowski did not advocate a vote for Mitt Romney, nor do I.  He might well be worse than Obama, but Obama is bad enough.

Click on Luke Rudkowski | We Are Change for more of Rudkowski’s work.

The future of targeted killling

October 3, 2011

There was a time when I thought “extrajudicial executions” were a defining characteristic of dictatorships—something that set Argentinian death squads and Soviet KGB assassins apart from the United States of America and other nations governed by the rule of law.

But President Obama has asserted the right to draw up death lists of enemies, based on secret criteria, and last week ordered the targeted killing last week of Anwar al-Awlaki, an anti-American Muslim cleric in Yemen.  If the ruler of a country can order the death of someone just on their own say-so, it is hard to imagine just what power they would not have.

How far will this doctrine be taken?  Here are milestones I look for.

  • Open killings by Russia, China or Iran of opponents living abroad in the name of fighting terrorism.
  • The first drone killing of an illegal immigrant crossing the Mexican border.
  • The first drone killing of an American citizen on American soil
  • The first killing on an individual because a computer algorithm determined the person fit the profile of a typical terrorist.
  • The use of killer drones in place of SWAT teams by American state and local police departments.
  • Outsourcing of the use of killer drones to private U.S. contractors.

When the first white American citizen is killed by a drone, any protest will be branded as “racist.”  After all, it will be said, if it is acceptable to kill scary brown Muslims by executive order, there can be no objection to killing scary white Christians, Jews or humanists.  The Ruby Ridge and Waco tragedies of the 1990s show that given the right circumstances, marginal white people can be targeted for killing.

I think we need to get rid of the notion of enemy combatant.  Enemy soldiers should be treated like soldiers; criminal terrorists should be treated like terrorists.  This will make the President’s task more difficult, but that is not too high a price to pay to protect fundamental liberties.

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Iraq, Afghanistan: Was it worth it?

September 10, 2011

This chart was taken from The American Prospect. Double click to view.

The United States armed forces did the world a favor by ridding it of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  The question is: At what price in American lives, treasure and liberties, and in the lives of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries?

Saddam Hussein was a cruel tyrant.  He combined the totalitarian control of a Stalin with the cruelty of a Caligula or Nero.  One of the things he did was to promulgate a law to punish those who spoke disrespectfully of him and his sons by cutting out their tongues.  Amnesty International in an annual report on Iraq reported on non-verbal interviews with people whose tongues had been cut out.

Click on Tales of the Tyrant for a 2002 sketch of Saddam Hussein in power by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic.

Osama bin Laden was a ruthless terrorist. One of the things he did was order Al Qaeda to murder the respected Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud a few days before the 9/11 attacks.  Massound was a leader of Afghan resistance to the Soviets, an opponent of the Taliban and a devout Sunni Muslim devoted to the teachings of the Sufi mystic Al-Ghazzali.  Bin Laden foresaw that the United States would invade Afghanistan, and he did not wish there to be any credible alternative to the Taliban.

Click on The crimes of Al Qaeda terrorism for my earlier post on Al Qaeda’s record.

Researchers at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University estimate that 225,000 people have died as a result of those wars, including 6,051 American troops and at least 137,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilians.  Click on Costs of War for the study, the basis of the chart above.

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The 9-11 Decade: Spin, lies and video

September 8, 2011

In war, it is said, truth is the first casualty.  In a propaganda war, truth is the first enemy.

That’s why, in the war on terror, the United States military and intelligence agencies once regarded Al Jazeera as an enemy, and now regards Wikileaks as an enemy.   It doesn’t matter that Al Jazeera broadcast quoted President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell hundreds of times for every time they quoted Osama bin Laden.  From the point of view of Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it was a hostile act to let the world hear bin Laden’s words at all.

I don’t think Al Jazeera was ever especially the enemy of the United States.  Al Jazeera’s maintained a remarkable level of objectivity, considering how U.S. forces abused and killed some of their employees.

I know from my own experience that journalists who report on their own news organizations walk a tightrope.  In this documentary, Al Jazeera walks the tightrope well.  It shows that what really swayed the hearts and minds of the world’s people were the actions and not the propaganda of the U.S. armed forces and the Al Qaeda operatives.  In the end, Al Qaeda was discredited not by U.S. propaganda, but by its own actions, the indiscriminate killing of fellow Muslims in Iraq.

The 9-11 Decade: Hunting down Al-Qaeda

September 8, 2011

The Al Jazeera network is uniquely able to report on the war on terror because it draws on information all sides.  We Americans mostly get our government’s propaganda version, as transmitted by CNN and the other U.S. networks, while Al Jazeera shows the world as people outside the United States see it.  In this particular documentary,  Al Jazeera relied mainly on U.S. sources, including certain retired CIA employees, and.

Overall the documentary enhances the reputation of U.S. intelligence agencies.  The Central Intelligence Agency figured out long before the 9-11 attacks that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network were a particularly dangerous threat to the United States.  The National Security Agency by surveillance of telephone calls traced Osama bin Laden to his hideout in Afghanistan.

President Bush said the purpose of invading Afghanistan was to apprehend bin Laden “dead or alive.”  But the Pentagon decided – against the CIA’s advice, the retired CIA officials said – to outsource the mission of apprehending bin Laden to Afghan warlords, partly because they knew the territory but also because American troops were needed for the impending invasion of Iraq.  As a result, bin Laden escaped into Pakistan.   Al Jazeera journalists retraced bin Laden’s escape route.

One of the CIA’s great successes was the capture of Abu Zubaydah, who, according to the documentary, was in charge of the logistics of moving Al Qaeda members and supplies from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the rest of the world.  They knew that he was in one of 14 safe houses in a city in Pakistan, and they successfully raided all 14 simultaneously.  This gave them a trove of information on Al Qaeda members, plans, codes and sources of supply.  However, the Bush administration had other priorities besides tracking down Al Qaeda.

The United States, from the Civil War to the Korean Conflict, has won (I would argue the U.S. won in Korea) through use of superior firepower.  Starting with the Vietnam Conflict, the enemies of the United States have found ways of negating U.S. firepower and even a judo-like way of using this U.S. strength to their own advantage.

So it was in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The only way in which application of firepower helped in bringing down Al Qaeda was in driving Osama bin Laden from his mountain stronghold in Afghanistan to a more accessible hideout in a city in Pakistan.  In the end Osama bin Laden was destroyed not by bombings and drone attacks, but by detective work and effective covert action.