Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Boot Up the Bananastan

U.S. special forces attacked militants in a Pakistani village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, according to a September 3 New York Times article by Pir Zubair Shah, Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez. The militants undergo a remarkable transformation in the course of the story.

In the headline they're "Militants." In the lead sentence they're "Qaeda militants." Three paragraphs in the bad guys are "Taliban and Al Qaeda." Several paragraphs later they're just "Qaeda" again, then they become just "Taliban," then "Taliban and Qaeda." In the last three paragraphs they're plain old "Taliban" and "Taliban" and "Taliban."

I don't buy for a second that all this name changing is merely sloppy writing on the part of NYT reporters. It has all the earmarks of being part of the long term, ongoing information operation designed to give the American public the perception that everyone Mr. Bush attacks in his woebegone war on terror had something to do with 9/11. If "Qaeda" attacked New York and Washington and every A-rab and A-rab wannabe Persian from Iran who we don't like is part of "Qaeda," then every A-rab and A-rab wannabe we don't like is responsible for 9/11.

Propaganda catch phrase-wise, "Qaeda" is a convenient substitute for "Commie," and if you don't hate the Qaedas and the Islamofabulism they stand for, then you're a Qaeda sympathizer, you dirty low down haji hugger.

It's also apparent to me that this info operation originates in one of the Pentagon truth ministries that sprang from Donald Rumsfeld's short lived Office of Strategic Influence. I hope you find the idea of the Pentagon running a deception operation on the American public shocking, but that's not the most shocking thing covered in this Sept 3 NYT story.

More shocking is that the story discusses what amounts to the Department of Defense assuming the authority to declare war, and even more shocking than that is that nobody seems to realize they're doing it and/or they don't appear to care.

War Games

In case you didn't have to take a written test to earn your American citizenship, here's a quick primer on war powers. Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution makes the president commander in chief of the military. All other war making powers, including and especially ratification of treaties and declaration of war, belong to the legislature as described in Article II, Section 8. After Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon wiped their noses with the Constitution in their pursuit of the Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973. In a nutshell, the War Powers Resolution allows a president to commit troops to combat for a maximum of 90 days, after which time he must get a declaration of war or "specific statutory authorization" from Congress to continue the operation. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of September 18, 2001 pretty much covers statutory authorization for operations in Afghanistan, and Congressed passed a second AUMF for Iraq in October 2002.

But we've also been conducting overt offensive combat operations in Somalia and Pakistan for over a year (which, for the benefit of you hard core Bush supporters, is a lot, lot more than 90 days), and there's nothing remotely resembling an AUMF that covers either of those countries.

What we've mostly done in Pakistan and Somalia involves air strikes. Sometimes we bomb targets with hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aerial vehicles. Sometimes we bomb them with cruise missile fired from nuclear submarines. In at least one instance, we used a AC-130 gunship to rip a Somali village—and a bunch of the Somalis in it—to smitherines.

The idea behind these air strikes is to kill a high-ranking Qaeda official. Rather, the idea is to kill someone we've accused of being a high-ranking Qaeda official. Killing him while he's just a suspect saves us the trouble of having to bring him in and give him a kangaroo trial. The problem with a kangaroo trial is that no matter how much we stack it to produce a conviction, there's a chance the guy's Qaeda sympathizer defense attorney will prove the guy's not involved with Qaeda at all. That's a lot of time and effort wasted trying to nail a Qaeda guy who turns out not to be one.

We almost always kill a lot of civilians with these air assassinations, which is embarrassing, especially when it turns out that we bombed a wedding ceremony. We seldom get the guy we were actually after. Normally though, we claim that we got one or more "number two" guys, which is an easy claim to make, because almost everybody in that part of the world is a number two guy to some other guy, even though that other guy usually doesn't amount to a puddle of number one.

The downside, then, to air assassination, is that we never kill the right people, and killing the wrong people makes a lot of other people mad enough to sign on with the evildoers who otherwise never would have dreamed of doing such a thing.

The upside is that the Navy and Air Force get to contribute to the war on terror, which gives them an excuse to keep all the expensive equipment we bought them that was designed to fight a type of war they'll never fight against an enemy that only exists in the collective imagination of the American Enterprise Institute.

Plus, when we use airpower, it's not like we're really conducting war, even though we really are. Even though it seems more antiseptic, dropping bombs on a country is every bit as much an act of war as invading the country is. I'd guess that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is aware of that, but I'm not certain. Gates says and does some oddball things.

According to Shah, Schmitt and Perlez, the September 3 U.S. attack on the Pakistani village signaled what unidentified "top American officials" (them again) say "could be the opening salvo in a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces" inside Pakistan. This broader campaign would be part of a "secret plan secret plan that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been advocating for months within President Bush’s war council."

This is the selfsame Robert Gates who just last July warned of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy. Creepy, huh? At the war college where I got my masters degree in neoconservative studies, they teach that every military operation should have an integrated deception plan. Maybe that's Gates's primary function at DoD; to keep the public so confused nobody can figure out what the Pentagon is up to.

Whatever the case, it's going to be mighty darn hard for Gates to keep pretending he's not conducting an illegal war in Pakistan if he's going to make a regular thing of putting boots on the ground there. Then again, the only people keeping tabs on what he does are the press and Congress, so he'll probably keep getting away with it.

And lamentably, if the September 3 raid is any indication, this new boots up the Bananastan strategy isn't going to work any better than the old wedding bombing policy did. By official and unofficial accounts, American commandos managed to kill 19 "innocent people," most of them women and children, but the bad guys, whatever you want to call them, apparently escaped.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.


  1. Hi Jeff :)

    Whaddaya know? I did a post today on propaganda too.

    Your posts generally incorporate much more humor than mine.

  2. I didn't catch all the Paul video, but if he's saying the real threat from Iran is its grabbing control of the energy market, well yeah, I guess so.

  3. In some ways that film (see Petrodollars and wars) is stating the obvious. I wouldn't doubt that Saddam's switch into the Euro sealed his fate. The truth is that there were many reasons for the invasion and they can be traced back long before the switch.

    Iran is obviously lined up for the just the same reasons--they are defying the US. The stupid, stupid, stupid decision to isolate and try and strangle Iraq in the 1990s was a dangerous policy and it is being repeated with Iran and will lead to the same result. It is so obvious in retrospect that the responsible thing to do was to cut a deal with SH and with the external threat removed let the Iraqi people and court deal with him (as we saw with Serbia).

    The mistake being made with the Iranians is much more serious. The IRI was more or less founded to resist Anglo-US bullying--it is built into the fabric of the state and it is something all Iranians agree on. They have perfected this kind of defiance and we saw the fruits in the 2006 Lebanon war. This is ridiculously destabilising, which is why we can only hope that some realists get into power before the whole lot goes up. (All Iranians also want a non-client partnership with the US that recognizes Iranian strategic importance to the region.)

    Was it just me or did anybody else find the RNC tribute to 9/11 highly sinister, as sinister as any propaganda films coming out of the 20th century.

  4. By this point, "RNC" and "sinister" are synonyms.

  5. For me, "RNC" and "sinister" have been synonymous ever since the "ABC" ("Anybody But Church") campaign they launched in Idaho in 1980. At the Dawn of Reagan, voters were willing to accept any lie that impugned the integrity or patriotism of a man--and the bigger the lie, the more credible it became.

    As to extra-legal military operations, the real problem is that we have a State Department leadership that is no longer committed to the international rule of law, or to diplomacy for that matter. Like water, the will to use violence flows to fill every corner and nook of power. Since the Defense Secretary's power grows as the use of violence grows, he has an interest in this spread. Since the Republicans can only retain power to the extent they can convince Americans that the world is an excessively dangerous place requiring daily air and naval strikes to keep it in check, they also have an interest in the spread of extra-legal military action--violence.

    P.S. Moving to Bremerton on Monday.

  6. John,

    We've certainly become inured to the love tap air strike. When I was an instructor at Strike U. in Fallon, we specialized almost exclusively in training air wings to conduct Diablo Canyon type one-time bombexes.


  7. Anonymous1:38 PM

    "By official and unofficial accounts, American commandos managed to kill 19 "innocent people," most of them women and children, but the bad guys, whatever you want to call them, escaped."

    Of course, the bad guys escaped AFTER they killed 19 innocent people (no quotation mark is intentional).


  8. Marco,

    FWIW, the "innocent people" is a direct quote from one of the unofficial sources, not a euphemism I used for sarcasm.


  9. On further reflection, I'm wondering if preclusion analysis has had a corrosive effect on those who plan an execute these missions and raids.

    "Preclusion analysis," for those of you not formerly involved in nuclear targeting, is the technique tactical nuclear weapons are selected for engagement against a target. What is unique about it is that effects on target are always assumed to be greater than 90%. So, the selection criteria is how many "friendly" and "civilian" casualties the decision maker is willing to accept. What this tends to do is push up the build yield for the particular weapon selected to the largest value that will sustain acceptable collateral damage.

    It takes little imagination to see this technique inappropriately extended to conventional weapons: 1) you wondered why most of the air dropped weapons are in the 2000 to 5000 lbs. range; 2) the TOW IIB and Hellfire were never designed as sniper weapons, but both the U.S. and the Israelis use them like they were; and 3) lets not even get started with cruise missiles--I'm likely to get quite irrate.

    Nor is it an accident that the "W" and his Gang of Cheney constantly belittle the Rules of War. Traditionally, proportionality dictated that weapons designed to destroy armored vehicles and large, hardened structures would be gross overkill when aimed directly and men, women, or children. But preclusion analysis flips this premise on its head: the targeting analysis is now about will the surrounding buildings still stand and will an acceptable amount of bystanders be killed.

  10. John,

    My position now is that all these targeteering considerations are becoming less relevant than the very decision to accept any amount of collateral damage for a benefit that cannot be measured or, really, can even be argued to exist.

    I'll keep working on that though for a future column.



    Thanks for the quick tutorial on the subject.

  11. anatomy lesson6:02 PM

    "After Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon wiped their noses with the Constitution in their pursuit of the Vietnam War..."

    Check the map again, brother -- that wasn't their noses they were wiping.

  12. While to a certain extent platform considerations drive weapon selection and size, the fact remains that big, expensive "booms" are being used to kill relatively small numbers of people who are not in hardened positions.

    Discussing it with my father, he believes there is evidence that the Israelis use these weapons--in particular, TOW IIB's used to assassinate persons of interest in cars--because they deprive the families of these persons the opportunity to bury their dead within 24 hours as is required by Islamic Law (the plasma jets of multiple weapons, together with the overpressure, scrambles and scorches the remains of the occupants to a considerable degree).

    I would not put it beyond a Southern Methodist and a Modern Machiavelli to adopt this rational from the Israelis.

    P.S. I am in most things very pro-Israeli, but I have not liked the direction the IDF has taken since Sharon and Likud did their part.

  13. John,

    I'm pretty sure there's a psyop cell in every targeting shop now. Yeah, they're thinking stuff like that all the time.

    Sick puppies.


  14. How the hell are we to end this long national nightmare?

    Voter caging is once again rampant in Ohio.

    Mail being sent by the Repubs, with the admonition "do not forward."

    If a man or woman is in Iraq, or Afghanistan, and doesn't get the mail sent to their home address, their vote will be challanged. Or for many other reasons, people move from foreclosed homes, you name it.

    So, Bob Woodward, with another hefty book advance, is telling us something, after the fact, that he should have warned us about, when something could have been done to mitigate the damage, is telling us, according to an article in, that it isn't the military, or the JSC, but the AIE that's running the war(s).

    Well, we pretty much outsourced everything else. Why not?

  15. Bobby Woodward sure can smooch me on the keister. He's just now telling us AEI is running our wars? AEI themselves told us that a year and a half ago.

  16. Keep hitting as hard as you can, Commander.

    The MSM apparently giving the same "deferance" to the GOP, that was given to Bush/Cheney in the run-up to the Iraq war. McCain thinks his running mate doesn't have to give any interviews until she gets the "proper deferance."

    Well, hell --- she's running on a national ticket, for national office. Nobody ever heard of her ten days ago, but the dumbing down of America can continue indefinitely, as long as there is drilling for oil to be done. Here or abroad.

    It is going to be up to the bloggers to get the truth to the American people. Charlie Gibson sure isn't going to get it from Caribou Barbie.

    One of the most interesting things about her -- is her husband's membership in the Alaska First Party. (Which hates us all.)

    Bobby Woodward may turn that into a book, in say maybe 5-10 years. By then, once again, it will be too late.

    Doesn't he work for a newspaper or something --- like he could do a column, or an op-ed? --- but then he wouldn't get that big book advance, and interviews on The Larry King show.

    My tv will stay off, for the next couple of months.

    Newton Minnow said it a long time ago. It is a VAST WASTELAND.

  17. chris d,

    The information in the film is not obvious to a lot of Americans, and what is IRI?

    Jeff, :)

  18. Anonymous2:52 PM

    I am glad that you are out there, Jeff Huber, dissecting these complicated, psyops-laden, stealth moves that this administration, along with their allied 4th estate, are directing using the complacent, misdirected and befuddled, citizenry's dollars.

    Thank you for your efforts to fill the enormous gap that has been driven into the operational aspect of our constitution.

    Sorry for the twisted syntax-I'm depressed.


  19. EL,

    I can't help thinking now about what it would be like to be married to Sarah. Yikes.


    I think a lot of Americans still think Iran wants to have a nuclear war with us.


    If that's twisted syntax, boy am I in trouble. ;-)


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