A singular absurdity of the 21st century is that the nation that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined needs to hire mercenaries to fight wars against enemies who have no defense budget at all.
An August 19 New York Times article revealed that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater USA to help “locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda.” This is the secret program that Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to not tell Congress about for seven years. “It is unclear,” wrote Times reporter Mark Mazetti, “whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program.” The program, says Mazetti, “did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects,” which makes it sound like they tried to kill terrorist suspects and blew it. There’s something about assassinating “suspects” that makes the mercenary aspect of the program seem trivial.
It was the mercenary facet, though, according to Mazetti, that led CIA director Leon Panetta to cancel the program in June and then tell Congress about it. Panetta would have been fine with assassinating suspects, I reckon, if only CIA types had been involved.
But wait a minute. An August 20 Times article by Mazetti and James Risen says the CIA is still using mercenaries to help them kill terror suspects. A “division” of “the company formerly known as ‘Blackwater’” is loading Hellfire missiles and guided bombs on drone aircraft at “hidden” bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Blackwater mercenaries, now known as “Xe” (pronounced “zee”) mercenaries, also provide security at the bases. They don’t pull the trigger or pickle off bombs though; CIA “employees” do that by remote control from the agency’s Langley, Virginia headquarters. CIA types also pick which terror suspects to target.
How is this drone assassination program different from the assassination program Panetta cancelled in June? Both employ mercenaries. Both target “suspects.” Both rely on iffy information; our intelligence in that part of the world amounts to beating people up or bribing them so they tell us what we want to hear.
Our intelligence is so bad that we don’t even know for certain if our drone assassination program has killed any suspects. We know for sure that we’ve killed a lot of people who aren’t terrorists through collateral damage though, so we can be fairly sure the drone assassination program—like the rest of our woebegone war on terror—creates two or more new terrorists for every one it eliminates.
In the assassination program that Panetta cancelled, operations to kill or capture suspects had to be approved by the CIA director and presented to the White House. Risen and Mazetti say that drones land or take off from the bases in the Bananastans “almost hourly,” so it’s a good bet that nobody at the White House is getting told about the drone assissination missions, and the CIA director probably gets a weekly summary that he may or may not read. That means that “employees” are deciding when and where to create collateral damage.
The assassination program Panetta cancelled probably violated U.S. and international law. The drone assassination program does too. We’re running airstrikes, which are acts of war, against targets in Pakistan. Congress has not specifically approved combat operations in Pakistan, unless you consider the September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force as a blank check for any president to apply military power anywhere at any time if it involves counterterrorism. If that’s the case, Mr. Obama can fire bomb Dresden and nuke Nagasaki if he thinks suspected terrorists are hiding there. Heck, he might delegate those decisions to CIA “employees,” or even employees of Blackwater/Xe.
It speaks philosophical volumes about contemporary American values that an illegal secret assassination program that involved mercenaries had to be shut down, but an illegal overt assassination program involving mercenaries continues without objection.
In March 2009 Blackwater/Xe lost its billion-dollar contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, a job normally done by the U.S. Marines. Blackwater had been under fire for a 2007 incident in which its security personnel killed 17 civilians in an unprovoked shooting. Another mercenary outfit, Triple Canopy, won the contract and hired the same security personnel who had just been fired to do the same job they’d been fired from. Some in the Iraqi government speculated that Triple Canopy subcontracted the job to an outfit called the Falcon Group, which was a Blackwater/Xe affiliate.
Two former Blackwater/Xe employees have filed sworn statements in a federal court alleging that company founder Erik Prince may have been involved in the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The statements assert that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." There’s plenty more and it’s plenty sordid, and it’s mighty salacious stuff for people to swear to in front of a federal magistrate is it has not basis in truth. Prince is a former Navy Seal, he’s rich, and he’s politically connected. He probably knows a few good lawyers.
There are a number of reasons to hire mercenaries. Some of them are financial; it’s cheaper to rent a shooter for a short-term job than it is to train a career soldier or intelligence officer or torture specialist whom you have to provide with benefits and retirement pay. The main reason to use mercenaries, though, is that they exist in a legal twilight zone. If they operate overseas, they’re not exactly subject to U.S. law or host nation law or international law. They don’t operate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or congressional oversight either. They can get away with shenanigans that even the CIA and Special Forces wouldn’t dirty their hands on. Nobody has to know how contract interrogators get information from prisoners, and the second the government pays a mercenary outfit the money vanishes from the books forever.
If, as Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker a certain former vice president formed death squads that answered directly to him, they likely contained mercenaries. Blackwater/XE may not have been directly involved in any trigger pulling, but former Middle East CIA field officer Robert Baer noted recently at TIME.com that “Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.”
Doesn’t all this make you proud to be an American?
Those of you still hoping for “change” can forget it. Young Mr. Obama is working the same number that young Mr. Bush pulled on us. In Obama’s address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Arizona on August 17, he made his commitment to war in the Bananastans irrevocable.
It would be wonderful if public servants seeking to associate themselves with the military would cater to the agenda of the Veterans for Peace. For a president of the United States to pander to the VFW is a disgrace. While the VFW is not a pack of latter day Brownshirts like the American Legion is, the two groups possess a common value: they never saw an armed conflict they didn’t like. If they had to serve in a pointless war, everyone else should too. They also never met a Republican politician they didn’t like. Why a Democrat who was elected on a peace platform feels compelled to throw a bone to Pavlov’s dogs of war is inscrutable.
In Phoenix, Obama deflected criticism of his lack of support for the self-defeating Iraq war by drumming up support for his self-defeating conflict in the Bananastans. He continued a tradition established by his predecessor when he told the veterans “Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.” Are we doomed to hearing presidents evoke 9/11 every time they want to justify overseas adventurism?
“But we must never forget,” Obama reminded the veterans, that the Bananastans conflict “is not a war of choice.” It is a “war of necessity” because “if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” So, according to Obama, the Bananastans crusade is not only “worth fighting,” it is “fundamental to the defense of our people.”
What fundamental horse manure.
We’ve accepted the myth that the 9/11 attacks were made possible by Osama bin Laden’s “sanctuary” in Afghanistan for far too long. 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was operating in the Philippines when he first presented the attack plan to bin Laden in 1996. The six hijackers who controlled the airplanes received their flight training in the U.S. The “muscle hijackers” came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That bin Laden was in Afghanistan at the time is a narrative of our “good intelligence” in that part of the world which, to this day, amounts to beating or bribing locals into telling us what we want to hear or believing the lies that Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies feed us.
“We will plan responsibly,” Obama told the veterans, and boasted of the “new comprehensive strategy” for the Bananastans that he announced in March. The people responsible for Obama’s new comprehensive strategy deserve a session of tar-and-feather therapy.
The strategy, conjured by National Security Adviser James Jones and his team of “chess masters,” is nothing more than a compendium of wimp-words and hazy goals. We’ll be “promoting a more capable” Afghan government, one that “can eventually function.” We’ll also be “developing” an “increasingly self-reliant” Afghan security force. On top of all that, we’ll be “assisting efforts to enhance civilian control” of Pakistan’s government.
With a strategy like this, who needs enemies? It’s self-defeating. We’ll kinda/sorta try to do things we can’t possibly accomplish. A prolonged occupation of the Bananastans will not “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda” and its allies. Al Qaeda and its allies have iPhones. They don’t need to hunker down in the Bananastani Himalayas. They can plan and execute their evildoing at a Club Med getaway if they want to.
By June 2009 the Pentagon still hadn’t figured out what measures of effectiveness to use in determining if the new comprehensive strategy is working. Defense secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said that some of those metrics—whatever they turn out to be—will remain classified. That way they won’t have to explain how they know they’re being effective (if they told us, they’d have to kill us). We’ll just have to take their word for it that they’re turning corners and mopping up dead-enders and that it will be a long struggle but victory is at hand. Gates and Mullen make Cheney and Rumsfeld seem like straight shooters.
Obama told the VFW that “military power alone will not win this war,” but military power, as flaccid as it has become, is more effective than the other forms of power in the American arsenal. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is as adept at diplomacy as John Bolton was. Whenever she opens her mouth it’s all anyone can do to keep another war from breaking out. Whatever economic efforts we can afford to make in the Bananastans will amount to handing out bribes like the ones we handed out in Iraq, and our information operations there involve, at best, a gentlemanly exchange of mendacities with the host countries.
“By moving forward in Iraq,” Obama told the VFW, “we’re able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Candidate Obama pledged to “get the job done” in Afghanistan when his opponents attacked him for having voted against the surge in Iraq. He would have been better off to refute claims of the strategy’s success. Today, more than two-and-a-half years after the surge commenced, counterinsurgency expert John A. Nagl says, “The insurgency is not over.” Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks says we’re “at about the midpoint of the conflict now.”
Bush was probably too dim to realize he was talking gibberish about Iraq, but Obama is too smart to believe the bull jargon he’s handing us about the Bananastans. Obama has to realize that there is no strategy for Afghanistan, and that the organized but senseless violence his generals are conducting there will not further “the security and safety of the American people.”
At this point, Obama cannot escape the Bananastan trap without gnawing off a political foot. He needs to poop can his National Security Council and everyone in the Department of Defense who wears a bird or a star in their collar or whose title contains the word “secretary.” Then he needs to tell the nation that he was wrong about escalating the war in Afghanistan, and then he needs to bring our troops home.
I doubt that he has the political baby makers to do that.
Iraq is back in the commode mode. Violence there is on the rise again. According to Colonel Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, the political goals of the surge have not been met and never will be. Iraq’s government and security forces are choked with ineffectiveness, corruption, cronyism, nepotism, laziness and lack of initiative. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander in Iraq, says these are mere “tactical issues.”
Things look even worse in the Bananastans. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, sold to Congress and the country as the second coming of David Petraeus, is getting his garrison cap handed to him and doesn’t seem to know which way to point his weapon. At his Senate confirmation hearings, McChrystal promised that the “measure of effectiveness” in Afghanistan would not be the number of insurgent guerillas killed but the number of Afghan civilians protected. Upon his arrival in Afghanistan he continued to conduct the airstrikes that have killed so many civilians and ordered a major offensive designed to kill insurgent guerillas.
The major offensive didn’t work out. The guerilla insurgents did what guerillas are supposed to do—they ran away rather than stand and fight a superior force, choosing instead to strike unexpectedly at lightly defended outposts. McChrystal, who is supposed to be an “expert” at fighting insurgent guerilla forces, was “surprised” that the guerilla insurgent forces he was fighting fought the way insurgent guerilla forces typically fight. McChrystal was originally against trying to bargain with Taliban leaders. Now he says he wants to bargain with them.
It’s becoming easier by the minute to believe that McChrystal only eats one meal a day and just sleeps a few hours a night. In an August 11 interview with NPR, McChrystal droned incoherently, sounding like Gen. Jack D. Ripper babbling about “precious bodily fluids” and the evil effects of putting fluoride in children’s ice cream.
In response to these crises, Gen. David Petraeus, chief of Central Command responsible for both the Iraq and Bananastans theaters, says the U.S. will help Yemen fight terror. It sounds like he’s making Iraq and the Bananastans someone else’s problem.
The only successful strategies that “military genius” David Petraeus has been involved with so far have involved feeding David Petraeus’s ambition. He isn’t much of a warrior, but he’s a Rove-class spin merchant.
His tour as commander of Mosul after the fall of Baghdad was hailed as a shining success amid a sea of incompetence, but Petraeus merely achieved a false peace in the city by bribing everyone to lie low. After he left, Mosul went up for grabs and it remains a trouble spot to this day. During his next Iraq assignment, while in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Petraeus allowed more than 100,000 AK-47s and other military gear migrate into the hands of militants. Later, as top commander in Iraq, he repeated his tried-and-true methods, creating an artificial drop in violence levels by handing out weapons to militias and bribing the militias not to use them. Today, two-and-a-half years after the surge began, the situation in Iraq is as precarious as it has ever been.
Petraeus’s performances would have earned other military officers a permanent transfer to Fort Palooka. Incredibly, though, Petraeus is now the most important U.S. theater-strategic commander since Dwight Eisenhower had charge of the European Theater of Operations during World War II, and he may be the next former general to become, like Ike, a Republican commander in chief.
Petraeus’s spectacular rise was the result of the key methods used by most of today’s top power piranhas: connections and media manipulation. Among his most important connections has been his long-time mentor, retired Army lieutenant general Jack Keane, who had access to both young Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney, and was a darling of the neoconservative warmongery nominally headed by Bill Kristol. It was Keane who championed Petraeus at the White House and who, during the early days of the surge, silenced Petraeus’s critics in the Pentagon.
Petraeus’s other golden connection is veteran military correspondent Thomas E. Ricks, who met Petraeus when he was a colonel or lieutenant colonel (Ricks can’t remember which). The myth of Petraeus’s “very successful tour” in Mosul largely sprang from Ricks’ 2005 book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. When Petraeus snagged the assignment to command the entire Iraq theater in early 2007, Ricks kicked the hagiography machine into overdrive, referring to Petraeus as a “force of nature” and a “fascinating character” who was “just about the best general in the Army.” Ricks later went so far as to compare Petraeus to Alexander the Great.
The hapless U.S. media aped Ricks’ hyperbole. Petraeus became “the most admired American general of recent times” and the man who “wrote the book on counterinsurgency” (even though the only part of the new Army and Marine Corps manual on counterinsurgency he actually wrote was his signature on the endorsing letter). In December 2007 Time magazine named Petraeus its “Person of the Year.” The next week, Kristol’s absurd Weekly Standard promoted Petraeus to “America’s Man of the Year.”
Such hoopla for a general who has dug us into an even deeper hole than the one we were in before.
Petraeus is also the master of two other techniques of modern American leadership: knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut and how to delegate blame to one’s subordinates. Though he has pulled the strings of his public relations campaign, his accolades have come from mouthpieces like Ricks and Petraeus’s erstwhile personal public affairs colonel Steven Boylan, as have the declarations of surge strategy’s “success,” and Petraeus attacks his critics through proxies like Boylan and the rabid right-wing blogosphere. Petraeus himself maintains a modest demeanor in public, and always speaks cautiously about the status of his military operations.
If McChrystal is Petraeus’s second coming, Ray Odierno is a retroactive prequel. In the hands of Ricks, Odie made an eye-watering transformation from Desert Ox to Desert Fox. In Fiasco, Odierno’s hoof-fisted tactics were the irritant that gave rise to the Iraq insurgency. In Rick’s 2009 book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Odierno became the “dissenter who changed the war” by pushing for the surge and embracing the new counterinsurgency manual. If Iraq reverts back to a fiasco and the quagmire gels in the Bananastans, Odierno and McChrystal will take the fall, as will their commander in chief Barack Obama.
Petraeus will emerge from the dung heap of U.S. foreign policy emitting the aura of an American Caesar and the aroma of rose petals.
by Jeff Huber
Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London has set a new standard in canard journalism. The headline of an Aug. 3 story exclaims, “Iran is ready to build an N-bomb—it is just waiting for the Ayatollah’s order.” The first sentence reads, “Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb.”
The article goes on to make similar outrageous claims, all supported by the testimony of unnamed “western intelligence sources.” The identity of the “sources” becomes pretty clear in the 11th paragraph when the article attributes revelations about Iran’s three-decade “master plan” to build a nuke to an unidentified “Israeli official.” And oh, the article was written in Tel Aviv.
The authors—James Hider, Richard Beeston and Times Defense Editor Michael Evans—attempt to “confirm” what the Israelis breast-fed them by stating that anonymous sources say British intelligence services are “familiar with the secret information about Iran’s experiments.” The authors admit that “British agencies” do not have their own “independent evidence” regarding Iran’s nuclear-weapons experiments, but “they said there was no reason to doubt the assessment.”
We can’t prove that aliens built the pyramids, but we can’t completely disprove it either, so it must be true. Run it on the front page.
Read the rest at The American Conservative.
At his Senate confirmation hearing, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the “measure of effectiveness” in Afghanistan “will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.”
Shortly after his confirmation, the New York Times reported that McChrystal had been given “carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates” as he carries out “an ambitious new strategy” of “stepped-up attacks on Taliban fighters and narcotics networks.”
McChrystal then re-reversed himself and announced that he would restrict the use of airstrikes in Afghanistan in order to avoid civilian casualties. He said that if an airstrike was intended “just to defeat the enemy, then we are not going to do it.” Throughout my decades as and air operations planner and in all my studies of air power history, I never heard of such a thing as an airstrike that wasn’t intended to defeat the enemy.
Days after his announcement, an airstrike in Kandahar killed four civilians. Since then, airstrikes have killed and wounded civilians time and time and time and time again. Over in Pakistan, U.S. officials think a drone airstrike “probably” killed Baitullah Mehsud, a senior Taliban leader. That’s according to the best intelligence the U.S. officials have, which in that part of the world amounts bribing or beating people into telling us what we want to hear or believing the lies that Pakistani intelligence tells us.
Even if it’s true that Mehsud is dead, so what? We’ve killed senior evildoers before and evil still exists and the global war on it continues. For every senior evildoer we kill ten junior evil doers scramble to take his place and twenty new evildoers rise up to revenge the deaths of their mothers and sisters and brothers that we caused in the course of killing the senior evildoer.
Soon after assuming command, McChrystal ordered the Marines to conduct a major offensive to clear Taliban havens in south Afghanistan. The Marines met less resistance than expected, but the Taliban executed effective strikes in other parts of the country. McChrystal said he was surprised by that turn of events.
The signature warfare style of guerilla insurgents is to refuse battle with superior forces and to strike weaker forces unexpectedly. During his confirmation period, the Pentagon hyped McChrystal as a “counterinsurgency expert.” It’s funny how a counterinsurgency expert could be surprised when the insurgents he’s fighting behave the way they’re supposed to.
Why am I finding it easier and easier to believe that McChrystal just eats one meal a day and only sleeps a few hours a night?
The latest member of the dream team McChrystal has been given carte blanche to hand pick is counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus who is now head of U.S. Central Command and McChrystal’s boss. In a recent appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Kilcullen predicted that the U.S. will see about two more years of heavy fighting then either turn things over to Afghan forces or "lose and go home." He outlined a "best-case scenario" for a decade of further U.S. and NATO entanglement in Afghanistan. These counterinsurgency wonks have an odd sense of time. Maybe that’s why counterinsurgencies go on forever. The people in charge of them start having so much fun that they lose track.
Kilcullen also has an odd sense of why Afghanistan is worth a ten-year commitment. We have “compelling reasons” to continue the fight, he says, but counterterrorism isn’t “at the top of my list.” To the casual observer, it would seem that counterterrorism is the only reason to be in Afghanistan, but Kilcullen is a cut above “casual.”
One of his main reasons for staying the course in Afghanistan is that it may be the only way to preserve the NATO alliance. See, NATO was formed to fight a different kind of war than the one in Afghanistan against a different kind of enemy than the Taliban or al Qaeda, but that war and that enemy doesn’t exist any more. NATO needs a new kind of war and enemy to fight, and if Afghanistan and the Taliban aren’t it, then there’s no reason for NATO to exist any more. If maintaining NATO’s meaningless existence isn’t enough to justify a war, we revert to our double-secret fallback position, which is that the U.S. Army needs a phony baloney job to justify its existence.
In March 2009, the Washington Post said that Kilcullen’s, “theories are revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West.” Yeah. He’s revolutionizing military thinking the way the Hindenburg revolutionized the dirigible.
McChrystal is putting together what aids describe as a “blunt summing up” of the situation in the Bananastans. The report is due out in a couple of weeks and will probably ask for yet another troop escalation.
Associated Press reports that in anticipation of the assessment, the Pentagon has set up a new command center in an “ultra-secure war room” where people from different services and disciplines can “sit together.”
In a separate effort, the Obama administration is developing new measures of success in the Bananastans, something it promised Congress months ago. It’s bad enough that we sent additional troops over there without telling them what they needed to do to be successful. What’s worse is that in order to have accurate measures of success you need to have coherent objectives, and we have nothing of the sort. The “realistic and achievable” objectives baked up by the White House strategy team in March are certifiable. We’ll never create stable governments in the Bananastans or train reliable Afghan and Pakistani security forces, and according to Kilcullen, the only reason to have “international community” involvement is to resurrect an extinct military alliance. Disrupting terror networks in the Bananastans won’t “degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.” With handheld access to the information highway, terrorists can conduct business from the gallery of the Knesset chamber if they feel like it.
Ah! So that’s why Kilcullen doesn’t think counterterrorism is an important reason to be in the Bananastans.
It all makes sense now. For a minute there I thought we were just spinning our wheels like a battalion of Chinese fire trucks.
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.