Thursday, October 29, 2009

AfPak: Immoral, Illegal, Fattening

Missing from the debates regarding our wars these days is their moral and legal aspects.

UN human rights investigator Philip Alston says the U.S. needs to explain the legal basis for assassinating suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan with drone strikes. That’s an explanation I’d like to hear. It probably starts with “hamana, hamana, hamana…”

Alston says the CIA needs to be accountable to international laws that ban arbitrary executions. The CIA won’t be able to do that, nor will the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s old outfit that whacked people in the Middle East on the arbitrary orders of Dick Cheney’s office.

I’m uncertain whether drone strikes, per se, are the primary issue. The JSOC and, I’m sure, the CIA, have been doing assassinations of suspected terrorists the old fashioned way as well—with snipers.

While taking someone down with a bullet can seems cold, it’s actually quite a bit more humane that dropping a bomb on the individual that will smithereen all the other individuals in the vicinity. The problem with using snipers is that it takes a lot longer to put the snipers in place. Drones move fairly quickly.

But in either case, we’re talking about what Alston describes as “arbitrary” and “extrajudicial” executions. There’s no denying that that’s exactly what we’re doing.

The U.S. says the Human Rights Council has no business sticking its nose into killings related to an armed conflict. Alston calls that assertion “simply untenable.”

Much of our problem is that what we’re in the middle of is barely recognizable as an armed conflict. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly, we’re conducting nation-building projects that involve counterinsurgency and counter-terror combat operations. At what point are we conducting war, and at what point are we just whacking people?

Moreover, on what basis are we determining which suspects to whack? Our intelligence in the Middle East is goosey at best. We crawl into the sack with a lot of scumbags. So we give Willy the Warlord a crate of guns and a stack of greenbacks to be our buddy, and ask him to tell us who the bad guys are, and he gives us a list of his lifelong enemies, and we kill them for him. Is that any way to do business?

In so many of our dirty little conflicts since World War II we’ve looked back to see we were probably on the wrong side. We backed Saddam Hussein against Iran, we backed Manuel Noriega before we invaded Panama to remove him from power. And we supported al Qaeda and the Taliban in their fight against the Soviets.

The Taliban were able to take power in Afghanistan because of the corruption and brutality of the Mujahideen warlords, the same warlords who presently back our puppet ruler, Hamid Karzai.

The only legal basis of our AfPak war is the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress on Sept. 18, 2001. Viewed by many as a “blank check,” it was condemned as an abnegation by Congress of its constitutional responsibilities to dictate when and where a president can wage foreign wars. In the Obama era, these concerns have vanished. If Obama, or any other president, can create any loose connection between terror and whatever aggressive military action he wants to take, he can take it.

That’s not what the founders had in mind when they gave Congress, not the executive, the power to declare war.

In an excellent op-ed piece titled “Blood for Nothing,” military affairs pundit Ralph Peters notes, “We enforce rules of engagement that kill our own troops to avoid alienating villagers who actively support the Taliban and celebrate our deaths.”

This is the moral and legal point that offends me the most. We send these kids into wars that our top military and civilian leadership can’t coherently justify, and send them out on offensive missions, and give them rules of engagement that essentially say “kill the bad guys if you can, but get killed yourself before you kill any civilians.”

There are no civilians in AfPak. Everybody’s in on the action, or is related to somebody who is.

We are not the good guys in this war. As Peters aptly observes, “The Taliban are the patriots. We're the Redcoats.”

The “classic” counterinsurgency operation McChrystal wants to mount is based on lies. Again from Peters: “Our counterinsurgency (COIN) theory—hatched by military pseudo-intellectuals and opportunists—has no serious historical basis. It ignores the uncomfortable lessons of 3,000 years of fighting insurgencies and terrorists. Its authors claim Vietnam and Algeria as success stories.”

“As for the claim that COIN worked in Iraq,” Peters writes, “it's nonsense.” The “successful” surge in Iraq was a crafted illusion that Gen. David Petraeus created by bribing everybody not to use the weapons he gave them. That’s what COIN doctrine boils down to: attempting to tame a corrupt and violent society by pouring graft and weapons into it. It’s an excuse to make the fat cats in the U.S. military industrial complex fatter. It’s a sin.

We don’t need to fight this kind of war. We have enough dirt and blood on our hands. We need to become the nation of enlightenment that our founders meant us to be.

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.


  1. Lucitanian4:08 PM

    In response to your previous synopsis which I agreed with an anonymous commenter concluded:

    Tis the end of the Empire, sire!

    To which you, Jeff Huber replied, I think it is.

    Well, my view, it cannot come soon enough taking into consideration the implications you point out here in “AfPak; illegal, immoral fattening…”, plus the depth of corruption which has me convinced that within this abomination there are far greater depths than of paying elements of the so called enemy and cohabiting with the drug dealers and war lords, in the complete absence of coherent local knowledge and intelligence, while propagating lies, not least that the enemy is Al Qaeda, when it is clearly a generic term for the general consumption of idiots to cover anything that these delusional war mongers want it to be… Bin Laden, if he ever existed outside his CIA flunky persona is long dead and gone, and had likely little if anything to do with 9-11…. all this while the Praetorian Guard is totally out of control with trillions of dollars, enough firepower to blow the world away, but worst of all with as much sanity as a delusional schizoid on speed.

    Me thinks the world will be a much safer place eventually if McChrystal and Patraeus can get enough rope to hang themselves, the administration and treasury that support them, all together. And when the Fed and the dollar go down like stone, then perhaps the people of the USA may finally get a chance to get their country back, and the rest of us in the world may be left, if not in peace, at least with a hope for a reality based world more of our own making, not that of the delusional sociopaths of Washington.

    Perhaps the death of this hideous hypocrisy of an empire, of usury finance, unfair trade, and crass propaganda as culture, with the notion of wars of aggression at the centre of its global exploitation can finally be eclipsed by some form of a new enlightened age of and for all peoples of the world.

  2. Anonymous4:50 PM

    Assassin based military actions, the Praetorians' specialty, are symptoms of a sick empire.

    The US is a militarist state, run by warmongers, in the pay of war profiteers.

    The illegal occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are sustained by "might makes right" and paying off allies to contribute face covering pittances.

    The UK is willing to up its ante with the US at the rate of 1.25% the US ante, magnanimous!

    For the US militarists, as dangerous as Stalin, Tojo, Hitler and Speer, morals are to be bought.

    The controllers of the US' wealth, and their dupes the neocons, need to keep amoral militarism wasting US resources to maintain stress in the "patriotic" underclass and deny them access to the fruits of US technology and industry.

    Don't ask for better health care than 39th place because there is so much need to occupy Afghanistan and kill terrists!

    And the "volunteer" military never need ask whether they are paid for moral or even patriotic works!



  3. Ronin Jin9:35 PM

    I used to like Ralph Peters. I read a few of his first books and articles from before 9/11 and he seemed incredibly prescient about the true threat we faced, as opposed to the fantasy threat our slumbering military was dreaming about back in those days. Then he seemed to go a little mad and became a bloody-minded Neocon hack ass clown in the Murdoch Propaganda Machine. Now it seems that maybe he’s talking sense again, or maybe it’s just that time of day again when the broken clock is right.

  4. The legal basis for assassinating suspected terrorists goes something like this: "We've got the guns, the troops, the bases, and the world's reserve currency. Any more questions?"

    The upside to the U.S. losing its privileged place in the world will be the new limits placed on the Pentagon's ability to make mischief in the world. I'd give it another five years at most before the nation's foreign debt obligations and constraints on energy supplies put the kibosh on this lunacy.

    An interesting quote from the recent ASPO conference:

    Venezuelan economist Carlos Rossi stated to ASPO his analysis of oil trends in the US. “You are worried about your foreign oil imports now,” he said. “You in the US import about 65% of your oil today. You don’t like it. But if you follow the clear trends, by 2025, you’ll be importing about 92% of your oil. You’ll like that even less.”

    Between that and the U.S. dollar going down for the count, the “long war” won't be all that long. The countries we treated with contempt during the Bush years are no doubt sharpening the knives at this very moment. There is no military strategy that will extricate the U.S. from the hole it has dug for itself. that's for sure.

  5. Cmdr Huber,
    I agree with your final sentences in this article 100%. America must get out of the empire business. Let the fat cats who profit from war starve. Enough of the endless wars of choice.
    I had hoped that after Vietnam we had learned our lesson.

  6. Just wanted to add that I agree with the entire article. I find your commentary to be very good, but the ending of this really hit me as important.

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