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Al Qaeda Parties While Iraq Burns
We're just finding out about the nixed operation to capture or kill Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri -- nixed by Donald Rumsfeld himself, that is, just as at least three other such operations ended up stillborn during the Clinton administration.

Former National Security Council staffers (from 1994-99) Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write, in an op-ed for The New York Times, that going after Al Qaeda is a job for the CIA, not the Pentagon:

In theory, the best place in the government for small-scale missions to be planned and executed is the Pentagon, because snatch or kill teams should be plugged into a larger military support team. The reality, unfortunately, is that they can’t be plugged in without being bogged down.

Senior officers, trained to understand the American way of war to mean overwhelming force and superior firepower, view special ops outside a war zone as something to be avoided at all cost. This has been true even in lower-risk efforts to capture war criminals in the Balkans. The record demonstrates that our military is simply incapable of adapting its culture to embrace such operations. The Pentagon should just stop planning for missions it won’t launch.

While the C.I.A. doesn’t have an unblemished record, its counterterrorism operations have shown more promise than the Pentagon’s. The agency has already had some successes operating in ungoverned spaces. In the first reported attack in such a region, a C.I.A.-operated Predator drone launched a missile that killed a Qaeda lieutenant in Yemen in 2002. Since then the Predator has been used to strike Al Qaeda at least eight times, although with limited success. At least initially, the trigger in these attacks was pulled by C.I.A. operatives, not soldiers.

The record of a small, vulnerable C.I.A. paramilitary force in Afghanistan in 2001 was more impressive. The group’s audacious reconnaissance work and direction of local warlords in action against the Taliban provided the most significant battlefield success of the post-9/11 period. Without this risky, cold-start intervention, the American troops that followed the agency into Afghanistan would have gone in blind and worried more about their flanks than about Al Qaeda.

The agency’s history of ill-conceived covert political operations from the 1950s through the 1970s may cause some to worry. That agency, however, no longer exists. Congressional hearings and legislation, as well as fear of casualties, have given the clandestine service its own case of risk aversion, though it seems less severe than the Pentagon’s.

We have failed in Pakistan, and are failing in Iraq, to achieve a primary aim of our counterterrorism policy: preventing Al Qaeda from acquiring safe havens. Our military has shown itself to be a poor instrument for fighting terrorism, and there are now thousands of jihadists who weren’t in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion. When the inevitable American drawdown occurs, we will need a way to keep the terrorists off balance in Iraq and to disrupt the conveyor belt that is already moving fighters to places like Lebanon, North Africa and Europe.

With new leadership at both the C.I.A. and the Defense Department, the Bush administration has a chance to fix this problem. The missing ingredient for success with the most important kind of counterterrorism missions is not courage or technical capacity — our uniformed personnel are unsurpassed — but organizational culture. With a small fraction of the resources that Pentagon has for special operations, the C.I.A. could develop the paramilitary capacity we profoundly need.

Posted by aalkon at July 24, 2007 9:23 AM

Comments

> While the C.I.A. doesn’t have
> an unblemished record,

Inexcusable understatement!

> its counterterrorism operations
> have shown more promise than
> the Pentagon’s.

I'll never ever believe this. Or that anyone who thinks a technocratic agency called "intelligence" (a contradiction in terms) has any business doing operations. Such a person hasn't read Orwell. Such a person hasn't read anything .

Grrr.

Posted by: Crid at July 24, 2007 1:48 AM

I read Orwell at 12, I believe. Animal Farm and then 1984. What's clear to me is that we've got to send somebody in after Al Qaeda. When do you think we'll get around to it?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 24, 2007 4:41 AM

> we've got to send somebody
> in after Al Qaeda

What could that possibly mean?

1. - What do mean by send somebody?
These terrorist problems are caused by civilization's incomplete modernization. Bringing the rest of the world into the tent is a project for each and all of us, and we can't pay someone to do it for us.

2. - What do you mean by in?
There's not some marked, known boundary that needs to be audaciously crossed in order to confront this threat. It exists in several cultures on at least three continents. (Four... No, five!) The threat is not a chartered organization that offers ID's and traceable paychecks. If you know the address where our forces need to attack to stop this threat, please type it into the space provided below:

___________________________.

Secretary Gates thanks you for your suggestions; and will be in touch if he has any further questions.

3. - What do you mean by Al Qaeda ?
This is a dispersed international alliance of convenience by troublemakers whose bond often consists of nothing but a mutually raised eyebrow. (Again-- is the Islamic Rage Boy in Versace from Al Qaeda, or is he just an asshole who oughta get a day job and a Tivo? And a BJ?)

http://urltea.com/11kf

There are plenty of pissy little people who think the rich, successful USA needs to be brought down a peg, and they don't care whether it's hurricanes or terrorists that do it. Are they weasels, or are they Al Qaeda, too?

Let's talk about this last group. They're the least threatening in the short term, but their annoyance greases the skids for terrorists in a lot of little ways.

I've almost given up visiting Reddit.com, because about every fifth post nowadays is some undergrad ranting about how Boosh has turned this into "a police state, Man!" But the second most popular theme this week seems to be that classic melody from Britney's middle period, "Why do they hate us?"

Throughout your lifetime and deep back into your mother's, lesser nations have used the CIA as an excuse for everything that could go wrong in their lives. Electricity fails at the village meeting house at 7:30 on a Tuesday? The CIA. Bus plunges off a mountain road when the axle snaps after just 140,000 miles without routine maintenance? The CIA. An encampment of harvest workers washed away in a flood? Dude, my girlfriend's little brother saw a CIA plane seeding the clouds just before it happened!

It's paranoia and it's infantile, but there's a reason people can believe it. There are too many sources and too many debacles to list. Marc Cooper's blog can describe more than a few of them. (My personal favorite: http://urltea.com/11zf ) Basically, every time the CIA tries to pull off something 'operational', the world turns to shit. Meanwhile, 9/11 taught us that those tapered turds can't be trusted with the most obvious information-gathering and -collating chores.

It's not just ineffectual to expect the CIA to handle these problems... It's cowardly and duplicitous. If capitalist, representative, religiously tolerant democracy can't take over the world by playing fair with people, it doesn't deserve to take over the world. Hiring a bunch of murderous thugs to do your dirty work doesn't mean your hands are clean.

The Middle East thinks we're responsible for their wretchedness. We (through the CIA) gave them Saddam, the House of Saud, and the Shah. Are they right?

Posted by: Crid at July 24, 2007 12:48 PM

Posted by: Jim Treacher at July 24, 2007 1:15 PM

'Zactly.

Posted by: Crid at July 24, 2007 1:39 PM

It's not just ineffectual to expect the CIA to handle these problems... It's cowardly and duplicitous. If capitalist, representative, religiously tolerant democracy can't take over the world by playing fair with people, it doesn't deserve to take over the world.

In previous posts, I've made my skepticism about the Iraq war entirely clear, and that I tend to think that the cynical realpolitik approach to the Middle East used by Bush 41 and most other Presidents is more effective than the idealistic "we can change this place" attitude of the Neo-con architects of the war. I would have been more than happy to advocate using the CIA to foment unrest in places like Iraq, or to assassinate Saddam and his sons. But you make a good point here Crid. I don't have a well-crafted response here, but it's food for thought.

Posted by: justin case at July 24, 2007 2:46 PM

> cynical realpolitik approach
> to the Middle East used by Bush
> 41 and most other Presidents
> is more effective

What "effect?" I think 9/11 was the effect. That and a few generations of strongman fascism, religious stewing, and intellectual backwardness. Is "effectiveness" our goal? OK, but no more tears about spilled blood, and don't come whining about "why they hate us"... You want "effectiveness", there are plenty of people who will give it to you, and do so while shielding you from the details of their activity (if not from the moral responsibility for it).

> the idealistic "we can
> change this place"

You're squatting on the verge of the words idea and idealism. The reason we were so offended when Bush gave us the Department of Homeland Security is homeland is a word that has no meaning for us. We're a nation of immigrants, fer chrissake, and we're loyal to this country that enobles our freedom, not to the "home" countries that we ran away from. America isn't about territory, it's about ideas. The ideas that make us successful can, will and do make other nations successful, and there's no longer excuse for being coy about it. As I said a few years ago, modernity can take no prisoners.

Posted by: Crid at July 24, 2007 4:38 PM

Refugees from the 'of the soil' politics. That is why Sarkozy is the first French President whose parents are not of the soil. A major historical event and many tag him as very 'American' in his approach to changing the old bureaucratic system in France.

I enjoy using a quote from a deranged fascist philosopher, Julius Evola when he would describe the USA: "As a nation of pariahs." Of course he was using it as an insult.

Posted by: Joe at July 24, 2007 5:20 PM

The way to implement real solid reform in the Middle East is through a process of de-tribalization called Movementism that was practiced in Uganda post-Amin under Yoweri Museveni. It is the non-party system that does not prohibit political parties (tribal affiliations), but prevented them from fielding candidates directly in elections. A candidate must swear loyalty towards the nation state over one's tribe. An enlightened dictator will oversee the political reforms and stand down once there is an established infrastructure that rivals religious clerics. That is how you reform the Middle East. Hosni Mubarak is following a similar program in reforming Egypt’s constitution.

Through the various measures of modernity over a period of time the fundamental structures of the tribe will eventually evaporate through equal rights for women, universal education standards, secular laws, modern conveniences and a higher standard of living for a majority of a particular nation's citizenry.

Posted by: Joe at July 24, 2007 5:51 PM

Justin- IJS, if not fucking with other nations through surreptitous murder and manipulation is your definition of "idealism," you're setting the bar pretty low.

Joe - An interesting recent mention of Uganda:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGXt3GUJ-9w

(It's kind of depressing. Most thoughts about Africa are like that.)

Posted by: Crid at July 24, 2007 7:12 PM

I was in Uganda off and on 2002-2003. A total of 6 weeks there and it was great, hot, but great. Friendliest people too. They loved coming up and talk to me at all ages. On the river boats, buses and walking along the roads. I delivered medical supplies, assisted MD doctors, statisticians, social workers, immunologists and thousands of other tasks. Played soccer with the kids too.

It wasn't just the ABC campaign that reduce the AIDS numbers in Uganda. It was the social reforms by Yoweri Museveni to slowly dissolve the element of social coercion within the various tribes by passing laws that would give women equal treatment before the law. The Domestic Relations Bill (DRB) is an amalgamation of all domestic related laws, namely marriage, divorce, separation, inheritance and property rights. It was a bill that languished in the Ugandan Parliament since 1988 out of fears that it will lead to the breakdown of the family structure and that it was modeled after American and European divorce laws. (which it wasn't) Women are the poorest segment of Ugandan society and would forced to have sex and cases of rape were never prosecuted. The clause that centered on rape was the one that was vehemently opposed by various groups (Christians and Muslims) within the nation.

In a few months it will be passed, because of Museveni's public endorsement.

Posted by: Joe at July 24, 2007 8:38 PM

OTOH, Starbuck raised the price of a cup of brew this morning. Wanna bet what happens to the AIDS trends in next three years?

Posted by: Crid at July 24, 2007 9:25 PM

Is "effectiveness" our goal?

I think it should be. Regarding the Islamic ME, we need to look to some of these questions regarding our policy: 1) does it encourage a stable supply of oil, 2) does it encourage the stability of the powers in the region whose governments oppose Jihadist terrorism, 3) does it help the security of the U.S. and its allies (particularly the UK and Israel).

IJS, if not fucking with other nations through surreptitous murder and manipulation is your definition of "idealism," you're setting the bar pretty low.

For the purposes of this discussion, my definition of idealism is about people believing in the idea that the Iraq war would be the catalyst toward moving a region toward western-style democracy and a less antagonistic stance toward the developed world.

The ideas that make us successful can, will and do make other nations successful, and there's no longer excuse for being coy about it.

I agree, but I think we can't yank people through the enlightenment. I think that part of the problem here is that Bush and the other architects of our Iraq policy neglected history and culture when they dreamed up our plans. They either forgot or ignored the fact that tribal and religious affiliations come first in Iraq; their country is way down on the list. There's a reason why some cultures ended up being democratic first, and why democracy doesn't seem to work very well in places ill-prepared for it. Some immediate examples of this are the Palestinian territories and Russia. What the people want (Hamas, old-school KGB strongman Putin) isn't always what's good for them or the world. I think our founding ideas are the best the world has to offer, but part of why we got them was the intelligence and wisdom of the enlightenment; in places where that sort of thinking isn't valued, it's unsurprising that democracy empowers people who are dangerous.

Posted by: justin case at July 25, 2007 9:03 AM

P.S. I'm still considering whether I think CIA-style "surreptitious murder and manipulation," in Crid's words, is more effective than PNAC-style massive military intervention in dealing with the Middle East. I find both approaches unappealing, but I'm without an alternative.

Posted by: justin case at July 25, 2007 9:12 AM

Surrender Dorothy! You're in an untenable position, and I mean to punish you horridly.

> I think it should be.

So can we go nuclear? It would be incredibly "effective." You've already paid trillions for the armaments, we oughta use 'em. Meanwhile Abu Gharib was not a big deal, right? (Don't go whining about a few prison beatings when you're planning to unleash a secret agency on the whole world and pretend the secrecy absolves you of responsibility.)

> does it encourage a
> stable supply of oil

Compared to what? Saddam? He's the one who froze Iraq's infrastructure development (and maintenance, even) in the 1970's. Lord knows he distracted the Kuwaitis and Iranians from their oil-pumping chores.

> encourage the stability of
> the powers in the region
> whose governments oppose
> Jihadist terrorism

Justin, list them. The ones making trouble aren't doing it just doing it through Jihadist terrorism.

> For the purposes of this
> discussion

You don't get to choose! You said it, you meant it, and you can't take it back without recanting. I think that compared to global force of secret police, a US Army that makes its moves with brass horns and snare drums is fucking ideal. Questions? No? Good.

> whether I think CIA-style
> "surreptitious murder and
> manipulation," in Crid's
> words, is more effective
> than PNAC-style massive military

Manipulative bifurcation! Who said those were our only options? Anti-war types lost the contest in 2003; that doesn't mean they can take their ball and bat and go home and pout.

(Just for the record, I think this thing could have worked... If there had been sane thought given to establishing democratic capitalism in Iraq by the administration --and certainly if a broad cross-section of clever stateside Americans had been making efforts to jumpstart things-- we could have made it happen. Let's not pretend we're never going need to do this again someday.)

> I'm without an
> alternative.

Bull... Even if you don't retreat from your CIA enthusiasm, and you probably do.

All of us admired that photo from Yemen:

http://urltea.com/12ae

It was an image of crisp victory at an hour when we needed one... Nothin' left but a stain on the desert! But it argued only for the hatchet, not the executioner. Y'know, nobody even pretends to know what the CIA's budget is. No sane person can argue that they're a more "efficient" operator of drone missiles than the military for whom --and within whose R&D-- the weapons were developed anyway.

The willingness of the United States of America to pick fights in public and swing noisy fists is some of the best evidence of her civilized refinement. I can't believe you find any moral suasion in glib, weightless chatter about "the paramilitary capacity we profoundly need."

Posted by: Crid at July 25, 2007 12:51 PM

Surrender Dorothy!

Never! You're too fun to argue with.

But let me preface this by noting: I'm not especially enthusiastic about the CIA, and don't think anything I've written here suggests that (quite the opposite). Course I also know that you hold them in deep contempt; you've made it clear that you don't think they do any good and much bad. But I think that sometimes the subtle approach serves to further our interests more than the direct approach (i.e., invading and occupying a country that currently lacks the wherewithal to become what we intended - a united, functional democracy).

Responding to some of your particular points:

So can we go nuclear? It would be incredibly "effective."

This is silly. Nuclear would sure make quick work of entire nations, but would also destroy everything else and poison the places for years. As you've noted, we need what they got. Which is why we need to prop up governments that behave themselves (you said list them - how about Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain...) and use them to balance power against the bad actors.

(Don't go whining about a few prison beatings when you're planning to unleash a secret agency on the whole world and pretend the secrecy absolves you of responsibility.)

It wasn't until recently that this sort of behavior was accepted policy. You make a good point that there's a real accountability problem. But as Taguba's report demonstrated, secrecy and lack of accountability for tactics and behaviors is also endemic in the military's treatment of prisoners since the opening of the Guantanamo prison.

Who said those were our only options?

I think they're the primary options we've used in the ME.

Anti-war types lost the contest in 2003; that doesn't mean they can take their ball and bat and go home and pout.

Well, I'm anti-Iraq-war, not anti-war per se. We gotta deal with the mess we created in Iraq, there's no doubt (my plan: move our forces to Kuwait and Kurdistan and let the rest of the country have it's civil war. Put it back together when they get tired of killing each other). As I've noted above (and you really didn't address, but then again, neither did the people who concocted this war), there were serious and deep cultural reasons why what we did wasn't likely to create a functional democracy (I know, you cry RACISM here; which it's not. It's a religious and cultural problem. These people have generations of hate for each other, consider different groups to be apostates, and have no problem killing each other for these reasons.).

Let's not pretend we're never going need to do this again someday.

Oh, I'm pretty certain Iraq-style intervention will be off the table for a generation or so.

No sane person can argue that they're a more "efficient" operator

Well, we're paying 200 million a day or so for a civil war that could have been accomplished just as effectively by decapitating the Saddam regime. I'm being glib here, but my point is that we're paying dearly for this venture in dollars, the huge risk premium on oil, and lives. Hardly efficient from our perspective today.

But, and this is a big one:

We may look back on this awful scene at some point in time and see it as transformative - a point where the U.S. finally succeeded in putting the rhetoric to the road and set the ME on the path to enlightened modernity. And wasn't it great the Bush 43 repudiated the legacy of Bush 41 by no longer playing a cynical game doing business with and secretly manipulating nasty dictators to protect our interests and get their oil. Unfortunately, I think it's more likely that what we'll see is that the policy of Bush 43 and the PNAC posse hastens the spread of Tehran-style theocracy and keeps the Middle East churning toward ever-expanding conflicts and possibly a much broader war.

Posted by: justin case at July 26, 2007 9:46 AM

Slapback pending, busy day, watch this space

Posted by: Crid at July 26, 2007 2:19 PM

I can't wait!

Posted by: justin case at July 26, 2007 6:38 PM

> sometimes the subtle approach
> serves to further our
> interests

Secret murder isn't "subtle", it's just secret. (Orwell! Orwell!) An essential component of our morality is that we shouldn't have to do things in secret.

> occupying a country that
> currently lacks the
> wherewithal

Who knew? More to the point, who said so, and what was their reasoning? The argument always seems to be that those little brown people just don't care about liberty and never will. Those muttering about the history & traditions of Iraq seem unable to consider any event earlier than 02 Aug 1990. And they can't explain why --if this was in the cards anyway (and people always talk of civil war as a hand dealt by God)-- Bush's military should be held accountable for it. If civil war (or any war) is in the cards, I say bring it... Let's get it out of the way for our great-grandsons. That's what happened for me with the United States' civil war.

No one foresaw factionalism of this magnitude. If they did, they didn't argue against invasion on that basis. There were plenty of other arguments against the war, but this wasn't one of them. (Admittedly, no one could have imagined such a lackluster political reconstruction from the Administration. Bush is not the man to command such an effort, and he apparently never interviewed anyone to be Iraq's George Marshall.)

All the fuckers who sigh with such theatrical resignation to the backwardness of these cultures would be much more convincing if they didn't now rush to the shelter of a foreign policy which they presumably found loathsome and leaky just a few years ago. This isn't a thoughtful retreat to a fortified position, it's transparent sentimentality. The great thing about the past is that you know how it turns out. That doesn't mean you get to go back to high school.

> we need to prop up governments

First of all, don't call some phenomenally lucky immediate family of landholding desert-dwellers a "government". And for the sweet love of Christ, don't call them "royalty."

> that behave themselves

We've seen there's more to "behaving themselves" than serving our immediate fondness for a cheap tank of gas.

> Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar,
> Bahrain

That list smells seven-dwarfy. If memory serves, Kuwait was as repellent and oppressive a government as any of them until we pulled them out of the frying pan, at which point they made a few noises about liberalization (education for women, etc.). I don't know if they've followed through, and wouldn't be surprised if they haven't. The countries we're most concerned about are the bigger suppliers: Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. You'd agree that our "propping" of two of those three failed badly. Those who remember that 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals would call that a third strike for you.

> It wasn't until recently
> that this sort of behavior
> was accepted policy.

Yes! And it was bad! Good people said so at the time! Are we going to reinstate slavery, too? It was how the world worked for millennia....

> I think they're the primary
> options we've used in the ME.

I can't see what you mean. In what sense are they primary? By definition they're the ones we tried. Do you really think this is as good as things could have turned out?

> my plan: move our forces to
> Kuwait and Kurdistan and let
> the rest of the country have
> it's civil war.

Last week the NYT had an editorial arguing that it was time to get out. I was ready to get pissed off at them, but they said the same thing: Put our peeps in Kurdish territory for easy access. It would be nice if we did this for the Kurd's benefit instead of our own. But I think that's probably how it's going to go. A woman dear to me offered thoughts this morning: We said we were going in to remove Saddam, remove the threat of WMDs, and establish a new democratic government. Done! Bush should haul out the Mission Accomplished banner and call it a day.

> I'm pretty certain Iraq-style
> intervention will be off the
> table for a generation or so.

Only as a flighty impulse. The need will be with us for at least another century; and the broader, throbbing will to give it a try will be renewed next time there's an attack on the United States. The reason that all those people screaming "Viet Nam!" were ignored in 2003 is that Iraq is not Viet Nam. The circumstances are always different. Next time they'll be even more different than Baghdad from Hanoi... But there will be a next time, a circumstance where some shitty government simply can't be permitted to exist.

> could have been accomplished
> just as effectively by
> decapitating the Saddam
> regime.

It wounds when you put it so succinctly. But I have a defense, and that is that it's not entirely true.

We didn't just remove Saddam, we minutely fragmented his political machinery and killed his sons. Repair of the marshlands (and democratization of the hinterland areas) has begun in a way that could never have happened without our presence. Surrounding nations (and despots around the globe) have had to think much more seriously about how they're going get along than they would have if Iraq's future were left simply to a few rounds of internal fisticuffs. The United States can take down monsters, and will do so whether or not the French think it's cool.

One last time: Anyone who argues that the CIA needs more latitude or resources is forever enjoined from whining about torture, or Guantanamo, or secret prisons in Europe or whatever.... Because you fucking well asked for it.

This is sloppy long but it was big day and too sleepy to edit.

Posted by: Crid at July 27, 2007 3:03 AM

Anyone who argues that the CIA needs more latitude or resources is forever enjoined from whining about torture, or Guantanamo, or secret prisons in Europe or whatever.... Because you fucking well asked for it.

You're right about this one, and these are huge issues for me. I think nothing has done more to disgrace our country in recent years. Course, the fact that the senior political and military leadership in this country either actively supports these policies (Cheney, and to a lesser degree, Bush), or looked the other way and didn't want to know (Rumsfeld) certainly makes it worse. The fact that the CIA can and does do these things in unaccountable secrecy is unacceptable.

Until further notice, consider this point ceded. Savor it, Crid.

Posted by: justin case at July 27, 2007 11:53 AM

(Pumps fist into air, accidentally upsetting card table full of model airplane parts and Dr Pepper cans, spilling debris across floor of Mother's cinderblock basement.)

Posted by: Crid at July 27, 2007 12:34 PM

I'd expect Mountain Dew down there.

Posted by: justin case at July 27, 2007 1:05 PM

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