Paris attacks | Andrew J. Bacevich: A war the West cannot win – The Boston Globe

“Hollande views the tragedy that has befallen Paris as a summons to yet more war. The rest of us would do well to see it as a moment to reexamine the assumptions that have enmeshed the West in a war that it cannot win and should not perpetuate.”

Against the Islamic extremism that attacked Paris and threatens the world, the US and its allies should assume a defensive posture.

Source: Paris attacks | Andrew J. Bacevich: A war the West cannot win – The Boston Globe

A Demonstration Of How The Director Of National Intelligence’s New Policy on Media Contacts With Intelligence Community Employees Would Work

“How We Read a NYTimes Story on Drone Strikes in Yemen” by Ryan Goodman & Sarah Knuckey, originally published on Just Security.

As usual, much of the work of the devil is in the details, pointed out here:

How We Read a NYTimes Story on Drone Strikes in Yemen

By Ryan Goodman and Sarah Knuckey
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 8:03 AM
In this post, we’re trying something new. Below, we present an almost line-by-line annotation of yesterday’s New York Times story on US and Yemeni military operations in Yemen. Among other things, the following is intended to identify legal implications of the news being reported, the significance of some of the revelations, and paths for further investigative reporting.

U.S. Drones and Yemeni Forces Kill Qaeda-Linked Fighters, Officials Say
By Eric Schmitt. Saeed Al Batati contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.
New York Times

WASHINGTON — American drones and Yemeni counterterrorism forces killed more than three dozen militants[1] linked to Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen over the weekend in one of the largest such attacks there in months[2], officials[3] from both countries said Monday.

[1] Note that the story leads with “militants” instead of “alleged militants.” Technically this difference is solved by the reference to “officials … said” at the end of the sentence. Still, the lede creates an initial impression that the individuals killed were indeed militants, rather than signalling to the reader that the issue might be contested. This kind of formulation — asserting militancy as fact, and later attributing those claims to officials — occurs frequently throughout this story. Given the anonymity of the official claims, repeated cases in which official claims have subsequently proven unreliable, the difficulty of determining “militancy,” and what is at stake in the categorization, the NYT could assist its readers by including more nuance in such coverage. In addition to signals such as “alleged,” some stories could place an initial reference to “militants” in scare quotes.

[2] It is a significant understatement to call this one of the largest attacks in “months.” If the reported casualties are accurate, the weekend strikes were one of the largest attacks in the history of US strikes in Yemen. Prior attacks resulting in such large numbers of deaths in a short amount of time include the July-August 2013 cluster of strikes (9 strikes, 31-49 estimated deaths), March 2012 strikes, and the December 2009 al-Majala strike.

[3] As is often the case in news pieces on US “targeted killings,” the bulk of the information in this story is sourced to unnamed “officials” from both Yemen and the United States. In this story, anonymous officials are cited frequently throughout; yet CIA, Pentagon, and White House spokespersons refused to comment or to comment specifically on these strikes.
At least three airstrikes were carried out against Qaeda fighters[4] in a convoy and in remote training camps in southern Yemen. They were militants who were planning to attack civilian and military facilities[5][6], government officials said in a statement.

[4] Note that the reference to “officials said” drops from sentences such as this one, and now terms like “Qaeda fighters” have neither that qualification nor a qualification like “alleged.”

[5] According to other news outlets — such as Reuters and Agence France-Presse – Yemeni official statements included the fact that these facilities were in Bayda province. This is important because it would suggest the militants were not directly threatening US persons. (And President Obama’s new rules of May 23, 2013 limit US lethal actions to threats only to US persons.) Are you curious as to whether Reuters/AFP got this right, and the NYT missed its relevance? The official statement on the Yemeni Defense Ministry’s website identifies Bayda as the target.

[6] It is striking that in light of such a “massive and unprecedented” operation, there has not been more reporting on what exactly the militants were allegedly up to.
Yemen’s Interior Ministry said Monday that as many as 55 militants had been killed, but a senior Yemeni official put the figure in the 40s.[7][8] The government’s statement also acknowledged that three civilians had been killed and five wounded in one of the airstrikes on Saturday.

[7] It would be helpful to inform the reader that Yemeni official statements like these have in the past proven wrong after time passes following a strike.

[8] Such widely varying numbers should raise questions about the quality of the intelligence before (as well as after) the strikes. The poor quality of these numbers also raises questions about whether the US and Yemeni authorities were able to know — in advance — that no civilians were at risk of being killed. (This is important because President Obama’s new rules of May 23 permit lethal force only if there is “near certainty” that civilians “will not be injured or killed.”)
Yemeni officials said they were working to identify those killed[9] in the attacks. As part of a campaign using armed drones in Yemen, the United States has been trying to kill Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s master bomb maker. But American officials said Monday that those men were not the intended targets in these strikes.[10]

[9] This phrase may mean the officials are certain that all the individuals killed were militants, and the government is simply working to determine their specific roles and identities. That said, the phrase also raises questions about the quality of intelligence before the strike. If the intelligence was lacking, how certain were the US and Yemeni governments that the targets were only militants and not also civilians? How certain were they that the militants were “leading elements” of AQAP, as Yemen’s government alleged?

[10] This is a major revelation. It contradicts rumors and speculation that Asiri was a target of the operations, and notably it contradicts an earlier report by the Long War Journal which concluded that he was a target.
The precise role of the United States in the airstrikes and ground operations was not immediately clear. American officials said the airstrikes had been carried out by drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, but an agency spokesman declined to comment. Other officials said American Special Operations military personnel had supported the Yemeni operations on the ground with intelligence and possibly logistical assistance.[11] The Pentagon declined to discuss the operations.

[11] This is also a major revelation. It also raises specific concerns about whether the US is now fighting a domestic insurgency alongside the Yemeni government. As with reports that the US military may pilot CIA drones, these operations in Yemen also show the need for a more nuanced understanding of the CIA’s vs. Pentagon’s roles in targeted strikes–more nuanced than common accounts otherwise suggest. This would be a fruitful area for investigation.
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, referred all questions about the operations, which started on Saturday and continued past midnight on Sunday, to the Yemeni government,[12] and he spoke only in broad terms about the counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.

[12] Might Carney’s statement involve an implicit form of endorsement of the Yemeni government’s representation of the facts?
“We have a strong collaborative relationship, as you know, with the Yemeni government and worked together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from A.Q.A.P.,” said Mr. Carney, referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

American officials sought to play down the United States’ role and to allow Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s president, to bolster his domestic credibility and claim credit for the operations.[13] They had a troubled relationship with the longtime president who preceded him, Ali Abdullah Saleh, but they have voiced confidence in Mr. Hadi and increased aid to the country.

[13] This statement is potentially more nefarious than first meets the eye. Recall the Wikileaks cable from General Petraeus’s meeting with Yemen’s then-President Saleh:

“‘We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,’ Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG [Republic of Yemen Government].’”
The drone attacks were the largest barrage of airstrikes carried out in Yemen this year — 11 in all so far, according to The Long War Journal, a website that tracks drone strikes — and one of the largest strikes carried out since President Obama outlined a new strategy last May for targeting Qaeda militants in battlefields outside Afghanistan.

In his speech in May, Mr. Obama said targeted killing operations were carried out only against militants who posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” He also said no strike could be authorized without “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” a bar he described as “the highest standard we can set.”[14]

[14] Hallelujah! It is terrific to see a news report squarely raise these two questions. Despite significant media coverage of these strikes, to our knowledge, Schmitt’s piece was the first to do this so explicitly. The strike standards are set forth in a government document, “U.S. Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.” Only a summarized version of the document is publicly available. When the standards were released on May 23, 2013, we raised initial questions about their content and we expressed concerns about the continuing lack of transparency. It is important to raise those same questions and concerns in light of the events in Yemen and elsewhere.
Given that the administration would not even confirm that American drones carried out the strikes over the weekend, it was unclear how the people targeted in the strike posed a threat to Americans.[15] The Qaeda affiliate has in the past targeted the United States Embassy in Sana, the Yemeni capital.

[15] This is a very important assessment, and again raises a key question about the strikes. Given that it remains completely unanswered, it is precisely the kind of questioning that should appear in news reports. When the last significant series of strikes occurred in Yemen in July-August 2013, news reports routinely quoted from officials who claimed that al Qaeda was planning to attack US embassies. We are surprised that there has been so little reporting now about what specific threat these alleged militants posed to “US persons.” There may be sound reasons that justify the US assisting Yemen with attacks against threats to Yemeni installations or persons, but the US has been very clear that it will strike only if there is a threat to US persons.
The raid by Yemen’s Counterterrorism Unit late Sunday, which occurred on the main road connecting the southern province of Shabwa with the adjacent province of Marib, culminated nearly 48 hours of intensive airstrikes.

“The operation delivers a strong message to the criminal and terror operatives that the armed forces and security personnel are ready to foil and thwart terrorist acts in any time and place,” Mr. Hadi said in the government’s statement.

The statement said three airstrikes had destroyed al Qaeda training camp in a remote mountainous area in Abyan, a southern province, killing two dozen militants, including foreign fighters.

The government said several other airstrikes had targeted vehicles and militants in Abyan, Shabwa and Bayda Provinces.

Mohsen Labhas, a resident of Al Lahab, a village near a highway that connects the cities of Ataq and Bayhan in Shabwa Province, said that after hearing gunfire on Sunday night, he and other residents jumped in their cars and raced to the scene. They were met by American drones and helicopters.[16] “We abandoned our car since we thought that the aircraft might target us, but it turned out that it warned us from approaching the area,[17]” he said.

[16] The use of helicopters — manned, low-flying aircraft — is important in considering whether the US is now a party to an internal armed conflict in Yemen. Unlike drones, helicopters expose US forces to risk of casualties, which may implicate whether congressional authorization is required. (See also the reference above to the US providing support “on the ground with intelligence and possibly logistical assistance.”)

[17] Assuming the witness accurately understood these events, it is very positive to see reporting — in the context of targeted killings and drone strikes — on efforts taken by the US and Yemen to warn civilians, and to keep civilians away from areas of active fighting. We do not recall such efforts being reported in relation to previous strikes.
“Nearly half an hour later, the aircraft fired a missile at a target on the ground,” Mr. Labhas said.

A strike on Saturday morning targeted a vehicle in Bayda Province, killing 10 militants and wounding one, according to the Yemeni government. It said intelligence had indicated that the fighters were planning to attack important installations.

“Regrettably, three civilians were also killed during the attack and five were injured when their pickup truck unexpectedly appeared[18][19] next to the targeted vehicle,” the statement said.

[18] Given the central role that allegations of civilian deaths and injuries have played in targeted killing debates, we were surprised to see the details about this aspect of the operations so far down in the article. Nevertheless, it is important to note that it has been rare for officials to acknowledge so quickly that civilians were killed. This is a positive step, and we hope it signals a new approach to responding to civilian harm. Finally here, one news story can’t do everything, but it would be good to see some journalists now follow up this story to investigate whether the governments pay compensation to these victims and families, and whether there is any form of public acknowledgement to the families of these mistakes and an explanation of their family members’ deaths.

[19] The civilian vehicle “unexpectedly appeared”? This suggests an answer to earlier questions raised by some commentators about whether the civilians were killed simply by accident, or whether they were targeted on the mistaken assumption that they were al Qaeda. Yet the claim that the civilian vehicle unexpectedly appeared raises its own questions, particularly about what precautions are taken before attacks, how a “near certainty” standard is applied in practice, and whether the technical capacities drones have to enable precision targeting match the capabilities often claimed by officials.

What’s Wrong with “We,The People”? Are we abraded raw, hard-callused, hungry? Is this just manipulation?

“We, the People,” are upset and angry.  And we’ve been this way throughout recent years at least since Bush vs. Gore in 2000.  That decision, however much we may doubt its legitimacy as a proper exercise of the judicial function, verified by reputable post-election analyses as accurately indicating how the election would have turned out in any case.  Concerning as that is to some, we’ve moved on and covered much.  Right now we have a smorgasbord to dine on.

Rolling Stone covers, Salon commentaries, jury verdicts, state “nullifications,” ALEC, “Tea-Partiers,” Left-wingers, Right-wingers, Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman victimizations, “Stand Your Ground,” “Self-Defense,” Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Bradley Manning, NSA, CIA, FBI, any Cheney, Obama, Obamacare, The Mainstream Media, Fox News, The New Media…

Take your pick and don’t leave the table hungry if you want more or bring your own if I’ve left something out, either because I didn’t think of it off the top of my head or just missed it completely on a Sunday morning before checking the news to see if something new is out there to add to the list.

Opinions fly about, some well-reasoned but many if not most just angry assertions about the motives of people holding contrary opinions and many of these expressed in vulgar terms not intended to persuade but to insult.  These are usually read only by those who hold much the same opinions.  Few of these opinions, even the most thoughtfully developed ones, are actually making it across the divide to be scrutinized and evaluated by those who think differently.

This back and forth within each side is described as the positioning of the “bases” of a side’s supporters.  The participants know from the outset that they aren’t persuading anyone new, just maintaining strength through unity.

There are a number of factors easily identified as contributing to all this anger:  the economic near-collapse in 2008, the slow recovery, bailouts, foreclosures, job losses, a growing sense among some of privilege and among others of an unscrupulous and unconcerned elite as well as the election of an inexperienced and not well-known senator to be the nation’s first African-American president in a country that still has race problems and the, to my mind even more insidious problem, an unconscious racism among some of those most committed to the ideal of equality before the law for all Americans.  A sense of frustration at the ending of two wars as no clear cut desired end result was obtained from the first and that is the most likely outcome of the second, even as events in other parts of the world demand that the US play a leadership role, if not pre-emptively as some would have, at least as the last major power.  Alongside it is the concern that the homefront itself is in need of serious attention if the US is to remain the country most of us have seen as offering the best environment for achieving one’s personal goals and living a good and satisfying life.

We, the People, have much to dine upon but we seem to have decided to throw the food at each other rather than eat it, chewing thoroughly.  We are mad at the banquet.

I think there are two possible explanations, neither of which is very useful except as a check on how we are to respond to the future we face how we deal with what appears to be our appetite.

One is that we are just “raw,” skinned by all that has happened.

Anything that touches us anywhere hurts or at least is perceived as a possible hurt.  We react immediately, thoughtlessly and angrily against anything that comes our way and displeases us or has that potential.  We don’t sort out moral, legal, philosophical, scientific bases for our reactions and think through their consequences or what the implications of our feelings might be for other feelings we hold equally but that are not in play on the current issue (This is hard to do when not abraded, the more so if in pain.)  We personalize without thinking.  If the Koch brothers could have done in their lifetimes all the harm to the country that has been attributed to them, they would be the two most effective figures in the last 60-plus years and would not have had a chance to build their fortune.  If the Mainstream Media had so distorted the truth as claimed there would be no-one left to know it.  If Rolling Stones using a widely used picture of one of the Boston bombers so “glamorized terrorism,” why was that not true when other publications used the same picture?  Are we “judging a book by its cover?”  Is there no ethical obligation to read the article before pronouncing on the editors’ decision to use the picture?  No, we are angry and we want to be and we don’t want some damn Sunday morning blogger pronouncing on what our ethics should be either!

The other explanation is that we have become hard callused by recent years and crave to feel something, anything, that restores us to the basically good people we had thought we or at least most of us were.

Lashing out about racism over a jury verdict, indicting “Stand Your Ground” laws passed by legislatures properly elected by we, the people, rubbing Mitch McConnell’s nose in his pronouncement about making Obama a one-term president, pro-gun control people as experts on TV saying that the Constitution says nothing about self-defense as if the Constitution were the sole or even the major basis of most of the laws of the land, questioning jury verdicts on the basis of one juror’s anonymous interview about how she understood what was happening in the jury room within the minds of all six, whether or not we think the jury came to the right conclusion (and often neglecting that a close following of the TV coverage gave a viewer more information than the jury was allowed to have because it was sent out of the room frequently), pronouncing people with whose views we disagree to be “stupid” when all evidence is that they are anything but stupid, they simply have a different purpose they are pursuing from that which we think is right as in “Ted Cruz is stupid.”  These make us feel better, superior, more like we are the north star for what should and shouldn’t be than we have been able to feel through so much that was difficult to understand or even get reliable information about in recent economics, world affairs, 9/11, terrorist attacks, homeland and national security, cyberwar, Wikileaks, “enhanced interrogation methods,” torture, “state secrets doctrine” and more that we had no say about and when we asked we were told to go away, it would be dangerous if “We, the people” knew these things.

Of course, it is possible to suffer from both abrasions and calluses and feel little need to make the distinction.  What does seem true is there there is anger and now nearly every news event contains something to provoke it.

We, the people, might rightly, I think, be angry at ourselves.  We vote less, we leave elections in the hands of people whose positions we don’t know or often even bother to ask.  They act for themselves because they have seen how little We, the people, care what they do if it doesn’t affect us negatively and how generous we will be if we think they are doing something that will positively affect us.

The time has come I hope that We, the people, will begin to hold ourselves accountable for being so angry.  We will investigate for ourselves through the amazing array of resources available to us how our leaders have behaved with respect to the issues we believe to be of highest priority for the ‘general welfare’ before they became our leaders.  However good or bad we may find them in what we learn of their personal lives before presenting themselves for leadership positions, we will refrain from allowing those feelings to affect our judgements about what they have done that has public importance.  When they are in office, however much we like them personally and however enthusiastically we supported their candidacies, we will hold them to account for what they do, not what they say or how likeable they are.  We can and must do it civilly and politely or we will lose our country and our system.  We are only responsible for what we say and do in this regard, not for how uncivil or impolite others are, we are not charged with policing others on this score.

We will learn about the items on the buffet table of issues before us so that we can spot an “expert” who really isn’t one and listen to one who is.  We will take seriously what we learn, even what we learn that we do not like, if the source is truly reputable.  We will hold media of all types accountable for stirring up emotions without adding substance or content and steer them to items of substance above all.  (We will use our remote controls to ensure they get our message and move back and forth to check on their progress.)

We will “read, mark and inwardly digest” the Constitution and what it says and doesn’t say.  Where today’s practice seems at odds with what it says we will inquire deeper into the history of its interpretation to discover how we got from its words to today’s practices.  We will accept that there is more to the law than the Constitution, state legislative action or executive action provide.  We have a deep common law background for most laws that we encounter and few of us have ever actually had to confront a constitutional question.  When something about the law “looks funny” to us we will probe history before pronouncing, cf a commentator saying on cable news that the Constitution says nothing about “self-defense” as if that right had no pre-constitutional existence in law or that the Constitution was the sole source of our laws.  The law is not always obvious but it is almost always a result of history and what we say about it should reflect that awareness.

We will stop using the word “politics” pejoratively.  Of course what we are talking about is politics and politicians, political operatives, political parties, etc.  That is what this is about for both those we define as the “good guys” and the “bad guys.”  Its respectable but that is beside the point:  300-plus million people cannot function in a democratic system without politics.  Tyrannies, dictatorships, autocracies can often be without politics; democracies require politics.

We will stop talking about “special interests” when we mean the interests other groups have that we don’t share.  It would be nearly impossible to find someone whose interests are not represented by some organized group that employs lobbyists and even more difficult to find a representative or senator who did not need to hear what those lobbyists have to say about important issues before casting an informed vote.

We, the people, will recognize that if it is not as we think it should be, we may have to seek out people to run for office, vet them thoroughly, work diligently for those we select according to their needs and our gifts, from providing strategy to planting yard signs and ringing door-bells, sometimes only to have the latter slammed in our faces.

The duty of citizens is not outrage and anger, it is participation and engagement.  It is tougher work than most of us have done.  Most of our political leadership has had at best only our vote but more is required.  The candidate may be able to bring about “hope” but he or she cannot bring about “change” so long as we are content to think we are participating by hurling epithets at people with whom we disagree.  The election of 2014 is important in and of itself but also as the initiation of the setting for the larger election of 2016.  It is a good time to begin a more active participation than most of us have undertaken previously.  Our values may not prevail – clearly some won’t – but the experience of participation and engagement will find its use almost immediately.

Anger will subside for lack of time for it.  We are not citizens for the purpose of expressing our anger at other citizens but for the purpose of ensuring that the important items on the smorgasbord of issues we are angry about is thoroughly consumed by the processes of our democracy and well-digested.

The consequences of our not “upping” our level of actual political engagement to secure our values is that the people who are now past that anger point and into effective action, whether “Tea-Partiers” or “left-wing of the left wingers,” will continue to decide who makes and enforces our school board policies, city ordinances, county ordinances, state laws, and federal laws employing our “food throwing” as a cheap megaphone to secure their purposes among others who won’t engage in more than voting either.  Beyond the anger stage, the people we are railing about have left We, the people, way behind.  We must catch up with them and put ourselves to the real test of citizenship, acting the part.

If, “We, the People” are the inheritors of the American Revolution, we must see it passing us by and take our leave from anger to get in front of that revolution once more.  And with that, enjoy your lunch.  I’m sure there is more to eat coming…