With over a billion Muslims in the world it is difficult to imagine this as a successful strategy since it risks radicalizing those who now bear us only suspicion, not ill-will. It also risks eventually crossing the line at which national security interests prevail entirely over individual rights set out in the Constitution, a line I distinguish from the present regrettable situation only by the fact that the population gets excited and active about civil liberties. (I hasten to say, I have no special knowledge of Vickers’ thinking and am relying on Bacevich to characterize it accurately here.)
With former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates gone, Vickers is the senior remaining holdover from George W. Bush’s Pentagon. His background is nothing if not eclectic. He previously served in the Army Special Forces and as a CIA operative. In the 1980s he played a leading role in supporting the Afghan mujahedin in their war against Soviet occupiers. Subsequently, he worked in a Washington think tank and earned a doctorate in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University.Even during the Bush era, Vickers never subscribed to expectations that the United States could liberate or pacify the Islamic world. His preferred approach to combating terrorism is simplicity itself. “I just want to kill those guys,” he likes to say, “those guys” referring to members of Al Qaeda. Kill the people who want to kill Americans and don’t stop until they are all dead: This defines the Vickers strategy, which has now become U.S. strategy (Emphasis added).
For Vickers, this means acting aggressively to eliminate would-be killers wherever they might be found, employing whatever means necessary. Vickers “tends to think like a gangster,” one admiring former colleague comments. “He can understand trends, then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side.”
Round 3 is all about bending, breaking and reinventing rules in ways thought to be advantageous to the United States. Much as counterinsurgency supplanted “shock and awe,” a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced counterinsurgency as the prevailing expression of the American way of war. The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries. Instead, it uses missile-firing drones along with hit-and-run attacks to eliminate anyone the president of the United States decides to eliminate (including the occasional U.S. citizen).
This is America’s new M.O. Paraphrasing a threat issued by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what this implies: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.”
Furthermore, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without regard to claims of national sovereignty, without congressional authorization and without consulting anyone other than Vickers and a few other members of the national security apparatus.
Romney has repeatedly said that “Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.” He often has emphasized that the option of attacking Tehran’s nuclear facilities is “on the table.” In that sense, his position is no different than Obama’s, who in his State of the Union speech said, “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.”
Once again, don’t US national security realities indicate that, if Iran wants atomic weapons, we and our allies are powerless to do more than delay their development? Changing the regime would mean war and a long term commitment in the area. Americans will fight wars but tend to lose patience with long term commitments in other areas of the world. A war strategy would also require assessing how other countries in the Middle East would respond to our once more taking military action there. Those who can be influenced toward violence toward us and our allies would have another recruiting tool. Would even the most reasonable of Muslims in 2001 when we were attacked might, in the aftermath of Iraq, the continuation or aftermath of Afghanistan (depending on timing), see one more war initiative by the US as different from a “crusade syndrome?”
Isn’t the question whether any of the candidates promise national security strategies, policies that match national security realities?
Call 202-456-1111 between 9:00 and 5:00ET and ask to speak to someone working on renewal of the Patriot Act. If the line is busy, please keep trying. When you speak to someone, urge them to have the president veto the provisions coming to him and to take additional steps to revise the act in light of ten years of experience to restore rights the Act usurped in the first heat of 9/11. Whatever modifications in procedures may be needed to confront our enemies, ten years experience is enough to allow for the crafting of something more fitting and more like a scalpel than the axe that the current Patriot Act is as used against enemies and citizens. Ask the person to use the Bill of Rights as a guide for new legislation.
The Washington Post today carries a story on the appointment of a replacement for Richard Holbrooke as the person responsible for civilian activity in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the mid-point of the article is this paragraph:
“But virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy’s other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there.”
It doesn’t require a managerial genius to know that changing all the key players at approximately the same time will change things fundamentally and, unpredictably. Given the new person in Holbrooke’s position and all these changes, don’t expect less than, at best, months of confusion as personalities adjust and learn about each other and the personalities of Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s leaders. Eventually it may all settle out nicely but it will take time that is at a premium if any significant change in the American commitment in Afghanistan is to take place in August, as previously announced.
All of these key people deserve, and probably crave, relief from their current roles. They should be given it but most of that relief should come after August’s changes and not before. There may be some special cases but surely all this turnover at this time is not just risky, it is foolish.
Every now and then, in fact frequently, the Karzai administration takes some step or makes some pronouncement that causes me to wonder if the dire consequences of a “pull out” would, in fact, be worse than what we have now and the direction that government is going. Today the Washington Post reports on Karzai’s efforts to limit international (read US) involvement in anti-corruption investigations.
In the wake of a major journalistic scandal in the United States, broken open in the last week, I have to say that America’s establishment press has never been technically better, but never more pathetically subservient. My hopes increasingly ride on an often bad free press that is getting better all the time.
Let me also say, upfront, that there are honorable exceptions in the top ranks of America’s major media organizations. But in what may well be seen someday as a seminal event in U.S. media history, senior people at the two newspapers widely considered to offer the most comprehensive political coverage have admitted — and, God help us, defended — their technically good subservience to the American government.
Salon colleague Glenn Greenwald has discussed in detail the truly disheartening response to a Harvard study showing that the Washington Post and New York Times skewed their coverage of America’s post-9/11 torture policy, using the Bush administration’s newspeak language — “harsh interrogation techniques” was a favorite — instead of plain old “torture,” the word they’d previously used to describe the same acts.
And then, when asked why, top editors and spokespeople at both papers effectively said that once the Bush administration and Republican allies had pushed for the new language, the news organizations were duty-bound to use it, too, or else be seen as slanting the news.
That the news organizations had changed their language was itself disgraceful. That they then compounded the damage, with a defense that was almost the definition of a subservient press, was heartbreaking.
But George Orwell was rolling in his grave — perhaps with joy that he’s been proved so right, but also pure despair.
(Just a note: I have never read Bill Keller since he became executive editor of the New York Times deal with any dispute about the paper in which he did not construct either a convoluted justification for its action or admit something (as he does here, that should be cause for firing him). Whatever may have been his strengths as a reporter, as executive editor he has proved a defensive sophist and led or allowed the quality of a great newspaper to decline. One has to wonder what he would do now if presented with something comparable to the Pentagon Papers. My guess is that he would ask that they be removed from the building at once.)
From the referenced Greenwald article in Salon, regarding the Washington Post position:
And then there’s this, from Cameron Barr, National Security Editor ofThe Washington Post, which also ceased using “torture” on command: “After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.” Could you imagine going into “journalism” with this cowardly attitude: once an issue becomes “contentious” and one side begins contesting facts, I’m staying out of it, even if it means abandoning what we’ve recognized as fact for decades. And note how even today, in an interview rather than an article, Barr continues to use the government-subservient euphemism: “waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.” Just contemplate what it means, as Keller and Barr openly admit, that our government officials have veto power over the language which our “independent media” uses to describe what they do.