Category Archives: War on Terror

In which our leadership cast themselves into the fiery pit and pull us all down behind them

Someone said this on Facebook a day or two ago: “At risk of being called somebody who would have given the Nazis a free pass at Nuremburg, terrorists aren’t exactly the most sympathetic of victims. I think the political will to prosecute Bush, Cheney etc. is near zero. As harsh as it may sound, I don’t think most Americans care about this.”

That’s not an uncommon response among the ones I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere, and of course the bit about many Americans not caring is impossible to dispute. But the risk, the sin there, isn’t attached to giving Nazis a free pass at Nuremberg; rather, it’s attached to giving them a free pass before Nuremberg. Enough Germans regarded Jews — and Gypsies, Communists, Socialists and others — as not exactly the most sympathetic of victims in the years leading up to the war and the Holocaust, that the authorities felt comfortable pursuing their expanding and escalating regimen of state terror. Once you introduce the nature of the victims into the question of whether or not we should marginalize/oppress/torture someone, all is lost. Anyone can be demonized when the conditions are ripe.
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Republicans in Congress are not preventing Obama from devising a coherent foreign policy

Somebody suggested to me recently that if not for Republicans in Congress, President Obama would have a coherent and consistent foreign policy, one that would perhaps have included a long-term plan for post-Gaddafi Libya. Never mind, apparently, that the President has two quite large institutions and several smaller but still substantial ones, all headed by persons of his own choosing, to help him out on that front.

The occasion was a post by the always vivid Charlie Pierce at Esquire, reacting to a somewhat disjointed critique of the President by New Hampshire senator and Lindsey Graham mini-me, Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte is concerned that the President may have taken up the cudgel against ISIS for electoral purposes, and that once those are achieved (or not), he’ll back off from the fight and leave the other players to their own devices. By way of precedent, she mentioned the chaos in Libya, where the President participated in the destruction of the previous order without giving a lot of apparent thought to the following one. Pierce thought Ayotte was presumptuous to criticize the President. I thought Ayotte was beside the point, the point being that she may well be right. In any event this would seem a good opportunity to review the hot-spot foreign policy of this President.
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Good news: Barack Obama will not be the answer to “Who Lost Afghanistan?”

Lots of Obama supporters on Facebook during the 2012 campaign period were touting the end of the war in Afghanistan as one of the President’s larger achievements. President Obama, they said, “ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

This was absurd not just because the war in Afghanistan was not what one could actually call over in 2012 (neither of them were, but that’s another story), but because the President’s promise to end the war in Afghanistan was not a promise to end the war, while his exit from Iraq was the product of a failed negotiation to extend our presence. (11-dimensional chess, I’m sure: Obama pretended to want to stay in order to placate war lovers, but actually wanted the negotiation to fail so he could realize his true desire to be shed of the affair.)

Let’s review.
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On Patriot Day, we begin the war we have been fighting for years

Yesterday was Patriot Day, by proclamation of the President. The proclamation was released by the press office at 9:24 AM, about two hours before the office released excerpts from the speech the President delivered about 10 hours later.

Pre-speech excerpts are a tradition. These are the lines administration officials want the chucktodds of the press to be talking and writing about in the hours before the speech, the “Tonight, the President will say” lines. These are the lines meant to manage expectations and convey gravitas. They’re released in the morning so the chucktodds have time to write something up that is similar to but not identical with what all the other chucktodds are saying and writing, and which includes responses from anonymous administration officials — somber, but favorable — and public experts (“experts disagree!”).
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Folks torturing folks, redux: Obama plants his flag on the wrong side of Nuremberg

When you come down on the same side of an argument as the Nazis and other Germans guilty of crimes against humanity, you’re doing something wrong.

Not long after he took office, President Obama invoked the Nuremberg defense on behalf of the folks who tortured folks. That’s the one where the Germans who committed what are now known as crimes against humanity said they had the right to assume that superior orders are lawful. A few days ago, he described anyone wanting torturers held to account as sanctimonious because we were all afraid after 9/11.
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“We tortured some folks.”

President Obama should probably retire “folks” from his active vocabulary. “We tortured some folks.” And then we had some folks over for barbecue, or we barbecued them. Something like that. Folks don’t let folks torture folks, folks, or let them get away with torturing folks, except when “a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” As were, no doubt, from certain frames of reference, the people they were torturing.

Because his CIA director creeped the Senate’s computers, and then lied about it (and threatened to get Senate staff prosecuted, imprisoned and ruined), and then got caught, the President is under a great deal of pressure to expedite the release of a report that will evidently display the CIA as home to some very ugly people doing very ugly things. He’s prepping us for it, and he’s trying to shift the responsibility for shielding the torturers from him to us. We were all scared and angry. We shouldn’t be sanctimonious. This is what happened, and now you know what I know and since you’re not going to do shit about it or me, it’s now your responsibility too.
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The past is prologue, those who don’t learn are doomed, blah blah blah: but Ahmad Fucking Chalabi?

Updated 10:53 6.19.2014
Further updated 7:14 6.20.2014

Every now and then, WTF just doesn’t do it, and you have to holler out, WHAT THE FUCK??????

Over the past two days the American ambassador, Robert S. Beecroft, along with Brett McGurk, the senior State Department official on Iraq and Iran, have met with Usama Nujaifi, the leader of the largest Sunni contingent, United For Reform, and with Ahmad Chalabi, one of the several potential Shiite candidates for prime minister, according to people close to each of those factions, as well as other political figures.

That’s right: the Obama administration, according to the New York Times and other sources, are apparently considering a renewal of US support for Ahmad Chalabi, the prepackaged Bush administration choice to parachute in and make Iraq safe for looting by US oil and arms trade interests, who coincidentally provided much of the fabricated “evidence” used by the Bushies to justify the invasion.
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Bartleby, the President

Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby, in a singular mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
           — Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener is the story of a man who one day decides he would prefer not to — first work and, eventually, live. We needn’t worry about that with Bartleby, the President. He has too high a degree of self-regard to starve himself from indolence or despair, as should we all, and insufficient attachment to principle to risk his life on a hunger strike.

As you must know, the passions of various Senators on the Senate intelligence committee are inflamed by agents of the CIA having illegally surveilled them and illegally executed covert operations against them. We say illegally because the CIA is proscribed from practicing its arts domestically on anyone, even Senators and their staffs, who probably bear watching more than most of us, even when the CIA believe themselves to have good reason; especially so, in fact, because that’s when the risk is highest. The CIA think they have good reason now because the Senate intelligence committee has been preparing a report that will document the agency’s crimes against humanity, including torturing people and disappearing them.

The surveilling and operating was evidently done with the knowledge and approval of the CIA director, one John Brennan. It is particularly fraught because the CIA is an executive branch agency, and the executive branch is not meant to spy upon or coerce other branches of government. This is in part why the great Richard Nixon lost his job. What we have here is the very definition of a constitutional crisis, a plain breach of the separation of powers.
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Somebody is seriously pissed off about the Obama administration’s iteration of the national security state

The Obama administration has sprung a gusher. This is pretty remarkable. In the space of three days, we have learned (so far) that

  1. The National Security Agency has been collecting complete call records on Verizon users (and probably all the other telcom customers as well) for perhaps seven years;
  2. The National Security Agency is vacuuming user data, including audio and video conversations, directly from the servers of some 40 internet-based companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others (notably, not Twitter); and,
  3. The US President has drawn up a list of cyberwarfare targets in a directive that reads very much as though it is intended to be used.

More, please. Also, I hope The Guardian is more enthusiastic about defending Glenn Greenwald than they have been about Julian Assange.

Routine carnage in Boston

I was browsing through my news feed yesterday morning when I ran across a story about the US bombing a wedding in Afghanistan. I thought something like “Jeez, again?”* and didn’t click through for the full story because it was so familiar. Now I can’t find it, but I think it said 30 dead. A few minutes later I ran across this story, which I also didn’t read beyond the summary but for some reason flagged in the feed: Bombs kill more than 30 across Iraq before local poll. (That turned out to be a very low, early estimate.)

It wasn’t too long after that, maybe 20 minutes, when reports of the atrocity in Boston began popping up on the feed, and among my first reactions when I saw the early accounts of two dead was “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Less than the 30 dead at the wedding and the 30 in the other bombs in the other cities, anyway. It took a little while to locate some shock, and 24 hours later I still find myself thinking the same thing — horrible but could’ve been worse — and wondering the same thing that occurred to me yesterday when I was looking at stories about it: what would the papers be like if this was happening in an American city every week or two?

I got thousands of results when I searched Google News for the bombing. Initially they were the same two or three stories and then there were more. I stopped regularly watching television news more than 20 years ago — around the time the elder Bush’s Iraq extravaganza broke CNN’s Bernard Shaw — and haven’t seen more than an hour of it here and there since so I don’t know how that went, but I know how it went.

I don’t know how it went in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the wedding and the bombs and whatever other violence they suffered. I don’t know what they have by way of newspapers or what the penetration of television is. The Newseum in Washington, D.C., has a daily roundup of the front pages of more than 400 US newspapers (more than 800 worldwide) every day, but none from Iraq and only one from Afghanistan. All but a very few US papers have a Boston story today — I didn’t look at all of them but I only noticed two that didn’t. Many of the overseas papers do too. The one paper listed for Afghanistan, the Mideast edition of Stars and Stripes, doesn’t.

The US is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t think Americans collectively are responsible; certainly some thousands of people should be in chains, and of course everyone who did their killings and kidnappings and whatever counter to the rules upon which the people who don’t go to war have settled. I don’t know what could have been done short of throwing some tens of millions of bodies upon the gears, in Mario Savio’s formulation; that is, climbing into the intakes of the engines on the troop and equipment transports, blocking the meetings of Congress, and otherwise physically impinging upon the ability of the concern to do business.

I guess that’s what we should have done, but that’s blood over the dam now. What I wonder, though, is how many Americans will wonder now what it’s like to live through a bomb at the marathon or the market or the church, or the missile attacks that may or may not be errant, every week or two or three, and whether if they get a sense of it then they might stoop to recklessness to stop the next reckless US government. Or whether we would just get used to it.

*This turns out to have been this, an 11-year-old London Daily Mail story that somehow burbled up in the feed.