Monday, May 27, 2013

Dirty Wars: chapter 3, special ops

Chapter three focuses on JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command. This group was the “covert ops” initially developed out of the failed rescue attempt of Iranian hostages. JSOC was involved with various Latin American operations; under Clinton it was authorized to do work on US soil, which circumvented the Posse Comitatus Act (prohibits the military from domestic law enforcement). This included the Branch Davidian raid and the 1996 Summer Olympics. They were group in charge of the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia. After that, the Clinton administration seemed to have lost all appetite for covert missions. On paper JSOC was involved in many projects but in reality nothing ever moved.
Post 9-11 Cheney and Rumsfeld needed their own paramilitary force to conduct operations-they did not want to work with the CIA, where they felt they would not have sufficient control. Basically Cheney and Rumsfeld did not want anybody to tell them anything. Really, for a bunch of guys with no actually military experience, the hubris that these guys demonstrate is really mind blowing it just as bad as you thought. Ironically, the main people in the State department who wanted a much more restricted response overall, did.
While I firmly believe the best way to stop terrorism is better foreign policy, there is a question to be asked here. If there are terrorists out there that want to kill us, and if we are going to limit formal military involvement-i.e. not invade every country, is there a role for something likes the JSOC (and drones for that matter but I haven’t got to that in the book yet)? If there is what would it look like? From Scahill’s description it would seem our use of special ops went from 1 to 10 in about a minute. Not only did usage or at least plans for usage (haven’t got to what they actually do yet post 9-11) ramp up exponentially, but so did scope, and it would appear that oversight went in the opposite direction, from 10 to 1.
In lieu of grand reversals of foreign policy that may never happen, what is the role in a democracy for something like special ops? I would like say not at all, but honestly I think that is either unrealistic or possibly unsafe (or maybe both.) How many people need to know-does it really compromise security to have (some) members of Congress know everything? Is it possible to allow isolated, “surgical” procedures, which have oversight and are functional-that don’t harm innocent people?  Or is this just not possible and every effort needs to be made to shut the whole thing down? This “surgical” role is what was envisioned by Clinton’s people prior to the Black Hawk Down incident.  Although it would seem that it was endless supervision that limited JSOC in the Clinton administration, really it seems more they were choosing to do that, so concerned of the aftermath of the Black Hawk Down incident. I have to think if they had the will they would have found a way. Cheney and Rumsfeld go 180 degrees in the opposite direction, no consideration for possible consequences or “blowback” (it’s not even clear they understood 9-11 as blowback, which many people would call it ). They just wanted to fight everybody.
It’s obviously an exercise in what if, but you have to wonder how things might have played out if the State department had been allowed to lead. I’m no Powell fan but compared to Cheney and Rumsfeld he practically comes off as a peacenik. If say there had been a genuine fight between the two what could have happened? As it was it would seem Rumsfeld completely outmaneuvered Powell, but you could argue that it wasn’t a fair fight as Rumsfeld had Cheney in his corner and Cheney had power that couldn’t really be touched. Is it even conceivable that GW Bush could have intervened and told Cheney and Rumsfeld to cut it out? I feel it’s worth noting that many, if not everybody from his father’s administration who was not in his, was against the Iraq war. He could have taken control I think if (and it’s a big if) if wanted to. Whether he really thought like Cheney and Rumsfeld, or whether he just did not fully grasp their plans and the potential consequences, I’m not sure we will ever know.
In his book “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid, almost gives the impression had Bush been left to his own devices things might had been different.  But the rhetoric was divorced from reality, maybe on purpose maybe not. He really blames Rumsfeld (with Cheney’s support) for making all of the worst decisions in Afghanistan and squandering the precious good will that the US had early on. Ahmed Rashid was at least initially supportive of US involvement in Afghanistan because he though getting the Taliban out was so important. Like a lot of people he would become disillusioned when it was clear that the US’s interests in Afghanistan were not really about helping the country, but just doing the bare minimum. 

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