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November 20, 2005 - The News is a Target-Rich Environment

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And what is a target-rich environment? In March of 2004, that former head anti-terrorism adviser to Clinton then Bush, "counterterrorism expert" Richard Clarke, was all over the place promoting his new book, Against All Enemies - the one that laid out the case that President Bush had ignored warnings about al-Qaeda and after the 9/11 attacks ordered Clarke (and others) to find a link between the attacks and Iraq. There seemed to be none, and Clarke was told to find one.

The most interesting bit of reasoning presented to Clarke came from the Secretary of Defense, as noted here


As early as Sept. 12, 2001, Clarke says, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged bombing Iraq despite repeated assurances from intelligence officials that the threat emanated from Afghanistan.

"Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq," Clarke said on Sunday's 60 Minutes. "I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'"


Yes, Clarke lost his job. He wasn't playing along. But the Rumsfeld argument is odd - you wage a war where you find a target-rich environment, not where you find the enemy. It looks more effective?

Well, the "intelligence officials" were right, but the "shock and awe" short war was impressive - even awesome, as promised. Unfortunately, Clarke was right and we have a bit of a mess on our hands.

Ah well. There were a whole lot of targets.

The mid-week news, Wednesday, November 16, was a similarly target-rich environment.


So many things merited a comment, but what really needed some thought?

There's this: Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force. The Washington Post breaks the story that when Bush took office the energy policy, devised by the vice president, was written by the head guys in the oil industry, who, funny thing, got all sorts of enormous tax breaks and relief from regulation. So? Cheney refused to say who met with him, and the only news here is that these oily oil guys said they never met with anyone at the White House, ever. They even testified to congress that they never met with anyone at the White House. Now there's proof they did. The only amusing twist is that in their testimony this week to congress the Democrats tried to make these oil executives testify under oath, and the Republican chair of the committee slapped that down, saying it wasn't necessary.

This seems to be a big deal in the news, but is it a big deal? We have Cheney and the oil executives colluding to screw the public and make themselves richer. So? That's the way things work, not to be cynical. They got caught lying. And Cheney, being silent, is letting them twist in the wind. But this is how the world works.

There's no news here. And surprise is quite inappropriate.

And there's this: Torture Alleged at Ministry Site Outside Baghdad - the Shiite government we're getting organized, specifically the Ministry of the Interior, is caught holding a hundred and fifty Sunni guys in a little room, starving them and torturing a good number of them. It's what you do with your enemies. And our troops uncovered this, and our commanders are saying, "The alleged mistreatment of detainees and the inhumane conditions at an Iraqi Ministry of Interior detention facility is very serious, and totally unacceptable." After Abu Ghraib there are multiple layers of irony here. The Sunnis are asking the UN to investigate all this.

There's no news here. And surprise is quite inappropriate. They're learning from us.

That's matched by the lion story:


Army officials said Tuesday that they were looking into claims by two former Iraqi detainees that they had been put into cages holding lions to terrify them during interrogations in 2003. Thahe Mohammed Sabar said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union that soldiers had pushed him and Sherzad Khalid, a friend, into the cage, then pulled them out when a lion moved toward him. Mr. Khalid said soldiers had forced him into the cages after repeatedly asking where to find Saddam Hussein and unconventional weapons.


Secretary of Defense had Rumsfeld called this allegation "far-fetched" (see the AFP wire item here).

Maybe it is. But he sat on the evidence of Abu Ghraib for months.

Surprise would be inappropriate. And there have been a good number of comments about our empire and the Roman Empire and throwing folks to the lions. No one should be surprised by the comparison. Empires do such things. It's just not the Christians this time who get thrown to the lions. It all depends on who's on top.

Match that with this from Associated Press (Katherine Shrader) - U.S. Has Detained 83,000 in War on Terror.

That's a big number. And here Andrew Sullivan takes a stab at explaining why the number is so high. –


It is important to recognize that this administration reserves the right to detain anyone, include American citizens, anywhere, for any amount of time, without charge, sometimes without even documentation, and reserves the right to torture them as well. There are now close to 4,000 held without charge for a year. It is past time for the legislature and the courts to fight back and restrain - or at least bring some kind of order and legality - to this astonishing record. If the administration will not grant these prisoners POW status, it must agree to new rules that allow the innocent to be distinguished from the guilty, and to bar torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for ever.


It must? What planet is he on? Who will fight that battle?

Not to be too cynical here, but this number will startle a few people, some of whom will be angry we've done so much "detaining" to so little effect and violated all the principles of law we say are important, while most will shrug - there are a lot of bad people and sometimes you make mistakes and, heck, we're safe, and no one has locked up any of us or our friends, after all.

The large number is news, but little else. Many will, of course, see this big number as proof we're "winning" whatever it is we're winning. A few of us wonder what we're winning. For some of us this is a sort of loss, and we see what we're losing.

As for what else we're doing, see these three stories, a follow-up to what was mentioned last weekend in these pages (here), that Italian documentary about our alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Iraq.

CBC - US official admits phosphorus used as 'weapon' in Iraq - "A spokesman for the US military has admitted that soldiers used white phosphorus as an 'incendiary weapon" while trying to flush out insurgents in the northern Iraqi city of Fallujah last year. 'White phosphorus is a conventional munition. ...'"

That is, we used it, but not on civilians. Most nations say it is not a conventional weapon, but falls in a category with napalm and other stuff that should be forbidden. We refused to sign that part of the Geneva rules.

The BBC reports the Iraqi folks want to know if we used it on civilians, women and children and such, and not just on insurgents or whatever we're calling the bad guys these days - Iraq probes US phosphorus weapons.

They're investigating us? Give them a country and they get all uppity, don't they?

The Washington Post points out our military's use of white phosphorus during operations in Fallujah last year is making its way around the world media, and we're looking bad - 'White Death' Is A Losing Strategy. We win but we lose.

The Post's William Arkin –


I for one am reluctant to pronounce whether the use of white phosphorous for "shake and bake" missions in Fallujah and the evident blundering use of white phosphorous in areas known to be occupied by civilians is illegal. Neither am I buying the State Department's line that the use of white phosphorous in this way - that is, to possibly inflict unnecessary suffering - is not "illegal" use. What I'm sure of is that the use of white phosphorous is not just some insensitive act. It is not just bad PR. It is the ill thought out and panicked use of a weapon in an illegitimate way. It is a representation of a losing strategy.

U.S. military forces have the most stringent legal rules, the most aggressive internal lawyer class, the most constraining rules of engagement with regard to the laws of war and civilian casualties - even under the shoot-em-first-ask-questions-later Bush administration. Those rules are scrupulously followed, as long as everything is going well and the chain of command is strong and in control.

When the chain of command breaks down and military formations turn into a mob, Abu Ghraib's result. When forces are frustrated by sandstorms or suicide bombers and pressured by the boss to move quicker, the incentive to unload with firebombs or cluster bombs or to be a little lighter on the trigger results, even if these might not otherwise be the preferred munitions or the preferred methods, because, as we all know, we are not just trying to win in a conventional military way in Iraq, we are also trying to win the peace.

When soldiers and commanders are discouraged and following a losing strategy, "taking" Fallujah, let's say, not for the first or second or even third time; when they are trying to use "psychology," that is, demoralize the enemy, then it is not enough to just defeat them. That is where shake and bake comes in, the desire to do something in a different way, to "shock and awe" the opposition, to sow chaos.

In a deliberate war, in choreographed fighting, in a well-managed and well-conceived affair, precision rules. Precision is more effective and the more precise it is, the less collateral damage and angst that is produced. The enemy is not inadvertently emboldened by an ill-conceived attempt at demoralization; people are not confused about what the United States stands for. I've never read an article that says that a 2,000 lb. laser-guided bomb - or a bullet for that matter - is "illegal."

But to the critics of white phosphorous and the U.S. military, I say: When have you ever been happy when the United States has only employed precision, when it has been scrupulously "legal" in the conduct of its military operations? To suggest that white phosphorus is illegal or illegitimate suggests that you are willing to accept that some use of military force and some weapons are perfectly legal. It is to say that there are laws of war, that fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just. I never hear this from certain quarters, and the inability to give credit where credit is due undermines any efforts to encourage the U.S. military - and the rest of the world - to systematize and strengthen constraints on weapons and methods of warfare that no longer accord with the public's conscience.

In Fallujah, the Army employed a terribly ill conceived method for using white phosphorous, evidently interested only in the immediate tactical gain and its felicitous shake and bake fun. Higher-level commanders were either absent or oblivious to the larger issues. They did not impose order and encourage precision. They should be held accountable. They won't.


That's pretty good. And it seems also an indictment of the whole effort - doing what is immediately "effective" and emotionally gratifying, ignoring the overall aim.

The whole war is a series of stunning tactical victories and one big, miserable strategic defeat.

Last month in Afghanistan we burned and desecrated the bodies of some bad guys, to make the locals mad and do something stupid to our immediate on-the-ground advantage (previously discussed here). Same thing. In the moment that tactic, or any tactic, has its advantage. In the long run? What do we gain?

Win the battle - lose the war.

We win, and create three of four generations of very angry people, the kind who might find their way over here years from now and do just what we say we are fighting to end.

So just what are we doing? It's hard to believe Cheney and the neoconservatives want a new century of terror. But they are setting that up.

Well, they're in charge. This is what we will deal with.

There is, of course, other news.

There's this - Broadcast Chief Violated Laws, Inquiry Says - the hyper-Republican who had been recently appointed to run the Corporation for Public Broadcasting resigned under pressure, and it seems he broke a whole lot of federal laws in his effort to purge public television of its leftist, pro-science, anti-Bush slant. He may have not liked Big Bird and snarky British humor shows. He may have wanted more evangelical geology shows. Whatever. He got rid of Bill Moyers and brought in the Wall Street Journal editorial board. But he was taking orders from the White House and hiring Rove's folks outside the system and skimming funds and who knows what.

Again, there's no news here. And surprise is quite inappropriate. He just got caught. Everyone knew what was going on. Of course that he wasn't sly enough to cover his tracks is a news story. You'd expect he'd be competent at that. The point is no to leave no trail. He did.

Of course the big mid-week story in the political world was this - Woodward Was Told Of Plame More Than Two Years Ago - in the in the investigation of who leaked the name of the undercover CIA agent in anger at her husband's revealing the whole Saddam-is-buying-nuclear-bomb-stuff in Africa was a farce, it seems Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, super-reporter, was being roped into the smear effort way before the name was revealed. He kind of forgot to mention it and testified to the grand jury just days ago. And the whole story shifts now, somehow.

We'll all see how this pans out. His source, it seems, was Steven Hadley, now National Security Advisor. Or this may bring down the vice president. Who knows?

Wait for all the facts. This may be a big deal, or not. A good comment is here, one of many at the Hullabaloo site. Much of what is out there is about how the press works. Of course this guy argues the CIA woman was taken down because she was hot on the trial of a plot, in the White House, to steal nuclear stuff around the world and plant it in Iraq to "prove" Saddam has a nuclear bomb program (scroll down to the 11 November entry). It didn't have to do with the husband at all - these guys were working on planting evidence. Whatever. We shall see.

There is, of course, other news - money stuff. The government is running short. We have this war. We cut taxes. There were those hurricanes.

So, N.Y. to Lose $125 Million in 9/11 Aid - firefighters and police and emergency workers ill from breathing ash and burnt human flesh way back when are out of luck. We're out of money. On the other hand there's this - 'Bridge to nowhere' stripped from US funding bill - the mandatory funding for two controversial bridge projects in Alaska - including that widely ridiculed "bridge to nowhere" (for fifty people) has been cut. Senator Stevens of Alaska said he would resign if these awful people took away his bridge, or he'd hold his breath until he turned blue - one of those. We'll see what he does, but that 875 million will go elsewhere.

Other items of note?

There's this -

We Still Don't Have a Plan
What has everybody been doing for three years?
Fred Kaplan - Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005, at 4:51 PM ET - SLATE.COM


It is becoming increasingly clear that President George W. Bush and his top advisers lack not only a strategy for fighting the war in Iraq but - more disturbing -any idea of how to devise one.

The latest, most jaw-dropping evidence ...


And he goes into what the Wall Street Journal reports. It's not nice. And he reports on the latest book all the generals are reading, Lewis Sorley's A Better War - the new strategy is "clear and hold," abandoning the "search and destroy" strategy we used up to now. And he explains why that won't work.

And that leads us to "the ultimate source of the problem": -


Rumsfeld and most of the others who planned the war thought the battlefield phase would be the only phase; contrary to advice from the CIA and the State Department's regional specialists (whom the White House and Pentagon brusquely ignored), they truly believed that the aftermath wouldn't be a problem. Saddam would be ousted, freedom would be rung, flowers and candies would be flung, Ahmad Chalabi and his militia would ascend to power, and our troops would be home by Christmas, if not by the Fourth of July.

The civilian hawks and neocons weren't alone in this shortsightedness. Military leaders were culpable as well. In 2002, the Army and Air Force conducted war games that simulated an invasion of a country resembling Iraq. In both cases, victory was declared with the toppling of the enemy's leader - not with the accomplishment of the larger strategic goals. As the real war began in the spring of 2003, there was no Army field manual on what used to be called "war termination" - i.e., how to end a war and what to do afterward.

By summer, it was clear to many that capturing Baghdad wasn't synonymous with victory. But the mantra within Bush's inner circle, on all matters of high policy, was firm: Never admit mistakes, never alter course. All hell broke loose in Iraq, and our leaders let it. By the time their attitude changed, and they realized the need for concessions to reality, it was in many ways too late. They never forged a coherent new policy, so even their adjustments were fitful and ad hoc.


And so it goes. Win the battle - lose the war. We win, and create three of four generations of very angry people, the kind who might find their way over here years from now and do just what we say we are fighting to end.

But there's good news out there.

Reuters, from Canberra - Harriet the tortoise turns 175 - "One of the world's oldest living animals, Harriet the tortoise, celebrated her 175th birthday on Tuesday - with a pink hibiscus flower cake at her retirement home in northern Australia."

And don't read this.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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