Dominic Tierney writes: In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Washington toppled regimes and then failed to plan for a new government or construct effective local forces — with the net result being over 7,000 dead U.S. soldiers, tens of thousands of injured troops, trillions of dollars expended, untold thousands of civilian fatalities, and three Islamic countries in various states of disorder. We might be able to explain a one-off failure in terms of allies screwing up. But three times in a decade suggests a deeper pattern in the American way of war.
In the American mind, there are good wars: campaigns to overthrow a despot, with the model being World War II. And there are bad wars: nation-building missions to stabilize a foreign country, including peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. For example, the U.S. military has traditionally seen its core mission as fighting conventional wars against foreign dictators, and dismissed stabilization missions as “military operations other than war,” or Mootwa. Back in the 1990s, the chairman of the joint chiefs reportedly said, “Real men don’t do Mootwa.” At the public level, wars against foreign dictators are consistently far more popular than nation-building operations.
The American way of war encourages officials to fixate on removing the bad guys and neglect the post-war stabilization phase. When I researched my book How We Fight, I found that Americans embraced wars for regime change but hated dealing with the messy consequences going back as far as the Civil War and southern reconstruction. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: By the end of President Obama’s term in office, the administration hopes to decide whether to declassify a controversial portion of Congress’ investigation into the 9/11 attacks, the White House said Tuesday. The so-called “28 pages,” which have never been publicly released, are said to implicate Saudi government officials and civilians in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.
The administration had directed a “declassification review” of the material from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into the terrorist attacks in 2014. Former lawmakers who have read the classified pages say they describe a financial and logistical support network for the 19 hijackers, most of them Saudi citizens, while they were in the U.S. The report was released in December 2002.
“That review process remains underway, but every effort is being taken to complete it before the end of the Administration,” Ned Price, the spokesperson for the National Security Council, told The Daily Beast in a statement. [Continue reading…]
60 Minutes reports: In 10 days, President Obama will visit Saudi Arabia at a time of deep mistrust between the two allies, and lingering doubts about the Saudi commitment to fighting violent Islamic extremism.
It also comes at a time when the White House and intelligence officials are reviewing whether to declassify one of the country’s most sensitive documents — known as the “28 pages.” They have to do with 9/11 and the possible existence of a Saudi support network for the hijackers while they were in the U.S. [Continue reading…]
Trump says that after 9/11 Bush should have ‘just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun’
In an interview with the New York Times, Donald Trump said: Every bad decision that you could make in the Middle East was made. And now if you look at it, if you would go back 15 years ago, and I’m not saying it was only Obama, It was Obama’s getting out, it was other people’s getting in, but you go back 15 years ago, and I say this, if our presidents would have just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun, we would’ve been much better off in the Middle East, than all of this tremendous death, destruction, and you know, monetary loss, it’s just incredible. ’Cause we’re further, we’re far worse off today than we were 15 years ago or 10 years ago in the Middle East. Far worse. [Continue reading…]
Maybe the trip to the beach should have been preceded by some national mourning, cleaning up the attack sites, and improving airline security, but who can argue with Trump’s colorfully expressed conclusion that the war on terrorism has been an utter failure?
On the international front, the urgent priorities after 9/11 should have been to isolate al Qaeda by putting pressure on the Taliban, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Bush’s principle problem was that he had surrounded himself with the wrong people — and there’s every reason to believe that is exactly what Trump would do too.
Arun Kundnani writes: When opinion polls find that most Muslims think Westerners are selfish, immoral and violent, we have no idea of the real causes. And so we assume such opinions must be an expression of their culture rather than our politics.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have exploited these reactions with their appeals to Islamophobia. But most liberals also assume that religious extremism is the root cause of terrorism. President Obama, for example, has spoken of “a violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic interpretation of Islam by a faction — a tiny faction — within the Muslim community that is our enemy, and that has to be defeated.”
Based on this assumption, think-tanks, intelligence agencies and academic departments linked to the national security apparatus have spent millions of dollars since 9/11 conducting research on radicalization. They hoped to find a correlation between having extremist religious ideas, however defined, and involvement in terrorism.
In fact, no such correlation exists, as empirical evidence demonstrates — witness the European Islamic State volunteers who arrive in Syria with copies of “Islam for Dummies” or the alleged leader of the November 2015 Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was reported to have drunk whisky and smoked cannabis. But this has not stopped national security agencies, such as the FBI, from using radicalization models that assume devout religious beliefs are an indicator of potential terrorism.
The process of radicalization is easily understood if we imagine how we would respond to a foreign government dropping 22,000 bombs on us. Large numbers of patriots would be volunteering to fight the perpetrators. And nationalist and religious ideologies would compete with each other to lead that movement and give its adherents a sense of purpose.
Similarly, the Islamic State does not primarily recruit through theological arguments but through a militarized identity politics. It says there is a global war between the West and Islam, a heroic struggle, with truth and justice on one side and lies, depravity and corruption on the other. It shows images of innocents victimized and battles gloriously waged. In other words, it recruits in the same way that any other armed group recruits, including the U.S. military.
That means that when we also deploy our own militarized identity politics to narrate our response to terrorism, we inadvertently reinforce the Islamic State’s message to its potential recruits. When British Prime Minister David Cameron talks about a “generational struggle” between Western values and Islamic extremism, he is assisting the militants’ own propaganda. When French President François Hollande talks of “a war which will be pitiless,” he is doing the same.
What is distinctive about the Islamic State’s message is that it also offers a utopian and apocalyptic vision of an alternative society in the making. The reality of that alternative is, of course, oppression of women, enslavement of minorities and hatred of freedom.
But the message works, to some extent, because it claims to be an answer to real problems of poverty, authoritarian regimes and Western aggression. Significantly, it thrives in environments where other radical alternatives to a discredited status quo have been suppressed by government repression. What’s corrupting the Islamic State’s volunteers is not ideology but by the end of ideology: they have grown up in an era with no alternatives to capitalist globalization. The organization has gained support, in part, because the Arab revolutions of 2011 were defeated, in many cases by regimes allied with and funded by the U.S.
After 14 years of the “war on terror,” we are no closer to achieving peace. The fault does not lie with any one administration but with the assumption that war can defeat terrorism. The lesson of the Islamic State is that war creates terrorism. [Continue reading…]
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was never birthed; it was always birthered. The man who, as his wife told a Vanity Fair reporter back in 1990, had a book of Hitler’s speeches in a cabinet by his bedside, has an unerring eye for how to wield anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments for his own benefit. Back in 2011, while considering a presidential run, he birthed his first version of the birther controversy, the claim that Barack Obama was born not in Hawaii but Kenya and so was the ultimate Muslim outsider (and an illegitimate president). It was his equivalent of dipping a toe in the political waters and testing the temperature before diving in — and he still credits that ludicrous claim with burnishing his reputation. (“I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing,” he said in 2013.) This time around, if Donald Trump has proven anything, it’s that he knows exactly what he’s doing and just what impact the symbols he calls up — from that Obama birth certificate to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio — are likely to have. It’s clear enough that he’s been a student of the trade of demagogue, that he has a natural flair for it, and that when he births a new symbol, it tends to be potent.
None more so than the Wall (which should by now be capitalized). You know just what wall I mean without my writing another word. There’s only been one wall on the planet since his campaign began and, classically enough for our moment, it arrived by escalator. It came full blown, wrapped in a Trumpian ribbon, all 2,000 miles of it strung along the Mexican border of his mind, complete from day one with “rapists,” and the news that “they” were taking our jobs in return for “drugs” and “crime.”
A package deal, that wall arrived full grown on June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump and his present wife, Melania, descended by escalator from the heavens of Trump Tower in New York to announce his presidential bid to the planet. And that wall — the idea, that is, of purifying our American world of “them” by keeping undocumented immigrants out and getting rid of those already here — was from that moment at the heart of everything he did. As he said that day, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
And they were worth marking. Anyone who has watched his rallies since knows that those words have become the call-and-response chorus at the heart of Trumpismo, our new nativist celebrity religion. That the wall (no less the idea that Mexico will cover the cost of building it) is a fantasy isn’t beside the point, it’s the point itself. What would you expect but a fantasy version of future American life from the presidential candidate nominated by The Apprentice, whose closest adviser is, by his own admission, himself. In such a world, the wish, however malign, is truly the father of reality and the world a fantasy object.
Unfortunately, such fantasies have real consequences, which is why TomDispatch asked Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor, and Global Capitalism, to explore both the walling in and deportation dreams (or nightmares) of Trump and his rival Ted Cruz and what exactly to make of them. Tom Engelhardt
Day of the demagogue
Trumpian deportation fantasies and American realities
By Tanya Golash-Boza
In 2006, when I first began researching deportations, George W. Bush was president and quietly building a deportation machine in the Department of Homeland Security. Outside of small activist circles, few Americans knew that deportations had been rising since 1996 due to legislation signed by President Bill Clinton. Nor could anyone then have imagined that the next President would be a Democrat, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, and would make Bush look like a piker when it came to record-high deportations. Nor, for that matter, would anyone have dreamed that deportation would become a — possibly the — signature issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.
And yet, all of this and more has come to pass in a blistering season of demagoguery, nativism, and outright racism. As again would have been unimaginable a mere decade ago, Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both promised to deport every last one of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, the whole lot of them, while as a bonus banning Muslims from the country. Trump gave his particular proposals a special twist by labeling Mexicans coming across the border as “rapists,” and immigrants more generally as “snakes.”
Jason Leopold reports: Thirteen years ago, the intelligence community concluded in a 93-page classified document used to justify the invasion of Iraq that it lacked “specific information” on “many key aspects” of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.
But that’s not what top Bush administration officials said during their campaign to sell the war to the American public. Those officials, citing the same classified document, asserted with no uncertainty that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, concealing a vast chemical and biological weapons arsenal, and posing an immediate and grave threat to US national security.
Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had “overstated” its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD program were “not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.” But that underlying intelligence reporting — contained in the so-called National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to justify the invasion — has remained shrouded in mystery until now. [Continue reading…]
When the Bush administration developed its torture program, it deployed legal arguments to obscure the fact that the techniques being used, such as waterboarding, were indeed forms of torture.
Where it appears to have been non-deceptive was in claiming that the purpose — ill-conceived as this might have been — was gathering intelligence. (Abu Graib, on the other hand, demonstrated the inevitable proliferation of abuse that followed from presidentially sanctioned torture.)
The use of extreme methods was justified, the proponents of what were euphemistically described as “harsh interrogation techniques” said, because of the magnitude of threat posed by terrorist plots.
In contrast, when Donald Trump talks about torture and about reducing the legal restrictions on what is currently permitted, he’s not talking about interrogation. He’s talking about the use of torture as a weapon of intimidation.
ISIS doesn’t decapitate its captives in order to extract information. It’s use of brutality is designed to intimidate its opponents and to force populations into submission.
Like ISIS, Trump sees all things in terms of the power dynamics of domination.
Since brutality has been one of the most effective weapons in ISIS’s arsenal, when Trump says, “You have to play the game the way they’re playing the game,” he is arguing that the United States needs to become as capable of provoking terror as are any of the terrorists it wants to combat.
John Walcott writes: On September 9, 2002, as the George W. Bush administration was launching its campaign to invade Iraq, a classified report landed on the desk of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It came from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it carried an ominous note.
“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD,” Rumsfeld wrote to Air Force General Richard Myers. “It is big.”
The report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew — or more importantly didn’t know — about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt: “We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. … We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”
Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war. But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House and CIA who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.
While the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iraq was at the heart of the administration’s case for war, the JCS report conceded: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely — perhaps 90% — on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
The rationale for the invasion has long since been discredited, but the JCS report, now declassified, which a former Bush administration official forwarded in December, nevertheless has implications for both sides in the 2016 presidential race, in particular the GOP candidates who are relying for foreign policy advice on some of the architects of the war, and the Democratic front-runner, who once again is coming under fire from her primary opponent for supporting the invasion. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: It was one of the most shocking events in one of the most brutal periods in Iraq’s history. In late 2005, two years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, U.S. soldiers raided a police building in Baghdad and found 168 prisoners in horrific conditions.
Many were malnourished. Some had been beaten.
The discovery of the secret prison exposed a world of kidnappings and assassinations. Behind these operations was an unofficial Interior Ministry organisation called the Special Investigations Directorate, according to U.S. and Iraqi security officials at the time.
The body was run by militia commanders from the Badr Organisation, a pro-Iran, Shi’ite political movement that today plays a major role in Baghdad’s war against Islamic State, the Sunni militant group.
Washington pressured the Iraqi government to investigate the prison. But the findings of Baghdad’s investigation – a probe derided by some of its own committee members at the time as a whitewash – were never released.
The U.S. military conducted its own investigation. But rather than publish its findings, it chose to lobby Iraqi officials in quiet for fear of damaging Iraq’s fragile political setup, according to several current and former U.S. military officials and diplomats.
Both reports remain unpublished. Reuters has reviewed them, as well as other U.S. documents from the past decade.
The documents show how Washington, seeking to defeat Sunni jihadists and stabilise Iraq, has consistently overlooked excesses by Shi’ite militias sponsored by the Iraqi government. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both worked with Badr and its powerful leader, Hadi al-Amiri, whom many Sunnis continue to accuse of human rights abuses.
Washington’s policy of expediency has achieved some of its short-term aims. But in allowing the Shi’ite militias to run amok against their Sunni foes, Washington has fueled the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide that is tearing Iraq apart.
The decade-old U.S. investigation of the secret prison implicates officials and political groups in a wave of sectarian killings that helped ignite a civil war. It also draws worrying parallels to the U.S. government’s muted response today to alleged abuses committed in the name of fighting Islamic State.
Those accused of running the secret prison or of helping cover up its existence include the current head of the Iraqi judiciary, Midhat Mahmoud, Transport Minister, Bayan Jabr, and a long revered Badr commander popularly referred to as Engineer Ahmed. [Continue reading…]
‘The attacks will be spectacular’: How the Bush administration ignored this warning from the CIA months before 9/11
Chris Whipple writes: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The CIA’s famous Presidential Daily Brief, presented to George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, has always been Exhibit A in the case that his administration shrugged off warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. But months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.
By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.” The crisis came to a head on July 10. The critical meeting that took place that day was first reported by Bob Woodward in 2006. Tenet also wrote about it in general terms in his 2007 memoir At the Center of the Storm.
But neither he nor Black has spoken about it publicly in such detail until now — or been so emphatic about how specific and pressing their warnings really were. Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.
The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”
That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’” [Continue reading…]
Aron Lund writes: When the United States was occupying Iraq, senior Bush administration officials like Washington Don kept blaming “terrorists” of the “Baathist dead-ender” or “al-Qaeda” variety for everything new setback. To be sure, Baathists and al-Qaeda loyalists were a prominent part of the mix, and they would later become dominant. But in the early days, Iraq’s insurgency seems to have been considerably more diverse than what we now see in Syria. In 2003-2004, it consisted of innumerable little local groups that spanned the full range of ideologies from secular nationalism to jihadism; they would even on occasion bridge the Sunni-Shia divide. And yet, U.S. President George W. Bush could get away with telling his people that the Iraqi resistance was all “al-Qaeda types, Ansar al-Islam types, terrorist groups” and conclude that it was better to “fight them there than here.”
A decade later in Syria, the roles are reversed. Russian politicians will contemptuously label any Syrian who has taken up arms to stop the depredations of Bashar al-Assad’s army a “jihadi terrorist” and in lieu of a political strategy, they smirk and puff their chests and say “bring ‘em on.” Their American counterparts sound like the anti-Iraq War tankie left in 2003-2004, eyes darting nervously around the room as they try to explain that there are good salafi insurgents and bad salafi insurgents. Give it a year more, and they’ll be complaining about Russia’s “cowboy attitude.”
Not that their respective supporters seem to notice, or care. But if you’re not a die-hard partisan of either Vladimir Putin or of the late and unlamented presidency of George W. Bush, you will by now have noticed that the Kremlin’s “anti-terrorist” discourse is essentially indistinguishable from the bullshit shoveled into the media by the American White House ten years ago, and equally self-serving, misleading, and destructive. [Continue reading…]