Monday, January 17, 2005

Backward, Please

Stratfor reacts to Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker outlining the covert war that is being waged against terrorism. (Hat tip: MIG)

Logic tells us that these operations are going on. There is a gap between logic and confirmation that Hersh has chosen to bridge. More precisely, if Hersh is to be believed, a former U.S. intelligence officer allowed him to bridge this gap by providing him with information so sensitive that its disclosure would put in danger the lives of the members of the reconnaissance team, as well as the lives of Pakistani scientists cooperating with the United States.

... It comes down to this: On the broadest level, Hersh's story simply restates what is known or logical. On a deeper level, it reveals details that, if true, could cripple U.S. intelligence collection in Iran. That Hersh would publish this is a given. That he could get hold of information like this from the CIA is a crisis. Or, Hersh could simply have been the victim of U. S. information operations.

According to Hersh the operations are defective because they are an extension of current Bush policies by a new and more extreme means and can only lead to further and worse disasters. The Washington Post has carried an interview with President Bush which they argued showed he regarded the election as blanket absolution over any mistakes it may have made. But Hersh is making a subtly different point: he is suggesting that President Bush regardes the election as having given him a hunting license.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. ... Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing. “This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”

The key to the plan is a secret warfighting arm whose job is to undertake operations "off the books", a prospect that Hersh finds chilling.

Rumsfeld planned and lobbied for more than two years before getting Presidential authority, in a series of findings and executive orders, to use military commandos for covert operations. One of his first steps was bureaucratic: to shift control of an undercover unit, known then as the Gray Fox ... The order specifically authorized the military “to find and finish” terrorist targets, the consultant said. It included a target list that cited Al Qaeda network members, Al Qaeda senior leadership, and other high-value targets. ... “If a confused young man from Marin County can join up with Al Qaeda,” Arquilla wrote, referring to John Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who was seized in Afghanistan, “think what professional operatives might do.”

As the earlier post on the supposed "blanket absolution" argued, the dialogue over a war now going into it's fourth year shows no closure or consensus at all. The argument between liberals and conservatives over the War on Terror is not limited to the specifics of Iraq policy, as is often alleged, but extends to the very issue of whether terrorism should be fought at all. From the outset many liberals believed, often sincerely, that a conciliatory rather than a combative approach should have been adopted towards radical Islamism. Any admiration professed for American efforts to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was articulated for the sole purpose of comparing it to the more difficult conditions in Iraq. The idea of appeasement never died. Hersh practically pitches for it in his article in the New Yorker:

For more than a year, France, Germany, Britain, and other countries in the European Union have seen preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as a race against time—and against the Bush Administration. They have been negotiating with the Iranian leadership to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions in exchange for economic aid and trade benefits. ... The Europeans have been urging the Bush Administration to join in these negotiations. The Administration has refused to do so.

There are many military and diplomatic experts who dispute the notion that military action, on whatever scale, is the right approach. Shahram Chubin, an Iranian scholar who is the director of research at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told me, “It’s a fantasy to think that there’s a good American or Israeli military option in Iran.”

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita has gone on the record attacking Hersh's piece, ripping its specifics to pieces, while remaining silent on the key issue of whether there is in fact an unseen component to the Global War on Terror.

Mr. Hersh’s article is so riddled with errors of fundamental fact that the credibility of his entire piece is destroyed.  Mr. Hersh’s source(s) feed him with rumor, innuendo, and assertions about meetings that never happened, programs that do not exist, and statements by officials that were never made. A  sampling from this article alone includes:

  • The post-election meeting he describes between the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not happen.
  • The only civilians in the chain-of-command are the President and the Secretary of Defense, despite Mr. Hersh’s confident assertion that the chain of command now includes two Department policy officials. His assertion is outrageous, and constitutionally specious.
  • Arrangements Mr. Hersh alleges between Under Secretary Douglas Feith and Israel, government or non-government, do not exist. Here, Mr. Hersh is building on links created by the soft bigotry of some conspiracy theorists. This reflects poorly on Mr. Hersh and the New Yorker.
  • Mr. Hersh cannot even keep track of his own wanderings. At one point in his article, he makes the outlandish assertion that the military operations he describes are so secret that the operations are being kept secret even from U.S. military Combatant Commanders. Mr. Hersh later states, though, that the locus of this super-secret activity is at the U.S. Central Command headquarters, evidently without the knowledge of the commander if Mr. Hersh is to be believed.

By his own admission, Mr. Hersh evidently is working on an “alternative history” novel. He is well along in that work, given the high quality of “alternative present” that he has developed in several recent articles.