Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Stay the course
In response to yesterday's bombings, the prescriptions have focused on changing tactics in Iraq. While these suggestions are probably somewhat helpful, their focus – Iraq – is completely wrong.
The key to victory in Iraq is right here in the US.
Wars, especially guerilla wars, are a contest of wills. The "loser" is the one who loses the will to fight first. The winner’s will only has to outlast the loser. Military strength is a factor in convincing your opponent that they cannot continue to struggle against you, but it is not the only factor. The political constraints of the warring parties are key. For democracies the key, to victory is to maintain the political consensus at home. If the people no longer believe that a war is worth fighting then no amount of battlefield progress is sufficient. The converse is also true, a determined democracy is the most fearsome opponent on the planet.
This is where the Vietnam example comes in. That war was clearly lost on the American streets and not in the jungles of Vietnam. While it’s true that the war was poorly prosecuted, American forces abandoned the South not due to the North's military success, but because the American people were tired of fighting and wanted out at all costs.
The enemy knows this relationship.
America's enemies have learned that the giant will run when body bags start coming home or when things get messy. They learned that from Vietnam. They learned that from Iran. They learned that from Lebanon. They learned it from Somalia. It has become part of their battle plan.
The relationship between domestic politics and foreign wars has become a feedback mechanism. Neither is independent of the other. This is important to understand.
So, when our enemies attack in Iraq, they do not do so in a vacuum. Their primary goals are not to destroy a police station or to assassinate a political figure or even to cause chaos. They have one goal - to break the will of the democracy. The attacks are meant as "proof" of failure to the American audience. If the enemy believed that we would be discouraged by an epidemic of capitalism in Baghdad, then that is what we would see.
We contribute to the problem by treating the attacks as if the enemy has no knowledge of history or of our politics. We seem to believe that our enemies are not adults who are capable of picking up a newspaper, browsing the internet or learning. So, we fill reams of newsprint about how if Event A were to happen it would show that we were losing and then are shocked to see that Event A occurs. Indeed, we act like Pavlovian dogs –salivating on cue when the right stimulant is presented.
To win in Iraq, we must take advantage of this feedback mechanism ourselves. We must convince our enemies that we will never be discouraged and their fight is futile. The security situation in Iraq will improve when the enemy will cease to believe that the gains in the American politics outweigh the losses to them.
This is easier said than done. First, we are an open society and cannot prevent the free flow of information. Censorship is a useful tool in breaking the feedback loop, but is open to abuse. WWII was the last war that news from the front was censored, but I do not believe that the system can be instituted today (nor would I wish to see that). Second, as a democracy we are ultimately responsible for making the decisions on whether our endeavors are working. It can be difficult to separate the attacks designed to discourage us from genuine gains by the enemy.
Third, international struggles get tangled-up in domestic politics. We are in the middle of a re-election campaign and most of the Democratic candidates have made Iraq an issue. Their interest in defeating President Bush and the enemy’s interest in breaking our will both require a focus on the negative side of Iraq. Now, I don’t believe that any of the candidates actively want us to lose in Iraq, but their actions are effectively an amplifier in the feedback loop. The media, too, for ideological reasons, do their part in magnifying the enemy’s message.
It is conventional wisdom that the violence in Iraq has caused increased criticism of the President (and his sliding approval ratings). In others words, it is violence (“A”) that causes domestic criticism (“B”). But it is possible that the relationship is reversed. Consider the following line of causation. The initial acts of small time thuggery, like the “looting” of the Baghdad Museum cause a great outcry in the US. The enemy is encouraged by their small PR success and tries more outrageous acts. Those are seen in the West as a greater cause for criticism. Which the enemy sees as a further success, and so on, into the vicious circle. In the social sciences, it is difficult to tell which is the cause and which is the effect, but we cannot rule out any possibilities.
Oppositions being what they are can and will use any available legitimate means to win elections. That’s the nature of democracy. Aside from reminding the Democrats of how their words are seen by the enemy, I am not advocating any changes to our political system or our press.
Then how can a democracy fight this awful feedback loop? I have some ideas:
Understand the nature of the dynamic. Just knowing that the loop exists helps to solve the problem. As a parent of a young child, I feel the urge to placate and indulge him every time he cries (especially at night). However, I know that if I do, he will learn that his cries will elicit a certain response from me. He will begin to cry for any reason what so ever. So, the indulgences are rationed. During the night, he is not picked up unless he cries for more than 10 minutes. This process has reduced the nightly incidents from 4 a night to zero. Now both baby and parent sleep through the night.
Similarly, by understanding the nature of the dynamic in Iraq we can more effectively deal with the nature of the attacks. For example, we can start by asking whether the attacks have any military value – are they deteriorating our capabilities? – or are they simply designed to elicit a certain response? Roadside bombs and attacks on aid agencies do nothing destroy our military capabilities and are only designed to break our will. We should not take the bait.
Take the psychological offensive. Regardless of all the defeatist rhetoric you have heard, people fight only when they feel they have hope of success. One of the reasons that the enemy, be they Baathists or jihadists, believe that they can take on an infinitely more powerful enemy is their belief that what they have to do to win is very small. Until Afghanistan, the enemy has been used to seeing ever-decreasing required body counts in order to achieve victory. Just a few dead Americans caused us to run from Somalia. The war on terrorism was supposed to change all that, but the experience in Iraq has given a glimmer of hope to the enemy that the old feedback loop is still alive. September 11th did not change everything after all.
We do not live in a vacuum. Our domestic fears and quarrels are not our little secrets. Our enemies know and understand our weaknesses and take advantage of them. In Iraq, our enemy has chosen to attack in such way as to cause the greatest damage to our national psyche and not our military. To make the situation safer in Iraq, we must make the enemy understand that their acts will not cause us to change our commitment to the region. That to win, they will have to fight long and hard. In other words, we must break their will, before they break ours.
We must understand that the choice between defeat and victory is ours. We have the most powerfull military, so the only way we can lose is by losing our nerve. And that is our choice to make not the enemy's.
Monday, October 20, 2003
Wilson/Plame – a conspiracy?
In the middle of his Bush-bashing piece in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh drops a bombshell. Well, it would be a bombshell if the reporter were concerned with anything except sullying Bush. I will ignore the rest of his inane article and go to the money quote:
Who produced the fake Niger papers? There is nothing approaching a consensus on this question within the intelligence community. There has been published speculation about the intelligence services of several different countries. One theory, favored by some journalists in Rome, is that sismi produced the false documents and passed them to Panorama for publication.
Another explanation was provided by a former senior C.I.A. officer. He had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, “Somebody deliberately let something false get in there.” He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.
“The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,” the former officer said. “They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the bite on these guys.’” My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. “Everyone was bragging about it—‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.’” These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the sismi intelligence.
“They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go—to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,” my source said. “They thought it’d be bought at lower levels—a big bluff.” The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. “It got out of control.” [Emphasis mine]
Wow! Double wow! Current and former CIA officials in a conspiracy to deceive elected officials about a matter of utmost national security and it gets buried in Hersh’s story? Where’s the outrage? The front page headlines about a “rogue elephant”? Ah, but it’s the Bush Administration and the Agency can run drugs from Central America and the press wouldn’t care so long as they can bash Bush. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. But, I’m getting off topic.
The possibility of an inside job does explain why Wilson was chosen to go to Niger. Many commentators, including myself
, have questioned the suitability of sending a former diplomat to do a spook’s job. Things just did not add up. Let me summarize – he had no prior intel experience, no tools ($$$$) to get the job done and was not bound by regular CIA requirement not to publish. This possibility answers all these nagging questions.
Let’s summarize. A group wants the Administration to “look foolish” so they plant forged documents. That sets the trap, now someone has to spring it. This person has to have several qualifications. The trap must be sprung loudly, so the person needs to be someone who likes to talk. The person also needs to have qualifications that the media find impressive, so he has credibility. The person can’t be bound by any legal requirements not to talk – he can’t be Agency. Finally, the trap can’t be detected, so the person has to have no clue about real intel work. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Joseph P Wilson the Fourth, International Man of Mystery.
One glaring characteristic about Wilson is that he likes to hear himself speak – he has been all over the media. He has given interviews to everyone, despite the fact that giving more attention to the story would theoretically jeopardize his wife’s safety (see Tom Maguire
). In the few months that he has spent in the national spotlight, Wilson has shown himself to be a tireless self-promoter. Doubtless, the people who chose him for the trip knew this to be true. If nothing else, his Baghdad episode shows him to be a man who would jeopardize his life for some attention. Most of the media have looked with awe on his stunt of defying Saddam with a noose around his neck back in the first Gulf War. Yes, it was courageous but for no practical reason – did he really think that he could persuade Saddam (a man who likes to watch people be tortured)? In any case, it got him notoriety despite all the risks – and that’s just the kind of man our conspirators would need.
Second are his qualifications. The media goes on and on about his background and whoever chose Wilson had to know that his resume would appeal to the East Coast intelegencia. He spent time in the foreign service (as an admin officer), speaks French (ooh la la!) and has high level connections in Africa (the media seems to believe that having contacts in one place in a continent is good enough. I live in NYC – does that mean I can get sensitive info in Mexico City?). He even looks dashing – a character right out of a LeCarre novel. He plays so well to stereotype that the media has to believe him.
Third is his lack of legal ties to the CIA. Any employee or contractor would need to sigh an agreement requiring him not to write without prior authorization. Conveniently, he did not have to enter in to any of these messy relationships – he was free to sing.
Finally, he had to have no real intel background. Otherwise, he may have thought it suspicious that he was being sent on a mission of top national security and no one else was available. He also must believe that the best way to ask people if they are suppling contraband to your enemies is to ask them outright. Under no circumstance must he do anything other than to take a holiday to Africa, stay at a top hotel and return having found noting. Which is exactly what he did.
On all these counts, Wilson was the perfect rube.
In one way, the conspirators may have overestimated Mr Wilson. I think that they expected him to talk sooner, before the war began. Theoretically a flop like that could have stopped the war. The yellowcake intel came out right after September 11th, when people first began to speak about going to war against Iraq -- so the timing is right on that count.
Having said all this, I should also say, genuinely, that I’m not sure that the conspiracy story is true. The only thing I’m saying is that it answers all the questions about why Wilson was selected for this trip to Niger. There could be other answers.
However, if the allegations are true, our nation is in danger. Our foreign intelligence service is not only formulating their own foreign policy, but also meddling in domestic affairs by trying to sabotage the White House. Worse, our press, the supposed guardians of our freedom, are too busy trying to have a domestic regime change to care. Hopefully, the Justice Department investigation or the Congressional hearing proposed by Representative King will get to the bottom of this.
PS Tom Maguire
has much more on this.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
It seems like Arnold won big. I wonder how much of his margin of victory is from the voters' disguist with the partisan politics of California jounalism, especially the LA Times? It seems like after the Times "report" came out, Arnold's poll numbers went up. If anyone sees polls about this, please let me know.
If I'm right, I hope that someone in the White House is paying attention....
Thursday, October 02, 2003
Why I want an investigation II – one man’s leaker…
I know that we are all used to being Pavlovian and responding in exactly the way were supposed to, but let’s think for ourselves for a bit. One “truth” that has been accepted in the Wilson/Plame scandal is that the leakers’ motives were nefarious. How do we know this? The only source who claims to know what the leakers were up to was the Washinton Post’s original “senior administration official.” Coincidentally, this was exactly what Wilson has been screaming for months and the press (who are not exactly friends of George) ran with it. But is it true?
Let’s assume for the purpose of this discussion that the leakers gave classified information when they spoke to Novak and let’s assume that the information was known to be classified and revealed freely. Let’s further assume that this broke the law. There is another class of people who reveal classified information to the press – they are called “whistleblowers.” Whistleblowers are treated as heroes by society for ferreting out scandals that we would not have otherwise known while disregarding the penalties to their careers or freedom. Is it possible that we have been too hasty in branding Novak’s little birdies? Could they have been heroic whistleblowers?
Ah, but whistleblowers expose scandals, is there a scandal here? There certainly is, and if maybe the ladies and gentlemen of the press could stop trying to find ways to bash Bush – they would see it.
A few days ago I wrote about questions surrounding the selection of Wilson as CIAs man in Niger. Sure, he had many years in the Foreign Service (mostly as an admin. officer) with some spectacular highlights (acting Ambassador in Baghdad during Gulf War I), but he was not qualified for this mission. It appears that he was also not formally employed by the CIA and given no tools to succeed. Whatever else you can say about his trip to Niger, it was not serious intel gathering. (“I say, sir, in return for this sweet mint tea, could you provide me with proof that you are smuggling uranium?”) While the circumstances surrounding his selection alone are not grounds for a scandal, the explanations given for it are.
The first (thanks to a tip from a reader) is from George Tenet himself explaining the Wlison affair on 11 July 2003:
There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counter-proliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region to make a visit to see what he could learn.
The second is from today’s New York Times article, “All Roads Lead to Iraq
A C.I.A. official said on Wednesday that proliferation experts at the agency were skeptical of reports early last year that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger for weapons. Not long after the reports arrived, Vice President Dick Cheney's office asked the agency to pursue the lead.
Officials said on Wednesday that sending Mr. Wilson to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the leads reflected a belief that the uranium report was not serious enough to warrant starting more ambitious clandestine information gathering.
What is the meaning of “on their own initiative” in the context of the NYT article? If it’s true that Cheney asked the agency to pursue the lead, was tasking Wilson done on initiative? Was it initiative because 1) tasking Wilson was against regulation, 2) tasking Wilson was against the express wishes of their superiors or 3) another department (say, the Africa group) was actually tasked with the VP’s request (presumably pursuing it with actual officers) and the counter-proliferation people wanted their own stringer for what ever reason. Furthermore, who were they to say what was “serious enough”, when the VP already made that decision?
One clear theme emerges from the explanations – the willingness by certain parts of the CIA to undermine the civilian leadership of this country. If Cheney requested the follow-up, why were adequate resources not allocated? Even if someone at the CIA did not like the story, why were they in a position to question the judgement of their civilian authority? By sending Wilson on a half-assed attempt to “gather intelligence”, this group was actively
subverting Cheney’s request to get serious answers to a matter of utmost national security.
Could it be that this is what Novak’s birdies were trying to say? It has been clear for a while that the Agency and the White House were not getting along, but did they go too far this time? Anonymous leakers in press giving their opinions were one thing, but publicly undermining the Executive, and perhaps, trying to influence domestic politics was too much for someone. So, they reached out to the press – connect the dots they said – from Wilson to the CIA. Ask questions about how he was hired and why.
In a different time, any sign that the CIA has gone rogue – that it developed its own political agenda, hired unauthorized operatives and undermined the express wishes of elected officials would have gotten the press’ panties in a bunch. After all, who knows what “initiatives” they will take next or what they will consider “serious” maters? But not today. Today, anything that gets George Bush in trouble is OK with the press. Even if that old nemesis, the CIA, misbehaves – it’s fine as long as they hate Bush as much as we do.
UPDATE: Representative Peter King
thinks that the Agency has gone rogue too.