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I couldn't make it this year, but I can watch the live streaming video today (Saturday, April 30) - see schedule below (times eastern), and thanks to our friends at youserved! - Follow that link to log in and chat. (Note: videos from previous conferences are playing between live segments.)
(And always thanks to JP at milblogging.com and military.com.)
Don't waste one of your free reads (and if you're a subscriber, why?) on this - but in the 9,000th Abu Ghraib story to appear in the New York Times we get a call for a celebration of the anniversary of Mary Mapes' and Dan Rather's broadcast of the pix that changed the world.
To mark the seventh anniversary of the publication of photographs that exposed torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the New York Times published an ACLU/PEN American Center op-ed today honoring those who stood up against the torture policies of the Bush administration. In the introduction, Jameel Jaffer and Larry Siems write about Sergeant Joe Darby, as well as the many other Americans, known and unknown, who stood up against the Bush administration's torture policies...
While I've long maintained he is one (as much as anyone can be in this story), the media might have a tough time suddenly trying to make Darby a hero now. Maintaining the fiction that (the Peabody award-winning) Mapes and Rather "exposed what Bush was doing" at abu Ghraib required Darby's part in the story to be ignored for years. But while he's someone with more knowledge of what went on at abu Ghraib than anyone who ever typed up one of the many works of fiction appearing as any of the New York Times stories about it, he's probably more than happy not to be in the spotlight. "I still have a lot of bad feelings toward the press," he said in a rare interview before getting on with his life.
Everybody thinks there was an order from high up, or that somebody in command must have known. Everybody is wrong. Nobody in command knew about the abuse, because nobody in command cared enough to ﬁnd out. That was the real problem. The entire command structure was oblivious, living in their own little worlds. So it wasn't a conspiracy--it was negligence, plain and simple.
Of course, what could he possibly know about abu Ghraib? It had to have been a conspiracy - that's how all the best reporters reported it! So let's get a second opinion:
"We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition and I believe that they collaborated with several MI (military intelligence) interrogators at the lower level".
That's Major General Antonio Taguba, whose report - completed before the story "broke" - also contained several quotes that, ripped out of context, were used to support a conspiracy theory going straight to the top. But that's a quote from his 2004 testimony to Congress, given in the immediate aftermath of the appearance of the photos on CBS TV. (Follow that link for a look at the headlines it generated and you'll see what I mean about context.)
Jump a few years forward - to the Obama administration's 2009 release of Justice Department memos authorizing the CIA to use "enhanced interrogation techniques." Could that, at last, be the smoking gun of proof about "what really happened at abu Ghraib"? Not if you believe Gary Myers, who stated "Those accused of abuses at Abu Ghraib had no actual knowledge of the memoranda." (See also here.)
Who is he to make such a claim? He was the (civilian) defense attorney for Ivan Frederick, one of the guards convicted of abusing prisoners. The one whose family gave the photos to Mary Mapes, the one who sat for an interview with Seymour Hersh. It was, in fact, Frederick - not Darby - who inspired the media coverage of abu Ghraib. (If you wanted to honor Darby's courage, it might have been appropriate on the anniversary of his action - months ago.) Frederick's account (embellished by the media to work George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld into the story), written after he was busted - and not Darby's or Taguba's - along with his photo collection, is what most people (including the two authors of this latest NYT piece) still believe explains "what really happened at abu Ghraib." (And part of the reason he's not as well known as Lynndie England or Charles Graner.)
"The Bush administration's most senior officials expressly approved the torture of prisoners, but there was dissent in every agency, and at every level," declare our courageously ignorant (if not malicious) correspondents in the New York Times today.
There are many things the Obama administration could do to repair some of the damage done by the last administration, but among the simplest and most urgent is this: It could recognize and honor the public servants who rejected torture.
Maybe Rather and Mapes will give Darby their Peabody Award - though I doubt he'd accept. Darby has been living with death threats (which the Times piece acknowledges...) ever since the media turned Ivan Frederick's version of the abu Ghraib porn squad into global celebrities (...which the Times nor any other media outlet involved ever will).
As for Obama, he weighed in on the topic two years ago, calling the abu Ghraib abuses something "carried out in the past by a small number of individuals," and adding that "the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken." A weak statement, perhaps, but hardly one that supports the continuation of the myth that abu Ghraib was something other than what he, Joe Darby, Antonio Taguba, or Gary Myers each say it was in their own way - the "perfect storm" of a group (of people you wouldn't want living in your neighborhood - but insert your own description here) working in a hellish environment under immediate supervisors who didn't much care to know exactly what they were doing.
And that's a mild description - I prefer Darby's. But his wasn't the "popular" version seven years ago, when tales from Mary Mapes, Lynndie England, Dan Rather, Seymour Hersh, the Frederick clan, and a cast of thousands of other reporters and war porn aficionados were eagerly swallowed by like-minded individuals, and ruled the front pages and newscasts of the day.
Perhaps for some that aftertaste is sweet, and the CBS broadcast of the abu Ghraib photos is an anniversary worth celebrating - but before we all put on our finest, uncork the bubbly, get out our cameras and deck the halls let's look at it in the context (chart explained here) of the history of American deaths in the war in Iraq:
(We could do one with Iraqi deaths, too - though with much greater numbers the trend would be similar.)
Hmmmm... you might think - perhaps it's best forgotten, left unexamined. Which is exactly the sentiment that enabled a repeat of "what really happened at abu Ghraib" last year and this - but that's a tale yet to be told.
(More to follow.)
Afghan pilot kills 9 U.S. trainers - and "came from the security force that has been more closely screened for insurgent sympathizers than any other force."
The screening, conducted by the Afghans with help from NATO, is aimed at improving the quality of Afghan troops that will take on increasing responsibility for security beginning in July, when U.S. troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing from the country.
One of the reasons I've been re-looking at old, forgotten stories of Iraq in 2006 is because the strategy we were using there and then - get this turned over to the Iraqi forces so we can leave - is the very same strategy President Obama has applied to Afghanistan, something I noticed (with no little concern) two years ago. Another similarity: in the opinion of anyone with any expertise, the Afghan effort is under-resourced now in much the same way the Iraq effort was then. (Obama's surge has only brought us to that level.)
There are other similarities (rules of engagement and counterinsurgency tactics, for example), but there are also differences. Depending on your expectations, those differences are reason for either hope or despair.
We were "rebuilding" Iraq. Afghanistan needs built. To put this in (overly) simple terms, it's harder to convince a remote Afghan villager that we would like to provide him with electricity and running water if he'd please stop shooting at us long enough. What would he do with this "electricity"?
This might be considered an ugly one, but any discussion of this type that doesn't address it is not worth having: Iraq was awash in oil, Afghanistan has little of anything of exportable value - except opium poppies.
And from Iraq we had coverage of what was going on - much (by no means all) of that from folks who were more interested in getting rid of George Bush than whatever might become of Iraq. From Afghanistan we have a small fraction of the reports we had from Iraq, and if anyone can point to an example that can be characterized in that manner with regard to our current president, let me know.
I could go on, but I expect this might be a difference, too: no one gives a damn. (In that regards Afghanistan is exactly as it was in our collective conscious in 1990 - in the immediate wake of Soviet withdrawal - or on September 10th, 2001.)
The idea that there is such a place - and that you don't live in it - is one of many reasons so many people die in tornadoes elsewhere. Here's a good, layman's terms discussion on "tornado alley".
Swaths of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee are relative "high-risk" (climatologically speaking) areas for strong, long-track, tornadic events - in fact they are the highest risk. That these are nonetheless rare increases the odds of replacing "tornadic events" with "killer storms" in that description.
Here's a chart from NOAA: "The purple points are the annual death rates, the red line is a simple smoother, the solid black line is a long-term trend in two sections (1875-1925, 1925-2000) and the cyan lines are estimates of the 10th percentile and 90th percentile from 1925-2000."
The solid black line, it seems to me, would be more representative of reality if it was broken into three sections, with the third from around 1980 on - and flat. Reality makes a strong case that (in spite of notable advances in scientific knowledge and sensing technologies - and the following should be taken as in no way dismissive of those advances - more, please) the real improvement evident in this chart, the dramatic downward plunge from 1925 through the 70s, was driven primarily by advances in communications systems - specifically radio and television, through that period. One might have expected some sort of internet-based improvement, but the internet is no faster than television in that regard. (And unless you've set your computer to deliver you warnings, could actually be a step backward from the automatic override available on your TV or radio.) In time something like that could result from the spread of portable devices - assuming their users have "an app for that" and that numerous false alarms don't render them essentially useless. (See "boy who cried wolf.")
There's another conclusion one can rightfully draw from this - beyond incremental improvement the government has done just about all it can (and "all it can" is laudable in this case) for you in regards to saving you from death by severe storm. In a big way the rest is up to you. (And nature, or fate, or God, if you prefer.) Of course, if you don't live in "tornado alley" you don't have to worry about all that, right?
When their bodies washed ashore, they were fed to dogs, dragged through the streets and dumped into holes, said U.S. Rep Mike Rogers, R-Mich.
Rogers said it is only a matter of time before Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is deposed, so it is important to get ready to work with a new Libyan government to bring the Intrepid's crew back to the United States.
The end of April, 2006 - five years ago in Iraq - US Army Captain Dan Sukman was asked if he thought the country was in a civil war:
I have chosen to reserve judgment for the next 150 years. If in 150 years I return to Iraq and everyone in Baghdad is dressing up and reenacting all the violence that is occurring today, as a hobby, I guess you can then call it a civil war.
A good answer. (Mine from the time is here.) It's unfortunate he couldn't give a longer one, but unfortunately the question had become one of political, not military significance. It was an election year, and Democrats had seized on the definition of Iraq as civil war as a campaign issue: we shouldn't be involved in another country's civil war, let's bring the troops home. (Or send them to Afghanistan, the real central front, from which Iraq is but a foolish distraction.) That wasn't really new ground for Democrats - eliminate "another country" from that and you'll have their great-great-granpappies' position the first time our nation fought under a Republican president, the American Civil War. (Our troops are beaten and demoralized, and fighting against our southern brothers' "property rights," which we must respect!)
Change their 2006 position to "we shouldn't get involved in another county's civil war" and it would be a statement I'd agree with wholeheartedly. (See Libya.) But whatever you call(ed) Iraq - civil war, insurgency, jihad, fiasco, or chaos - we were deeply involved. And while it's as much a "what if" scenario now as it was then, to believe that anything other than an infinitely worse conflagration (or "humanitarian disaster" if you prefer) would follow our withdrawal from Iraq in 2006 is akin to believing the rebels of 1864 would have gone straight home to free their slaves and rejoin the Union - if only we'd stop shooting at them.
What the Democrats would have really done if they'd won the White House in 1864 is a matter of speculation, fodder for more "what if" scenarios on our Civil War. But five years after they won control of the House and Senate, and two years after taking the White House, we have a better understanding of what they meant by what they said in 2006. It's far from what I thought they meant. Skipping all the way to the present, in Iraq today their efforts to cancel the complete withdrawal as scheduled on President Bush's timeline are rebuffed - for now, at least - by an Iraqi government concerned (among other things) that we'll turn them into another Libya. (That civil war we actually "got involved" in...) In Afghanistan, President Obama's pledge to "start a withdrawal" on a date certain - made at the very outset of a new strategy (and one example of political talking points actually becoming military reality - besides "date certain" see "never go to war without an exit strategy" and "blank check"), while devoid of real meaning (see entire previous discussion) plays out in a predictable manner.
We'll find out soon enough what those words about Afghanistan really mean. But while it's too early to dress up and reenact the great moments of the Iraq war, since we know now what all those words about Iraq really meant (nothing beyond "vote for me") we can imagine some more "what if" scenarios.
Like "what if they'd never been said?" Sure - it got them votes from whatever suckers in the "anti-war" crowd believed them (some of them probably still believe them), but I believe the Democrats would likely have won the various elections anyway. In fact, in November, 2006 voters said several other issues were more important to them than Iraq. Since none of those promises to end the war or bring troops home (or even avoid other nations' civil wars) were true anyway, how might the war in Iraq (hell, call it a "civil war in Iraq" if it makes you happy) have played out differently if they'd never made them?
It wasn't done this way the first time - when it mattered - but start the "what if" scenario with the world as it was: the war in Iraq was brutal in April/May 2006 - and was about to become more so. Much of that would be due to increasingly lethal attacks from al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency, but Shiites were forming militias in response - their contribution to the violence would soon be evident. In the meantime, US forces were experiencing long-sought successes in turning Sunni insurgents against al Qaeda - their efforts against the foreign fighters (and their remaining Iraqi allies) would likewise blend into the increasing levels of violence. Americans (see Ramadi for one example) would take an increasingly active roll as they began to subtly change tactics, adopting those that had proven successful over the past years and rejecting those that hadn't. As the summer wore on large scale (and "named") actions to root out insurgents (always with US forces combined with Iraqi troops) would result in climbing death tolls for American troops - as would (initially, at least) the more successful approaches used elsewhere and soon to be adopted nation wide. But as bad as American death tolls were, Iraqis suffered much more in that and every other way.
Americans generally accept that given an option of lying or keeping their mouths shut their politicians will do the former. But I see war (or at least, I did prior to 2006) as a bigger issue than "I promise more money for everyone!" or "I never heard of her!" or even "I had no idea my campaign supporters were making so much money off my Bills!" But what if Democrats hadn't answered every suicide bombing, "spectacular al Qeada attack," or death of an American troop through that period with something everyone "knew" meant "bring the troops home now!"? If it made no real difference to Americans who heard it (none seem too upset about the lack of follow through) did it matter to the Iraqis who did? Did it spur Shiites to join militias, seeing that as their only hope? Did it encourage al Qaeda to follow up spectacular bombings with more spectacular bombings? Other obvious questions should flow from those; to be fair, I can't think of any now that I didn't think of in 2006, but maybe others can.
All just food for thought. But maybe it's still too early to think about it, since like it or not, ignore it or not, we're still eating what they really fed us now.
I wonder what's for dessert?
(Update/bumped from yesterday)
"On Sept. 11, 2001, the core of al-Qaeda was concentrated in a single city: Karachi, Pakistan," opens the Washington Post report on their fresh puddle of wikileakage. Read the whole thing and you'll discover that back in the day, the Paks were somewhat helpful in rounding those guys up. Oddly, you must get nearly to the end of the article to find its best quote:
Gradually, Mohammed and the other operatives were picked off by Pakistanis working with the CIA and the FBI. When Ramzi Binalshibh, a key liaison between the Sept. 11 hijackers and al-Qaeda, was arrested at a safe house in Karachi on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, there was a four-hour standoff while the Yemeni and two others held knives to their own throats and threatened to kill themselves rather than be taken.
Wasn't there a comedian who used something like that in his routine?
On an unfunny note - hopefully our friends in Pakistan won't be too put off on helping us in the future now that they've learned something about how well we keep secrets. (And I may be wrong, but this stuff seems a bit above Brad Manning's access level, compared to most of the drivel that came from his stash. Second source?)
And isn't this just lovely: Leaked files accuse BBC of being part of a 'possible propaganda media network' - al Qaeda propaganda network, that is. Apparently all the best terrorists had their number on speed dial. (Though that's not surprising, sez I. None of it is surprising, sez Ed.)
The Huffpo says various media outlets were scrambling to be the first to release this batch of bytes (that would indeed be somewhat yellowed now had they been printed when new) but I, for one, am shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn of this breech of Wikileak security:
The leak was originally provided to WikiLeaks, which then gave them to the Post, NPR and others; the NYT and The Guardian claim to have received them from "another source" (WikiLeaks suggested the "other source" was Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaks associate who WikiLeaks claims took, without authorization, many WikiLeaks files when he left).
Neener neener boo boo, thief!
Updates: one mystery solved in comments - thanks! (But language warning - film from 1970s...)
Michelle Malkin doesn't seem to want to play the part of "Harriet" if they ever remake this comedy classic.
And I overlooked this one yesterday: "The leak was originally provided to WikiLeaks, which then gave them to the Post, NPR and others..."
One of those things is not like the others, as I believe they sing on Sesame Street. (Which is PBS, not NPR - but wouldn't "Bert and Ernie Teach Kids to Read WikiLeaks" be a wonderful educational program?) But NPR doesn't get that much of their money from the government, so maybe they aren't worried about losing it.
original post: 2011-04-25 18:17:04
For Easter I re-posted an old entry from the archives, something I'd written in 2009 about something I'd done in 2006. That got me into the April 2006 archives, too - in search of reminders of what I had been writing about back then. Among other topics: whether or not Iraq was a Civil War was one that was heating up nicely - just in time for the then-upcoming American political season. Apparently in the minds of many vote-seekers, if it was a civil war then we had no business being involved in another country's civil war. (They'd repeat the phrase frequently for at least two years after that.)
For my thoughts on what Iraq "was" at that time, see here. Short version: don't play stupid word games with what you call a war. I still think that's good advice, but for more recent thoughts, stand by.
I believe if you're going to take the trouble to write on various issues, you should take the trouble to at least occasionally write something worth looking at years later. Below, from April, 2006, a post that I think captures the absurdity - the insanity, even - of the moment, five years ago. Perhaps it has no value beyond that... (/end 2011 intro, rest same...)
The full "newstand" version of the Middle East Stars and Stripes - the newspaper available to the troops in the combat zone, is available in pdf format online.
Has been for a long time. You can read some background and policy information on the publication here.
First published by Union troops during the Civil War, the paper was also published during WWI. After a between-war hiatus, the paper began again in WWII. After that...
Stars and Stripes is a daily newspaper published for the U.S. military, DoD civilians, contractors, and their families. Unique among the many military publications, Stars and Stripes operates as a First Amendment newspaper, free of control and censorship.
Currently, our Mideast Edition is command-sponsored and distributed at no charge to downrange troops.
Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Stars and Stripes has published a Mideast edition. The pass-along rate is usually higher for deployed troops; a copy of Stars and Stripes may be read by as many as seven different people. The number of copies printed varies with the number of troops. At the end of 2004, we circulated 42,000 copies in Iraq, 13,000 in Kuwait, 600 in Qatar, and 3,000 in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
As wartime military staff began returning to the States, the newspaper began replacing them with a full-time civilian staff. Gradually they built a top-of-the-line team of professional journalists and newspaper business people, augmented by a small contingent of military journalists and managers.Today,
In addition to the stories filed by our own reporters, daily issues can include content from the Associated Press, Knight-Ridder, Scripps-Howard, the Washington Post and other news services.From the DoD directive:
Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community. Editorially independent of interference from outside its editorial chain-of-command, it provides commercially available U.S. and world news and objective staff-produced stories relevant to the military community in a balanced, fair, and accurate manner. By keeping its audience informed, Stars and Stripes enhances military readiness and better enables U.S. military personnel and their families stationed overseas to exercise their responsibilities of citizenship. -- Revised DoD Directive 5122.11
How well do they do their job? You be the judge.
Here's the cover of the February 23 issue - the day after the shrine bombing in Sammara. Looks like the front page was already set up when the news broke. But just inside on page 3 are all the details, from an Associated Press story that probably ran in your local paper too.
By the following day the front page was given over to reports of the subsequent violence. Inside you'll find another page 3 AP story with the details - including pictures of the devastated shrine.
You'll find a story filed by a Stripes reporter too. "Insurgents control many perilous rural roads" is the headline on that one.
The next day the drama continues to unfold, and the AP reports: Iraq's most influential Shiite political leader called Friday for Sunni-Shiite unity as religious figures sought to calm passions and pull the nation from the brink of civil war...
The next day a deal is announced, but the page 3 story, this time from the Washington Post, is headlined: "More than 50 Iraqis are killed despite effort to curb violence."
Note the above the banner headline too; "Kerry leads Democrat's push for bigger troop pay increases". Good for him!
An AP headline elsewhere in the issue says that the "U.S. gives mixed report on Iraqi army readiness." (That sounds right to me. At this point I believe they are "summer soldiers" - summer soldiers, summer not.)
Did the Stars and Stripes provide accurate coverage of events? Probably more so than most other publications - certainly far better than the NY Times. But that's my opinion - since each of the images are linked to the full paper you can read them and decide for yourself.
That was just introduction - now our story really begins. There are several lessons to be learned from this tale, a cautionary story of how fast bad information can travel far.
Dreadcow is a fine milblogger, one of our favorites currently in Iraq. He's a grunt, and he travels outside the wire. He knows how things are in his part of the world, and he tells it like he sees it.
In a recent post he told about a phone conversation with his parents in the States:
Parents: "Well, everyone misses you. People ask about you all the time and how you're doing. Your Dad is sick right now. The weather is miserable; it's below zero in Minneapolis right now. Iraq almost fell into civil war today. You sure you want to buy a truck with these gas prices? When you get home we'll get you wasted on Margaritas.
"Me: "Come again?"
Parents: "Oh, I was saying with gas prices over two bucks a gallon, are you sure you want to get a truck?"
Me: "No, the civil war part."
That was the first I'd heard about the mosque getting blown up and this was two or three days after it happened. I'm IN Iraq and have no idea what's going on.
Now, stop and think a moment, and you'll realize one possible reason why the guy actually in Iraq didn't know there was a civil war in Iraq: Because there isn't one. Violence? You bet. Death? Many every day. Civil War? Seems to me that's the kind of thing you notice in your neighborhood long before you hear about it in an overseas phone call or read it in the newspaper.
But Dreadcow chose to vent his anger at what he believed was the cause of his lack of information:
A few months back I came to the conclusion that I'm fed nothing but propaganda and now it seems like my theory is dead on. I was always skeptical about the paper around here, Stars and Stripes. It's the newspaper for soldiers that's published by the military and widely available overseas.
I usually skim through the paper over dinner, directing everyone else to the humor I find in the blatant propaganda articles. I've explained to ya'll before that if new schools and water plants and all that stuff is going up, I have no idea. I'm a trigger puller. I watch for blow-me-up devices and people running around with guns (oh, if only you could have seen the boy no older than ten walking around the streets toting an AK) and worry about my legs being blown off.
But the way our media talks about the war it sounds like a stroll through Candy Land. A hot, dusty, ghetto Candy Land. The muffin man lives in downtown Baghdad in a mud house that has a plastic tarp for a door and in his spare time watches bakery porn on satellite television.
Now you've already seen the Stripes coverage of events of those days - they told the story. But bear in mind that distribution of the paper to every corner of Iraq may not always be rapid. (I was somewhere around Baghdad and I saw it daily and on time - free copies were available for the taking at the DFAC.) And although he has access to the internet, that might not be daily either. For whatever reason, Dreradcow exercised his God-given right to vent.
And somehow that post came to the attention of some of the folks who aren't quite so quick on the uptake.
A soldier who blogs from Iraq is upset that he didn't hear the country was on the brink of civil war until he happened to phone home to his parents.Alternet:
Dreadcow, a soldier in Iraq, tells the story of (his words, not mine) "[being] fed nothing but propaganda." I quote him at length, the story is powerful:Crooks and Liars
Alternet posts this story from a soldier in Iraq called: There's a civil what? where? The soldier heard about it through his mother.
In fact, he made a fairly big splash among the true believers. The conclusions these folks draw is that Bush's evil propaganda is so powerful that even people in Iraq don't know about the civil war in Iraq!
Let's recap our story thus far.
But the story doesn't end there. Because enough of them visited Dreadcow's blog that he noticed. And if you thought he was angry at S&S, you ain't seen nothin' yet:
His bottom line?
But when I checked out the links provided in the comments section to see how my writing was being portrayed I was totally livid. Number one, most people are cordial enough to ask me whether they can link to my site or not, and usually I oblige them. There have been a few cases where I haven't but for the most part I let people do it and I don't like it they'll get an email. Second, if I wanted my writing to take stances on political issues I'd flat out do it, and I'd do it blatantly as I'm not one for bullshit. Third, it's totally unacceptable and insulting when people take my writing and turn it into something other than what it is.
I could get all in depth but that would be a waste of my time and yours, so I'll make it simple. In "Propaganda" I did a little ragging on the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes for its choice of articles it publishes. I wrote a humorous (from what people tell me), exaggerated, and totally fake conversation between some Fobbits precluded by the description of "imaginary."
I don't know where these commie nut jobs got the idea that I was saying Stars and Stripes was a tool of the vast right wing conspiracy. I just said I was insulted by the idea of not getting the whole story. However, if you recall, I also ripped on CNN and Fox News for how they slant their news. Someone please explain to me how the fuck I could take a political stance when denouncing everybody and their monkey uncle.
So you can bet I was pretty pissed off when I find out that my blog entry "Propaganda" was used by two separate political websites for their own gain. I never authorized them to use my writing and I emailed the administrators of both websites, politely asking them to remove what writing of mine they used. During the composition of this entry they have yet to comply with my wishes.
Nor will they ever. And they certainly aren't going to acknowledge that later post.
As I said before, there are lessons to be learned from this.
1. Bad news travels faster than the speed of thought.
2. While you should always listen to your mother you don't have to tell the world what she says.
3. If you want a great grunt's-eye view of Iraq, read Fun With Hand Grenades.
4. If you want a great balance of both good and bad news from Iraq, read Stars and Stripes.
Libya is definitely proving to be a political loser for Obama which is interesting because only a little more than half of Americans, 58%, can actually correctly identify that it's in northern Africa. 27% think that it's in the Middle East, 4% think it's in South Asia, 2% think it's in South America, and 9% don't offer an opinion.
Miss Teen South Carolina and I believe that many people who are U.S. Americans don't have maps. But I can help you find Libya. Go to the Mediterranean, and follow the sounds of the drones until the sounds of the explosions and screaming drown them out. You're there.
While there you'll learn there are other meanings of "hurting" besides the one in that headline.
A related - and more recent quote: "Sometimes in the case of Churchill a strong personality can be enough to hold a muddled mass together."
Here's the source of that last quote, and here's his (also recent) inspiration. I'll muddle all that up with my own thoughts shortly, for now I'll say both are well worth a read. (And do not contain the word "Afghanistan.")
For those who've read the links above, here's a longer quote - this from George Orwell:
"The English intelligentsia, on the whole, were more defeatist than the mass of the people - and some of them went on being defeatist at a time when the war was quite plainly won - partly because they were better able to visualize the dreary years of warfare that lay ahead. Their morale was worse because their imaginations were stronger. "
I've always thought he was bitch-slapping "the intelligentsia" there, in full knowledge that they'd accept the absurdity as a compliment. But I suppose it's possible even Orwell believed - as they did - that strong imagination defined them, and only them.
But in support of my interpretation, witness this quote from Orwell: "I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."
More to follow... (meaning, I have not yet begun to muddle).
CIA? You think this guy is CIA? Just because some dumb book from France says so? Come on, Ed, - that's just crazy talk.
I mean seriously, just because he showed up in Libya on March 14th - and just four days later all the American newspapers were calling him "the leader of the rebel army" doesn't mean he's a CIA agent. Seriously, just because on that very day he's the guy quoted shouting "Qaddafi is a big fat liar!" when Qaddafi said he was ordering his troops to cease-fire after the UN approved a "no-fly zone" doesn't mean he's a CIA agent.
Hell, that's just crazy talk.
All the newspapers were calling him the "hero of the Chad-Libya war who had been in exile." I mean, anyone who says that just because the guy lived near CIA headquarters in Virginia for 20 years - until that very moment he appeared in the papers in his brand new surplus American DCUs - and his friends said they didn't know what he did for a living, so that means he must a CIA agent is just talking crazy talk.
Come on now, you think a guy who a 1996 Washington Post story says was leading a rebellion against Qaddafi in Libya is somehow a CIA agent?
Travelers from Libya reported unrest today in the Jabal Akhdar mountains of eastern Libya and said armed rebels may have joined escaped prisoners in an uprising against the government.
Many Libyans believe that the unrest is part of a plan to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and that its leader is Col. Khalifa Haftar, of a contra-style group based in the United States called the Libyan National Army, the travelers said.
The rebel army is the military wing of the Salvation Front for the Liberation of Libya, the main opposition in exile. Haftar was a senior officer in the Libyan army in Chad in the 1980s but was taken prisoner. When he and several hundred other POWs refused to go home after the war, the United States gave them asylum and training facilities.
The travelers, whose accounts could not be confirmed independently, said they heard that the death toll has risen...
I mean, jeepers, Ed - 1996 was an election year. How could President Clinton have found time to run some sort of "Bay of Pigs" - type operation in Libya? That's exactly the same sort of crazy talk people say about the "Bay of Pigs" - type operation President Clinton wasn't running in Iraq that year. That's all crazy talk.
Seriously, just because this 1991 New York Times article says he was brought to the United States five years before that failed uprising...
For two years, United States officials have been shopping around for a home for about 350 Libyan soldiers who cannot return to their country because American intelligence officials had mobilized them into a commando force to overthrow Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader.
Now, the Administration has given up trying to find another country that will accept the Libyans and has decided to bring them to the United States.
The plan to convert them into a vehicle for destabilizing the Libyan leader accomplished little besides creating 350 exiles.
The soldiers were involved in some minor operations but apparently never used in real combat. But their existence and purpose became known to Colonel Qaddafi and thus they cannot return home for fear of their lives.
...you think he's CIA? Everyone say it all together now: That's crazy talk!
I mean, sure - this 1991 New York Times story from a few weeks before that says a distant member of the deposed Libyan royal family said he would "take charge" of the group immediately before they were brought to America...
The exiled Prince Idris of Libya has said he will take control of a dissident Libyan paramilitary force that was originally trained by American intelligence advisers, and he has promised to order it into combat against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader.
The United States' two-year effort to destabilize Colonel Qaddafi ended in failure in December, when a Libyan-supplied guerrilla force came to power in Chad, where the original 600 commandos were based. The new Chad Government asked the United States to fly the Libyan dissidents out of the country...
But do you really think "Prince Idris" - a guy who is a successful American-based businessman - a guy who was on TV talking about the glorious Libyan peoples' rebellion against Qaddafi back in its early days this year - a guy who can claim (weakly - there's another guy with a better claim, but he lives in Britain, not the US...) the throne of Libya, would actually risk his reputation by mixing with the CIA? One more time : that's crazy talk.
Do you really think just because the Canadian government and the United Nations both have documents on their web pages saying this guy is the leader of a group everyone assumes is CIA-funded, a group of Libyan POWs captured in Chad during the "Toyota Wars" and intended for use against Qaddafi, that this means he's somehow CIA? Seriously, that's pure, tin-foil-hat wearing... um... er... hmmmm...
Okay. Wait. Let me try another track.
Do you think the Obama administration - Hillary Clinton, Tommy Donilon, Sammy Power and all those kids on the NSC, are really so inexperienced, unqualified, unprepared, and incompetent that they'd use a guy (from a Clinton-era CIA op) in a CIA op who has that much evidence in open source material indicating he's a CIA agent?
And sure, when people first started asking questions about the rebels the Obama administration leaked the news that we shouldn't worry about that because the president authorized a CIA op in Libya weeks ago and they say the rebels are okay - but that doesn't mean this guy's part of it.
C'mon - our news media would never let them get away with something like that.
Why, that's just plain crazy talk.
Mistakes?... I've made a few.... heh, no, just kidding:
"There are all sorts of day-to-day issues where I say to myself, oh, I didn't say that right, or I didn't explain this clearly enough," Obama said, "or maybe if I had sequenced this plan first as opposed to that one, maybe it would have gotten done quicker."
But the president mentioned no actual mistakes.
Of course he didn't. Why should he? His biggest mistakes don't even get reported as such. I can offer up several on the national security front, but here are just two mistakes that you've seen hints of lately in the news.
The first actually was made in his earliest days in the White House. (But we're paying the price for it now, and will for years to come.) At around the same time he was taking the oath of office, the soldiers of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team were completing preparations for their upcoming Iraq tour:
Like previous Stryker brigades, the 5th Brigade has put dozens of its troops through intensive, 10-month Arabic language training. They were tested in exercises last month where they had to help their commanders negotiate with native-speaker role players at Fort Lewis' urban training center, Leschi Town.
Tunnell has added his own adaptations as well. He sent senior sergeants to intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., so that each of his infantry companies could do more analysis work that would typically be done at the battalion level, further up the chain of command.
And to give his companies more know-how when it comes to bargaining with the mukhtars and sheiks they'll encounter in Iraq, he sent senior sergeants for training in the art of negotiation.
All that was soon tossed out the window for this headline: "Barack Obama diverts 17,000 soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan."
Mr Obama indicated that the units being sent to Afghanistan had been earmarked for Iraq, saying the drawdown of US forces there "allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan".
Which is a great headline for a guy who campaigned on exactly that; at the time it was widely reported and wildly popular. For the 5th SBCT it was a tough break - but also an order you salute smartly and carry on. That would be all well and good, but a few days later came the second part of the deal that didn't get any attention at all.
Gen. Odierno will receive a Stryker Brigade to replace the incoming replacement brigade diverted to Afghanistan just a week ago. That means that he will continue to maintain the current level of two Stryker brigades in Iraq.That would be the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from the same parent division and the same home base as the 5th.
A Fort Lewis Stryker combat brigade will deploy to Iraq this fall, several months ahead of the original schedule, Army officials said Monday.
When the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division departs, all three Stryker brigades based at the Army post will be simultaneously deployed to combat for the first time. Each brigade has about 4,000 soldiers.
It's terrible that so many brigades had to deploy, but since they did wouldn't it make more sense to send the 4th to Afghanistan, and the 5th - the one that had trained for Iraq - to Iraq? In fact, wouldn't making that switch be courting disaster? That depends on your goal (and how sure you are of the media's willingness to play along) - if it's to win wars, then yes, it's a mistake to switch them like that. If it's to make Americans think you're drawing down troops in Iraq to send to Afghanistan, then no. And if the media's on your side, you are mistake-proof.
They may not have had enough time to learn the language or prepare properly for Afghanistan, but when confronted with "an absence of good intelligence on what they would be facing in the Arghandab" valley, NCOs in the unit found a way to improvise, adapt and overcome, by "printing out information on the Arghandab region from The Long War Journal, a respected non-Defense Department Web site, and posting it on bulletin boards."
As good as my friend Bill Roggio's site is, I don't think that's its intended purpose. To recap: the 2nd Infantry Division's (2ID) 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team (5/2 SBCT), a brigade that had trained and prepared for Iraq, was re-routed to Afghanistan - a widely heralded and highly praised move. But also a fraud perpetrated on the American public, because in an "overlooked" story another 2ID brigade (4/2 SBCT) was sent to Iraq in their place.
Hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Both left for their respective tours at approximately the same time from the same place. Let's move forward to revisit the 4th and 5th SBCT in the middle of those tours - at the end of that calendar year :
End of year update: Where are they now?
The 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division is operating in Iraq.
The 5th is in Afghanistan:
...The battalion had spent much of the previous two years training for combat, but preparing for the wrong theater -- until February, when it got orders for Afghanistan, 1-17 was scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
However, 1-17 soldiers said their training, which had been focused on highly "kinetic" urban warfare drills such as room clearing, did not change much to accommodate the change in mission. "The COIN-intensive fight here ... isn't so much what we trained on," said 1st Lt. Kevin Turnblom, Charlie Company's fire support officer.
"We trained [in] urban fighting in Iraq and then they give us Afghanistan," said Staff Sgt. Jason Hughes, Weapons Squad leader in 1st Platoon, Charlie Company. "The principles are the same but the details are day-and-night different, and we've learned that the hard way over the last almost five months."
How bad was it? Read the whole Army Times report here. (And realize it isn't everything there was to tell.) It's a disaster that ends like this:
But the final blow to the company's morale was still to come: the new RC-South commander British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter chose to pull Charlie Company and the rest of 1-17 out of the Arghandab permanently and replace them with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade.
If you read the story you realize (regardless of why he said he did it) he had no other choice. That's doubly infuriating because 4/82 had originally been sent to Afghanistan as part of President Obama's initial surge specifically for the mission of training Afghan troops - something that would allow the draw down (now scheduled to "begin in July 2011") there, too.
But while the Times story ended, 5/2's Afghan tour didn't. So, did all those early failures contribute to further morale and discipline problems in 5/2, or did they hold their heads up, recover, and soldier on? No doubt most of the brigade's soldiers did the latter to the best of their abilities, but - get ready for another shocker here - by early 2010 other members of the brigade had formed the now-legendary "Kill Team" you my have read about elsewhere recently.
The story is actually a year old...
The military issued a brief statement last week saying a criminal probe was under way into the allegations of killing, illegal drug use, assault and conspiracy. One military official familiar with the details of the case told CNN the matter was brought to the attention of commanders by at least one other soldier. The killings of the three civilians did not take place in one single incident, the official said.
A senior U.S. Army official directly familiar with Stryker operations said the command of the 5-2 has been a concern to the Army for months.
...but it didn't really "catch on" until the actual pictures were obtained this year, by a German news source. (And later in Rolling Stone; speaking of which, another part of the reason that story didn't really "take off" back in June, 2010 was because before the month was over, General McChrystal had resigned after a Rolling Stone magazine article hurt Joe Biden's feewings.) Still, the AP tried to find an angle that would make it a "big" story when first reported back in June:
...but it still drew little attention outside of local (Ft Lewis area ~ Seattle) coverage. That coverage included the official army explanation:
A U.S. Army soldier who's been charged with murdering three Afghan civilians appears to have crossed paths with the family of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin....
Wasilla, as Palin frequently pointed out during the 2008 election campaign, is a very small community, so it's not surprising that the Palin family would have developed relationships, however incidental, with one of its residents. According to a 2009 People magazine profile of Bristol Palin, Jeremy Morlock's sister April is a friend of Bristol's and attended a "pizza and bingo party" at the Palin residence.
"His unit has done an admirable job in Afghanistan. They've been an important part of the fight there, and I don't think we can transfer this soldier's actions as a reflection. In the general population, a certain part of it is criminal. That happens in the Army sometimes, too," Parker said.
But Parker said the Army is a "learning organization" that would, if necessary, make changes to its screening of soldiers sent to combat zones.
Partial truth, at least. But while colonels can bust privates, and generals can bust colonels, and the AP can assault Sarah Palin (relentlessly), none of them (except news reporters) can bust the Commander in Chief; they're not going to tell you the whole thing started with a quest for a fraudulent headline: Barack Obama diverts 17,000 soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Speaking of which, let's turn back to the 4th SBCT - the unit he sent to Iraq. While those soldiers had to sacrifice time at home in order to deploy ahead of their previous schedule, that hurry-up also meant they couldn't complete the training then given to all Brigade Combat Teams heading for Iraq so that they could be called "Advise and Assist Brigades" - which is what makes "non-combat" brigade combat teams "non-combat." So they deployed as a "combat brigade."
Guess who made lemonade out of that. By the end of the summer of 2010 their combat tour was coming to an end - and what an end it would be:
No doubt there's something else on TV now - but last week I caught a bit of the coverage of "the last American combat brigade leaving Iraq." I wonder if this marks the series finale for this particular program - one that's only been broadcast sporadically since 2007 anyway.
Here's a very brief clip:
The Pentagon is letting NBC make the announcement for them... I'm not sure if that line of dialog adds or subtracts to the degree of realism they've been able to inject in this program...Following his speech on the topic earlier this month the New York Times reported that "Mr. Obama has adopted Iraq as a relative success story, and aides said he and other administration officials would hold several events in August to honor returning soldiers and promote the drawdown." More:
...the White House wants to find a way to mark the moment and remind voters just two months before midterm elections that he delivered on his vow to pull out combat forces. Mr. Obama plans to make a high-profile speech on the drawdown next week, and aides are discussing whether to have him meet with returning troops. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis on Monday.The notion that Iraq would be the political selling point while the "good war" in Afghanistan is now the sour note underscores how much has changed since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign.
Well, "change" was a campaign pledge too, wasn't it? In reality, the Iraq drawdown was continuing as scheduled during the Bush administration. But yep - since they didn't get their "advise and assist training" the 4th Strykers got to play the part of "the last COMBAT unit to leave Iraq" on TV. And since NBC got the official "ride-along" even Rachel Maddow made the trip ("I'm totally covered in goose bumps," she declared. "It is an important moment.") to cover the historic moment when Barack Obama once again "made good" on his campaign pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq - using as a prop the unit that, if the original story of Obama drawing down troops in Iraq had been true, would not have been there in the first place.
Fortunately, the brigade completed its combat tour without any combat deaths. Unfortunately, on the very day they had handed over their last combat outpost to the Iraqi army (but less widely reported), Spc. Faith R. Hinkley, also from Ft Lewis but serving in one of the non-combat brigades, was killed in combat elsewhere in Iraq.
So - there you have it. "There are all sorts of day-to-day issues where I say to myself, oh, I didn't say that right, or I didn't explain this clearly enough," Obama said, "or maybe if I had sequenced this plan first as opposed to that one, maybe it would have gotten done quicker." So yeah, lots of little things. As for the big things, well, if you never see 'em on TV, they really aren't "mistakes" at all, are they?
It's been a week since that was sent and I've received no reply.
But that's rather a dramatic change to make without explanation, don't you think? The original version indicates the entire narrative of diverting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan is a fraud perpetrated on the American public. The later version is hardly newsworthy.
Aren't corrections of that magnitude worthy of an appended explanation?
And I still haven't.
Meanwhile, in more recent news: "Senior U.S. and Iraqi military officials have been in negotiations about keeping some 10,000 American troops in Iraq beyond the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. forces at year's end..." but the Iraqis are worried we'll turn their country into another Libya. But maybe Obama will eventually change Bush's withdrawal timeline after all.
But I promised "two mistakes that you've seen hints of lately in the news," and that's just one (even if just one of many ways we've tried to lose that war) - though it's a big one. The second is, too, but it's about a more recent war - and this has gone on long enough, so that little story will have to come a little later. (Assuming the world doesn't blow up before then.)
Until then, here's a question to ponder while you enjoy your universal health care, America: what mistakes have you made lately?
"The United States and its allies have entered a new stage of involvement in Libya," says this Washington Post report:
France and Italy said Wednesday that they would join Britain in dispatching military advisers to assist the inexperienced and disorganized rebel army, primarily in tactics and logistics. President Obama authorized sending $25 million worth of nonlethal equipment, including body armor, tents, uniforms and vehicles.
But "A senior European official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the Americans, said that Obama's eagerness to turn over command of the Libyan air operation to NATO late last month, and the withdrawal of U.S. fighter planes from ground-strike missions, had undermined the strength of their united front against Gaddafi."
Limits of airpower - sounds familiar... Meanwhile Joe Biden (whose previous silence on this issue has been noted) has informed the British media that this is NATO's problem, not ours, and they can handle it themselves.
"We rushed into this without a plan," said David Barno, a retired Army general who once commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. "Now we're out in the middle, going in circles."
The failure of the international air campaign to force Kadafi's ouster, or even to stop his military from shelling civilians and recapturing rebel-held towns, poses a growing quandary for President Obama and other NATO leaders: What now?
Privately, U.S. officials concede that some of their assumptions before they intervened in the Libyan conflict may have been faulty. Among them was the notion that air power alone would degrade Kadafi's military to the point where he would be forced to halt his attacks, and that the U.S. could leave the airstrikes primarily to warplanes from Britain, France and other European countries.
Joe Biden, US vice-president, has declared Nato can fulfil its mission in Libya without US help, arguing that Washington has far more important strategic concerns elsewhere, particularly Egypt.The Post story refers to Biden's comments as "feisty." You may recall concern for Egypt was high among President Obama's stated reasons for launching the air campaign in Libya in the first place:
America has an important strategic interest in preventing Qaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful -- yet fragile -- transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power.
The 25 million in non-lethal aid will consist of surplus type items, including "medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, personal protective gear, radios, halal meals," according to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who added that "this action is consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which among other actions, authorized member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas." She described the rebels as "mostly businesspeople, students, lawyers, doctors [and] professors." Other administration officials said the aid package had been determined "after weeks of assessing their capabilities and intentions."
Presumably the rebels will be allowed to let their new American boots touch ground.
C.J. Chivers reports in the New York Times.
My friend Kanani Fong was his friend Kanani Fong. Her first response here. (Along with some videos from Tim.)
War sucks. I believe I've mentioned that here before.
Details compiled from early reports:
On Saturday evening, Tim Hetherington, the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Restrepo," and Chris Hondros, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer, hitched a ride to this besieged city on the Ionian Spirit, where they prepared sandwiches for refugees and talked about their plans back home.New York Times:
During the 20-hour voyage, Hetherington ate chips while Hondros told the colleagues about his recent engagement to a woman from New York. "I don't want to be a really old dad," he confided.
On Wednesday evening, the ship ferried the bodies of the two renowned journalists back to Benghazi.
[Andre Liohn, a colleague who was at the triage center where the photographers were rushed by rebels after they were struck...] said rebels had been fighting house-to-house and making progress clearing blocks of buildings. There had been pitched fighting overnight Tuesday, he said, and the four photographers had arrived in the area late Wednesday morning.
Mr. Liohn said he worried that the Qaddafi forces would counterattack in the afternoon, then added, "And that's what happened."
Hondros had been taking photographs in Misurata on Wednesday morning under the protection of a rebel militia commanded by a fighter named Salahidin. His photos captured the militia in action as it tried to flush snipers loyal to Kadafi from their hiding spots.
After transmitting the images to his employers at Getty Images, he returned to the front lines with Salahidin and his men in the afternoon.
Hetherington and Hondros were part of a group of six photographers who made their way up a dangerous strip of Tripoli Street, a front line where Kadafi snipers hide in buildings in the rebel-held city.
At some point, at least some of the photographers broke away from Salahidin to get to a safer position, said Guillermo Cervera, a freelance photographer who was among the group. They were hit by shrapnel from a mortar round.
"We were trying to get to a safe place. It was too quiet. It felt dangerous," said Cervera, who was a few yards away at the time of the blast. "I heard the whoosh of an explosion, and everybody was on the ground."
The journalists were walking in the front-line area at the end of Tripoli Street in the western edge of Misrata when the RPG exploded, according to a town resident who wanted to be identified only as "Mohammed" for safety reasons. The group was traveling with rebel fighters, he said.
The group of American and British photojournalists were following rebels into heavy fighting. "I told them not to gather," one rebel outside the tent recalled advising the photographers about the dangers of sticking too close together. "They hit groups. I told them not to."
A survivor told the BBC that a group of journalists had been pulling back from near the front line during a lull in the fighting in Misrata when they were attacked.
An ambulance took Hetherington and Martin, 28, who was working for the news agency Panos, from the battle to the triage tent next to the Hikma hospital about 5 p.m. Hetherington was bleeding heavily from his leg and looked very pale.
The risks during the fighting have been compounded by the difficulties of moving protective equipment into Libya through Egypt, where customs officials have tried to block the transit of helmets and flak jackets.Some journalists have managed to move the equipment to front lines, but most have not. Neither Mr. Hetherington nor Mr. Brown had protective gear in Misurata, Mr. Liohn said.
"Come with me. Come with me. Everybody is injured," an American photographer who had seen the attack shouted to ambulance drivers, imploring them to return to the scene. Her bulletproof vest was splattered with blood. "I'll come with you. I'll show you where they are."
As she sought help, doctors attended to Hetherington and Martin, who had suffered a stomach wound and underwent surgery Wednesday evening. About 15 minutes after the ambulance's arrival, doctors in the tent pronounced Hetherington dead.
About 10 minutes later, another ambulance carried Hondros and Brown, who also suffered shrapnel wounds, to the triage unit. Doctors examining a scan of Hondros's brain explained that shrapnel had hit the photographer in the forehead and passed through the back of his head. They asked a reporter at the hospital to look after his battered helmet. Brown's medical condition was considered less dire.
[James Hider, Middle East correspondent for the Times of London] said he was at a hospital and saw Hetherington die in a triage tent. "It was shocking."
Guy Martin, a British freelance photographer who was wounded in the attack that killed Hondros and Hetherington, was out of surgery Thursday, conscious and in stable condition. Michael Christopher Brown, another freelance photographer wounded in the attack, was also recovering.
Barely two months ago, combat photographer Tim Hetherington sent out a tweet from the Academy Awards ceremony, where his Afghanistan war film "Restrepo" was up for the best documentary trophy.
"At the #Oscars w/ Josh Fox of @gaslandmovie and director of Wasteland http://ow.ly/i/8Dl6," he messaged, referring to two of his fellow nominees in the category. The tweet was accompanied by a photo of Hetherington, beaming, in a tuxedo.
On Tuesday, Hetherington sent out a very different report from the shattered and besieged Libyan city of Misurata: "Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO."
Restrepo lost out in the best documentary category this year to Inside Job, ("an important documentary - maybe even more important than An Inconvenient Truth") a film calling for more government control of financial institutions starring Matt Damon.
"We rushed into this without a plan," said David Barno, a retired Army general who once commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. "Now we're out in the middle, going in circles."
He's talking about Libya. I don't believe that got much notice, beyond paragraph five of that LA Times story. And I believe his assessment is valid, and based on military - not political - considerations.
Once upon a time, quotes from retired generals ("a nightmare with no end in sight") were big-time headline makers (even - or especially - if they lacked anything close to valid military critique), as in the AP, The Washington Post, and the New York Times all ran with 'em, along with Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. That link is to one example among many, and probably not even the best*. (I revisited that one recently myself for other reasons, so it was convenient.) The many examples I can think of all had something in common (besides being "anti-war"): the retired general was either running for office or campaigning heavily for someone else who was - invariably as or for a Democrat. (Other, non-politically motivated retired generals offered their own critiques on Iraq, too- invariably made with suggestions for improvements - but somehow they were never really found to be headline-worthy.)
In fairness to the various media outlets that loved to push a story like that, there was a certain "man bites dog" quality to it, if you ignored the fact that "man" in these examples was employed as a professional Democrat. (Which they mostly did, preferring to focus on their great credibility as a former soldier.) The slightest hint of that same "man bites dog"-type story in the Age of Obama leads to headlines/discussions/outcries about "crises in the civ/mil relationship," unless it's just ignored altogether.
Or as Glenn Reynolds said regarding another story on how the anti-war movement has somehow all but vanished over the past couple of years: "Yeah, it's as if all that self-righteous moralism, and cries or war criminal and illegal wars and concentration camps at Gitmo was just a lot of lying, self-serving twaddle by people who really just wanted power for their team. Who knew?"
I don't want to ever see a day when Republicans bring two dozen well-choreographed tap-dancing ex-generals and admirals out on stage at their convention to sing hosannas for the military brilliance of their candidate and party, but I am willing to point out that yes, the trash bags who did that a few years ago were just trash bags doing what trash bags do.
*Footnote: Sanchez' quote is "not the best" example because it was actually ripped from context of a larger talk in which he lambasted the media's handling of reporting the Iraq war - something about which he was absolutely qualified to opine. (At least as far as that period back when he was in charge...) Ironically, his "nightmare with no end in sight" assessment then - Fall 2007 - was based more on media reports on Iraq than on reality in Iraq. And obviously - and equally ironically - it gave them more hot air to inflate that myth-bubble he was attempting to pop.
Eyewitnesses described enormous demonstrations, numbering hundreds of thousands, in the two cities as the ongoing protests against Saleh's longtime rule of the country appeared to gain strength.
Medical personnel at Sanaa's Change Square said the hurt, including those suffering from tear gas inhalation, numbered "in the hundreds and are still coming in."
You say you don't care, about bullets in the air, in Yemen's Change Square? Try this - 26 children killed:
"Apart from Libya, of which we do not have complete figures, Yemen has the largest number of children killed or injured because of political unrest in the region," said a spokeswoman for Unicef, Marix Mercado, during a press briefing.
She explained that "between February 18 and April 18, at least 26 children were killed, most by bullets and live ammunition."
"Meh," you say. "We got bored with Libya in like 15 minutes flat. Yemen - who cares?"
We did, a year ago:
Of course, "The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions" so Saleh's troops could do the actual "wet work," as they say in the movies. But...
U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.
The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists...
The far-reaching U.S. role could prove politically challenging for Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh who must balance his desire for American support against the possibility of a backlash by tribal, political and religious groups whose members resent what they see as U.S. interference in Yemen.
"Wow," you might think, "yet another example of the Obama administration leaking something they maybe really shouldn't have been doing in the first place, no matter how cool they thought it was."
But in their defense, at the time America was still gripped in the icy grip of fear that gripped the nation in the wake of the underpants bomber's diabolical attack, people were accusing Obama of being "soft on terror," the TSA didn't have those fancy new airport scanners in place yet, and the president probably felt something had to be said.
"We are very pleased with the direction this is going," a senior administration official said of the cooperation with Yemen.
We also sent more money there (they even put General Petraeus up as the "face" of that effort, before dropping him from CENTCOM to ISAF) even as President Obama promised (yet again) to close Guantanamo Bay Prison, which he claimed was the "explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" in the first place - a group which was then concentrated in Yemen.
Back to the new news:
The conflict has put CIA and military counterterrorism operations on ice, officials said on the condition of anonymity.
The political turmoil in Yemen has created uncertainty among counterterrorism officials in Washington.
Before the protests, when it appeared that Saleh would continue his decades-long presidency, the U.S. planned to expand operations there. The CIA had bolstered its station and there were discussions about broadening airstrikes and working more closely with Yemeni counterterrorism officials on ground operations.
All that has come to a halt.
Several key figures and lawmakers from Yemen's ruling elite have broken with embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, forming their own opposition party to support anti-government protests demanding his ouster.
The new Justice and Development Bloc issued a statement Monday demanding an end to Mr. Saleh's 32-year rule and opposing the suppression of street protests.
U.S.-educated Mohammed Abulahoum, a leader of the powerful Bakeel tribe - which is Yemen's second-largest - is among the founding members.
"Meh," you might repeat, "Whatever. Fortunately we have a president who can look at all that through a pair of prismatic, multi-spectral lenses. As for you Saleh, fair warning: when the Dynamic Fear Train of History comes a' chugga chugga choo chooing into Change Square Station you better be on the right side of the tracks."
The armed forces, numbering no more than 1,000, would be deployed to secure the delivery of aid supplies, would not be engaged in a combat role but would be authorised to fight if they or their humanitarian wards were threatened. "It would be to secure sea and land corridors inside the country," said an EU official.Please note those are European Union troops - not NATO. Also, while the plan has been under construction for quite some time, it won't be executed without UN authorization.
A spokesman for the Misurata City Council appealed for NATO to send ground troops to secure the port that is the besieged city's only remaining humanitarian lifeline.
That quote actually appears in last week's story about running out of smart bombs.
Hopefully someone will explain to those folks in the besieged city the difference between the EU and NATO. For American readers: the US is not part of the EU, thus wouldn't be under any compulsion to contribute ground troops to assist, as would be the case if this were a NATO mission involving our NATO allies. Another story from last week:
The European Union is getting ready to launch a military mission to support humanitarian aid work in Libya even as rebels are warning of what they are calling a "massacre" in the western city of Misrata...
The EU-proposed operation would create a safe corridor in the sea up to Misrata as well as on the ground to be able to reach out to those in need. EU officials say the operation would require a formal UN request and fall under the mandate of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973.
But Kristalina Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response says the EU believes if they cannot reach people, if they cannot evacuate the wounded or help those civilians caught in the cross-fire, then there is no option but to provide military support.
"If we have boats that are trying to get with medicines, or to evacuate wounded, not able to reach the port, this is a signal that that protection is necessary, or if on the ground there is such a forceful attack from Gadhafi forces that the actual presence of humanitarian workers -- people with no guns, no way to protect themselves -- becomes problematic, then there may be a need for protection on the ground in the civilian area," she said.
So, maybe the mission already has UN authorization?
Also last week, as rebel forces in the east crumbled under the onslaught of Qaddafi's troops and many of the remaining civilians fled Ajdibiya for Benghazi, western media shifted their correspondents to Misrata in time to capture dramatic photos of crying babies and file reports on Qaddafi's use of cluster bombs against civilians there.
Qaddafi's forces would likely have taken Misrata earlier in the conflict, but NATO airstrikes there have at least delayed that outcome. While Qaddafi's troops are experiencing slow progress from Brega to Ajdibiya in the east - where rebel troops are described as "in disarray" - it's unlikely he (or anyone, including citizens of Misrata) would believe the description of NATO troops between that front and Tripoli as "humanitarian forces." The potential for confusion, tragic accidents, misunderstandings, or overt acts of war will obviously be high. All sides will need to exercise extreme caution to avoid escalation.
Meanwhile, a humanitarian sealift mission has been under way in Misrata, thus far without incident, and "The UN agency that coordinates humanitarian aid said Friday that it saw no need for military support for relief missions in Libya."
'Things are improving step by step. We are successful in bringing in food and medical equipment, there are more and more relief activities,' said Elizabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
This potential needed to be exhausted before any military assistance could be foreseen - a 'worst case scenario' that did not exist yet, she said.
"A Red Cross ship carrying vital medical supplies docked in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata" on April 3rd. Other ships are arriving with the mission of evacuating migrants from the city. (Warning: New York Times link, visits are rationed.)
A few ships have stopped at Misurata's docks to ferry migrant workers to safety. But thousands of laborers still wait, unsure when their turn will come.
The Ionian Spirit, a passenger vessel chartered by an international organization, entered Misurata on Thursday afternoon [April 14] with the mission of rescuing the workers, after a nearly 19-hour passage from Benghazi, the rebel capital in eastern Libya.
Its mission is urgent, said Jeremy R. A. Haslam, head of the crisis response team on board. A brightly painted cruise ship that usually plies the Greek, Italian and Albanian coasts, the Ionian Spirit was chartered by the International Organization for Migration, which hopes to pick up at least 800 of the more than 6,500 migrant workers who have been trapped in Misurata, Libya's third largest city.
Western reporters were also fortunate to reach the town immediately before the ship's dramatic arrival. More:
"Our staff on board the boat report that while we were boarding the migrants, the shelling and the fighting subsided for a bit and there was this almost eerie silence while they would kind of wait until we had got the people on board and that we would leave," said Pandya.As the ship departed last weekend some passengers reported that Qaddafi's troops weren't the only threat they'd faced:
Increasingly dramatic stories may come from evacuees who are (for now) safe in Banghazi:
It had been a long wait and, until the very last moment, there was the fear that they would not get out. But in the early hours of yesterday morning, the great escape began for the desperate refugees caught on the deadliest battlefront in Libya's brutal civil war...
But it was not just the regime that these men and their families had grown to fear. Some of the inmates of Ghafr Ahmed camp, mainly from Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh, had lost their lives in clashes with the revolutionary forces who control parts of this city under siege. Others had been arrested and accused of being mercenaries...
Bombardment made it impossible to get into many areas of Misrata and pressed the aid ship to leave as swiftly as it could, he said. That meant making hard choices when deciding who to bring on board.
Men chanted "Allahu akbar" and waved as the chartered Greek vessel, Ionian Spirit, made its way into Benghazi port. Evacuees crowded the top deck, huddling in sweatshirts and coats from the damp wind blowing from the Mediterranean.
"I don't know where I'm going to go," said Ahmed Jawad, 26, an engineering student from Baghdad who had been living in Misrata for eight years...
"Every tyrannical country, when there's a protest, they use rubber bullets or water cannons, but here they use heavy weapons, anti-aircraft guns, live bullets.
"These weapons are supposed to be used in wars, not against civilians," he said.
Similar reports of atrocities from fleeing civilians preceded UN approval of airstrikes (or "all necessary measures") on Qaddafi's military last month.
IOM says there are 100 Libyans among those rescued, 23 of whom are war-wounded, including a child shot in the face and an amputee.More on the IOM here and here. However, "...the chartered vessel can only carry 800 people at a time and current funds only cover the cost of two trips, the aid agency said."
The IOM has said it hoped the ship would be able to leave Benghazi for Misrata in order to carry out a second evacuation, but after that it would run out of funding. Yet the total needed, $5 million, is not huge, according to the Geneva-based agency....And (as expected) update:
The Libyan government on Tuesday firmly rebuffed a proposal from the European Union, saying it would fight any foreign troops that landed on its soil, even if they were supposedly there to escort humanitarian aid convoys.
"If there is any deployment of any armed personnel on Libyan ground, there will be fighting," [Libya's deputy foreign minister] Kaim told a news conference in Tripoli. "The Libyan government will not take it as a humanitarian mission. It will be taken as a military mission."
Also, "Kaim reiterated Gaddafi's claims that the al-Qaeda terrorist network is behind the Libyan rebellion." - a claim with popular appeal to many Americans.
"Separately, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country was sending a team of military advisers to Libya to help organize the ragtag opposition forces, joining British diplomats already working with rebel leaders in Benghazi, their stronghold in eastern Libya." A lengthy AP report here, and a BBC report here:
The BBC understands 10 officers will provide logistics and intelligence training in a UK and French operation.
Mr Hague said it was compatible with the UN resolution on Libya, which ruled out foreign military ground action.
He stressed that the officers would not be involved in any fighting and the move was needed to help protect civilians.
NATO conducted deliberate, multiple strikes against command and control facilities of the Qadhafi regime last night, including communications infrastructure used to coordinate attacks against civilians, and the headquarters of the 32nd Brigade located 10 km south of Tripoli.
The 32nd Brigade headquarters has been used to lead and coordinate military actions against the Libyan civilian population.
"NATO will continue its campaign to degrade the Qadhafi regime forces that are involved in the ongoing attacks on civilians. We do so in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Mandate 1973 in order to protect, by any means, the civilian population from attack," said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, the Commander of Operation Unified Protector.
Underlining added, italics in original.
Ever wonder what the fourth week of a planned one week war looks like?
Wonder no more - it looks like this:
Less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.
I predict they'll somehow scrounge some up somewhere for week five. And if they don't drop one of them on Qaddafi they'll need some for week six, too - because that story isn't going to convince him to give up.
In other week four re-cap, some folks are still living in week one:
Addressing a crowd of Tea Party activists in South Carolina on Saturday, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann called President Obama's decision to intervene in Libya "foolish" and said the NATO mission could end up boosting al Qaeda.
"We still don't know who the opposition forces are that we're helping," the potential Republican presidential contender said at a morning gathering of the Bluffton Tea Party Patriots.
"The only reports that we have say that there are elements of al Qaeda in North Africa and Hezbollah in the opposition forces," she said. "Let me ask you this: what possible benefit is there to the United States by lifting up and creating a toehold for al Qaeda in North Africa to take over Libya?"
That's not going to get Qaddafi shaking with anything but laughter, either.
Now, if that's the first time you've heard that some of the Libyan rebels might be al Qaeda you probably responded exactly the way you were expected to. If that's the case, take a break, clean yourself up, put on a fresh pair of underwear, and come back and read this calmly; if nothing else you'll learn something that will at least save you the cost of buying lots more Fruit of the Looms in the coming weeks.
From where we left off: "Bachmann, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she was speaking carefully so as not to betray any national security secrets and said she was referring to public testimony and news reports."
Good for her. I don't get invited to the sooper serkrit briefings Congress gets from the Executive Branch, so I can't tell you who shows up for them and whether or not they stay awake all the way through. But she's right on this - what we did was foolish. How foolish is yet to be determined. Right now it's situation: salvageable. But President Next - whoever she may be - will inherit much of the problem. We, the American public, will not get to to retire from our role as the American public. So I offer up the following because I really don't want the idiots who got us into this war replaced by idiots who have no idea "what's going on over there."
Same as I felt back in week one:
I answered that question, too. Now, you have to understand that I wrote that back when alarming talk about possible al Qaeda members in the rebel ranks had only just begun, and the real problem - the obvious problem, to any military professional, was worse - and being ignored. The answer to the question was "some of each" - but mostly the latter.
Who are we supporting in Libya? The question has been raised - I can provide an answer: either we're supporting Libyan rebels with experience fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or we're supporting rebels with no combat experience whatsoever.
I suppose I've merely rephrased the question in an even more uncomfortable (at least, for those who should have an answer) manner: are we supporting Libyan rebels with experience fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or are we supporting rebels with no combat experience whatsoever?
...no matter how many Libyans (freelance or under an al Qaeda banner) fought Americans (and Iraqis and Afghans) in Iraq or Afghanistan - and survived for a trip home ("1,000 trained men"?) - there aren't enough to defeat Qaddafi's army, even with American, French, and British air support.
I try to write for a non-professional military audience, but might have been wrong in believing that the many obvious conclusions that flow from that observation (I'll repeat it for emphasis: effectively, we're allied with a bunch of folks who have no combat experience at all) were obvious - like this example: we're going to need more precision munitions than some people think. (See also here.)
If I was wrong about all that lack of experience being important we'd have seen headlines like "Qaddafi Gone - Rebels celebrate in Tripoli." I'd have been happy to have been wrong. But real headlines last week read "Rebels in Disarray." (So. ready to surrender yet, Moammar?!?!?)
Of course, through week two we kept seeing headline after headline about whether there might be former al Qaeda members among the rebels - before the week was out even Rush Limbaugh had heard. Obviously those stories still keep cropping up - but somewhere around week three media reports that "golly - these rebels are a pretty damned ineffective fighting force" became more common. Shocker, right? At this rate, by early next month the people who are paid to "analyze" stuff like this for TV audiences are going to be telling you everything that was obvious last month to people who do stuff like this. (If she listens closely Michele Bachmann might even hear it in one of those triple-crypto top sekrit 007 intel briefings she gets from President Obama's people.)
Meanwhile, al Qaeda actually is interested in Libya - we'll get to what they've been up to in a moment. First - in hopes that this puts an end to cries about helping teh al kadies (and maybe even helps you decide who is and isn't getting your vote in the next presidential election) here's another item in the long list of items the Obama administration isn't going to tell you about this Libyan Civil War we jumped into last month. It's not a classified state secret either - it's just another bit of simple common sense that the White House is uncomfortable with. So calm down, take a deep breath, and get ready for the news: we actually want to turn al Qaeda fighters to our side. I know - another shocker, right?
Humor me a moment - one paragraph. Change "al Qaeda" to just "enemy" in the above. Okay - everybody loves Patton, right? I mean, there's a guy who knew how to fight a war... His first battles - America's first big battles - in World War Two were fought in a far away place called North Africa against the French. ("Buh buh but that's totally different..." okay - buh buh but humor me, read on.) Unlike in the George C. Scott movie those French troops didn't just fire a few shots over our heads, surrender, cheer, and run for our lines to kiss our cheeks and lead us to the huns. We actually fought for a while, and took casualties before that fine day came "when FDR met in Casablanca with 'local government' leaders" (hey, Ed forgot to mention they were French local leaders...) to plan the future. We had enough trouble going forward against the German Nazis (even with generals like Patton leading our boys - and allies like Stalin on "our side") who were the larger, more immediate threat, and it made a hell of a lot more sense to peel the French away and make them our allies than to kill our way through the French to get to the Germans.
Right then - that's not the big secret the Obama administration doesn't want you to know; just a reminder that what is isn't even anything new. (They couldn't take the time to explain that to anyone anyway because the only thing anyone in the Obama administration knows about World War Two is that their grandfathers fought in that glorious cause under George C. Scott, who went from North Africa to Berlin in something like two and a half hours. But I digress...)
This is what they don't want to talk about: allying with former al Qaeda allies - getting them to fight on our side (or demonstrating to them that we were on their side, if you prefer) was a big part of how we began turning things around in Iraq in 2006. The surge sped things up the following year - in part because that "awakening" effort was adopted as theater-wide policy. I was there. And any of the current Libyan rebels who were also there learned (among other things) that no matter what you hear in your mosque or on TV, it's not all that great an idea to fight the US military. (In weeks to come they'll learn what it's like to have us on their side - more on that shortly.) Candidate Obama was more than happy to credit the awakening over the surge (the surge will fail...) for improvements in 2008, but he can't talk about it now because back in 2006 and 2007 he (and everyone else in his party) was squawking about how Iraq was really a civil war, (in fact, there were no foreign fighters in Iraq!!!) and the United States had no business in someone else's civil war.
End history "lesson." Now here we are in the Libyan Civil War. In short: right now the former al Qaeda members among the Libyan rebels we've decided to bet the future on are the least of our concerns. The best explanation of that is above - but for purely political (and absurd - but that might be redundant) reasons that actual explanation can't be the administration response. But to make matters even worse, the substitute administration response was given back in week one, also - some form of "our intel indicates very few al Qaeda types among the rebels."
That news prompted more squawking about "al Qaeda members among the rebels" - but in the meantime other reporters asked the real question that that response made obvious, but that so many missed: Wait, we have intel guys on the ground? Again, the best answer would have been a simple explanation of some of the many reasons why turning enemies into allies is a good idea, instead we got (shhhh... off the record, of course - and not in these words) "oh stop worrying - this has been a CIA op from the get-go. The boss authorized it before the first bomb fell." (Um, shhhh... that sounds totally sooper kewl - but saying it was a really a super bad idea.)
Of course, another explanation for not explaining the obviously simple fact about enemies and allies and how we want fewer of one and more of the other is that the Obama administration wants to reserve the right to bail out on Libya without getting into any messy discussions about what comes next for those folks who thought we were their allies - whether they used to be friends of al Qaeda or not. Obviously there are a lot of things for Americans to complain about (or at least ask questions about) in this Libyan adventure we've waded into, and "sum of teh rebelz mite B teh al kadie terrarists" is not high among them. (Week one trivia question: who was the first person to start squawking about possible al Qaeda members among the rebels? Hint: there are 470 ways to spell his name in English, and they all rhyme with "Mowamar Kuhdoffy.")
For those actually interested in what al Qaeda's up to these days, this brings us to what al Qaeda is doing while civil war rages in Libya. One: according to many unconfirmed reports - most from leaders of neighboring countries (and every leader's enemies are al Qaeda these days - quick America, send money!) they've taken advantage of the situation to raid various unattended weapons depots in Libya, picking up surface to air missiles and other cool toys and spiriting them away for use elsewhere. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because empty weapons depots in Iraq were a big last-minute presidential campaign issue for John Kerry in 2004, and a big story. These days, not so much a story, in part because some of the rebels might be al Qaeda!
Two (and this one's certain): If some of the rebels might be al Qaeda is your biggest concern, you'll be delighted to learn you share it not only with Moammar Qaddafi, but with al Qaeda, too. From the beginning they've been reaching out to those rebels, warning them not to put their trust in western "allies" who don't really give a damn what happens to them - and would in fact dump them in a heartbeat. While they, too, see a few of the rebels as possible "lost members" of their tribe, they also see the much larger group as a huge potential talent pool - especially if the Obama administration acts as they expect/hope they will based on what the Obama administration says. Because for their part, the Obama administration was busy assuring anyone who would listen that Libya was just a
time-limited, scope-limited kinetic military didly-doo
... and a sideshow, to boot. (Americans had fun with that quote, too - but the slight emphasis added above highlights the way Qaddafi, the rebels, and al Qaeda heard it. See also Afghanistan, our "real central front and number one national security issue" - from where we have to begin drawing down troops in July. Big tests are coming for this new tactic of announcing to the enemy we're only giving them a set amount of time to surrender before we quit.)
In the latest message from al Qaeda:
In the hour-plus long video, al-Zawahiri orders Muslims in Egypt to create an Islamic state there and calls for the Arab armies of the Middle East to intervene in Libya to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi before "Western aid... turns into invasions."
What they'll do if the "Arab armies" decline is unsaid. Al Qaeda might gain something from a rebel victory that they endorse and support - but they most definitely benefit from a Qaddafi win.
Either way, our response is nah nah na boo-boo: "Al Qaeda must be pretty damn frustrated these days," one unnamed US government official told ABC News in response - "They've been on the wrong side of history -- and humanity -- for years." (I'm glad there's someone in the government who knows about history. Or is it talking points? Wait - Egypt? What's Egypt got to do with it?)
Did I mention I agreed it was foolish? (Oh yes, right up there after the part about running out of smart bombs...) Foolish or not, here we are.
Lastly, for those interested in a tactical update for the beginning of week five: Qaddafi's forces continue pressing the rebel-held cities of Ajdabiya and Misrata... New York Times headline: "Rebels Flee Key Libyan Town." (British version over the story here makes an interesting contrast: "Libyan families flee Gaddafi forces in Ajdabiya as civilian death toll rises.")
And end of week four. What headlines will week five bring? "Qaddafi Gone" would be nice, but based only on the previous four this seems more likely: Some of the rebels might be al Qaeda!
Unbelievable! - you might cry. Of course it is. (If it wasn't, it wouldn't be deniable.) But that doesn't matter. You're along for the ride...
I suppose I should explain it in full. Lets start at the beginning (or at least, a beginning).
Wouldn't this be nice:
Act one: Libyan citizens, inspired by similar (and seemingly successful) protests in neighboring countries, rise up peacefully against Qaddafi's rule. In response, Qaddafi unleashes his military - actually thousands of thug mercenaries (his own people wouldn't serve in his army under any circumstances, right?) to crush them. Global outrage against the dictator increases as refugees reveal the extent of atrocities he'd inflicted on his own people. The tanks keep rolling, but just when things appear to be hopeless, NATO jets, responding to UN "authorization" granted following cries for help from the Arab League and African Union (renown for their progressive leadership and concern for their citizens' welfare above all else) appear overhead and make short work of Qaddafi's air defenses and armor.
Act two: In Libya, protesters - now under the protection of NATO airpower, become rebels. At last - no longer living in fear of tanks and rockets in the hands of mercenary thugs (and secret police) - shopkeepers, dockworkers, mechanics, students and teachers all rise up together, knowing that with NATO's help they now have hope. They are joined by former soldiers - including senior ranking officers - who quickly transform them into what analysts describe as a capable-enough force. But they aren't needed; on Friday - following almost a full week of NATO airstrikes (most now directed at Qaddaffi's only two truly effective, "hard line" brigades) tens of thousands of anti-Qaddafi citizens exit the Mosques to clog squares in Tripoli, in overwhelming numbers (the only thing previously stopping them - what "planners" call the "fear dynamic" - having been removed by our demonstrated firm commitment to their cause) soon further swelled as security force members, sent to end their demonstrations, instead join in. Qaddafi's military crumbles rapidly, along with the rest of his government as one by one his paid lackeys see the writing on the wall. (And after defecting reveal further horrors of the regime.)
Act three: By the end of the weekend - about ten days after the event began, or at least really got our attention (especially at the gas pumps) - we are treated to an amazing sight: celebratory crowds in Tripoli, Benghazi, and all those other towns in between. Chants of "USA! USA! USA!" occasionally drown out efforts of western reporters to describe the scene, but their commentary isn't needed. Throughout the crowd, hand-held posters of Barack Obama are visible, though not as common as those of the less-familiar (to American audiences) new Libyan leaders and military heroes. (These images are on American front pages everywhere the next day.) Qaddafi and his family, along with their last loyal henchmen, had fled the country overnight. Throughout that glorious Monday, new flags (actually the old, pre-Qaddafi flag of the Kingdom) are raised over Libyan government buildings everywhere. Statements from world leaders hailing the transformation are compiled for reporting on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC before noon, American time. Rush Limbaugh salutes the efforts of American troops (and Libyan rebels) points out that Qaddafi's was always a weak regime, and predicts Obama will take more credit than his due...
Epilogue: That night, Barack Obama addresses America in a dramatic, prime time broadcast. He takes no personal credit for events, nor claims any for his nation. He salutes the efforts of the brave American Airmen and Sailors involved - but this, he reminds us, is simply what happens when the world unites and coalitions are built in support of those people (of any color or nationality) whose voices, once hushed in despair, are raised in hope for peaceful change - to be ignored by dictators but heard by those inspired by their courage. [Applause]
Libya, of course, will need our continued assistance moving forward, as a nation renewed, into a new era of progressive freedom - an endsate now theirs to define. We'll work with [insert name of new temporary Libyan leader whose bio is in handouts] going forward, to ensure that free and fair elections complete the transition begun when Libyan citizens [insert particularly dramatic moment here]. Details of our immediate aid package are forthcoming, but even now our hospital ships are reaching Libyan ports. [Applause]
In America, of course, it's time for Congress to get to work on the budget, end partisan bickering, and achieve a similar unified result. And in the days to come, that is where his focus will be. Thank you, salute the troops, good night. [Applause] Later coverage of events will include comments from his political opponents, who salute the accomplishments of our rebel friends, laud the president's handling of the crisis, and dodge questions on other issues. Driving to work the next day Americans will notice the price of a gallon of gas has fallen a few cents...
Front pages that next day will feature images of doctors and babies in Benghazi, but opinion columns appearing in major newspapers and from influential bloggers will simultaneously remind Americans of a pledge once made to avoid stupid wars without allies or domestic support, rash wars "to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression." Yeah - this is what he meant by that. After all, it's not exactly rocket science... (And hey, I admit I was worried when we started this on the anniversary of the Iraq war, but I can't ignore this comparison: did you notice the whole thing took less time than our invasion force needed to topple that statue of Saddam Hussein?)
That, friends and neighbors, was the original best-case scenario for the Libya op (never mind all that boring stuff that would come after about blah blah blah) - a best-case scenario thought to be likely, too. (Okay - maybe no one actually expected Obama posters, unless they'd already printed them...) A plan put together in haste, and before anyone in America heard much about a crisis in Libya in the news. The worst-case scenario, on the other hand, was something that - in many ways - still wasn't as bad as what we've seen in the news (or not seen, as the case may be) over the past several weeks.
Why? What happened? Links above are to some of the actual events (or planning) that correspond to that point in the script; the points of divergence are clear. But more fundamentally, you simply can't really write a script like that and expect it to play out in the real world. Still, the Obama administration, having written it, figured they'd give it a try. The fever wasn't completely contagious (the DoD seemed particularly resistant), but on the non-military side of the debate two factors overwhelmed all other considerations in the go/no-go decision making:
One: Qaddafi really is a living comic book villain - much more so than Saddam Hussein. While Hussein had cultivated an image of serious threat (and a Stalin look to go with it), over four decades Qaddafi had established himself as dangerous, unbalanced, but somehow incompetent and laughable - comic relief.
However, while he'd never invaded a neighboring country that held vast oil reserves, like so many other world leaders his crimes through that history were very real. Shout "Qaddafi has to go" and no one would argue the point.
Two: the American media loves a good story, sees Qaddafi in that villain role, and the President of the United States - at least this one - as a perfect hero. Handed copies of the script, they'd play along - wittingly or unwittingly - for as long as they could. A week to ten days would be no problem. With new dramatic episodes coming fast and furious through every one of those few days - each better than the last - the story would be concluded before anyone ever thought to ask a serious question about what was happening. (See also #1 above.) More in-depth examinations in magazine pieces and books - maybe even television specials and movies - to come later would reveal that yes, mistakes were made, but everything really had been as totally awesome as it seemed.
It ain't over, as they say. But much of that script's been tossed. What went wrong? A lot of little things and a few big ones - the biggest at the very beginning. Failure was built in to the script. See act one? While "fact-based" it contains significant fiction. ("Based on real events" I believe they say in Hollywood.) Act two? Most of it depends on those earlier fictional elements. Even though they'd been reported as fact, that had little to no impact on events on the ground. (Much of act two also illustrates traditional leftist thought on history - truth is what we make it, and this is how things should happen if act one was truth.) See act three? By that point the only similarity to reality was yes, the president did make a speech. It wasn't delivered in prime time, and rather than a humble but triumphant call to move forward we (at least, those who tuned in) saw a nervous, unconvincing recap of news reports and op-eds from act one (and a comparison to Iraq, by way of saying it doesn't compare, because that took years), with an added reminder that "Hey, I've got 30 billion Qaddafidollars - and there's more where that came from. Who wants it?"
In his defense, of course, the president had been out of town throughout much of the earlier goings on...
Now, of course, we are moving forward - to tomorrow, next week, next year... and one of those days Qaddafi will indeed be gone. (Never mind all that boring stuff that would come after about blah blah blah...) If that's soon it could still be described as a triumphant (and "low cost") event. ("The Obama administration estimates U.S. military operations in Libya have cost about $550 million so far and will cost about $40 million a month going forward, a U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday... once U.S. forces are reduced and NATO takes over greater control.")
If not soon? Look back to the media paragraph above. Enthusiasm levels vary among participants. (And not all reporters are American... the British, for example, didn't have the script.) Even in America for every ten reporting what they were told to on page one, there was one raising eyebrows somewhere on page ten. Few were completely unaware of what was happening, hints (not to be confused with official "leaks" and incompetent "oops") trickled out, and for every reporter there's a limit to how far they're willing to compromise on whatever "truth" they believe they owe the public (or their boss, or his boss, or the government...). Meanwhile, back in the White House, the scriptwriters were working on revisions (still avoiding forbidden words like "civil war" and phrases like "of course we want to turn former al Qaeda fighters to our side - that's how we turned things around in Iraq back in '06") that keep as many elements of the original as possible (certain key fictions from act one can not be abandoned - officially, at least), and absolve them of blame for those other idiots' mistakes in the original. (By the way, they're increasingly available to explain those mistakes to the press - off the record, of course; a less egregious example of what they'd hoped Qaddafi's minions would do...)
Media recaps of act one are starting to sound vaguely or openly hostile (with elements of the actual truth increasingly slipping in, and what were once hints now sensational news), prompting an unprecedented joint response from western leaders. (An act one recap/reaffirmation available as pay per view at the Times or free on the White House web page.) In America the loyal opposition pledges support (see update here) - sort of. In England the loyal opposition pledges opposition - sort of. In France they're contemplating the best, or most practical way to get Libyan oil...
All that leads to confusion, and conflicting reports, and self-serving (but too rapid) conclusions based on too few facts, and further explanations offering clarification on previous confusion...
In America the public yawns. Except for those moments at the gas pump - more frequent if that dollar amount line determines your stopping point but necessity dictates your use. Maps are available, this one - call it plan "A" - won't get us anywhere (it's no better a map than it is a script) but it is important to understanding the trip thus far. New ones are coming, perhaps they'll be better.
But as noted at the top, like it or not, you're along for the ride.
..."the most prominent military family of the last decade"? Jake Tapper can. Or perhaps his "perhaps" qualifier means it's merely a nomination.
I've got no counter-nomination. If what I think he means by "prominent" is correct, no one would want the title. Certainly the Sheehans got more press - but that was limited to one member of the family, no one really ever heard much about Casey at all...
Ever notice that the same folks who once argued for more photos of flag-draped caskets are the same who would accuse the president of somehow benefiting from one?
There's an odd thing about "honoring the fallen" - something I believe is the right thing to do. In every case, in every mind, it raises questions about the rightness and cost of the cause in which they fell, and forces a fundamental re-appraisal of its worth. Regardless of the outcome of those individual decisions I'm not as certain as so many seem to be that "positive publicity boost" is really the motive of those (from the president down) who take the time to recognize sacrifice in the first place.
I am certain of what the media would do to a president who didn't. (In fact, a fictional version of that was a big part of the Sheehan story, wasn't it? And Casey wasn't even a big-time pro football star.) But I don't think that's a factor in why presidents acknowledge those who've died under their command, either. There are ample reasons to be cynical about that, but I'll decline.
The Libyan Civil War has distracted me from updating my own ongoing saga of the American Civil War, but for those interested, a few of the source books are here.
At some point, time permitting, I'll compile a linked bibliography for the various public domain works from the period, available free, on line in their entirety. (Added: done, here.) (Those links are provided throughout the series. I love footnoting via html - too easy.)
I enjoy - for about 5 seconds - reading "new" arguments over what the Civil War was "about." (Hint: slavery. Not: "Christian fundamentalism." But I could be wrong - perhaps if the South never had slaves there still would have been a Civil War...). And I'm not baffled by how the Democrats came to elect the first black president (or even attract one black voter after they finally quit denying their right to vote in the first place).
So while others carry on about how yesterday's racist southern Democrats are today's racist southern Republicans, I'll continue to write about how some big-city folk north of the Mason-Dixon probably shouldn't shout too loudly on that point, and how in over 150 years they've forgotten a lot, but haven't changed a bit.
That story started here.
(Greyhawk notes: my grandfather's grandfather fought for the Union - so I "knew a guy who knew a guy" who fought in the Civil War. I'm not aware of any ancestors who fought for the South, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn I had some. The family's roots are in West Virginia, a state that defines the complex politics of the era. I was born and raised in the North, visited Gettysburg and Antietam as a kid, lived most my military life in the South, and am currently living at the end of Sherman's path through in Georgia, about 10 minutes from a Civil War fort. So I'm biased, somehow, I'm sure.)
I was on active duty (and over 21) when the on-base drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 (actually to whatever age was mandated by the state law, but as Professor Reynolds notes, an 18-year old drinking age meant loss of federal money to said state) which pretty much ended the days of the Junior Enlisted Club (the one club that really made money), and forced young GIs to go elsewhere to spend their drinking money. Illegally.
It was too small for the purpose, but the one on my base was transformed into a skating rink. I remember going into the once-packed establishment on a Friday night and seeing a couple people actually skating. (Helmets weren't required - can you believe it?)
Years later I got to experience the joys (sarcasm there) of busting junior troops - you know, 18, 19 and 20-year olds, some combat veterans, others would be if we chose not to throw them out for their crimes (provoking cries of "lowering standards") - who were caught drinking, or just having a six pack in their dorm room fridge. Some for worse offenses than that - like driving drunk to the gate from whatever off-post establishment or home where they'd been drinking (a crime not limited to the under-21 crowd).
"Things are better now than in the bad old days," some of my peers (and seniors) would say.
"I remember those days," I'd reply. And after a pause add "It's too bad we can't outlaw stupid, too."
Footnote: the under-21 crowd can drink if they're stationed overseas - it's just on bases on American soil that they're too young. In Korea and Germany I could spot the hungover "kid" at work the next day, pretend I didn't notice their hangover, ask them if they we're okay, ("I'm fine" - invariably) make sure they got plenty of water, and work them like dogs at tasks that wouldn't be the end of the world if screwed up. At the end of their hours of misery I'd ask them what common sense lesson they might have learned from the experience.
Experience, I was quite convinced*, was a better teacher than me.
Update: and alcohol enhances learning. Dang, I'm smarter than I thought.
And more : if you read the first link, you know the point is that the drinking age should be lowered to 18 across the board - not just for military members. That "more" link will take you to those writing on that larger issue. For my part, I let my own (non-military) offspring drink (from when they were in their upper teens) if they wanted, while making sure they knew the various consequences involved in their decisions. (And the utmost important point that dad would come drive them home if needed, day or night etc.) In their early twenties now, I believe they have a more mature view of drinking than many people my age, who probably started partying on, dude in college and haven't yet "outgrown" it. (Who drank to be "grown up" while young, and now do so to recapture their youth.)
*"Experience... was a better teacher than me." - I'd learned that from experience.
Mudville's eighth anniversary falls in a time period with lots of military anniversaries. One occurring this week - the 150th anniversary of the South firing on Ft Sumter, has (rightfully) gotten a lot of media coverage. Others, like the 70th anniversary of war in Libya passed mostly unnoticed.
The dreary scene at the Rats of Tobruk Memorial on Anzac Parade could not have been further removed from the searing heat and dust of the Libyan desert where 14,000 Australians, along with British, Indian, Czech and Polish forces, defied German and Italian attempts to take the vital port city of Tobruk during World War II.
Which category includes this event?
"Small crowd," I thought at the time. "Not a good sign." I'd started this blog less than a month before that statue fell, just a couple days before the ground invasion began.... hold that thought - imaginary phone call coming in. Hello caller, you're on.
"We could have probably brought down that statue for a lot less."
Well, hello there Nancy Pelosi from 2003. Sure, I agree, we could have just dropped a smart bomb on it from 30,000 feet. But what did you mean by that?
Anyhow, "Small crowd," I thought at the time. "Not a good sign." I didn't commit those words to this blog until a few weeks later - getting rid of Saddam was what it was all about, and people seemed so damned happy at the time, why spoil that with my gloomier thoughts?
Hang on - imaginary phone call, be right back. Hello?
I don't oppose all wars. After September 11, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration's pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again...
You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda...
Well, hello obscure state senator from Illinois giving a speech in 2002 that no one would hear for several years which I'm certain was an accurate reflection of your thoughts but also a compilation of several talking points others had been saying for some time. You do know we'd been at war with Iraq since 1991 - mostly via an air campaign, which is why bin Laden's (he called it "the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance") 1998 call to jihad ("The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it...") was effective in the first place, right?
You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people...Wait - you keep asking "You want a fight, President Bush?" Believe it or not, he didn't. He wanted Saddam Hussein to step down, but didn't think he would without the threat of war hanging over his head. Some Americans were so worried he might have been right they went to Iraq as volunteer human shields against an anticipated American air campaign. They didn't prevent a war - they helped ensure Saddam wouldn't back down. There's something I did get a chance to write down just before we "crossed the berm."
We'll never know what a united world could have achieved. But the UN could not agree on anything, the situation degenerated, and here we are. Status quo was not working. The French were too desperate for oil and trade at any cost. Well-intentioned Americans were led into the streets by Communists (and others) with an agenda. The media distorted the split. Many in America and abroad thought they could manipulate the situation to their personal gain. They miscalculated. The fire is lit.
I was on active duty - had been for longer than the 12 years mentioned above, so I was really hoping Saddam would leave Iraq before I had to go there, you know, "willingly take up arms myself," etc. You see, I was an actual "anti-war" guy. The people who ensured I would have to go really pissed me off back then. Honestly I suspected they were hypocrites whose positions would be different with a different US president...
Now let me be clear: I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power.... The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors...
Yeah, okay. Sounds good, I'll play along. Let's pretend you're President of the United States. (Heh - this guy's middle name is "Hussein" - no way will he ever be President of the United States, right?) You're putting everything you've got into "finishing the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda" and "hunting down and rooting out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance." How do you handle Saddam Hussein, or any dictator who "butchers his own people to secure his own power" but "poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors?"
...in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
Okay, I guess if you ever get to be president we'll figure out exactly what you mean by that. You should give Nancy Pelosi a call...
I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war...
Wait, what? What's a rash war?
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.
That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war.
Okay, got it. At first when you said "rash war" I thought you meant a war we rushed into before anyone had the chance to debate it or even think about it, which is obviously not the case with Iraq. So when you're president we'll get bin Laden, give everyone health care, lower the poverty rate, end corporate scandals, boost the stock market, and not get into any rash, distracting wars. Got it. But just remember all that, because the public and the press will, and they'll hold you to it! I mean, you don't get to re-write history...
I don't oppose all wars. My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil.
Hey - small world. Patton's army liberated the POW camp where my uncle spent the last months of World War Two. See, we've got a connection!
Good stuff - glad to hear you know your Patton - so many folks only know George C Scott. But funny you should mention that... did you know Winston Churchill called World War Two "the unnecessary war"?
Guess he's not a Churchill fan.
Well, maybe we'll hear more from him later. So anyhow, the statue fell, Saddam was gone from power, and everyone knew that getting rid of a dictator was what it was all about...
According to a May 1 Gallup poll for CNN and USA Today, 79 percent of Americans said the war with Iraq was justified even without conclusive evidence of the illegal weapons, while 19 percent said discoveries of the weapons were needed to justify the war. An April Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 72 percent supported the war even without a finding of chemical or biological weapons. Similarly, a CBS News poll found that 60 percent said the war was worth the blood and other costs even if weapons are never found.
So that was the end of the "Bush lied about WMD" line; if he had, no one cared. I... wait, another imaginary phone call. BRB...
(More to follow...)
On Wednesday the government pounced, ordering Mr. Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, into custody for 15 days, while the allegations are investigated.
A lot can happen in 15 days.
From reading the link above, it doesn't look like they'll be contributing to Cairo's prison crowding problem, though.
Mr. Mubarak is in hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, having conveniently complained of heart troubles Monday. He was, almost certainly, given advance warning of the pending police raid, so that he could spend the period under custody in the relative comforts of a swank hospital, as befits a former leader.
See also: Friends of Mr Cairo.
In the final game of the recently completed NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the University of Connecticut Huskies defeated the Butler University Bulldogs. Do you sympathize more with the Huskies or the Bulldogs?
In the last Superbowl, the Packers beat the Steelers. Do you sympathize more with the Packers or the Steelers?
Turning to the American Civil War - would you say that you sympathize more with the northern states that were part of the Union or the southern states that were part of the Confederacy?
I only thought up the first two questions after seeing the third in this CNN poll, and noticing that 71% of men chose "Union," and 20% "Confederacy" - while women split 64-27, still a majority for "Union," but a notable difference from the menfolk. I propose "poorly worded question" as an explanation. I acknowledge "women are more sympathetic to the idea of owning slaves" as another possibility, but prefer my interpretation.
(I tested this theory on two women in my household; both expressed support for the North and sympathy for the South. After further discussion we all agreed we sympathized with the people of Atlanta in 1864 and those of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Berlin in 1945. Do you?)
...through the dynamics of that dynamic region. (Now with multiple multi-dimensional dynamic updates - see below.)
My post on Tom Donilon's dynamic multidimensional lenses was unfair to the man who used the term to describe planning for the Libya op. (In response to DNI Clapper's assessment that the civil war in Libya would be a lengthy stalemate that Qaddafi would ultimately win - back before we got involved in the civil war in Libya, or even acknowledged, except here, by accident - it was a civil war.) Unfair because "National Security Adviser" Tom Donilon clarified his remarks later in the briefing, with some help from his deputy (for "strategic communication") Ben Rhodes, and I left that part out.
So in all fairness and without further ado...
Q Thank you very much. First of all, is the President happy with an intelligence chief who conducts static and one-dimensional analysis? And secondly, you say that this does not take into -- General Clapper's assessment doesn't take into account steps taken with the opposition. I mean, does that mean military steps? Because his analysis would suggest -- and the military dimension is clearly very important when you're clinging onto power -- that they need something to tip the balance. Thank you.
MR. DONILON: On the first question, the President is very happy with the performance of General Clapper and we work together every single day. I was asked a question about the statement, and I think my judgment on the statement is a static analysis and that you need to take into account the dynamics.
On working with the opposition as part of the dynamics analysis, what I said is that it doesn't take into account, kind of looking to the future in the increasing work that the international community is doing with the opposition, beginning now with political support, humanitarian support, and deepening those conversations. I think that's the best answer for that.
MR. RHODES: Yes, and I'd just echo one point that Tom made earlier, which is that if you look at the trajectory of our own efforts with the international community in terms of a steady ramping up of our sanctions, in terms of the introduction of accountability measures, in terms of the provision assistance, and in terms of the consideration of a range of military options, some of which are already in train, those are obviously going to affect the dynamic within Libya.
Similarly, if you look at the trajectory in the region, as Tom said, change has been the order of the day. And I think that any assessment of the situation right now would suggest that history is not on the side of Muammar Qaddafi. History is on the side of the Libyan people, and they're going to be the ones who determine their future.
And so we are very clear in having a policy that recognizes that history is on the side of the Libyan people, and that those who are around Qaddafi, as they make their own calculations, must understand that dynamic within their country and understand that they'll be held accountable if they continue to side with the regime that, again, has been brutalizing its own people.
MR. VIETOR: I think we have time for one last question so this will be our final question.
Q Thank you so much. Getting back to the static analysis, a couple of things. Why would the administration present a static one-dimensional assessment to Congress and the world about something this critical? It seems to me that that undercuts, first of all, the obligation to inform Congress fully, and to present a coherent picture of your assessment to the world. I mean, if Qaddafi is not entrenched and is going -- is not going to succeed, as General Clapper suggested today, said today, then don't you think that that is basically presenting a false intelligence assessment to the public -- intelligence assessment.
Secondly, if you wait for an international consensus -- which is unlikely to come at the U.N. and, therefore, not to come at NATO -- aren't you increasing the likelihood that your pressure, squeezing him through sanctions and other means will not dislodge him?
MR. DONILON: Andrea, on the first question, again, I think that General Clapper was presenting a kind of a flat-out resources analysis in terms of the regime. And he went through -- if you look at the transcript -- he went through the kind of equipment and resources that the regime has. And I think if you look at it, he said from a standpoint of attrition, if you do an attrition analysis, you get to his conclusion.
I'm talking about looking to the future here, and talking about taking into account various dynamics that I think are in train and could be in train going forward. So, again, if you had sat here and you and I had this conversation 45 days ago, and I had said, my analysis is that Qaddafi would lose half his country by March 10th, we would have said just based on capabilities and numerical arithmetic analysis, that that's highly unlikely.
But the dynamics in the region are just more dynamic -- are just moving faster than that. And there are things underway here across the region that have presented us with circumstances that a year ago, let's say, would not have come to the fore in a conversation that you and I might be having. And I think you'd agree with that, that the changed dynamics in the region have been of a historic nature.
And what's happened, of course, is that people, especially young people -- and it varies from country to country -- have confronted regimes that are not performing for them or that have been repressing them and the fear dynamic has been lost. And when the fear dynamic is lost, the overwhelming force analysis changes pretty dramatically. And we've seen that across the region over the last couple of months.
So that's my response to that. If you ask -- if you just do an intelligence assessment of assets, as I said, a unidimensional assessment of assets, you come to a pretty clear -- you come to a set of conclusions. But I do think it's important -- and we have been obviously closely following these dynamics across the region -- that, in fact, these outcomes are not at all preordained, and there can be, as we talked about in response to an earlier question, there can also be other events and dynamics that intervene.
Now, I went on so long I forgot the second part of your question.
What's all that studying the dynamic train stuff mean? It sounds like he's saying there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns (and stuff we know and you don't) ~ but to me it's an unknown unknown. Your guess is as good as mine.
But this comes to mind, too.
Add your own captions about studying history and seeing the future. (And in that laugh I see nothing but sympathy.)
Update: Chugga chugga choo choo, Mr Assad. That sound you hear is the dynamic fear train of history comin' - and when it gets there you better be on the right side of the tracks.
And more dynamics: Arab League to ask UN for imposing no-fly zone over Gaza "to protect the civilians against Israeli air strikes." You know, like the one they wanted over Libya... (will they provide the planes to enforce this one?)
In a statement issued after an emergency meeting of the pan- Arab organization at the permanent delegates' level in its Cairo headquarter, the AL said it would ask the United Nation Security Council to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the Israeli aggression over Gaza to lift the siege and impose a no-fly zone against the Israeli military to protect civilians.
The statement rejected the double standard policies towards the Palestinian case, urging the UN Security Council and the Quartet committee to bear all responsibilities for halting the subsequent massacres and provide an international protection for the unarmed citizens.
Speaking of Cairo, didja know one of the reasons the anti-government street protests were ongoing there is because...
Over one million Egyptian protesters in Cairo's Liberation square have demanded their military rulers to abandon Israel and lift the blockade on the besieged Gaza strip. Protesters voiced their anger at Tel Aviv by burning the Israeli flag and demanding the Liberation of Palestine, a Press TV correspondent said.
They promised to stand by Gazans, who have been suffering Israeli attacks and its four-year long crippling siege. Many protesters headed toward the US Embassy from Liberation Square to protest Israel's deadly attacks on Gaza. The Israeli flag was torn to pieces, when protesters tried to raise Palestinian flag above the Israeli embassy.
The development comes two months after a historic revolution ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Or didja even know the protests were ongoing?
But have no fear (and loathing) ~ just remember, when the weird turn pro, you better get going. Or something like that.
(Damn, the train to the future moves fast, doesn't it?)
Let me make this perfectly clear (he said, borrowing an introductory phrase from the man who was President of the United States back when Muammar Qaddafi first took power in Libya): I'd like nothing more than to see Qaddafi gone from the world stage.
But damn - the "stalemated fighting" between Qaddafi forces and the rebels is getting closer and closer to the "rebel capital" of Benghazi.
Military forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi pressed a coordinated ground attack on Ajdabiya on Saturday, bringing the front lines of the battle with the Libyan opposition forces back to the doorstep of this strategically vital rebel city.
Colonel Qaddafi's forces began the attack late Saturday morning with barrages of rocket and artillery fire aimed at Ajdabiya's center. Then, as smoke rose and confusion grew, a gun battle began as they sent a contingent of ground troops into the city.
The assault was more determined and organized than the ambushes and exchanges of rocket and artillery fire of recent days. Barrage after barrage of incoming fire thudded and exploded within the city, and loyalist troops advanced behind it. Thick smoke rose and drifted from central Ajdabiya, and by noon doctors were evacuating the city's hospital as explosions shook the streets.
Not mentioned in the story, but we do have Marines just off shore, in case we have to protect civilians and our airpower can't get it done.
A few quick comments:
One: you now have a ration of New York Times articles you can read before you have to start paying for them. If (like me) you believe news from Libya is important, reserve your reading ration for CJ Chivers' (who was once a Marine) front line reports like the one quoted above (link here).
Two (a fleeting thought - skip to three if you want): Am I the only one who reads "loyalist troops" and thinks Spanish Civil War - the ugly little WWII precursor in which foreign powers waged a war-by-proxy, supporting either the glorious forces of the proletariat or a fascist thug? (Use other terms if those annoy you. And P.S. - the "thug" won; many - like George Orwell, who was there, and me, who wasn't - blame incompetence and infighting among the rebels. Others say Nazi airpower turned the tide.)
Three: forget item two for now. I doubt Qaddafi's giving it much thought, and as of now if any foreign power is helping him they haven't been identified. But as abundant evidence suggests, he might not need them. Back to Chivers' report:
Mr. Halum, clutching a battered assault rifle as he wandered the morgue while his brother's body was being washed, seemed both angry and perplexed. To reach Ajdabiya, the Qaddafi loyalists had crossed roughly 50 miles of open desert.
"Where is NATO?" he said. "The Qaddafi military came from Brega to Ajdabiya. Why do they not stop them?"
Though the airstrikes have deprived the pro-Qaddafi forces use of many of their armored vehicles, the rebels have been unable to match them, and the loyalists have turned to deception and infiltration.
Moving in small units in civilian trucks and cars, they have managed to evade airstrikes and to confuse the rebel forces, whom they can resemble from afar. At the same time, the loyalists have managed to creep forward with artillery or rocket launchers, which they have used to pound rebel positions for several days and have now turned on the city.
Conclusion to three: Qaddafi remembers his own lessons-learned in the 1980's "Toyota War" (See "Repelling Libya's Occupying Force, 1985-87" here - document complements of the US government. Excerpt follows.)
After a succession of counterattacks, toward the end of August the Libyans finally drove the 400 Chadian troops out of the town of Aozou. This victory--the first by Libyan ground forces since the Chadian offensive had gotten under way eight months earlier--was apparently achieved through close-range air strikes, which were followed by ground troops advancing cross-country in jeeps, Toyota all-terrain trucks, and light armored vehicles. For the Libyans, who had previously relied on ponderous tracked armor, the assault represented a conversion to the desert warfare tactics developed by FANT.
So, if American (of course I mean NATO) thinking prior to this new war was "if we bomb enough of his tanks he'll quit" (part of the miracle) Qaddafi's thinking was "if they bomb my tanks I'll switch from ponderous tracked armor to little trucks that blend in, are cheaper and faster, and more plentiful, maneuverable and harder to hit." Because he's the crazy one.
Qaddafi remembers - unfortunately others don't. Or others just jumped into a conflict without any background knowledge whatsoever. (Makes me wonder what others have been doing for the past 42 years while Qaddafi was running Libya.) In their defense, they did explain they had to act fast to prevent a massacre of civilians, which is a noble cause indeed.
And if you've exhausted your New York Times ration, here's a report from the Christian Science Monitor:
Qaddafi's forces encircle last city before rebel capital
According to rebels, Qaddafi's forces now control two of the three exits from the city leading into rebel territory from Ajdabiya and are attacking densely populated civilian areas, including a hospital.
And "Mr. Qaddafi's son boasted that the revolt would soon be crushed." But while Chivers' report is new, that's one from March 16th - back before our airpower turned the tide.
I mean, the Marines even sing a song about Tripoli, right?
The rebel commander Adbul-Karim said the tops of rebel vehicles were marked with yellow under advice by NATO to identify the opposition forces.
(Glad I'm not the only one who noticed that little... um... screw up. Keep up the good work, boys.)
Update: Wait, work? It's the weekend - let's rock!
...Or "Another look through the dynamic multi-dimensional lenses, darkly." (Theme song here.)
(Wow, thought President Obama, good thing I solved that Egypt crisis! Now I better act fast to fix Libya before "the democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power." Hillary, where's my national security adviser?)
I know - Egypt is old news, but there are disconcerting reports from Cairo today:
Demonstrators burned cars and barricaded themselves with barbed wire inside a central Cairo square demanding the resignation of the military's head after troops violently dispersed an overnight protest killing one and injuring 71.
Hundreds of soldiers beat protesters with clubs and fired into the air in the pre-dawn raid on Cairo's central Tahrir Square in a sign of the rising tensions between Egypt's ruling military and protesters.
According to the headline, just one protester dead so far. The story includes several elements designed to appeal to revolutionaries everywhere, like quotes from university students and car mechanics who've joined forces to combat tyranny - even though they're outgunned by the forces of evil.
Armed with sticks and other makeshift weapons, the protesters vowed not to leave until the defense minister, the titular head of state, has resigned.
It might need to be flushed deep down the (already clogged) White House memory hole, but there was a day not long ago when the relatively swift and bloodless "resolution" of the Egyptian protests (Mubarak resigned in favor of military rule, under Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi) was declared to be one of the greatest acts of presidential statesmanship in US history. Other observers (ahem) were less sanguine, noting it wasn't really about us, and it wasn't really over (among other things).
Today we learn...
"The people want the fall of the field marshal," chanted protesters, in a variation on the chant that has become famous across the Middle East with protests calling for regime change. "Tantawi is Mubarak and Mubarak is Tantawi," went another chant, explicitly equating Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, with the president who once appointed him.
Oh my, you might think, what will president Obama do? Or perhaps your response is more along the lines of "good thing we didn't get involved in Egypt! We don't need that mess on top of our Libya mess!"
Unfortunately, we are involved. Lets return once again to Tom Donilon's "dynamic multi-dimensional lenses" schtick from the opening days of our Libya op. Guess which Libya-neighboring country is most crucial to success there?
"Before getting into specifics," our National Security Adviser told the press, "I wanted to talk about Egypt as part of talking about the entire sweep of things that we're looking at here."
Along those lines, I spoke to Field Marshal Tantawi the day before yesterday, and I wanted to talk about that for a couple of minutes because I do think it's important. I thanked Marshal Tantawi for his leadership of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, and communicated to him that the world continues to admire the Egyptian people's transition to a democratic government; reiterated our commitment to partnership with Egypt in this project and in helping the Egyptian people achieve a successful transition.
He goes on for a few more paragraphs that can be summed up with the simple phrase "I piled on the sweet talk" before getting to the point: "And I thanked him for the government of Egypt's assistance in helping address the humanitarian situation in Libya -- where we've been working with them."
Got it - America, Egypt, humanitarian assistance to Libya, you're working with Field Marshall Tantawi. Understood. Now, pass the buck and move on:
The success of the democratic transformation underway in Egypt is absolutely critical. It's the largest Arab country. It is, again, at the center of events in the region and is a very tight and important focus for us, which is why, of course, Secretary Clinton will be going there next week as the highest ranking United States official to visit Egypt since President Mubarak left office.
And she did - touring Tahrir Square (scene of the Cairo uprising) and telling Egyptians they were an inspiration to America. She chatted with some of Egypt's new leaders, too.
"To the people of Egypt, let me say: this moment of history belongs to you," Clinton said following talks with Egypt's new foreign minister, Nabil al-Araby. "This is your achievement and you broke barriers and overcame obstacles to pursue the dream of democracy."
Unfortunately, the actual protesters refused to even meet with her...
A coalition of six youth groups that emerged from Egypt's revolution last month has refused to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Cairo earlier today, in protest of the United States' strong support for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who was ousted by the uprising.
"There was an invitation for members of the coalition to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but based on her negative position from the beginning of the revolution and the position of the US administration in the Middle East, we reject this invitation," the January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
But a big part of the hope that went into the planning for the Libya op is that once they saw us launching missiles in Libya they'd appreciate us more.
So, Donilon spoke to Field Marshal Tantawi on March 8th, and Hillary's visit came a week later. I think since then we've gotten a better understanding of what he meant by "humanitarian assistance" (nudge wink).
"We know the Egyptian military council is helping us, but they can't be so visible," said Hani Souflakis, a Libyan businessman in Cairo who has been acting as a rebel liaison with the Egyptian government since the uprising began.
"Weapons are getting through," said Souflakis. "Americans have given the green light to the Egyptians to help. The Americans don't want to be involved in a direct level, but the Egyptians wouldn't do it if they didn't get the green light."
And yes, "this is something we have knowledge of," said "a senior US official."
Of course, everyone has plausible deniability here - and no doubt we're sending ham sandwiches and bandages, too. (Or only. And for the children.) So lets stick with "humanitarian assistance" as the polite term for what we're doing in Libya through Egypt's military government.
And now back to the latest from Cairo:
Near the famed Egyptian Museum, which overlooks the square, protesters trying to flee were blocked by soldiers, who hit them and knocked them to the ground before dragging them away.
"I saw them detain a bunch at the museum. They were beating some pretty badly," said one protester, Loai Nagati.
The confrontation was a sharp contrast to the warmth protesters expressed toward the military during the 18-day wave of mass demonstrations that led to Mubarak's ouster and in the days immediately following. Many praised the military for refusing to fire on protesters, and welcomed the army for stepping in to rule.
But tensions have since grown. Reports have emerged of some protesters arrested and tortured by the military in past weeks...
Someone might not have completely understood the "green light" concept. Since that "someone" is now an important ally in our getting humanitarian assistance to Libya (I certainly hope no one thinks we're cozying up to one ruthless dictator to combat another - that stuff gets ugly quick!), I expect something along the lines of a strongly worded rebuke to be forthcoming from Washington soon. (Perhaps combined with a call from Hillary to our hope-inspiring Egyptian protester friends to please be patient and peaceful, change is on the way.)
But whatever happens, I'm sure it will be declared the latest greatest act of presidential statesmanship in US history.
President Barack Obama has said repeatedly there will be no U.S. troops on the ground in Libya, although there are reports of small CIA teams in the country. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told lawmakers last week that there would be no American ground troops in Libya "as long as I am in this job."
Ham disclosed that the United States is providing some strike aircraft to the NATO operation that do not need to go through the special approval process recently established. The powerful side-firing AC-130 gunship is available to NATO commanders, he said.
Other strike aircraft, including fighters and the A-10 Thunderbolt, which can provide close air support for ground forces, must be requested through U.S. European Command and approved by top U.S. leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
See, you can find all sorts of nifty facts in a story headlined "Maybe we'll possibly consider putting ground troops in Libya, General Sez (before adding that it's a bad idea)" (Actual headline variable.)
That AC-130 bit is nifty for several reasons, not the least of which is this AFP story from earlier this week:
US combat sorties ended at 2200 GMT, with American warplanes on standby as NATO takes the lead, Pentagon spokesman Captain Darryn James said.
After that, "US aviation assets are expected to cease strike sorties and will remain on an alert status if NATO requests their support," James said in an email.
That story was originally (and still is) headlined "US pulls out warplanes from Libya: Pentagon." That was pretty much in line with Barack Obama's pledge that we're transitioning to a supporting role, as he explained in his Libya speech days before:
This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday. Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Qaddafi's remaining forces.
In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role -- including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications.
We don't have a whole lot of AC-130s, but damn they're nice to have around when you need 'em. Another reason it's nifty that they all forgot to say "warplanes don't include AC-130s (because they're funplanes)" - or just had their fingers crossed behind their backs - is because AC-130s are totally badass.
Or - if you don't approve of words like "funplanes" and "badass" - you can have my earlier description from before the president's speech: "Just wait until Cole sees how many lives an AC-130 can save..."
Postscript: as a service to AC-130 crews and all hardworking USAF members everywhere, here's important information on how you can get short-term loans from the Air Force Aid Society in case you need money to feed your families and stuff if the government shuts itself down.
Footnote: Gates' "as long as I'm in this job" - yeah, that's one of the reasons they're talking about replacements.
(Mudville Libya op disclaimer: all administration commentary subject to "clarification"/all media headlines subject to change.)
- Or "No - that's not a pair of rose-colored glasses, it's a set of dynamic multidimensional lenses."
If you see stories about "what the General really meant by that..." don't be surprised. It won't be the first time someone's remarks about this excellent Libyan adventure needed clarifying. That Shinseki-esque moment happened weeks ago, before we were dropping bombs.
On March 10th James Clapper, Directer of National Intelligence, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss Libya. (Transcript) "Is the conflict headed for a protracted stalemate in the judgment of the Intelligence Community?" Wondered committee chair Carl Levin in his opening remarks. "We'd be interested in our witnesses' estimate as to whether it is likely the rebels in Libya can succeed militarily."
Clapper's response: "it's kind of a stalemate back and forth. But I think over the longer term, that the regime will prevail."
That assessment needed rapid clarification from the administration. Fortunately, Tom Donilon, Obama's "National Security Adviser," gave a briefing to reporters later that day (transcript).
Q Tom, if you could comment on DNI Clapper on the Hill today was asked a couple of questions that raised eyebrows, one of which was he said that Libya is a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term the regime will prevail...
MR. DONILON: Well, on the -- let me do the Libya-related question. ...And I guess I would answer it this way: that if you did a static and one-dimensional assessment of just looking at order of battle and mercenaries, you can come to various conclusions about the various advantages that the Qaddafi regime and the opposition have. But our view is, my view is -- as the person who looks at this quite closely every day and advises the President -- is that things in the Middle East right now and things in Libya in particular right now need to be looked at not through a static but a dynamic, and not through a unidimensional but a multidimensional lens.
And if you look at it in that way, beyond a narrow view, on just kind of numbers of weapons and things like that, you get a very different picture.
The last thing I'll say is, is that a static, unidimensional analysis does not take into account steps that can be taken in cooperation with the opposition going forward here. So I understand how -- I do this every day -- I understand how someone can do a static analysis, order of battle, numbers of weapons and things like that. But I don't think that's the most informative analysis, frankly. I think the analysis needs to be dynamic and it needs to be multidimensional.
What the hell does that mean, you ask? Simple: anything he wants it to mean once everything is sorted out. Because this was the plan for Libya:
- and still is, but at that point it was still in its earliest stages.
Personally I hope that miracle happens - on that I'm serious. But if using that cartoon in this discussion seems unserious, bear in mind that we're talking about an (apparent) dispute between a "National Security Adviser" who "had been preparing all his life for a top national security post" (by working on election campaign teams from the moment he finished reading Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in High School - except for that seven year break at Fannie Mae) and the Director of National Intelligence - recently transformed (with media help) into a cartoon character himself, but who in this case was likely speaking from his 30+ years experience in the US Air Force. (As an intel guy.)
Who's gonna win that one? If you think it will be a stalemate, guess again - and unleash the cartoon commandos:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement criticizing Clapper's testimony, made during a committee hearing earlier in the day, that Moammar Gadhafi's regime would "prevail" over rebels seeking to oust the 68-year-old dictator from power in Libya.
Graham cited two previous occasions in which Clapper made misstatements, and said his comments on the Libya situation "should be the final straw."
Jamie Smith, director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said that Clapper's testimony "provided a snapshot of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the regime and the opposition. As he stated in his testimony, the situation in Libya is very fluid."
Graham, you may have noticed lately, is quite enamored with the idea of everyone keeping their mouths shut - except him.
Meanwhile across the aisle, CNN added that when they asked Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein about Clapper, she "pointedly declined to say she had confidence in him." (More reactions here.)
And bear in mind the DNI's comments were made before we were helping our allies with our excellent (airpower only) support. (Or as Donilon called it back before the UN approved it: "steps that can be taken in cooperation with the opposition going forward here.") So, when you hear generals saying stuff about ground troops, just put on your multi-dimensional prisms, sit down, and stfu - the county's in the best of hands.
Postscript: and when you see stories with headlines like "The better equipped, better trained, more experienced, capable and powerful force will win the war, expert sez" or "we might have to consider doing something - which means we might not, expert sez" or "the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, expert panel sez" and they somehow draw everyone's attention (because they're not crafted with those exact words) you can bet your bottom dollar something very interesting might be found somewhere around paragraph twenty-seven.
Here's an example from the General: U.S. may consider troops in Libya story, regarding (oops) another NATO airstrike on our rebel allies:
A rebel commander, Ayman Abdul-Karim, said he saw airstrikes hit tanks and a rebel convoy, which included a passenger bus carrying fighters toward Brega. He and other rebels described dozens killed or wounded, but a precise casualty toll was not immediately known.
The rebel commander Adbul-Karim said the tops of rebel vehicles were marked with yellow under advice by NATO to identify the opposition forces.
"Wow - what a clusterf#%k," you might think. "I'm outraged - this supporting the inexperienced rebels with airpower only stuff is a bad idea!" But elsewhere, someone who thinks faster just made a few bucks selling yellow paint to Moammar.
More on that
*Update: looks like the story has a new headline - "Gen.: U.S. troops not ideal, but may be considered in Libya."
The Washington Post: Obama to remake national security team. (New York Times coverage here. Remember: you have a limit of free NYT articles now.) He's not firing them, it's just that time's (soon) up for Gates, Mullen, Petraeus, Eikenberry and probably a few others here and there. (I pause briefly to salute Sec. Gates here - he's done more for his country than all but a handful of Americans throughout this nation's history. This is a guy who'd written his remarkably candid and well-written memoirs before he became SecDef. I'm looking forward to volume two.)
I wouldn't play guessing games with who's next or who-goes-where - I'm certain that whoever fills the civilian positions will be doublepluss good, thoroughly vetted, well-qualified, and the sort of folks only someone with some other motive would dare criticize.
And whoever they are, whatever they might lack in qualification or character, this will apply:
Maybe that would be less crucial under Obama, Podesta thought, because Obama's approach was so intellectual. He compared Obama to Spock from Star Trek.
One who won't be swapped out (barring some calamity): "The new team will be coordinated by national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon," says the Post, before reminding us he's only been on the job six months. (Ignoring, of course, he was the real "national security adviser" all along, right? And what an interesting - and educational - six months it's been, eh? How 'bout that Libya op... wasn't that just somethin' else?)
That "only six months" comment from the Post ignores his years of experience serving on various political campaign teams, too - from Jimmy Carter to the present day, not to mention seven years with Fannie Mae. So it's not like he's some sort of babe in the woods in this business...
And furthermore, the whole piece ignores Joe Biden, Team Obama's foreign policy expert and go-to guy. (I know no one has actually seen a copy of the document, but have reporters and analysts already forgotten the "Biden plan"?)
Numbers in the aftermath of the rioting: 53 dead, "thousands" injured, damages in the neighborhood of (US$) one billion. Among the dead: a nurse's assistant shot in the eye; a "20-year-old Indian or Middle Easterner" whose corpse was pulled from a burned building; another burning victim described only as nearly 5 feet tall, 117 pounds, about 35 years old; a "50-year-old teacher's aide ... stabbed three times in the chest and twice in the back" after she tried to save three youths from four knife-wielding assailants...
American soldiers sent to quell riots often become victims, too. Here's a description of what happened to one whose mission had changed from saving lives to get away:
He had taken but a few steps, when a powerful blow on the back of his head made him stagger forward. In an instant a rush was made for him, and blows were rained so fast and fierce upon him, that he was unable to defend himself. Knocked down and terribly mangled, he was dragged with savage brutality over the rough pavement, and swung from side to side like a billet of wood, till the large, powerful body was a mass of gore, and the face beaten to a pumice. The helpless but still animate form would then be left awhile in the street, while the crowd, as it swayed to and fro, gazed on it with cool indifference or curses. At length a Catholic priest, who had either been sent for, or came along to offer his services wherever they might be needed, approached the dying man and read the service of the Catholic Church over him, the crowd in the meantime remaining silent. After he had finished, he told them to leave the poor man alone, as he was fast sinking. But as soon as he had disappeared, determined to make sure work with their victim, they again began to pound and trample on the body. In the intervals of the attack, the still living man would feebly lift his head, or roll it from side to side on the stones, or heave a faint groan.
The whole afternoon was spent in this fiendish work, and no attempt was made to rescue him. Towards sundown the body was dragged into his own back-yard, his regimentals all torn from him, except his pantaloons, leaving the naked body, from the waist up, a mass of mangled flesh clotted with blood.
But the dying man could not be left alone in his own yard. A crowd followed him thither, among which were women, who committed the most atrocious violence on the body, until at last, with one convulsive movement of the head, and a deep groan, the strong man yielded up his life.
So vicious were the women with their knifework, according to another account, "No one would have recognized his remains."
That description brings to mind this poetic advice from Rudyard Kipling to "The Young British Soldier" way back in 1895.
But at some point while reading that longer report on the death of Colonel H.J. O'Brien you probably recognized it wasn't something that happened this week in Afghanistan. In fact it didn't even happen on Afghanistan's plains - it happened in New York City in 1863. Estimates of the number of deaths resulting from that 4-day riot range from 120 to 2,000 (O'Brien was but one of many whose fates can be called gruesome as understatement) and injuries from 2,000 to 8,000. Two Christian churches were among fifty buildings burned to the ground.
Of course, we Americans have outgrown that sort of thing, you might believe. I'd be inclined to agree - except that the very first paragraph of this post wasn't describing riots in Afghanistan this week or New York City in 1863. That was a description of the Los Angeles riots of 1992. (Accounts of the 53 dead here.)
Well, at least we Americans don't riot over silly things like Koran burnings, right?
They phoned for help from the nearby military bases of German and Swedish forces, according to a person briefed on the situation. The U.S.-led military said the situation "escalated rapidly" and that a swift-reaction team didn't arrive until after rioters were gone.
The definition of "nearby" is missing, too.
I'm not being nitpicky about words here - I'm wondering why the video* ended like this:
Video footage of demonstrators leaving the U.N. compound shows two men carrying Kalashnikovs and one showing off a large, blood-spattered knife.
(*Has Julian Assange released the video yet?)
No - not the ones in Libya, we're talking Ivory Coast.
Sometimes the answer to the question "why are we bombing dictator X and not dictator Y?" is "hey, good idea!"
Not to say that's actually a good idea, just that it's an answer.
Not to say it's a good answer, just an answer.
Any more questions?
(Note: There's a difference between marketing campaigns and military campaigns - this post is about the former.)
The Obama team holds no illusions about Colonel Qaddafi's long-term importance. Libya is a sideshow. Containing Iran's power remains their central goal in the Middle East. Every decision -- from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain to Syria -- is being examined under the prism of how it will affect what was, until mid-January, the dominating calculus in the Obama administration's regional strategy: how to slow Iran's nuclear progress, and speed the arrival of opportunities for a successful uprising there.
Who says? The New York Times - who've got Obama's National Security Adviser on the record. Iran, they report in the now it can be told manner that seems to follow so many critiques of the Libya op, was a consideration all along - part of the top-secret, top-level ("as President Obama heard the arguments of his security advisers about the pros and cons of using military force in Libya, the conversation soon veered into the impact in a far more strategically vital place: Iran.") situation room discussions in mid-March.
At that point the US hadn't yet committed to military action, but earlier in the month President Obama had declared "Muammar Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and he must leave." (More on that here.)
Back to the latest report:
The mullahs in Tehran, noted Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, were watching Mr. Obama's every move in the Arab world. They would interpret a failure to back up his declaration that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had "lost the legitimacy to lead" as a sign of weakness -- and perhaps as a signal that Mr. Obama was equally unwilling to back up his vow never to allow Iran to gain the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
Note that's not a "we have to keep bombing because we started bombing" argument - at the time we hadn't started yet. He's declaring that (other reasons aside) "we had to start bombing because Obama talked tough."
Even before the US invasion of Iraq many in the United States (and elsewhere) argued (with abundant supporting evidence) that Iran is the top threat to global/regional/US security, and that Iran's treatment of dissidents is unequaled anywhere in scope and brutality. "We're aware of that" seems to be long-standing official US response. In that regards, this report can be seen as another restatement of that response.
But there's a more generic message being sent here, too - as "reply all" (foreign and domestic) rather than just to the specifically stated target. It's the if we stop now we look weak argument, one that appeals to those who recognize it as an obvious statement of reality. But that will likely upset others (mostly domestic) who are ever concerned with America's position as a global power, and what they perceive as signs of expansive designs.
No problem: the Obama administration has long summed up its marketing of national security/foreign policy with this statement: "the messages directed at some may undercut the messages sent to others." And the New York Times report doesn't fail in that regard. They've got a quote from Donilon's deputy downplaying his boss's statement.
"It shouldn't be overstated that this was the deciding factor, or even a principal factor" in the decision to intervene in Libya, Benjamin J. Rhodes, a senior aide who joined in the meeting, said last week.
It's worth remembering that Libyans get those messages, too. "Libya is a sideshow" is a harsh one. As a follow-up to "it's a time-limited, scope limited military action" it's hardly inspiring, and might need undercutting soon.All done!
It's a classic cartoon. Unfortunately, it's also an illustration of the planning for our excellent Libya operation.
Back to that in a moment, first a note from the Telegraph - "Gaddafi troops renew assault on rebel-held Misrata"
Libyan army forces unleashed a remorseless barrage of tank fire and artillery shells yesterday amid fresh reports from residents that soldiers are indiscriminately killing and kidnapping men and raping women as they forced their way, house by house, towards the centre.
The renewed assault came as, 200 miles to the east, rebel fighters were accidentally the victims of a Nato airstrike which mistook them for a pro-Gaddafi militia after they apparently fired into the air when planes were passing overhead. Around 14 rebels were killed.
More on that last "whoops" here. Also "Libya's government rejected a rebel ceasefire offer." Dark moments, indeed. (Now would be a good time for that miracle.) As for the other bit - you may recall Misrata getting "a brief reprieve" as #6 on Juan Cole's top ten doubleplusgood things about bombing Libya list from last week - or what I had to say about that.
I think saving the lives of somewhere between 1 and 670,000 people ... is a noble act. I hate to be a wet blanket about such a patriotic, all-American and humanitarian post, but that bit about "At night, the surviving tanks crept into the city and bombarded its center" and killed people anyway is troubling.
See, that's the downside to all this cool airpower/no ground troops stuff. You either keep it going for years (think three US presidents - that was our record in Iraq, but we never did find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of that Tootsie Roll Pop) or you send in ground troops (think Bosnia or Kosovo...
But it's not really a binary choice, I'll add now. There's a third possibility - and it's captured in that cartoon up top. (And yes, blasting friendlies is another inherent risk of airpower - one that increases measurably sans trained ground troops coordinating on-scene.)
Okay, here's an update to the tactical update - now turning to Misrata.
"Eventually we'll hopefully be able to get over to western Libya and protect the civilians there, too," I explained (yes, tongue planted firmly in-cheek), "but for now we'll have to settle for protecting the civilians east of Sirt." Do you see Misrata (click map for larger - on which it's spelled Misurata) over there on the coast well west of Sirt and not connected to any of the red dots by black lines? Yeah - that's part of western Libya. (Or Tripolitania - not Cyrenaica.) Get it?
Juan Cole does. "I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on," he wrote during their doomed westward strike towards Sirt. But when they were halted - then turned around - he decided "It is better if there isn't an eastern conquest of the west." (But added that the government forces "push-back was only possible because weather made it difficult for NATO to do any bombing raids in the past few days, exposing the untrained rebels to superior firepower and the maneuvers of trained troops. The weather will improve, and the bombing raids will resume...")
From the start of this escapade I've been reminded of Nick Gillespie's post-election forecast from November, 2008:
America's political and pundit class will go through a clinical bout of ideological amnesia that will be dizzying and appalling for those of us with memories of life before January 2009... expect Democrats to start rattling sabers like they did under the Mad-Bomber-in-Chief Bill Clinton, who was quite happy to dispatch planes and bombs wherever and whenever he felt necessary or threatened by a domestic situation. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is the template here of what reason's Matt Welch identified as "temporary doves," that is, folks whose taste for war is highly dependent on party affiliation.
I include Juan Cole's commentary in this discussion not because he's informed (though he is better so than most) or a great political/military strategy & tactics guru (I hope he doesn't claim to be) but because he illustrates Gillespie's point - and thus is representative of some number of his fellow reliably Democrat voters. But there's a corollary to Gillespie's forecast involved, too - one that was less obvious at the time the "smart wars" candidate was elected: if they don't, you can bet your bottom dollar Barack Obama isn't going to press on anyway just because it's the morally right thing to do.
"Wars that cost you voter support" might be exactly what candidate Obama meant by "stupid wars." (And "I'm not going to fight wars that cost me voter support" the foundation of the elusive "Obama Doctrine" others are searching for.) That would certainly explain the PR blitz that accompanied this one, with heavy emphasis on similarities to Clinton's adventures in Bosnia and Kosovo (saved Muslim lives with airpower - but never mind that we've had troops there ever since, and "there" is Europe), assurances that what we're doing is the exact opposite of Democrat's complaints about Bush's handling of Iraq (we've got a coalition and UN approval - it's an air war only) and a complete disregard for the unfortunate best comparison: Clinton's bombing campaign in Iraq. (A massive, years-long no-ground-troops/airwar-only undertaking that built al Qaeda and shaped the previous decade - a disastrous except for presidential approval ratings campaign that has since been shoved so far down the memory hole it may never return.)
Unfortunately for President Obama (and more importantly, those rebelling against Gaddafi - most notably those in Misrata) Juan Cole represents a minority among Democrat (or left-leaning, or "progressive," if you prefer) pundits. He's clinging - with some painful looking contortions - to that "we're preventing civilian massacres" line. It helps that that is part of what we're doing, but those contortions could prove increasingly difficult as Gaddafi - borrowing from Saddam before him - arms his civilians, has his soldiers change into their civilian clothes, and moves his surviving anti-aircraft (and other defensive) positions to schools, hospitals, mosques, etc. (But that's also one of the reasons Obama is leaning towards bowing out of the actual attack mission, hedging with a vague "unless our allies ask." Oh by the way, that "bad weather" stuff is bullshit. Mullen's actual point - that the rebels "have stretched themselves" too far - is accurate.) And while Cole is still on board, many of those who shared his views on "stupid wars" (by which they probably mean Bush's Iraq - but hell, maybe they agree with "wars that cost Obama votes") believe this is yet another one.
Let's turn to Glenn Greenwald as an example; he's comfortably among those who are immune to charges of hypocrisy per the "Gillespie flip," and he's very concerned about those who aren't - for example, Juan Cole.
Cole argued -- and I'm unable to find the specific post despite substantial searching, so I'm relying on recollection -- that the test for whether a war is justifiable is whether one is willing to risk one's own life -- or the life of one's children -- to fight it. Cole said he supported the war in Afghanistan because he could answer "yes" for that war, but not for the war in Iraq. How about the war in Libya: is that the proper question to apply to determine its justifiability, and if so, would Cole be willing to risk his own life or his children's to fight that war?
"Yes," Cole's answer begins, and it ends with this bold affirmation: "I lived through the some of the early years of the civil war in Lebanon and know what war is, unlike a lot of the commenters; I don't support one lightly." In between, however, he points out that Afghanistan "has morphed into a war I can't support." Presumably Libya could, too.
See Obama doctrine above. How much steel the Juan Colians will add to the president's spine (yes, that's a Joe Biden '08 reference - update here) as he confronts the Glenn Greenwalders is anyone's guess. I use those two gentlemen as examples of the left (I can give more: meet the Drummers); they won't be voting Republican any time soon, but that doesn't mean they have to vote. Does Obama need them? More importantly for Libyans - does Obama think he needs them? Working those sorts of considerations into the decision-making process is a piss-poor basis for national security strategy (hey, have you met Obama's new National Security Adviser yet?) but it's ours.
Over to the right of the political spectrum you'll find folks who aren't going to be voting for Obama regardless of what he does in Libya. A look in that direction, more review (including an explanation of that cartoon), and more developments on the actual Libyan front in part two.
Rebel commanders called for air strikes by coalition forces enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya but the US military's top officer said bad weather was hampering the air campaign.
"The biggest problem the last three or four days has been weather," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators in Washington, as correspondents at the front reported light cloud cover.
"We have not been able to see through the weather or get through the weather to be able to do this kind of identification" of targets, Mullen said.
And "NATO officials said sandstorms had an impact on initial operations, limiting the alliance's ability to identify air strike targets..."
So then, not much action in Libya, which (combined with the whole eighth anniversary point) is why I thought it a good time to republish an old post on the invasion of Iraq.
General Michael Moseley, air component commander for the invasion of Iraq, told the Weather Channel that the sandstorm "offered no sanctuary to the Iraqi forces, because you could actually see them. In an interesting twist of irony, I had a much better picture of where the Iraqi forces were than the Iraqi commanders, so it was easy for us through that sandstorm to find them, fix them, and target them."
I'm biased, but even though it isn't news I think you might enjoy the whole thing.
Hey, wanna watch a movie?
Um, there are battle scenes - but no, it's not. (I wouldn't steer you wrong on that account.) Anyone watching based on that line of the New York Times review will come away with a negative opinion of this one.
The Times reviewer - writing in 1981, the year of the movie's release - also calls Lion of the Desert "a big historical movie that is at least technically respectable and occasionally spectacular in its geography." That's a fine example of damning with faint praise, but from there he moves on to declare it "the biggest piece of movie partisanship to come out of the Middle East or North Africa since Otto Preminger's 'Exodus.'"
There are also times when the film seems to be drawing parallels between Mukhtar's position in the Arab world and that of Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as when the Italians refuse to negotiate with Mukhtar on the grounds that he, like Mr. Arafat, does not represent an independent nation.
He also speculates it's intended that "we should equate the camps the Italians put the Bedouins into with the Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon and even the Nazi concentration camps, though there are no gas ovens in sight in the film."
In short: The New York Times reviewer didn't like it. If that's what you base your movie viewing decisions on, don't push play on this - it's the full version of Lion of the Desert...
...at least, until (if) someone removes it from its online home.
Lion of the Desert is the story of Omar Mukhtar, a very real person who led a guerrilla war against the Italian invaders of Libya. Following a quick intro, the film begins after Mussolini comes to power in Italy, the point when brutal, old-school Roman-style anti-guerrilla tactics combined with newer ideas from the world's first fascist leader were applied to Italy's "Libya problem." (New technology appears, too - the use of tanks in desert warfare. The Italians scored an earlier first - use of aircraft in combat - during their initial invasion.) The film's been referred to as Lawrence of Arabia - this time with a Muslim hero or Braveheart for Muslims. To be fair, while I don't agree with the New York Times reviewer, I believe the movie falls short of either of those.
But I'm not going to do a full review, you can watch it or not at your leisure and make up your own mind.
Did I mention it was financed by Muammar Gaddafi, or how that's come back to bite him on the ass?
The grandson of Omar al-Mukhtar, the "Lion of the Desert" who led his warriors against Italian colonial rule ...[plot spoiler deleted here]... says his illustrious forebear would be fighting with rebels against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi if he were alive today
A 1981 film, "The Lion of the Desert" starring Anthony Quinn as Omar al-Mukhtar and Oliver Reed as Graziani depicts his struggle and is a popular item in video and DVD stores in Benghazi. "It's not bad," Awad said...
Lion of the Desert is propaganda, but not just the sort the New York Times reporter imagined in 1981. Gaddafi funded the film, directed by Syrian-born American film maker Moustapha Akkad (who was later killed in a Zarqawi/al Qaeda in Iraq-sponsored terrorist attack in Jordan), and while it hews close enough to the truth, its sins are of omission. Most Libyans, or at least many of those in revolt against Gaddafi's rule, know what those omissions are.
That and more movie trivia (along with some of the rest of the story) in our next episode. For now, pop some popcorn and enjoy the film.