The American Bear


Papa Obama and President Drone | Andrew Levine

[…] Barack Obama is now doing what no one before him has done – he is collapsing the distinction between wholesale and retail terror. By launching an on-going, multi-faceted, never-ending “low intensity” terror project in countless theaters of operation, he has made the purveyor of wholesale terror a retail purveyor as well.

It is not just a matter of clandestine operations conducted more or less without regard to Constitutional restrictions on the executive’s war making powers and to international law.

That kind of lawlessness has long been with us, and President Drone is enamored of it too. He and his cheer leaders even boast about how instead of bringing Osama Bin Ladin to justice, he had Navy Seals, his very own Murder Incorporated, kill him and drop his body into the sea.

But drone killing marks a new departure. It makes for a permanent regime of “shock and awe,” turning a lethal hybrid of retail and wholesale terrorism into a permanent fixture of imperial diplomacy.

A by-product of this new departure is the manufacture of an endless supply of future terrorists. An immediate – intended – result is a reign of terror throughout large swathes of the Muslim world.

And so, just as our Hope and Change President proved long ago that, from a policy perspective, being better than Bush is not all that it is cracked up to be, our Nobel laureate President is making it clear that, from a moral point of view as well, we are not all that much better off than we were.

Indeed, from a more long-range historical perspective, we are not better off at all. Deliberately or not, President Drone is forging a new normal, more perilous than the darkest imaginings of his predecessors.

“Technology made me do it” is no excuse. But the culpability is not his alone, and neither is it limited to his enablers in Congress and the White House’s inner circles, or to the remaining Obama cheerleaders in liberal and centrist ranks. We all bear responsibility for not resisting more.

CIA Boosts Support for Iraqi Militias

The White House has directed the CIA to increase its cooperation and backing of Iraqi state militias to fight al-Qaeda affiliates there and cut off the flow of fighters pouring into Syria.

According to US intelligence, the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq has for years been sending fighters over the border into Syria’s civil war in an attempt to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In Syria, the offshoot goes by the name of Jabhat al-Nusra, a group the State Department designated a terrorist organization last year.

To stem the flow of these fighters into Syria, the Obama administration has been employing the CIA to work with Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, or CTS, a state militia bred and trained by the US prior to the withdrawal and which now answers directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The White House directed the CIA to support CTS in a series of secret orders from 2011 to late 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Most Americans have been led to believe that all US forces besides those guarding the massive American Embassy in Iraq have been withdrawn since the end of last year.

In reality, US Special Operations Forces as well as the CIA have been providing this support to these elite Iraqi forces that report directly to the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They have essentially been used as a secret police force for Maliki to attack, detain, and torture his political opponents and crack down harshly on public dissent.

While the newly revealed CIA operations appear to be a way to undercut the foreign terrorist elements of the Syrian rebel opposition, the approach is riddled with potential complications.

What could possibly go wrong?

If, as I expect, Afghanistan also refuses to grant immunity to US forces remaining after the scheduled NATO withdrawal at the end of next year, look for all of the Special Operations trained militias (known in Afghanistan as the Afghan Local Police) to also come under CIA control along with the current force under CIA control. Who needs a SOFA with immunity for US troops when we have the CIA? Jim White, No SOFA? Then Transition Death Squad Control from Special Operations to CIA

[E]very military (and civilian) official says ‘you cannot capture or kill’ your way out the problems caused by those who use violence to achieve political objectives. What McChrystal noted about Afghanistan — ‘You can kill Taliban forever, because they are not a finite number’ — would apply to any of the groups [or ‘associated forces’] currently targeted by the United States. Yet, the perception exists that killing is the only thing happening in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, in part because the military has so little faith in the capabilities of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and/or the host nation. … During his confirmation hearing to become the director of central intelligence, John Brennan repeated his prior pledge regarding al Qaeda — ‘We will destroy that organization’ — which, according to the latest State Department estimates, is growing to thousands of individuals among its various ‘affiliates.’ This current U.S. counterterrorism strategy of ‘mowing the grass’ (as it’s indelicately called) through indefinite drone strikes, without thinking through the likely second- and third-order effects, will never achieve its strategic objectives.* This highlights the question military planning staffs will pose to civilian policymakers who ask about bombing a target or individual: ‘And then what?’ In the case of a campaign of drone strikes, the answer these military planners see is more drone strikes.

Killing Isn’t Cool | Micah Zenko

* Unless, of course, the “strategic objective” is permanent warfare (and all the perks like unitary executive power and hegemonic control that come along with it), a conclusion too terrible for most to ponder.

The Golden Age of Special Operations | Andrew Bacevich

“Goodbye accountability. Autonomy and accountability exist in inverse proportion to one another. Indulge the former and kiss the latter goodbye.”

The displacement of conventional forces by special operations forces as the preferred U.S. military instrument — the “force of choice” according to the head of USSOCOM, Admiral William McRaven — marks the completion of a decades-long cultural repositioning of the American soldier. The G.I., once represented by the likes of cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s iconic Willie and Joe, is no more, his place taken by today’s elite warrior professional. Mauldin’s creations were heroes, but not superheroes. The nameless, lionized SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden are flesh-and blood Avengers. Willie and Joe were “us.” SEALs are anything but “us.” They occupy a pedestal well above mere mortals. Couch potato America stands in awe of their skill and bravery.

This cultural transformation has important political implications. It represents the ultimate manifestation of the abyss now separating the military and society. Nominally bemoaned by some, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, this civilian-military gap has only grown over the course of decades and is now widely accepted as the norm. As one consequence, the American people have forfeited owner’s rights over their army, having less control over the employment of U.S. forces than New Yorkers have over the management of the Knicks or Yankees.

Bacevich then asks:

In practice, the only thing the public knows about special ops activities is what the national security apparatus chooses to reveal. Can you rely on those who speak for that apparatus in Washington to tell the truth?

This question was tackled in the New York TImes this morning. tl;dr — The answer is No.

No, we can’t “rely on those who speak for that apparatus in Washington to tell the truth”.

Read the whole piece

Since 9/11, USSOCOM’s budget has quadrupled. The special operations order of battle has expanded accordingly. At present, there are an estimated 66,000 uniformed and civilian personnel on the rolls, a doubling in size since 2001 with further growth projected. Yet this expansion had already begun under Obama’s predecessor. His essential contribution has been to broaden the special ops mandate. As one observer put it, the Obama White House let Special Operations Command ‘off the leash.’ Andrew Bacevich

The New American Way of War | Andrew Bacevich

A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it. Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do. This is the approach the Obama administration is now pursuing: first through the expanded use of aerial drones for both intelligence gathering and ‘targeted’ assassination; and, second, through the expanded deployment of covert special operations forces around the world, such as the team that killed Osama bin Laden. The New York Times reported today that the head of the Special Operations Command ‘is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels’.

Drones and special forces are the essential elements of a new American way of war, conducted largely in secret with minimal oversight or accountability and disregarding established concepts of sovereignty and international law. Bush’s critics charge him with being a warmonger. But Obama has surpassed his predecessor in shedding any remaining restraints on waging war.

How exactly the new American way of war will promote the longterm well-being of the United States is unclear. Indeed, the question goes almost unasked. All we know is that there are a lot of people out there who qualify as bad guys. And we aim to kill them all.


Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces | The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As the United States turns increasingly to Special Operations forces to confront developing threats scattered around the world, the nation’s top Special Operations officer, a member of the Navy Seals who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels.

The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

elite units…operate in dark corners of US foreign policy…need more autonomy…outside of normal deployment channels.

Most needed to do what, exactly?

Spec Ops, CIA to maintain large presence in Afghanistan | The AfPak Channel

U.S. Special Operations commander Adm. Bill McRaven said Tuesday he has “no doubt that special operations will be the last to leave Afghanistan,” as White House officials said the Obama administration is considering handing over control of the mission in Afghanistan entirely to special forces as conventional troops withdraw (APCNN). This strategy, in combination with the U.S. plan to maintain large numbers of clandestine CIA operatives in the country, would allow the United States to protect U.S. interests in Afghanistan while reducing its “footprint” (Post).

By the way, those “U.S. interests” are mostly hydrocarbons (via pipeline) and mineral resources. Google “TAPI” for some background.

A Secret War in 120 Countries | Nick Turse

A stunning, must read from the fantastic Nick Turse. Big ups for a great piece of investigative journalism.

In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.  Once “special” for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.


[Black] operations like the bin Laden mission, with commandos conducting heliborne night raids, were now exceptionally common.  A dozen or so are conducted every night, [Navy Admiral Eric Olson] said.  Perhaps most illuminating, however, was an offhand remark about the size of SOCOM.  Right now, he emphasized, U.S. Special Operations forces [are] approximately as large as Canada’s entire active duty military.  In fact, the force is larger than the active duty militaries of many of the nations where America’s elite troops now operate each year, and it’s only set to grow larger. 

Americans have yet to grapple with what it means to have a “special” force this large, this active, and this secret — and they are unlikely to begin to do so until more information is available.  It just won’t be coming from Olson or his troops.  “Our access [to foreign countries] depends on our ability to not talk about it,” he said in response to questions about SOCOM’s secrecy.  When missions are subject to scrutiny like the bin Laden raid, he said, the elite troops object.  The military’s secret military, said Olson, wants “to get back into the shadows and do what they came in to do.” [read more]