September 07, 2006

Sovietology

Anatol Lieven:

The Bush administration’s ideological rhetoric concerning US policy in the Middle East has become separated from the policy itself to an extent almost reminiscent of the former Soviet Union. According to the rhetoric, the US has adopted democratisation as the core of its political strategy and made a clean break with its past strategy of propping up local dictatorships and playing one country and ethno-religious group against another.

In practice – especially since the latest conflict in Lebanon – US strategy relies entirely on the ability of pro-American authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to control the anger of their populations at US and Israeli policies. To help keep these Sunni regimes in line, Washington relies on their fear of an expansion of Iranian and Shia influence. This is precisely the dominant US strategy of the past generation, except for periods when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq replaced Iran as the chief regional bogeyman. President George W. Bush’s language of democracy is also accompanied by utter contempt for the views of potential voters in the region.

This glaring clash between rhetoric and reality is odd, but much odder is the degree to which it has gone un­remarked by the US political class and even most of the media. Of course, criticisms have been raised on both the left and right. But the Democratic party and the US media have not made nearly as much of this contradiction, and the dangers it embodies, as one might have expected.

Speaking of Soviet comparisons, and on another topic, how sad that a sitting American President would evidently view it as helpful to his party's electoral chances to disclose the existence of secret prisons reportedly located in former Warsaw Pact countries. The ironies are profound.

Posted by Gregory at September 7, 2006 03:55 AM
Comments

The world changers are an odd lot. One has to wonder why failure doesn't cause them to reconsider, anything. Why does anyone with a passing knowledge of history even give them consideration? It is kind of interesting that it was Carter and not Reagan who began our overt intervention in the middle east.

Yes we miss the USSR, our old bogeyman. The U.S. conquered Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We beat the USSR in the contest of political supremacy, they relied on armed force,a security apparatus, and will. And we have now adopted those methods. Hmmm.

Still we have inchoate, unresolvable fears of a never ending struggle with and irrational fear of 'terror, climate change, and eternal damnation.' To butcher Shakespeare: "The fault, dear reader, is not in our enemies,
But in ourselves, that we lack virtue."

Posted by: Tom at September 7, 2006 05:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Speaking of Soviet comparisons, and on another topic, how sad that a sitting American President would evidently view it as helpful to his party's electoral chances to disclose the existence of secret prisons reportedly located in former Warsaw Pact countries. The ironies are profound.

So which is it? Is Bush a power-crazed "King" shredding the Constitution? Or is he an irresponsible opportunist sacrificing state secrets for short term political gain? In various posts, you've argued both, and that seems inconsistent.

In previous posts, you lambasted "King George" because various actions and programs he authorized were, in your opinion, illegal. Eventually, the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision supported your view, but indicated that Congress could authorize such programs.

Today, "King George" dutifully begins the process of gaining Congressional authorization. And in anticpation of disingenuous accusations like yours, he says:

Some may ask: Why are you acknowledging this program now? There are two reasons why I'm making these limited disclosures today. First, we have largely completed our questioning of the men -- and to start the process for bringing them to trial, we must bring them into the open. Second, the Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA program. In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.

This is unacceptable. Our military and intelligence personnel go face to face with the world's most dangerous men every day. They have risked their lives to capture some of the most brutal terrorists on Earth. And they have worked day and night to find out what the terrorists know so we can stop new attacks. America owes our brave men and women some things in return. We owe them their thanks for saving lives and keeping America safe. And we owe them clear rules, so they can continue to do their jobs and protect our people.

So today, I'm asking Congress to pass legislation that will clarify the rules for our personnel fighting the war on terror....


I know that you and Bush disagree on the desirability of these programs. But that's beside the point, because for better or worse, he's President, and he thinks they are valuable.

The issue before us is procedural--given that he wants these policies enacted, how should he go about achieving them in light of Hamdan? Would you prefer that he:
a) flout the Supreme Court
b) petition Congress to authorize them

And if you choose (a), then explain why your "King George" post is inappropriate. And if you choose (b), explain why your current post is inappropriate.

James


Posted by: James at September 7, 2006 07:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

James - that was really below the belt

Don't you know Greg doesn't have to explain anything to you - Rumsfeld is evil after all!

/ he he

Taranto at WSJ had a great piece on this - enjoy and see how YOU answer the questions

In his speech yesterday President Bush described how CIA interrogation of terrorists held overseas has saved American lives. It's worth quoting at length:

"We knew that [Abu] Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used--I think you understand why--if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.

Zubaydah was questioned using these procedures, and soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th. For example, Zubaydah identified one of KSM's [Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's] accomplices in the 9/11 attacks--a terrorist named Ramzi bin al Shibh. The information Zubaydah provided helped lead to the capture of bin al Shibh. And together these two terrorists provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Once in our custody, KSM was questioned by the CIA using these procedures, and he soon provided information that helped us stop another planned attack on the United States. During questioning, KSM told us about another al Qaeda operative he knew was in CIA custody--a terrorist named Majid Khan. KSM revealed that Khan had been told to deliver $50,000 to individuals working for a suspected terrorist leader named Hambali, the leader of al Qaeda's Southeast Asian affiliate known as "J-I." CIA officers confronted Khan with this information. Khan confirmed that the money had been delivered to an operative named Zubair, and provided both a physical description and contact number for this operative.

Based on that information, Zubair was captured in June of 2003, and he soon provided information that helped lead to the capture of Hambali. After Hambali's arrest, KSM was questioned again. He identified Hambali's brother as the leader of a "J-I" cell, and Hambali's conduit for communications with al Qaeda. Hambali's brother was soon captured in Pakistan, and, in turn, led us to a cell of 17 Southeast Asian "J-I" operatives. When confronted with the news that his terror cell had been broken up, Hambali admitted that the operatives were being groomed at KSM's request for attacks inside the United States--probably [sic] using airplanes.

During questioning, KSM also provided many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans. For example, he described the design of planned attacks on buildings inside the United States, and how operatives were directed to carry them out. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent the people trapped above from escaping out the windows.

KSM also provided vital information on al Qaeda's efforts to obtain biological weapons. During questioning, KSM admitted that he had met three individuals involved in al Qaeda's efforts to produce anthrax, a deadly biological agent--and he identified one of the individuals as a terrorist named Yazid. KSM apparently believed we already had this information, because Yazid had been captured and taken into foreign custody before KSM's arrest. In fact, we did not know about Yazid's role in al Qaeda's anthrax program. Information from Yazid then helped lead to the capture of his two principal assistants in the anthrax program. Without the information provided by KSM and Yazid, we might not have uncovered this al Qaeda biological weapons program, or stopped this al Qaeda cell from developing anthrax for attacks against the United States."

Bush added: "I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it--and I will not authorize it."

----------------------------------------------------------------

Some administration critics have argued (a) that any harsh interrogation amounts to torture, and (b) that torture cannot yield useful intelligence. These claims cannot both be true. This column accepts the president's assurances that the techniques the CIA used did not amount to torture--but if you disagree, then you have to admit "torture" works.

Opponents of aggressive questioning, ( LIKE GREG ) then, are willing to sacrifice the lives of American civilians, including women and children, for the sake of their own moral vanity.( INDEED ) As a practical matter, they are also willing to sacrifice the civil liberties they claim to cherish. For as we have argued many times, it is highly unlikely that our current regime of civil liberties can survive another attack on the scale of 9/11.

Posted by: pogue mahone at September 7, 2006 06:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is all so boringly familiar. We must kill the Jews because they are terrorists destroying our society and democracy.

People who stand up for the Jews are willing to sacrifice our society and our democracy.

Therefore, people who oppose the gas chambers are really aiding and abetting the terrorists, and are enemies of the state, and of the society.

It is all so tediously familiar, and shockingly appealing to many US citizens, apparently.

Even the argument that the President is the Decider, and it doesn't matter what you think, it only matters what he Decides, and whether you support his Gracious Decision, or whether you side with the horrible Jews and terrorists and homosexuals and gypsies...

It is so uninspired, so sad, or at least it seems so to myself.

Posted by: adolf_of_vienna at September 7, 2006 10:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pogue, anyone who regards Taranto as a reliable information source is asking for trouble. The New Republic today exposed -- in detail -- Bush's account of what we supposedly learned from Abu Zubaydah as deliberate lies from beginning to end:
http://www.tnr.com/blog/theplank?pid=36597

..and Bush's statement that we "have not tortured" KSM and company has been exposed as lies from beginning to end by multiple sources, including some in the Pentagon and some official logs:
http://time.blogs.com/daily_dish/2006/09/liarinchief_i.html
http://www.warandpiece.com/blogdirs/004865.html
(Note in particular what those logs say about the emergency medical treatment that had to be given to "non-tortured" detainees.)

So, to quote Sullivan: "If the president wants to argue that all this is necessary, that we need to breach the Geneva Conventions in order to protect the public, then he should say so. He should make the argument, and persuade Americans that torture should now be official policy, and seek explicit legislation amounting to a breach of the Geneva Conventions. That would be an honest position. He would gain the support of much of the Republican base, a large swathe of the conservative intelligentsia, and the contempt of the civilized world. We could then debate this honestly, including the torture techniques he has authorized and supports. Instead he lies."

Since we kept torture illegal during two previous wars of national survival in which our enemy didn't reciprocate (the Revolutionary War and WW II), and since we are currently in a conflict in which we create two new jihadists for every one we torture, can we at least agree that -- if torture is ever necessary -- it should be allowed only in extremely rare instances of flat-out national emergency? And that any decision to allow it must be made by multiple members of a military/judicial committee meeting on an emergency basis, rather than by the fiat of one man -- whether it's the single twerp currently in the Oval Office, or the single twerp currently running the Pentagon?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 7, 2006 10:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So which is it? Is Bush a power-crazed "King" shredding the Constitution? Or is he an irresponsible opportunist sacrificing state secrets for short term political gain? In various posts, you've argued both, and that seems inconsistent.

Tastes great? Less filling? Can't be both, that woiuld be inconsistent.

How come he can't be a power-crazed opportunist sacrificing the Constitution for short-term political gain?

Posted by: J Thomas at September 7, 2006 11:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some administration critics have argued (a) that any harsh interrogation amounts to torture, and (b) that torture cannot yield useful intelligence. These claims cannot both be true. This column accepts the president's assurances that the techniques the CIA used did not amount to torture--but if you disagree, then you have to admit "torture" works.

Well, no.

To believe that any of this shows it isn't torture or that torture works, you have to assume the administration isn't consistently lying to you.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 7, 2006 11:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pogue: Some things to thing about. I'm not sure I would entirely agree with you on your comment. "Some administration critics have argued (a) that any harsh interrogation amounts to torture, and (b) that torture cannot yield useful intelligence. These claims cannot both be true."

I'm not about to rehash any pro/anti torture/interrogation argument, but to make this observation.

Based on comments made in the subsequent post to this I draw an inference that the harsher the interrogation techniques the more likely that the confessions resulting will be unreliable. (Which is not to say that they will be - only that they are more likely to be) Its fair to assume the inverse is probably true.

So from a purely practical point of view where do you draw the line? Where do more aggressive techniques result in worthless (or even worse misleading) intelligence? Where does the cost (for want of a better term) outweight the gain?

So perhaps a compromise solution would be what I term de-facto decriminalisation. What I mean by this is draw the line in the sand and outlaw certain practices. Now if CIA Agent 1 is very very certain a suspect has intelligence of great importance, then CIA Agent 1 might wish to break those laws and take their interrogation beyond was is "legal". In doing so CIA Agent 1 may be charged and brought to trial - however if CIA Agent 1 can prove to the courts that the information obtained was vital and averted terrorist actions then the courts could rule that CIA Agent 1 acted in "self defense" and under the same basic principle that underpins the precedent of self defense in murde trials, then CIA Agent 1 might be acquitted.

Of course CIA Agent 1 better be very sure that the suspect has vital information or they risk punishment for breaking the law - something of a check and balance on use of overly aggressive interrogation techniques. There are of course all sorts of legal issues that this might throw up including precedent and case law, and being a layman I have no idea what a legal professionals take on such a solution might be, but it seems to be a possible compromise.

However I do have one question realting specifically to the post. With the announcement of secret prisons you have to ask a question. Why are they secret. If you were not doing anything illegal then why would you have a) secret prisons that b)Are located on foreign soil.

I'd suggest that if you were engaging in legal activites wouldn't you want to do them on home soil where you are legally protected? Seems a bit odd to me...

Posted by: Aran Brown at September 7, 2006 11:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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