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January 19, 2004


Well, Reagan really wasn't too tough on terrorism. Yes, he bombed Libya. But Hezbollah killed almost 250 marines in Lebanon, and he did nothing against them.

"Well, Reagan really wasn't too tough on terrorism."

Based on what we're dealing with now, I'm afraid that I have to agree with you. It's a problem that we've been pretty much not getting right for quite a while.

I've always thought we didn't hear about special forces more because they were, well, secret. Sadly, turns out I was wrong. We need these guys on the front lines in the War on Terror.

It seems to me that many of the opponents of the Iraq war, especially among the Democrat presidential candidates, would be wise to consider categories 1, 2, 4, 6, and 9 in particular.

"Well, Reagan really wasn't too tough on terrorism."

Terrorism during the Cold war was a different animal than the one we face now. During the Cold War most anti-American terrorism had support from the Soviet Union who sought to embarrass Western governments by drawn-out media events that produced few in any civilian casualties. The KGB would have wiped out any terrorist group seeking to inflict mass casualties on the U.S, out sheer self preservation. U.S. retaliation against Soviet client states who support terrorism (Libya, Syria, Iraq etc) was likewise constrained.

The rise of Mullahs in Iran changed this somewhat and the terrorist they supported did go for some large scale attack but even they were afraid to attack the U.S. directly for fear of direct retaliation.

Al-Queda had no compunctions against launching mass causality attacks in part because they had no real nation state base or patron. The sought not to embarrass governments but to directly terrorize the general population by killing as many civilians as possible.

The U.S. anti-terrorist agencies never really understood that the rules had changed with the end of the Cold War. On 9/11 the law still said that flight crews legally had to surrender control of their aircraft to hijackers based on the presumption that the hijackers would land the plane somewhere and stage a media event.

Special Forces were never used in part because Cold War terrorism seemed more like violent political theater. Post-Cold War terrorism, however, is clearly a direct military attack justifying a direct military response

The lack of action was a self inflicted wound. The election of Bill Clinto was most inoportune. Clinton had zero moral authority where the military was concerned and that made it too big of a price to pay to take them on. After dodging the draft and despising the military, he becomes president and continues to belittle the military by appointing Les Aspin (Mogadishu). He then got to appoint those whose advice he sought...Shalikashvili, Shelton etal.

While I was never an FOB, I tried to aviod the common knee-jerk "King Midas in reverse" analysis one often heard. However, while Shultz seems to emphasize the senior military's reticence to act on Presidential findings, his own statement that everyone went through the motions knowing that nothing was going to happen rings true to Clinton's M.O. After all, we've all been given a chance to revisit the heated Iraq regime change rhetoric that flowed from the White House and Congress in 1998, followed by no substantial efforts to that end.

I think the central problem here is that of compartmentalization of responsibilities. CT activities were seen as the CIA's bailiwick? Please. The role of CIA should, primarily, be the gathering of intelligence. When terrorists act against American citizens overseas, the job of the CIA should be to determine what organization is responsible, gather evidence, and collect information sufficient to facilitate an enforcement operation.

The CIA should be the investigative branch. SF and (if necessary) U.S. conventional forces ought to be the long arm of the law.

Perhaps treating terrorism as a crime was an attempt to get international law on our side. But, as we've seen, international law can be both slow and toothless. Countries that countenance terrorism are also countenancing terrorist attacks on us, and so are complicit in acts of war on our country. If they need help rooting out terrorists, we can discuss that. But refusal to do nothing is, IMO, tacit permission for us to solve the problem ourselves.

I visit from Tacitus and Calpundit, thank you very much. I do not associate with that sleeveless academic crowd over at Instapundit.

And after the Iowa results, canapes and latte no longer in style. Got any Fritos?

One reason the WS article did not mention: Politics as Usual. If a president from party X had committed troops (before 9/11) and some got killed, then party Y (with full support from publications like WS or The Nation) would have fully excoriate him for domestic political gain. The American public has never feared casualties, American politicians always have.

Does anyone know how the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (and used for other things than the name implies) relates to all of this? What's their mission and such. Because I know they're basically civilian SpecOps. The training they undertake is nearly the same thing.

Interesting how lack of legislative oversight is omitted from the list. In my opinion, the beauracracy has to take its cue from the legislature, which controls funding. Congress figures prominently in reasons 1, 4, 5, and 9. And how many of us keep electing the same people, in order to maintain our seniority on those committees? This reinforces the result noted by lancer. (And applies to a lot of other issues as well...)

We get the government we deserve.

The point about legislative oversight is an interesting one. Historically Congress as an institution has not often sought to involve itself in operational decisions. It is not surprising that legislators generally were not major players in the decisions about terrorism during the Clinton administration. It is a little surprising to me that no legislator appears to have been involved at all in any of them. It makes one wonder what all those people on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees are doing besides looking after procurement contracts.

As for Clinton's role: look, I didn't like the guy either, but blaming our "hold-harmless" policy toward terrorists on him is like blaming Second Manassas on Lincoln. Sure he had overall responsibility, and could by a supreme effort have changed policy by changing personnel. But he didn't get much help from career employees, especially those wearing the uniform, whose devotion to their own agencies' institutional interests far outweighed their zeal to countering a threat to American lives. Nor -- and this was not mentioned in the Standard piece -- was he ably advised by a weak Secretary of State who devoted most of her time to a conflict in the Balkans that had modest implications for American interests. Indeed, State's determination to apply "the rule of law" to Balkan problems probably made a more aggressive response to Arab terrorism harder to justify.

My last thought concerns the light this article throws on Sec. Rumsfeld's "Revolution in Military Affairs," i.e. the revolution that would have been stillborn if 9/11 hadn't happened. I don't care for the way Rumsfeld operates and don't agree with a number of his ideas, but consider what he has been up against -- senior uniformed officers committed to the perpetuation of an enormous institution offering them status, security and the prospect of private sector wealth once their military careers are over who would rather not fight, at least not without an overwhelming margin for error.

I haven't read "Showstoppers" yet, but from the summary it sounds like the same material covered in The Age of Sacred Terror by Steve Simon and Daniel Benjamin, both of whom served on Clinton's National Security Council. They describe constant, & constantly frustrated, efforts to persuade the military to draw up plans to address al Qaeda. "Sacred Terror" was one of the first books to give me a real appreciation for the Bush administration's ability to take on vast government bureacracies and get some action out of them.

SACRED TERROR is a terrific book, one that hasn't had the attention it deserved. At the very end Simon & Benjamin, arguing that Clinton's decision to bomb the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan was correct, reveal that Iraq and Bin Laden were partners in the factory. This in a book written by two of the people personally responsible for changing the paradigm from "state terror" to "loose networks" (an accomplishment they describe in a chapter called "Lost Paradigms," as I recall.)

I was dumbstruck when I read this. Benjamin and Simon spend the entire book debunking the notion that Iraq and al Qaeda were linked. Then in the last few dozen pages they wheel out the apparently unremarkable fact that both Iraq and Al Qaeda were involved in the same chemical weapons factory.

Only Edward Jay Epstein seems to have picked up on this; you can see his SLATE exchange with Benjamin on Epstein's web site at http://edwardjayepstein.com/archived/saddam1.htm.

Benjamin's explanation? Saddam didn't know Bin Laden was involved.

The section on press coverage of the "aspirin factory" episode is amazing. When the whole politicizing-the-intelligence brouhaha hit I felt as if I were re-living Benjamin & Simon's book.

Needless to say, I came away thinking it was a Good Thing to have bombed the "aspirin factory."

I also came away with the impression that the Clinton White House had been utterly paralyzed when it came to fighting terror. They simply could not get the military off the dime. (A slight distortion; by the end of Clinton's second term the military leadership was becoming aroused . . . but read the book. Along with Pollack's THREATENING STORM it's probably the most important insider account to come from the Clinton administration.)

Wow. In all the news I ever read about the bombing of that factory, it was never made public that there was any evidence at all that the factory was manufacturing chemical agents. Or rather, the claim of evidence was put forth on one or two occasions, and then quickly retracted.

Subsequently, however, independent experts questioned whether this chemical would be present in the soil of a chemical weapons facility, and noted that the chemical was also a pesticide residue. As to the initial claim that the facility did not produce commercial pharmaceuticals, it was subsequently revealed that the facility was in fact one of the primary pharmaceutical production facilities in Sudan, and was in fact a showplace routinely toured by schoolchildren who watched the plant's employees package and bottle medicines. Westerners who had either toured the plant or participated in its construction reported no evident restrictions on their movement, and no evidence of chemical weapons production activities. Many CIA analysts believe that, while there is evidence tying Al Shifa to chemical weapons at some point in the past, the evidence cited by the Administration did not represent the most compelling information on the facility.

This is a new one on me.

Moe, he could throw in that there aren't very many guys that are SOF-rated. I think there are around 3000 SEALs, I think the same number of SF guys and maybe 400 SFOD-1(Delta). PJs and the Night Stalkers 'count', but not for the combat purposes cited here. There be a sh*t-load of Rangers by comparison, but they tend to move in groups of 50-100 so they aren't really that much help in doing what the author is talking about. At any one time, I would guestimate that about 30% of the force is training or recouping from a deployment, and unavailable for further deployment except in extreme cases. The 'Cowboy' factor should have been moved way up the list, though. You have no idea how prevalent it is. If Ken White shows up soon, ask him about it.

Read 'See No Evil' by Bob Baer if you would like a good read on America's response(or lack thereof) to terror from Reagan to Clinton.

Lots of good comments from everybody and thanks for the book suggestions. I know, this sounds like a pretty lame thank-you, but it's become pretty clear that I need to do some more reading, because there's a bunch o'people here who apparently know more about this than I do, so I need to get cracking, huh? :)

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