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December 21, 2009

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In next week's episode of "We Will Keep Bombing You Until You Love Us", Predator drones travel to exotic and exciting Syria, where they merrily produce dead children, mangled infants and corpses! Will they surpass this week's total? Meanwhile, back home, sales of Zhu Zhu hamsters reach record heights as Americans celebrate the birth of somebody or other. Can Sally's daddy navigate the treacherous crowds at Best Buy to get that $25 DVD player before supplies run out? And what's next for Tiger's penis? You'll have to tune in to find out. Same self-destructive time, same self-destructive channel.

or this is just the next turn in a, to inadequately paraphrase Gary Farber , "game of Where's Waldo for hundreds of billions of dollars".

We have to go do this because we have to win the war on terrorists, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war to end all wars, the war to prevent the spread of the Red menace, the other war to stop the spread of communism, the war on fat and the others wars I missed that we have czars running around fighting. As long as it is a just and necessary war we will fight it anywhere for as long as necessary.

On the other hand, when AQ hides in the midst of civilian populations then we should do what? Just curious because it won't be the last time this happens and I want to know what to tell people who don't understand the finer details of this strategy.

We can bomb, but only when we have human intelligence that someone is in a building by themselves and no one else will be allowed to enter for 2-4 hours? 6 hours? and they can't leave so we can ensure we get the one person we are going after? Is this eyes on human intelligence, satellite intel or tracking, just infrared so we're not absolutely sure? What are these rules of engagement? How sure do we have to be? Should we tie them up and make sure they can't go anywhere until the bomb hits?

Or, should we just stay out of civil wars unless they actually do threaten us directly and then go bomb as many of the leaders as we can until we have disrupted them as much as possible and then go back to ignoring them (militarily). Recognizing there will most certainly be pictures on jihadist websites, but at least our engagement is short and purposeful. Eradication is not a tenable strategy, so maximum disruption in the shortest interval seems the best.

Unless of course you believe we should put trained assassins in play, but they would be contractors under no supervision so we can't do that either.

It's a sticky wicket all right.

On the other hand, when AQ hides in the midst of civilian populations then we should do what? Just curious because it won't be the last time this happens and I want to know what to tell people who don't understand the finer details of this strategy.

You wait them out, until they are exposed enough to either snatch or smash. Otherwise, the costs are too high. The best methods of thwarting terrorism are still intel and law enforcement FWIW. So this should not cause too much consternation.

We can bomb, but only when we have human intelligence that someone is in a building by themselves and no one else will be allowed to enter for 2-4 hours? 6 hours? and they can't leave so we can ensure we get the one person we are going after? Is this eyes on human intelligence, satellite intel or tracking, just infrared so we're not absolutely sure? What are these rules of engagement? How sure do we have to be? Should we tie them up and make sure they can't go anywhere until the bomb hits?

The ROE will have to be fluid, but should err on the side of caution when large numbers of civilians are nearby.

To repeat: The best methods of thwarting terrorism are still intel and law enforcement FWIW. So this should not cause too much consternation.

"The best methods of thwarting terrorism are still intel and law enforcement FWIW. So this should not cause too much consternation."

What does this mean? We should use Yemeni law enforcement to arrest or disrupt these folks? Or that we use intel and our own law enforcement to intercede in an attack? Not being snarky, I really want to know which you mean.

"You wait them out, until they are exposed enough to either snatch or smash."

FWIW, I believe this requires more intel capacity than we can afford based on the range of targets we seem to have. It is just not a very practical solution.

"The Senate defeated a health care filibuster this morning."

We actually got tired of the HCR debate once we determined that there was going to be a bill passed. Some think its crap, some think its a good start, the rest think we should have taken the 875B in cost savings and applied it to the deficit so it could be deficit positive rather deficit neutral.

The next 6 weeks of now getting it to the Presidents desk will be really painful to watch, since the Senate and House now have to spar over who's more important and right. Then the bill will be even worse.

Hopefully someone new will get covered before 2014 and the folks who die between now and then because they can be denied insurance will certainly feel good knowing they will be the last four years worth. But there is no sense killing this bill and thinking about it since we have thought about it for twenty years and we are sure we can afford it by 2014 so lets just go with that guess. Put a review panel in place to find the billions in savings we can get from Medicare, thats going broke yet wasting 500 billion dollars, so that we can say we won't have to raise taxes to pay for it.

But 30 million people will eventually get covered, which only leaves 30 million uncovered, and wasn't the uninsured the purpose of this bill in the first place? How can any bill get signed that leaves 30M people still uncovered?

Well, thats all the HCR disscussion I can take for a day.

What does this mean? We should use Yemeni law enforcement to arrest or disrupt these folks? Or that we use intel and our own law enforcement to intercede in an attack? Not being snarky, I really want to know which you mean.

It means both (or, at least, work in cooperation with Yemeni law enforcement/intel, as partnering is also a successful model. See, ie, the incarceration of KSM).

The Rand Corp, no bastion of liberal thinking, recently came to the same conclusion that the West Point Counterterrorism shop (another non-liberal outlet) came to: intel and law enforcement work best. Military involvement is inefficient if not outright counterproductive in most settings.

Limited strikes/special ops work can be a useful tool under strict criteria.

FWIW, I believe this requires more intel capacity than we can afford based on the range of targets we seem to have. It is just not a very practical solution.

That's possible, but no more resource allocation than heavy-handed military action.

Nothing in the world matters but Afghanistan.

Eric Martin on Afghanistan is certainly better reading than the hysterical HCR nonsense at Firedoglake.

I'll inform the Yemenis that they are now a part of Afghanistan.

But they all look the same, so, whatevs. Right?

"It means both (or, at least, work in cooperation with Yemeni law enforcement/intel, as partnering is also a successful model. See, ie, the incarceration of KSM)."

Thanks, I am just unaware if our relationship with Yemen makess that a reasonable objective.

Shane Metzger: "Moar 24/7 war blogging."

If only there was some kind of vast, interconnected network of computers which could host all kinds of different personal news sites covering all kinds of different subjects according to the personal interests of the author, so that when one wanted to read opinions about healthcare one could go to some kind of site that would be talking about healthcare.

But that's just a dream. We're stuck, in this reality, with just this one website, Obsidian Wings, which is miserably failing in its solemn duty as sole conduit for commentary on the news. Personally, I would be canceling my expensive subscription to ObWi - the one that has made them wealthy and powerful - if there were only any other choices at all in the world of commentary.

Marty: "the 875B in cost savings"

But a lot of those cost savings rely on universal coverage. For instance, some of the savings come from reductions in payments to hospitals for treating uninsured patients. You can't make those reductions without covering the uninsured. And the bill is not totally funded by cost reductions; another big chunk is funded by a surtax on high earners. Now, if you're volunteering increased taxes on high earners purely to reduce the deficit, well that's great, but a little surprising.

ON-TOPIC:

I don't have any great ideas about what exactly we should do about Al Qaeda in Yemen. I do know that the overall strategy against Al Qaeda and all anti-US movements has to be to discredit their methods and goals, so that people are drawn to oppose them rather than to support them and think of joining them.

That ought not to be difficult, since their methods involve the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, including Muslims, and they have made very little progress on achieving their stated goals with those methods. But we make it a lot more difficult when our own methods can be seen as involving the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people. There is no clear line between unavoidable civilian casualties in pursuit of legitimate attempts to preempt terrorist activity and what looks like indifference to civilian casualties, but we have to err on the side of caution; it is no use pursuing a policy that even looks like "ten of you can die if it saves one of us". We can never win moral legitimacy that way.

One thing I worry about is that the airstrike policy has a covert or unspoken goal of deterring civilians from involvement with terrorists. In that view civilian casualties are an inevitable and perhaps even desirable result of the policy. You see this view expressed reasonably often by conservatives when they say things like "Well, they shouldn't have had terrorists in their house if they didn't want to get killed." That makes me concerned that such an attitude could infect the military decision-making as well. Quite aside from the moral and legal problems with this, there is the question of whether it actually works. I'd say, from the evidence, that it does not work. So insofar as it is might be a covert motivation for this policy, it deserves to be dragged out into the open and examined, because I don't think it holds up - as I say, independent of the moral or legal problems with it.

In all those senses it is similar to the civilian bombing programs of WWII. Those were intended to undermine the support of the civilian population for the military program of the government, although they were usually presented as attacks on the industrial capabilities of the opponents. They were a miserable failure in undermining civilian support for the military program, having a very strong effect in the other direction. The "commonsense" view that they would have a deterrent effect was completely false. And I don't think anything about having your family killed by bombs dropped by foreign aircraft has changed in the intervening 65 years.

Off Topic:
"Now, if you're volunteering increased taxes on high earners purely to reduce the deficit, well that's great, but a little surprising"

Better less deficit than fake savings.

It means both (or, at least, work in cooperation with Yemeni law enforcement/intel, as partnering is also a successful model. See, ie, the incarceration of KSM).

What about when host nation LE or intel capabilities are not up to the task? For instance in much of Yemen, as well as the FATA, or in southern Somalia?

KSM worked, but only because the Pakistanis wanted it to. Note the continued presence of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, etc. etc.

Also, and not to declare a willingness to strike Iran, what about when the host nation is openly hostile, as in the case of Iran and Leah Farrell's pen pal, al-Masri? Luckily Iran doesn't appear as if it's sanctioning operational al-Qaeda cells on its territory, but who knows what might happen if Israel goes off half-cocked?

It is just not a very practical solution.

There is no practical solution.

The problem itself sucks, and all of the possible solutions suck.

Given that, perhaps this time we should avoid destroying the village in order to save it.

What about when host nation LE or intel capabilities are not up to the task? For instance in much of Yemen, as well as the FATA, or in southern Somalia?

KSM worked, but only because the Pakistanis wanted it to. Note the continued presence of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, etc. etc.

That's obviously the most difficult situation. There are no easy solutions. I mean, what are the alternatives? Invade sovereign countries? Airstrikes in densely populated urban areas based on dubious intel?

I'd say we've pushed the envelope in Pakistan, but targeting Quetta would be too far.

Your point about OBL and Zawahiri are valid enough, but I'd also note the number of plots thwarted by law enforcement/intel in the interim, and the lack of attacks involving the input of OBL and Zawahiri.

And I'd leave Mullah Omar off that list for obvious reasons.

Generally speaking, this from Jacob Davies is worth pondering:

I do know that the overall strategy against Al Qaeda and all anti-US movements has to be to discredit their methods and goals, so that people are drawn to oppose them rather than to support them and think of joining them.

That ought not to be difficult, since their methods involve the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, including Muslims, and they have made very little progress on achieving their stated goals with those methods. But we make it a lot more difficult when our own methods can be seen as involving the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people. There is no clear line between unavoidable civilian casualties in pursuit of legitimate attempts to preempt terrorist activity and what looks like indifference to civilian casualties, but we have to err on the side of caution; it is no use pursuing a policy that even looks like "ten of you can die if it saves one of us". We can never win moral legitimacy that way.

Thinking of the questions by Pakistani students that stumped Sec State Clinton.

Well get this, Marty. A Law enforcement/intel heavy approach to the WAMI is likely to be cheaper than the current military heavy approach.

Those savings can be applied to reducing the deficit!

"Well get this, Marty. A Law enforcement/intel heavy approach to the WAMI is likely to be cheaper than the current military heavy approach.

Those savings can be applied to reducing the deficit!"

Great, as long as they are effective. My opinion, not backed by any scholars, is that we will move to LE/intel only until the next attack and then we will spend all that money we saved plus some.

It feels to me that what we are doing is like the guy who hears a noise and empties his clip randomly into the darkness to make himself feel better. Then realizes maybe he should have saved one round for when he sees something to aim at. If its AQ we just fire, but we really aren't aiming at any goal.

Marty:

"How can any bill get signed that leaves 30M people still uncovered."

Harry Reid said a month or so ago that it takes two days just to get people (about 41 or 42 of them) in the Senate to flush the toilets.

That, along with Death Palins, calls for revolution, etc is why the bill gets to the President's desk covering only 30 million.

Not to mention all of the other imperfect sucky stuff in the bill ... and not in the bill.

Time for another bill to cover another 30 million and much more.

I say President Obama should sign this one and call for work on another one immediately.

I can't wait for the howls from the usual suspects.

On the other hand, when AQ hides in the midst of civilian populations then we should do what?

Do we actually know they were hiding among the civilians as opposed to living there?

I'm serious about this. Plenty of the people directly involved in our war effort, our president, CIA officers, high-ranking military officers, soldiers on leave, military contractors, etc., all live among civilians. Can AQ now declare suburbs around Langley a legitimate military target, cause they're likely to get a few of our counter-terrorism experts in the attack?

Everyone assumes Al Qaeda is using these civilians as human shields. But it isn't as though there was a fight going on, and they retreated to keep shooting at us from the village, daring us to risk civilian casualties.

So how are the civilian casualties justified? And what possible justification would not also justify terrorist attacks on us, so long as Al Qaeda suspected some US combatants would die in the attack?

It seems to me this post can be read in no other way than an endorsement of the more pro-engagement implications of the critique that was asserted here of the logic for engaement in Afghanistan: if kinetic operations continue to be launched in pursuit of al Qaeda in Afghanistan (with a mere 100 AQ in country!), what is to prevent future military engagement in other countries with known al Qaeda presence? This post doesn't seem to question the fact of said engagement; only its modalities and effectiveness. I admit, I did not anticipate this being the direction of the implications of the critique I cite that would be embraced here.

Yemenis and Afghans can be easily told apart by the rhino horn gripped daggers* the former wear (=>bombing them will also do something for wildlife protection).
The easy solution is to field those intelligent missiles that are given photos of the targets and then send on the search. In cases of doubt they can ask passersby where to look for. If they could find Popeye the Sailorman decades ago, they should be able to find a few guys without rhino daggers today.

*That's were most poached rhino horns end, not in Chinese aphrodisiacs.

Marty: On the other hand, when AQ hides in the midst of civilian populations then we should do what? Just curious because it won't be the last time this happens and I want to know what to tell people who don't understand the finer details of this strategy.

Point out that when al-Qaeda kills American civilians, Americans at their best regard it like this or this and at their worst like this. Ask people who don't understand the "finer details" if they understood why Americans got sad, mad, and lethal when they saw the Twin Towers fall.

Thus so and no otherwise do human beings react, Marty. You don't have to understand any finer detail than that.

if kinetic operations continue to be launched in pursuit of al Qaeda in Afghanistan (with a mere 100 AQ in country!), what is to prevent future military engagement in other countries with known al Qaeda presence?

Mike, keep in mind, the argument was that multi-decade/quarter century, multi-trillion dollar, nation building projects in every such locale would bankrupt us.

Further, the "safe haven" in Afghanistan was not necessary given the range of suitable alternatives.

However, those posts were not meant to argue against any and all airstrikes anywhere in the world at any time where al-Qaeda is present. If that was the understanding, I apologize for the confusion.

They can be a useful tool to be used under strict criteria. Which I've asserted all along.

Absolutely Jes, except the difference between targeting noncombatants as a primary target and targeting combatants and recognizing the potential for noncombatants to get killed is a finer level of detail.

That difference matters to me, I am sure not to them.

Marty: Absolutely Jes, except the difference between targeting noncombatants as a primary target and targeting combatants and recognizing the potential for noncombatants to get killed is a finer level of detail.

Absolutely! It's just fine to kill civilians so long as you have your mind firmly fixed on the Higher Thought that you really want to kill a "combatant" you're sure is "hiding" in the middle of those civilians. It makes all the difference that when the US targets civilians, they're doing so with the finer level of detail that although they're euphemizing the targeting of civilians with "has the potential to get killed when we aim a missile at this restaurant" or "drop cluster bombs on this city street", the US always makes a big point of how the only ones they really want to kill were the combatants.

What this kind of lazy thinking adds up to is "It's okay for us to deliberately kill civilians, because we're always thinking about killing combatants." As if thinking made the civilian victims of US attacks any less dead... And you're right: the fact that you justify the US killing foreign civilians to yourself in this cosy way, won't matter one whit to the friends, families, and neighbors of the civilian dead. Why should it?

There was a very full discussion of this matter on Crooked Timber about a year ago, during Gaza. Try googling "There ain't no just war, there's just war". It seems that military commanders have an overriding duty to minimize civilian casualties in proportion to the concrete and definite military advantage anticipated. This according to the protocols to the Geneva Conventions, which date from 1977 ... and haven't been ratified by either the US or Israel.

Sigh.

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