Monday, June 23, 2008

Getting Warfare Right

Interesting long article in the NYT about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, otherwise known as KSM, the operational commander of 9/11, and a mass murderer who wanted to murder even more.

I remember wondering at the time where he'd disappeared to. So now we know: it was Poland, because the Poles were eager to help, but also because in Poland there wasn't much chance of anyone on the outside being an al-Qaeda supporter who might try to spring him.

The important part of the article, to my mind, is its descriptions of the deliberations in the CIA on procedure, and specifically on the use of torture. They were suddenly faced with a brand new but exceedingly dangerous new challenge; they didn't have the faintest idea how to deal with it and weren't set up to do so; failure to do the job meant lots of additional innocents would be murdered. So they improvised. As we know in retrospect, some of the improvisations were seriously wrong, and they seem to have been aware of this even at the time, but not aware enough, or not confident enough in their ability to succeed without the torture.

Seen from the perspective of a historian rather than an ideologue, that seems pretty much right to me. Warfare is a nasty business even when you're on the right side of it. The stakes are high, the dangers are acute, and no matter what you do, at least some things will inevitably go wrong. Life and death decisions must be made NOW, not later, because if they're made later people will die first. So it's a combination of trial and error, measuring success vs. failure on the fly, while always trying to adhere to an overarching moral code that directs some sides and is totally irrelevant to others.

The advocates of the moral code are right when they demand that their side get it right sooner, not later, and their watchdog role really is important, because the warriors must by definition focus on the goal of saving the lives of their people and don't always take full account of the moral implications. The role of the warriors, however, is at least as crucial as that of the watchdogs, since if they don't do their job innocents will die. A healthy democratic society manages to balance these things, at least most of the time, or with reasonable success. That's what makes them so different from their enemies, who are often bothered by being foiled, but lack moral qualms. The watchdogs in the democracies must always remember that, too, else their moral equivalence blind them to the utter necessity of waging the war.

Finally, unlike what the political ideologues like to shout all the time, the story being told here isn't about the Bush administration in any immediate way. It's conceivable that had the top been more aware of the moral issues things might have been done somewhat differently, but the discussions for or against torture described here weren't taking place at the White House, they were unfolding at a much lower level, where the war against the Islamsts was being waged.


Anonymous said...


History is the study of things past.

How Bush proceeded, didn't just involve the Poles! Other countries also stepped up to the plate.

And, the one thing about the stupid 5-4 Supreme-O decision that just came down the pike? It's gonna be one of the dumbest things to put the robed wonders in charge of military tactics.

Off topic (why not?) ... when the press and the donkeys went after the marines at Haditha; it looked like the press had the advantage.

Hindsight's wonderful, though. Most of the marines have been aquitted.

And, we're certainly no longer in Vietnam!

I'm also reminded that "right out of the box," Gandhi opted to work with the russians. A very poor choice. And, Truman, for his own reasons, used Korea as an excuse to fire General Douglas MacArthur.

History does come along and sets stuff right, again.

Including? Well, during the Civil War, Americans weren't used to studying battles. Instead? The British did. And, yes. Lessons were learned.

Today? Iraqis are actually debating what's going on with Maliki. And, the "treaty" that's to be signed. Or not signed.

While there are scenarios, ahead, that will change the landscapes even more.

Iran, you think will always be in te hands of the mullahs? What actually happened; and continues to happen, is that the persians are aware of the "short fall." Sure. They ran into their religious get-ups. And, the schools closed. Especially those teaching women.

And, now? It seems things have gotten more radical.

I'd be very suspicious of movements that "go more radical." Because? Well, at some point the tides turn. And, even hitler didn't hold onto his gains. You just never know, ahead, who is gonna become the next joke. The next change in a world that seems bereft of change.

I always bet on the unexpected. If I didn't, I'd be able to read tea-leaves, and tell you the future.

Anonymous said...


Discount the NY Times. They're losing enough business, now, each quarter; that you can spend some time guessing how much longer they'll be printing papers.

The long odds? The NY Times is around after Olmert leaves office.

No. I kid you not.

Because, today, I finally figured out that the Jerusalem Post is writing stuff for New York's Jewish elite; known as a contingent of the "limosine liberals."

How "big" are these liberals? Notice this. Hillary isn't a candidate for the democraps. She's gone now. The field is clear (enough) for Obama.

Are you excited yet?

One of the things I've been missing; because I had been looking to the Jerusalem Post for some clues into how Israelis are really feeling ... When it dawned on me. The Jerusalem Post does not represent your typical Israelis.

Okay. So what do I read?

The Jerusalem Post is onto this thing that if it kicks in the air often enough; they'll roll Olmert out of office.


It's a feather in Olmert's cap that Sarkozy has visited.

Heck, even if you look at the recent deployment with Greece; of a "long-range" air exercise; you think I believe this was done to "send a message to Iran?"

How about just I-run? A message to Assad? See?

Because Iran reacts to whatever happens, ahead. And, one of its "reactions" has something to do with all the money Iran spent, shoring up Assad's missile defense systems. Especially in Lebanon.

Sure. Goes unnoticed at the Jerusalem Post. Which is just my point.

Gee. It's so much easier, now.

What the Jerusalem Post prints about Israel is having an effect in Long Island! STOP THE DOPE SHIPMENTS! THIS IS NEWS! I kid you not.

Meanwhile, where you can barely get some news, comes from the fact that Ehud Barak seems to have lost voters. (On the left. Among Labor. Where he'd need these votes to win, anything.)

And, just because Silvan Shalom's Likud Bill seems to be flowing smoothly along; I don't believe a word.

Limosine Liberals. You can fool them all of the time. Bunch of suckers.

Which, again, does not represent your typical Israeli.

Ya know what? Maybe, it has something to do with the English language? Where the Limosine Liberals had stayed on top of their game for so long?

While Olmert learned more from Bill Clinton, than anyone else.

Bill Clinton taught that you can stay elected, even with your pants around your ankles. As long as the average voter gave you sympathy.


I knew I read blogs for a reason.

But I didn't know an Israeli newspaper is in print for American suckers. Go figa. Oh. And, thanks for listening.

By the way, when I was young? There were no Limosine Liberals, really. (Though a lot of middle-class Jewish families opted to have maids. Who were Black.)

And, back in those days? If you really wanted to know what was going on you had to listen to what was said in Yiddish. Well, ya can't stay informed by being old-fashioned.

Plus? Israel could do much, much worse than Olmert! There are a lot of 2nd raters, vying for the opportunities, now, to make household names for themselves ... in America. If that's not funny, what is?

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Actually, all that internal CIA hand-wringing is irrelevant, because most torture performed on behalf of the US takes place in countries like Morocco or the Philippines, where the prisoners are "rendered" for interrogation. A vast majority of the prisoners thus treated are not involved in ticking-bomb scenarios.

Even after discounting this, aren't we being a bit gullible to accept the CIA's word about their own procedures? Sometimes it's healthy to rein in our own eagerness to believe. See here for the story of a German of Turkish descent who was waterboarded and electroshocked by the Americans before being found totally, completely, absolutely and utterly innocent.

For many other examples, just type in "US tortured" in your Google search box.

Anonymous said...


Folks, "torture is a waste of time."

If you need information, however, there are tried and true methods ... "from good cop, bad cop" literature ... That explains how most humans aren't loners. And, even when jailed, they're looking for "relationships." Places where they might get a cigarette. Or a sense that some enemies are humans, too.

Let alone what the CIA and others know about drugs!

And, how time-sensitive information can be. Plus, you can only "pick so much." Or everybody would ace tests, just by studying the material beforehand.

Yet most people can't remember bupkis, enough, to pass a test. Let alone "store secrets" that would have value later on.

As a matter of fact, after reading Victor Ostrovski's BY WAY OF DECEPTION; I saw how the Palestinians set about "fooling" the MOSSAD. Since the "event in Lillihammer, that cost an innocent waiter his life," was set up BY the Palestinians! They just used the MOSSAD's techniques, against them.

For instance: Having Palestinians approach this waiter, after he was singled out. And, on the MOSSAD's watch list.

I mention this, because enemies don't sleep.

The good news is that in counter-terrorism, what Israel wants to know is what's going on inside the iranian facilities to develop nukes.

And, this was also the question about syria. When Syria went "boom." (And, before that ... when about 30 scientists had "accidents.") Without fingerprints.

So, in the end, you're looking at doing work WELL. The MOSSAD is considered excellent. And, also they only have 1,500 people. That's a small number!

The CIA on the other hand is bedeviled with problems. And, is much too large. And, where a lot of their problems are actually insignificant.

Take this one. It's not common for Americans to speak arabic. Let alone know all the nuances that would give you "location, location, location." (The way a southern drawl would spot one for ya, when you hear English. But aren't sure you can identify the city.)

Combatants are dangerous, because in the world of terrorism, they are your foot soldiers.

You can't legal-eagle these enemies to death. And, they are as multiple as cockroaches.

Oh, I do know one big problem on the horizon, though! In America, there are 200 accredited law schools. So, we're producing more lawyers (and fewer soldiers.)

It's the needs lawyers have to make mountains out of molehills ... that could lead, ahead, to:


B: Lawyers entangled in your life
to the point where nothing gets

Of course, lawyers aren't the most likable folk.

And, time will tell how we deal with the crap that the untrained lawyer (when it comes to killing our enemies), comes along and bolloxies up the works.

Oh, we're not alone.

Every country has enemies.

And, so far? America seems to be survivine well, even though our CIA is a disgrace.

The FBI on the other hand is trained to say "NO TERRORISM." Just like a broken record.

And, the "flying liberal limosine brigade" of journalists, aren't even funny enough to do a Keystone Cops sort'a movie.

Ah, what genius once resided in hollywood. All gone, now.