"The question is begged immediately, as it was the other day at Brookings," said Wilkerson, “What do you do about the terrorists? What do you do about the people who struck us and killed three thousand Americans? What do you do about al Qaida?”
Well the first thing you have to admit to yourself is that George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of them did it wrong. They brought the war instrument out to deal with a group of terrorists that on any given day amount to no more than about 10 or 20 thousand people. Once that war instrument is taken out of its sheath, you have no choice, you have to use it, but then you do you must understand that you just justified those guys' existence in a way you never have before because in the old way you were treating them as criminals and in the new way you are treating them, no matter what you call them, as warriors; legitimate warriors. No matter how many times you say the opposite; certainly legitimate warriors in the eyes of 1.3 billion Muslims.
I suggest, and I understand that this is what is happening, we are now focusing on the people who did that deed on 9/11. It’s not any of the others that Douglas Feith in his book War and Decision suggested were suddenly legitimate targets of the United States of America. No greater statement of overextension of empire could ever have been uttered. There’s an old theory called conservation of enemies: you don’t want to have any more enemies at any one time than you can handle. You don’t need Hamas, and Hezbollah, and these other organizations as enemies. What we need is al Qaida. And so that’s a focus to this contest that should have been brought to bear a long time ago.
Let me tell you, this idea that Guantanamo cannot be closed is pure…I won’t say.
Gordon England, Rumsfeld’s deputy, had a plan to close Guantanamo in 2004 and wanted to do it. John Bellinger, the legal counsel to Condie Rice, wanted to do it. We wanted to do it since 2004 and started planning in 2005 to do it. So there is a way to close Guantanamo. The reasons for keeping it open are more political than anything else. But I do not blame the President for taking his time because, frankly, the 245 people who are left, most of them are so confused in the record that no one knows whether they are guilty or not. So, it is really crazy to go about dismissing the charges if you don’t know.
Dick Cheney, in an interview with Politico told that 61 people were let out of Guantanamo and returned to terror. You want to ask Dick, “That was under your watch! How did that happen? Tell me Dick, I don’t know that it happened but you just said that it happened. How with your draconian measures did you let 61 people walk away and return to terror?”
Well, first of all, he’s lying. Second, there were some, and it was the Bush administration’s fault. One of them is on the front page of the Washington Post two days running now. It was their fault, either because they produced the terrorist: he wasn’t one going in but was one coming out; and that’s very likely the case. Or it was the case that they didn’t keep the trail of evidence. Didn’t keep anything on these guys; no battlefield vetting; no combat status review tribunal on the battlefield. They just threw these guys in shackles, put hoods on them, orange suits, and shipped them out. Did the same thing to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and we know what happened there.
So, the President is moving along the right lines in my view, to consolidate this conflict, to aim it at the right place and to carry it out.
LBJ made a mistake when he started a war on poverty; you can't defeat poverty…it’s impossible. Presidents since Nixon have made mistakes declaring wars on drugs. You can’t defeat drugs…it’s impossible. Besides, the center of gravity of the drug war, as we say in the military, is not in Mexico; it’s not in the Andean region of South America; it’s right here in the United States of America where we suck down the drugs that caused 6000 people to die in Mexico last year. That money needs to be directed at those people sucking down those drugs in this country to try to get them to stop or at least abate a little bit. You don’t go after drugs through warfare. You go after drugs through rehabilitation, education and training and everybody in the world knows that.
I was in Vienna…the former Finance Minister of Afghanistan sitting here, Justice Ginsberg sitting here, Justice Brier sitting here…and the Finance Minister from Afghanistan said, in some anger, “The real problem is not our raising opium, the real problem is Europeans taking the heroin. What about logic do people not understand?" So it’s not a question about fighting something you can’t defeat, it’s a question of fighting something you can at least, in this case, bring to a level with which you can live.
And that is what we are talking about. You are never going to eliminate terrorism, but you can…and I have to give it to them, the Bush administration did a pretty good job, at least initially…you can bring al Qaida to the point where it has a real hard time attacking you; a real hard time. And we’ve done a pretty good job of that. We need to finish it. And, by the way, we need to get bin Laden. We need to get him in the place they are right now: probably in Afghanistan, or the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan, or maybe Baluchistan. That is where your President is based, that is where he is looking, that is where the strategy reviews are taking us, but even with that kind of action, and that kind of action is being back-dropped by Mitchell trying to work out something that will work in Israel, West Bank, Gaza. God, I can’t imagine how he is going to do it. The Israelis just elected something. It looks like it is gong to be Bebe. It looks like it is gong to be Bebe allied with the right wing rather than a unity government. I hope not. The unity government at least has probably got a chance. But that is a real tough problem to back-drop the rest of this crisis and it is at the heart of all of this because if you read the fatwahs, if you really look at our enemy, if you don’t dilute it by looking at all the terrorists in the world, look at the ones who actually attacked us, what they are really pissed about is US boots on Arab soil and increasingly an unbalanced American attitude with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian situation and overall the Israeli-Arab situation.
Not to say that if you stopped doing what you are doing tomorrow morning al Qaida would suddenly find a new enemy, but to say that they would certainly find it a lot more difficult to recruit. And that is what we have given them with Guantanamo, with Abu Ghraib, and so forth and our situation where, as Aaron David Miller said, we are Israel’s lawyer. We have given a situation where recruiting is pretty simple. Or, as one person from the BBC put it the other day, you are doing bin Laden’s work for him. Well we stopped doing bin Laden’s work for him when we elected President Obama. And I think the team they have put together for both the economic and financial crises and for the, let’s put it this way, keeping calm the international situation as much as possible, is a pretty darn good team.
It’s going to take them at least eight years so we probably need to re-elect them given anything bad not happening in the interim.
You’ve hit on something that bothers us military people: We’re going to be surrounded in Afghanistan. 95% of our logistics has to come overland. We’re going to have a NATO force and a US force land-locked in a country with no assured logistical support. That’s called the British, way back. That’s called 19,000 British soldiers started out and one made it to the Khyber Pass. That’s not good and frankly I can’t imagine we allowed it to happen.
So now we have Putin stepping in. He’s the one who convinced with a 20 billion dollars promise to Kyrgyzstan, convinced them to close Manas because 20 billion dollars is a lot more than we were paying to open and keep Manas running. At the same time we are negotiating with Iran at a very tactical level to maybe use Bandar Abbas and Chabahar to ship things up through Iran into Afghanistan. Are we talking about really good logistics lines? Are we talking about people we really don’t like having lots of pressure over us?
Now there’s a silver lining to that last one if we would also attach to it a true strategic dialogue with Iran. I don’t mean with Ahmadinejad (he’s a powerless wart) we need to talk to the head man and to the Guardian Council. And, we need to talk to them seriously about strategic issues; this might be an inroad to do that. Just as the inroad was there in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 when we were cooperating against the Taliban who was, after all, Iran’s number two enemy after Saddam Hussein. So that might have a silver lining to it, but come back to my original point: I don’t like having all these American soldiers, German, French and others surrounded with no logistics possible. And that is what we are looking at.
Seven strategic reviews going on. An eighth one started at the Brookings. Of those seven, two of them are complete because they were done by the previous administration and I am told none of them complete the job. This is how serious the previous government was and the new government is about the problem. Stubby pencil-work at the Pentagon shows that we could have gone into Afghanistan three times, bloodied al Qaida, bloodied the Taliban, for the same cost we’ve spent so far bloodying them only once. That sort of sobers you as a military person. You understand that we could have gone done it, come home, gone done it come home, for less money. Same is true of Iraq. If you believe that a stable, increasingly more tolerant, economically taking off Iraq and Afghanistan are important to Western Asia, then it might be worth staying a little bit longer to see if you can accomplishing a modicum of that objective and then getting out.
If you want my answer, I’d pull out tomorrow morning.
Reading the International Crisis Group’s Report on the War in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, and a couple of the others and I am looking at the footnote and the footnote says (and this is a really astute accomplishment by the Rice group at the State Department before they left office) it’s describing the rather intricate agreement we have between Ankara, the Turks, what’s called the KRG, but not by the Turks, the Kurdish Regional Government, Maliki in Baghdad, and us. And this agreement is sorta (sic) something like this (you won’t find it written down anywhere): If the Turks find the PKK, which is a terrorist group in Northern Iraq hard to tolerate, they can smack them and the KRG won’t object too much and Maliki won’t object too much, and we won’t object too much. In the meantime, all those entities – us, Maliki, and the KRG – will try to keep the PKK in check. It’s working pretty well.
Then I look at a footnote and it says a subordinate group of the PKK that is operating in Iran is not adhering to this unspoken protocol. In other words, they are attacking in Iran on a daily basis. Read further in the footnote and you will find that they were recently apprehended by the KRG with US arms. Read further in the footnote, and find out that though this happened, it was “cured” immediately by a few suspects in the army being arrested for selling on the black market US weapons. If you believe that I have some swampland… That’s the CIA. The CIA is in there using the military as a cover and arming these terrorists so that they can go into Iran. Well that’s the kind of blowback I’m talking about. Those terrorists are one day going to go into Turkey and cause a problem and we’re arming them. This is insane.
You would be absolutely amazed by the crimes being committed in your name by the Central Intelligence Agency.
If you want to read about them, read Legacy of Ashes. Legacy of ashes, of course, comes from Dwight Eisenhower who essentially described the CIA as such. It is another problem that President Obama is going to have to deal with and I think he’s put the right man over there to deal with it and I am anxious to see how long he survives if he really tries to deal with it. And how much the President backs him in order to deal with it.
Because you will have all kinds of people who will come up to you and tell you “Mr. President, sources and methods, I can’t tell you, but there’s a real threat. And I need 5 billion and I need authority.” The President is stuck. “Tell me about the threat…” “Come in the room and I’ll tell you a little bit.”
You think this is funny. This is the way your Central Intelligence Agency operates. It is a legacy of ashes, and if I had my way…if I were king for a day, and I had to decide whether my Democratic Republic was going to spend another dollar, waste another ounce of blood, through the CIA or not, or surrender it entirely…I wouldn’t have any doubt, I’d surrender it entirely. It’s a fiasco.
Now what I’d rather do is reshape, revise, reform, repopulate, recreate an intelligence service that can really give me strategic intelligence. I don’t care if they never conduct another covert operation. What I want is strategic intelligence. The best way to get strategic intelligence that’s meaningful, that’s actionable, is not to have satellites in the sky, or to conduct covert operations. It’s to take that money, put it in a briefcase, send an agent over and say “I want to know what is going on. I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars if you tell me. “And, then have enough people to do that so that you can compare notes and tell if what you are getting is viable. That’s real intelligence. We’ve lost the art, we can’t do it. We hand five billion dollar satellites in the sky and we conduct covert operations and we can’t conduct a covert operation that is successful. We simply cannot do it.
This is a continuation of earlier posts from a presentation by the former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell. More of Lawrence Wilkerson's Williamsburg Observations:
What Do You Do About The Terrorists? (This post)
Cross posted at VBDems.org - Blogging our way to Democratic wins in Virginia Beach!