Monday, February 13, 2012

Quoth McRaven: "Give Me More"

The New York Times has a pretty stunning lead article today on how the admiral in charge of the elite and secret Special Ops wants carte blanche to bypass normal command channels and conduct his own War on Terror, in the interest of saving time and trouble. It seems as though he wants to be named Global Warlord and have a big say in dictating foreign policy from the battlefield of a shadow world war.

Reading between the lines of the article, it's obvious that both Admiral William H. McRaven and the Obama Administration are the likely sources. The usual leakers are not identified because they are "not authorized to speak". Or they are too coy to talk, and The Times is the willing stenographer. So we are left wondering whether McRaven is a loose cannon attempting a soft military coup against an inept executive branch, or whether this is a joint effort at a trial balloon to gauge public reaction before an end run around the State Department and Congress. The Times makes it clear that the White House is fully aware that McRaven is lobbying for more power.  President Obama, of course, is known to be a huge fan of McRaven, of the Special Ops, and the bin Laden-killing Navy SEALs -- who are now starring in their own commercial Hollywood movie. They're playing themselves in a documentary disguised as a thriller. It's a recruiting tool! It's entertainment for the masses! It's propaganda to feed our fear and make us safe!

From  today's article:
.... McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.
It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Administration, military and Congressional officials say that the Special Operations Command has embarked on a quiet lobbying campaign to push through the initiative. Pentagon and administration officials note that while the Special Operations Command is certain to see a growth in its budget and personnel when the new Defense Department spending plan is released Monday — in contrast to many other parts of the military that are being cut — no decisions have been made on whether to expand Admiral McRaven’s authorities.
The article contains just enough doublespeak to confuse us. On the one hand, McRaven is quoted as saying while he is not really interested in running the global war on terror, he doesn't want to go through normal Pentagon channels in deciding where troops are to be deployed, or how many are to be deployed -- because sometimes there just isn't enough time to be deliberate and cautious. So if he isn't running the shadow wars, who will be?  Is it because he doesn't want to bother Barry with a 3 a.m. phone call? Is it to give Barry plausible deniability?  This is pretty unbelievable stuff.

McRaven already runs the elite military within the military. It is unaccountable to the public, of course. And now it wants to be unaccountable even to the brass, or (disingenuously) tothe executive branch. Forget about Congress. The full extent of his activities is already been deep in the shadows. According to Nick Turso of Counterpunch, Special Ops represent an industrial scale killing machine:
In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans. Once “special” for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.
That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows. Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from (McRaven predecessor Admiral Eric) Olson: “I am convinced that the forces… are the most culturally attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive, agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers, problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer.”
On any given day, writes Turso, Special Ops are deployed in at least 70 countries (and likely about 120) throughout the world -- theoretically, by invitation only from the host country. Or whatever goon purports to be acting in behalf of the host country.  Read Turso's whole article. It's an eye-opener.

The latest gimmick in that "well-honed public relations campaign to project their superhuman image" is the new commercial Hollywood movie about the SEALs that I mentioned earlier. Act of Valor is scheduled to open in 3000 theaters nationwide next week, and it has already generated controversy. It was originally meant to be a  Pentagon  recruiting tool, but the scenes were so exciting and action-packed that the producers decided to go commercial and make a buck.

A retired army lieutenant general gave Admiral McRaven a dressing down last week for approving the  chest-thumping cinematic piece of propaganda, warning it might be used as a training tool for enemies. Others accused the admiral of using it as a tool to get more funding from Congress.

The movie reveals the faces of the SEALs -- but not to worry: 
At the New York premiere, held at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the Navy seemed to be trying to find the right balance between glitz and discretion. Most of the Seals arrived in limousines, dressed in their dress blues. There were canapes and champagne served at the reception afterward. Squads of paparazzi and press handlers swarmed through the crowd.
But when the Seals took the stage for a question-answer session after the screening, introduced by their ranks and first names only, a Navy public affairs officer waived off any questions from the audience and would not allow the Seals to talk to a reporter.
This phony coyness is also very much the defacto policy of the Obama Administration's secret and exquisitely executed assassination program. The president pretty much destroyed the top secret nature of his kill list at an internet "Hangout with the President" PR appearance last week, when he bragged about the precise precision of his drone strikes. But he is still fighting a Freedom of Information request by the ACLU and others about the precise nature of the program.

JSOC, which has even been implicated in torture in the so-called black site prisons, has been described as Obama's own private army: a unique hybrid of killing machine and spy agency. Marc Ambinder, in a Wired magazine interview, describes the Constitutional end-run logistics:

There are legal restrictions on what the CIA can do in terms of covert operations. There has to be a finding, the president has to notify at least the “Gang of Eight” [leaders of the intelligence oversight committees] in Congress. JSOC doesn’t have to do any of that. There is very little accountability for their actions. What’s weird is that many in congress who’d be very sensitive to CIA operations almost treat JSOC as an entity that doesn’t have to submit to oversight. It’s almost like this is the president’s private army, we’ll let the president do what he needs to do. As long as you don’t get in trouble, we’re not gonna ask too many questions.
The American public has not displayed too much curiosity about the foreign policy being conducted in our name, either. We apparently do not care. A recent poll revealed the vast majority of us are perfectly content to let Gitmo remain open forever, and have no problem with drone strikes against alleged militants in foreign countries. Even if they are American citizens.

And don't look for Obama to even consider firing Admiral McRaven for insubordination or overreach. This is no Truman/MacArthur scenario, at least not yet. These men belong to a mutual admiration society,  McRaven having lauded the president for being the "smartest guy in the room", and in turn being awarded a prized seat in the First Lady's box at the State of the Union address. I guess the only consolation we have is that the "Protester" beat out the Admiral as Time's Person of the Year. (Read McRaven's magazine profile here.)

Admiral McRaven (first from left) at State of the Union Address


Jay - Ottawa said...

Van Gogh never sold a painting during his lifetime. The rewards of his vision fell into the laps of those who came after him him. Today, at very least, we accord the mad Vincent our praise for his genius. The elite celebrate him on their walls.

Likewise with this exciting, effective but cheaper, commando-SEAL stuff. We say Donald Rumsfeld is gone. But is he? His vision lives on through stealth disciples now in power, Obama and McRaven. A light and mobile strike force replacing a lumbering army is what Rumsfeld was railing for back when he was trying to bend the Pentagon to his views. Every schoolboy knows light cavalry can run circles around heavily armored knights.

All hail the mad Donald who took us into Iraq for a bad stretch there for a while. But. Now we realize he was a man ahead of his time. Let’s hope, by way of compensation, he got a chance to read the top story in today’s Times.

Now, where did I put my copy of “Seven Days in May”?

Denis Neville said...

A noun, a verb, and Osama bin Laden.

Vice President Biden, “the best way to sum up the job the President has done if you need a real shorthand: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

So it is any surprise that Special Operations is Obama’s “tool of choice”?

McRaven is no loose cannon. McRaven was General Stanley McChyrstal’s deputy, when McChyrstal headed US Joint Special Operations Command, and when most of McChrystal’s war crimes were carried out under Cheney and Rumsfeld and concealed from Congress.

“What Barack Obama has done to these Bush/Cheney policies: he has shielded and entrenched them as standard U.S. policy for at least a generation, and (by leading his supporters to embrace these policies as their own) has done so with far more success than any GOP President ever could have dreamed of achieving.” – Glenn Greenwald, “Repulsive progressive hypocrisy,”, 2/8/12

Even scarier…

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, “HOW, BY NOT LEADING, OBAMA WILL LEAD US TO WAR WITH IRAN,” write:

“On Iran, Obama has come to a crossroads. He will soon be called on to refute accusations of weakness by an explosive demonstration of “strength.” If things get to that point, there is no doubt that he will do what the war party expects him to do. He will do it to win the election, but he will work hard to convince himself that he does it to save Israel, America, the cause of democracy in Asia, and the future of humanity. The path has been made all the more tempting by the discovery — a surprise perhaps to the president himself — that he is not averse to war. His favored mode of killing is the drone strike. There, the man who shoots the missile is far behind the scenes and the president’s command of the killing is behind the man behind the scenes. Stealth, secrecy, and aloofness from accountability all make drone attacks non-confrontational, in a way well-adapted to Obama’s temperament.”

“Obama likes Predator drone strikes and lethal action by the Navy Seals. To say it again, a main reason seems to be that these are acts he can order himself — in secret, based on secret evidence — which go forward without check or oversight. If the actions fail, they need not be publicized.”

“Obama is radically unsuited to crisis, in several ways we are now familiar with. He hates to be involved in negotiations; is easily bored, easily rankled, and hasn’t the patience and the power of suspending vanity that are necessary for the work.”

“Iran is headed to become for Obama in 2012 what the economy was in 2010: a controllable crisis which, through personal inaction and conventional acquiescence in failed policies, threatens to pass utterly beyond his control.”

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Seven Days in May (as Jay posted before I could!); Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

Actually, something even more sinister, because once a non-democratic exercise of power — be it a civilian-based one to “ensure order”, or an alternative cloaked in military “protection” from foreign threats, or, as is most likely these days, one in which civilians and military are co-conspirators — passes a certain threshold, the American people will be destined to live under tyranny for a very long time. With the U.S. having a nuclear arsenal and a powerful conventional military, no foreign nation, no matter how sympathetic, will risk its own existence simply to free us. And modern databases, communications monitoring, biometric identification, DNA and other biological/forensic techniques, and physical surveillance via the ubiquitous “security” cameras, and now, domestic drones — all will come together to prevent effective resistance from within. Together they will produce a modern American Reich that DOES have the potential to last a thousand years.

Incidentally, with regard to drones, did anyone notice that the bill passed by the U.S. Senate last week (and by the House the previous week) to migrate U.S. air traffic control from radar to GPS methods will also “open U.S. skies to unmanned drone flights within four years”. And despite the importance of that, neither the headline of that AP story nor of other ones originating with the NYT gave any hint of the authorization for domestic drones.

old thread stuff:

@Kat: I will soon summarize that Chomsky talk on education that you asked about on the previous thread, but I don’t have the time today.

@Denis Neville: thanks for that heads up on the Chomsky talk on CSPAN BookTV.

@Jay: thanks for the great Groucho Marx quote that “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.” So true with regard to contemporary American politics.

Anne Lavoie said...

Ego - That's why Obama loves these Special Ops missions. He can claim them as his own (which he can't do for war battles) and wear them as a notch on his belt, of course without risking his own life, coward that he is.

Cowardice is exactly why he needs these missions, not to mention the testosterone boost he undoubtedly experiences, and the campaign bragging rights. We need only look at the 'fight' he puts up for important issues to recognize cowardice when we see it. Even he knows, deep inside, that he is a weakling so he compensates with ordering kills. What a power trip that must be.

Barry's personality is tailor made for Special Ops. He gets to vicariously enjoy the battle, keeping his own hands clean, and gets all the credit.

For any of you out there who enjoy mysteries and spy novels as I do, I have a real life curiosity for you that came to mind after I read Karen's piece.

I found these comments in Paul Krugman's blog titled 'Re-Shoring' back on October 8th, 2011, recorded at 2:53. They had NOTHING to do with Krugman's post, and that is why they caught my eye and I wrote them down.

Bridget in Leogane, Haiti responded to Strauss in Mansonville, Q who just commented that he was 'In Quebec for a few days, returning to MA through NH.'.

Bridget's comment:

'I was thinking we were done since I didn't get an email, but then I looked. Been checking out old used motorcycles online for my next adventure, a primary run. I get back to the US on the 19th.'

Motorcycles are being used in assassinations more frequently, such as has occurred in Iran since those comments. Was Krugman's blog used as a 'drop box' in an international Special Ops assignment, or do I read too many mysteries and spy novels? It's a curious and interesting set of comments to read on a Krugman blog at any rate.

Karen Garcia said...

Bridget from "Bootiful Asheville, NC" is a frequent Krugman commenter, and I admit that I can't figure her out most of the time. I sometimes get the impression she is playing one huge practical joke, with her off-topic and off the wall snippets. Occasionally she will write a cogent remark, but they are few and far between. The motorcycle comment is certainly odd. She had a running saga about being stranded in Haiti for months, but seems she made it back stateside ok. I wish she would start her own blog and tell us more.

Anne Lavoie said...


Thanks for your info on Bridget - strange, eh? Also thanks for this post - it is a prime reason why I support Sardonicky and encourage others to do the same.

If Bush's terms were like a slow-motion train wreck, Obama's term seems like a high speed bullet train bearing down on us and it's going to crush us. Hellllppppp!

Every day there is something new and terrible that we hear about, and what we don't hear about must be so much worse. By the way, I think last week Congress also authorized putting 5000 drones in the skies over America in the next few years.

For Future Reference:

I have a suggestion if things get hairy someday and we feel we can't communicate freely. Much of what we write is captured by software, so there might come a time when we would be better off deliberately misspelling key words because 'The brn cn dciphr it no prblm, bt cmptrs cnt!'. Or spell key words backwards, such as '!ypuccO'.

At the rate things are going, 'someday' might come sooner than we think. It's never too early to start planning.

And thanks again, Karen, for sharing important information with us and allowing us a forum to discuss our concerns and fears.

J said...

Well ain't that just ginger peachy! We'll have our own little Waffen SS or Spetnaz. Charming. Those hispanic half breeds down in C. and S.A. have really been getting out of line lately.

Denis Neville said...

Assassination surveillance drones, dead Iranian scientists, terrorism, and US hypocrisy…

“Israel teams with terror group to kill Iran's nuclear scientists,” U.S. officials tell NBC News.

“U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign but has no direct involvement.”

“A group of former Cabinet-level officials have joined together to support the MEK’s removal from the official U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list…”

“The Iranians see what’s happening as terrorism and hypocrisy by the United States.”

“What WAS Our Sentinel Drone Surveilling in Iran?” asks empywheel.

Paul Pillar, “Deeper into Terrorism,” writes:

“One of the oft-repeated rationales for the conventional wisdom that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be unacceptable is that it would somehow turn Iran into a regional marauder that would recklessly throw its weight around the Middle East in damaging ways. Well, there is an example of a Middle Eastern state that behaves in such a way, but it isn't Iran. This state invades neighboring countries, ruthlessly inflicting destruction on civilian populations, and seizes and colonizes territory through military force. It also uses terrorist group proxies as well as its own agents to conduct assassinations in other countries in the region.”

“This state, unlike Iran, has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or admitted an international inspector to any of its nuclear facilities…It also is so intent on maintaining its regional nuclear weapons monopoly that it is using terrorism to strike at the nuclear program of a country that doesn't even have one nuclear weapon and probably hasn't made a decision to make one… The behavior of the state in question is made possible not by nuclear weapons but instead by its conventional military superiority over its neighbors and by the cover provided by a subservient, protective great power whose policies it is able to manipulate.”

Should this state be classified as a state sponsor of terrorism?

Placing it alongside Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism won’t be on President Obama's list of election-year priorities. Of that we can be assured.

Jay - Ottawa said...

raeD ennA,

Xs-cillint ideeeahs.


Zee said...

@Anne Lavoie--

I Googled the relevant Krugman blog and, sure enough, there were the two comments that you mentioned by Strauss and Bridget, though how you make any connection between the two is a mystery to me.

(And it's an even greater mystery to me how you remembered this event from 10/08/2011! I salute your memory!)

Well, if you want further fodder for your conspiracy theory, I ride motorcycles and October 8 is the day before my birthday.

Surely you can find some additional connections there...

Fred Drumlevitch said...

One possible countermeasure against surveillance: Steganography:

Note also that the U.S. government and printer companies are already doing a form of that with color laser printers, for an entirely different purpose:

Their use is ostensibly to prevent counterfeiting — but it would also allow them to track a samizdat-type publication back to the machine on which it had been printed.

Anne Lavoie said...


I h a v e a n o t h e r o n e.

When my Congressman's website wouldn't let me send a message with the word 'drop' in it, that's how I got it through their system, by s p a c i n g it out - D R O P.

I was requesting that he drop his support of HR 1505 and my message kept getting rejecting for using that apparently 'dangerous' word. Try it with any Congressional website and see what I mean.

If I could find out what all their forbidden words are, I would be tempted to pull a George Carlin on them by flooding the system with those very words.

! m e h t k c u F

Valerie said...

Wow! We are so much closer to a dictatorship than I thought! It seems like these violations of our civil liberties are happening more and more frequently. The chess pieces are eerily being put into play and will work in tandem to set up our side for a check mate.

Obama is out of control and I totally agree with Bruce Dixon on Black Agenda Report, only a black Democrat could get away with these right wing moves -

From where I am sitting these are serious steps toward a militarised dictatorship. The Lesser of Two Evils? I don't think so!

Our only hope is Occupy.

Kat said...

Barry does like his elite forces, doesn't he? I guess this is campaign Barry-- he'll be ping ponging between faux populist sloganeering and keep us "safe" at any cost imperial presidency fear mongering.
Here is more on the build up of bases from which to launch these missions:

Kat said...

Bruce Fein and Ralph Nader on America's Lawless Empire:

Excellent-- especially the point about defining what constitutes a security threat in the US today.

Denis Neville said...

Re: Bridget from "Bootiful Asheville, NC"

She attracted my attention some time ago as well. She does appear to post most often on Krugman’s blog, although I have on occasion seen her elsewhere.

One theory that I have is that Bridget is a surrealist humorist.

“Surreal humor is a form of humor based on violations of causal reasoning with events and behaviors that are logically incongruent. Constructions of surreal humor involve bizarre juxtapositions, non-sequiturs, irrational situations, and/or expressions of nonsense. The humor arises from a subversion of audience's expectations, so that amusement is founded on unpredictability, separate from a logical analysis of the situation.” – Wikipedia/Surreal humor

Another, closely tied, is that she is an absurdist.

“The absurd refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean "logically impossible," but rather "humanly impossible." The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the absurd, but rather, the absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. Students of the absurd usually note a subtle difference between something like "nonsense" and something which is "absurd", in that absurdity is often hidden within either ultra-seriousness or widely-trusted thought.” – Wikipedia/Absurdism

“There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.” - Napoleon I, speaking about troubles in the invasions of Russia

“Why shouldn't things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together.” - George Santayana

Judging from our comments, I would say that Bridget has succeeded.

Denis Neville said...

We are moving closer to a war with Iran…

“U.S. media takes the lead on Iran,” Glenn Greenwald.

“I used to find somewhat baffling this bizarre aspect of American public opinion: time and again, Americans support whatever new war of aggression their government proposes, then come to regret that support and decide the war was a “mistake,” only to demonstrate that they learned no lessons from their “mistake” by eagerly supporting whatever the next proposed war is… Most Americans continue with this strange mindset: we realize we were wrong to support those past wars you gave us, but we stand ready and eager to support this next one!”

But, “it’s not hard to see why this happens.”

Never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.

James F Traynor said...

Chris Hedge's latest article on Occupy and nonviolence is in Truthdig excellent. Ever since the Democratic Party's failed attempt to co-opt Occupy there had been a not so subtle subtle assault on Occupy by the administration.

Neil said...

This is one more disturbing turn in our war policy. Thanks KG.

Does anyone know the latest with the Nobel Peace Prize formal inquiry over accusations they screwed up awarding the prize to Obama in 2009? They can go back three years and recall the prize if necessary.

FYI, Wikipedia reports that Gandhi was nominated but never awarded the prize.