Pundits or Pentagon Puppets?

Sunday's New York Times features 7,500-word opus on the Pentagon's efforts to shape public opinion by influencing what retired military officers thought and said publicly about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Macchiavellian initiative, to be sure, but a clumsy one from what I can tell.

The most serious of these allegations boil down to this: that the Pentagon established a quid pro quo whereby retired officers would get access to people and information in exchange for positive public commentary; and that some retired military officers stood to gain financially through their ties to private companies holding government contracts with the Defense Department.

On the first issue, I'm shocked -- shocked -- to see news analysts and commentators trading flattering comments for access. Such practices are hardly abnormal. But, there is something particularly unseemly about retired military officers playing this game in wartime. For better or worse, we hold these men and women to a higher moral standard. Their opinions are worth something on the air precisely because we expect these retired officers to know something about what's going on and to tell the truth about it. I know this is politics-as-usual, but I'm still disappointed.

Second, the Times article raises the specter of impropriety for the retired officers with ties to government contractors with business before the Pentagon. I don't know that this rises to the level of a procurement integrity issue; there seems to be little evidence on that point. But this certainly ought to raise major concerns for the media organizations that hired these guys. They owe the public a lot more due diligence when they pick pundits, and I hold them somewhat responsible here. I'm told these kinds of access-for-coverage deals (let alone the potential conflicts of interest) would be a firing offense in any newsroom -- and yet, these major broadcast news organizations ignored them. Why?

The article raises other issues too. The Smith-Mundt Act generally forbids the conduct of Psychological Operations on domestic audiences. I'm no expert on this law, and I understand from some commentators (including my friend Matt Armstrong) that it may actually be a dead letter. But I think the Act's original intent was sound -- to prevent propaganda efforts abroad from leeching into the domestic marketplace of ideas, where they might corrupt the public discourse in this country.

There is a legitimate place in warfare for this kind of activity. In describing the trinity necessary for a nation to make war (the army, the state and the people), Clausewitz understood the role of domestic public opinion. Political and military theorists alike have built on this understanding and elaborated on the role between public opinion and military success. Suffice it to say that this connection is especially important for a democracy. There's a fine line, however, between rallying the support of the people for a cause, and deceiving the people in order to maintain their support. I think Churchill got it right during WWII when he leveled with the British people while exhorting them forward. This initiative seems to get it wrong.

And so, we see the dangers of merging politics with policy. Today, unfortunately, good policies only advance when they mesh with good politics. And nothing goes anywhere anymore without an aggressive strategic communications campaign. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, this has led us to a perverse place. The administration no longer levels with the people, because to do so might sap support for the war. The Pentagon follows the White House's lead. Good policy matters, but only to the extent that it can be sold politically. The end result is a political echo chamber, where all sides shout at each other and no one really knows what's happening, because no one trusts the administration reporting coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Phillip Carter |  April 20, 2008; 4:51 PM ET  | Category:  Civil-Military Relations
Previous: The Long-Term Costs of War | Next: Kangaroo Courts

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



I am only shocked that after 7 years of war the mainstream media actually reports on the complicity of senior military staff, the Administration, Federal Contractors, and the media conspiring to shape public opinion. This only confirms our democracy has been seized by a fascist regime with the aid of corporate media. Maybe the "important" questions asked of Hillary and Obama can be asked of the Senior Military Advisor McCain in the future. I just keep reminding my friends that the whole world is watching America and her ability to shake off these corrupt corporate practices.

Posted by: theDrip | April 20, 2008 5:30 PM

"I know this is politics-as-usual, but I'm still disappointed."

"Disappointed"? That's it as far as the domestic political analysis goes. This is one rather superficial facite of this whole massive swindle.

What has actually happened is that the whole people/press relationship has fundamentally changed, imo. If you don't fathom it, well, too bad for you, but pity us all. Information itself has become a weapon in America's wars, not only against the enemy and neutrals but against the people at home as well. Seen rather simply, in the not so distant past, national politics controlled information bypassing the military, whereas today the military is actively involved in D5E as a political instrument of a corrupt political apparatus ruling a dysfunctional state. In other words a strategic trainwreck waiting for the exact moment . . .

Also, from a Clausewitzian perspective, the triumph of "objective" politics over "policy" . . .

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 20, 2008 5:31 PM

Do we see the Times,or any talking-head on
the tube,requesting a response from the Congress ?

Posted by: Richard LaBranche | April 20, 2008 7:08 PM

I always thought "disappointed" was a euphemism for "glad I don't have to clean up that mess."

Posted by: DJ (Seattle) | April 20, 2008 8:08 PM

Phil,

As usual, great post. EVERYONE should visit the NYT site and view the incriminating emails/memos for themselves.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/04/19/us/20080419_GENERALS_DOCS.html

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/04/20/washington/20080419_RUMSFELD.html#

Here we have political appointees telling retired GOs that "they would love to backhand those lowlifes criticizing the SECDEF."

These "lowlifes" included MG Eaton, MG Swannack, MG Battiste, LTG Newbold, GEN Zinni and others.

Take a good hard look at this.

For me, the most disturbing part of this story was the role played by MG Robert Scales, the former Commandant of the USAWC.

I long suspected that Scales was lending his voice/name for access and other "benefits." Now I see that I was right.

Over the past 3 months I attended 2 events at the Center for American Progress where Scales was an invited panelist (his copanelists included notables like AJ Bacevich, Larry Korb, Michele Flournoy and TX Hammes). On both occasions I directly challenged Scales' rosy assessment of the US Army personnel situation. On both occasions I was rudely interrupted and dismissed (one of these occasions came the day after Scales purportedly "wrote" a WSJ Op-ed saying the Army was doing okay from a personnel perspective - his main "evidence" was that we met our reup goals while ignoring the fact that we offered 12 month reups to stop-lossed soldiers alongside bonuses - this was the point I was trying to raise). Scales' behavior was so bad, that Michele Flournoy mentioned her shock to me on the elevator.

Fast forward to April. Now I know Scales is what I long suspected - a hack. The NY Times email documents show that he basically promised DoD PA to say whatever they wanted him to if they gave him another "VIP" trip to Iraq."

Now, what about Scales' March WSJ Op-ed? Was that ghostwritten by DoD PA just like the LTG McInerney/MG Vallely apparently was in early 2006? An enterprising journalist could have a field day with the Scales-DoD PA story. Would his quid-pro-quo request for access have anything to do with his role as founder of COLGEN.

You see, Scales was the ultimate Trojan Horse for DoD - invited to speak at CNAS and CAP events and a frequent analyst on NPR. All the while, he was at the "beck and call" of DoD Public Affairs. He didn't "appear" like a partisan hack the way LTG McInerney, MG Vallely and others did - this is what made him so effective.

MG Scales involvement is disappointing because he really did have a good reputation and could have potentially offer some real great analysis - as opposed to delivering ham-handed talking points.

MG Scales needs to be "blacklisted" by groups like CNAS and CAP. He's tipped his hand and shown his true colors as a shill unwilling to put principle (and the organization he gave 30+ years of his life to) over politics and personal, financial gain.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | April 20, 2008 9:51 PM

I am disgusted with these generals and colonels. After betraying their fellow soldiers, I hope they take their 30 pieces of silver and crawl off into a hole. It would be just if the souls of all those killed in Iraq would haunt them in their sleep.

Posted by: Repub | April 20, 2008 10:22 PM

IRR, I'm suprised a smart guy like you (and that is a compliment) was taken in by the likes of Scales. Pure hamburger there, buddy. But I forgive you because you are, after all, still a young and impressionable officer.

If you're interested in my thoughts about this, you can find them over at J.D.'s site. I don't intend to repeat them here.

I always like your posts, IRR. And now that the scales have been removed from your eyes (I know it's bad), I look forward to even more incisive comment.

To Phil: despite my initial disappointment at your move, I have to say I'm mightily impressed. You're doing a heckuva job, Phil.

Posted by: Publius | April 20, 2008 10:32 PM

I'ta not just the access for being a puppet, but that if you were ever found dissenting form the party line, your access was pulled, and if you were working with a defense contract on the side, that deal was in danger too.

The Pentagon created a system in which 'analysts' could be given a carrot (contracts and accesses to intel) or a stick (contract cut, no access). They then used these groups to infiltrate media outfits and present Pentagon scripted stories as actual independent opinion.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. If something negative happened in Iraq, and the pentagon wanted it underplayed or not addressed, they have way of making it not happen ]

Posted by: Josh Jasper | April 20, 2008 10:37 PM

Publius,

Thanks for the kind words. You are 100% correct re: MG Scales. I only wish the article further explored his dealings with OSD and his current business called Colgen.

Here's a link to Scales' corporate homepage:

http://www.colgen.net/

What a boondoggle. This "analyst for hire" is taking advantage of every loophole available to assist his "clients." I mean, really, a "Serice Disabled Veteran Owned Business?" Is this the depth a retired MAJOR GENERAL will stoop to? Advertising this (a program originally designed for combat wounded enlisted to establish a modicum of income security) on the homepage of his corporate website?

Attention reporters: MG Scales needs to be the follow up for this piece. We have the "smoking gun" emails. Now we need to see how far the nexus of Scales' quid-pro-quo access/propaganda and his role as President of Colgen takes us.

Shame on you MG Scales!

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | April 20, 2008 11:20 PM

It gets better ...

Here's a link to MG Scales' corporate website where he is using embedded video from his "commentary" on Fox News to sell his "services."

http://www.colgen.net/news/fox-news---iraq-update.html

The video was in response to a "recent trip to Iraq" - funded by OSD Public Affairs.

Scales' shady dealings ARE DIRECTLY ON POINT WITH THE NYT ARTICLES' THESIS - Access + Propaganda + Personal Enrichment

An investigation must be commenced post haste!


Posted by: IRR Soldier... | April 20, 2008 11:27 PM

There is not going to be any investigation IRR. Who would conduct it? The Dems? What would they find? Do you really think, at this late stage, the Dems are going to criticize the military on anything of substance? Come on......

Posted by: jonst | April 21, 2008 6:49 AM

Publius-

OK, Phil's doing a great job, but why can't we push this envelope a bit further? Haven't we had a whole series of indications that the military has been actively involved in information ops directed at the American public? We are not talking about "efforts abroad leeching into the domestic marketplace of ideas", but info ops establishing the parameters for those ideas.

I would remind you of the "secret clearance" provided to Judith Miller of the NYT to better faciliate her pro-war and Bush admin friendly reporting.

Sen. Dorgan's statement: http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2005_cr/dorgan102505.html

But there are countless other examples as well, such as the actual public war aims of OIF, the "drones of death" story which was promptly forgotten, the biowarfare trailers which obviously weren't, the way the "surge" was reported and quickly became the dominate narrative, with it's "success" continuing on to the present.

The Bush administration has been able to market this war with the active participation of the military using information as a weapon and with the corrupt collusion of the main stream media.

--

The trinity that Phil equates with Clausewitz, is a "trinity", but it is not the, or "remarkable trinity" as described in Bk 1, Ch 1, Section 28, first paragraph, which is rather the trinity of chance, passion and subordination to policy which according to Clausewitz's General Theory of War all wars have in common. It is however the "material trinity" (government, people and military) which Clausewitz mentions in the following paragraph which indeed separate all wars.

For Clausewitz, "Politik" has the meaning of both policy and politics, that is subjective political purpose of a war, and objective poltical/social condition of a political community at war. Currently we see that the incompatability with the policy to the military instrument (lack of a military aim appropriate to the politial purpose) has led to the domination of US politics over the conduct of the war itself, making this war more a matter of "interests" than policy.

(A bit of shameless self-promotion) I am in fact working on a paper which will explore the connection between the two and link the material "trinity" with Clausewitz's concept of cohesion and will be published on dni.net.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 21, 2008 8:20 AM

These military men have betrayed the nation for monetary gain. They have no conscience, they have no morals. Our young people have continued to die so that they can profit.

Posted by: normagene | April 21, 2008 8:47 AM

The fundamental reason for resorting to domestic psy ops is that there never was genuine public support for the invasion of Iraq. Misinformation was the only way to gin up support for an actual fighting war of choice. For all his evil, Saddam had been a crazy despot for decades, and was already defeated and contained. There was never any intention of being honest with the public about the war, because the public didn't support what the administration actually intended- a long term military presence, control of the oil and a compliant arab government.

Dealing dishonestly with the public is at the absolute heart of the Iraq war, and in the end even loyal retired generals were being lied to along with the rest of us.

Posted by: Bullsmith | April 21, 2008 9:08 AM

Wait...so you're telling me that these retired military people had...opinions??? That they have...views about the Secretary of Defense and...the War? Hold on...they might even...get something in return for appearing on TV??? You mean they weren't doing it for free like everyone else? Scandalous!!! Those immoral military men, taking advantage of an unsuspecting citizenry! How could they have the audacity to try and affect public opinion? Such a thing has never happened in the history of warfare!!! It is scandalous!!!

Posted by: DHobgood | April 21, 2008 12:13 PM

DHobgood,

Enough with the feigned sarcasm. I think Major General Scales is an oustanding "case in point" to illustrate what was wrong with this arrangement. I really think he's the real story here - we long ago knew Meigs, McInerney and Vallely for what they were, but Scales was a "trojan horse" given his impressive academic achievements, publication record and status as an NPR commentator.

He is the President of a newly formed company that promises "access" to DoD leadership for clients to sell products related to "land warfare." This "unparalelled access" was provided in exchange for his serving as a mouthpiece to disseminate talking points crafted by political appointees. The "nexus"/smoking gun for me is the documents obtained by the NYT showing MG Scales "whoring" himself for another VIP trip to Iraq (ostensibly to gain access for clients) and the Colgen corporate website which uses his Fox News commentary as "proof positive" of his access to decision makers.

As I said before, I'd love an investigation into the genesis of Scales' March 2008 Op-Ed in the WSJ dismissing growing concerns about the personnel "health" of the Army. Was this ghost written by OSD PA like the McInerney/Vallely WSJ Op-Ed in early 2006?

This is so much more than retirees having "opinions" ... it's about their use as adjuncts of a politicized public affairs office to leverage their past lustre to disseminate incredible talking in a credible manner.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | April 21, 2008 1:07 PM

Interesting reading but of absolute no surprise.

Having worked with several of the current retired military experts we see on the news (RIP Gen Downing) while on active duty I am often surprised at the new frame of thought that many have.

Anyway the weakest uniformed link in the whole decision process to go to Iraq was General Myers!

http://www.jcs.mil/cjs/history_files/bios/myers_bio.html

Absolute failure in the area of leadership when I compare Myers in 2003 with Powell in 1990. Obviously different circumstances but I never got the feeling that Myers displayed any thought independent of Rumsfeld.

Where as with General Powell and Sec Def Cheney you always knew who wore the uniform and who did not (or never did in Cheney's case).

Maybe General Powell will be Barack's Sec of Def???

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2008 1:12 PM

Interesting reading but of absolute no surprise.

Having worked with several of the current retired military experts we see on the news (RIP Gen Downing) while on active duty I am often surprised at the new frame of thought that many have.

Anyway the weakest uniformed link in the whole decision process to go to Iraq was General Myers!

http://www.jcs.mil/cjs/history_files/bios/myers_bio.html

Absolute failure in the area of leadership when I compare Myers in 2003 with Powell in 1990. Obviously different circumstances but I never got the feeling that Myers displayed any thought independent of Rumsfeld.

Where as with General Powell and Sec Def Cheney you always knew who wore the uniform and who did not (or never did in Cheney's case).

Maybe General Powell will be Barack's Sec of Def???

Posted by: "Take one for the Gipper" | April 21, 2008 1:12 PM

IRR,

Perhaps you are right that this Maj. Gen. Scales engaged in inappropriate behavior. I will wait until more facts come out, and I assume that if he broke laws he will be prosecuted. The point of my sarcasm is the breathless enthusiasm evinced by most commentators on this blog at the slightest hint of a negative story regarding the military. Should we be surprised that the Pentagon wanted to affect public opinion? Terrorism attacks the will of the populace to continue the fight. Keeping the American people engaged and supportive therefore becomes an absolute necessity. It seems to me that whatever strategy was chosen to combat terrorism, this truth would have held. Furthermore, it is already clear that much of the debate so far engendered by this story aims not so much to understand what happened, assess fault, and punish those responsible if punishment is called for; but it serves as a catalyst for more conspiracy theories, hatred of the Bush administration, and slandering of the character of public servants without proper knowledge. My sarcasm is not meant to imply that this issue is not important, but it should be approached reasonably and respectfully, not in a fit of misdirected anti-Bush rage as some have so far addressed it. I think a glance at some of the previous comments will make clear what I mean.

Posted by: DHobgood | April 21, 2008 3:27 PM

Seydlitz, my man, I think you may have missed the twist there in the "heckuva job" reference. Maybe I should have put "Brownie" in there. That notwithstanding, I'm not inclined to do the deep thinking that Clausewitz requires (deep thinker, I'm not, as you well know). What I see happening here is the Bush Administration practicing "realpolitik" domestically, with the American people. Henry the K would undoubtedly approve, as would his mentor, the evil Nixon. Pity they don't seem to know how to do it overseas.

DHobgood: Where does one start with you? Clearly bright and well-educated, probably with a military background to boot (maybe even serving). The way I see it is that it's not really within DoD's job description to influence domestic public opinion. I'd really rather see DoD focus on doing what it is they're supposed to do, which, as I recall, has something to do with national defense, and leave the opinion molding to others. Fact is, DoD doesn't do a particularly good job in the national defense arena and it's my sense that it should focus more on its side of the street rather than expend its energies on clumsy and ham-handed forays into the domestic PR arena.

And WRT the retired officers serving as lackeys for the DoD's PR campaign. Well, are you an officer? I am, a retired one, just like these guys, and I missed the part of my constitutional responsibilities to the nation where I'm expected to further political agendas of the government rather than just telling the truth as I see it. Sure, I render my opinions regarding what's going on, but I always clearly state them as such. Truth is good. It is the bedrock of the military. Without truth, the military is nothing.

Sorry, Hobgood, but the way I see it, these officers fail on two fronts. First, they purport to be journalists, whereas they're just hacks peddling propaganda. I've always known this--funny thing about how their peers always know what they're doing--so I've figured that's the business of the stupid news organizations that employ them. But when their propaganda activities reach the point where they're lying to the American people to feather their own nests, I say it's time to call them on it. Especially in view of the fact that maybe, just maybe, a few fewer people, ours and theirs, might not die if the truth is allowed to see the light of day.

Posted by: Publius | April 21, 2008 7:31 PM

"The point of my sarcasm is the breathless enthusiasm evinced by most commentators on this blog at the slightest hint of a negative story regarding the military. Should we be surprised that the Pentagon wanted to affect public opinion? Terrorism attacks the will of the populace to continue the fight. Keeping the American people engaged and supportive therefore becomes an absolute necessity. It seems to me that whatever strategy was chosen to combat terrorism, this truth would have held."

As to "breathless enthusiasm", you mean more breathless than your own? How could that be? As to "terrorism attacks", what exactly was the connection between 9/11 and Bush's war of choice in Iraq? "Keeping the American people engaged" means exactly what and to what and whose purpose? And the last line, essentially that the end always justifies the means, well where have we heard that before?

"anti-Bush rage"? Well, I'm a conservative and really am sickened by what this administration has done and what I see as the corruption behind it. If you want "moderation", then I suggest you approach the liberals . . . but then remember that even to them you're coming across as a radical.

Noticed also that you ignore the specifics and float ever soooo quickly into what I see as meaningless generalities. I have made specific charges here, so why don't you address them?

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 21, 2008 7:32 PM

Publius-

Well said as always. Sometimes, I'm a bit too involved in the theoretical possiblities and miss the more practical twists. . . shouldhavebeenobvious.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 21, 2008 7:38 PM

I have written my Senator, Jack Reed, requesting that he call these retired officers to account; if it were my call, I should eliminate their pensions, medical coverage, and PX privileges. After all, it is I and you other taxpayers who are supporting these shills.

This column fails to engage the real problem, massive propaganda practiced across the board by the Bush administration.

Posted by: hopeless | April 21, 2008 7:46 PM

There are a significant number of retired flag officers who find this strategy wholly repugnant. As a retired flag, I am very aware of the Pentagon's efforts to mold public opinion (as well as my opinion), and place those contacting me at arm's length.

Posted by: davemaz | April 21, 2008 8:35 PM

"The point of my sarcasm is the breathless enthusiasm evinced by most commentators on this blog at the slightest hint of a negative story regarding the military."

I think, Hobgood, that you have missed something behind many of the comments on this blog. Most of the regular commentors have a military background, a number are current active duty, some are career retired, others served two years with US in front of their SN's. There is a range of military experience, with enlisted and commissioned commentors (see davemaz above). The educational level is probably 16 to 20 years on average. Mostly Army, but some squid chasers and Marines and Flyboys.

A common thread among these commentors is a quiet pride in their military service, AND, a deep anger at the damage to and misuse of the military by the current administration.

It is not "breathless enthusiasm ... at the slightest hint of a negative story" that runs through these comments. We are genuinely ticked as a group at the damage done to the services by leaders who avoided service themselves and who seem to have no inkling of the damage being done.

Another primary thread in the comments (one that is often over my head) is a discussion of what may be done to cure some of these problems. Some of these discussions have gone on for days, almost always with the objective of finding solutions.

Listen to some of the old guys on this site (young ones too such as Cpt. Carter), jump in and fire away, and keep in mind that this is a site that really does support the troops.

Olin

Posted by: Walter Olin | April 21, 2008 10:05 PM

Phil says".....we hold these men and women to a higher moral standard."

Who's we Kemo Sabe? I always thought that these scumbags were clumsily propagandizing as their illogical sentences were being spewed by their yaps. I didn't, and don't need the NYT to explain to me "Flash!! man bites dog, limp penised flag ranks pull freight for DoD and Deciderer.

"The Smith-Mundt Act generally forbids the conduct of Psychological Operations on domestic audiences." And just what in this gem of an act counteracts the effects of a simianoid signing statement? Are you not a barrister? Are we not men? No we seem to be DEVOID of a black and white opinion on this subject and are instead gassed by a hazy cloud called "dissapointed."

"Clausewitz understood the role of domestic public opinion...."
Herr Clausewitz pre-dates josef Goebbels (who incidentally warned against propaganda purveyors sampling and falling in love with their own product)...for export only!

"I think Churchill got it right during WWII when he leveled with the British people while exhorting them forward."
I believe there was vast censorship amongst all of the entities of that era's coalition of the swilling. What was Winnie to do, deny that London was being bombed and that the BEF was driven into the sea?

"And so, we see the dangers of merging politics with policy. Today, unfortunately, good policies only advance when they mesh with good politics...."
Since Mr. Rogers and Cap'n Kangaroo are dead men, Have you ever thought about a career in Children's Infotainment?

".....because no one trusts the administration reporting coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan."
Yes this has been documented now for a few years now, yet curiously nothing has been done on a political basis for removing the sources of said disinformation. Perhaps we are all just like you.....tormented by mixed feelings on the issues and the obligation to bring a sense of equanimity to the proceedings.

Posted by: Eduardo El Galgo Rebelde | April 21, 2008 10:08 PM

seydlitz89:

The connection between the war in Iraq and the war on Terror is a strategic connection, it does not mean that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11 or was working with Al Qaeda. I think the administration did a terrible job of articulating this. It sprung from several judgments, such as: 1) the war in Afghanistan would not be enough to convince states that support terrorism and/or pursue WMD that it was in their interests to stop, and 2) a predominately defensive strategy was impossible given the open nature of our society, and 3) were another serious attack to occur it could pose a serious threat to our way of life, if for example a frightened public demanded more measures for security. I'm sure you probably disagree with some or all of this, but I'm just trying to answer your "charges." I do not believe, and did not mean to suggest that the ends justify the means. As for the value of keeping the public engaged, I think that is obvious. Many in the Muslim world, including the leadership of Al Qaeda, did not consider the US much of a threat because of a perceived unwillingness to take casualties and bear the burden of extended military engagements. But even beyond this, keeping popular opinion in favor of the war effort has always been a concern. Look back at what the military has done in past wars to see that this is true. Any administration at war will try to keep the public behind them. The question of what is allowed and what is beyond the pale is of course important and worthy of debate, but I don't see what is confusing about my statement that the administration wanted to keep the public engaged.

Walter:
I perhaps should have targeted my comments better. I understand that some who post on this blog are ex-military, and therefore probably have more strongly-held and well-informed views on an issue like this. I was by no means trying to criticize anyone for having strong views, my aim was to point out that some (such as the commentator directly above me) take any negative news story about the government and begin talking about Josef Goebbels.

Posted by: DHobgood | April 22, 2008 1:33 AM

DHobgood-

Appreciate your well presented response, I don't agree with it and consider it to be based on assumptions which were basic Bush Administration propaganda themes, but it is about the best rationale for this trainwreck that one is likely to present.

"1) the war in Afghanistan would not be enough to convince states that support terrorism and/or pursue WMD that it was in their interests to stop."

First off, Saddam's Iraq was a basket case, unable to even defend it's own airspace. When else in history has the air offensive preceded the ground offensive (Operation Southern Focus in mid 2002) but not been considered an act of war? Iraq couldn't even turn on its own degraded air defense system to follow hostile aircraft in its own airspace without committing a "provocation".

Second, after the defection of Hussein Kamel in 1995 (the highest ranking foreign WMD source we've ever had) and after the reports from a highly placed French spy we knew that there was no active Iraqi WMD program in 2003. That we might be able to find "something" as an after-the-fact excuse was incorrectly assumed. In short, Iraq was not a threat, it was an opportunity which the Administration thought they could move on given the cover of the "war on terror".

As to actual states "that support terrorism" or "WMD programs", that would include Pakistan and perhaps Saudi Arabia both of which have been handled with kid groves. The message sent is clear, if you wish to avoid problems with the US, develop Nukes, that is a very specific WMD.

Your position also assumes that a war can be waged against a technique, that is "terrorism" which is not a target or a enemy that can be defeated.

"2) a predominately defensive strategy was impossible given the open nature of our society"

By assuming that you can deal with this problem using the strategem of preemption you have to be very sure as to the nature of both the conflict and the opponent, that is you are dealing with this in a very conventional military, symmetric way, a very dubious assumption. In order to achieve a military victory one has to identify, target and overthrow the enemy's center of gravity. So what exactly is Al Qaida's center of gravity? From Bush's response in connection with Iraq, it had to be Saddam's regime, since military action to overthrow it would be seen as providing the military aim to the political purpose. This is an irrational method of sending a message since you are not sending it to the real or even most dangerous receiver, but rather the weakest, which sends a quite different message.

My point here is that strategy has to be based on the nature of the opponent and the war in question, not the military capabilities/strategic cultural assumptions of the aggressor.

Gotta go, more later. . .

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 22, 2008 7:09 AM

DHhobgood: "I will wait until more facts come out, and I assume that if he broke laws he will be prosecuted. "

Now we *know* you're a troll.

Posted by: Barry | April 22, 2008 8:27 AM

seydlitz89:

I appreciate your response, it is well-said and very reasonable. I differ on a few points:

1. You are right to say that Iraq was a basket-case. It did not pose a conventional threat to the US. To the extent that the administration claimed or implied that it did, this was deceitful. But 9/11 showed that a weak state can be more dangerous than a strong one. The combination of a weak state and WMD presented a nightmare scenario. To the extent that Iraq was seen to be allowed by the US and the international community to disregard UN Resolutions and pursue WMD (we thought) it would be an example to our enemies that we were still not willing to act decisively against the threat. I think it is important to keep in mind that hindsight is 20/20. We're talking about a man (Saddam) who after taking power immediately invaded his neighbor Iran, and after 8 years of devastation waited about 2 years before launching another invasion. The debate over Saddam's rationality quickly became a kind of sideshow. To me, the point is not whether he was "rational;" such a distinction is very difficult to make. I think the best way to assess the threat he posed was to look at his past behaviors. This was a man who tried to assassinate the former President of the United States in 1993. It does not seem unreasonable to assume that he might be willing to pass WMD to a terrorist in the hopes of damaging the US. This was the real threat, and it still is a threat (with other states of course). As for your points about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, they are both complex situations and I do not entirely understand what you are aiming at. Saudi Arabia does not have nuclear weapons, so our actions towards them don't entail that "The message sent is clear, if you wish to avoid problems with the US, develop Nukes, that is a very specific WMD."

2. "Your position also assumes that a war can be waged against a technique, that is "terrorism" which is not a target or a enemy that can be defeated."

Variations of this are often repeated as if it is a self-evident truth, but the issue warrants a little more thought. Of course in a literal sense, one can't wage war against a technique, but one can make the use of that technique unproductive and costly to the point that it ceases to be advantageous. This was the strategy adopted in the campaign against piracy in the 19th century. I think it is a noble strategy, although (as the past 7 years show) one that is difficult to carry out and will likely take a long time. But in the long term, it is hard to see any other options. The continued technological progress which is a blessing to most of us will make the weapons of mass violence easier and easier to obtain. Not to mention the unprecedented ability for potential terrorists to communicate worldwide using the internet. The Geneva Conventions are meant to protect civilians in wartime, a goal which is fundamentally antithetical to the methods of terrorism. I think what will eventually happen is that most of the "international community" will recognize the peril presented by terrorism and modern technology, and will take concerted action to raise the cost of using terrorist techniques to the point where they are self-defeating. I fear, however, that it will take more catastrophes before this consensus emerges. But as to your main point, I think the reasoning behind invading Iraq becomes clear when you approach it from the point of preventing future attacks through deterrence rather than simply defeating Al Qaeda. This strategy is of course debatable, and it has led to unforeseen problems. But I think a fruitful discussion would focus on weighing these problems with the problems of an alternative strategy, rather than implying that the administration was somehow sinister and fooled the public in order to exploit the "opportunity" to invade Iraq. I think that a look at what historical record is so far available will show that the decision-makers understood that the invasion of Iraq could have unforeseen consequences, and that they were well aware they were risking their reputations (not to mention reelection chances) on its success. I think we can all agree and disagree strongly without descending into conspiracy thinking and partisan character assassination.

3. Your statement that we "knew" Saddam was not developing WMD is simply false. You cite two sources which argued against him possessing. You do not cite the countervailing evidence which suggested he did. One must also consider the CIA's dismal record on the matter, which makes the doubts that some in the government had about the CIA's assessments a little more understandable. Saddam was attempting to fool his own populace and his neighbors into thinking he had WMD. That he fooled us as well is a significant failure on our part, but it is simply unfair to assume that those who turned out to be wrong (which included many outside the administration) were being dishonest. Should we assume that the CIA was being deceitful in its assessments of the USSR's strength in the 1980s? Or that they deceived the previous Bush administration in their assessments of Saddam's WMD programs in the early 90s? The bottom line is that the administration bears the responsibility for its decisions and for its mistakes. But it is scapegoating to pretend that they "deceived" us all into this war. It was a popular war, supported by both parties in Congress. We all had access to intelligence on Saddam, and we all could (and did) examine his behaviors and make up our own minds about whether he had WMD. The Democratic Party has succeeded in passing this off as "Bush's War." It was a war launched with strong support from a large majority of Americans. And whether one disagreed with it at the time or not, I think we should focus on what is best for the country now, rather than pretending that we were all fooled by a nefarious conspiracy.

Posted by: DHobgood | April 22, 2008 1:39 PM

DHobgood-

Few points in response:

First, I don't follow you on what 9/11 "showed" other then the inapplicability of using military force in dealing with these types of threats. Police and intelligence operations should take the lead, that is what I would take away. Not that we even have a clear picture of the full extent of what happened, and probably won't without a full and serious investigation.

Second, Saddam was not seen as a threat to US interests prior to August 1990. Before that we supported him rather lavishly and he became the threat he was due to a large extent to US policies.

Third, as to pre-Bush war intelligence, sure there was plenty of classified information that said that the Iraqis had WMD's, but the process was rigged since the decision to go to war had nothing to do with the intelligence, rather the intelligence was used to support a decision that had already been made. WMD was the issue that everyone could agree on, that is it could be sold as a threat. Looking at what we know now there was very good reason to believe that Saddam had no WMD program and whatever gas shells he still had around were probably more dangerous to the Iraqis than any of their neighbors. Once again Hussein Kamel was the highest ranking WMD source ever to come over to us, that's including during the Cold War. Also the French spy I mentioned was the Iraqi Foreign Minister, that is had the highest access. But perhaps the greatest asset we had was what is most often forgotten by the followers of Bush, that is the UN inspectors on the ground able to search Iraqi installations.

They had obviously done a credible job, contrary to what Bush told America. Once again what country has been subject to such restrictions and still posed any sort of threat?

Finally, and where we disagree at the most basic level. . . "I think we should focus on what is best for the country now, rather than pretending that we were all fooled by a nefarious conspiracy."

You're not a conservative, not even close. That is what always shows. For us, rather it comes down to responsibility, accountability and consequences . . . only then can we go forward. It was a "nefarious conspiracy" and should be so handled.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 22, 2008 5:55 PM

Publius:

Sorry I missed your earlier comments, otherwise I would have replied to them. I respect what you said, and it makes very good sense. My previous response was not meant to imply that this is not an issue, or that there was no wrongdoing. My only concern is that any wrongdoing immediately becomes fodder for people to push their own political agenda instead of holding those responsible accountable. I regret my previous sarcasm, as I was not very familiar with this blog and did not realize the serious discussion that many carry out here.

seydlitz:

I never claimed to be a conservative, and the thoughts I am presenting are not meant to be political. I'm not trying to defend or criticize any official or candidate. When I say that we need to think more about what is best now for the country, I do not mean that those who may have committed wrongdoing should not be punished. My point is that we have to deal first and foremost with the present reality in Iraq and our current strategic situation, as opposed to rehashing ad nausaeum the argument over whether we should have gone to war in the first place. To respond to your other points:

1)"First, I don't follow you on what 9/11 "showed" other then the inapplicability of using military force in dealing with these types of threats. Police and intelligence operations should take the lead, that is what I would take away. Not that we even have a clear picture of the full extent of what happened, and probably won't without a full and serious investigation."

I honestly don't understand what you mean here. Are you questioning who carried out the attacks on 9/11?

2)Your point about Saddam is one that is often heard, and to me is politically-focused. You're absolutely right, we did support Saddam for a time. This does not mean we are responsible for his actions, he is a human being with free will. Is your point to criticize America or to consider the realities of the situation? What does the fact that a previous administration offered some support to Saddam have to do with now? How does this affect the choices we now face? Does this mean that he wasn't a threat from 1991 on, that he wasn't regularly firing on our planes enforcing the northern and southern no-fly zones? I just don't quite see the relevance. International relations are not static, and the fact that we once supported another nation does not mean that we are henceforth hypocritical if we later on come to consider it a threat.

3)The problem with the implication that there was a nefarious conspiracy is that I just don't see what was to be gained. Obviously none of us were in the White House when these decisions were made, and all we can do is wait until all of the major actors have left the scene, written the obligatory memoirs, and as classified documents are released, and we can all continue to appraise the motivations and the decision itself. I agree that the administration did make a "case" for the war, and that they emphasized evidence which suggested Saddam did have WMD. I think they did this expecting that after the invasion this WMD would be found. I just don't see how a rational actor would do otherwise. You seem to suspect them of knowingly lying to the public, when if this was the case they assuredly would have known that this lie would soon be revealed to the world. Why would someone do this? What was the perceived gain that outweighed the looming loss of credibility and tarnished legacy?

Posted by: DHobgood | April 22, 2008 9:52 PM

DHopgood: No need for apologies. I find your arguments well reasoned, coherent and respectful. As I learn more about you from your posts, the only real argument I have with you is I sense a temporizing nature at a time when, IMO, temporizing has gone by the boards. It appears to me that you'd rather wait until all returns are in. That's you. Me, I've got sufficient data to form an opinion.

Now, WRT the officers in question, I'm just going to say that I'm one of the many officers out there--and officers are all the same, take the same oath, etc.--who get a bad taste in their mouths when they see other officers acting in a way that "just isn't done." This is a difficult concept to convey. I liken it to Potter Stewart's famous characterization of pornography: hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. What these officers did was shabby; civilians may not understand, but it was not what officers do.

And then there is "WMD." As one who, by virtue of professional background, knows something about it, I'll just say I abhor the term. I was present at the creation. The term WMD represented a victory for what we called the "bugs and gas" community in its struggle for visibility and funding in a world dominated by the "nuke" community. With the coining of the term "Weapons of Mass Destruction," and the inclusion of their specialities therein, the bugs and gas guys managed to promote themselves to co-equal status with the nuke guys. This was a finely executed flim-flam, propelled by lurid tales of WW1 trench warfare and bad novels such as the "Andromeda Strain."

The truth is nukes are the only "WMD." Nukes are serious. All you have to do is look at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We need to pay attention to nukes. But we knew Saddam had no nukes. We did suspect that he had bugs and gas. So what? What he might have had--and didn't, as it turned out--presented no threat to the U.S. homeland. Maybe tactical weapons, but again, so what? We had them, too. Lots of nations had them. Iraq/Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the U.S. and a lot of us think our leadership knew that.

Our president named three nations--Iraq, Iran and North Korea--in his "Axis of Evil." Of those, only North Korea actually had nukes. Only North Korea could be considered a "WMD" threat. So why didn't we conduct a preemptive invasion of North Korea? Maybe because there's no oil there.

Posted by: Publius | April 22, 2008 11:18 PM

Publius,

Very interesting point about WMD and the "gas and bugs" push for funding, I had not heard that before. I know what you mean about how what some of these officers did just feels sleazy.
About the other stuff, I think we do differ in just a few areas. I guess I try to take a historical view of things, and to me, as much of a mess as things have been the past few years, if (and I know this is a significant if) in 20 years Iraq is a stable democracy with a decent standard of living, then the decisions of the past few years will look significantly different. But I understand and respect your view, I think it is an extremely complex issue that reasonable people will disagree on for a long time to come.

Posted by: DHobgood | April 23, 2008 12:00 PM

DHobgood-

Nice response.

First referring to point 1, 9/11 was a historical watershed and to rectify what has happened since that event, what has been done in our name, but under very dubious pretenses involves going back to that defining event and investigating it in a very thourough way (I'm talking Bush and Cheney under oath). This includes dealing with and defining "Al Qaida" as it is, not as how it has been portrayed for political purposes to the American public, that is with the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence service connections explained, as well as any skeletons in our own closets . . . This could be very painful, but we need to do it as a country and society in order to come to terms with our own history. All I'm saying is that we need to know the truth, and people (both Americans and non-Americans) need to know that the US government is credible. Right now it is not.

As to point 2, how can Saddam not be handled "politically" since we fought a war to overthrow and take over his country under clearly false pretenses? That he was "evil" is demonstrable, but that would be also the case for various other "allies" we have supported in the past, or even still support. My point is that we need to come clean with the actual political purposes of this war, which had much to do with oil, Israel, and strategic projection of US power in the Middle East, and nothing to do with any concept of "morality". This whole war was about power, so why not say so? This goes back to your whole argument about messages which you no longer seemingly address. We sent very obvious messages, but none of the ones you assumed . . . As to hypocracy, I didn't use that word, but would Saddam have become a threat without US support? Good question.

Point 3, you haven't followed my argument. They did assume that they would find "something", that they wouldn't was obviously not anticipated. They also assumed that they could establish "a shining democracy in the Middle East, an example for other states to emulate", at least I think you would give them that point. Right?

So, in your opinion, was that a rational assumption? Or are their actions much better understood in terms of the actual war aims I mentioned above?

Separate their words from their actions and you come up with a completely different set of conclusions . . . which of course is very much connected to the topic of this thread.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 23, 2008 5:37 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company