The Obama Doctrine: We hit bad dudes
I asked my husband a week or so ago what thought about Khoresan and he said he'd never heard of them and wondered what kind of music they played. (True story.) He's well-informed about current events, reads the papers and everything. My point being that this is a very new phenomenon, one which we all first heard about just two weeks ago.
I've been writing about the oddness of this sudden revelation since I first heard about it:
So al Qaeda is actually the group that we must keep from killing us all in our beds, not ISIS? Just like we've been keeping them from killing us in our beds for 13 years?
I'm being facetious and it's probably inappropriate. But many of us have been pointing out for months the reason Al Qaeda split with ISIS was because it was being too brutal to fellow Muslims when al Qaeda's mission was to take on the Great Satan --- just as it has been for a decade and a half. In other words, little had changed for Americans in the threat department. Al Qaeda still wants to kill us but we've been pretty successful at keeping them from doing that. For some reason we needed a new boogeyman. I wonder why?
We've spent trillions on Homeland Security, outfitted every Barney Fife in the nation with robo-cop gear and allowed the government to spy on Americans at will. I don't know about you but I kind of expect that all of that should actually be worth something. If we're going to run around tearing our hair out every time somebody puts out a scary video maybe it's time to re-evaluate that strategy.
This is not to say that there isn't a threat for the people in the Middle East and there is a legitimate argument to be made that it requires intervention from outside the region lest the whole place blows up even further. (I'm not sure we won't make things worse --- we usually do -- but I understand the arguments for it.) What is galling is the fact that they continue to treat us like children and tell us spooky bedtime stories so they can scare us into supporting their commercial/geopolitical goals. Maybe those goals are worth pursuing but we'll never know because we're chasing evil Ninjas who are allegedly coming over the border to unleash mushroom clouds on American cities.
I'm serious. This is what Fox News reporter Todd Starnes said on Hannity last night:
And frankly, I'm almost as disgusted that the American people continue to be thrilled at the prospect of kicking ass over some trumped up threat --- and yes, I do believe that a whole lot of us are anxious to get back to the business of ass-kicking. It's much more exciting than thinking about the wealthy elites stealing more and more of your meager earnings. But it's a dangerous and nasty way to entertain ourselves out of a nasty malaise.
Al Qaeda has a strategy to create dramatic terrorist attacks on the West. We've known this for a long, long time and have been spending trillions to protect ourselves from it for well over a decade. That has not changed. ISIS is a different problem. The fact that the war hawks pimped this line about ISIS being worse than Al Qaeda should make everyone skeptical of what they are hearing about this whole thing --- and skeptical of the motivations behind it.
How many times do we have to be lied to?
An then there was this:
Several of Mr. Obama’s aides said Tuesday that the airstrikes against the Khorasan operatives were launched to thwart an “imminent” terrorist attack, possibly using concealed explosives to blow up airplanes. But other American officials said that the plot was far from mature, and that there was no indication that Khorasan had settled on a time or location for the attack — or even on the exact method of carrying out the plot.
Some experts said it was more likely that American spy agencies had developed specific intelligence about the location of Mr. Fadhli and others, and that Mr. Obama had ordered the strike to kill the Khorasan operatives before they could scatter.
One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.
Something is very,very off about all of this. In this Intercept piece, Glenn Greenwald documents how this new threat exploded into the ether and it's fascinating. This really struck me:
Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian — the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September — published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group. Headlined “U.S. Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it noted that “several U.S. officials told reporters this week that the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to happen.” But now:
"Bad dudes?" Really? Is that all it takes? The government reveals they've been tracking some "bad dudes" and decided to "hit them"? That wouldn't pass muster in a Screenwriting 101 class. In fact, it's right up there with the most puerile nonsense that ever came out of George W. Bush's mouth.
Senior U.S. officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the decision to attack the militants.
James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .
Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”
Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means…’imminent’” — a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.
And James Comey doesn't know what the word "imminent" means which is kind of depressing. It's not as though we didn't recently have an arduous debate over this definition when the Bush administration stretched it to its limits it justify the invasion of Iraq. (Here's a bucket of lukewarm water Michael O'Hanlon on the subject if you don't believe me.) Or, as the Obama administration put it in their memo justifying the extra-juducial assassination of people overseas:
Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, the condition that an operational leader present an "imminent" threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.
Yes, that's from an official legal document prepared by the Obama administration. We have always been at war with Oceania.
It appears that the Obama administration has adopted a new doctrine that says "Don't worry your pretty little heads about this, we don't need no stinking dossiers, if they're a bad dude we hit 'em". So that's clear enough. They "hit" whomever they want to hit simply because they could do something bad someday. They are, after all, bad dudes.
Greenwald thinks the US has been flogging the "imminent" Khoresan threat in order to get people riled up to support this bombing campaign. But I think it may be a bit more complicated.
Setting aside the propaganda purpose, which I agree is a big part of this, resting this Syrian operation on that "imminent" legal doctrine is a bit precarious. This is a bombing campaign not an assassination. And it wouldn't have been a problem if the government hadn't spent weeks touting the fact that ISIS was so uniquely evil that it was even expelled from al Qaeda, (who were, by contrast, not such "bad dudes" after all.) If ISIS had still been painted as an offshoot of al Qaeda they could have just cited the 2001 AUMF and said they were chasing those familiar al-Qaeda bad dudes. And citing the Iraq war AUMF is also a stretch for bombing Syria. So, it seems logical that they might have wanted to gin up the threat of Khoresan --- which they clearly tie to al Qaeda --- as an alternative to cover their legal options.
This doesn't explain why they felt the need to call the threat "imminent" but the inconsistent statements among administration officials suggests that this was more a case of one hand not knowing what the other hand was justifying. The fog of quasi-war and all that ...
None of us can know what really went on and we probably won't know for some time until enough people write their memoirs and tell us. But we have been lied to so many times about this terrorist threat that we have a right --- a responsibility --- to look at these situations with skepticism and demand something more than a glib dismissal like this:
We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.
Basically, that Pentagon spokesman said this to the American people:
You are in what we call the reality-based community,people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ...