State of the Union

Who Dies, Who Pays

A recent news item made me think about the changing face of the CIA and long for the days when there was at least some minimal clarity on who or what constituted an enemy and what the proper role and deportment of an intelligence officer operating overseas might be. The loss of more than forty human intelligence sources in Lebanon and Iran has been attributed to egregious security errors on the part of the American officers involved, to include repeated meetings with local agents in the Beirut Pizza Hut.  They called it operation “PIZZA.”

“Espionage is a risky business.  Many risks lead to wins, but some result in occasional setbacks,” said one US official to ABC news in discussing the loss of the two major clandestine networks.  A second official added that “Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk.”

Pardon me, but whose risks are we talking about here?  This is a lot like the neocons cooptees (Madeleine Albright and Condi Rice) talking about how killing Iraqi and Lebanese kids would be worth it because there would be the dawn of a new age in the Middle East.  Some pear shaped bureaucrat in Washington who parses risks on an actuarial scale and refers to spying as a business hardly represents a poor bastard in Beirut who is putting his life on the line and hoping that the American guy munching on the pizza across the table knows what he is doing and will insure his safety.  It took a former intelligence officer, also interviewed for the article, to get a bit closer to the truth, “We’ve lost the tradition of espionage.  Officers take short cuts and no one is held accountable.”

That is a convenient explanation, but it doesn’t end there.  An intelligence operation should be initiated if it is the only way to get information that is vital to national security.  A foreign agent is not a piece of dirt and working for CIA doesn’t necessarily mean that you check your ethics at the door.  When a Case Officer recruits a foreigner to undertake a dangerous mission for the United States government it is in the nature of a sacred commitment to fulfill all obligations and do everything possible to keep that person safe.  In fact CIA training, recognizing the close and protective relationship between Case Officer and agent, traditionally warned against “falling in love with your agent.”  Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Unfortunately today the same cavalier “us and them” attitude that has produced a mindset where torture is okay and drone strikes that blow up wedding parties and school outings are regarded as an exemplary “tool” to use against terrorists apparently has also led some intelligence officers to see the local people who help them as disposable items. So upwards of forty Lebanese and Iranians who thought they were helping the US are now dead, which I guess by the Washington accounting of such things is no big deal. I wonder if anyone will be punished for the unnecessary
deaths of the Lebanese and Iranians? I think I already know the answer to that
one.

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Daily Round-up: Losing Iraq, Cherishing the South, Clash on War Powers

As the war drums for an Iranian invasion grow louder, Eric Margolis challenges the many follies surrounding the so-called victory in Iraq. Conventional foreign policy rhetoric would claim the U.S. was victorious in Iraq — but what is the outcome of the conflict almost a decade after it began?

$1 trillion spent. Burning hatred for America across the Muslim world. Animosity in Europe, which warned against Bush’s modern crusade. Huge future expenses to sustain an obedient Iraqi regime while anti-U.S. nationalist sentiment there is boiling. A big boost for Iran’s regional influence. The deaths and wounding of thousands of American servicemen.

Rod Dreher explores Southern identity, and explains why he loves the land that one encounters south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The Hill reports that Senator Rand Paul is seeking to assert congressional authority on war powers, challenging the Obama Administration’s unauthorized foreign internventions. Paul has introduced an amendment to a Defense Department authorization bill that would clarify that only congress has the authority to declare and terminate war — not the president. As Paul said in a statement,

On several occasions this year, Congress has been ignored or remained silent while the president committed our forces to combat … It is my intention to urge Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority over the decision to go to war, or to end a war — it is one of the body’s most important powers.

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Eat what you catch? Not in America

After making what is likely the catch of a lifetime, an 881 lb. bluefin tuna, Carlos Rafael learned that he would not be reaping the rewards of his work. Making shore with his prized catch, the fisherman was greeted by agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement. The fish was seized on technical grounds. (It was caught in a net, not with a rod and reel.)

No charges have yet been filed in connection with the catch, but a written warning is anticipated, according to Chris­tine Patrick, a public affairs specialist with NOAA who said the fish has been forfeited and will be sold on consignment overseas. Proceeds from the sale of the fish will be held in an account pending final reso­lution of the case, NOAA said. No information on the value of the fish was available Friday.

What should be seen as an accomplishment is vilified by red tape and arbitrary code.

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Nonsense from The New York Times

There are apparently some Americans who are so interested in bringing about a war with Iran that they are willing to do or say anything to achieve that aim.  A lead op-ed appeared in today’s New York Times written by Reuel Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz of the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  The article “Don’t Give Up on Sanctions” begins by asserting the usual unprovable, i.e. that Iran has a “progressing nuclear program.”  In fact, of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that that is the case.  The op-ed then goes on to shoot its own assertion in the foot, asking if one wonders “whether 30 years of sanctions have helped to thwart – or even stall – the country’s nuclear designs.”  Well, given that speculation, one might well wonder how long a time period might be required to suggest that (a) Iran might not actually want a nuke and might not be building one and (b) that international pressure might have already worked to derail the program since at a best guess it has been vegetating for thirty years.

The tale might have ended there with Gerecht and Dubowitz drifting off into the usual neocon fantasy that Iran will have a weapon in six months or a year unless something is done etc. etc., but there was more to come. It seems that the United States can put more pressure on Iran and simultaneously lower oil prices for the American consumer according to a clever Foundation for the Defense of Democracies plan. The US should stop all its friends and allies from buying Iranian oil.  That would mean that the Chinese would buy all the oil and, because they would not be competing with other purchasers, they would be able to pressure the Iranians to reduce their prices.  At one stroke, oil prices would fall worldwide and the Iranians would have that much less oil revenue to make mischief.

It does not take much of a genius to figure out that oil is a fungible commodity that does not necessarily rely on one buyer or group of buyers.  Many countries that are not US allies apart from China also consume oil and would buy what is available on the market. So why write such nonsense?  I rather suspect that it is something like a psyops ploy, to convince the US public that a good result in the pocketbook could actually come out of pressuring Iran.  Of course, if one actually bombs Iran or damages its economy so severely that it is provoked to a point at which it decides to retaliate, then all bets are off.

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Weekly Round-up: Conservatism’s Clash with Evangelicals and Interventionism, Occupy Wall Street Losing Fans

The world is rapidly changing, says Andrew Bacevich, and Americans need to change with it. The “Freedom Agenda” of neoconservatives is unraveling as America is gripped by recession, the Middle East faces an uncertain future, and Europe looks for a lifeline from financial chaos. All the while, Bacevich says, American politicians continue to fiddle obliviously, chanting mantras of American greatness that will offer no comfort if the populace is lulled into believing America remains the postwar superpower of 1945:

American politicians stubbornly beg to differ, of course, content to recite vapid but reassuring clichés about American global leadership, American exceptionalism, and that never-ending American Century. Everything, they would have us believe, will remain just as it has been — providing the electorate installs the right person in the Oval Office.

Doug Wead and Charity Campbell review Darryl Hart’s new bookFrom Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. While there has been a convenient alliance between evangelicals and conservatives, the evangelical movement is not always fully grounded in conservative philosophy. Hart nonetheless concludes that evangelicals should embrace traditional conservatism:

What might this look like? Evangelicals should first “reconsider the source of American greatness,” which rests not in what is said to be America’s Christian origins but in her heritage of limited government, religious freedom, and the prioritization of “culture and character formation” to political solutions.

Tom Engelhardt recalls foreign films he watched during his youth in the 1950s and explains how they helped shape his view of the world and America’s wars.

Occupy Wall Street crowds seem to be losing favor with the general populace, including those on the left who may have once been sympathetic to the movement. Rod Dreher says they’ve become a parody of themselves.

Daniel J. Flynn reviews Julia Scheeres’s A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown. He finds the book about Peoples Temple and the Jonestown Massacre to be solid on a factual basis, but it takes the wrong lessons from the incident. The cult was born of the idea that socialism was an enlightening experience that could replace religion.

Such delusions cost more than 900 people their lives in South America. It merely costs the author a more complete understanding of her subjects. She marvels at the paradox of noble ideas unleashing ignoble deeds. But in the aftermath of the Lenin/Stalin/Hitler/Mao-century, socialism manifesting as horror show isn’t ironic. It’s clichéd.

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P.G. Wodehouse, Anti-Militarist

Evelyn Waugh is on to something in his discussion of P.G. Wodehouse (as part of a review of George Orwell’s 1946 Critical Essays):

It is, of course, insane to speak of Mr. Wodehouse as a “fascist,” and Mr. Orwell finely exposes the motives and methods of the Bracken-sponsored abuse of this simple artist, but I do find in his work a notable strain of pacifism. It was in the dark spring of 1918 that Jeeves first “shimmered in with the Bohea.” Of all Mr. Wodehouse’s characters Archie Moffam alone saw war service. Of the traditional aspects of English life the profession of arms alone is unmentioned; parsons, schoolmasters, doctors, merchants, squires abound, particularly parsons. Serving soldiers alone are absent, and this is the more remarkable since, so far as the members of the Drones Club correspond to anything in London life, they are officers of the Brigade of Guards. Moreover, it is not enough to say that Mr. Wodehouse has not outgrown the loyalties of his old school. When Mr. Orwell and I were at school, patriotism, the duties of an imperial caste, etc., were already slightly discredited; this was not so in Mr. Wodehouse’s schooldays, and I suggest that Mr. Wodehouse did definitely reject this part of his upbringing.

The full piece can be found in The Essays, Articles, and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh.

For new light on Waugh himself, see R.J. Stove’s essay at TAC today, “A Grief Unobserved,” which considers how a casually cruel remark about a dead daughter may have set off the descent to EW’s own end.

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TSA Sneaks Past Requests for Safety Study

When the government needs to be held accountable for its activities, can we simply take it at its word, or let one bureaucracy vouch for the other? That’s what’s happening amid questions about the health risks of using backscatter X-ray machines at airports. ProPublica reports:

Earlier this month, a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation found that the TSA had glossed over research that the X-ray scanners could lead to a small number of cancer cases. The scanners emit low levels of ionizing radiation, which has been shown to damage DNA. In addition, several safety reviewers who initially advised the government on the scanners said they had concerns about the machines being used, as they are today, on millions of airline passengers.

At a Senate hearing after the story ran, TSA Administrator John Pistole agreed to a request by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to conduct a new independent study of the health effects of the X-ray scanners, also known as backscatters.

But at a Senate hearing of a different committee last week, Pistole said he had since received a draft report on the machines by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, or IG, that might render the independent study unnecessary.

“My strong belief is those types of machines are still completely safe,” Pistole said. “If the determination is that this IG study is not sufficient, then I will look at still yet another additional study.”

Even as the TSA evades independent scrutiny in the U.S., the European Union adopted new airport screening policies that ban the use of Backscatter machines. What for? Safety and health concerns!

In order not to risk jeopardising citizens’ health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at EU airports.

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Daily Round-up: Kool-Aid Socialists, OWS Mocks Itself, Foreign Films & The Antiwar Mindset

Daniel J. Flynn reviews A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown. He says Julia Scheeres’s work, which examines the events leading to the mass death in the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, is fairly solid on a factual basis, but takes the wrong lessons from the incident. The cult was born of the idea that socialism was an enlightening experience that could replace the “opiate” of religion.

Such delusions cost more than 900 people their lives in South America. It merely costs the author a more complete understanding of her subjects. She marvels at the paradox of noble ideas unleashing ignoble deeds. But in the aftermath of the Lenin/Stalin/Hitler/Mao-century, socialism manifesting as horror show isn’t ironic. It’s clichéd.

Occupy Wall Street crowds seem to be losing favor with the general populace, including those on the left who may have once been sympathetic to the movement. Now Jon Stewart is poking a little fun at their hypocrisy. Rod Dreher says they’ve become a parody of themselves.

Daniel Larison explains why the U.S. seems to “stick up for the little guy”—backing “tiny, vulnerable nations” over their powerful neighbors. It’s about power projection, not protecting the weak.

Tom Engelhardt recalls his cinema-inspired youth, and explains how his view of the world and of war was shaped by the foreign films of those celluloid-laden days.

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Occupy Protests May Escalate Tomorrow

The police have been shutting down Occupy Movement encampments all over the country in the last several days, with the NYPD raiding the central encampment in New York City’s Zuccotti Park in the early-morning hours of Tuesday. Now the protesters who were evicted are back, though tent-less – and according to one OWS website, they’re vowing massive action tomorrow.

The demonstration calls for action to kick off at 7 a.m.:

Enough of this economy that exploits and divides us. It’s time we put an end to Wall Street’s reign of terror and begin building an economy that works for all. We will gather in Liberty Square at 7:00 a.m., before the ring of the Trading Floor Bell, to prepare to confront Wall Street with the stories of people on the frontlines of economic injustice. There, before the Stock Exchange, we will exchange stories rather than stocks.

By 3 p.m. there are plans to “Occupy the Subways” and take the protests into the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

Protesters then plan to gather at Foley Square at 5 p.m., before a march to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The website and promotional posters call for peaceful demonstration, although it might be difficult for the day to play out peacefully, if it ends up at all like the escalated demonstrations that took place in DC during an Americans for Prosperity conference. Read More…

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Daily Round-up: Evangelicals and Conservatives, Israeli Hegemony

Doug Wead and Charity Campbell review Darryl Hart’s new bookFrom Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. While there has been a convenient alliance between evangelicals and conservatives, the evangelical movement is not always fully grounded in the philosophy of classical conservatism. Hart nonetheless concludes that evangelicals should embrace traditional conservatism:

What might this look like? Evangelicals should first “reconsider the source of American greatness,” which rests not in what is said to be America’s Christian origins but in her heritage of limited government, religious freedom, and the prioritization of “culture and character formation” to political solutions.

Is the middle class passing into history? Rod Dreher takes a look at a piece by Arnold Kling that claims the writing is on the wall.

Daniel Larison posits that Israel and U.S. opposition to a nuclear Iran stems mainly from a wish to enforce Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.

The desire to retain “military flexibility and its own perception as a regional hegemon” is why Israel is obsessed with Iran’s nuclear program, and the American obsession is closely related to that, but it seems likely that everyone is exaggerating how much an Iranian nuclear arsenal would limit that flexibility. It isn’t clear that a nuclear-armed Iran would be able to stop Israel from doing any of these things. What it would almost certainly do is discourage the U.S. or Israel from launching attacks against Iran, which is the “flexibility” that some hawks in both countries want to retain.”

The Marines are going to Australia. President Obama met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the Australian capital Canberra and announced that 250 Marines would be deployed next year, with plans to build up to 2,500. President Obama stated that the troop deployment was in part to “step up commitment” to the Asia-Pacific region, citing China’s “increased responsibility” in the area. China did not react enthusiastically. An editorial in the Communist Party controlled Global Times warned that actions perceived harmful to Chinese interests could stick Australia in U.S.-Chinese crossfire.  Major General Luo Yuan (Luo), deputy secretary-general of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, recently told the Global Times that war between the U.S. and China was not impossible.

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