Saturday, December 17, 2011

Assassination and Bin Laden

While perusing I came across an editorial by Oliver North regarding President Clinton's exchange with Chris Wallace on FOX News. It seems LtCol North was a bit put off by President Clinton's proclamation:

“I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.” -- William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, 24 September 2006

LtCol North seems to believe that President Clinton's outburst constitutes an admission of a crime - that of sanctioning the assassination of Usama Bin Laden. He points out the reaction to Rev. Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, and asks why there was not a similar backlash against Pres. Clinton's statement.

The silence has been deafening from the barons of bombast and political potentates who went nuts last year when Rev. Pat Robertson suggested that Venezuela 's tin-horn dictator Hugo Chavez should be “eliminated.” Then, there were calls for an investigation of Dr. Robertson. Not so for Bill Clinton.

With all due respect, come off it. Where was the outrage when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a deliberately targeted operation? Was no one outraged because AMZ was an enemy combatant who targeted American troops and interests? What is the difference between that and a Presidential finding authorizing the CIA to kill Bin Laden? I'd be real interested to hear the difference between the targeted killing of AMZ and authorizing the CIA to kill UBL. On the other hand, while Hugo Chavez may not be the friendliest man when it comes to our interests in Latin America, you'd be hard pressed to justify calling him an enemy combatant. That's why Robertson's statement was immediately attacked, not necessarily because of partisanship, as LtCol North seems to want you to believe.

The tape of a former President, arrogantly proclaiming on international television that he personally authorized the killing of a foreign foe may be great stuff for the screenplay of “Rambo V” -- but it's specifically forbidden by U.S. and international law.

Personally, I believed both then and now that Usama Bin Laden should be hunted and killed by any means possible. I fully expect that the Bush Administration will sanction killing him if we locate him in the near future, and I will lose absolutely no sleep over it. I suspect that neither will LtCol North. Frankly, I think his article smacks of an attempt to attack President Clinton along partisan lines, rather than legal or ethical ones. And the reference to Rambo V? Come on, sir, isn't that a bit melodramatic?

Before you think that I am squarely behind President Clinton on this, let me elaborate on my views. I do not think that President Clinton tried as hard as he would like us to believe. Both the 9/11 Report and the excellent book Ghost Wars by Steve Coll indicate that President Clinton beat around the bush about killing Usama Bin Laden; leaving the CIA and many of his advisors unclear on what measures they were authorized to take. There seemed to be very much a sense that if the attempt did not go perfectly that the CIA would be left to take the blame. I don't know much, but one thing I've learned as a leader is that if you want to authorize your subordinates to take decisive action, you have to be prepared to accept responsibility if they fail.

The 9/11 Report makes it pretty clear that neither administration did enough about UBL before September 11th. So how about we dispense with the partisan bickering and focus on the business at hand?

Either way, your Marines and soldiers on the "bleeding edge" (note to Mr. Morris: hope you don't mind, but I really liked that phrase) will continue to suit up and do just that. But it would be nice if we heard a little more of that "bipartisan" spirit that used to be vogue, and a little less partisan bickering.

Why Men Love War

I just stumbled on a great essay by William Broyles, Jr. Broyles was a Marine platoon commander in Vietnam, before becoming editor of Newsweek magazine and an accomplished screenwriter. Mr Broyles has written numerous screenplays, includingApollo 13, Castaway, Jarhead, and the soon-to-be-released Flags Of Our Fathers.

The essay I'm referring to was published in Esquire in November of 1984. Surprising that I just stumbled on it now, isn't it? Broyles ran into his old radio operator while visiting the Vietnam Memorial some 15 years after he had returned from Vietnam, and his friend's pronouncement sparked the reflections that turned into the essay.
"What people can't understand," Hiers said, gently picking up each tiny rabbit and placing it in the nest, "is how much fun Vietnam was. I loved it. I loved it, and I can't tell anybody."The rest of the essay is a great read on the conflicting emotions that inexorably attract us to war. I found a lot of the article resonates deeply with me - I may not enjoy the patrols in 120 degree heat or cringing every time someone slams a door in the Marine house, but there is something that keeps drawing me toward Iraq. One of the unhappiest times of my career so far was about a year and a half ago, when I was told I could not transfer out of my unit to join another unit that had an impending combat mission in Iraq. I was, frankly, a bit depressed that I missed one of the most eventful periods of the war thus far, sitting it out on a ship or in North Carolina. I have friends who have said, with complete seriousness, that when they returned to Iraq for a second or third time they felt relieved, like they were at home.

Another good quote from the essay:

Part of the love of war stems from its being an experience of great intensity; its lure is the fundamental human passion to witness, to see things, what the Bible calls the lust of the eye and the Marines in Vietnam called eye fucking. War stops time, intensifies experience to the point of a terrible ecstasy. It is the dark opposite of that moment of passion caught in Ode on a Grecian Urn: "For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd/ For ever panting, and forever young. " War offers endless exotic experiences, enough "I couldn't fucking believe it! "'s to last a lifetime.Anyway, enough of my thoughtless and unimaginative writing, Broyles says it much better than I ever will.

President Bush pessimistic about Iraq?

For three years, the president tried to reassure Americans that more progress was being made in Iraq than they realized. But with Iraq either in civil war or on the brink of it, Bush dropped the unseen-progress argument in favor of the contention that things could be even worse.

Obviously I am limited to what I can say on this subject, being a professional Marine officer, but this article screams out for some commentary. 3 and a half years ago, I believed whole-heartedly that we were doing the right thing in ousting Saddam Hussein, and I still do.

Hindsight being 20/20, now I would say that we should not have made the alleged weapons of mass destruction the linchpin of our case against Saddam, but I never believed that was the administration's primary motivation. I still believe that the policy-makers latched on to that issue because it was the easiest to sell to the American public. After all, I believe most of us thought that the hardest thing about the war would not be fighting it, but getting the American public to support it.

Most of the Marines I talked to in February and March 2003 expected a somewhat difficult fight followed by a quick and easy occupation. I differed from many of them in that I thought the occupation would be longer, but I never thought a full-fledged insurgency would break out. There was a general sense of optimism, that we would steamroll the Iraqis just like we did in 1991. However, when I was trained to be a platoon commander, I was told to plan not only for what I believed to be the enemy's most likely course of action, but also his most dangerous course of action. I believe we either planned for the wrong most dangerous course of action, or ignored it outright. Once the war became an all-out insurgency, it should have been obvious to everyone that it would continue for several years. Counter-insurgency campaigns are never short or easy, and anyone who expected this to be over by now was misguided at best and delusional at worst.

One of the most frustrating things to me has been the talk of immediate withdrawal. If we withdraw and the Iraqi government fails or is taken over by anti-American fundamentalists, then our enemies will all know that they can beat us by using insurgent tactics and outlasting us. Whether you wanted this war or not, it has happened and we must deal with it and continue to fight until we have achieved our goal of a completely self-sustaining Iraqi government.

I will tell you that in just the short time I have been here, this Iraqi Army battalion has made significant progress in securing the nearby villages. Their performance leaves plenty to be desired, but the civilians who live near the COP have said on numerous occasions that they feel much safer around their homes than they did just 4-5 months ago. Progress is being made here, and it will continue to be as long as we are allowed to do our jobs.