the boys are playing with fire again…

Posted on Wednesday 29 October 2008

Twilight Struggle
by Eli Lake

On Sunday, U.S. helicopters accompanied by a special forces team struck in Sukkariyeh, Syria, just over the border from Iraq. It was a raid with enormous implications for the war in Iraq and the broader war on terror. The target of the raid was a man named Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, better known in his circles as Abu Ghadiya. Since 2004, intelligence officials have been targeting Abu Ghadiya for his pernicious role in Iraq: helping fuel the Sunni insurgency by transporting foreign fighters, money, and weapons. Never before had Americans struck within Syria with such visible fingerprints. But officials believe that killing Abu Ghadiya justified that kind of action. One military official told me that the elimination of Abu Ghadiya represents a significant triumph over al Qaeda in Iraq. "The organization is pretty much finished now," he told me.

That is a big story. But it doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of the strike in Sukkariyeh. We have entered a new phase in the war on terror. In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush’s personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command, General David Petraeus…

Why has the administration changed policy at this late date? For starters, the administration is genuinely worried about al Qaeda’s resurgence, not just in Pakistan, but across Asia and Africa. Within the administration, there is growing frustration with security services that are either unable or unwilling to root out al Qaeda within their borders. Pakistan is perhaps the best example of this. And even friendly services, like the one in Kenya, have made maddeningly little progress in their fight against terrorism.

When the administration first proposed this approach, it met with internal resistance. The National Intelligence Council produced a paper outlining the risk associated with this change in policy such as scuttling the prospect for better security cooperation in the future. And Admiral William Fallon, who preceded Petraeus at Centcomm, opposed taking direct action against al Qaeda and affiliated targets in Syria. But with the clock winding down on the administration, it has a greater appetite for racking up victories against al Qaeda–and less worries about any residual political consequences from striking…

The big mystery now is whether the next administration will dismantle this policy or permit Petraeus to follow it to fruition. Obama has said nothing about Sunday’s strikes in Syria (a silence that has rightly earned him taunting from the McCain campaign). On one level, this new policy conflicts with Obama’s stated desire for opening up diplomatic channels to places like Tehran and Damascus. On the other hand, this is precisely the type of policy that he has repeatedly promised at least for Pakistan, whose territory is believed to host Osama bin Laden: If America has actionable intelligence on al Qaeda leaders, and the country housing those terrorist sits on its hands, we will act. His campaign rhetoric has now become the official war policy he will inherit. Is this a development that pleases him?
If this is a good idea, why don’t they just come out and tell us what they’re doing? For that matter, if this is a good idea, why haven’t we been doing it for years? If this is a good idea, why does it scare the bee-jesus out of me?

I expect this is the why of it, "But with the clock winding down on the administration, it has a greater appetite for racking up victories against al Qaeda–and less worries about any residual political consequences from striking." We’ve long worried that as Lame Ducks, Bush and Cheney are dangerous loose cannons. And we’ve seen them try every trick in the book to strap the next President with their version of the war on terror. We were all worried that they would bomb Iran as Lame Ducks [I’m still worried].

If we thought that this was a well thought through plan that had a chance of defeating or crippling al Qaeda, it would be different. But they have no history of well thought through plans. They are the worst of military strategists – having mounted no real successful campaign, including the Surge. In fact, if the Surge were really as successful as they claim, they would not even be doing this. The truth is that whatever they do is wrong, simply because they are the ones that are doing it. Since they have no clear plan, their efforts are reactive, aimed at an unobtainable goal [winning], and so by definition, their  efforts are just actions in isolation – not part of an overall military strategy with defined objectives and clear possibilities for success. 

Once again, our draft-dodger Administration is playing with a kind of fire they know absolutely nothing about. And that’s why it scares the bee-jesus out of me? The article says, "Obama has said nothing about Sunday’s strikes in Syria (a silence that has rightly earned him taunting from the McCain campaign)." What could he say? Good going guys? Shame on you? Whopee? There’s nothing to say because he has have no way of knowing if this is a good plan or just more irresponsible Bush/Cheney saber rattling. I think keeping his mouth shut is the best thing for Obama to do until he’s in a position to be in charge. As far as McCain stands, no matter what Obama says, McCain will have some contemptuous smart-alec remark to make. Why should Obama waste his breath?
    October 29, 2008 | 8:26 PM

    Bush/Cheney do things like this out of imperialist/arrogant/evil power ploys. McCain scares me almost even more. I don’t think he’s evil or basically imperialistic. I think he just doesn’t know how to think other than with military strength and winning at all costs.

    But maybe even scarier than that is his love affair with his maverick image and his penchant for impulsive action. I forget which of the many things I read yesterday said it, but I thought it very apt. It described McCain as being like an amateur chess player, who makes a move just to see what will happen.

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