Friday, March 18, 2011

Denial: A River In North Africa, Near Libya

Last week, the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, said that forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi “will prevail” eventually.

Clapper was testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

His assessment regarding the situation in Libya was in response to a question asked by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Clapper’s answer wasn’t the one Graham wanted to hear.

“The situation in Libya remains tenuous and the Director’s comments today on Gaddafi’ staying power are not helpful to our national security interests,” said Graham.  “His comments will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Qaddafi. It also undercuts our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.”

According to Graham, this isn’t the first “questionable” comment from the Director of National Intelligence, the Committee was also upset when Clapper responded to a question regarding who he thought posed the greatest threat to America.  Before responding, Clapper specifically asked the questioner, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), if he was asking about nation states.

Machin said, “Yes, which nation states pose the greatest threat to America?”

Note the specific term Nation State.

Clapper then asked if the Senator was asking about mortal threats to the United States.

Machin confirmed that he was indeed asking the General’s opinion regarding which nation states posed mortal threats to the United States.

Note the specific term mortal threat.

Clapper responded, “Certainly, the Russians still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal...which does pose, you know, potentially a mortal threat to us. I don't think they have the intent to do that. Certainly China is growing in its military capabilities. It has a full array of what are conventional or strategic forces that they are building. So they, too, pose potentially from a capabilities standpoint a threat to us. As a mortal threat." [emphasis mine]

The committee was taken aback by Clapper’s unexpectedly incorrect answer.

See Clapper – who has access in real time to literally unlimited intelligence, both military and civilian, whose only job it is to be the nation’s top expert in current and emerging threats, who spends likely eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, studying those threats, who is a retired US Military General and expert in enemy warfighting capability – accidentally gave his actual honest opinion instead of the pre-approved rubber stamp answer, which as I’m sure you all know is: Iran and North Korea.

Which then begs the question, what was the point of the Committee hearing in the first place? Since it’s rather obvious that all the Senators already had all the answers to all the questions.

You know, this entire process would be a lot easier, and cost the taxpayer a lot less money, if the Senators would just give the generals a pre-printed cheat sheet. 

Hey “teaching to the test” is such a spiffy idea for educating our children, the same thing ought to be good enough for Senate testimony – We could call it No General Left Behind…

But I digress.

Clapper’s point, that China and Russia are the only entities who possess the wherewithal to actually destroy the United States (and a significant portion of the rest of the human race, not to mention most of the flora and fauna on the planet for that matter) was completely lost on the Committee, likely deliberately so. Note that Clapper was quick to qualify his statement by clearly saying that neither Russia nor China were likely to use their capability, but it exists nonetheless. 

Look here, if you buy the whole “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” bit then it should obviously follow that if you have a child and a loaded gun in the house, the biggest potential threat in your house is not some random crazy kicking in your door, but rather the single biggest threat to you and yours is the child. And no, I’m not calling either Russia or China children, so don’t go there. But you should also remember that doesn’t mean that the folks who might control those weapons in the future will always exercise such mature judgment.  And speaking of childish behavior, Graham was further outraged when Clapper confirmed that Russia and China regard our nuclear arsenal as a threat – as does much of the world. Graham apparently does not understand how such viewpoints and concerns, ours and theirs, might have direct influence on foreign policy, or on defense strategies (you know, the things the Senate Armed Services Committee is responsible for. And there I go again, digressing), or how they might shape the national budget, or provide a mutual starting point for diplomacy, or … well, yeah, never mind.

Iran and North Korea can snipe around our heels – and hell, maybe, maybe, lob a nuke or two – but neither country can come anywhere near posing a mortal danger to the United States, which, as you’ll recall, was the actual question asked of General Clapper and which he was careful to clarify as the actual question before answering (And honestly, what do you think would happen if North Korea did lob one of their paltry few nukes at North America or their neighbor to the south?  I mean really? Beginning the exact moment that missile impacted, North Korea would henceforth be referred to only in the past tense, like the lost city of Atlantis – destroyed down to the last blade of grass in a cataclysm of fire falling from the angry heavens and rising from the furious seas. Because, seriously here folks, otherwise what the hell is our nuclear arsenal for? But, again, I digress).

The committee members were variously flummoxed, aghast, offended, confused, appalled and outraged by Clapper’s comment and clearly incapable of seeing beyond their own agenda and opportunity to score political points.

Again, Clapper was quick to clarify his assessment, he said that he does not believe Russia and China are the greatest threats to the United States overall, "My greatest concern, though, does not lie with a nation state posing a threat to us as much as it is in the area of terrorism.”

Ah, terrorism! Finally. The correct answer at last.

But it was too late.

Predictably, Graham is now calling for General Clapper’s resignation.

Now don’t get me wrong here, General James Clapper has put his foot in his mouth more than once. For example: In 2003, as Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Clapper famously, or rather infamously, attempted to explain away the mysteriously missing Iraqi WMDs.  He said that those weapons were “unquestionably” shipped out of Iraqi right before the invasion, an assessment that left the rest of us in the intelligence community scratching our heads. No evidence to support that statement has ever been found and Clapper’s “unquestionable” statement has been questioned ever since.

I know, I know – Ah ha!



Those mythical Iraqi phantom weapons of mass delusion and the manufactured intelligence that led us into war looking for them are exactly the point here.

For the Senate Armed Services Committee to publically castigate Clapper for his answers in the particular manner that they did is symptomatic of the exact leadership failures that led directly to both 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.  Graham’s grandstanding is directly analogous to Donald Rumsfeld’s public ridicule and dismissal of General Eric Shinseki because Shinseki didn’t give Rumsfeld the oral gratification that arrogant little prick demanded.

Graham’s message is quite clear:  We are not, in any way whatsoever, interested in hearing anything that contradicts our preconceived notions.  You will regurgitate the party line and only the party line or we will have your head.  National security policy will be determined by partisan politics and party agendas not the world as it exists.  As politicians with not one percent of your military and intelligence experience, we have determined that Iran and North Korea are the primary threats, now you give us an assessment that supports that and keep the rest of your opinions to yourself.

This state of nonsensical denial is responsible for much of the situation our nation finds itself in today, from Wall Street to Detroit to Iraqi.

And it’s leading us right down the same goddamned path into Libya.

Those of us in the military and the intelligence community are oh so very familiar with this imperious Rumsfeldian dismissive worldview. We can see the naked emperor’s big white wrinkled ass from miles away.  We recognize the cloying putrid stink from the very first wiff, it smells just like dead soldiers rotting in the hot middle eastern sun, it smells like yellow cake uranium, it smells like Iraqis cheering us for their freedom, it smells like IEDs and burning Humvees, it smells like Mission Accomplished! It smells like we’ll be home for Christmas, it smells like billions for fat defense contracts and pennies for VA funding. 

Oh yes, we recognize this rotten-toothed stench all too well, it smells just like Lindsey Graham’s fetid spittle-flecked breath.

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, giving a coalition of Western and Arab nations the authority to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and calling for a cease fire.

In the West and the Middle East, people cheered this development. Yay! Fire up the aircraft carriers and the fighter jets, boys, we’re off to war again. Hurrah!

In Tripoli, Libyan Foreign Minister, Mussa Kussa, said his country was obligated to accept the UN resolution and that Libya would observe the air exclusion zone and cease fire. Sure.

In Bengahzi, the rebels, what few are left, celebrated through the night. But they kept their weapons close, oh yes they did.

And for good reason.

Today of course, of course, the fighting continues as Muammar Qaddafi’s forces finish off the last few pockets of revolutionaries and the no-fly zone means exactly jack-shit because by the time UN forces show up it’ll be all over except for the shouting – well, shouting and tortured screaming and retribution and like that, I mean.  Off hand, I don’t remember what the Arabic is for Iraqi Kurdish Revolution but I suspect we’ll eventually call the Libyan uprising something similar. See, as it turns out ruthlessly vengeful crazy Muammar has no intention whatsoever of going off quietly into that good night – and he’s not above killing every goddamned body who tries to make him leave (you know, just like he killed every goddamned body who opposed the revolution that swept him into power 40 years ago).

Yes, yes, this is my surprised face.

Turns out those Libyan revolutionaries, those students, those civilians, are no match for Muammar Qaddafi’s forces armed as they are with tanks and armored vehicles and automatic weapons and communications and intelligence and formal military training and lots of experience dealing with enemies and rebels and urban warfare and absolutely no compulsions about using any of it on civilians either.  See, if Muammar falls, then anybody wearing a Libyan army uniform is going to get pulled out of their APC and hung in the town square.  Libya isn’t Egypt, Libyans fucking hate their army. So, those soldiers damned well know what’s good for them, i.e. win, or go to the wall.  And they’ve got all the weapons, a no-fly zone won’t change that.

And so, today, it’s all over but the shouting.

You know, just like General Clapper predicted last week. 

Oh sure, the UN will now stumble in and bumble about waving its little pipe-cleaner arms and making nasal sounding bleating noises.

And they’ll admonish Qaddafi not to take revenge on the rebels. But he will, and we’ll pretend not to notice – because, see, by UN Charter and international law, resolution 1973 doesn’t actually give anybody the authority to actually oust Qaddafi.  Read that again, neither we, nor any other signatory to the UN Charter may invade a sovereign nation in order to effect regime change (Yes, yes, I see you there in the back. Yes, I know all about the United State’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq to effect regime change there – I was there. You’ll need to take that issue up with the UN, but you might want to watch Colin Powell’s testimony before the Security Council a couple of times first.  Also, if you’re seriously proposing doing another Iraq, in Libya, I’m going to smack you right upside the head with the Shovel of Doom. Seriously. Sit down. Now). 

And so (unless we do, indeed pull a George Bush and proclaim Libya a threat to the rest of the world), Muammar Qaddafi will remain, Castro like, Saddam like, in Tripoli.

The US, French, and British jets will roar ineffectively overhead.  They’ll drop a few bombs and kill a few Libyan soldiers.  The UAVs will soar like predator hawks across the land, unleashing their missiles and vaporizing a wedding or a funeral or school field trip by accident.  Oops, sorry.  Qaddafi will go back to funding terrorism and bombing Berlin discos and blowing up airliners in revenge for this insult.

Eventually Americans will get tired of paying for it all and start to wonder why the national debt isn’t getting any smaller even though they’ve cut funding for Planned Parenthood and NPR.  At that point, American Attention Deficit Disorder will kick in and shift the national focus to some other place requiring some radar guided democracy and we’ll wander off on some other grand crusade and then Qaddafi will take his revenge unfettered by pesky interlopers.

Ask any Kurd who rose up against Saddam following the first Gulf War.

They’ll tell you.

Of course, it’s unlikely to be the answer Senator Lindsey Graham wants to hear.

One has to wonder if Graham will then demand the Kurds’ resignation too.


  1. "Ask any Kurd who rose up against Saddam following the first Gulf War." Or the Shia in the South of Iraq along the marshlands.

    I'm so glad we all recognize that "unvarnished" opinion that we've come to value so much.

  2. Hate to interrupt you when you're on a roll, but at one point you refer to U.N. Resolution 1975 -- it's 1973 as you had earlier.

    Dr. Phil

  3. This is like the playground, "My Dad can beat up your Dad thing in reverse. Nothing sadder than our military having to go take fire in order to prove our President isn't a wimp. Nothing new about it either. The problem Obama was facing is, when the French start calling you feckless, it's going to cause a political storm over here, particularly for a Democrat.

    To his credit, Obama waited until the Europeans and the Arab League tabled this resolution, but every bomb that falls is going to have 'Made In The U.S.' stamped onto its side, and it's going to be portrayed as the latest case of Uncle Sam sticking his nose into Middle Eastern affairs.

    Seriously, I would have thought that alternative energy would be an initiative that both parties could coalesce around, by now. For the Democrats, because it makes the flowers bloom pretty, for the GOP because it would enable us to pick up our chips & come home from this corner of the world.

  4. Doc, fixed. Thanks

    Ken, honestly though, according to treaty and international agreement, Obama had no authority to authorize military action in Libya. They didn't attack us, it's an internal matter. You have to have UN approval, and that took three weeks - which in my very personal experience, is one hell of a lot quicker than any other I remember.

  5. Jim, no, Obama didn't have that authority. My point was that he wasn't going to have a resolution drafted up & ram it down the Security Council's throat like Bush did with Iraq. He was determined that the Arab League was going to have to be behind any resolution authorizing military action, and that someone else was going to have to draft it & bring it to the table.

    Honestly, I don't think he wants to commit forces there now. But he wants even less to have the specter of France criticizing him for lacking decisiveness. That would be a political field day for the cons; it's already going to be.

  6. Jim, for this, you can borrow the Shovel of Doom™ anytime.

    Because, really - we don't need another military action. Really.

  7. Kenneth, you're still assuming that the GOP is at all interested in dealing honestly.

    They've dedicated their entire strategy to "making sure Obama is a one-term president" and they literally don't care what they have to torpedo or burn down in order to get it -- after all, they're experts at blaming the Democrats for the consequences of the crap they pull and almost nobody in what they call the "liberal media cartel" seems to have the spine to call them on it.

  8. Rens: Oh, the 'liberal media cartel' routinely calls them on it, but it's like talking to a pile of rocks. The Beckbies & Palindrones of this country only hear "fact-fact-blah-blah. Facts are boring, blowing shit up is fun."

    I'm not arguing in favor of our latest desert incursion; far from it. Just pointing out that a Democrat in the WH is automatically a target for accusations of being soft on defense. This exercise in idiocy has more to do with not handing his political opponents ammo than hoping for a good outcome in Libya.

  9. If you think the Repig spin is bad now,imagine what it would be if Obama had done nothing.Mccain says it was too little too late,other repigs say it cost too much(hahahahah)after 7 years and 4 trillion in Iraq they have the nutts to even utter those words...It doesnt matter what Obama does...that why faux kanews is having such a hard time wrapping its little spiney head around this,if it was a Repig in office all the horns would be honken and flags a waven....

  10. If the President had an (R) after his name instead of a (D), all the neocons and other con men on the right would have the banners flying and ready to charge. I don't agree with Obama or anyone else interfering in the Middle East. It seems the Democrats and Republicans have become two more sports teams to root for among the clueless masses. The virtue of the Operation is determined by who rather than why by the Plebs. Bread and Circuses.

  11. Prize for best answer:
    Mao had his little red; Marx, Das Kapital (oft misused). Hitler had Mein Kampf and Gaddafi waves his Green. But what book does Washington take a leaf from?

  12. Plain speaking to Congress?

    How daring can a person get?

  13. ...I just have nothing to say except:


    (p.s., I stumbled here by way of your now-infamous "America: You Keep Using That Word..." post, but the rest is too awesome not to comment on.)

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Two differences between Libya and Iraq: First, the intervention/protection/aid was welcomed and requested in Libya, by the people and for the befefit of the people. They were not saying, "Do something while we sit and watch". Secondly, intervention was under the approval of the U.N., and that's the way it is supposed to work. I think our President acted swiftly and already was prepared for the outcome because tyrants are so predictable. A popular move for the President? That he didn't wait to view the public outcry (and the impact on his re-election) is noteworthy. Hesitation would have been lethal to those seeking freedom. I am not pro-war. I am pro-humanity.

  16. Just when I thought things were getting really bad, I stumbled across your blog, further educate myself and feel even bluer. However, I do appreciate and like your perspective and will continue to read your blog. Thanks for posting your blog. Mary Armacost

  17. Jim (may I call you Jim? I'm fairly new to your Stonekettle Station),

    What do you propose we do? Stand idly by whilst people die? While I realize we do it all the damn time (especially when those dying people aren't standing above copious amounts of oil), it doesn't make it right, ethically speaking, to not do anything.

    I would (and have) stick up for a random person I saw getting beat up (and I'm an unarmed chick! albeit a loud, tall one with an evil don't-fuck-with-me face) -- why is it wrong when our country/the UN does it on a global level?

    Honestly, I don't like the idea of engaging in yet another war, but I like the idea of people dying because they decided to stand up to a petulant, pissy, small-penised miscreant of a "leader" even less. And the idea we shouldn't engage in this because we can't afford it -- holy Science. I really hope, should we ever be in this situation, other countries don't refuse to help us because it's too 'spensive.

    So. What do we do? Or not do, as the case may be?

    /stepping off my soapbox.

    <3 and bacon (because everything is better with those two things),

    beeteedub -- thanks for the Fred Reed h/t.

  18. Mara,

    Jim, please.

    Me? Personally, I think we should go in, just as we have done. I think honor and duty and morality demands it.


    My point being that it will be neither easy or short or inexpensive. And it can't be done half-assed. Congress has learned nothing from ten years of war. Nothing and this surprises me not at all.

  19. Let me get this straight.

    You seem to be arguing that the facts on the ground are the facts and Congress and the Pundits don't get to change them by wishful thinking.

    Then you go arguing that them that has the most tanks and guns on the ground in question tend to win.

    Then you argue that we should probably support the (anti-Quadafi) side that is going to get chewed up anyway because it's the right thing to do.

    Are you sure you're posting from the U.S.?

  20. Jim,

    I don't understand why we choose to intervene for the rebels in Libya when we refused to intervene for the people in Darfur. Heaven knows there's plenty of corruption and killing of innocent people throughout the world. I can’t help but wonder if our interests aren’t nearly as pure as we would have the rest of the world believe. I’m not arguing that we should intervene whenever a dictator starts attacking their own people, or am I?

  21. Dana, the answer is simple and morality has nothing to do with it: the genocide is Darfur doesn't affect the price per barrel of oil - therefore it's not in either our or the UN's national/international interest.

  22. Mara: I'm not sure what we should have done. I am sure that the way we are doing it, isn't the way to do it.

    The real answer to your question... Why Libya? Why not Bahrain? Why not... pick a place?

    Obama is screwed. He was being chastised by the Right, and then Sarkozy. He had to *something*, at which point the people saying, "We can't sit on or hands" are now asking, "Why didn't you get our permission?"

    Those same people who were saying it needed to be done are now saying the president didn't come to them for permission to do what they were yelling about him not doing.

    That's the sad part. We could be doing the right thing. We could be doing the wrong thing.

    The bobbleheads making the rounds on the news, don't care, one way or the other. And it's going to cost us, in treasure, and blood.

    If it doesn't work, well that's one more sign the Big Dog is getting long in the tooth and can be challenged.

    Because the rest of the world is watching too, and we are still the 800 lbs gorilla. Jim was talking about "mortal threats" (caveat, I was in intel too, though at lower echelons than his) and we are a mortal threat to every nation on the planet.

    They'd be fools to not be watching how we do business, and while some of them may be crazy, they are none of them fools.

  23. Well there is a simple answer, one that would minimize the loss of life, preserve a majority of the country, cost little, end the fighting immediately, and let us get the hell out ASAP.

    But it's not one that the US, NATO, or the UN can do legally.

    Answer: Kill Quaddafi. Zap.

    Or alternatively

    You can leave libya to Quaddafi, which is what we've done for 20 years now.

    Anything else is Iraq between 1991 and 2004.

    Everybody knows the correct answer, but it's immoral and we can't do either one. So we'll half ass it. Again. Which is what I said in the post.

  24. All so depressingly true!

    I've known congressional hearings are a joke ever since I watched every single minute of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings (and I've despised Orrin Hatch, most especially, ever since). Especially the Republicans use them merely as a podium for prescripted grandstanding (same is true for their speeches on the senate and house floors), and both parties use them for giving speeches instead of asking sincere questions. The Republicans are especially imperious and disrespectful to those they've called to testify, as though they do not understand they are not part of a monarchy. Only a very few, usually female and the best is Hillary Clinton, ever break the mold and take to task a bullshit answer. Most of the time the B.S. is allowed to go by just so they can get back to their grandstanding speeches.

    Our Congressional Hearings are empty exercises for propaganda purposes like our Republican and Democratic nominating conventions are nothing but anointments now, because we already know who the candidate is going to be instead of the convention being the place to decide it. Both hearings and conventions, just marketing and propaganda tools.

    The world is a cruel place but we can't fix everyone and everything. I want us to stay out of the civil fights of other nations when we do not have provable, immediate, mortal safety concerns of our own. If we intervene in less dire for us scenarios, I want it to be only with medicine, food, shelter--necessities for survival that parents in every culture desperately want for their children. (That's how you win hearts and minds, by the way.)

    I want us to force our elected leaders to turn their backs on the industries bleeding us dry (like the insurance, pharmaceutical, criminal justice, and military contracting industries) so we can invest in alternative energies just waiting in the wings. If we did that, we could stop sacrificing our soldiers (our nation's Children) and our resources for cheaper oil.

    Sadly, mega-industries own our government now, all three branches for the most part, so neither scenario is going to happen, at least not until we suffer so much we too are on the verge of anarchy; and woe is us if we reach that point given we are a nation hardened against each other.

  25. Oh, and I forgot to add that I think Obama played this one smart. It's good he forced other nations to the forefront so we can't be scapegoated by them for a change.


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