Recommended Reading: Ghost Wars

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A few weeks back I finished Jon Krakauer’s latest, Where Men Win Glory, which focused on the life and death (and subsequent coverup) of Pat Tillman. Like other Krakauer books, the text is engaging and (at least to me) moving. Some of Krakauer’s back story regarding the Afghanistan war with the Soviet Union seemed familiar, mostly from my reading of Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, (which, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit were the closest I’d come to histories of the region).

Fortunately, Krakauer described one of his resources on Afghanistan, Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Beginning in 1979, Coll’s study spans two decades, detailing the worldwide rise of Islamic fanaticism and, more importantly, the complicity of the world’s intelligence apparatus in fostering that fanaticism (especially during the Soviet invasion and its aftermath). Coll is extremely detailed in his account: I’m more than 1/3 of the way through and the Soviet invasion is just barely ending. The details are grounded, however, in a fluid narrative that passes from Islamabad to Kabul to Moscow to Washington to Riyadh and back. I wish the most shocking element was how much money passes between those locations in the 80s. Unfortunately, what’s most surprising is how many opportunities there were for intelligence agents, lawmakers, diplomats and administration officials to recognize the threats posed by their handpicked allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and I’m only 1/3 of the way through!).

Coll’s book was published in 2004, a few years prior to the release of The Looming Tower, which is considered by many to be the preeminent history of the 9/11 attacks. I’m going to pick it up next, but thus far I’m incredibly impressed with Ghost Wars. It’s an elaborate, if chilling, history of the events leading up to some of the most important events in our lifetimes.

P.S. If you haven’t read Where Men Win Glory, I also recommend it. Krakauer is one of those writers that people seem to love or hate, but if nothing else the Tillman story serves as a stunning reminder of the depravity of the Bush Administration. But more than that, Krakauer shows the power of the Freedom of Information Act while casting a new light on recent events (I feel no sympathy whatsoever for Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s downfall following Rolling Stone‘s controversial interview). Above all, Tillman is revealed as loyal friend, brother, son and husband, and a ultimately a true patriot.

Trouble brewing

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I’m not usually one for speculation, but when Laura Rozen starts tossing up warning flags of a protracted conflict involving Hezbollah erupting in the next few weeks, my ears perk up. When she writes things like this, I really pay attention (emphasis mine):

We’re most likely not going to have a big war – with Iran – before Bush leaves office. But it seems we may be in for a bunch of small wars, or near wars, involving Lebanon, Hezbollah, Israel, Gaza, peripherally Syria and in the background Iran, upheaval deeply threatening to a country like Jordan whose internal stability is a balancing act.

There was some mention of the USS Cole being deployed off the coast of Lebanon this week, but you can find some context here:

In reality, the Cole is a show of support to Administrations allies in Lebanon and Israel, and a warning to Syria, Iran, and the Lebanese militia Hizballah to stop meddling in Lebanon’s political crisis. It’s perhaps also a warning for Hizballah to think twice about retaliating against Israel for the assassination of its operations chief, who was killed by a bomb in Damascus earlier this month.

Even with the country busy watching the presidential nomination, I wonder how long this might stay under the radar (some are reporting the Saudi embassy in Lebanon is urging nationals to leave the country). I do imagine, however, that it could throw a monkey wrench into things come November.

Rozen’s place might be a great site to keep in your bookmarks for the next few weeks.

More to the Nukes Over America story?

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Several New Mexico bloggers have already hit on the absurdity of a B-52 flying hafway across the country with nuclear weapons aboard, but Larry Johnson at TPM Cafe starts asking the right questions:

So I called a old friend and retired B-52 pilot and asked him. What he told me offers one compelling case of circumstantial evidence. My buddy, let’s call him Jack D. Ripper, reminded me that the only times you put weapons on a plane is when they are on alert or if you are tasked to move the weapons to a specific site.

Then he told me something I had not heard before.

Barksdale Air Force Base is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations. Gee, why would we want cruise missile nukes at Barksdale Air Force Base. Can’t imagine we would need to use them in Iraq. Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?

His final point was to observe that someone on the inside obviously leaked the info that the planes were carrying nukes. A B-52 landing at Barksdale is a non-event. A B-52 landing with nukes. That is something else.

Interesting. More here.

The Fine Print

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The usually insightful Clay Benntt, at the Christian Science Monitor.

Josh Marshall has some incredible insights of his own, regarding Bush Co. attempts to mislead us into another war cook the intelligence again prove Iran is supplying arms to our enemies in Iraq:

Now, given the black market traffic in arms in Iraq right now, it’s not at all a stretch to believe that weapons are dispersing from Iranian proxies like SCIRI (who we’re holding up as our allies) through black market channels to Sunni insurgents who are in turn using them against US troops. Indeed, it seems like a more probable theory than the conclusion that the Iranians are acting in concert with the Sunni militants who are involved in an on-going campaign of indiscriminate slaughter of Iraqi Shi’a civilians.

So, to summarize, as Gen. Pace said, we seem to know that Iranian-made weapons are turning up in Iraq and being used against Americans.

For context, how many US-made weapons do you think are now being used against US forces. Indeed, how much US weaponry sent to Iraq specifically by the US are in turn being used by insurgents against US forces.

Please, please before we attack another country can we at least make sure (and actually be sure, not be lying about it) that the country poses a real threat?

War with Iran

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This is a little out of the neighborhood, but Ken Silverstein has the first of a three-part series online regarding the possibility of war with Iran. Today
features thoughts from independent analysts.

A. Richard Norton:

Remember that in 1990–91 and then again in 2003 the very fact that the United States assembled a formidable array of forces in the Gulf region became an argument for using those forces and launching wars. The United States will soon have two carrier task forces on station, and perhaps a third carrier task force will soon be deployed. It will be difficult for the United States to step down from its combative perch without Iran accepting some fairly significant concessions.

While many leading Iranian officials fully understand the gravity of the situation, it is nonetheless possible to imagine a series of real or contrived clashes that lead, perhaps unintentionally, to a serious aerial and naval campaign against Iran. Or—to put it simply—to yet another U.S. war of choice.

Wayne White:

I am extremely wary of a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. If military action is taken against that infrastructure, there would be nothing “surgical” about the proceedings. The airstrikes associated with contingency planning suggest that such maneuvers, in addition to hitting a number of widely dispersed atomic-development targets, would have to take out much of Iran’s air defenses in order to clear paths to the targets.

Bahman Baktiari:

As of last year, for the first time, a majority of Iraqi Shiites support armed attacks on U.S.-led forces,  and if the United States attacks Iran, Iraqi Shiite militias will direct their anger at American soldiers and military personnel. Beyond this, we need to recognize that Iran has a complex political system and a young, critical society.

On Democrats

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Seeing as how the state Republican party says I’m always “bashing Republicans” on this blog, here’s some Democrat bashing for you, courtesy of Charles Pierce at TAPPED:

You worthless passel of cowards. They’re laughing at you. You know that, right?

The national Democratic Party is no longer worth the cement needed to sink it to the bottom of the sea. For an entire week, it allowed a debate on changing the soul of the country to be conducted intramurally between the Torture Porn and Useful Idiot wings of the Republican Party, the latter best exemplified by John McCain, who keeps fashioning his apparently fathomless ambition into a pair of clown shoes with which he can do the monkey dance across the national stage. They’re laughing at him, too.

The New York Times has the right of it here, limning the pathetic gullibility at the heart of the “compromise.” There is nothing in this bill that President Thumbscrews can’t ignore. There is nothing in this bill that reins in his feckless and dangerous reinterpretation of the powers of his office. There is nothing in this bill that requires him to take it — or its congressional authors — seriously. Two weeks ago, John Yoo set down in The New York Times the precise philosophical basis on which the administration will sign this bill and then ignore it. The president will decide what a “lesser breach” of the Geneva Conventions is? How can anyone over the age of five give this president that power? And wait until you see the atrocity that I guarantee you is coming down the tracks concerning the fact that the president committed at least 40 impeachable offenses with regard to illegal wiretapping.

And the Democratic Party was nowhere in this debate. It contributed nothing. On the question of whether or not the United States will reconfigure itself as a nation which tortures its purported enemies and then grants itself absolution through adjectives — “Aggressive interrogation techniques” — the Democratic Party had…no opinion. On the issue of allowing a demonstrably incompetent president as many of the de facto powers of a despot that you could wedge into a bill without having the Constitution spontaneously combust in the Archives, well, the Democratic Party was more pissed off at Hugo Chavez.

This was as tactically idiotic as it was morally blind. On the subject of what kind of a nation we are, and to what extent we will live up to the best of our ideals, the Democratic Party was as mute and neutral as a stone. Human rights no longer have a viable political constituency in the United States of America. Be enough of a coward, though, and cable news will fit you for a toga.

However, because I know it is vital for the Democrats to “recapture” the good Christian folks, there’s a passage from Scripture that seems apropos: “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”

I don’t understand why Democrats don’t understand the dynamic between Bush and McCain by now. McCain will pontificate on issues and live up to the media image as “his own man,” before caving to the administration. Every single time. And whether Congress stands up to Bush or not, the president is going to do what he wants anyway, because he isn’t bound by the Constitution, only empowered by it.

But the Democrats should not have been silent on this issue. While Reid and Dubin put on their little show on the floor of the Senate, they should have been screaming that we’re debating how much torture the United States will be allowed to perform on people. Torture, which never works for obtaining information; which we have always been against; which is now more prevelant in Iraq than when Saddam was in power. Our leaders reached a compromise on torture.

How principled a nation can we be, when we allow compromise on such a concept? And how can the Democrat party stand for anything, if it won’t stand against torture?

I’m glad it’s the weekend.