Today we have MoDo considering drones and The Moustache of Wisdom considering bombings. In “The C.I.A.’s Angry Birds” MoDo raises valid questions, but manages to get in her usual snarls. The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Bring on the Next Marathon,” says we’re just not scared any more. Maybe he should call up some of the wingnuts who are busy soiling their underwear… Here’s MoDo:
Over the winter, I heard military commanders and White House officials murmur in hushed tones about how they would have to figure out a legal and moral framework for the flying killer robots executing targets around the globe.
They were starting to realize that, while the American public approves of remotely killing terrorists, it is a drain on the democratic soul to zap people with no due process and little regard for the loss of innocents.
But they never got around to it, leaving Rand Paul to take the moral high ground.
After two bloody, money-sucking, never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea of a weapon for war that precluded having anyone actually go to war was too captivating. Our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached president was ensorcelled by our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached war machine.
In an interview with Jon Stewart last year, President Obama allowed that he was in the grip of a powerful infatuation. “One of the things that we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place,” he said, “and we need Congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any president is reined in.”
America’s secret drone program, continually lowering the bar for lethal action, turns the president, the C.I.A. director and counterterrorism advisers into a star chamber running a war beyond war zones that employs a scalpel rather than a hammer, as the new Langley chief, John Brennan, puts it.
But as The Times’s Mark Mazzetti notes in his new book, “The Way of the Knife,” “the analogy suggests that this new kind of war is without costs or blunders — a surgery without complications. This isn’t the case.”
Mazzetti raises the issue of whether the C.I.A. — which once sold golf shirts with Predator logos in its gift shop — became “so enamored of its killer drones that it wasn’t pushing its analysts to ask a basic question: To what extent might the drone strikes be creating more terrorists than they are actually killing?”
Mazzetti writes that Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, watched one of the first drone strikes via satellite at Langley a few weeks after 9/11. As he saw a Mitsubishi truck in Afghanistan being blown up, Dearlove smiled wryly. “It almost isn’t sporting, is it?” the Brit asked.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld and his hawkish inner circle were disgusted that the C.I.A. dismissed their spurious claims of a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, so they set up their own C.I.A. at the Pentagon. Soldiers became spies.
Meanwhile, the C.I.A. was setting up its own Pentagon at Langley, running the ever-expanding paramilitary drone operation. Spies became soldiers.
Mazzetti writes that after 9/11, the C.I.A. director morphed into “a military commander running a clandestine, global war with a skeleton staff and very little oversight.” Why did the C.I.A., as Gen. James Cartwright asked when he was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, need to build “a second Air Force”?
Leon Panetta made the C.I.A. far more militarized and then went to the Pentagon. When an actual military commander, David Petraeus, became head spook in 2011, he embraced the drone program, pushed to expand the fleet and conducted the first robo-targeted killing of an American citizen.
“A spy agency that on September 11, 2001, had been decried as bumbling and risk-averse had, under the watchful eye of four successive C.I.A. directors, gone on a killing spree,” Mazzetti writes.
The C.I.A. now has a drone base in Saudi Arabia, and both the Pentagon and the spy agency are running parallel drone wars in Yemen, each fighting for resources. And the Pentagon continues its foray into human spying. As W. George Jameson, a lawyer who spent 33 years at the C.I.A., lamented: “Everything is backwards. You’ve got an intelligence agency fighting a war and a military organization trying to gather on-the-ground intelligence.”
Mazzetti observes that the C.I.A., playing catch-up through so much of the Arab Spring, has turned a perilous corner, where a new generation at Langley much prefers “the adrenaline rush of being at the front lines” hunting and killing to the more patient, tedious, “gentle” work of intelligence gathering and espionage. Relying on foreign spies for counterterrorism information can blind you to what is really happening on the ground.
Ross Newland, a career clandestine officer, told Mazzetti that the allure of killing people by remote control is “catnip,” and that the agency should have given up Predators and Reapers long ago. The death robots have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in places like Pakistan, Newland said, where the agency’s mission is supposed to be nurturing relationships to gather intelligence.
President Obama, who continued nearly every covert program handed down by W., clearly feels tough when he talks about targeted killings, and considers drones an attractive option. As Mazzetti says, “fundamental questions about who can be killed, where they can be killed, and when they can be killed” still have not been answered or publicly discussed.
It almost isn’t sporting, is it?
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Looking at scenes of the Boston sidewalk a few hours after Monday’s bombing — torn clothing, bloodstains, shards of glass — I found my mind going back to a similar sidewalk in Tel Aviv in September 2003. A Hamas suicide bomber had blown himself up at a bus stop outside the Tsrifin army base, and by coincidence I was nearby and got there to witness the immediate aftermath. As I wrote then, parts of the bomber were still on the street, including his hairy leg. His shoe had been blown off, but his brown sock was still daintily on his foot. Israeli rescue workers calmly carried away the dead on stretchers, with an odd mix of horror and routine. But what I remember most was something the police spokesman said to me: “We will have this whole area cleaned up in two hours. By morning, the bus stop will be repaired. You will never know this happened.”
We still do not know who set off the Boston Marathon bombs or why. But we do know now, after 9/11, after all the terrorism the world has seen in the last decade, what the right reaction is: wash the sidewalk, wipe away the blood, and let whoever did it know that while they have sickeningly maimed and killed some of our brothers and sisters, they have left no trace on our society or way of life. Terrorists are not strong enough to do that — only we can do that to ourselves — and we must never accommodate them.
So let’s repair the sidewalk immediately, fix the windows, fill the holes and leave no trace — no shrines, no flowers, no statues, no plaques — and return life to normal there as fast as possible. Let’s defy the terrorists, by not allowing them to leave even the smallest scar on our streets, and honor the dead by sanctifying our values, by affirming life and all those things that make us stronger and bring us closer together as a country.
Let’s name a playground or a school after that 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, who was standing by the finish line, and who ran out and hugged his father, Bill, after he completed the race, and then trustingly walked back to the sidewalk to be with his mother and sister when the bomb tore through them all. Let’s donate to the favorite life-giving charities of the other victims. Let’s pitch in to help the injured recover. But on lovely Boylston Street in Boston, a place normally so full of life, let there be no reminder whatsoever of what President Obama called this “heinous and cowardly act” of terror.
And while we are at it, let’s schedule another Boston Marathon as soon as possible. Cave dwelling is for terrorists. Americans? We run in the open on our streets — men and women, young and old, new immigrants and foreigners, in shorts not armor, with abandon and never fear, eyes always on the prize, never on all those “suspicious” bundles on the curb. In today’s world, sometimes we pay for that quintessentially American naïveté, but the benefits — living in an open society — always outweigh the costs.
Terrorists know that, of course, and feed on it. The explosives were reportedly packed into six-liter pressure cookers, tucked into black duffel bags and then left on the ground. That is the signature of modern terrorism: to turn routine items from our lives into bombs: the shoe, the backpack, the car, the airplane, the cellphone, the laptop, the garage door opener, fertilizer, the printer, the pressure cooker — so that everything and everyone becomes a source of suspicion.
This can pose a much greater threat to our open society than the Soviet Red Army ever did — if we let it — because this kind of terrorism attacks the essential thing that keeps an open society open: trust. Trust is built into every aspect, every building, every interaction and every marathon in our open society. Terrorists can steal it for a moment or even a while, but we dare not let them fundamentally erode it, and I don’t think we will. When you watch the video of the bombing aftermath, notice how many people you see running toward the blast within seconds to help, even though more bombs easily could have been set to explode there.
Fortunately, we don’t frighten easily anymore. You could feel it in the country on Tuesday morning. We’ve been through 9/11. We probably overreacted then, but never again. We tracked down Osama bin Laden with police and intelligence work, and we’ll do the same in this case. But meanwhile, even in this age of terrorism, let’s keep heeding the advice of an advertisement that you could see hanging in a Boylston Street window in a picture taken after the blast. The picture showed a marathoner sifting through unclaimed runners’ bags left behind after the explosion. Behind him, in the window, the ad poster says: “Your home should be a place to rest easy.”
Only we can take that away from ourselves — not some terrorist with one despicable spasm of madness. So hug your kids tonight, but also encourage them to start training for the next marathon tomorrow. Now that I think of it, maybe we should make this one longer — from Boston to the site of the World Trade Center to the Pentagon — to remind ourselves and anyone else who needs reminding: This is our house. We intend to relax here. And we are not afraid.