As in “blind” and “crazy”:
Instead of “the hammer,” in the words of John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, America will rely on the “scalpel.” In a speech in May, Mr. Brennan, an architect of the White House strategy, used this analogy while pledging a “multigenerational” campaign against Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates.
Yet such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties.
This is the “realist” strategy proposed counter to the dominant neo-con pipe dreams of the Bush era now put into practice. It begs new definitions of realism, however. Anyone remember the enmity we incurred employing such tactics during the Cold War throughout Latin and South Americas, Africa and Asia? Indeed, as the NYTimes report notes, some of the same players who waged proxy wars in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, hiring such folks as Osama bin Laden as our proxy, are now crafting the covert war strategy.
Yet there is a difference: we have entered a new era of integrated violence by the corporate state. As the report notes, the CIA has become a “paramilitary organization” with little Congressional oversight; the Pentagon has taken a greater role in intelligence activity; and private contractors — a.k.a., mercenaries — assume more responsibility and power. All the while rules of engagement, intelligence verification and accountability wither away.
Also — significantly — there is the greater reliance on technology, a trend we have seen grow since the first Gulf War, when we learned our “smart bombs” were not so smart. Contra the Obama White House’s stated objective of fighting small scale, surgical conflicts with al Qaeda to reduce hostile blow-back from the world’s poor, there is a pattern: Less reliable information, more civilian casualties, less trustworthy informants with greater conflicts of interest, more anger among the survivors, more recruits for jihadist groups.
What do we make of this, Dr. Cox?