Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

“Will The U.S. Attack Iran?” Having The Wrong Conversation

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 11 months ago

Last week, Lee Smith published an article in Tablet that gave three, main reasons why the United States is not going to attack Iran now nor will it attack Iran under a President Romney, notwithstanding all the talk to the contrary.

This article got quite a bit of play in the Statist Media because, it was argued, the article seemingly showed that Mitt Romney is carrying on a charade of getting tough on Iran and that any criticisms of President Obama’s current Iran policy are hollow or hypocritical.

Lee Smith advances three, main arguments for why no Republican president would openly attack Iran:  1) Domestic politics;  2) History of Iran-U.S. relations, and;  3) the disguised reliance upon nuclear deterrence.

The article makes perfect sense at a certain level.   On domestic politics, Smith is correct, but for the wrong reasons.   While Smith points to the desire to avoid destabilizing economic effects of any attack, the real bar to Republican action is entirely political.   The Democrats established a clear precedent with George W. Bush that any military action abroad, even if a broad authorization is obtained from Congress in advance, will be subjected to the worst partisan attacks and scurrilous accusations.   Democrats will mobilize every resource to demonize a Republican president who dares to use force against America’s enemies.   Use of force is an exclusive, Democrat prerogative.

On the history of dealings with Iran, Smith also scores points:

No American president has ever drawn red lines for Tehran and enforced them by showing that transgressions are swiftly and severely punished.

It’s true that it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who sat by idly when Ayatollah Khomeini and the founders of the Islamic Republic stormed the U.S. embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days. But GOP hero Ronald Reagan provided the Iranians with arms—after the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese asset, Hezbollah, killed 241 U.S. Marines in the 1983 bombing of their barracks at the Beirut airport. When the FBI said Tehran was responsible for the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, Bill Clinton failed to respond or even name Iran, lest it derail the “dialogue of civilizations” promised by the newly elected reform-minded president Muhammad Khatami. And the last Republican in the White House was no more proactive in countering Iran’s actual attacks on Americans: The more than 100,000 American servicemen and -women that Bush had dispatched to Iraq were targeted by the IRGC and their local allies, a fact that U.S. officials tended to obscure and did little to change when they did acknowledge it.

As to a hidden reliance on nuclear deterrence, Smith is also likely correct:

If you can kill Americans without any consequences and the Americans will in fact collaborate in covering up your malfeasance, you can certainly build a nuclear weapons facility without too much concern that the Americans are really keeping “all options on the table”; the White House is not and almost surely never will—no matter who’s calling the shots. Short of an American city suffering thousands of casualties in a nuclear attack that the Iranians boast of publicly, it is difficult to know what would compel a U.S. president to take military action against Iran.

Maybe U.S. policymakers just believe, in spite of what they say publicly, that Iran really isn’t that big a deal. Remember that even today, a number of American officials, civilian and military, cut their teeth on Cold War strategy, an era when the United States faced off against a real superpower. Washington and Moscow fought proxy wars against each other on four continents with the fear of an eventual nuclear exchange leading to mutually assured destruction looming in the background. Perhaps, if seen in this context, for American policymakers Iran just doesn’t rise to a genuine threat level.

The problem with Smith’s analysis (and many others who have been endlessly debating the pros and cons of attacking Iran to stop its nuclear weapons development) is that it fundamentally is the wrong conversation.

The focus of the debate should not be about stopping a totalitarian, Islamist regime devoted to martyrdom from getting nuclear weapons.   The focus should be on removing the Regime itself.  The Iranian people have lived long enough under the hand of an oppressive theocracy to know that the next government must be anything but that.  The Green Movement that began with the phony elections of 2009 explicitly called for a true, secular, democratic government.  The Regime immediately recognized the counter-revolutionary nature of the Greens and put it down with absolute brutality.  The Regime knows that the people of Iran want normalized relations with the U.S. and the West in general.  Any change in government is going to be a sharp repudiation of the current leadership and the mullahs.

Fortunately for the U.S. and the West, the Regime is clinging on to power on a cliff’s edge of explosive public unrest and simmering revolution.   All that is needed to effect the removal of the Regime is a little… more… time.

This plays directly into the debate over Israel’s decision whether to attack Iran.

The current debate suffers from the same mistake.   Critics endlessly point out that even if Israel could muster the nerve and assets to attack Iranian facilities any such attack would “only” delay the Iranian nuclear program, not end it.   If any attack could end Iran’s nuclear program that would certainly be preferable.   But that is, of course, highly unlikely.   Delaying the program, however, is the very point.   Delaying the program is more than a sufficient goal because it gives more time to change the leadership of Iran.

Obama has been doing everything in its power to subvert and forestall an attack by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities.   This is directly contrary to U.S. interests in bringing down the Iranian Regime.  An attack by Israel, even if incomplete, would undeniably set back the Iranian nuclear program by some years according to most estimates.   This additional time could be the crucial difference in allowing the U.S. to work, covertly, toward bringing down the Regime.

In the end, the U.S. must realize that it is not the possession of nuclear weapons in and of itself that should be feared.   It is the government that possesses such weapons.   Simply seeking to keep nuclear technology out of the hands of totalitarian regimes is, ultimately futile.  As North Korea demonstrated, with enough determination and sacrifice, even a poverty-stricken country can get nuclear weapons.  The goal must always be to eliminate any regime that evidences any intention to go nuclear.   It is a red line that cannot be crossed.

How and when we go about doing that is the conversation we should be having.

News So Bad It Has To Be True: Iran Already Has Nukes (Time for Plan B)

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 9 months ago

On occasion someone will say, “That news is too good to be true.”   You won the lottery without even playing.    McDonald’s Big Macs have been discovered to lead to weight loss and longer life.   Obama wakes up one day and realizes that Leftist policies are killing this country.

Conversely, there ought to be a saying that some news is just so bad, it has to be true.   The opinion piece printed the other day in The Washington Times falls into this category:  so bad it has to be true.

Afterall, would anyone who has kept up with the pathetic Kabuki dance of anti-proliferation involving Iran since 2000 have any reason to doubt that Iran not only has The Bomb but has had The Bomb for quite awhile now and is simply working on expanding their stockpile?

I suppose we must always take a pseudonymous writer with a grain of salt, so this opinion piece by Reza Khalili must bear an asterisk, however small.   But I submit that, even if we were to exclude what Khalili says in his article about his days with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the remaining portions of his account that do not depend upon his inside information are plenty persuasive.

Here is the bad news:

The pressure the United States and the West is bringing to bear on Iran to keep it from acquiring nuclear weapons is all for naught. Not only does the Islamic Republic already have nuclear weapons from the old Soviet Union, but it has enough enriched uranium for more. What’s worse, it has a delivery system.

The West for nearly a decade has worried about Iran’s uranium enhancement, believing Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, though the government maintains its uranium is only for peaceful purposes.

When Iran began its nuclear program in the mid-1980s, I was working as a spy for the CIA within the Revolutionary Guards. The Guards‘ intelligence at that time had learned of Saddam Hussein’s attempt to buy a nuclear bomb for Iraq. Guard commanders concluded that they needed a nuclear bomb because if Saddam were to get his own, he would use it against Iran. At that time, the two countries were at war.

Mohsen Rezaei, then-chief commander of the Guards, received permission from the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to start a covert program to obtain nuclear weapons, so the Guards contacted Pakistani generals and Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist.

Commander Ali Shamkhani traveled to Pakistan, offering billions of dollars for a bomb, but ended up with a blueprint and centrifuges instead. The first centrifuge was transferred to Iran on Khomeini’s personal plane.

This is pretty damning stuff.  But even if we disregard what Khalili says about his days as a C.I.A. agent, the rest of his allegations are more than sufficient:

In a second but parallel attempt to amass nuclear weapons, Iran turned to the former Soviet republics. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990, Iran coveted thousands of tactical nuclear warheads that had been dispersed in the former republics.

In the early 1990s, the CIA asked me to find an Iranian scientist who would testify that Iran had the bomb. The CIA had learned that Iranian intelligence agents were visiting nuclear installations throughout the former Soviet Union, with particular interest in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan, which had a significant portion of the Soviet arsenal and is predominately Muslim, was courted by Muslim Iran with offers of hundreds of millions of dollars for the bomb. Reports soon surfaced that three nuclear warheads were missing. This was corroborated by Russian Gen. Victor Samoilov, who handled the disarmament issues for the general staff. He admitted that the three were missing from Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, Paul Muenstermann, then vice president of the German Federal Intelligence Service, said Iran had received two of the three nuclear warheads and medium-range nuclear delivery systems from Kazakhstan. It also was reported that Iran had purchased four 152 mm nuclear shells from the former Soviet Union, which were reportedly stolen and sold by former Red Army officers.

To make matters worse, several years later, Russian officials stated that when comparing documents in transferring nuclear weapons from Ukraine to Russia, there was a discrepancy of 250 nuclear weapons.

Last week, Mathew Nasuti, a former U.S. Air Force captain who was at one point hired by the State Department as an adviser to one of its provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq, said that in March 2008, during a briefing on Iran at the State Department, the department’s Middle East expert told the group that it was “common knowledge” that Iran had acquired tactical nuclear weapons from one or more of the former Soviet republics.

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, an experienced intelligence officer and recipient of a Bronze Star, told me that his sources say Iran has two workable nuclear warheads.

An editorial in Kayhan, the Iranian newspaper directly under the supervision of the Office of the Supreme Leader, last year warned that if Iran were attacked, there would be nuclear blasts in American cities.

When you stop to think about it, this just makes too much sense to not be true.

It perfectly explains the behavior of every U.S. administration since the time that Iran allegedly gained possession of the nuclear weapons in the 1990′s.   From Clinton to Bush to Obama, all have almost robotically stated that it was “unacceptable” for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.   But not one of these administrations did anything concrete about it.

Think about this for a moment.   When the U.S. declares something to be “unacceptable,” one would naturally believe that the U.S. is going to act accordingly.    So when the Soviets began installing nuclear missile sites in Cuba, the U.S. imposed a blockade on the island and dared the Soviet Union to try to break it.    When the U.S. declared that a communist South Vietnam was unacceptable, the U.S. invested over half a million soldiers to prevent the takeover.   In more recent history, in the case of Bill Clinton, he refused to put up with the Serbian ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and launched a unilateral air war to stop it.   President Bush took bold military action to dislodge Al Qaeda from Afghanistan after 9/11 and remove Saddam Hussein.   Obama has gone on a drone strike frenzy since he took office, all in order to kill leaders who have not yet shown any ability to launch any sort of large-scale strike against the U.S.

But, strangely enough, when Iran pursues nuclear weapons– a regime whose fanatically religious leadership has universally pledged itself to the utter destruction of the U.S. and its allies in a way that Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam, China, Serbia and even Iraq never did– the U.S. does what?  All these presidents who have used the U.S. military on numerous occasions did nothing to halt Iran’s progress.   (And I am confident in the sophisticated readers of TCJ that no one will even think of the sanctions as real action).

Is there something about Iran’s conventional forces that is so menacing and so advanced that the success of any U.S. action against Iran would be in doubt?   Of course not.   Yes, Iran is always threatening that they will turn the Persian Gulf into a lake of bloody fiery oily fiery blood, or something to that effect.   But beyond an initial ability to cause havoc in the shipping lanes, it is bluster.   The U.S. has more than enough capabilities to ensure sufficient safe transit through the Straits of Hormuz, particularly after Iran’s military is reduced to ashes.   (Think of the Kuwaiti “Highway of Death”).

To my mind, the only thing that can account for the pusillanimous treatment of Iran by the U.S. is the certainty, in those secret briefings that new presidents always get, that Iran already has The Bomb and, furthermore, has the capacity to use them in at least some fashion that a president would find extremely unpleasant.   So, each administration has been putting on a brave face and declaring that the U.S. will not allow Iran to get The Bomb, all the while knowing that they have it and the most that we can do is try to slow down, interrupt, forestall or complicate their tireless efforts to expand their stock of bombs and delivery systems.

Cold comfort, that.

Khalili’s closing thoughts are chilling:

“History suggests that we may already be too late to stop Iran’s nuclear bomb. Why do we suppose Iran cannot accomplish in 20 years of trying – with access to vast amounts of unclassified data on nuclear-weapons design and equipped with 21st-century technology – what the U.S. accomplished in three years during the 1940s with the Manhattan Project?” asks nuclear weapons expert Peter Vincent Pry, who served in the CIA and on the EMP Commission, and is now president of EMPact America.

Mr. Pry concludes that Iran only needs a single nuclear weapon to destroy the United States. A nuclear EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack could collapse the national electric grid and other critical infrastructures that sustain the lives of 310 million Americans.

Are we ready to finally realize what the goals and the ideology of the jihadists in Tehran are and take appropriate action against them? The Iranian people themselves, who oppose the dictatorial mullahs, for years have asked us to do so. Thousands of them have lost their lives to show us the true nature of this regime. We must act before it’s too late.

But isn’t it already too late?  What can be done at this point?  Isn’t the game over?

Assuming that Khalili’s article is correct, it may be over in the sense of preventing the Regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, but that does not mean that the U.S. must accede to a Regime that continues to enhance and expand its nuclear capabilities.   Presumably this is the intent and aim of the Regime: an ongoing capability to manufacture a large number of nuclear weapons, something that the Regime presently lacks.

The goal may now have changed from prevention to neutralization, i.e. regime change.   Afterall, if it is already too late to take the nukes away from the Regime, the only option may be to take the Regime away from the nukes.   There is much, much more that the U.S. could be doing to ensure the downfall of the Regime and the rise of a pro-Western democracy in Iran.

This is not nation-building and this is not containment.   This is good, old fashioned covert operations and insurgency tactics designed to take out critical infrastructure like oil facilities, refineries and the electrical grid with plausible deniability.   The Iranian economy already teeters on the edge of ruin with high rates of inflation, massive corruption across every industry and a population that is seething for change.   The U.S. and its allies need to do everything possible to push the Iranian economy over the edge and support to the fullest extent those segments of the Green Movement that favor a pro-Western policy.   We need to push the buttons on Iran that fatally weaken them– the 1,000 cuts– without giving the Regime the excuse to launch a major terror attack.   At the same time, if the U.S. is smart, it will be doing everything possible to increase domestic production of oil and natural gas as a buffer against the predictable rise in oil prices as Iranian exports plunge due to disrupted drilling, sabotaged pipelines and industrial accidents.

An Iran with a limited number of nuclear weapons is not yet a hopeless situation.  In a nuclear age, possessing nukes is not enough.   A nation must possess a sufficient quantity to convince an opponent that any attack against it will result in a counter-strike of apocalyptic proportions.   When facing a regime like the one in Tehran with a so far, very limited stockpile of nukes, it is, ironically, the one who launches first who loses.   Iran lacks a large stockpile of nukes with which to threaten the U.S., so it cannot afford to initiate any type of nuclear attack.   If it does, it invites certain annihilation from the U.S. stockpile.   Strategically, Iran’s nukes, at this stage, only serve as a deterrent against conventional attack.   Like a bee with a very large stinger, the Regime’s nukes raise the cost of directly attacking it, but cannot, in the long run, serve as an absolute deterrent or prevail.

Instead, the Regime likely would welcome a direct attack and then claim such an attack as justification to use its small number of nukes as its only, real means of defense while counting on the international community’s protection after the fact and the sympathy generated by the initial attack launched by the U.S. (or Israel, perhaps).   The U.S. cannot fall into that trap.   By using covert means, the U.S. can work to eliminate the Regime and ensure that a democratic Iran emerges, one which will either relinquish the nuclear weapons or pose no more threat to the West than Israel or France.  The U.S. must find a way to become adept at the use of proxies even as the Regime has used Hezbollah and Hamas as its cat’s paw against Israel.

Whether the U.S. can find an elected leader with the courage and determination to pursue such a course is another matter altogether.   The current occupant of the White House is not going to do it.   It is hard to know at this point whether any of the current GOP candidates are up to the task, either.  One thing is clear, if we assume as a worst-case scenario that Iran already has at least a few, working nuclear devices and the means of delivery, every year that the Regime stays in power allows them to expand their nuclear capabilities and stockpile to the point where even covert action would be too risky.  That, to my mind, would be the very definition of “too late.”

Any Spooks Left in the CIA Attic? Aiding the Syrian Army Defectors

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 10 months ago

I just want to know.

General Petraeus.  Once you get settled in over at the C.I.A., can you check around the closets or under the desks at Langley and see if there are any covert ops people left?   I know we are too high-tech for that sort of thing nowadays, but every so often a job comes up that just can’t be done by the drones or the snooping satellites or wire intercepts.

The Washington Post publishes this article concerning the rising numbers of Syrian soldiers defecting to the opposition:

WADI KHALED, Lebanon — A group of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army is attempting the first effort to organize an armed challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, signaling what some hope and others fear may be a new phase in what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful Syrian protest movement.

For now, the shadowy entity seems mostly to consist of some big ambitions, a Facebook page and a relatively small number of defected soldiers and officers who have taken refuge on the borderlands of Turkey and Lebanon or among civilians in Syria’s cities.

Many of its claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, such as its boasts to have shot down a helicopter near Damascus this month and to have mustered a force of 10,000 to take on the Syrian military.

But it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas where the defections have occurred.

“It is the beginning of armed rebellion,” said Gen. Riad Asaad, the dissident army’s leader, who defected from the air force in July and took refuge in Turkey.

The article goes to great lengths to point out that the group does not have much clout at the moment but also notes:

There are nonetheless signs that the Free Syrian Army is expanding and organizing as reports of violent encounters increase. The group has announced the formation of 12 battalions around the country that regularly post claims on the group’s Facebook page, including bombings against military buses and ambushes at checkpoints.

This type of reporting is to be taken with more than a grain of salt, particularly in light of the lack of any reporters inside of Syria verifying the claims  (Calling Geraldo:  report to your choice of border crossings into Syria).  At the same time, it is only natural that protesters who are regularly attacked, beaten, tortured and killed will want to take up arms and at least try to defend themselves.   Given that the Assad Regime has been a major supplier of insurgents and armaments into Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and actively does the bidding of Iran in Lebanon, the U.S. has a keen interest in seeing him toppled.

What perfect justice for the U.S. to return the favor to Assad tenfold by infiltrating weapons into Syria from western Iraq.

But does the U.S. even have that capability?  And if we do, would this Administration actually follow through?

How does the U.S. influence the future of Syria?  At some point, when the Assad Regime continues to kill and torture its citizens, the U.S. must do more than just offer a rhetorical bone to the opposition.    Connections are made and relationships formed by providing material assistance (even if covert) to the opposition groups in Syria who at least have a willingness to work with the U.S.   How do we know that we will not be supplying weapons and training to Islamist militants?

That requires actual intelligence officers and human sources inside Syria.

General Petraeus, do you have anyone like that around the office?

To Act or Not to Act? Libya is the Question

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

Ross Douthat sets forth a thin, but significant piece about the ongoing debate over military intervention in Libya.

First, he remarks that there is surprisingly little residual reluctance to take action in a Arab-muslim nation such as Libya after the U.S. experience in Iraq.

Five years ago, in the darkest days of insurgent violence and Sunni-Shia strife, it seemed as if the Iraq war would shadow American foreign policy for decades, frightening a generation’s worth of statesmen away from using military force. Where there had once been a “Vietnam syndrome,” now there would be an “Iraq syndrome,” inspiring harrowing flashbacks to Baghdad and Falluja in any American politician contemplating an intervention overseas.

But in today’s Washington, no such syndrome is in evidence. Indeed, it’s striking how quickly the bipartisan coalition that backed the Iraq invasion has reassembled itself to urge President Obama to use military force against Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Next he cites the surprising diversity and number of people calling for some form of intervention in Libya.

Now a similar chorus is arguing that the United States should intervene directly in Libya’s civil war: with a no-flight zone, certainly, and perhaps with arms for the Libyan rebels and air strikes against Qaddafi’s military as well. As in 2002 and 2003, the case for intervention is being pushed by a broad cross-section of politicians and opinion-makers, from Bill Clinton to Bill Kristol, Fareed Zakaria to Newt Gingrich, John Kerry to Christopher Hitchens.

Douthat, however, believes that American leadership has not learned the clear lessons of Iraq.   He explains:

In reality, there are lessons from our years of failure in Iraq that can be applied to an air war over Libya as easily as to a full-scale invasion or counterinsurgency. Indeed, they can be applied to any intervention — however limited its aims, multilateral its means, and competent its commanders.

One is that the United States shouldn’t go to war unless it has a plan not only for the initial military action, but also for the day afterward, and the day after that. Another is that the United States shouldn’t go to war without a detailed understanding of the country we’re entering, and the forces we’re likely to empower.

Moreover, even with the best-laid plans, warfare is always a uniquely high-risk enterprise — which means that the burden of proof should generally rest with hawks rather than with doves, and seven reasonable-sounding reasons for intervening may not add up to a single convincing case for war.

Are these really the lessons to be learned from the war in Iraq?

I don’t think so.

First, Douthat believes that no military action, no matter how small, should be undertaken unless there is detailed planning for every, possible contingency.  This is palpable nonsense.  Clearly there are occasions when military action can be taken– indeed must be taken at times– without volumes of risk assessment and contingency planning.   To harp on just one, the Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden clearly does not require obsessive planning for each and every use of force.  As posted by the Captain before, the only planning needed for dealing with pirates is whether to use an additional drum of ammunition in dispatching them.

Advanced, detailed planning of the sort envisioned by Douthat is not needed in responding forcefully to clear, hostile provocations, such as the Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf in the 1980′s.  Indeed, this obsessive, over-planning mentality is not only a hindrance to effective military action but a danger as it threatens to negate one of America’s greatest tactical military advantages:  the spirit of initiative and innovation of our military commanders and line units.

Moreover, even if it were possible to engage in this kind of obsessive pre-planning, what good would result?  It is axiomatic in war, Bismarck tells us, that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.   If Douthat wants a clear lesson from the Iraq war, surely Bismarck’s advice is one that is conveniently forgotten in the rush to blame and criticize the Iraq campaign.

Secondly, Douthat believes that no military action can be undertaken without “a detailed understanding of the country we’re entering, and the forces we’re likely to empower.”  Granted, as Sun Tzu said, it is best to know as much about your enemy as possible.  The problem is that Douthat’s fine-sounding advice is of little use outside of the faculty room or the halls of think tanks.   Yes, our nation needs to have an ongoing program that seeks to deepen our understanding of potential adversaries (not to mention allies).  This used to be the province of the C.I.A. and D.I.A.   Perhaps, in light of the sclerotic record, we should no longer take that for granted.  Nevertheless, this understanding must already exist and permeate the counsels of the President as a given when any military action is being considered.

It is not the kind of thing that exists in its own sphere.   To Douthat, it seems as an either-or proposition:  we either understand Libya, for example, or we do not.   In reality, we understand some things about Libya and its people and do not understand others (just as we understand some things about everything under the sun– with the possible exception of liberals who appear incomprehensible, even among themselves).   There is no point at which leaders can say, we understand everything about this nation.  There are gaps.   There are cultural blinders.  We must act within these parameters, not wait until we have achieved some mystical level of enlightenment.

Thirdly, Douthat argues for a rule that the “hawks” have the overwhelming “burden of proof” in any consideration for military action given the inherent risks and costs of war.

Certainly there is some sense in this.  Particularly as the scale of the action increases.  But Douthat’s rule here is more a reflection of his own predilections than an objective measure.   In other words, he argues that those advocating military intervention be forced to prove the merits of it, presumably beyond either a shadow of a doubt (the criminal standard of proof) or at least by a preponderance of the evidence (the civil legal standard).   But this is because, to Douthat, the costs and risks of acting far outweigh the costs and risks of inaction.  That is his preference (and likely that of most on the Left and in the Democrat party).   But a strong argument can be made that the costs and risks of inaction are no less than that of taking action and there is an abundance of historical examples too numerous to cite.

The Iraq war does not teach us that the so-called “hawks” should have been forced to prove their case beyond all doubt or debate.   Just the opposite.  Iraq is an example of action being taken where many of the risks were unknown and unknowable.   We can be fairly certain that inaction would have resulted in Saddam remaining in power, continuing to evade sanctions and increasing his capacity for mayhem, including WMDs. Thankfully, we took action and there is, at the very least, a struggling democracy with the hope of progress and of no threat to the U.S. or U.S. allies.

Applying Douthat’s rules to Libya is a foregone conclusion for inaction and timidity.  Here is Douthat’s conclusion:

Advocates of a Libyan intervention don’t seem to have internalized these lessons. They have rallied around a no-flight zone as their Plan A for toppling Qaddafi, but most military analysts seem to think that it will fail to do the job, and there’s no consensus on Plan B. Would we escalate to air strikes? Arm the rebels? Sit back and let Qaddafi claim to have outlasted us?

If we did supply the rebels, who exactly would be receiving our money and munitions? Libya’s internal politics are opaque, to put it mildly. But here’s one disquieting data point, courtesy of the Center for a New American Security’s Andrew Exum: Eastern Libya, the locus of the rebellion, sent more foreign fighters per capita to join the Iraqi insurgency than any other region in the Arab world.

And if the civil war dragged on, what then? Twice in the last two decades, in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, the United States has helped impose a no-flight zone. In both cases, it was just a stepping-stone to further escalation: bombing campaigns, invasion, occupation and nation-building.

None of this means that an intervention is never the wisest course of action. But the strategic logic needs to be compelling, the threat to our national interest obvious, the case for war airtight.

“Airtight” ?  That is a standard that will never be met in the real world.

I do not advocate direct military intervention in Libya, necessarily.  But the arguments by Douthat are spurious ones, designed to throw impossible obstacles in the way of action while seeming to be reasonable and leaving open the possibility for the use of force.

What I do advocate, however, is an American foreign policy that pursues American interests first.  Not the E.U.  Not the U.N.   Not the cheese-eaters and wine-tasters of the D.C. Beltway or that nebulous “world opinion.”

When I look at Libya I see, first and foremost, a dictator that has been a constant enemy of America; someone who ordered the bombing of a civilian airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland and still has innocent American blood on his hands to account for; someone who has toyed with nukes in the past and funds all manner of terrorists abroad.   If an opportunity arises to rid the earth of such a person, then serious consideration must be given.

This need not mean land invasion or no-fly zone.  There was a time when the U.S. possessed covert resources that could tip the scales in our favor in time of need.   If the U.S. lacks those covert resources now, that is to our everlasting shame and cannot be tolerated.  At one time, if I recall, the mujaheddin in Afghanistan found themselves in possession of Stinger anti-air missiles that were crucial in negating Soviet air power, leading eventually to a humiliating retreat by the Soviets.  With our advanced electronics assets, is it impossible for us to track down Qaddafi’s whereabouts and put an anonymous J-DAM into his bathroom window?

The point being that there exist an array of options, short of outright ground troops or decades-long air patrols, that can be employed to take out the dictator.   What happens next is a job for our diplomatic corps and the contingent of spooks that can be sent in to help things along toward a favorable outcome.   But people like Douthat only want to deal in terms of extremes.  If we can’t invade, we can’t do anything.  Nonsense.  Douthat is doing nothing more than providing a fig leaf to Obama’s congenital indecisiveness.   The heat is on for Obama to do something and Douthat wants to give Obama some cover.   Nothing new there.

But as an argument, it does not stand up.   To be sure there are risks to taking action.  There may be unintended consequences.  But, if worse comes to worse and Libya, however improbably, sinks lower than Qaddafi’s vile government, there are always options.  Always.


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