Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Way We Were Are 

Return with us now to the thrilling days of the mid-eighties, when U.S.-sponsored death squads (or as Mr. Reagan liked to call them, "freedom fighters") roamed the fields of Central America slaughtering untold numbers of uppity peasants who stood, often unwittingly, in the way of Democracy. By some malignant jest of fate the authors of that glorious chapter in American history are back in power hoping to relive the triumphs of their youth, and wondering if the surefire techniques their proxies honed in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc., might not prove handy in dealing with the intransigent natives of Iraq. In fact, as Newsweek reports, the renascent mania for "neutralization" (as the CIA used to call it) and/or "targeted assassination" (as the Likudniks prefer) is running so high in our nation's capital that Honest Don's Pentagon and Porter "O.G."'s CIA are engaged in a turf war over who gets to murder the nuns this time:
What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out.

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

[Maj. Gen.Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service] said that the U.S. occupation has failed to crack the problem of broad support for the insurgency. The insurgents, he said, "are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them." He said most Iraqi people do not actively support the insurgents or provide them with material or logistical help, but at the same time they won’t turn them in. One military source involved in the Pentagon debate agrees that this is the crux of the problem, and he suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
On a related note, our esteemed colleague Orc at This Space for Rent directs us to an Army War College document enumerating the five criteria a foreign government must meet to qualify for "rogue state" status, as defined in the administration's National Security Statement of 2002. "Rogue states" are the ones that:Do you see anything in this remarkable piece of projection that might possibly exclude America from the roster of rogue states? Bullet point #5, perhaps? Okay, you might argue, the Bush administration plainly rejects basic human values, but it's not like they "hate America and everything it stands for."

Are you sure?

UPDATE: If you have never read it, Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, the CIA manual distributed to the Nicaraguan contras, has been posted in its entirety here. Aryeh Neier of Americas Watch wrote in an afterword to the 1985 Vintage paperback edition that:
The CIA manual, Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, promotes violations of U.S. law and international law. It makes the United States a member of the company of outlaw nations that sponsor international terrorism. It also raises questions about our pursuit of foreign policy by means that would not withstand democratic scrutiny and debate.
The notion that "democratic scruity and debate" might have anything to do with our pursuit of foreign policy sounds positively quaint, doesn't it? Especially when you consider that 51% of the population is perfectly willing to sign off on anything.

How far we've come in twenty years!

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