Saturday, July 03, 2010

Never Ending Vigilance

Yesterday's Washington Post reported what I call the Drama of National Security, detailing the round the clock vigilance of American national security officials from Leon Pannetta to Janet Napolitano. It followed the flow of information and decisions from around the world to the highest echelons of the US government and the president. The story is certainly a positive one for the Obama administration. It tells the nation that this administration is on target, 24/7.

What the report lacks is a realistic context for all of this drama and watchfulness. Instead we learn only that officials struggle with the "details of plots that realize the nation's vague, yet primal, accumulation of all the dangers hidden in the dark" Among the dangers is "growing terrorism activity at home". Not to mention two wars and CIA operations that are "some of the most aggressive actions in the agency's history". In the end, it all comes off as "Be afraid, America, but also be confident that your country will protect you".

But if I read the story carefully, though, it undermines the rationale for large scale, extended military operations, the hallmark of US foreign policy for the past decade. Defense Secretary Robert Gates describes the "actual physical threat" to America these days as "worse than the Cold War", his worst nightmare a "terrorist with a weapon of mass destruction." His nightmare may be possible but his theat assessment is complete hyperbole. The physical threat to America was far greater in the Cold War where we faced an adversary with the capability to wreak wholesale destruction on much of what is now The Homeland. Gates' terrorist with a weapon of mass destruction is at best, a one-off attack, a ghastly possibility but not the stuff of Cold War Armageddon.

And like the 9-11 attacks, which was Saudi nationals, organizing in Germany and learning to (sort of) fly in Florida, Gates' nightmare can originate just about anywhere in the world. Not necessarily Afghanistan or Iraq where America has poured blood and treasure since 2001. And not something at which main force military units are particularly adept. Fighting terrorism, real or imagined, is not something happening in any of America's two military wars and agressive CIA operations.

Joint Chief chairman Michael Mullen further demonstrates the futility of the wars. He is fighting an "evil that doesn't believe in anything we believe in", people who "don't value civilization". As Ranger Against War has consistently pointed out, a successful military operation requires a defined objective. Fighting evil and bringing our idea of civilization are not the stuff of clearly defined objectives.

No wonder they call it the Long War.


In contrast, look at the objectives for another high pressure, round-the-clock operation: figuring out how to cap the Deepwater Horizon blowout. These guys know when they will win. The well will be capped well before an entire undersea reservoir of petroleum spews into the world's oceans.



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