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:: Saturday, April 10, 2004 ::

Final Post

I want to share with you the funniest news article I read during Operation Enduring Freedom:
Military Lands Exactly Where It Didn't Want To
Afghanistan: The ground war is taking U.S. forces into rocky terrain and thin air, the sort of conditions that felled the Soviets.

By ESTHER SCHRADER, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON ? The fierce combat unfolding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan is just what the Pentagon had hoped to avoid in this campaign: a battle in which superior air power and technology aren't trump cards and hundreds of U.S. troops are fighting hardened guerrillas in rocky terrain, thin air and brutally cold weather.

The large ground assault near the town of Gardez is taking the U.S. military into precisely the sort of conditions that felled the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s--and precisely the sort of battle the Clinton administration assiduously avoided in Kosovo.

It is also the ground war Al Qaeda apparently wanted.

"Cities and mountains are two places where you don't want to fight," said one defense official who has been involved in planning the Gardez operation. "But if you're a terrorist and you hear that, that's where you want to go."

Despite the heaviest U.S. combat casualty tolls of the war--eight servicemen dead and about 40 injured in the fighting to date--officials said the U.S.-led force of more than 2,000 will continue battling Al Qaeda and Taliban forces until the militants are either dead or captured.[Emphasis mine]

What, you mean we didn't just give up?

Like Virginia Postrel, I think it's way to early to judge whether our current two-front war in Iraq is a proof that the whole operation is a disaster, or that we've got 'em right where we want 'em. But what kind of armchair general pundit guy would I be if I didn't offer some kind of commentary?

I will say this: While the timing of our confrontation with al-Sadr may have been unavoidable, I cannot for the life of my understand why we've waited so long to do in Fallujah and Ramadi what should have been done, oh, say, a year ago? There's been a lot of justifiable talk about the flaws in the Phase IV strategy of OIF (if there even was one), but I think this also points to flaws in the way the first phases of the war themselves were fought.

Gen. Eric Shinseki testified before Congress that we would need "several hundred thousand" troops to topple Saddam. Perhaps he should have said that we would need that many to do the job the right way. Instead of doing it the right way, it seems that we took the path of least resistance to Baghdad, and rather than secure the towns and cities in that path, we simply blew threw them.

We also allowed surrendering enemy troops to simply go home, rather than detain and process them properly. We ended up facing many of them again during the first phases of the war, and are surely facing many more now in the counterinsurgency phase. We opted for expediency over thoroughness.

This is not to say that there weren't very valid reasons for the strategy of getting to Baghdad as quickly as possible -- rather than take the time to button down the territories leading to it, but with the proper force size, we could have more of the latter, without sacrificing the former.

Regardless of how the next 90 days play out, I want to go on record now as saying that regardless of the problems (which were at least partly avoidable), it will not discredit the argument that overthrowing Saddam was the right thing to do. Nor will the tidiest roll-up of the two insurgencies absolve us from making some very foolish mistakes along the way.


But I'm afraid I won't be around for a "cold wash-up" of Operation Vigilant Resolve. It's time for me to pack up this blog -- actually, something I've been meaning to do for weeks now, but couldn't bring myself to do it until now. I'm not suffering from burnout, or being pressured by The Man, or anything like that. Without getting into any details, let' just say I've reached a point in my current professional career which would create some serious ethical issues that I'd rather just avoid (to those in the tinfoil hat crowd who are obsessed with me: read into that what you will).

This has been a great deal of fun, and maybe some day I'll do it again, but it won't be soon. I do want to thank everyone who has given me links, plaudits, and other encouragement -- especially Damien Penny.

I've also received a great deal of thoughtful e-mails, and to those of you who didn't get a response from me, please don't take it personal. I did put a higher premium on responding to the nitwits who were constantly sending me "Oh yeah, well let's see you debunk this!" e-mails over those who sent kind words, and I feel bad about that now.

Please keep reading the blogs linked to your left -- I know I will. And keep the support for our troops flowing, in whatever way you can. Remember, they're heroes, not martyrs.

Bill Herbert

:: COINTELPRO Tool 6:57 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, April 08, 2004 ::

If You're Gonna Fact Check, Fact Check!

Andrew Northrup links to this "Claim vs. Fact" critique of Condi's opening statement by the Center for American Progress. The first one's a doozy:
CLAIM: "We decided immediately to continue pursuing the Clinton Administration's covert action authorities and other efforts to fight the network."

FACT: Newsweek reported that "In the months before 9/11, the U.S. Justice Department curtailed a highly classified program called 'Catcher's Mitt' to monitor al-Qaida suspects in the United States." Additionally, AP reported "though Predator drones spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times in late 2000, the Bush administration did not fly the unmanned planes over Afghanistan during its first eight months," thus terminating the reconnaissance missions started during the Clinton Administration. [Sources: Newsweek, 3/21/04; AP, 6/25/03]

If you click that second link, you'll find out why the Bush administration "terminated" those flights: they were busy expediting the program to arm the Predator, so they could actually do something with the intel they gathered -- they seemed to have learned something from the three times UBL was spotted in late 2000, and we weren't able to do anything about it. And there's this:
Another official said the CIA was opposed in the interim to running too many unarmed Predator flights for fear that would lead Afghan and al-Qaida leaders to be on the lookout for the drones and to flee sites before bombs or missiles could be launched.

??The agency wanted to keep it under wraps and catch them by surprise once they were armed,'' the official explained.

CAP later refers to this fact as a claim, and then refers to the same AP story in a lame attempt to refute it:
According to AP, "the military successfully tested an armed Predator throughout the first half of 2001" but the White House "failed to resolve a debate over whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate the armed Predators" and the armed Predator never got off the ground before 9/11.

This is simply horseshit. The piece does mention the debate between CIA and the Pentagon, but does not cite it as the sole reason for the "delay" -- they were also trying to find a way to arm it with enough ordnance to get a confirmed kill. Not that this distinction matters, because the program still became operation well before it was scheduled under the Clinton Program of Record (POR).

The first test was on Feb. 16, 2001, and the armed Predator was deployed by October. That's fucking unheard of in military POR.

UPDATE: CAP also resorts to butchering a Condi Rice quote (as relayed by commissioner Jamie Gorelick), to make it appear she was lying when she claimed that the Bush administration's strategy was the elimination of al qaeda:
CLAIM: "The strategy set as its goal the elimination of the al-Qaida network. It ordered the leadership of relevant U.S. departments and agencies to make the elimination of al-Qaida a high priority and to use all aspects of our national power -- intelligence, financial, diplomatic, and military -- to meet this goal."

FACT: 9/11 Comissioner Jamie Gorelick: "Is it true, as Dr. Rice said, 'Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership'?" Armitage: "No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11." [Source: 9/11 Commission testimony, 3/24/04]

Yes, they even included a link, as if to say, "you won't check it! You're afraid!"

Sure enough, the transcript quotes Gorelick/Rice thusly (I've emphasized the portion that CAP excised):
GORELICK: So I would ask you whether it is true, as Dr. Rice said in The Washington Post "Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets, taking the fight to the enemy, where he lived"? Was that part of the plan as prior to 9/11?


But this one takes the cake:
CLAIM: "While we were developing this new strategy to deal with al-Qaida, we also made decisions on a number of specific anti-al-Qaida initiatives that had been proposed by Dick Clarke."

FACT: Rice's statement finally confirms what she previously ? and inaccurately ? denied. She falsely claimed on 3/22/04 that "No al-Qaida plan was turned over to the new administration." [Washington Post, 3/22/04]


UPDATE II: Stuart Buck weighs in on CAP's claim about the "Catcher's Mitt" program, noting the rank hypocrisy of the same people who criticize the use of such wire-taps post-9/11 are now criticizing the Bush administration for stopping the practice pre-9/11.

He also notes that the administration was merely responding to being "severely chastised" by a judge over the practice -- another relevant factoid you can find in CAP's source material, but that they neglect to mention in their point paper.

Getting back to the rest of their items...
CLAIM:"When threat reporting increased during the Spring and Summer of 2001, we moved the U.S. Government at all levels to a high state of alert and activity."

FACT: Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush Administration "did not give terrorism top billing in their strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI." Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until Oct. 1, 2001, said during the summer, terrorism had moved "farther to the back burner" and recounted how the Bush Administration's top two Pentagon appointees, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, "shut down" a plan to weaken the Taliban. Similarly, Gen. Don Kerrick, who served in the Bush White House, sent a memo to the new Administration saying "We are going to be struck again" by al Qaeda, but he never heard back. He said terrorism was not "above the waterline. They were gambling nothing would happen." [Sources: Washington Post, 3/22/04; LA Times, 3/30/04]

This one isn't nearly as intellectually dishonest as the others, but it's still weak.

Note that the claim in this case has to do with being on a high state of alert, in response to threat reporting. But neither of the sources cited by CAP address this claim directly, or even at all. They both deal with long term strategic planning. For the record, I think this is a valid point (which is why I haven't gone after their claim concerning the Bush administration's funding of anti-terrrorism programs pre-9/11). I think it's undeniable that the Bush administration gave things like missile defense at a higher relative billing in its long-term national security policy planning, and perhaps even in domestic law enforcement planning.

But this is simply not the same as not responding to an immediate threat warning in an appropriate manner. By all accounts, the Bush administration was on a higher state of alert during the summer of 2001:
Hamilton said Sunday that there was "a sense of urgency" in the U.S. government in the summer of 2001, when U.S. intelligence began picking up extensive "chatter" from terrorist suspects about an imminent attack. But Kean said the administration "let down their guard a bit" just before the attacks when the chatter subsided. And most U.S. officials believed the threat was overseas.

"There's no question about it," Kean said on Meet the Press. "We were not at the state of readiness on Sept. 11 that we'd been (at) back in August. ... I think when the chatter went down, when they didn't hear all these people talking to each other so much, there were other priorities out there."

I believe even Richard Clarke has admitted as much.
:: COINTELPRO Tool 9:17 PM [+] ::

My Lone, Sophomoric Take on the Rice Testimony

The resemblance is even more striking with Bob's new haircut.

Sorry I don't have any high-minded criticism of either the testimony or the bullshit political posturing questions by the panel, but given the mind-numbing predictability of it all, this is the best I can do.

UPDATE: OK, I lied.

Matthew Yglesias criticises Condi's use of the word "strategic" when he thinks she should have used "nuclear." For such a smart guy, he sure can be a dumbass.
:: COINTELPRO Tool 12:00 PM [+] ::

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