May 2010: The secret war that isn’t secret, and other observations

A tip of the straw boater to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon for borrowing his signature phrase: nobody asked me, but…

A SECRET WAR ISN’T SECRET IF IT’S OPENLY DISCUSSED ON THE FRONT PAGES OF THE NATION’S LEADING NEWSPAPERS. The New York Times headline on May 24 read: “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast” and the story, reported by Mark Mazzetti, began: “The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.”

The Washington Post followed on June 4 with a story entitled: “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role.” The Post reported that these forces are now deployed in 75 countries and that “[p]lans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world.”

I think it’s fair to draw two conclusions from these disclosures:

  • Obama’s “secret war” has become unpopular enough within his own administration that some disenchanted officials are leaking to the establishment press in an effort to discredit it. They may feel that the President, who vowed as a candidate to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, may have betrayed them–and that exposing classified plans is therefore morally acceptable. (While it’s possible that these leaks are the work of insiders hoping to bolster Obama’s image as “tough on terrorism,” such a scenario is less likely.)
  • President Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Islamic countries has failed. Turning to American special operations forces to suppress radical groups, like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, suggests that Middle Eastern governments either can’t, or won’t, do the job themselves.

The criticism of Obama’s preference for clandestine military action is mounting. Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, renewed his call for the U.S. to stop its Predator attacks on militants in Pakistan, objecting to the secrecy around the drone program, which he said violates the international legal principle of accountability. In response, U.S. officials are put in the awkward position of defending policies and practices that they can’t publicly acknowledge.

Covert wars are a bad idea, especially for a democratic republic, and even more so for a President who touts his commitment to transparency. They are hard to wage. They force government officials into easily exposed lies. And, as we have seen recently, secret wars just don’t stay secret. Yet small-bore clandestine action is relatively cheap, and (as with the drone program) it can offer the illusion of progress.

THE EXPERTS TELL US THE CHANCES FOR A “DOUBLE DIP” RECESSION ARE SLIM, which should make us very nervous. Conventional wisdom about the economy has been far from accurate. That Federal Reserve board chairman Ben Bernanke and assorted economists assert the odds of the dreaded double dip are low has to be weighed against the opinions of hedge fund managers like George Soros and John Hussman who predict we’re headed toward a W-shaped economic scenario. It’s not hard to see why. The slump in the U.S. housing sector, the Gulf oil spill, persistent unemployment and the European debt crisis could all act to derail the economic recovery.

AMAZON’S JEFF BEZOS GAVE PRINCETON SENIORS A THOUGHTFUL CONSIDERATION OF LIFE AFTER GRADUATION. Speaking at the university’s Baccalaureate service on May 30, Bezos focused on a theme of choice, noting:

Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

WHEN DID “AGGRESSIVE” BECOME THE PERFERRED DESCRIPTION FOR A SUPERIOR BASKETBALL PERFORMANCE? Throughout this year’s March Madness and the NBA playoffs, it seems that players, coaches, and pundits have settled on “aggressive” as the catchall term for winning play. That an aggressive player can hurt his team by forcing bad shots or by fouling at critical times doesn’t seem to be considered.

JAY LENO’S COMIC TAKE ON THE CATASTROPHIC GULF OIL SPILL RINGS SADLY TRUE: “BP, Transocean, and Halliburton are all blaming each other for the Gulf oil spill. And you know what? They’re all right.”

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM COME FROM BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing in the tempting place.”

Copyright © 2010 Jefferson Flanders
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