Of Two Minds

Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I've been following the Seymour Hersh story in the upcoming New Yorker magazine, regarding covert operations in Iran.

In it, he details the Bush administration's requests for covert operations funds to the Congress, as well as the means and goals of this program. This includes the deployment of JSOC covert operatives to destabilize the Iranian religious political infrastructure, as well as a list of "high value targets" identified by the Vice President's office.

I'm really torn about this.

The liberal in me is saying, "Fucking administration! We don't need another war in the Middle East! What the fuck is wrong with these people?"

The veteran in me is saying, "Fucking media! How dare they put our covert operatives in harm's way for the sake of a story! What the fuck is wrong with this guy?"

I need to think about this.

25 comments:

Eric said...

Seymour Hersh is an experienced, highly-regarded reporter who established a good reputation turning over stones the Nixon Administration wanted left untouched. He's possibly best-known for his work exposing our government's malfeasance in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Throughout the present Iraq war, he has been a consistent (and consistently ignored) observer of the difference between what the Bush Administration is doing and what they say they're doing. E.g. Hersh was one of the first journalists to offer actual evidence that the Bush Administration was quietly discussing an Iraq invasion well before 9/11.

Regrettably, Hersh is a throwback--and that's why the liberal in you should prevail: he's the kind of journalist people imagine when they talk about the Fourth Estate trying to keep government honest and open. He works hard, his sources usually know what they're talking about, and he's not known for being a loose cannon (i.e. he doesn't have a reputation for filing a story unless he thinks he's got it pretty nailed down).

If every journalist were Seymour Hersh, the country would be in better shape. I mean, it's possible he's changed or slipped, but as far as I know the guy is credible, accurate and responsible. If he's right about this story, it's the Bush Administration that is endangering American soldiers' lives by engaging in military activity of dubious legality. If it were any other reporter....

Jim Wright said...

What Eric said.

I understand and agree with your reservations about the media putting speops folks in harm's way, however at this point in the game it's a matter of priorities for me.

Iran has to know that we have covert ops teams in country - Iran's leaders are rabid and insane, but not stupid. Reporting this in the media, in my not so humble opinion, does not increase the risk to those forces significantly.

As I said, priorities: and at this point I think it is a far higher priority to report and make public anything and everything this disingenuous and dishonorable administration is doing in our name. Americans need to know exactly what their government is up to, and the only way we can hold this president and his compliant Congress accountable through the instrument of knowledge.

Eric said...

I just went and read the actual article. Unless I'm missing something, I don't see anything about American operations in Iran that endangers soldiers or civilians (some operatives are CIA) or that even is likely to tell the Iranians anything they don't know (some of what Hersh reports refers to allegations--and identified as such!--by Iranian news media; n.b. that Hersh doesn't say the allegations are true, only that this is what Iranians are claiming).

What the news does reveal is what's going on in Washington: it appears that the Administration may be exceeding what has been authorized by Congress after a Presidential Finding and request for reallocation of funds for covert operations. Furthermore, it appears that members of both parties may be showing questionable judgement and consistency--Congressional Democrats approved activity that is inconsistent with Senator Obama's stated policy on Iran, and there appears to be a great deal of dissent within the Executive Branch over whether Iranian operations are authorized, prudent, or effective.

The fact that the Bush Administration denies operations are occuring in Iraq is meaningless from a safety perspective: if the Bush Administration is telling the truth, then there are no soldiers in harm's way to be endangered by Hersh's allegations; if the Administration is lying (and what do you think?), then the Iranians almost certainly know or suspect that there are American forces acting within the country either directly or through intermediaries (e.g. Iranian dissidents) and Hersh's allegations are not sufficiently detailed to tell the Iranians anything at all. (As for the safety of the dissidents, I imagine if they're arrested they'll be accused of working for us whether they in fact are or aren't.)

If Hersh's article has any significance, it's that it educates the public about what policy decisions are being made, who is making them, and how the decisions are reached. It doesn't directly take a position for or against those policies, although the reports of internal dissent and critiques certainly takes an implied critical position. (However in all fairness, I imagine Hersh would report the Administration's justifications for the policy if they offered any; since the Administration denies the operations are occurring, there's no defense of the non-existent non-operations.)

I'm going to go a bit further than I did in my earlier comment: not only should the liberal win, but the veteran should agree with her. Hersh's piece doesn't endanger any soldiers, but it might endanger a bad call by political leaders from both parties.

Janiece Murphy said...

I'm familiar with Seymour Hersh's work, and he has my admiration as a responsible journalist. I don't think he would intentionally put my brothers-in-arms in harm's way. But that concern is always at the top of my mind.

I would agree that as a citizen, knowing is probably better than not knowing about the latest shenanigans in the White House. I would not put it past Bush and his Insane Clown Posse to start some shit in Iran before leaving office, especially if Obama is elected. Thus leaving the "weak Democrat" to clean up his mess.

January can't come soon enough for me...

Chris said...

Janiece, I can't help but agree with you on this issue. I was at the gym yesterday morning and saw a news report on cnn about it. My first thought was, "How the HELL does the news know about our special ops?!" There's something wrong here...

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Chris.

While I am always concerned about the safety and well-being of our troops, in this case, I have to say I'm glad Hersh broke the story.

The Bush administration's policies have been disingenuous at best, and I'm glad his latest asshattery is out in the open.

I put my life (and the lives of my friends) in the government's hands many, many times over the years, and I don't recall a single administration that is less worthy of that trust than this one.

At least someone's keeping an eye on things...

Chris said...

Thanks for the welcome! As usual, I let my politics get the better of my manners. I should have introduced myself first :)

Janiece Murphy said...

No need to worry, Chris. We're a pretty informal bunch around here, and new faces (and viewpoints) are always welcome.

Eric said...

Unfortunately, a lot of times "secret ops" in American history means "secret from Congress and the public-at-large." The classic example is the "secret bombing" of Cambodia, which you have to put in scare quotes because everyone is pretty sure the Cambodians were vaguely aware of it. In the present case, as Jim said, the Iranians are crazy but they're not stupid: if the CIA or military special ops are active in the country, they at least have an inkling of it. And, in fact, given the "crazy" part of the occasion, the Iranians probably believe there's American covert activity even in the unlikely event there isn't: as Hersh notes, blaming the CIA has been a popular Iranian pastime since 1953--in the (unlikely) event the Bush Administration is actually telling the truth about there not being covert ops underway, you can still bet the Iranians have dossiers full of alleged CIA contacts.

No, if there's a "secret" being unveiled by Hersh, it's a secret that was being kept from the public and from Congress. We could argue about whether state secrecy is compatible with democracy, but as a practical matter that's a little moot: our laws effectively say that so long as there's some communication and oversight, a certain amount of secrecy will be tolerated. In the case of the kinds of operations Hersh alludes to (again, he doesn't actually describe anything substantive in the New Yorker piece, e.g "Agent X blew up building Y on May 19th"), the law evidently says the President is supposed to tell certain members of Congress what he's doing. It appears, from the Hersh piece, that the President may have only made a partial report and then extended the scope of operations under the legal theory that the President doesn't need to justify military operations to the Congress. (This is in fact a Constitutional debate that has been ongoing since at least the Vietnam War; the President is CIC, but Congress has the checkbook.)

In addition, the Hersh piece raises questions about whether the Administration is adequately preserving traditional chains of command--i.e., some of the secrets are not only being kept from Congress, but from commanders in the field. This too is a recipe for disaster.

As I said before, it looks to me like Hersh endangers a questionable policy, not the lives of Americans or their proxies. If anyone is endangering lives, it's the Administration and Congress (for failing to properly exercise oversight).

Jim Wright said...

Oh for crying out loud, what's this 'informal' nonsense, Janiece.

Chris, Janiece. Janiece, Chris. Chris, the UCF. UCF, Chris.

There, that's done. Beer's in the fridge, Chris, help yourself.

Goddamn, I'm funny. :)

Eric said...

What? This blog isn't black-tie only?

I am waaaaaaaaay overdressed.

Oh, and Chris: Hi! Mind getting me a beer while you're over there?

Janiece Murphy said...

How come you people are always drinking my beer?

Damn.

Random Michelle K said...

Because all the good chocolate is over at my place?

Eric said...

(Guiltily wiping foam from his mouth) I thought it was Jim's?

Janiece Murphy said...

No, Jim's beer is in Alaska. With Jim.

Chris said...

Wow! Thanks for all the beer offers. I have a bottle of Jack Daniels for anyone who wants a shot :)

Jim Wright said...

Jack Daniels? Uh, no, not unless I need to degrease an engine block.

I'm Irish, it's Bushmills, Jamisons, or nothing.

Janiece Murphy said...

I'm a Bailey's kind of gal, myself.

Chris said...

Looks like I need to stock the bar with more quality liquor...

Janiece Murphy said...

We'll forgive the liquor if you're capable of arguing intelligently.

Intelligent argument forgives a lot with this crowd.

Random Michelle K said...

And if you give us enough to drink, you won't notice if you aren't arguing intelligently.

Janiece Murphy said...

Hee!

Michelle, I have no idea what you're talking about.

Chris said...

I'll make sure to get you all liquored up good. That way you won't remember how unintelligently I argued.

Eric said...

Well, hell, if someone's running to the liquor store, how about a premium tequila? No Cuervo! Unless Jim needs a lot of degreaser.

Sounds like a party. But shouldn't we have it over at Nathan's, while we're waiting for his ball to drop. Ack! Wait, there's got to be a better way to say that! I meant like a ball dropping in Times Square. I meant on New Year's Eve. No, I mean--never mind, forget it. Where's that booze?

Random Michelle K said...

Tequila is horrific and even the smell of it makes me want to throw up everything I've eaten for the past week.

Why yes, I did get alcohol poisoning from drinking tequila in college.