Sunday, October 19, 2014

The CIA's Wrong: Arming Rebels Works

Some interesting excerpts:

Criticism keeps pouring in and the Obama administration is hard pressed to prove it made the right decision back then, on the one hand, but has good reason to change its mind now as it tries to train new cadre to fight, not Assad, but ISIS. “This makes no sense,” says the same CIA veteran.
But from Obama’s point of view, actually, it does. The basic principles by which this administration operates are clear for anyone to see, even if the once-eloquent POTUS now finds it impossible to articulate simple ideas:
Obama does not believe in overthrowing foreign governments.
Obama does not intend to occupy foreign countries.
Obama does not think American troops—overt or covert—provide very good answers to the world’s crises.
Indeed, Obama sees very clearly what most average Americans see: U.S. efforts to overthrow bad guys abroad usually wind up making things worse, and the only reason to move against them is if they pose, as Tom Clancy would say, a “clear and present danger” to the United States.
...
Back in January, Obama told David Remnick of The New Yorker that when he was thinking about arming Syrian rebels a couple of years ago, he “actually asked the CIA to analyze examples of America financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.”
The New York Times ran a story last week that suggested CIA covert operations failed again and again to achieve the policy objectives set for them.
Just about everyone I talked to afterward in the U.S. intelligence community saw this as a story put out by the administration. One retired high-ranking intelligence officer said the article “seems founded on the kind of leaks that are permissible when beneficial to folks in high places but prosecutable when done by others.”

What the NY Times article and Christopher Dickey's article here (as well as the emphasis on 'train and equip") illustrate is that policy makers really do not understand the nature and conduct of unconventional warfare.  It is neither an abject failure in every case nor is it a war winner in any almost any case but it is a viable strategic option if used in the right conditions at the right time by the right organizations.  But most importantly it is both risky and hard and what makes it most difficult for policy makers and the public is that it is time consuming.  It cannot be employed "in extremis" in most cases (in the fall of 2001 post 9-11 being an exception) and really requires long term preparation, thorough assessments, and relationships with key players to have  chance of being successful.  And most importantly in must absolutely be part of and in support of  a coherent policy and strategy.
Christopher Dickey

DIRTY BUSINESS

10.19.14

The CIA's Wrong: Arming Rebels Works

President Obama has weighed the options and concluded America does more harm than good when it sets out to topple regimes. OK. But don’t pretend that’s the CIA’s fault.
PARIS, France—What could be more cynical than a covert operation? Sure, there’s always a lot of talk about fighting for freedom, defeating tyranny. What was it Ronald Reagan called the Contras and the Afghan mujahedin? “They are the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.”
Actually some of the Contras whom I knew were the moral equivalent of pathological killers. They were so out of control that the CIA, which had armed them and trained them, finally had two of their commanders hunted down and executed.
As I say, covert ops: cynical business.
But recent reporting on the subject has been profoundly and, indeed, dangerously misleading about both the truth and the consequences surrounding such operations.
All sorts of politicians—left, right and center; former administration insiders and confirmed outliers—have been talking about arming and training Syrian rebels as if that could have been the salvation of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Damascus in 2012, and would have preempted, somehow, the rise of the horrific organization that calls itself the Islamic State, but which we’ll call by the acronyms it despises: ISIS or ISIL.
Certainly there was bitter infighting inside the administration back then. As one agency insider told me, “three years ago the Syria program was headed by a man who was competent but not senior enough to run such a high-profile account.” So Langley decided to cut short the tour of the then-CIA station chief in Bangkok and bring him in to head up the show. But “he was so shocked by the disorganization and lack of seriousness that he submitted his papers to retire.”
Criticism keeps pouring in and the Obama administration is hard pressed to prove it made the right decision back then, on the one hand, but has good reason to change its mind now as it tries to train new cadre to fight, not Assad, but ISIS. “This makes no sense,” says the same CIA veteran.
But from Obama’s point of view, actually, it does. The basic principles by which this administration operates are clear for anyone to see, even if the once-eloquent POTUS now finds it impossible to articulate simple ideas:
(Continued at the link below)

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