Wilkerson and Jane Mayer on Giving Terror Masters What They Want

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This is a guest post by Lawrence B. Wilkerson exclusive to The Washington Note. Wilkerson is the former Chief of Staff at the Department of State during the tenure of Secretary of State Colin Powell, for whom Wilkerson was a 16 year aide. Wilkerson is a member of the Director’s Council of the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

s-LAWRENCE-WILKERSON-large.jpgThe Wrong Instrument
There’s an old saying in my part of the country that if you choose to wrestle with a pig, two things can happen and both are bad: you get dirty and the pig loves it.
First Lady Michelle Obama, appearing on Larry King Live, proved as versatile and smooth as usual by demonstrating that she understands the gist of this saying when she refused to wrestle with Sarah Palin. Michelle simply refused to characterize Palin as the latter had done her husband, the President. Mrs. Obama was correct from another perspective as well: Palin, rapidly becoming with Rush Limbaugh the leader of the kooks in America, would not even make good bacon.
On a much more serious note, Jane Mayer has done the same thing with Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney, Bill Kristol, Michael Goldberg, Mel Sembler and others who have struck up the campaign to denigrate President Obama for his allegedly light touch on terrorism. Ms. Mayer simply destroys them.
clemons jane mayer.jpgWhether listening to her long interview on National Public Radio today (9 February) or reading her devastating indictment of these truly frightening folks in The New Yorker (“The Trial“, 15 February 2010), one cannot escape the clear fact, now well established particularly in the field of torture and abuse–of both people and the law–by the Bush/Cheney team, that Ms. Mayer not only does her homework, she carries a wicked weapon in the form of her pen.
Citing such facts as the Bush administration’s having put 147 of the total 150 terrorists with whom it dealt into the U.S. court system–and not into the military’s courts, tribunals or commissions–and having faired rather well there; of that same administration’s reading of Miranda rights to terrorists; and of its rather consistent failure when it strayed from the rule of law and from the President’s responsibility to be not only commander-in-chief but also the principal enforcer of the nation’s laws, Ms. Mayer deftly spears the Republicans now speaking out against Obama’s policies. They are at best hypocrites and at worst themselves giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
As Ms. Mayer also points out, Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui were both tried and convicted in civil court. Rudolph Guliani, as Ms Mayer records, said of the latter trial: “I was in awe of our system. It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial.”
More telling, however, is Ms. Mayer’s almost glancing catalog of crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney team. This, of course, is a subject I know something about. Incompetent battlefield vetting of detainees, murder of detainees at Bagram in Afghanistan, detention of innocent people at Guantánamo, abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, renditions to secret prisons, and a host of other crimes and mistakes mar significantly the Bush/Cheney record.
Ms. Mayer covers almost in a casual backward glance how such activities ultimately played into the hands of Osama bin Laden and al Qa’ida.
abu-ghraib-torture.jpgEvery time America failed to live up to its own values it gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Truth be told, Dick Cheney may well have represented a greater threat to the long-term security of America than a ragged band of terrorists ever could. Ms. Mayer demonstrates why.
One thing that she misses–through no fault of her own, to be sure–is what I as a soldier cannot help but point out. The instrument of policy to which I devoted my life, war, was the wrong instrument to use against terrorism. Just as “the war on poverty” and “the war on drugs” are illogical distortions for largely partisan political reasons, so is “the war on terror”. But such resorts to the ultimate instrument of policy are also terribly frightening, particularly with respect to terrorism. There are several reasons why I as a soldier of 31 years make these points.
First, wars when undertaken should never be unwinnable from the start. Anyone believing poverty can be eliminated–no matter how laudable the goal–or that drugs can ever be defeated entirely, is naïve to the point of being dangerous, particularly so if in a position of power.
It is the same with terrorism. Terrorism has been with the human race for over 4,000 years; it will be with us for the next 4,000 should we be so fortunate to last that long. The best we can hope to do is what the UK, India, Sri Lanka, Israel, and a host of others have done or are doing: bring terrorism to a manageable level.
If you want to demoralize a military and ultimately destroy it, assign it repeatedly to unwinnable wars.
Some argue, including Dick Cheney, that nuclear weapons have changed all of this, that the potential for a terrorist group to explode such a weapon in a major US city requires the scrapping of our Constitution and a move toward tyranny and permanent war. This is purest hogwash. If we could contend with thirty thousand Soviet missiles aimed at the heart of America without losing our democratic federal republic, how can a band of terrorists succeed in causing it to happen?
These terrorists can achieve such a superhuman feat only if we have decided that Patrick Henry was wrong; that “Give me liberty or give me death” has transmogrified into “Give me security at any cost–including my liberty.” Though I know well we have some amongst us, I refuse to believe we are a nation of such cowards.
Second, when George Bush declared war on terrorists, he elevated them automatically to the status of warriors. That is one reason why there has been so much difficulty with the Geneva Conventions and other aspects of what we in the armed forces call the law of war. More significantly, elevating bin Laden and his group to warrior status gave them precisely what they wanted: holy warrior status, involved in the great fight against the infidels.
Whether we as Americans believe this or not is immaterial. That a sizeable portion of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world–particularly the young ones–believe it, makes for far too many potential suicide bombers.
Treating terrorists as criminals, on the other hand, gives them just the status such people deserve who kill innocent men, women, and children for political purposes. They are criminals.
Yes, there needed to be military action–not necessarily “war”–against the Taliban in Afghanistan (and any al-Qa’ida that got in the way) because the Taliban represented a state sponsor (yes, we had given diplomatic recognition to the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan before 9/11). But once that action was complete, the military action–other than Special Operations Forces in selective instances–should have slowed down markedly.
Of course Iraq should never have been invaded either; but that is a totally different matter–which, incidentally, had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.
The terrorists, according to President Obama’s team, are right back where they belong: criminals of the most heinous nature to be tried and convicted in a court of law and punished accordingly.
Now if we could only get our armed forces back where they belong.
— Lawrence B. Wilkerson

Comments

18 comments on “Wilkerson and Jane Mayer on Giving Terror Masters What They Want

  1. Drew says:

    I would say the real winners in Iraq were the Chinese, who
    kindly loaned the money to pay for it; the U.S. military, which
    demonstrated a) successful counterinsurgency at an
    unprecedented rate and efficacy, b) the most efficient urban
    combat skills the world has ever seen, and c) military technology
    and small forces discipline that are a decade or two ahead of a
    few of our conventional adversaries. Then there is the matter of
    those Iraqis who now vote at a higher rate than Americans.
    Evidently they are pleased with the outcome.
    I’d make a few unfortunate remarks about our military, crimes
    against humanity, contractors, and contractor cabals. But it’s
    hard to do that when you know people who fight and sustain
    these wars. In general they are smart and loyal people who
    work really hard and take really nasty chances with their own
    lives.
    My personal opinion is that we could have bought Saddam off
    with $10B or so and a villa in Riyaudh, and saved ourselves the
    headache. That would have been cheaper than $1 trillion.
    Someone who knows someone told me once the Syrians
    brokered that deal during the Clinton administration and it was
    US policy and law to eliminate the Iraqi state. But, the story
    goes, we walked away from it, for understandable political
    reasons.

    Reply

  2. David says:

    Underscores in spades what I wrote in the next more recent post.

    Reply

  3. Mr.Murder says:

    McClatchy Newspapers: Iraq orders 200 current, former Blackwater employees to leave

    Reply

  4. J.Hiroshi Burnette says:

    The winners in Iraq were the defense contractors. Money is the only language they understand; even before Bush was appointed by Scalia in 2000, C-SPAN showed some desperate contractors in effect asking for more handouts.
    Judo is the answer. Instead of headbutting with the likes of Halliburton, the Obama-man might try to divert their push for war by throwing them some monies via an infrastructure project… wind generated energy, electric transport grid, rail, and agriculture / clean water.

    Reply

  5. nadine says:

    POS, I know it must be a tremendous disappointment to you that your side was unable to force the US to lose in Iraq, despite heroic attempts, and hand its people over the humanitarians of the insurgency to become an Islamic emirate.

    Reply

  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Ah yes, in Nadine’s twisted little rat hole of reality, the criminals aren’t the torturers, the people that report on the torture are. Its all the fault of that nasty ‘ol terrorist rag, the NY Times.
    You see, in Nadine’s world, the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.
    And if someone sticks a broomstick up a Muslim ass before sending him to meet his maker, so much the better, eh Nadine?

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  7. nadine says:

    That Abu Ghraib photo is a prime example of “giving terrorists what they want” though not in the way you intend. The NY Times ran that story on its front page for over 30 days in a row — for abuses that were not uncovered by the Times, but by the Army itself. Think that gave the terrorists a propaganda coup they wanted? How many Americans got killed from that?

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  8. nadine says:

    That Abu Ghraib photo is a prime example of “giving terrorists what they want” though not in the way you intend. The NY Times ran that story on its front page for over 30 days in a row — for abuses that were not uncovered by the Times, but by the Army itself. Think that gave the terrorists a propaganda coup they wanted? How many Americans got killed from that?

    Reply

  9. John Waring says:

    Mr. Wilkerson,
    Here is the second article:
    http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368
    I’d appreciate any comments you’d care to make.

    Reply

  10. John Waring says:

    Lovely post, quite timely. I do not understand why we permitted a couple of dozen lucky thugs to lead us to abandon constitutional government.
    Sir, please read the following two article by Andrew Sullivan and Scott Horton on the events at Gitmo on June 9, 2006. How can we out this damn spot?
    Here is the first article:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7017704.ece

    Reply

  11. Mr.Murder says:

    Wilkerson is creating an avenue for the withdrawal/drawdown mechanism to be enacted. Powell may well be the perfect person with which to work at this, in this time.

    Reply

  12. J. Hiroshi Burnette says:

    What is it exactly that the Neo-Cons want to achieve? Our military is equipped and trained to fight similar militaries, belonging to a nation state. Fighting a hit and run terrorist organization is about as pointless as using our military to fight mosquitoes in a war on malaria.
    Bio attack within the US is most likely inevitable. Given that we are ill equipped to ward off such attacks with a conventional military, does it not make more sense to pull the rug out from under those who have grievances against us by putting out the fire at the source?
    Namely, the exploitation of resources and people of 3rd world nations by joint ventures between US multinational corporations and the “friendly” dictators that our K Street driven foreign policies support.
    Instead of slapping green import tariffs on cheap products made overseas (under less stringent enviro and worker rights conditions), we are racing in a downward spiral against our competitors. Tariffs are supposed to level the playing field for clean manufacturers (preventing job loss), while simultaneously raising quality of life overseas (an unfulfilled promise made by free trade advocates).
    The recent Supreme Court ruling is a harbinger of more of the same. A government OF, FOR, and BY the Corporation will not endure.
    Buy some duct tape and plastic sheeting for your windows.

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  13. Outraged American says:

    Wilkerson’s definition of “terrorists” would then included Bush,
    Cheney, Obama and almost every member of the US Congress.
    Wilkerson’s definition:
    “Treating terrorists as criminals, on the other hand, gives them
    just the status such people deserve who kill innocent men,
    women, and children for political purposes. They are criminals.”
    And if I, Jane Shmuck, knew that Powell’s UN presentation IN
    2003 (!) was based on a plagiarized student thesis, then why
    didn’t Powell and Wilkerson?
    My friend and I called every single member of Congress to tell
    them that, so these weasels cannot use the excuse that they
    didn’t know even though they’re using it in spades now that Iraq
    is a disaster. I also called the State Dept.
    And, in the last few months, the author of the plagiarized
    student thesis used by Powell to justify Iraq invasion Part Two,
    has spoken out. I posted it on here (TWN) with the URL of the
    article. If Wilkerson wants to see it, it’s on here in the archives.
    Don’t make me find it. But I will.
    While I truly admire Wilkerson for his outrage and his efforts
    now, how many innocent people died between 2003 and 2005
    because Wilkerson didn’t speak out sooner?

    Reply

  14. Steve Clemons says:

    Buster — I’m leaving your post up, but if you post again, please drop the colorful ad hominem attacks at the end of your comment.
    That said, I totally disagree with you. Government is messy — and Lawrence Wilkerson is a hero in my book, who took very significant personal and career risks to stand out in 2005 — while the Bush administration was still in power — and help define how the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal had hijacked the national security apparatus of the government.
    Your anger is understandable — and hurling insults at politicians you are angry at is part of the system we have — regrettably — but you should inform yourself more than I think you have about Wilkerson’s legacy of commentary since 2005.
    best, steve clemons

    Reply

  15. Don Bacon says:

    The US, currently lacking any real enemy governments in the world, created terrorism as an enemy. Statistically the risk of injury by terrorism to the average American is below that of lightning strikes, way below bath-tub slips, and far below other of life’s vagaries such as homicide, heart attacks and auto accidents. But terrorism is all that the government has, so it goes with that to support Pentagon corporate welfare.
    Afghanistan has been, and is, the current display of a military response to the crime of terrorism favored by Wilkerson. That isn’t working out too well, is it. Wilkerson claims that Afghanistan might be improved by taking out regular military forces and going with special forces only. That’s doubtful.
    What Wilkerson fails to support, or even mention, as with most other commentators on the subject, is diplomatic action to solve the Afghanistan problem. It was nearly a year ago (March 27) that President Obama declared that a regional contact group would be established to work on the necessary political side of the problem. Despite the fact that all experts agree that the problem is basically political, not military, which by the way coincides with COIN doctrine (FM 3-24), that hasn’t been done. There is no regional contact group that includes interested regional Asian parties such as China, India, Iran, Pakistan and other -stans.
    After all, Afghanistan is on the opposite side of the world from the USA and there are other interested parties besides the US, the UK and Germany, parties that have a real interest in Afghanistan and not a concocted one over “safe havens.”
    So while I agree with Wilkerson in the general, the specific case of Afghanistan is not properly addressed, which is curious considering Wilkerson’s experience at State where the motto is “Diplomacy in Action.”
    Or diplomacy inaction, I call it.

    Reply

  16. Buster says:

    Since he is so convinced that crimes were committed, when will Wilkerson swear out a criminal complaint to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia accusing his old boss, Colin Powell, of being an accessory to murder, torture, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit same? Wilkerson is just another fucking hypocritical McNamara without the dementia.

    Reply

  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Meanwhile, these assholes at Justice are soliciting the public for suggestions as to….
    “How should we collaborate with individuals, businesses, non-profits, other agencies, or state/local governments? What kinds of prizes/contests should we consider to attract others in working with us? What top problems should we tackle together?”
    Seems to me there is plenty of “collaboration” at Justice. Heck, they are collaborating with criminals in our highest ranks of government, making sure no one in key positions are held accountable for criminal acts.
    And “top problems”??? How about the FACT that our Department of Justice has become a political wing of the Executive Branch that dispenses the rule of law on the whim of the President? Thats not a “top problem”????

    Reply

  18. Linda says:

    Add Wilkerson to the list of people that WH should bring in to advise them. In fact, he would be better than Colin Powell, i.e., he risked speaking the truth out early–more than Powell has ever done.
    His main points here need to be emphasized over and over, especially the oxymoronic and moronic term, “war on terror.” Wars are fought between countries. We were/are not at war against UK of
    which Richard Reid was a citizen. And we are not at war with Yemen or Nigeria.
    Indeed regarding national security, health care reform, and the economy, the Obama administration desperately needs people with the credentials and experience who also have ability to speak clearly and directly to the public–people like Wilkerson, Howard Dean, and Joe Stiglitz.

    Reply

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