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The Political Animal

Drones and the Human Agency of War

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This commentary previously appeared in the Algemeiner on May 17, 2013.

Joshua Foust has written at Foreign Policy a misleadingly essay titled  “A Liberal Case for Drones.” I think there is such a case, but this it not it and a case for drones is not even truly the subject of the piece. The actual subject is raised very early by Foust’s question, “Could autonomous drones actually better safeguard human rights?” Not drones, but autonomous drones and their relation to human rights protections in war is the the actual subject of Foust’s considerations.  Why the title misleads you will have to ask Foust and Foreign Policy. That is not my interest here. Neither is the debate in the comments to Foust’s essay about whether there truly are or are likely to be any time soon autonomous drones. My interest is in Foust’s arguments and how they mistake the human problem of war.

Foust tells us that Human Rights Watch

argues that autonomous weapons take humanity out of conflict, creating a future of immoral killing and increased hardship to civilians. HRW calls for a categorical ban on all development of lethal autonomy in robotics. HRW is also spearheading a new global campaign to forbid the development of lethal autonomy.

To narrow the focus still more, then, the issue is lethally autonomous drones. (Or weapons of any kind; the focus on drones here is purely topical.)

“Offensive systems, which actively seek out targets to kill,” Foust quotes Armin Krishnan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at El Paso, “are a different moral category.”

Foust then makes the major both practical and moral focus of his essay the relative accuracy and reliability of human versus automated agency in offensive military strikes and killing. He acknowledges moral concerns – not with drones, per se, but with lethal autonomy – but he mistakes them.

Noel Sharkey, a high-profile critic of drones and a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, argued forcefully that machines cannot “distinguish between civilians and combatants,” apply the Geneva Conventions, or determine proportionate use of force.

It is a curious complaint: A human being did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, apply the Geneva Convention, or determine an appropriate use of force during the infamous 2007 “Collateral Murder” incident in Iraq, when American helicopter pilots mistook a Reuters camera crew for insurgents and fired on them and a civilian van that came to offer medical assistance.

Humans get tired, they miss important information, or they just have a bad day. Without machines making any decisions to fire weapons, humans are shooting missiles into crowds of people they cannot identify in so-called signature strikes.

Thus, for Foust, the morality of lethal autonomy in weapons systems is tied essentially to accuracy and reliability.

“If a drones system is sophisticated enough, it could be less emotional, more selective, and able to provide force in a way that achieves a tactical objective with the least harm,” Liles says. “A lethal autonomous robot can aim better, target better, select better, and in general be a better asset with the linked ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] packages it can run.”

In other words, a lethal autonomous drone could actually result in fewer casualties and less harm to civilians.

Implied by all Foust argues is that human moral advancement in the conduct of war – a problematic, though nonetheless genuine notion acknowledged by just war, among other, theories – is exemplified by diminished numbers of casualties, especially civilian and what would amount to more effective winning. This is a seductively appealing argument on the face of it. If we must sometimes fight wars (well, really, we must admit, it is far more often than sometimes) let us at least do it by killing as few people as possible, certainly as few women and children, in the classic formulation, and as few innocent civilians.

These are certainly goals to pursue, and the militarizes of liberal democracies do most of the time pursue them. But I do not think this goal is the essence of human moral advancement in war. First, effectiveness in winning war has never been a problem. Since wars began, whenever exactly that was – two clans fighting over a cave and a fire? – most of the time one side has managed some kind of victory. Warring groups have always been effective at winning.

On the score of diminished civilian casualties, whatever increased human concern with laws of war, through the mid twentieth century it can hardly be argued that humanity had achieved any form of advancement. More effectively lethal weapons produced, in fact, more killing, and more civilian death, on a scale previously unimaginable. Since the the second half of the twentieth century a pronounced characteristic of war, in the lethality of weaponry, has been that of profound technological disparity between warring parties. This has been so in all of the conflicts of the United States, of Israel over the past more than thirty years, of the Soviet Union and of Russia in Chechnya, for example. This has produced markedly lower comparative casualties on one side (not always a clear winner, as in the U.S. in Vietnam or Israel in Lebanon in 2006), though sometimes still comparatively massive casualties, even mostly civilian, as in Vietnam and the Iraq War, on the other. This disparity may be a happy development for the side with low numbers – not necessarily a winner, and not by any inherent necessity deserving of the benefit – but it cannot easily be argued that such a development is an advancement in the protection of human rights in war.

Foust touches on the heart of the matter only at the very end.

The issue of blame is the trickiest one in the autonomy debate. Rather than throwing one’s hands in the air and demanding a ban, as rights groups have done, why not simply point blame at those who employ them? If an autonomous Reaper fires at a group of civilians, then the blame should start with the policymaker who ordered it deployed and end with the programmer who encoded the rules of engagement.

This is far too facile in its moral acknowledgement and in its practical recognitions. In the latter regard, the very first product of technological autonomy will be a flight from responsibility-blame. A coder programming an autonomous offensive weapon according to approved selection criteria, under guidance of established military procedure and national law would be and should be no easy target for the assignment of moral responsibility. Such a chain of abstracted and decontextualized decisions is the very scenario of plausible deniability of responsible agency all around.

Responsible agency, the assumption of moral agency – not mere assignment of blame – is the heart of the matter. While earlier approaching the point, Foust misses it.

[T]he concern seems rooted in a moral objection to the use of machines per se: that when a machine uses force, it is somehow more horrible, less legitimate, and less ethical than when a human uses force. It isn’t a complaint fully grounded in how machines, computers, and robots actually function.

This is, indeed, essential to the more general debate over the use of drones; in the current consideration, though, the matter is not machines using force (really being used for), but machines using force autonomously. Autonomous weaponry removes the human moral agency of killing in war, could remove it, ultimately, from war altogether. Yet if anything can redeem the essential human crime of war, enact justice in the waging of it, it is precisely the complementary human moral agency of it.

Yes, if we must wage war, kill as few people as possible; yes, if we must, kill as few innocents as possible (on both sides). But it is, as Human Rights Watch and others assert, human beings who must take on the burden of that responsibility even if they might exercise it less perfectly than machines. War is the greatest crime against life we commit. It destroys the humanity of the dead and diminishes it of the living who wage and survive it. To reduce the numbers killed by passing off the complete task of killing to machines will not redeem a greater store of our humanity in a just cause, but instead sacrifice the remainder of the humanity we sought to save. To wage war and remain fully, tragically human, we must keep our own fingers poised, we must sight, however remotely, the people we have accepted as our enemies, and we must, with full recognition of what we do, accepting ourselves the burden of what we do, choose to pull the trigger ourselves. Automating war to greater perfection will not protect our human rights; it would diminish our human being. The crime of war is human. The morality in it can only be human too.

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Israel The Political Animal

Glenn Greenwald criticizes Bibi AND Obama’s “policies” of intentionally killing innocent Muslims

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Cross posted from Cif Watch by its managing editor, Adam Levick.

Every person has their own definition of terrorism.” –Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald makes characteristically hysterical claims about Israel and the US in his latest ‘Comment is Free’ piece titled Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza‘:

Here are the most egregious examples:

1. He claims that “overwhelming Israeli force slaughters innocent Palestinians, including children”.

There’s nothing new here in Greenwald’s use of the most unserious hyperbole to impute the most violent and malevolent motives to Israel. Greenwald ignores the fact that Israel uses unprecedented restraint in targeting only Hamas leaders and terror targets, which would explain that the death toll in two days of fierce fighting is 19 Palestinians and 3 Israelis.

2. According to Greenwald, Israeli attacks on Palestinians “are preceded (and followed) by far more limited rocket attacks into Israel which kill a much smaller number, rocket attacks which are triggered by various forms of Israeli provocations.”

It’s unclear which Israeli provocations Greenwald is referring to, but Hamas’s main grievance against Israel, per the words of their leaders and their very founding charter (which, evidently Greenwald hasn’t bothered to read), has been the Jewish state’s stubborn desire to exist.

3. Greenwald claims that”most US media outlets are petrified of straying too far from pro-Israel orthodoxies….US criticism of Israel is impossible for all the usual domestic political reasons.”

I’ve documented numerous examples of Greenwald advancing the most bigoted rhetoric about US Jews’ supposed control of the US government and media, and this latest charge is nothing new.  Indeed it is relatively mild compared to his previous smears, such as his warning about the “absolute”, “suffocating” “Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy” by the Jewish lobby.

4. Greenwald writes: “Provocations from the Israelis were geared toward disrupting an imminent peace deal with Hamas.”

Greenwald is referring to a temporary truce  – which was being brokered in the days following an attack (with an anti-tank missile) which injured four Israelis – motivated by Hamas’s concern regarding the damage IDF attacks was inflicting on their military capacity. More broadly, however, it takes either extreme naiveté, a considerable degree of hostility towards Israel, or a cynical indifference to historical reality to make the serious argument that Hamas is, or could ever be, a peace seeking movement.

5.  Greenwald argues that the Obama administration “supported the Israeli“ attack on Hamas terror chief Ahmed Jabari, as it represented the model of “extra-judicial assassination[s] – accompanied by the wanton killing of whatever civilians happen to be near the target, often including children – which is a staple of the Obama presidency.” ”Obama…could not possibly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza without indicting himself…Extra-judicial assassinations, once roundly condemned by US officials, are now a symbol of the Obama presidency”.  ”There is now a virtually complete convergence between US and Israeli aggression”

This later paragraph is where the convergence between Greenwald’s anti-Americanism and his anti-Zionism is most clear.

Greenwald is defined by his opposition to the policy of killing Islamist terrorists (who are planning terror attacks against American civilians) in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but his commentary also suggests that President Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of killing innocent civilians in these regions.  According to Greenwald, Obama is muted in his response to Israel’s violent acts because he lacks the moral authority to issue a credible condemnation.

To understand the extent of Greenwald’s obsession with “Obama’s” drone war, it would be helpful to review a piece he wrote before joining ‘Comment is Free’, published at Salon.com, titled “US again bombs mourners”.

If you find that title a bit overblown, or something out of PressTV, you need to also read the strap line.

The Obama policy of attacking rescuers and grieving rituals continues this weekend in Pakistan

Just the work of an editor, you think?

No.

Here are some quotes from Greenwald’s essay on June 4, 2012.

“In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals.” [emphasis added]

“On Sunday, June 3, the US targeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike.”

Killing family members of bombing targets is nothing new for this President.”

“The US is a country which targets rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn.”

“That tactic continues under President Obama, although it is now expanded to include the targeting of grieving rituals.”

However, the main source Greenwald provided to back up his claim is the discredited “Bureau of Investigative Journalism” (BIJ), the organization which fed the BBC information pertaining to the Newsnight story falsely alleging “a senior Thatcher-era Tory” was a paedophile.

Moreover, the specific link Greenwald cites as proof that the US  targets innocent civilians in Muslim countries – rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn – does not back up his claim at all.

The link to a nearly 2500 word BIJ report (which cited a more detailed BIJ report) on the drone war in Pakistan includes a claim in the headline that the CIA “targets rescuers and funerals” but failed to support  the dramatic claim in the subsequent story.

Typical are passages like this:

“A team of local researchers…found credible, independently sourced evidence of civilians killed in ten of the reported attacks on rescuers.”

But, there was this one passages which claimed intent:

“More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

However, there was nothing in piece, nor the longer report, which even attempts to corroborate the claim (largely anecdotal evidence by unidentified Pakistanis) that the strikes against innocent civilians represented deliberate US policy.  Further, not considered by either BIJ or Greenwald is the possibility that the “mourners” weren’t actually mourners at all, but, rather, additional terrorists.

Most telling in the BIJ report was this passage:

“Often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers.” [emphasis added]

It is unclear to whom these “credible reports” are attributed, but their admission would suggest that it is difficult, at best, for US drones to distinguish between Taliban terrorists and those unaffiliated with the murderous terror group.

The assertion by BIJ that there is a CIA “policy” of killing innocent mourners and rescuers is not supported by the reports cited. Greenwald’s even more unhinged claim that President Obama’s “policy” is to kill such innocent rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn” is not supported by the facts, and parrots the most unserious anti-American propaganda repeated by extremists on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Greenwald’s June post at Salon.com contained a hideous smear of the US President, suggesting that Obama personally is an advocate of killing innocent Muslims.

Interestingly, a New York Times report on February 5th, ‘U.S. Drone Strikes Are Said to Target Rescuers“, citing the same BIJ report, interestingly, was much more sober, and included the following:

“American officials have questioned the accuracy of such claims [that innocent civilians are targeted], asserting that accounts might be concocted by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation.”

“…most other studies of drone strikes have relied on sketchy and often contradictory news reports from Pakistan.”

“A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation.” [emphasis added]

Indeed.

Greenwald seems to really believe the most unserious, hateful anti-American propaganda – what you’d typically find in PressTV or Arab media outlets – about American and Israeli villainy.

In fact, in a Sept. 14 CiF piece, Greenwald summed it up clearly:

 ”…the US and Israel have continuously brought extreme amounts of violence to the Muslim world, routinely killing their innocent men, women and children.”

Finally, there’s this quote from Greenwald’s Salon.com post referenced above:

“If a Hollywood film featured a villainous King ordering lethal attacks on rescuers, funerals and mourners — those medically attending to or grieving his initial victims — any decent audience member would, by design, seethe with contempt for such an inhumane tyrant. But this is the standard policy and practice under President Obama and it continues through today.”

In Glenn Greenwald’s world, Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists – reactionary, racist, antisemitic, misogynist and extremely homophobic political forces – seem to get a moral pass, but democratic Israel stands accused of slaughtering innocent Palestinians and Barack Obama is an inhumane and villainous figure who murders Muslim children.

The convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism is truly a work of art.  For Greenwald, and his leftist followers, it is a given that Islamist terrorists are feared by the West not because they threaten the democratic world, but because of racism against Muslims.

For Greenwald, as with Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne and other Guardian Left commentators, Israel and the U.S. are the greatest imperialists threats to world peace, and so the reflexive anti-Zionist stance they take simply represents a logical extension of  their broader anti-imperialist, post-colonialist politics.

Finally, supporters of Obama should pay close attention to Greenwald, as the leftist ideology which his views on Israel and the US inspire  represent crude, ugly caricatures of the President which often go far beyond even those of the far right.

Glenn Greenwald would never, ever falsely “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim as some of his right wing opponents shamefully do.

Greenwald’s demonization of the President, however, is much worse, advancing the hysterical charge that he personally orders (or at least approves policies sanctioning) the murdering of innocent Muslims throughout the world.

The anti-Zionist, antisemitic and anti-American rhetoric advanced by Greenwald represents a classic example of Guardian Left ideology.

Those within the mainstream American Left who don’t succumb to the false moral equivalence between Islamist terrorists and Western democracies, and who don’t buy into the defamatory suggestion that Obama is engaged in a war against Islam, should begin to view him as, at the very least, a crank – a shrill and vitriolic anti-Obama extremist.

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The Political Animal

Conventional

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It is the week to think about it. The Democratic Convention, this week, like the Republican before it, will be utterly so. (Well, we’ll allow a small exception for Elvis’s performance on Wednesday night.) At the Democratic Convention 100 years ago, in 1912, Woodrow Wilson gained the nomination for the presidency on the 46th ballot. Ah, those were the days. That was drama. That was the unpredictable. Today – a four-night staged extravaganza only a little less scripted than a Disney show.

The ironic surprise about conventionality is that it arises and persists, takes root like crab grass, where we most need its opposite. The major party conventions are one example of this phenomenon. The conventions are a theatrical not only of political presentation and the pursuit of victory, but a joint production stage managed by the nation’s mass news media. Citizens self-delusive enough to watch, in fanciful recollection of a more genuine past, receive the reward of professional journalists analyzing and even praising for their rhetorical effectiveness convention speeches that are rotten with lies: speeches that supposedly have done what they needed to do even though most voters will not have heard them and most who have will have recognized them for the exceptionally denatured artifacts that they are.

That is front and center, downstage at the footlights, as it were, of American civic life.

Conventional thinking diminishes policy discussion, too. The categorically altered ability of non-state actors to engage in violence against states has been a challenge to understanding the nature of war – certainly dramatically – since 9/11. Still, many people willfully deny this altered paradigm for political purposes that may not even always be conscious. The changing nature of war does not have to dictate any policy choice, but it does challenge some arguments more than do existing concepts. How much easier, then, even for people who conceive themselves, generally, enemies of convention to cling to it. If war is the same as it ever was – and are not things always the same as they ever were? – then, clearly, terror threats, however serious and fearsome, cannot be conceived as war, and the response to them cannot be warlike.

The commitments of ideology, of any intellectual predisposition, can direct us toward or away from customary thinking, but not necessarily clear thinking. This is always the danger of predisposition, be it merely personal,  even emotional, or ideological. The use of drone “warfare” upsets many today, should concern all. Some conceive this development to be a kind of paradigm shift in the nature of state violence. Interestingly – I might even say ironically – these are many of the same people who choose not to recognize any altered paradigm in the nature of terror violence today.

The ability to wage drone attacks, the individualized nature of the drone attack, is an extraordinary development, as much as is the technology, for the profoundly unsetting focus it brings to the essential purpose of war. There is that wonderfully practical and ignoble line of General Patton from the eponymous film by Franklin J. Schaffner. Patton says to his troops,

I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.

Unlike much of what the real Patton said, the film speech clarifies the fodder any solider essentially is in war, and it does not shy from the personal nature of war. On the battlefield, one soldier, one human being, will kill another. Drones are intended, from long distances, to do just that, kill one or several people, though often more will die alongside them. Is this worse than the WWII and Vietnam era carpet bombing of B-17s, B-29s, and B-52s from high altitudes that killed thousands and tens of thousands at a time? A new element in the advent of the drone is the combination of both extremes in the killing of the enemy: the individual targeting of ground combat with the detached distancing of aerial bombing. Something about that development is harrowing, and no deep consideration has been yet engaged on its implications, but does it alter in any way, on its own terms, the evaluation of any policy that utilizes drone attack from what that evaluation would be were the attack by high altitude bomber or combat troop rifle shot?

Breaking the conventional mold of thought is harder when there is an idée fixe, and when that idea is transferred into a new realm. Americans, and the citizens of liberal democracies, in general, oppose censorship. They understand that there are exceptions, like the almost proverbial “yelling fire in crowded theater” – but when was the last time you know of that anybody did that? So that routinely acknowledged restriction on free speech rights remains a mostly unconsidered exception. Its limitation on free speech remains, then, quite theoretical in a way the following, if you will even entertain it, is not.

In India, where religious division and hatred is especially intense, there are too often uprisings in violent hatred, often stoked by rumor. Indian authorities have responded by clamping down on Facebook and Twitter. Some parties are suspicious, as some parties should always be, of ulterior political motives in enacting any restriction at any time. But what of these circumstances, as the Atlantic article describes them?

Then, last week, two sets of equally dangerous rumors spread across India: that Muslims throughout the country were about to attack northeastern migrants, and, in apparent response, that Bodo in their home-state of Assam were planning a pre-emptive strike on the area’s Muslims.

That the two rumors appear to have been almost certainly unfounded is beside the point: they were mutually reinforcing. The more that people heard about them, the truer they became. Muslims, fearing their fellow believers in Assam were in mortal peril, staged a large protest in Mumbai. Northeastern migrants in the area, afraid the re-opening communal tensions could put them at risk, fled. Hearing about this back in Assam, some northeasterners perceived it as proof of coming Muslim violence, and, apparently enraged, attacked the region’s Muslims. It’s not hard to see how things spiraled out of control from there. By the end of the weekend, northeastern migrants were streaming onto trains to head home to Assam, and Muslims in Assam were fleeing en masse to refugee camps.

Is this not a crowded theater, with far greater numbers and far greater potential for uncontained catastrophe?

When the idée fixe becomes thoroughly, systematically ideologized, it can become trapped in convention, enclosed by its own effort at theoretical coherence – even when the ideology itself is conceived as a critique of the power of enclosed ideologies: the hegemony of convention.

Take these lines from Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself, which I cite in my current commentary at the Algemeiner.

When a universal precept cannot, for social reasons, be appropriated or when – indeed, for social reasons – it must be refused, the universal precept itself becomes a site of contest, a theme and an object of democratic debate. That is to say, it loses its status as precondition of democratic debate; if it did operate there as a precondition, as a sine qua non of participation, it would impose its violence as a form of exclusionary violence.

This is a dense, jargony expression of essential poststructuralist relativism, or as I clarify:

That is to say, when a universal value is judged inappropriate to a local, i.e. not a universal, social context, and is thus rejected, it is no longer a universal value.

The self-negating nature of this precept, in itself, has been noted for years. That has no effect on those, like Butler, who continue to articulate it. First, of course, what at the start is identified as a “universal precept” must by the end be acknowledged, according to the internal logic of the new precept, as never having been universal to begin. That is the self-negation. Even more problematic for the theory, and the ideology by which the precept is advanced, is that it substitutes for the original universal its own unreflective self-negating universal: it is a universal precept that all precepts are relative to particular conditions. Including that one? In which case…. All generalizations are false.

What is outstanding in the ill-considered practical application of this paradox is that a critical tradition of theorizing intended to expose hegemonic power structures – including, particularly, those of existing systems of thought and the language that articulates them – has from the start trapped itself in the conventions of its own thinking. In contemporary far left thought, a paradigm was empirically derived and formulated, of the powerful and powerless, of oppressor and oppressed, and of the hegemonic structures that establish the power of the former over the latter. Despite the claim of so many who both theorize and act out of this tradition that theirs is a post-structural ideology specifically opposing the oppressive power of the absolute, and championing the liberating uprising of the local and contingent, those acting from this tradition are completely unresponsive to historical particularity. As with Israel-Palestine, rather than analyze local history and particular conditions, they impose upon every geopolitical circumstance the standard, universalized principles that have become the defining nature of their ideology.

Conventional.

AJA

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The Political Animal

National Security Leak

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Something is leaking. I’m sorry, that’s someone. Or ones. About the U.S.’s continuing drone campaign against Al-Qeada and our ongoing cyber warfare against Iranian nuclear capabilities. A fascinating fissure in the negative reaction to the inside dope is its left-right nature. At the farther left reaches, President Obama is decried as no more than an extension of Bush-Cheney – only, in fact, better, more effective. From the right borderlands, little credit is given for aggressive and expertly pursued national security objectives; rather, as the Hannity jerks the GOP chain, comes a flooding outcry that the President has – through the leaks for which the right thinks him surely responsible – actually endangered national security, and even lost the trust of allies who will feel they cannot rely on our secrecy as clandestine conspirators.

Everybody plays their assigned roles. Does the public never tire of these morality plays? Or is it more likely powerless to prevent them? The actors will apply their makeup, don their costumes, and take the stage in the town square – ticked buyers be damned.

Righteous bags of windy high dudgeon are shocked, shocked that Obama is deciding who gets targeted by drone. Really. Who did they think was deciding – the national security advisor, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the remote pilot? Imagine the outcry had the case been revealed that lower level, unelected officials were making such life and death decisions. Of course, in war, very low-level unelected officials – privates – will in fact commonly make such decisions, and they do not ask for passports before pulling the trigger. We might turn the decision over to a judicial panel, as some, like The New York Times, have suggested. Wait, then, for the Times somewhat later, along with Karl Rove, to accuse the President of creating a Star Chamber.

We already knew, too, about the Stuxnet virus. Now there is the Flame virus, which according to Kapersky Labs, though more sophisticated than Stuxnet, may actually predate it and which appears to share some code with the earlier virus, indicating some level of cooperation or alliance among the designers. It is so sophisticated that upon revelation of its existence, it was apparently terminated by transmission of a suicide code that destroyed much of the evidence of its origins and nature. Now the handwringing is over what the U.S. might be unleashing by such cyber warfare. You can check on your own whether they are the same or different hands that have been tying themselves in knots for some years now over the threat of Chinese (and others’) cyber warfare against the U.S. Is the thought, seriously, that if the U.S. does not develop these capabilities others will not, and use them?

One wonders, too, if those worried about the consequences of cyber warfare are among those concerned also about a nuclear weapons program in the arsenal of a tyrannical, eschatological theocracy, but who warn of the dangerous consequences of any conventional attack on Iranian facilities. Are they parties who believe, Trita Parsi and Roger Cohen fashioned, that Iran would be likely to negotiate away its ambitions if only the U.S. was more open to its adversary’s other-minded, but still genuine good will? Are they people who are willing, really, to do anything at all?

The particular outcry against the leaking of this information is a correlative without an objective. We know, know that no administration before has ever revealed classified information through back or journalistic channels intended to serve either, or both, its national security and political objectives. Who would wish to live in such a world?

In reality (and welcome to it) if you are a left/libertarian political opponent of the government and of the required apparatus of secrecy in national security pursuits, then revelations of classified materials intended to embarrass the government, as those by Wikileaks and Bradley Manning, are an honorable calling and “whistle blower” prosecutions an oppression. If you are a Republican, then you become the touring theatrical company of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Graham said Obama and Biden’s altered positions constituted “the biggest double standard in recent times.”

The harsh criticism flared as McCain introduced a resolution calling for an independent investigation and the uncommon bipartisanship lawmakers had first displayed when the issue of the security leaks came to the fore openly disintegrated.

Replied Attorney General Holder,

“We have brought more leak cases . . . than any other administration,” Holder said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I was getting hammered by the left for that only two weeks ago, and now I’m getting hammered by the right for potentially not going after leaks. It makes for an interesting dynamic.”

A low lying truth beneath all the high drama is that these “revelations” revealed little.  The “baseball card” terminology for the information cards on which Obama receives his summation of each Al-Qaeda figure manages to reduce in its play lingo the moral seriousness of the enterprise, but the President was reported to be doing nothing other in a war than he should be doing – unless you are opposed to the activity to begin. David Sanger’s New York Times article on the administration’s commitment to a cyber campaign against the the Iranian nuclear program was published on June 1. It was on May 28 that Iran’s Maher center publically announced its own discovery of Flame. The Center had already been studying the virus and obviously had already known about it for some time by that date.

Certainly, it is worth noting how close together are the Iranian revelation, the Sanger article, and the suicide command. What is clear is that the leaks informed no party critical to this issue or the drones issue of anything it did not already know. What the leaks may have done is told other parties some things the administration wanted them to know. Critics from the left may not like any exercise of American power. Republicans may not like the added national security credibility these stories give Obama, stories that are, nonetheless, a pale political shadow of Nixon’s 1968 “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War or his 1972 October surprise, or Judith Miller serving as the Bush administration’s classified Scooter Libby pipeline to the public. But no one has identified, in the light of these realities, any actual detriment to American national security, and national security can leak in more than one way only.

AJA

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