Dirty Wars

The phrase "dirty wars" isn't very clear in meaning. Scahill is a reporter whose chronological narrative is gripping and revealing but virtually commentary-free. Any observations on the facts related tend to come in the form of quotations from experts and those involved. So, there isn't anywhere in the book that explicitly explains what a "dirty war" really is. The point Scahill seems to be trying to make is that the CIA-JSOC "kill campaign" creates more enemies than it eliminates, a point worth The phrase "dirty wars" isn't very clear in meaning. Scahill is a reporter whose chronological narrative is gripping and revealing but virtually commentary-free. Any observations on the facts related tend to come in the form of quotations from experts and those involved. So, there isn't anywhere in the book that explicitly explains what a "dirty war" really is. The point Scahill seems to be trying to make is that the CIA-JSOC "kill campaign" creates more enemies than it eliminates, a point worthy of exploration, but one Scahill doesn't return to very often as the book progresses.The focus of the book is on operations that were once more secretive than they are today: kidnapping, rendition, secret-imprisonment,and targeted killing. "This is a story," reads the first sentence of the book, "about how the United States came to embrace assassination as a central part of its national security policy." It's a story about elite CIA, military and mercenary forces operating under even less Congressional or public oversight than the rest of the U.S. military, a story about the Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA, and not about the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad or the activities of tens of thousands of soldiers occupying Iraq or Afghanistan.The type of war recounted is variously identified in the book as dirty, dark, black, dark-side, small, covert, black-ops, asymmetric, secret, twilight, and -- in quotation marks -- "smart." At one point, Scahill describes the White House, along with General Stanley McChrystal, as beginning to "apply its emerging global kill list doctrine inside Afghanistan, buried within the larger, public war involving conventional U.S. forces." But part of Scahill's story is how, in recent years, something that had been considered special, secretive, and relatively unimportant has come to occupy the focus of the U.S. military. In the process, it has lost some of its stigma as well as its secretiveness. Scahill refers to some operations as "not so covert." It's hard to hide a drone war that is killing

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people by the thousands. Secret death squad night raids that are bragged about in front of the White House Press Corps are not so secret.Scahill details the operation to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen-turned-al-Qaeda leader through the use of a drone. The point Scahill seems to want to make is that the rapid expansion of the CIA-JSOC "killing machine" is a potential threat to the lives of every American citizen and nobody is off-limits in such a war. I doubt that to be the case. Drone strikes, for the most part, take place mainly in Pakistan, Yemen, and SOmalia, unstable countries with whom we lack a solid relationship with a strong, stable government. If these nations had internal stability, we could simply go after al-Qaeda using their local security forces and maintain a much lower profile. However, since these nations lack stability and don't trust their own military and security forces, they allow the US to quietly take out HVTs with drones.I don't think, in the end, that Scahill is suggesting that other wars, or other parts of wars, are clean. In fact, he characterizes the Obama administration's growing use of dirty war tactics as "the fantasy of a clean war." The term "clean" has been used in Washington, D.C., to distinguish killing from imprisonment-and-torture. Scahill's book should make clear to every reader that there is nothing clean about a war fought by death squad, drone, and missile strike -- any more than any other war. They're all dirty, filthy, nasty enterprises. They're not silver bullets; drone strikes and special-operations raids will only be as effective as the intelligence that leads to them. And despite their politicization, intelligence failures are a problem that will never be "solved", since intelligence collection always comes down to humans.Scahill writes that the 2008 Bombay attacks were carried out by Lashkar e Jhangvi when it's a well known fact that it was carried out by Lashkar-e Taiba. He also writes that President Carter ordered that the Iran hostage-rescue mission be aborted, but that decision was in fact made by the ground commander, Charlie Beckwith. Scahill also caricatures the CIA's Vietnam-era Phoenix program as a campaign of pure assassination, even though the majority of Phoenix's targets were captured or induced to defect.

In all, this was a great work on a world that Americans rarely get a glimpse of, except in movies and thriller novels that usually ignore the many nuanced complexities and limits of the targeted-killing approach.

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