Secretary Gates in Singapore

01 June 2009
Manila, Philippines

The Shangri-La security dialogue is over.  Bigwigs from all over the region came to the conference, including Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  All the major media outlets piled in, such as the New York Times, AP, and dozens of others from Asia, Europe, and the United States.  The dialogue is already well covered in the media, so I’ll write mostly about topics that likely will not make the press.

One matter that you will see in the press is that North Korea is the elephant in the room. Secretary Gates has made it clear that we have no intention of rewarding bad behavior, as we have done in the past with North Korea.  Many readers seem to hold a special disdain for President Obama, and I actively campaigned for McCain, but I get the feeling that Obama is tougher and proving wiser than many people seem to think.  I do not detect that we are slinking away from North Korea.  It seems as though we are going to have some sort of showdown, which hopefully will all be through diplomacy.  I heard Secretary Gates say that a nuclear armed North Korea is not in the cards.  (Not verbatim but that was the gist.)

I asked an extremely high defense official if he thought North Korea would attack the United States, and he said they are crazy, but not that crazy.  Judging by comments that I pick up here and there, it’s clear that our government views North Korea in the same light that most people do: the North Korean leadership is completely nuts.  That’s the patois, and it’s actually how American officials will sometimes put it.

On the political front, it’s fascinating that the United States is such a global matchmaker.  Many people think the world hates us, but I would say we have more allies than any nation has ever had in the history of mankind.  All of the countries represented here have good relations with the United States, but many or most have little or no relations with each other.  This is also true in the Gulf States in the Middle East.  The United States has to pull all these countries together just so they will talk with each other on defense issues.

The architecture of the relationships has been likened to a wheel.  The United States is the hub, and we have bilateral relations, like spokes, with just about everybody (other than a few countries such as North Korea, Iran and Cuba).  But the United States wants to be less of the hub and wants these folks to cooperate with each other.  So here we are: Global matchmaker.  And the senior folks here, including Secretary Gates, are making it clear that if we unite against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, we can work as a team with far greater horsepower.  So part of the talks have been centered around developing a common approach and a common message.  The particular talks that most interested me (between Japan, South Korea and the United States) were secret so I didn’t get in to hear, but I know that Secretary Gates had the Japanese and the South Koreans in the same room for about an hour.

The press covering the event is an interesting aside.  When I traveled with Secretary Gates in December (Afghanistan to Bahrain to Iraq to Turkey to the United States), there were maybe a dozen journalists with him, and lots more met us along the way.  Some of the journalists joked with me at first, asking if I was going to “blog” every step of the way.  Most fascinating is that that is exactly what they did.  They would rush to internet cafes to send quickly written stories, while I didn’t publish anything major until months later.  They were a very nice group of top journalists, but it really stunned me that they are actually more the true “bloggers.”  They got a laugh when I started calling them bloggers.  I remember one photographer running to our bus in Iraq, holding his laptop in one hand and his satellite antenna in the other, trying to transmit a few photos that he had shot only ten minutes earlier.

In Singapore, there must have been fifty or more journalists, and they were doing the paparazzi crush.  It’s bizarre to me because I rarely see this paparazzi stuff.  It’s like a feeding frenzy for the photographers and even a few of the writers.  The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and those types don’t crush into the frenzy.  They hang back and end up getting close access, like me.

I find that the journalists for places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are actually very good with their facts.  They ask very smart questions, so I generally just sit there as the grey man and listen, and Gates will answer just about any reasonable question.  During off-the-record times, he’s actually very funny and would be a center of entertainment even if he were not the SecDef.

During this trip and the last, I listened closely to the journalists during their relaxed moments at cocktail parties and so forth.  (This is truly unlike combat reporting!)  Some of them travel with Gates on many trips, and I wanted to know what they really think about him.  The reviews are all positive.  The journalists think he’s a straight shooter.  And trust me, this is a rough crowd of top-dog, very experienced journalists who are sharp…they will crush anybody if they think they are being deceived.  Gates gets their seal of approval, though I sense at times that some journalists wish Gates would say things that make for more splashy press, or “color” as they put it.

Sunday: the airplane is broken down again so our trip to the Philippines is delayed.  But that’s fine because Secretary Gates and his people are very open with the media.  They’ll pretty much answer anything that’s not off limits for obvious reasons.  I have been asking a lot of people about the disposition of Libya’s mustard gas stocks, but nobody will touch that one.  (I did not ask Secretary Gates.)  There was some discussion (again, not with Secretary Gates) about the replacement of General McKiernan with McChrystal.  Bottom line is that, though I greatly respect McKiernan, Secretary Gates is a wise and experienced man, and he made the proper decision.

We have a shelf-life in Afghanistan, and it’s pretty doggone clear to me that we likely will start losing allies by the end of 2010 if we are not showing real and obvious progress in Afghanistan.  I understand why McChrystal is being called into the fight.  Most of the enemies in Afghanistan have no reason to negotiate because they know that they are winning.  They know it, and we know it.  So the bottom line is that there is a lot of killing to do.  We need to show the enemy that we can crush them.  They might be tough Afghans, but our folks are tougher, and our folks are far better fighters.  Most of the Taliban cannot even shoot straight.  Their big advantage – and it’s a huge advantage over us – is that they are on their home field.  I brought that up to a senior official, and he tantamount to confirmed that my estimation is correct.  McChrystal needs to show success over the next eighteen months.  If you are in a combat unit heading to Afghanistan, I would submit that you likely will see heavy fighting.  I would further submit that the most severe fighting in the entire Afghanistan campaign likely will unfold between now and late 2010.  You’ve got to put the Taliban and other enemies on the defense and you’ve got to hurt them very badly.  You’ve got to give the survivors a reason to lay down their arms and talk.  Otherwise, the enemy will win just by surviving.

I brought up Iraq with various knowledgeable folks (I’m not sure what is off and on the record sometimes, so must treat it all as off the record unless I’m sure).  The Iraq conversations have been interesting.  In broad strokes, I did not detect any deep concerns about Iraq like we saw in 2006-2007, but our folks definitely remain concerned.  Petraeus has often said that the gains are fragile and reversible.

Two Japanese journalists are on the trip.  Yoshinari Kurose is with the gigantic paper “The Yomiuri Shimbun,” and Hirotsugu Mochizuki writes for another gigantic paper called the “The Asahi Shumbun.”  Both live in Washington D.C., and both are extremely smart.  They are very concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, and concerned about potential sabotage within Japan by North Korean operatives.  Both seem to very much enjoy the United States, but I told them they are crazy for living in Washington D.C.  It’s a complete madhouse.  I asked them what I ask many non-Americans: “What do the Japanese think about Obama?”  Yoshinari said that Obama is like a rock star in Japan.  I get a similar vibe in Brunei, Singapore and Thailand, but not in Israel, the Pakistanis are wary of Obama, and the Iraqis can be wary, too.  Many Iraqis are genuinely afraid that we will pull out too soon.  The Japanese journalists think that the Japanese people view Obama as the best thing since sliced bread.

Yoshinari brought up that he heard a rumor that Obama will visit Dresden, and it was clear that he hoped Obama would visit Hiroshima also. He thought the Japanese would receive the gesture very well, even if there is no apology.  Just a respectful visit.  But he thought that conservatives in the United States would be very unhappy if Obama visits Japan.  I told Hirotsugu and Yoshinari that the older generation who fought in World War II often hate the Japanese, but the younger Americans hold no animosity at all.  Not that I am aware of, anyway.  Japan has a good name in America.  Secretary Gates just thanked Japan for their help in the current war.  At some point, we just have to move on.  We’ll always remember Pearl Harbor, but at some point we’ve got to put that down and move on.

I talked a lot about torture with the Japanese.  Probably half of Asia still holds deep animosity toward the Japanese because they treated the people and the prisoners so savagely, and they know better than anyone how costly that can be.  They got paid back, at least in part, with two atomic bomb attacks, and with great numbers of people in Asia mistrusting them even today.  I asked the journalists if the Japanese are paying attention to our torture problems. They confirmed that the Japanese are well aware, and though the United States is very popular in Japan, this is a mark on our excellent name.  This and the Iraq war, though the Japanese did also help us with Iraq.  I see the same coming from places like Thailand, Singapore and Brunei.  All of these places have very good and positive relations with the United States, and Americans are especially welcome over here.  But the man on the street is pretty doggone disgusted that America – that shining beacon – sullied itself with torture.

I took a few minutes with well-placed American officials to bash senior Army Public Affairs Officers (PAO).  That’s obligatory for me these days.  I can’t meet with senior American officials without taking a swipe at senior Army PAOs.  Not USMC, just Army.  I’m happy as a bug to get out with American or British infantry, but the Army PAO (the senior ranks) should be purged.  The lower ranking PAOs maintain a high standard of excellence.  It’s their bosses who turn wine to vinegar just by walking in the room.

After this, it’s off to the Philippines and then back to the other war in PakAf.  Big battles are unfolding in Pakistan, and we cannot understand the Afghanistan war without understanding Pakistan.

Note: We landed in the Philippines and Secretary Gates headed straight to our war cemetery here, to honor our fallen and our missing.  The cemetery is extremely well cared-for and both American and Philippine soldiers took part in the ceremony.  Secretary Gates then went on into some private talks, and then he talked with soldiers.  The press was doing a kind of paparazzi crush at times.  The camera flashes were sometimes blinding.  There were approximately a hundred journalists present during his public talk.  Later, Secretary Gates was warmly received by the Philippine Secretary of Defense, Gilbert Teodoro.  Some American officials made clear to me during the trip that the United States greatly values our relationship with the Philippines.  The Philippine Army also gave me a warm welcome and some interesting private talks.  Secretary Gates got back on the airplane and is heading to meet up with some soldiers in Alaska.  I stayed behind in the Philippines to cover work of American Special Forces soldiers, Navy SEALs, and Philippine forces.


# Scott Dudley 2009-06-01 14:08
Good stuff. Getting views of other nations toward us is particularly interesting. Thank you.
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# cdor 2009-06-01 14:32
And here I thought we were hated throughout the world. Thanks for the perspective, Michael. Btw, have you pondered the posiblility that perhaps their thoughts of US "torture" are mitigated by what they read in the news and watch on TV?
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# Paul ABarge 2009-06-01 15:03
I just don't see how anyone at this point can maintain a shred of optimism about Obama. I don't think the man can do a worse job on all the important things. Obama is Jimmah Carter times ten.
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# Duke 2009-06-01 15:06

I have been a long time reader, great admirer of your work, and sometimes also a sponsor.

I am curious about your remarks about the journalists you observed. Among other remarks you mention that they "... are sharpƒ??they will crush anybody if they think they are being deceived". The reason I, and I imagine many others, were first attracted to your work was your vastly superior command of the facts and your integrity. This is in comparison to the entire media industry, likely including many or all of the very individual journalists you praise in your article. You filled a gap characterized by at best ignorance of facts and at worst desire to hide them.

While you, and a few others like yourself, ultimately managed to get the story to the people, it seems to me that the media's bad behaviors remain intact. For example, a story about images of Obama's face dominated the front page of this week's Sunday NYTimes (above the fold). This despite various major events transpiring around the world (bankruptcy and nationalization of GM, North Korean missile launches, etc.).

I would be curious to hear about how you reconcile the general media's frequent failures and bad behaviors with your personal observations of their reporters and how they do their jobs. Just one more chance for you to shed some light on what is really going on, but this time in a slightly different area.

Thank you once again for your efforts!
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# submandave 2009-06-01 18:04
Good catch on the "hub and wheel" business. This is a huge difference between diplomacy and operations in WESTPAC and MED: there are no standing organizations, only a series of bilatteral agreements. A good example of this is how submarine safety is handles differently in the two regions. For obvious reasons, it is illadvised to assign the same waterspace to two different submarines as the "big ocean; little boat" rule does have loop holes. In the areas where we operate with NATO this is accomplished by all the partners operating submarines telling each other where their boats will be so they can drive around and navigate safely. In the Western Pacific, though, the USN acts as an honest broker to look at our allies' proposed operations and advise them if we see safety concerns. The ROKN and JMSDF, for example, may not completely trust each other, but they trust us to be fair and help them to operate safely without busting their OPSEC. As you aluded to, the elephant in the room is often a country's history with the Empire of Japan and long memories thereof.
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# brooklyn 2009-06-01 18:17
"I get the feeling that Obama is tougher and proving wiser than many people seem to think. I do not detect that we are slinking away from North Korea."

One can only hope, sounder minds like Mr. Gates - General Petraeus will hold greater sway over the condescending, deceitful, Mr. Obama. But Mr. Yon is far too savvy for this offering.

Didn't Obama's disastrous release of specific information of CIA Memos, regarding interrogation techniques, a vapid political manipulation (on par with Nixionian - Clintonian sophistry - being more obsessed with the political opposition than sound policy), already reveal Mr. Obama is weak and has sincerely damaged US National Security?

How about the fact that Obama has cut proven Missile Defense funding? That is by definition weak, naive, and foolish in regards to the topic of North Korea - or the alarming Iranian issue.

Mr. Obama began the naive, vapid, weak, Obama Doctrine, which obsessed about publicly apologizing for an historic Democracy with Women's Liberty, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Civil Rights, etc. His video pandering to the despotic Iranian regime, was insulting to all - and proved disastrous. Perhaps the worst of it, watching the Obama Administration ignoring and enabling the dangerous threats of Iran, while suggesting this monstrous danger is connected to the Palestinian - Israeli problem. It is absurd. Is watching Hillary debase Israel some more (the co-partner of a President who appeased the killer named Arafat), helping address the Iranian growth towards a nuclear power? Of course not...

Mr. Obama even appointed Hillary 'the sniper dodger' Clinton, as his Secretary of State. It was another sign of political weakness. Thankfully it appears the Obama Administration has limited her involvement. This was a co-partner of a Presidency who made it their policy to lie about the genocide in Rwanda, and ignored the threats of Radical Muslim Militancy even after it bombed the WTC in NYC in 1993. And the Obama Administration is filled with other former Clintonites, who embrace this appeasing weakness and denial. So far, Hillary Clinton bragged about being able to deal with North Korea, just prior to announcing the Obama Administration won't be focused on Human Rights when visiting China. Recently, Mrs. Clinton finally warned North Korea about engaging in a "belligerent" manner, when they have been engaged in increasing "belligerent" ways ever since Mr. Obama took Office. And the Obama - Clinton Diplomatic team, cannot even get the UN (of all places), to offer some official rebuke of North Korea's concerning actions.

After years of reading the admirable Mr. Yon, it would be stunning to believe he would be so easily swayed, by the expression of a Secretary of Defense, who is from a prior Administration.

Mr. Obama naively rushed to close GITMO, it was evidence enough that Mr. Obama is NOT "tougher and proving wiser than many people seem to think".
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# brityank 2009-06-01 18:39
Thank you Michael; as usual the detail and background you provide stands heads above the infotainment I see in the edited media. We are subjected to every type of death and destruction from any hamlet and byway, as long as there is gore to flesh out the fear they want to instill, and leading to the implication that only big-government/ police/military actions can save us from ourselves.

You noted: "But the man on the street is pretty doggone disgusted that America ƒ?? that shining beacon ƒ?? sullied itself with torture."

I submit that had the media done its job correctly, 'torture' would still be that, and it is prosecuted vigorously no matter who commits it. Isolation, sleep-deprivati on, and lawful psychological stressers are not torture, but enhanced investigative techniques that are part and parcel of every police department investigative procedure of criminal activities.

This man on the street is pretty doggone disgusted that America ƒ?? that shining beacon ƒ?? sullied itself with propaganda!
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# Possum 2009-06-01 18:46
Michael, you are so extraordinarily good at reporting from the field that I am baffled by what what seems to happen when you are out of it. There are many reasons old soldiers are pessimists about Obama and there is no evidence I have seen so far to change that opinion. So far he is all talk whether its NK, Iran or anything else in foreign policy. His actions are presently concentrated on destroying our economy.
As to journalists, you may be right that they gather facts but what we see is what is done with those facts - the published and broadcast results might well be written by our enemies.
As to Gates, he may be personable but he is Obama's man.
Stay safe.
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# Rob 2009-06-01 18:48
The idea that Afghanistan and Pakistan have a sell by date is scary as hell. We leave; chaos follows. And some over there have nukes.

That said there is smart and not so smart.

I have been told by a Congressman that Obama will support our continuing efforts in Afghanistan instead of the bug out strategy. It is probably too late to bug out of Iraq. Too much has been accomplished. Afghanistan is still the 'good war' and Obama has been on record as supporting that. Let us hope.

And interesting sidelight is that a surge in Afghanistan will take place in the drug growing areas which produce 90% of the opium in the world. It would be good side effect if world wide opium production were crippled. To keep that money away from the Taliban and Al Qeda that is what needs to happen.

I would note that we will need to pay the farmers to grow something else and support economic development in those areas if we want this effort to stick.
Remember, this can be done. There are many former poppy areas that now do not produce opium.
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# John Thomas 2009-06-01 19:59
Just a counterpoint. My next door neighbors are now living and working in Japan. They tell me the Japanese don't trust Obama. Or particularly like him.
Perhaps your Japanese journalist friends are saying what appears to be obligatory by the Washington press corps.
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# Paul S. 2009-06-01 23:22
"North Korea...we have no intention of rewarding bad behavior." Through how many U.S. administrations now? I've lost count. Kim's dad figured out years ago how this game is played.
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# Jack Sides 2009-06-02 01:39
What happened to McCain, et al, was torture. What happened to many of my cohorts in German prison camps was torture. The beheading of my cousin by the Japanese was torture. I have the firm opinion that what has happened at Gitmo is not torture. After all, we water boarded our own pilots in training. Other than that, in my opinion, you do an excellent job. If you have something that would change my mind I would like to see it. All we have now is the ranting of a bunch of liberals.
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# wuzzagrunt 2009-06-02 03:26
George Bush came into office talking tough on NK, too. He left office looking a lot like Bill Clinton--i.e., offering goodies to NK for signing agreements that all concerned knew they would break. Thus far, every Obama policy proposal has come with an expiration date. Are we to believe this is the one he'll stick by?
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# John Marshall 2009-06-02 04:43
but i respectfully fear you're over your head on the politics, and got to thinking the kool aid ain't so bad. sorry, momentof truth was fabulous, but you're playing along now.
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# Don 2009-06-02 07:51
"Japanese and the South Koreans"
now there you have the oriental version of the sunnis and shiites in many ways.
Korea has still not forgiven Japan for WW2.The North takes full advantage of this,they've infiltrated student movements for decades.The anti-American seed they planted years ago is in full bloom.During my tour on the DMZ 25 years ago we were treated great over there.Now with South Korea's economy in good shape,kids running around with cell phones and I-pods,they've forgotten for the most part what we did for them.Most South Korean war vets are very old,like our own forgotten ones.
"I asked an extremely high defense official if he thought North Korea would attack the United States, and he said they are crazy, but not that crazy. Judging by comments that I pick up here and there, itƒ??s clear that our government views North Korea in the same light that most people do: the North Korean leadership is completely nuts."
One only has to walk the fence and go out on combat patrols on the DMZ to appreciate that not only the leadership is nut,the entire country is nuts! South Koreans look at the people in the north as their brothers,and they are,the Japanese on the other hand are still hated.
Yes they could attack the USA,in concert with a terrorist attack,George Soros failed shenanigans in the balkans,his Georgian
influenced government that lied about its reasons for invading South Ossetia,with Russia fed up with NATO expansion,USA's OPEN borders,a spark here,a spark there could produce the perfect storm that would make 911 look like a fireworks show.
Never say never,look at the world in 1914,1939,1950, it's happened too many times in the past,the world is just as much a powder keg now,as it was then,maybe even more so.
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# Scott Dudley, CDR, USN ret 2009-06-02 12:09
The discussion of torture is pervasive. The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee had this to say....
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# Scott Dudley, CDR, USN ret 2009-06-02 12:14
Michael, since you will be with SOF in the PI, and they have been through SERE, what is their take on enhanced interrogation techniques?
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# ts alfabet 2009-06-02 16:48
Have to echo the comments of some here, Michael: beware the group think! When you start entertaining "feelings" that Obama might be "tougher" and "wiser" than people think... well, I certainly hope you are being ironic there, i.e., Obama is tougher than "President Pantywaist" (as the The Guardian calls him) but not by any true measure "tough" or "wise." You didn't cite one, hard fact that would indicate to a reader that Obama is either while the comments have cited a storm of facts (and that in just 5 months in office!!) that point in the opposite direction.

As far as Afghanistan, Petraeus and others had asked for over 130,000 soldiers and Obama agreed to a piddling 68,000. This isn't a commitment to victory, it is just enough to generate casualties and the claim that he is trying while falling far short of the numbers that you and every other informed observer knows are needed for genuine COIN in A-stan. 68,000 troops is not enough to take, hold and build anything, so we will see the same sort of clearing operations followed by Taliban reoccupation of areas just cleared... the whack-a-mole strategy that failed in Iraq until we put in the additional troops needed to clear and HOLD.

God have mercy on our fine soldiers and marines. They are going to be sacrificed to Obama half-measures.
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# Gary M 2009-06-03 02:07
Mike, you've always brought down-to-earth, on-scene reality to those of us stateside--ther e is a "ground truth" to your reporting that the major media often could not discern, much less grasp. There is also a risk that being close to the ground means you can't see over the horizon. When it comes to Obama and North Korea, I have a sense that might be happening to you. NK has been using Iran as a proxy for its nuclear ambitions, and there is very credible reporting of very active participation of North Koreans in the Iranian program. That kind of collusion leaves the Secretary's pronouncements to be more akin to hot air than hard policy. We do not have the resources to take on another major military conflict--where we used to "send the carriers in" we now send two--count 'em, two--destroyers in to patrol the restless sea frontier. Their combined firepower would be a pinprick of the North goes South again.

It might be worth a little detour to visit the US troops in Korea. I'll bet you a beer or ten that their equipment has been stripped and reserves drawn down to support the hot war. I'll bet their readiness--thro ugh no fault of their own--is at all time low. And I'll bet that the current Administration is doing less than nothing to fix the problem....

Not hollering at you--but oh, I got my doubts about Obama....
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# Scott Dudley 2009-06-03 12:54
Seems to me that if the NK problem were easy, it would have been solved over the last 8 years. Never ceases to amaze me how many folks have a memory such that they can only recall the last 5 months. That being said, as a destroyerman, I'll bet on the "cans" at least for a while. (I also worked on the Tomahawk program)
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# submandave 2009-06-03 13:29
Michael, as I indicated in my earlier comment, I think there is much insight in this piece, but on the other hand I've had a vague discomfort with something about it and I think I've put my finger on the problem. It has to do with your discussions with the Japanese journalists and torture.

Regardless of one's beliefs concerning the propriety of the use of EITs, I believe it is wrong to conflate them with what is traditionally understood as "torture" and specifically the infamous treatment many received at the hands of the EOJ. On the one hand we have a limited number of individuals being specifically authorized to perform specific and carefully controlled acts on certain prisoners for clearly defined goals with a concientious consideration of the subjects' long-term health, while on the other we have wanton, random and often purposefully cruel and painful acts being done by anyone in power upon whomever they wished for whatever reason they considered appropriate with complete disregard to the subjects' life and limb. The perception that you could appear to conflate the two is troubling. If there is any similarity in international reaction to the two it is largely due to an IW victory on behalf of the jihadis.
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# Scott Dudley 2009-06-03 15:34
More than 20 deaths of those in our custody have occurred due to EIT. Army medical personnel conducting the autopsies listed cause of death as murder. Deaths resulted not just from Army personnel but from CIA, SEAL, and contractors as well. It is not as clean as many would like to think. HBO is running, periodically, a documentary called "Taxi to the Dark Side". I commend its viewing to all.
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-03 16:32
About equating torture with water-boarding. Michael, I'm a long time reader (since late 2005) and I'm shocked that you are parroting left-wing talking points. Water boarding is not torture. It isn't fun... but it ain't torture.

CDR Dudley, please state your source re: the 20 deaths. Then cite for me how many service people we've lost, total, in all training events during that time period.

Lastly, are you seriously quoting Sen. Levin?
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# Scott Dudley, CDR, USN ret 2009-06-03 18:20
I assume those who post here are familiar with how to use google. I absolutely do not post anything that is not factual but I will not do scut work for those lacking intellectual curiosity. It is more than 20 deaths but less than 30.

Yes, I will quote the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee any time. By the same token, do you seriously believe what Cheney says? He has a strong record of lying. Saddam was involved in 9/11, WMDs in Iraq, AQ worked closely with Iraq...all lies, proven lies. I say release the docs cheney is asking for to prove torture works over non-enhanced methods. Zubayda gave up info before EIT and shut down when subjected to such measures. And yes, waterboarding is torture as recognized internationally and we signed off on it being torture. Sean Hannity agreed to undergo waterboarding to raise funds for injured troops. Either he doesn't care about the troops or he is deathly afraid of something that might make him "uncomfortable" .
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# Scott Dudley, CDR, USN ret 2009-06-03 18:29
Just google deaths from torture. Lots of hits. Here is one.

Look, this is not just some intellectual exercise. People are dying in our custody unnecessarily. Our reputation as a decent nation with high ideals is tarnished. Torture byus is a great recruiting tool for our enemies. How many of our kids have died at the hands of those recruited by our use of EIT? We'll likely never know but one is too many.
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# Rutger van Marissing 2009-06-03 22:20
The question of whether EIT's are torture or not (and I believe they are, when you need a euphemism like Enhanced Interrogation Technique, you know what time it is) is not really the issue.

The issue is that the use of EIT's have caused the US to lose its respect throughout the world. As any COIN expert will tell you, losing the moral highground fundamentally undercuts every effort made in combating terrorism. Mr. Dudley is right. Torture or not, the fact that the use of EIT's is a potent weapon in the hands of our enemies is reason enough to stop using them.
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# Ben 2009-06-04 00:00
So I tried Scott Dudley's google for "deaths from torture." Of the top 10 items, two are propaganda pieces from left-wing folks who seem to think that if a few isolated incidents of torture happen, then the military as a whole must be promoting it. One is a piece equating those same isolated cases of torture with mass torture in the Phillippines (something I should probably learn more about), and the rest are items of legitimate real torture, but are taking place or took place by the hands of, variously: China, ancient Peru, Tibet, Croatia, oh, and China.

What seems to happen consistently, is that people who are against torture, like myself, are given the "you're promoting torture" line by people who want to pin the torture on our top leaders. And the only way they can do the pinning is by getting people to believe that waterboarding is torture, because that is the kind of technique that our leaders have admitted to. I have several friends in the military who have been waterboarded as part of their training. And none of them consider themselves to have been tortured. So the real question is, do we need to treat our prisoners better than we treat our soldiers? And if so, how can we look at our soldiers and not feel ashamed?
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-04 01:06
Ben - I should have known... I don't think Mr Dudley means to be intellectually dishonest. And you are right, I'm against torture, and I'm not convinced that water boarding is torture.
Mr Marissing - re: undercutting effort. The more Iraqis, and hopefully Afghan people, spend with our troops they start to understand that the press in the US isn't that different than their own; full of propaganda and half-truths.
How about videos of people (infidels) getting their heads sawn off.... that not terrible for their cause? That is something far worse than even occured at Abu Ghurayb. Which, more and more, looks no worse than hazing stunts pulled at college fraternities.
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-04 09:52
The administration never said Iraq was behind, or helped, in the planning or execution of 9/11.
They said that Al qaeda had made contact with the Iraqis.
A sample of what they did say (I assume you, too, can use the internet...but here you go):
President Bush:
News conference, June 2004:
The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda...
This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Vice-President Dick Cheney
Interview on CNBC, June 2004:
There clearly was a relationship. It's been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming...
It goes back to the early '90s. It involves a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts with Osama Bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials.

Here are all the DEMOCRAT party's reason we should have taken down Saddam:

So... who's the one who isn't intellectually curious now...hmmm? Sir, I'm not attacking what you believe (waterboarding is torture). I'm attacking your facts. Don't conflate the two.
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# Rutger van Marissing 2009-06-04 11:02
As if because Al Qaeda treats its prisoners in barbaric ways, its ok for the US to do so as well. The fact that you can even make a comparison between the two is bad enough. If we are ever to win the fight against terrorism, people should be talking ONLY about Al Qaedas barbaric deeds, not about the widespread US mistreatment of detainees.

Again, you might think that Abu Ghraib is not worse than a simple hazing stunt or no worse than what happens during SERE (which I think is incomparable, because people being hazed or trained are not in prison and have the option to leave whenever they want), but that is not really the point.

What IS important is the fact that Abu Ghraib has seriously undercut the image of the US occupation in Iraq and has given the insurgency and Al Qaeda untold numbers of new recruits. I think a good argument can be made that hundreds of US troops have been killed in Iraq directly because of the mistreatment of detainees and people (or former detainees) joining the insurgency because of it.

That alone should be reason enough to never engage in the use of EIT's again. If the fact that they are clearly not effective in getting good intelligence, clearly illegal and clearly inhumane is not enough for you.

How you can still have faith in the Bush administrations intelligence assertions after the WMD debacle is beyond me. Besides, even if they never exactly said that Saddam was partly responsible for 9/11 that is definitely still the image they tried to suggest. How else would a large part of America have believed this at a certain point?
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# CJ 2009-06-04 16:15
Michael - as an embedded reporter, in Iraq and Afghanistan, you have no equal. You are steadfastly unbiased, while remaining passionate.

When you step outside this zone, and into the realm of politics, well.....let's just say that as a political make a terrific war correspondent.

Please, stick with what you know.
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-04 23:02
Perhaps my point was poorly made. I couldn't care less what they think about what we have done. Their deeds far outweigh anything we have done. This is not an excuse for torture (which we DON'T practice). It is simply an example of what is truly torture and truly barbaric. Does this excuse Abu Ghurayb? No. What I do care about is you, and all the media outlets in the world, helping to convince the insurgents/terr orists that what occurred was indeed torture and is soooo terrible.

I wonder how many recruits you and them have helped to push to the extremist cause?

As far the Bush administrations supposed lying about WMD... please see the resolution that was overwhelmingly passed in congress. I'm sooooo sick of 'Bush lied, people died.' Get a new line. And, do some research.
Not very many reasons listed there about WMD.

If you, for one second, think that President Bush's administration was the only group of people that believed Iraq had WMD... then you, my good man, are wrong. In fact, evidence was found, as well as a link to Al Qaeda
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-04 23:02
Perhaps my point was poorly made. I couldn't care less what they think about what we have done. Their deeds far outweigh anything we have done. This is not an excuse for torture (which we DON'T practice). It is simply an example of what is truly torture and truly barbaric. Does this excuse Abu Ghurayb? No. What I do care about is you, and all the media outlets in the world, helping to convince the insurgents/terr orists that what occurred was indeed torture and is soooo terrible.

I wonder how many recruits you and them have helped to push to the extremist cause?

As far the Bush administrations supposed lying about WMD... please see the resolution that was overwhelmingly passed in congress. I'm sooooo sick of 'Bush lied, people died.' Get a new line. And, do some research.
Not very many reasons listed there about WMD.

If you, for one second, think that President Bush's administration was the only group of people that believed Iraq had WMD... then you, my good man, are wrong. In fact, evidence was found, as well as a link to Al Qaeda
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# Rutger van Marissing 2009-06-05 10:43
I'm terribly sorry, but it seems that you are still missing the point.

It doesn't really matter what the insurgents and Al Qaeda think about the West. Their minds are made up. Abu Ghraib and other prisoner abuse cases to them just reaffirm what they already thought.

(incidentally, they are indoctrined to believe they will be treated harshly and tortured in US detention. When they are captured and then tortured (or 'hazed' or whatever you want to call it) they shut up or tell lies. However, when treated gently and politely they are surprised, let their guard down and spill the beans. Countless examples of this. Another reason not to use EIT's.)

However, the opinion of an Iraqi citizen who hasn't decided yet whether to back the insurgency or the new government IS very important. Remember, in any COIN the people are the prize and the key to victory. If you ever want to win the fight against global terrorism, you will have to care very much about what the PEOPLE think.

You clearly have a very narrow definition of torture and I have a somewhat wider one. We can argue long and hard about which definition is the best one, but ultimately it is only important what definition the Iraqi people adhere to (or the population of any other COIN area, as Michael has once again aptly shown in this piece). The fact is that their definition is probably even wider than mine and therefore the use of EIT's estranges the people (the crucial prize in COIN) from us and leads to more people deciding they do not want to back the West.

Like it or not, in COIN you have to think about the image of all your actions. If you ever want to win, you had better make damn sure that a population is not so disgusted with your actions that they will never support you again. Their opinions matter a great deal.

The truth is that torture does not save lives, it costs lives.

To argue that with a different media coverage, Abu Ghraib would not have been considered sadistic mistreatment and torture of mostly innocent prisoners, is a pretty weak argument I think. Whatever the media calls it, those pictures pretty much speak for themselves. In an Arab society, where personal dignity is one of the greatest values, they equal absolute disaster for anyone trying to convince the people that they bring freedom. Especially if it happens in one of Saddam's old prisons.
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# Rutger van Marissing 2009-06-05 10:52
Concerning the run up to the war and the deliberate misrepresentati on of the facts, perhaps you should do a little less research of your own. Instead, perhaps you could read one of the dozens of books about this subject by well respected authors. Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco", Bob Woodwards "Plan of attack", Ron Suskinds "The one percent doctrine", George Packers "The Assassins Gate" or Michael R. Gordons "Cobra II" to name but a few.

I believed at the time that Saddam had WMD's (like almost everyone here in the Netherlands) and in fact supported the war. In fact I still think that the burden of evidence lay with Saddam, not with us. That doesn't mean I wasn't, like everyone else, deceived by the Bush administration. Iraq's WMD stockpiles were destroyed in the 1990's, with only a minimal human and material capacity remaining to start production again. Vastly different than Tenets "slam dunk" or Bush's "no doubt". Not a sufficient cause for war. Accept it and over it.

Btw, I am quite surprised at the people who started telling mr. Yon to stop writing about international relations or to stop analyzing politics. Personally I very much disagreed with mr. Yon about what he said about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians when he was there recently. However, I still respect his opinions and always find them stimulating. This is a weblog giving his own thoughts and he is free to write whatever he likes. To suggest to him to stop doing so whenever his writings might not follow your own biases anymore is quite disrespectful I think.
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-07 11:24
Are you seriously telling me that President Bush, and his administration, KNEW that Saddam did not have WMD? They deliberately lied. You are a loon (to quote Monty Python).

You admit yourself that people in your own country believed it. Every intelligence agency on the planet believed it. You could say that Saddam had the last laugh... except he was the butt of his own joke. How were you deceived? The intel was bad. Blame the message not the messenger.

I haven't read any of those books. Probably won't. They all seem to have an agenda: Bush is stupid and lied to people. I wonder what they would have written if Clinton (or Gore) had started the war? Or, Obama? Probably fallen all over themselves to praise them. You may not know much of the media bias in this country (USA)... but you're certainly influenced by it.
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# Rutger van Marissing 2009-06-07 16:14
No, I'm telling you that the Bush administration sincerely believed Saddam had WMD and had already made up their minds to attack Iraq halfway during 2002. To argue their case they put enormous pressure on the intelligence community to come up with the evidence to back it up. Because the available evidence was very weak, they misrepresented it, played it up and drew unwarranted conclusions from it.

The administration made it perfectly clear that they only wanted to be told the things that would fit into their aggressive stance. Consistently, they took only the stuff that was useful for their message out of the intelligence briefings, while ignoring the very real doubts and contrary evidence that was also present.

The intelligence community might have provided the wrong information, but it was the Bush administration that transformed the sparse, doubtful intelligence into a false story about 100% certainty on the presence of WMD's.

To state that the Bush administration was deliberately misrepresenting the facts that they had (in the overly optimistic belief that their story would be vindicated once in Iraq) is not an agenda, it is simply the outcome of dozens of books and investigations. The research speaks for itself. The bias doesn't come in until you start to assign political significance to the facts.

I have no problem believing that there is a media bias in the USA. Just don't be so arrogant to suggest that you yourself are not affected by a bias of your own when looking at these facts.

Anyway, how did we end up here again? :P Perhaps we should get back to NOKOR.

Talk in the news today of putting them back on the list of states sponsoring terrorism. Perhaps this is a sign of Obama proving to be "wiser and tougher" than previously assumed? ;-)
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# Kevlaur 2009-06-07 22:38
Every intelligence org in the world thought he had WMD. Some was found, btw. And, as I've stated, the resolution authorizing use of force complete text lists only 3 or 4 statements claiming Iraq has WMD. That is out of 23 stated reasons for removing Saddam Hussein.
Bottom line, I believe the region will be more stable, and already is, because of our presence.
Who KNOWS was Iran would be doing right now.

Good debating with you. NK... Kim is the real loon.
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# Scott Dudley, CDR, USN ret 2009-06-09 17:47
Surprised you would post a link that contradicts your own statement. 10 statements in the resolution referred to WMD, not 3 or 4. 5 were about Saddam's support for AQ and other unnamed terrorist organizations and the rest said Saddam was a bad person, duh. (oh, one of those was about an assassination attempt on elder Bush, the real reason perhaps for sacrificing our kids)

Rutgar, you are well informed. Thanks
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