Loose Canons

March SGO

None of it good -- not even Dan Rather's looming departure.

By 3.6.05

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Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, creating a new job market for hit men under the age of 18, opined that American law -- and that dusty old Constitution that sits in increasing irrelevance behind a plate of glass down Capitol Hill from Kennedy's perch -- was out of step with the rest of the world. That would be enough SGO for any month, but it's certainly the clearest written excogitation of this month's theme. (For those just joining us, "SGO" is the immortal acronym that sprang from the overly-active mind of my pal and former SEAL Al Clark for the phrase, "s$%t goin' on.")

We are, thankfully, so out of step with Europe that even when we appear to be in step -- as in telling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to get out of Lebanon -- no one, including Assad, takes it seriously. France has joined us in telling the Syrians to end their occupation of Lebanon forthwith. If we can count on the French for anything, it's only that they are likely whispering to Assad what they told his Baathist pal Saddam three March's ago: that they won't really do anything, and can tie us up in the U.N. so that we won't either. Assad is dancing the Saddam waltz, playing for time with meaningless promises to withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon gradually, meaning not at all. The latest -- announced yesterday -- is a withdrawal beginning today, to move Syrian troops back to the Syrian-Lebanese border, but still in Lebanon. That which is moved today can be moved back tomorrow, with equal ease.

We have both underestimated and overestimated Assad. He's not the dummy we have thought, but his personal power is limited. His generals and advisers -- most leftovers from his father's reign -- are his power base, and they'd trade him for a short beer if they saw the need. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, controls much of southern Lebanon and has been used by Assad to threaten Israel. Hezbollah is not under Assad's control. It will do what the mullahs in Tehran tell it to do, and they're not about to tell them to withdraw.

Syria will have to be solved militarily and the longer we wait to do it the easier it will be for the terrorists to escape, to move weapons, money, and people to another sanctuary. Dubya is setting himself up for another long bout of quagmire diplomacy in the U.N. It won't work any better than it did on Iraq. Better to act and ask forgiveness than to wait for permission. Especially when Bad Vlad Putin is on the prowl.

THE MOST DANGEROUS HEADLINE of the week is the one leading the story of Russia's imminent launch of two Iranian spy satellites. Planned for launch some time between April and June, the "Mesbah" and "Sinah-1" satellites -- Iran's first -- will be a major strategic increase of Iran's military and terrorist capabilities. There is no reason to think that the satellites -- which must have been built by the Russians for Iran -- will do any less. Moreover, these satellites almost certainly have secure communication capabilities, which will make Iran's terrorist operations -- through Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and other groups it is allied with -- much more effective and less vulnerable to attack. Our anti-satellite weapons capability (which is still aborning) should be put high on the agenda for development and implementation. And the Iranian satellites should be taken out at the first opportunity.

Russia's alliance with Iran makes impossible any effective U.N. or European diplomatic action to defuse the Iranian nuclear weapons program. President Bush is making a major mistake in creating an easy political environment for Putin to push Russia's centuries-old ambitions in the Caucasus by helping Iran achieve its nuclear ambitions. By joining in the European effort to negotiate Iran's nuclear program away, the President is emboldening Russia and Iran both, and further muddying our incoherent policy toward the mullahs. By doing so, he will neither lead the Europeans to divorce themselves from feckless diplomacy nor isolate Iran. Europe will always appease, even when appeasement means the rise of another nuclear power that will threaten it directly, as Iran will. We need to sort out what we will do about Iran, and get on with it. Peace -- here and in the Middle East -- cannot be achieved until we do. There will be no progress this week, because the world's attention will again be on allegations of American prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

LAST WEEK, THE BBC called to ask what I knew of the allegations made by a Libyan detainee (who, until captured in Pakistan, was a resident of the UK) that Libyans had interrogated him at the Baghram air base in Afghanistan, having been flown there secretly by a CIA aircraft. One Omar Deghayes claims he was threatened with removal to Libya, where he would be treated ungently by Qaddafi's secret police. When I checked with an intelligence source, it denied knowledge of any Libyan involvement (which means close to nothing). When I asked a Defense Department source, he laughed uproariously but said not a word. Which means, methinks, that a couple of Middle Eastern-looking guys on our payroll (dressed up in Libyan uniforms) visited Mr. Deghayes to interrogate him and succeeded in scaring the hell out of him. (Were I in charge, it could also mean that the whole incident was concocted simply to see how long it would take for the rumor of Libyan involvement to be picked up in the Brit media.) But regardless of the mind games we are playing with Mr. Deghayes and the Beeb, this will be a very rough week on the prisoner abuse issue.

On Thursday VAdm. Albert T. Church III -- former Navy inspector general, and now director of Navy staff -- will report in Senate testimony the results of the DoD inquiry into detainee interrogation methods. Senators will dredge up every abuse at Abu Ghraib, every allegation of abuse coming out of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and every other horrible thing they can, seeking yet again to score a soundbite on the CBS Evening News. (Gunga Dan Rather gives up the anchor chair on Wednesday. Pity. It'd be worth putting up with him for one more night to see how he slanted this story.) Despite the Senate theatrics, there may be some light shed on what's going on.

Church will probably say, as the Schlesinger panel said before him, that there is no policy permitting torture, that our interrogators are well supervised, and that our interrogators aren't permitted to mistreat or degrade detainees. What won't be asked will be more important than what will be. Are we imposing false limits on interrogation methods that are hampering our ability to get information we may need desperately? Are we limiting techniques such as degradation, body clock manipulation and such, more than we legally and morally must? Seems to me that our people should be able to do more than say, "Your momma wears combat boots."

TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. You can follow him on Twitter @jedbabbin.