U.S. special forces attacked militants in a Pakistani village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, according to a September 3 New York Times article by Pir Zubair Shah, Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez.  The militants undergo a remarkable transformation in the course of the story.

In the headline they’re “Militants.”  In the lead sentence they’re “Qaeda militants.”  Three paragraphs in the bad guys are “Taliban and Al Qaeda.”  Several paragraphs later they’re just “Qaeda” again, then they become just “Taliban,” then “Taliban and Qaeda.”  In the last three paragraphs they’re plain old “Taliban” and “Taliban” and “Taliban.”

I don’t buy for a second that all this name changing is merely sloppy writing on the part of NYT reporters.  It has all the earmarks of being part of the long term, ongoing information operation designed to give the American public the perception that everyone Mr. Bush attacks in his woebegone war on terror had something to do with 9/11.  If “Qaeda” attacked New York and Washington and every A-rab and A-rab wannabe Persian from Iran who we don’t like is part of “Qaeda,” then every A-rab and A-rab wannabe we don’t like is responsible for 9/11.  

Propaganda catch phrase-wise, “Qaeda” is a convenient substitute for “Commie,” and if you don’t hate the Qaedas and the Islamofabulism they stand for, then you’re a Qaeda sympathizer, you dirty low down haji hugger.  

It’s also apparent to me that this info operation originates in one of the Pentagon truth ministries that sprang from Donald Rumsfeld’s short lived Office of Strategic Influence.  I hope you find the idea of the Pentagon running a deception operation on the American public shocking, but that’s not the most shocking thing covered in this Sept 3 NYT story.

More shocking is that the story discusses what amounts to the Department of Defense assuming the authority to declare war, and even more shocking than that is that nobody seems to realize they’re doing it and/or they don’t appear to care.  

War Games

In case you didn’t have to take a written test to earn your American citizenship, here’s a quick primer on war powers.  Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution makes the president commander in chief of the military.  All other war making powers, including and especially ratification of treaties and declaration of war, belong to the legislature as described in Article II, Section 8.  After Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon wiped their noses with the Constitution in their pursuit of the Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973.  In a nutshell, the War Powers Resolution allows a president to commit troops to combat for a maximum of 90 days, after which time he must get a declaration of war or “specific statutory authorization” from Congress to continue the operation.  The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of September 18, 2001 pretty much covers statutory authorization for operations in Afghanistan, and Congressed passed a second AUMF for Iraq in October 2002.  

But we’ve also been conducting overt offensive combat operations in Somalia and Pakistan for over a year (which, for the benefit of you hard core Bush supporters, is a lot, lot more than 90 days), and there’s nothing remotely resembling an AUMF that covers either of those countries.    

What we’ve mostly done in Pakistan and Somalia involves air strikes.  Sometimes we bomb targets with hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aerial vehicles.  Sometimes we bomb them with cruise missile fired from nuclear submarines.  In at least one instance, we used a AC-130 gunship to rip a Somali village–and a bunch of the Somalis in it–to smitherines.  

The idea behind these air strikes is to kill a high-ranking Qaeda official.  Rather, the idea is to kill someone we’ve accused of being a high-ranking Qaeda official.  Killing him while he’s just a suspect saves us the trouble of having to bring him in and give him a kangaroo trial.  The problem with a kangaroo trial is that no matter how much we stack it to produce a conviction, there’s a chance the guy’s Qaeda sympathizer defense attorney will prove the guy’s not involved with Qaeda at all.  That’s a lot of time and effort wasted trying to nail a Qaeda guy who turns out not to be one.

We almost always kill a lot of civilians with these air assassinations, which is embarrassing, especially when it turns out that we bombed a wedding ceremony.  We seldom get the guy we were actually after.  Normally though, we claim that we got one or more “number two” guys, which is an easy claim to make, because almost everybody in that part of the world is a number two guy to some other guy, even though that other guy usually doesn’t amount to a puddle of number one.  

The downside, then, to air assassination, is that we never kill the right people, and killing the wrong people makes a lot of other people mad enough to sign on with the evildoers who otherwise never would have dreamed of doing such a thing.  

The upside is that the Navy and Air Force get to contribute to the war on terror, which gives them an excuse to keep all the expensive equipment we bought them that was designed to fight a type of war they’ll never fight against an enemy that only exists in the collective imagination of the American Enterprise Institute.  

Plus, when we use airpower, it’s not like we’re really conducting war, even though we really are.  Even though it seems more antiseptic, dropping bombs on a country is every bit as much an act of war as invading the country is.  I’d guess that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is aware of that, but I’m not certain.  Gates says and does some oddball things.  

According to Shah, Schmitt and Perlez, the September 3 U.S. attack on the Pakistani village signaled what unidentified “top American officials” (them again) say “could be the opening salvo in a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces” inside Pakistan.  This broader campaign would be part of a “secret plan secret plan that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been advocating for months within President Bush’s war council.”

This is the selfsame Robert Gates who just last July warned of a “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy.  Creepy, huh?  At the war college where I got my masters degree in neoconservative studies, they teach that every military operation should have an integrated deception plan.  Maybe that’s Gates’s primary function at DoD; to keep the public so confused nobody can figure out what the Pentagon is up to.  

Whatever the case, it’s going to be mighty darn hard for Gates to keep pretending he’s not conducting an illegal war in Pakistan if he’s going to make a regular thing of putting boots on the ground there.  Then again, the only people keeping tabs on what he does are the press and Congress, so he’ll probably keep getting away with it.  

And lamentably, if the September 3 raid is any indication, this new boots up the Bananastan strategy isn’t going to work any better than the old wedding bombing policy did.  By official and unofficial accounts, American commandos managed to kill 19 “innocent people,” most of them women and children, but the bad guys, whatever you want to call them, apparently escaped.  

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance, is on sale now.  Also catch Russ Wellen’s interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and  Scholars and Rogues.