The neocons also envisioned further asserting US dominance over natural resources globally and directly confronting nation-states that stood in the way.
For decades, Cheney and Rumsfeld had been key leaders of a militant movement outside of government and, during Republican administrations, from within the White House itself. Its mission was to give the executive branch of the US government unprecedented powers to wage secret wars, conduct covert operations with no oversight and to spy on US citizens.
In the last year of the Clinton administration, the United States began flying drones over Afghanistan out of a secret US base, called K2, in Uzbekistan.
Under the Constitution, it is the Congress, not the president, that has the right to declare war. But seventy-two hours after 9/11, Congress took a radical step in a different direction. On September 14, 2001, the House and Senate gave President Bush unprecedented latitude to wage a global war, passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
His graduate thesis, “The Theory of Special Operations,” was published in book form and would become widely read and taught. The book analyzed several key Special Ops battles from World War II to Vietnam, presenting lessons that could be learned for future conflicts and wars. It is considered a seminal text in the study of Special Operations warfare.
Although much lip service was paid during the ensuing period to the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq, it was seldom pointed out that the foreign fighters came because of the US invasion.
Despite all the talk of sharp sectarian divides in Iraq, the US occupation was actually uniting Iraqis, Shiite and Sunni, in a common cause against their occupiers. The United States should have realized early on that its own disastrous policies were driving the chaos in Iraq. But the US war planners were intent on planting the flag of victory in Iraq by force, and that meant the insurgency had to be crushed and its leaders killed or captured.
“It became increasingly clear—often from intercepted communications or the accounts of insurgents we had captured—that our enemy was a constellation of fighters organized not by rank but on the basis of relationships and acquaintances, reputation and fame,” McChrystal remembered. “We realized we had to have the rapid ability to detect nuanced changes, whether the emergence of new personalities and alliances or sudden changes in tactics.
At the center of the US contribution to Iraq’s civil war were two Americans. One was General David Petraeus, who had close ties to the White House, particularly to Dick Cheney, and had been tapped by Rumsfeld in June 2004 to head the Multi-National Security Transition Command–Iraq. The other was retired US colonel James Steele, a former Enron executive who had been selected for a senior Iraq job by Wolfowitz.
Combined with the Copper Green program, this effectively meant that JSOC was free to act as a spy agency and a kill/capture force rolled into one.
Although some may have seen what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan with TF-121 as scandalous, it was in many ways the definitive vision of the type of wars Rumsfeld and Cheney had longed for: no accountability, maximum secrecy and total flexibility.
“When you made SOCOM a supported command rather than a supporting command, then you’ve freed [JSOC] up to do all kinds of things,” he said. “To do that kind of thing without coordinating with the US ambassador of that country, or with the host country’s government is just kind of banditry, really. I mean, you’re asking for retribution of some kind by somebody on your own turf, against your own people. It’s not a good idea, at all.
Pakistan was the real issue, not Afghanistan.
Gates had done several stints with the NSC and also had close ties to US Special Operations Forces. He was investigated over his alleged role in the Iran-Contra scandal, and though the independent counsel concluded Gates “was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their activities,” it was determined that his role “did not warrant indictment.” Gates was also a key player in the US-fueled war in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s. Among his first acts at the Pentagon was to put Pakistan firmly back on the US targeted kill campaign’s radar.
In July 2008, President Bush approved a secret order—which had been the subject of much debate among the CIA, State Department and Pentagon—authorizing US Special Ops Forces to carry out targeted kill or capture operations. Unlike the early arrangement with President Musharraf, the US Special Operations Forces would not be working alongside Pakistani forces and they would not seek permission from Pakistan’s government before conducting strikes on Pakistani soil.
As it turned out, Rumsfeld’s vision of the world as a battlefield was more fully realized after he left than when he was in power. His departure ushered in an era in which America’s most potent dark side forces pivoted from Iraq to the US twilight wars in South Asia, Africa and beyond.
But, while dispensing with the Bushera labels and cowboy rhetoric that marked the previous eight years of US foreign policy, Obama simultaneously moved swiftly to expand the covert US wars that had marked his predecessor’s time in office.
“To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the Constitution and to tear it into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.”