Jeremy Scahill is a reporter for whom the word “intrepid” may have been invented. He’s been remarkably bold in covering the creation of private mercenary forces in the United States (as documented in his bestseller, Blackwater) as well as America’s “turn to the dark side” after 9/11/2001, which led to “wars of choice” in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with interventions in Somalia, Yemen, and across the world in the name of combating terrorism. Indeed, the subtitle of Scahill’s new book is “The World Is A Battlefield.” And since there’s always a terrorist organization at large somewhere in the world, we are ensured of a forever war, a grim prospect on this Veterans Day.
I’ve written an extended review of Scahill’s Dirty Wars at Michigan War Studies Review, edited by the incomparable Jim Holoka. An aspect of this review I’d like to focus on is the use of macho language by Bush Administration operatives soon after 9/11. A strength of Scahill’s account is his ear for the tough talk of civilians within the administration, most of whom had no military experience.
In the days and weeks following 9/11, L. Paul Bremer, later to become the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, wrote of the Clinton’s Administration’s “limp-wristed” approach to terrorism. Cofer Black, Bush’s head of counter-terrorism, talked of “taking the gloves off” as well as of “unleashing the junkyard dog” of CIA and special operations forces against terrorist networks. Perhaps the most telling attempt at tough-talk came from the lips of Jose Rodriguez, Director of Operations at the CIA, who said it was time for “everybody in the government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities what we [the CIA] needed [to take action].” [Emphasis added.]
The worst fear of these men seems to have been of appearing weak. They didn’t want to be caught wearing little boy pants; they didn’t want to fight with gloves on; and they certainly didn’t want to appear to be limp-wristed. No — these were REAL men. They wanted to put on big boy pants; they were ready for bare-knuckle brawls; no limp-wristed wimps need apply.
Here Scahill quotes Malcolm Nance, a career counterterrorist expert for the U.S. Navy, as describing Cofer Black and his fellow tough-guys as “civilian ideologues” who embraced “Tom Clancy Combat Concepts” that consisted of “going hard, … popping people on the streets, … dagger and intrigue all the time.” Tom Clancy might make for decent Hollywood action movies, but it’s never a good idea to confuse fantasy with reality.
There’s much more to Scahill’s book (and the documentary that accompanies it, also named “Dirty Wars”) than this, and I urge you to read it. Its major theme is the abuse of power by the U.S. government and the erosion of Constitutional safeguards and freedoms, all justified in the name of “keeping us safe.” But one of its minor themes is the macho posturing of men with little or no experience in the military who were all too willing to order others to fight in their name.
Yes, they all put on the “big boy pants” — figuratively speaking. They sat in offices and ordered young troops into battle. And I’m sure they signed those orders with bare knuckles and firm wrists. In so doing they risked nothing and gained, at least in their own minds, a reputation for toughness.
Far too often in the history of war have old men believed that, by sending others off to fight and die, they were putting on the big boy pants. The costs of such macho posturing have been, and continue to be, far too high.