Lessons and Propaganda from the Botched Raid on Yemen

An update on the Yemen Raid, according to NBC News: “Last month’s deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced “actionable intelligence,” senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday.”

The Pentagon apparently has three investigations ongoing into the raid, though it’s unclear whether results will be shared with the American people. Meanwhile, President Trump is promising a big boost to the Pentagon’s budget: $54 billion next year. More money promises more military adventurism — and more death.


Bracing Views

170130-nora-anwar-al-awlaki Nora al-Awlaki, 8 years old, killed in the Yemen raid

W.J. Astore

The Trump administration’s first “kinetic” military action, last weekend’s raid on Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL as well as fifteen women and children, was an operational failure. Aggravating that failure has been the aggressive propaganda spin applied by the White House. According to White House spokesman Sean Spicer, the operation was a major success:

“Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil – is something that I think most service members understand, that that’s why they joined the service.”

Later, Spicer doubled down, accusing Senator John McCain (and other critics of the raid) of defaming the dead Navy SEAL when he suggested the raid had been something less than…

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11 thoughts on “Lessons and Propaganda from the Botched Raid on Yemen

  1. I think this is something Trump should answer for. His spokesman publicly touted the operation a major “intelligence” success, but now “senior officials” leak (because they don’t name themselves) that they are unaware of any significant intelligence gain. Those “senior officials” should have spoken to the President about the seeming incongruity before going to the press, and then name themselves if deciding to tell the press something contradicting the White House. So Trump should get it straitened out one way or the other. And even further, he should be more forthcoming about the killing of children and what was clearly botched. But when are they ever that forthcoming? Particularly with “military” matters.
    And Trump knows where the bread gets buttered in this country, so the increase in Pentagon dollars is par. What is it, less than a 10% increase? 54 billion is nothing to sneeze at, as they say, but if Trump makes sure Walter Reed is state-of-the-art and Veterans in general receive a better deal, then at least that would be good.
    It’s taken me a few weeks, but I guess it’s time to stop being annoyed at the timing of when issues become issues and the problems of unfair criticism. I’ve been so disgusted with the way partisan politics gets played out, and much more so of late because my disgust has been so directed at the party I’ve always voted with. And I don’t like the fact that I think the spooks are trying to roll Trump, and I hate that the press is so pathetic with their Russia thing and other hysterics. I am for allowing Trump, or any duly elected President, reasonable encouragement for positive potentials, and fair criticism in areas of disagreement. So I’m going to let go of my “why wasn’t it bothersome when
    Obama…” refrain.
    Trump deserves criticism, but some of his inclinations are fair, and deserve support.


    1. A rare and eminently sane discussion about the latest — yet another — proposed increase in military (i.e., Endless Militarism) budget on the Real News Network (Feb 28, 2017). See Retired Col. Larry Wilkerson: Trump’s Military Spending Plan Is ‘Disastrous’ and ‘Absurd’. A brief sample from the opening comments:

      Paul Jay: “Does America, in order to defend itself, need another 10% increase in its military budget?”

      Larry Wilkerson: “No. It certainly does not. It needs a substantial cut. And that would enhance national security because it would force the Pentagon, the military, to do some of the things it needs to do to meet the future better.”

      Well worth the short amount of time that this program segment consumes.

      The Pentagram can’t even conduct an audit. The U.S. military squanders so many billions of dollars every year that it could hardly care where the money goes. Like the “Overseas Contingency Operations” slush fund. Giving the profligate U.S. military one more thin dime of the taxpayer’s money makes no practical or ethical sense whatsoever. A 25% cut across the board, just for starters, would pay for a great many necessary government spending programs at home, including making the Veterans Administration less reliant on [bless ’em] volunteers instead of qualified, professional staff. Rinse and repeat every two years when the constitutionally required review of military spending ought to take place. (The Founding Slave Owners envisioned not even funding the Standing Army at all if it ever got out of line, which it most certainly has.) The 1% have had their turn. Now, the people at large should get their turn. After all, they’ve paid for it, not the 1% who won’t starve in any event.


      1. Thanks for the link and discussion. I’ve been for reductions to the Pentagon budget from back in the 80’s when we thought they were getting outlandish. But it has just kept getting worse. So I don’t think it’s good or fair of Trump to propose yet another increase. But I thought, well if Trump follows through on doing right by veterans, at least some of all that money would go to good use.
        It is truly astounding how much the Pentagon cannot account for over just these last 25 years. I think there was lot of loose cash in Iraq for bribes and who knows what. But the bundles of cash shipped (then largely unaccounted for) to Iraq hardly scratches the surface of not-able-to-audit trillions. The Offce of Naval Intelligence happened to be conducting an audit in 2001 when their offices were destroyed by whatever happened at the Pentagon.


      2. “This is what Presidents do to keep that vote in their pocket, and also to keep the American people, writ large, with that all-important security issue…this is unsustainable, it’s disastrous policy, and I don’t know where it’s headed.”
        Mr. Wilkerson is a straight shooter.


      3. Mr. Wilkerson’s discussion of how technological breakthroughs will make legacy procurements obsolete, how we should investing in a leaner, yet more proficient defensive capability is fascinating. And he explains how continuing to throw more money at the Pentahon keeps it from making needed transformation.
        You were right…well worth the time.


      4. My all-time favorite interview on the Real News Network took place on October 25, 2009, just as newly installed President Barack Obama found his career military establishment foaming at the mouth trying — as it turned out, successfully — to bully him into “surging” thousands of additional reinforcement troops into Afghanistan, known throughout recorded history as “the Graveyard of Empires.” This interview has an accompanying transcript which I keep on hand for ready reference. See: Ellsberg – From Vietnam to Afghanistan. The subtitle of the interview reads, “Ellsberg: As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan he must learn the lessons of Vietnam.”

        I particularly love the part of this interview where Daniel Ellsberg refers to our old Vietnam-era counter-insurgency doctrine as “horseshit,” which smelled just as bad when General David “Perception Management” Petraeus dug up its rotten corpse and tried to breathe new life into it for application in Iraq and Afghanistan. Epic failure ensued, and continues to this day.

        Also, when asked to compare Vietnam and Afghanistan, Mr Ellsberg said that he could simply change the names from those he used in Southeast Asia forty years previous to Afghan ones today and the description of predictable failure would stand unaltered. I had something of a similar experience in 1972 when I got out of the Navy, returned to college, and went to Taiwan as a foreign exchange student. I had to take a course in Sino-American Relations and my professor asked me to write a paper comparing America’s military intervention in the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949 with America’s military intervention in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) which began in 1954 with the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and hadn’t yet ended by the time I came back from Vietnam and wrote my paper. When he asked me for a brief summary, I replied that I could change the names from Chinese to Vietnamese, Cambodian, or Laotian and the description of predictable failure would stand unaltered.

        I think that I have lived long enough and seen enough to conclude that the U.S. military will never learn anything of real value from its many and continuing failures. These so-called “wars” (against barely armed nobodies) — have simply become too profitable for the wealthy who don’t fight them, too professionally rewarding for the military officer caste, and too steeped in Congressional and Presidential corruption to ever suffer the necessary reforms.

        Anyway, Daniel Ellsberg pretty much lays out the reasons for this ever-continuing insanity in this interview. Most likely, his observations — now almost another decade down the road — will remain valid from one Presidential administration to the next until the Republic implodes. Nothing rewards learning. Everything rewards willfull refusal to learn. Not too hard to see where that leads …


  2. Speaking of propaganda from the botched raid in Yemen, Glenn Greenwald has a great take on the uses American presidents typically make of U.S. casualties (but not the foreign ones) resulting from such all-too-common fuck-ups. See Trump’s Use of Navy SEAL’s Wife Highlights All the Key Ingredients of U.S. War Propaganda. Why, I can even remember last year at the Democratic Party’s nominating convention where You-Know-Her’s campaign sought to pull the same “waving the bloody shirt” thing on Donald Trump, using the grieving Muslim parents of a dead U.S. soldier who died illegally invading and occupying Iraq, even though Donald Trump had nothing whatsoever to do the Deputy Dubya’s Debacle in the Desert and You-Know-Her did when she stupidly and cravenly voted to authorize it. These U.S. presidents and candidates for the U.S. presidency simply have no shame.

    Anyway, another spot-on analysis by Glenn Greenwald and well worth the read.


  3. WJ, I’ve been mulling over and over again about the tragedy of war, specifically, the way our military prosecutes war. I agree with Professor Noam Chomsky when he observed in an interview on YouTube that when you’re a hammer, all you see out there are nails. I served as medical corpsman in Vietnam ( 31 May 1967 – 31 May 1968 ), and not much, if at all, has really changed how the US military fights war. But of course, the historical context are different from the Vietnam War to this Global War on Terror. In Vietnam, we tried to carpet-bomb a backward, agrarian country back into the Stone Age that exceeded the tonnage of ordnance dropped in the entire Second World War when we bombed the Republic of South Vietnam, North Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia. We can no longer commit such obvious atrocities which would be widely condemned by nations as war crimes. But the underlying group think of being The Hammer to all those Nails remains the same, misguided strategy.

    There was a little Vietnamese girl on the orthopedic ward where I worked who reminded me of that photograph of Nawar “Nora” Awlaki who was killed in this SEAL raid in Yemen. Thankfully, the little Vietnamese girl sustained only a broken arm and collar bone and recovered from her injuries.

    Another observation about the tragedy of war: Nassar, father of al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Awlaki and grandfather of 16-year of 16-ear old Abdulrahman, and now with the death of Nawar “Nora” Awlaki had seen three family members killed . President Obama ordered the deaths of Anwar Awlaki and his son Abdulrahman killed during his tenure in office. So there’s a grim continuity between the Obama and the Trump administrations when it come to what Nassar Awlaki has suffered. And just as we lost “the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese civilians. we are certainly losing “the hearts and minds” of Muslims in Yemen and throughout the world. But a hammer could care less when there are so many nails out there.


    1. Yes. Among other things, what worries me is how our leaders justify the deaths of innocents in the name of “safety” and “security.” And the way the deaths of innocents are dismissed as “collateral damage” which we “regret.” It’s another way of saying, our lives matter but their lives don’t.

      The American people are being kept isolated from the costs and horrors of war. And when those costs are aired, they focus almost exclusively on U.S. casualties, who are celebrated as virtuous heroes even as the enemy is vilified as utterly barbaric.

      War destroys many things, including nuance, balance, empathy, and humanity.


    2. Rewiredhogdog:

      From my own experiences with America’s “casual casualties” in Southeast Asia over forty years ago:

      Better Maimed than Marxist
      (an experiment in so-called “free verse”)

      At our U.S. Navy advanced tactical support base,
      on the banks of a muddy brown river,
      not far from the southernmost tip of South Vietnam,
      I injured my right middle finger
      in a pickup volleyball game one Sunday afternoon.

      Having no X-ray equipment at our little infirmary,
      I had to take a helicopter ride north
      to a larger Army base possessing
      better medical equipment and facilities
      to see if I had broken any bones in my hand.

      Walking down a hospital corridor, I passed
      a room full of Vietnamese patients
      who had no arms or legs.
      I experienced a disorienting sense of scale compression,
      unexpectedly witness to already small lives made minuscule in a moment,

      like seeing living dollar bills cut down to the size of postage stamps,
      or sentient silver quarters suddenly shrunk to copper pennies.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2012


      1. As U.S. General William Westmoreland so callously commented: “Orientals don’t value life the way we Americans do.” How true. Those “Orientals” value their lives — especially those of their ancestors — while we Americans don’t value them at all.


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