By Juan Cole / Informed Comment
The 7-page memo seen by the NYT and signed by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus authorizes US troops to engage in clandestine intelligence-gathering in the greater Middle East. The article implies that the memo also authorizes more military teams to go into unconventional conflict situations in both unfriendly and friendly countries.
Critics worry that the order blurs the line between combat soldiers and spies and weakens the claim of all soldiers to humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions.
My own view is that the United States was founded as a government of laws, not men, and that the siren call of covert operations is steadily undermining the rule of law. Blurring the line between military action and spying makes it impossible to talk about the covert missions, since they are typically classiified. The same is true for predator drone strikes.
Military action such as launching drones should be carried out by the uniformed military, not by CIA operatives or, worse, contractors. The former action would allow us to discuss the campaigns as free citizens of a republic. As it is now, often civilian contractors are piloting drones long-distance and we cannot so much as get a straight answer out of the elected officials. Where the US is striking at friendly countries, there should be a Status of Forces agreement to provide a legal framework for the actions.
And intelligence gathering should be carried out by the civilian such agencies. The more you make elements of the military actually intelligence assets, the more likely it is that the lines between them will get strained. That blurring could be bad for all troops. There is already a tendency in the ME for locals to see all Americans as CIA, and giving troops a lot of covert missions will reinforce these views.
We still can be a country of laws, not men, can’t we? It isn’t too late?
Juan R. I. Cole, Middle East scholar, is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. He has given many radio and press interviews. He has written widely about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Iraq War, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Iranian domestic struggles and foreign affairs. His website: www.juancole.com
and Informed Comment