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USA Theme A-2 - Page 19

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USA Theme A-2
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Thus, Shackley's "middle option" is not nearly as attractive as claimed. In fact, covert operations, rather than a false patriotism, more closely approximate Samuel Johnson's description as "the last refuge of scoundrels." Their availability often enables leaders to waffle and avoid facing harsh realities. Despite all the resources lavished on them, covert actions haven't had much of a payoff. Operations that were initially heralded as great successes, such as Operation Ajax in Iran, only fostered hostilities that caused the United States great difficulty later. It is extremely doubtful that Mohammad Mossadegh would have caused as much trouble as the Ayatollah Khomeini has. Similarly, an effort that was merely supposed to make Nicaragua "say uncle" has fostered a national divisiveness not seen since the Vietnam War.

Furthermore, having a covert action capability lodged in the CIA is inappropriate, because it diverts resources from what was originally envisioned as the agency's primary function: information collection and analysis. It seems as if the CIA was designed simply to provide employment for people who still revere the days when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) performed daring actions. But those days are over. The covert operations conducted during and after World War II were a reflection of a peculiar American belief that the world could be saved through a combination of American wealth and good impulses. However, in an environment that places constraints on the ability of even a great power to influence global developments, such hubris cannot be the basis for policy.

Although U.S. covert operations could embrace a wide range of acts, they have typically involved only one: waging unofficial wars. Moreover, in most of those cases, that strategy involves the sending of weapons, not operatives. Such policies are often debated in public, as they should be, although the executive branch may not think so. If the United States is to become involved in a conflict, it should not do so secretly. A plan that seems well conceived and at least arguably related to the nation's security interests will receive adequate support from Congress and the American people. For example, the Reagan administration encountered little opposition to its policy of aiding the Afghan rebels. Indeed, Congress nearly tripled Reagan's original request for funding, eventually approving more than $250 million a year, over 80 percent of the CIA's annual covert-operations expenditure. In the war in Afghanistan there was a clear-cut aggressor, and public sympathies were overwhelmingly identified with the guerrilla opposition. Furthermore, Reagan pursued a policy of limited support; there were relatively few CIA operatives in Afghanistan. He was prepared to send weapons and money but not a large paramilitary force.