Belmont Club

The 5th Kind of Man

Explaining why a clear Red Line had to be drawn “before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment,” rather than wait until it was at the finish line, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there was no guarantee the world would detect a final sprint to the bomb in time. He believed that while “all these leading intelligence agencies are superb, including ours … they are not foolproof.”

Netanyahu may know a thing or two about the limits of intelligence. His lack of faith in its omniscience was once memorably encapsulated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Of course such people are idiots. Everyone who watches the movies knows that the President knows everything. Enough to run the risks of brinksmanship. Lesser mortals like Netanyahu and Rumsfeld, are simply that, lesser men. But Rumsfeld’s taxonomy was incomplete. There’s a further category of ignorance may be called “unacknowledged knowns” — things that we don’t want to know. Take for example the ‘best available information’ on who attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi.  According to Eli Lake, the possibility that the assault had been planned rather than the result of a video was an option in the immediate aftermath. But since the video played to the preferences of the political masters, that was offered up as a first course.

For eight days after the attacks on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, government officials said the attacks were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam film. Now that officials have acknowledged they were a premeditated act of terrorism, the question some members Congress are trying to answer is why it took so long for the truth to come out…

The talking points say, among other things, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”

One U.S. intelligence officer said the widely distributed assessment was an example of “cherry picking,” or choosing one piece of intelligence and ignoring other pieces, to support a preferred thesis …

Politically, a coordinated Qaeda attack on the anniversary of 9/11 undermines a theme of President Obama’s reelection campaign that the killing of Osama bin Laden has diminished the threat from the group responsible for 9/11. Mary Habeck, who served on the National Security Council as an expert on al Qaeda in 2008 and 2009 said, “There is a debate occurring in the government about the status of al Qaeda. Is it a threat or not? Is the death of bin Laden the end of the group as a threat to the United States or is it not?”

So when they saw what they didn’t want to see, they didn’t see.

Oh yes it can kitty

Take Syrian chemical weapons? The WSJ reported this Presidential warning in August, 2012.

Mr. Obama, speaking at a news conference at the White House on Monday, said the U.S. was closely monitoring the situation and, although he hasn’t yet ordered military action, has “put together a range of contingency plans.”

In a blunt warning to the Syrian government, Mr. Obama promised “enormous consequences” if the U.S. detects any preparations by Mr. Assad to use chemical weapons, which are internationally banned. The use of such weapons, he said, isn’t only a worry in Syria but also to the U.S. and its close allies in the region, including Israel.

“A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moved around or being utilized,” Mr. Obama said. “That would change my calculations significantly.”

Makes you feel good to know the President has laid down the law doesn’t it Today Leon Panetta says that the US has lost track of “some” Syrian chemical weapons.

Panetta said that the “main sites” in Syria storing chemical weapons with which the Pentagon is most concerned remain secured by the Syrian military. But there is “some intelligence” that “limited” movements of weapons from other sites have occurred, he said, “for the Syrians to better secure what they – the chemicals.”

Panetta’s statement follows reporting that Syrian rebels claim to have taken control of a military base that contains chemical weapons.

“But with regards to the movement of some of this and whether or not they’ve been able to locate some of it,” he said of U.S. intelligence, “we just don’t know.”

But nothing is going to happen right? Because it is only “some” chemical weapons.

In retrospect, Barack Obama’s “blunt warning” to Syria looks surprisingly vague. He said “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moved around or being utilized” Great. Now what constitutes a “whole bunch”? Is a truck a bunch? Is two trucks a bunch? What about a convoy of trucks Where is the Red Line? Is it twice, thrice or ten times the number lost to Panetta’s sight? The impressive “red line” drawn by Barack Obama in August is on closer inspection an extremely blurry one. No wonder Netanyahu is worried that the lines aren’t really there.

There are two inextricably intertwined issues with regard to knowledge. One: what we can know and two, what can we admit. The limits to the first are imposed by human fallibility. The limits to the second are politics. Take the first. Where are the weapons that were supplied by the coalition to the Libyan rebels during the campaign against Khadaffy?

Back in March 2011 the Independent carried a report reporting that President Obama asked the Saudis to supply the rebels in Benghazi with weapons. “The Saudis have been told that opponents of Gaddafi need anti-tank rockets and mortars as a first priority to hold off attacks by Gaddafi’s armour, and ground-to-air missiles to shoot down his fighter-bombers.” Where in recent memory have RPGs and mortars been used?

One media outlet has speculated that the attack on the US consulate may have been the consequence of a kind Libyan Operation and Furious on steroids. After all, walk guns to the Libyan rebels and what could go wrong? Who wants to lift that rock?

The problem with an administration that relies upon spin is that it forgets how vindictive the truth can be. The truth bites back — and hard. But in an environment where politicized media and bureaucracy will tell its masters only what they want to hear the truth is concealed beneath the talking points until it is too late. In that regard, perhaps the Iranians should have the last word. A thirteenth-century Persian-Tajik poet, Ibn Yamin wrote that there were four types of men.

One who knows and knows that he knows… His horse of wisdom will reach the skies.
One who knows, but doesn’t know that he knows… He is fast asleep, so you should wake him up!
One who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know… His limping mule will eventually get him home.
One who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know… He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!

And then there’s the fifth type of man. The man who doesn’t want to know because he thinks it doesn’t matter.

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