In case you hadn’t noticed, they are -- no kidding around -- absolutely the niftiest non-humans on Earth. I’m speaking about the special operations force of Navy SEALs that took out Osama bin Laden. They and their special ops colleagues are “supermen” (ABC News), “X-men” (Jon Stewart), “America’s Jedi Knights” (the New York Times), and that’s just to pick the odd example in a sea of churning hyperbole. For the last week, while the bin Laden operation swallowed almost 69% of all news space according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, they have been the most reported upon Xtra Special Soldiers anywhere, possibly of all time -- from the “square-jawed admiral from Texas” who commanded them right down to the dog (oops... “possible war hero”) they reportedly took along.
In an era when U.S. troops have become little short of American idols, seldom have the media gone quite so nuts as over those SEALs and the other military and CIA “teams” that make up our counterterrorism forces. You couldn’t pay for this sort of publicity. It would, in fact, hardly be an exaggeration to say that all of American society has, for the last 10 days, been “embedded” with them. But here’s the strange thing (or perhaps I mean the strangest thing of all): if you read most of the over-the-top press about America’s special ops troops, you probably think that they are tiny crews of elite forces divided into even tinier teams trained to dispel global darkness and take out the bin Ladens of the world.
No such thing. Almost a year ago, the Washington Post reported that there were at least 13,000 U.S. special operations troops deployed overseas in (no, this is not a typo) 75 countries, a significant expansion of these forces in the Obama era. Since thousands of them remain in the U.S. at any moment, Washington may now have up to 20,000 special operations troops on hand and the odds are that there will be even more after the bin Laden publicity blitz has had a chance to work its charms. In the latest Pentagon budget, the Obama administration had already asked for $10.5 billion to pay for special forces, a tripling of their budget since 2001 -- and that figure is sure to rise in the years to come, as media slavering turns into congressional slavering.
Keep in mind that this growing set of secret forces cocooned inside the U.S. military, along with the missile-armed pilotless drones fighting the CIA’s semi-secret war in Pakistan (which also got a modest publicity boost from the bin Laden operation), add up to the newly dominant form of American conflict: presidential war fought on the sly and beyond any serious kind of accountability to the American people. In return for ponying up the necessary dough, for instance, Congress is now practically begging just to be updated on the executive’s counterterror operations four times a year.
As retired Lieutenant Colonel William Astore makes clear in “The Crash and Burn of Old Regimes,” this sort of secret war on the imperial peripheries of the planet is a direct danger to this country, to us, and it’s growing by the day.