The news that the Obama administration is stepping up the secret war in Yemen says a lot about the White House. The Obama administration, it is said, has a bit of an infatuation with special operations. According to some sources, Obama has unleashed the military’s special operations command even more aggressively than the Bush administration. A lot of this work is hand-in-glove with the CIA. But it also comes with steep political risks.
The Times describes the operations in Yemen this way:
The Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials.
The American campaign in Yemen is led by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, and is closely coordinated with the Central Intelligence Agency. Teams of American military and intelligence operatives have a command post in Sana, the Yemeni capital, to track intelligence about militants in Yemen and plot future strikes.
In some cases, this kind of stuff has yielded spectacular results. The death of Osama bin Laden is a stellar example. It may also represent a necessary trend. While people like Gen. David Petraeus have climbed to fame on the idea of massive counterinsurgency operations that were in vogue with the previous administration, the blood and treasure required for that kind of war means the United States isn’t going to launch another one for some time to come.
But because there is such limited visibility and oversight of these kinds of operations, they come with steep political risks for the White House. Secret operations sometimes get into murky territory in all kinds of literal and figurative ways. And congressional lines of oversight — which are pretty clear for more conventional military and CIA activities — get blurred when the two work together. It certainly increases the risk of a juicy scandal.