The NYT’s mystery Op-Ed writer

An ugly call for more civilian deaths in Afghanistan is accompanied by virtually no information about the author

Topics: Media Criticism, Washington, D.C.,

The New York Times today published a monstrous Op-Ed complaining that the U.S. is being too careful to avoid civilian deaths in Afghanistan (which would probably come as a surprise to these people and these people if they hadn’t been Liberated by the U.S. . . . from life).  The Op-Ed is by someone identified as “Lara M. Dadkhah,” and it’s so ugly that it merits little refutation, as it really negates itself (h/t reader Josh Golin):

So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. . . . [A]n overemphasis on civilian protection is now putting American troops on the defensive in what is intended to be a major offensive. . . .

Of course, all this is not to say that the United States and NATO should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage “total” war in Afghanistan. Clearly, however, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost.  General McChrystal’s directive was well intentioned, but the lofty ideal at its heart is a lie, and an immoral one at that, because it pretends that war can be fair or humane. . . .

Wars are always ugly, and always monstrous, and best avoided. Once begun, however, the goal of even a “long war” should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have.

Note how her cursory, oh-so-humane caveat at the beginning (“Of course, all this is not to say that the United States and NATO should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage ‘total’ war in Afghanistan”) is casually dispensed with by the end, when she demands “victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have.”  Does anyone need it explained to them why causing large civilian deaths through air attacks in Afghanistan is not only morally grotesque but also completely counter-productive to our stated goals?  For those who do, here’s one good response to this Op-Ed.  Here’s another from Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy.  If one can locate her, one might also ask her how well the strategy she craves worked for the Soviets in Afghanistan, or does she think the Soviet Army was also too soft, restrained and worried about civilian life?

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But for the moment, I’m more interested in knowing who “Lara Dadkhah” is and, more important, what she does.  She’s identified only by this conspicuously vague and uninformative line at the end of the Op-Ed:  ”Lara M. Dadkhah is an intelligence analyst.”  In the Op-Ed itself, she writes:  ”While I am employed by a defense consulting company, my research and opinions on air support are my own.”  What defense consulting company employs her?  Do they have any ties to the war effort?  Do they benefit from the grotesque policies she’s advocating?  What type of “analyst” is she?  Who knows?  In the Op-Ed, she cites her so-called ”analysis of data compiled by the United States military.”  Where is the data behind that analysis, and for whom was the analysis done?  The NYT doesn’t bother to tell us any of this, and doesn’t require her even to specify her “defense consultant” employer.

More strangely still, it’s virtually impossible to find any information about “Lara Dadkhah” using standard Internet tools.  Google produces almost nothing about her prior to references to her Op-Ed today.  Nexis produces zero returns for her name — zero.  And when I asked about her on Twitter, the only answer anyone could provide was that she authored this December, 2008 paper (.pdf) at Small Wars Journal, where she made exactly the same rancid argument:  ”even as mounting civilian casualties are alienating the Afghan populace, excessive restraint in the use of airstrikes may be handicapping [COIN] efforts” (h/t Majlisblog).  At the end of that article, she was identified this way (click to enlarge image): 



That, too, vaguely refers to the work she has done — “as an open source analyst covering biodefense issues” and ”as a data analyst for current coalition information operations in Afghanistan” — while conspicuously omitting for whom that work is done.

What bizarre behavior from the NYT:  it publishes an extremist, repellent Op-Ed calling, in essence, for the deaths of more innocent Afghans and accusing the Obama administration of sacrificing the lives of American troops due to excessive concern about civilians, all while providing basically no information about the author and allowing her vaguely to refer to a “defense consulting company” for whom she works while concealing its identity.  There’s no way to assess her credentials, her expertise, her employment, her motives, her possible conflicts — nothing.   In short,  the NYT allows her to spout extremely ugly and inflammatory claims on its Op-Ed page under the cover of alleged expertise, while concealing even the most basic information about her credentials, employment and professional background.  What kind of journalistic standards are those?

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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