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By Dan De Luce

Washington (AFP) — The U.S. commander who helped place special operation forces at the forefront of the American military hung up his uniform, hailing a “golden age” for the elite commandos.

Admiral William McRaven, 58, rose to prominence for his role in overseeing the successful 2011 raid by Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani compound.

But his influence inside military circles extends far beyond the storied nighttime operation that took out the Al-Qaeda mastermind.

Experts and fellow officers say he helped shape a new doctrine for commandos and a new approach in Washington to military power that emphasizes “small footprints” over large-scale deployments.

That approach calls for special operations forces to hit enemies in surprise strikes — but only when necessary — while devoting most of their effort to training local armies in a “global network” to tackle adversaries on their own.

– ‘Deepened our relationships’ –

At a ceremony on Thursday, marking McRaven’s retirement as head of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said the admiral had “deepened our relationships abroad, working more closely with allies and partners to better anticipate and counter threats.”

As proof of McRaven’s bid for a “global network,” Hagel cited special forces who had recently delivered humanitarian aid in the Philippines, assisted Peruvian forces in targeting senior figures of the Shining Path rebels, and advised Eastern European allies facing a resurgent Russia.

The commandos also were advising African armies to help counter Boko Haram militants and were on the ground in Iraq assisting Baghdad government troops confront Islamic State (IS) jihadists, Hagel said.

As chief of SOCOM since August 2011, McRaven has promoted the idea of building links with special forces in allied countries around the world.

He has set up an international “coordination center” at the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, with officers from 10 nations working inside SOCOM’s offices.

During his tenure, McRaven also has overseen an expansion of SOCOM’s authority over commandos deployed in the field and secured additional funding and troops, at a time when the rest of the U.S. military has been forced to scale back under budget pressures.

– ‘Thrust into the arena’ –

In his farewell speech, McRaven said special operations forces (SOF) were once “relegated to a supporting role” to conventional troops.

But the attacks of September 11, 2001 “changed all of that, and we were thrust into the arena,” the four-star admiral said.

More than a decade later, “we are in the golden age of special operations, a time when our unique talents as special operators are in greatest demand.”

McRaven has said high-stakes raids like the one that killed Bin Laden represent only a small part of the work done by the 67,000-strong force.

Most of the command’s effort is focused on aiding commandos in other countries before threats grow into emergencies requiring U.S. intervention, according to McRaven.

But while his forces were advising foreign troops and police on everything from tactics to “animal husbandry,” he acknowledged in his speech that U.S. commandos were still engaged in “hard, tough fights” across the globe.

He cited a list of adversaries including IS extremists in the Middle East, Boko Haram, and al-Shebab in Africa and “barbaric elements” elsewhere.

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton has called special operations forces “the embodiment of smart power,” but skeptics argue the commandos are too often seen as a panacea for daunting threats facing the United States.

Night commando raids in Afghanistan have been hailed by American officers as crucial to weakening insurgents, but the civilian deaths caused by the operations have fueled deep resentment of the U.S. presence.

And the value of training and advising a local military force can be overstated, some analysts say.

– Useful ‘under particular conditions’ –

The approach works when the interests of a partner country match U.S. interests and goals, said Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

But often times other governments do not share America’s policy goals, Biddle told AFP.

Building the capacity of other armies and forging an international network “can be useful tools under particular conditions,” he said.

“But those conditions may not be common enough for this to fit all the places where we’d like it to.”

AFP Photo/Frederic J. Brown

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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