By Juan Cole
The 7-page memo seen by the NYT and signed by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus authorizes US troops to engage in clandestine intelligence-gathering in the greater Middle East. The article implies that the memo also authorizes more military teams to go into unconventional conflict situations in both unfriendly and friendly countries.
Critics worry that the order blurs the line between combat soldiers and spies and weakens the claim of all soldiers to humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions.
My own view is that the United States was founded as a government of laws, not men, and that the siren call of covert operations is steadily undermining the rule of law. Blurring the line between military action and spying makes it impossible to talk about the covert missions, since they are typically classiified. The same is true for predator drone strikes.
Military action such as launching drones should be carried out by the uniformed military, not by CIA operatives or, worse, contractors.