The Politico has publish selected parts of President Bush's speech, which he will give at 9 p.m. tonight in the Oval Office.
Reading the excerpts, it looks like the White House's strategy is to embrace Petraeus, declare progress, and cite a return to pre-"surge" troops levels in Iraq as evidence of a drawdown. Bush reportedly plans to bring some 5,700 troops home for Christmas. Never mind that the "surge" was always temporary—that's what surges are, after all—and Defense Secretary Bob Gates had to extend military deployments to 15 months in order to make it happen. The "surge" has to end, or the U.S. military will break. It's that simple.
Many folks will be reading the tea leaves to divine what the Bush administration plans to do about Iran. But there's only one mention of Iran in the excerpts:
We should be able to agree that we must defeat al Qaeda, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land, and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists.
"Counter" can mean a lot of different things, but it's not exactly fire and brimstone. Compare this relatively mild fare with Bush's August 28 speech to the American Legion, in which he mentioned Iran 23 times, beginning with this framing of the problem:
Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.
"Nuclear holocaust." Wow. He continued:
Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people. Members of the Qods Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are supplying extremist groups with funding and weapons, including sophisticated IEDs. And with the assistance of Hezbollah, they've provided training for these violent forces inside of Iraq. Recently, coalition forces seized 240-millimeter rockets that had been manufactured in Iran this year and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents. The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months -- despite pledges by Iran to help stabilize the security situation in Iraq.
Some say Iran's leaders are not aware of what members of their own regime are doing. Others say Iran's leaders are actively seeking to provoke the West. Either way, they cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis. The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities.
Will tonight's speech hit the same points? Watch closely.
Sameer Lalwani argues in a new Web exclusive for FP that the best hope for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan, surprisingly, is to engage and reinforce Gen. Pervez Musharraf's military regime. It's no secret that Musharraf has seen better days, but a recent poll (pdf) by the anti-terrorism organization Terror Free Tomorrow shows just how dismal a state he is in. The general's approval ratings (at 38 percent) failed to surpass public approval for Osama bin Laden, who was seen favorably by 46 percent of respondents. And Musharraf's civilian political rivals, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, were welcomed much more warmly by Pakistanis (they received respective ratings of 63 and 57 percent).
But these numbers actually help Lalwani's argument in a way. He writes in his piece:
A deeply unpopular United States and the prevailing ethnic fissures also render it politically untenable for a civilian government to do Washington’s bidding. Neither Bhutto nor Sharif will crack down on the tribal regions, whatever promises they are privately making these days.
So, with this much public distrust of the United States (only 4 percent said the United States has had any positive motivation in conducting the war on terror, and 66 percent believed the United States is acting against Islam), it would be difficult to expect a civilian government to be as cooperative in fighting al Qaeda within the country's borders.
Oh, and there is one more thing to worry about: The nukes. Ken Ballen of Terror Free Tomorrow told CNN:
[I]n the one Muslim nation that already has nuclear weapons, people who are intent on using them against us, such as al Qaeda and bin Laden, enjoy more popular support than the people we are trusting such as President Musharraf to safeguard those nuclear weapons.
The BBC is reporting that Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the putative leader of Anbar Awakening, "was killed in a bomb attack near his home in Iraq's western Anbar province." Perhaps needless to say, this is a setback for ye olde surge.
Marc Lynch comments:
Even if Abu Risha was a poor choice to "lead" the strategy, he was in fact elevated to that symbolic position by American propaganda and practice (that meeting with the President, for instance). His murder demonstrates that even America's closest friends are not untouchable - not even on the day of a Presidential address expected to rely heavily on progress in Anbar. The political fallout of the murder inside of Iraq may well exceed Abu Risha's actual role in Sunni politics.
Reacting to the news, Gen. Petraeus told the Washington Post, "I think that the tribes will pull together and go after whoever did this," adding that Abu Risha had been "an important unity figure" in Anbar's Sunni Arab community.
That may be true to some extent, but it's important to remember that there are still major splits among the Anbar tribes. Even Saddam had a tough time keeping everyone in line, and he used a "divide and rule" strategy incorporating money, guns, and special privileges to promote cooperative tribes over uncooperative ones. At a gross level, the U.S. military has been mimicking Saddam's approach, hoping the balance of power tilts in favor of the good guys. Still, major parts of the Dulaim tribal confederation—the largest such grouping in Anbar—oppose working with the coalition and/or actively support al Qaeda in Iraq. As Lynch puts it,
The major nationalist insurgency groups had recently issued a series of statements denouncing people who would illegitimately seize the fruits of their victorious jihad - of whom [Abu Risha] was the prime example. All those photographs which swamped the Arab media showing him shaking hands with President Bush made him even more a marked man than before.
Much has been made of Shiite infighting in Karbala, Basra, and other parts of the south of Iraq, but what's happening in Anbar is similar in many ways. And as we've seen today, the enemy gets a vote.
Colin Powell is reflective and regretful:
I didn't know [the intelligence] was flawed. Everybody was using it.... But the fact of the matter is that a good part of it was wrong, and I am sorry that it was wrong."
Don Rumsfeld is not:
I sleep fine.... You get up and do what you do. And when it's over, it's over.... You know? If you asked me when was the last time I looked back, I don't do much of it."
Rumsfeld believes America planned for the postwar in Iraq:
[B]efore the war, I sat and—this is on the record, all of this—I sat down and handwrote fifteen, twenty, twenty-five things that could be … could go wrong, could be real problems."
Powell does not:
Don had written a list of the worst things that could happen, but we didn’t do the contingency planning on what we would do about it."
Perhaps that's because Rumsfeld was too busy cautioning against an invasion. That's right, against going in to Iraq. "Were you one of the people driving the bus who wanted to invade Iraq?" GQ asks. Rumsfeld responds:
That's unlikely to come as any consolation to Powell, who apparently sees Rumsfeld and other hawks as the biggest threat to America:
What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it's terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?
When Osama bin Laden returned to the Internet with a new video this week, White House officials were quick to dismiss him as "... a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get these messages out." Diminished as bin Laden himself may be, the global network he leads continues to operate, and a new generation of leaders has risen up to fill the place of those who have been captured or killed. With the sixth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, this week's FP List looks at some of the main al Qaeda figures who remain at large.
FPTV's Katherine Wheeler attended a very interesting speech by former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich at the American Enterprise Institute. After the speech, which was entitled, "What If? An Alternative History of the War since 9/11," Katherine got a chance to ask the former speaker some questions of her own.
Watch Gingrich sounding off on the six-year anniversary of 9/11, the "surge" in Iraq, and Ronald Reagan here:
A mammoth Pentagon-commissioned study (pdf, 390 pp.) of Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province was released this week, and it offers strong clues as to the origins of the so-called "Anbar awakening". (FP contributor Pat Lang authored the section called "How to Work With Tribesmen.") Completed in June 2006 and focusing on three key tribes in particular, the report was the subject of this Washington Post article by Walter Pincus:
That report -- put together by a distinguished group of retired military counterinsurgency specialists and academics, each with Iraq experience -- was circulated in the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., at the time led by then-Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The study proposed changing how the United States interacts with Sunni tribal leaders, eventually contributing to winning their support in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq forces.
As Pincus notes, the report stresses the temporary nature of any alliance between the United States and tribal leaders. It also makes clear that the dispute between al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and tribal leaders was already evident when thousands of Sunnis from Anbar voted in the December 2005 parliamentary elections against the wishes of then-AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Zarqawi's retaliations against those who participated in the political process became his undoing. A pivotal mistake was when his people killed Sheikh Nasser al-Mukhlif, a widely respected tribal leader in al-Ramadi, on January 16, 2006. Also that month, tribal leaders secretly formed an anti-AQI militia called the "al-Anbar Revolutionaries." To the extent that we can pinpoint a definitive beginning of the so-called "Anbar awakening," January 2006 is it, and it had a lot to do with the 2005 elections. Maybe they were a turning point after all.
This one appears to be a little less coldly rational than Osama's usual fare. He makes references to recent events, so it seems that he's still alive. But it looks like Fidel Castro is writing his talking points these days:
The rambling transcript also mentions French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which suggests the tape was made after Sarkozy's election in May.
Bin Laden comes close to offering a date for the tape with this by saying, "... just a few days ago, the Japanese observed the 62nd anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by your nuclear weapons." The anniversary was on August 6.
He goes on to call Noam Chomsky "among one of the most capable of those from your own side," and mentions global warming and "the Kyoto accord."
He also speaks to recent issues grabbing headlines in the United States, referring to "the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes..."
"To conclude," bin Laden says, "I invite you to embrace Islam." He goes on to say: "There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling 2.5 percent.”
The full transcript (pdf) is here.
With the rise of China and India upending the world's consumption patterns, protecting increasingly tight oil supplies is proving to be no small undertaking. By some estimates, a major supply disruption could send oil prices spiraling above $100 a barrel.
In our September/October issue, FP took a closer look at moves by Russian oil giants Gazprom and Rosneft to establish their own private armies, equipped with machine guns and anti-riot gear, to guard their goods.
And now Saudi Arabia, a politically fragile country perched atop some 25 percent of the world's oil reserves, has stepped up its own efforts to protect oil plants and pipelines—the kingdom's economic lifeline—from potential attacks. After spending an estimated $5 billion and setting up a 35,000-strong security force, the Financial Times reports, Saudi Arabia will have more people guarding its petroleum than protecting the country's skies (Air Force: 18,000) or seas (Navy: 15,500) combined. Compared to a chaotic Nigeria and a stubborn Russia, Saudi Arabia has been a very reliable oil supplier. And the Saudis are keen on staying that way.
The kingdom's fears are not unfounded: This past February's foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up the Abqaiq oil center, which handles two-thirds of the country's oil supply, exposed potential security gaps. Plus, Osama bin Laden has been calling for attacks on the Arabian peninsula's oil installations since 2004. And the Saudis are no doubt expecting blowback from seasoned jihadis returning from Iraq.
Any substantial disruption to Saudi oil production would send shock waves through the global economy, and particularly the gas-guzzling United States. Accordingly, U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin is actively training 5,000 Saudi personnel to use such nifty technology as laser security and satellite imaging. And how does Saudi Arabia plan on ensuring that a force this large will be impervious to radical infiltration? The FT says that recruits are being "heavily vetted" and sought from outside the country's existing security forces. That's going to involve a heckuva lot of background checks.
It never occurred to me that Osama bin Laden would drink U.S. soft drinks. But bin Laden's former bodyguard confirms to Newsweek that the al Qaeda leader hates Pepsi, at least:
The only thing that seems to rile him up is mention of America [...] I think from the very beginning of his childhood he hated America. I don't know why. He won't even drink a Pepsi."
But does that mean he prefers Coke or RC Cola? Or fresh pomegranate juice, perhaps?
Quick moves, right? But some Islamist fundamentalists also apparently see the British soccer star and the American singer as beloved cultural symbols whose deaths would bring the West to its knees. It's a tactic Joseph Stalin apparently tried to pull more against another powerful American symbol more than 50 years ago.
As legend has it, Stalin threatened to assassinate the Duke in an effort to silence the ardent anti-communist and deal a crushing blow to the American cultural machine against the backdrop of the Cold War. This being the new millennium, though, Beckham and Timberlake were threatened not by the Soviets but by Islamist radicals with Internet access and a grievance against Western cultural imperialism. The threat came in the form of a video posted on YouTube. According to several Web sites following the story, it was a British al Qaeda-linked group tied to exiled cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed that posted the video.
Watching the video, though, it doesn't exactly seem like the most sophisticated of plots. There's a shot of Eminem in a newspaper with the headline, "This Is the Way to Hellfire." There's a photo of 2-Pac underneath the words, "Servant of Shaytaan." And a smiling Beckham is juxtaposed with the question, “What Made u Among the Losers?” In the end, it looks more like a low-budge PSA than a serious wake-up call to Western civilization.
Worse yet for the would-be killers, this over-the-top exchange from Fox News suggests they made have made another monumental miscalculation: "Isn't this an instance where you might be rooting for the terrorists?"
Tyler Cowen, speculating on what makes a terrorist, writes:
Osama bin Laden probably doesn't know the Alchian and Allen theorem, the make-work fallacy, the Heckscher-Ohlin results, nor does he realize that his Islamic Caliphate would not work very well.
True enough. And for all his boasting about how al Qaeda attacks could wreck the U.S. economy, Osama might have been better off starting a quant fund dealing in subprime mortgages.
Asked about closing the controversial U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said on CNN's Larry King Live:
I think you need to have someplace to hold those individuals who have been captured during the global war on terror. I'm thinking of people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This is a man we captured in Pakistan. He's the mastermind of 9/11 [...] There are hundreds of people like that, and if you closed Guantanamo, you'd have to find someplace else to put these folks."
How about ... the U.S. prison system?
The truth is, treating guys like KSM as soldiers in a war only gives the terrorists what they want—coequal status with the world's greatest military power. Better, as Tom Malinowski argues convincingly here, to diminish them as the criminals and losers they really are.
Here's an intriguing proposal from Belgium's Anne-Marie Lizin, a prominent European critic of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Lizin says that countries want to shut Gitmo down should take the prisoners off the United States' hands themselves.
But why not take this a step further and just pay Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Red Cross to actually operate Guantánamo or its equivalent? Then they could hire subcontractors like CACI to handle the interrogations, and provide any resulting information to the U.S. government. Surely, these organizations would be trusted to ensure that prisoners wuold be treated humanely.
Or better yet, draw up an RFP and open up the bidding process to anyone willing to adopt a Guantánamo prisoner. After all, the U.S. government outsources everything else nowadays. Why not this?
The Times of London reports that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling will be protected by former British special forces soldiers for an upcoming appearance on U.S. television:
Rowling is to be interviewed on Monday by Meredith Viera, from the American NBC television channel. Despite Viera being virtually unknown here, the channel has decided that her meeting with Rowling will make a dangerously tempting terrorist target.
Let's put ourselves in the shoes of al Qaeda here. I suppose the logic of a terrorist attack on Rowling would be to get the maximum publicity possible for the jihadist cause. What better way to get your message out there than to assassinate one of the world's most beloved authors on American TV?
On the other hand, consider the galvanizing effect this would have on the war on terror. And imagine the international outrage if al Qaeda were to have killed Rowling before she finished Deathly Hallows. Thousands of irate Potter-heads would be storming the mountains of Waziristan in no time.
The Washington Post beats, if not the drums, than at least the bongos of war in today's editorial:
If Pakistani forces cannot -- or will not -- eliminate the [al Qaeda] sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. "Direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed . . . disproportionate to the threat," the Sept. 11 commission noted. The United States must not repeat that tragic misjudgment.
The Post is reacting to increasingly dire warnings coming from the U.S. intelligence community saying that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan. But the benefits of direct U.S. action have to be weighed against the strategic costs. Right now, Pakistani President Musharraf has a mandate to go after extremists: The militants holed up in the Red Mosque called for an Islamic revolution, but the Pakistani public mostly cheered as Musharraf's security forces took them down.
This is why al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri has repeatedly urged his followers to concentrate on the jihad in Afghanistan and avoid attacks in Pakistan. Zawahiri, who watched his previous organization get destroyed in Egypt during the 1990s, likely understands that the escalating campaign of terrorist bombings in Pakistan will strengthen Musharraf's hand still further. But al Qaeda would enjoy a propaganda bonanza if the U.S. started seriously mucking around in the tribal areas. And then there's the small problem that even the United States likely doesn't have the ability to sneak into the tribal wilds of Pakistan with a compact strike force, kill the bad guys, and make a clean getaway without anyone noticing. This ain't the movies. Better to give the Pakistanis the time to do it themselves.
A freelance reporter for a Beijing television station has been detained for faking a hidden camera report about street vendors who used chemical-soaked cardboard to fill meat buns, local media said. [...]
Beijing Television explained that an investigation revealed that in mid-June, Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process. It said Zi ''gave them the idea'' of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.
Let's assume this is true. Does it let the migrant workers off the hook? Or does it provide further evidence that Chinese food-safety standards are hopelessly lax?
I ask because this incident reminds me of—bear with me here—the FBI's efforts to nab al Qaeda operatives in the United States. Undercover FBI agents have run several sting operations wherein they target people whom informants have identified as having extremist tendencies and recruit them into fake al Qaeda cells. The FBI then catches them expressing sympathy for Osama Bin Laden, buying weapons, or sending money to terrorists abroad, and then arrests them. Critics of these operations say they amount to entrapment. These people aren't really joining al Qaeda at all, the critics say, and are being prosecuted for mere "thought crimes." Supporters of the sting approach counter that at the end of the day, guys like Tarik Shah and the Lackawanna Six are making clear their intention to commit terrorist acts, so we might as well get them off the streets while we can.
If you agree with that logic, do you also think the bun-makers are guilty of knowingly stuffing buns with cardboard, and should be punished? Email Passport with your thoughts.
Bill Kristol had an interesting piece in yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section. In it, the Weekly Standard editor and omnipresent pundit claims that Bush's presidency will ultimately be successful and his actions in Iraq vindicated. A look at the "broad forest," Kristol insists, presents a much more positive picture than the typical emphasis on the "often unlovely trees." And in Kristol's forest, the growing U.S. economy, the fact that there has not been another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and Kristol's belief that things are looking up in Iraq is enough to put Bush in the pantheon of great presidents.
At one point, Kristol writes:
What about terrorism? Apart from Iraq, there has been less of it, here and abroad, than many experts predicted on Sept. 12, 2001. So Bush and Vice President Cheney probably are doing some important things right.
Now, Kristol leaves himself plenty of wiggle room there with the phrase "than many experts predicted" a day after September 11, when no one was quite sure whether the world would explode into a ball of fire. But the implication that there has been less terrorism abroad is simply not true.
In fact, since 9/11, terror attacks and fatalities have been on the rise around the world—not just in the Middle East, but nearly everywhere. Just look at the graphic to the right, which is adapted from FP's 9/11+5, a look at the state of terror around the world five years after 9/11 by two terrorism experts at RAND. Even without counting the Middle East, the number of attacks elsewhere in the world has soared for the years 2002-2005 over the period 1998-2001.
Or we can just look at certain years and compare. Consider that in 2001, there were 1,732 incidents of terrorism around the world; outside of the Middle East, there were 1,223. In 2006, the total number of attacks nearly quadrupled to an astonishing 6,653 incidents. Yes, many of them were in Iraq. But leave out the Middle East again, and the total number of attacks around the world still shoots to 2,113.
Or take the human toll: About 11,000 injuries and fatalities from terrorism in 2001 (and that includes 9/11). Last year? 33,034 injuries and fatalities, and not just in Iraq. Nearly 2,000 dead in South Asia in 2006. More than 100 dead in Africa. That hardly sounds like "less" terrorism to me.
Stranger still is Kristol's speculation that, had Saddam been left in power, "his connections with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups would be intact or revived and even strengthened." Connections with al Qaeda? Just this April, the Washington Post (yes, the same paper running the Kristol piece) ran an A1 article about a declassified DoD report from before the war stating that Saddam was not working with al Qaeda. What about Zarqawi, you ask? He went to Iraq in 2002, but only joined bin Laden's al Qaeda network after the U.S. invasion.
It's fine and fair to debate Bush's legacy, and he's surely done a few good things over the past six years. And Bill Kristol is certainly entitled to his own opinion; if he think Bush has been boffo, then more power to him. But Kristol is certainly not entitled to his own facts.
A leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (who the U.S. military had claimed was dead) is now threatening Iran with terrorist attacks. Omar al-Baghdadi, the apparently non-dead leader of this al Qaeda affiliate, said the following in a recent audio recording:
We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you."
And he also issued a threat aimed at his fellow Sunnis:
We advise and warn every Sunni businessman inside Iran or in Arab countries especially in the Gulf not to take partnership with any Shia Iranian businessman, this is part of the two-month period."
This certainly complicates things, doesn't it? I suspect that al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Islamic State of Iraq, which have been trying to patch up a frayed relationship of late, are focusing on a pair of enemies both groups can agree upon: Iran and the Shiites.
Here's an interesting development in Iraq: graffiti warfare. Sunni residents of Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood are sick and tired of al Qaeda's bullying, and they aren't going to take it anymore:
Late Wednesday afternoon, according to residents reached by phone who would not be quoted by name for security reasons, an armed group scrawled graffiti on a school wall reading: "Down with al-Qaeda, long live the honest resistance." When al-Qaeda in Iraq members came to wipe away the writing, a roadside bomb exploded nearby, killing three of them, residents said.
This story reminded me of a colorful piece by AFP reporter Joseph Krauss, who recently embedded in Samarra with an unusual U.S. Army unit. Their mission? To stir up trouble between mainline insurgents and al Qaeda, using graffiti:
On a dark street in the restive Iraqi town of Samarra a young man masked with a bandana and a baseball cap looks over his shoulder before pulling out an aerosol can and spray-painting across a wall. [...]
The young vandal is an army translator [...] charged with sowing seeds of strife between the town's two main insurgent groups, Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq. [...]
Both insurgent groups tag the walls with slogans, threats, and boasts.
Al Qaeda's street artists write: "The Samarra police are infidels, so we will bring you young men who love martyrdom," and "We will destroy all those who cooperate with the Americans."
The Islamic Army scribes write much the same thing, but threaten "the occupiers" instead of the local security forces and collaborators.
[The translator's] job is to redirect the artistic impulses of each group against the other. "It's a way to destabilize their unification efforts," says First Lieutenant Charlie Hodges, who leads one of the graffiti patrols.
I doubt the U.S. military had a hand in the more recent fighting in Baghdad (would they have planned an ambush?), but I'm sure the guys in charge are watching very closely to see how to best exploit the rift throughout Sunni areas of the country.
As Blake pointed out earlier today, the most surprising bit of last night's Republican debate was Gov. Mitt Romney's declaration that the United States should "double Guantanamo" and should routinely make use of what he calls "enhanced interrogation techniques."
After the debate last night, Romney expanded on that thought in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. It is worth watching the video in order to understand Romney's precise thinking here. It appears to be this: The nature of the enemy determines the morality with which you fight.
[W]e're dealing with terrorist nations," Romney told Hannity. "They're not following any procedures of this nature."
So neither should we, was Romney's point. Hannity then asked Romney how far he would go in torturing suspected terrorists.
I don't think any president of the United States is wise to say here's how far I'll go," Romney responded. "I think you always keep that to yourself."
We'll take that as an "I don't know." And, apparently, Romney won't be engaging in a public debate about where that line should be, either:
We're not going to project the kind of line that represents torture or not torture."
One has to wonder whether Romney understands the fundamental nature of the war the United States is fighting. It is a war of ideas. You don't win that kind of war by sinking to the terrorists' level, or by forfeiting the principles that separate enlightened, modern society from the dark, desperate world of radical Islamists.
I also worry that Romney's remarks are further evidence of how profoudly lost the Republican party is today. On the stage last night was a leading candidate for the party's nomination, droning on endlessly about his deep and profound "respect for life" —and advocating torture in the same breath. The only thing more disappointing was the room full of party faithful who seemed to miss the irony.
One of the big debates in the "war on terror" is whether and to what extent Iran is working with al Qaeda. Middle East experts like Juan Cole argue that Shiite Iran would never work with the vehemently anti-Shiite al Qaeda, whereas more hawkish terrorism analysts maintain that there is evidence that Iran has allowed a group of al Qaeda members to supervise attacks from Iranian territory. A third position, which seems to be the dominant one in the Bush administration, holds that Iran is detaining al Qaeda operatives in order to trade them for members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq organization, a strange group of cult-like Marxists that Saddam Hussein used as a proxy force against the Iranians. The U.S military has been holding a large group of MEK members in a camp in Iraq, waiting for the Bush administration to make up its mind about these individuals.
Well, the debate just got a little more interesting. Nasser Ahmad Al-Bahri, a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden (who is apparently still alive), told Al Arabiya satellite channel (Arabic) that top al Qaeda leaders such as Seif al-Adel and Abu Hafs the Mauritanian are responsible for the "coordination file" with Iran. The reason for the alliance? Al-Bahri says it's because "our enemy is one and that is the United States." That doesn't mean, he says, that al Qaeda supports "the Iranian agenda."
Is this true? It seems to be the case that Seif al-Adel and Abu Hafs are in Iran, but this new admission is unlikely to resolve the debate over what they're really doing there. One thing to keep in mind: Al Qaeda may be goading the United States into attacking Iran. Over the weekend, a recently-recorded tape from Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaced in which the al Qaeda #2 said he wished to see 200,000 to 300,000 Americans killed in Iraq. That's not likely to happen no matter how long the U.S. military stays there, but it does give a sense of al Qaeda's current thinking.
(Hat tip: MidEastWire.com)
When she was 14 years old, Irshad Manji, a Canadian Muslim, asked her madrasa teacher, "Where is the evidence of the 'Jewish conspiracy' against Islam?"
Her teacher responded by kicking her out of the madrasa.
Since then, Manji has been using her own brain to study Islam and launch a campaign to reform her religion. Manji, who moved to Canada as a child when Idi Amin expelled the East Indian community from Uganda, has written the book The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. Her latest endeavor is the documentary Faith Without Fear, which debuts tonight in the United States on PBS as part of the channel's series America at a Crossroads.
In 2003, the New York Times described Manji as Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare. She reads the Koran and abstains from pork and alcohol. She's also a lesbian feminist who admires Israel and supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
I'm intrigued by Manji's current Project Ijtihad (pronounced "ij-tee-had"). On her website, Manji says that ijtihad is Islam's long-lost tradition of independent thinking that was stomped out at the end of the 11th century. Manji wants to create a network of reform-minded Muslims who engage in critical thinking and bring about a reformation of Islam that updates it for the 21st century. If Christianity could have its Protestant Reformation, it seems possible for Islam to have one too.
Manji has her critics on both the left and the right. She also has supporters ranging from Arianna Huffington to Glenn Beck. I plan to make my own assessment tonight when I watch Faith Without Fear. I encourage you to watch the documentary too.
Agakhan Sharief has either made a foolish gamble, or is keenly aware that Osama Bin Laden remains a popular figure on the insurgency-plagued Phillipine island of Mindanao.
Sharief, a candidate for a legislative council seat in upcoming provincial elections, adopted "Bin Laden" as his nickname after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo jokingly called him the "young bin Laden of Mindanao" at a public appearance in 2002. But Sharief isn't a militant; he just looks somewhat like the al Qaeda leader, dresses in white and sports a long beard. Sharief is known locally as a "peacemaker" for his role as an intermediary between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mindanao's main insurgent group. Yet, Sharief has also expressed ambivalence about the other bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Given his unorthodox campaign strategy, we can probably infer that his would-be constituents feel much the same way.
Just yesterday, in a speech hammering congressional Democrats over setting a timeline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops, President Bush said:
The consequences of failure would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America. To protect our citizens at home, we must defeat the terrorists."
But buried in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,141 U.S. adults is a finding that spells trouble for a U.S. administration that, from the beginning, has linked success in the Iraq War to victory in the war on terror.
When asked if they thought "the United States must win the war in Iraq in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success," only 37 percent of those surveyed agreed, while 57 percent said that "the war on terrorism can be a success without the United States winning the war in Iraq." Back in January, 45 percent of respondents viewed the Iraq war as a must-win, whereas only 47 percent thought the United States could win the war on terror without victory in Iraq.
With the caveat that the poll oversamples African Americans (who tend to oppose the Iraq War), it seems that—three months after President Bush announced he was sending more troops to Iraq—the bottom is dropping out of public support for the war in Iraq. Whatever the results on the ground, the surge has clearly backfired at home.
More than three years on, the Madrid bombs are still hurting Spain. Media outlets that support the conservative Popular Party opposition are denouncing the trial of 29 Islamists and petty criminals (including a former male stripper) suspected of the attacks, which killed 191, as a fraud. Instead, they are pinning the blame on the Basque separatist group, ETA. And it's not just the conservative media flacks: Almost one in five Spaniards now believes ETA was involved. There have been demonstrations denouncing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and demanding the truth about the bombings. Some have even gone so far as to claim ETA was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center attack.
These are tough times for Spain. The rag-tag defendants in the trial seem unlikely terrorist masterminds, but it is almost impossible to say for sure who was behind the attack. The temptation is always to blame the devil you know, and ETA is a very well-known devil. With an election next year and the ruling Socialist Party holding a tiny lead, the conservatives are simply tapping into latent anti-ETA feeling and using it to attack the government. They should beware: The knee-jerk blaming of ETA contributed to the Popular Party's downfall after the bombs—it could backfire yet again.
An official at the Ministry of the Interior told TIME that the bomber was wearing a suicide vest and was a guard for one of the members of parliament. The blast went off just after 2 p.m. on Thursday at the cafe in the central atrium of the building just outside the main hall where politicians, staff and journalists often meet for a cup of tea or a plate of food from a buffet spread. Early reports say at least two people were killed and a dozen wounded, but the toll is expected to rise.
Many people had already left, but so far that toll has risen to eight dead, two of them MPs, and 23 wounded, according to the New York Times.
Also today: A truck bomb blew up a 60-year-old bridge across the Tigris. So now the U.S. and Iraqi militaries are going to have to clean house inside the Green Zone, and start figuring out how to defend Baghdad's many bridges from attack. All this against the backdrop of a possible collapse of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's governing coalition. Fun times.
Think separatist violence in Europe is a thing of the past? Think again.
Europol, the police arm of the European Union, today released its first Terrorism Situation and Trend Report. It makes for interesting reading. The 44-page report reviews and analyzes terrorist attacks and terrorism-related arrests in 2006 within EU member states. Nearly 500 attacks took place in the EU in 2006, most of them small incidents with limited damage. Of these, the vast majority—424 attacks—were carried out by Basque and Corsican separatist movements in France and Spain. Another 55 attacks were pulled off by left-wing and anarchist terrorists, whose focus was Greece, Italy, Spain, and Germany.
As the report observes, however, it's Islamist terror that really scares the authorities due to its focus on mass casualties. Only one Islamist attack was attempted in Europe last year, the so-called suitcase bomb plot that failed to blow up two German commuter trains in July. But that doesn't mean the threat isn't real: 257 of the 706 terrorism-related arrests in the 15 member states that provided data were of Islamists, most of them North Africans. UK officials did not fork over their data, but the report notes that public information would put the UK right up there with France, which arrested 139 Islamist terrorist suspects in 2006.
What I want to know is: What explains the differences in strategy between the separatists—"whose attacks resulted only in material damage and were not intended to kill," according to the report—and the Islamists, whose aim is clearly to kill as many civilians as possible? Is it due to the inherent differences in the causes themselves? Differences in ideology? The particular evolution of the various groups involved? Why haven't Basque and Corsican separatists decided that mass murder is the way to go? Or would the Islamists garner more sympathy by focusing on small, mostly symbolic attacks?
Mark Bowden, who we interviewed for last week's Seven Questions, has a fascinating cover story (sub req'd) in the latest Atlantic Monthly giving the inside story of how the U.S. military caught al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as told by the interrogators of a dedicated unit set up by Special Operations Command in 2005.
The title of Bowden's article, "The Ploy," refers to the gambit used by interrogator "Doc," to get Abu Haydr, a high-ranking al Qaeda affiliate captured in April 2006, to give up information that eventually led to Zarqawi's whereabouts:
We both know what I want,” Doc said. “You have information you could trade. It is your only source of leverage right now. You don’t want to go to Abu Ghraib, and I can help you, but you have to give me something in trade. A guy as smart as you—you are the type of Sunni we can use to shape the future of Iraq.” If Abu Haydr would betray his organization, Doc implied, the Americans would make him a very big man indeed.
By playing on Abu Haydr's vanity and creating the impression that he, too, was secretly eager to help save Iraq from Shiite depredations, Doc got his captive to spill the beans, bit by bit. By June, Abu Haydr was singing like a canary:
He explained that Rahman, a figure well-known to the Task Force, met regularly with Zarqawi. He said that whenever they met, Rahman observed a security ritual that involved changing cars a number of times. Only when he got into a small blue car, Abu Haydr said, would he be taken directly to Zarqawi.
And that was the key piece of information that led to the U.S. air strikes that killed the al Qaeda leader on June 7, 2006. It's clear from the article that the U.S. military is eager to show that it now has clean hands; no torture, quasi torture, or abuse was used to get Zarqawi (just the threat of sending prisoners to Abu Ghraib!). Also clear: Icing Zarqawi didn't ultimately change much in Iraq.
The students gathered each Friday night at someone's apartment and at the end of the meal they put on a show called "Friday Night Live," a takeoff on "Saturday Night Live." Mohammed, Ali said, was often in charge of putting together the comedy routines.
"Here is this man who used to be very spiritual. The only unique thing about him was that he had a sense of humor," said Ali. "He was the star. He created plays, the Islamic way. And people would laugh for hours all night. All of the students loved him."
-Babi Ali, president of Muslims for a Better North Carolina and a college friend of al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Chicago Tribune, April 3, 2007
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