Human intel: Nabbed the most wanted man in Iraq.
Germany: May not get a huge economic bump from the Cup, but at least they won their first match.
Maliki: Sure, his cabinet is complete and Zarqawi is gone. But will he take the opportunity and run with it?
Diplomacy: Iran is given "weeks, not months" to consider the incentives offered. Still better than the drum beat of war.
Zarqawi: Whether he was a master terrorist or a marginalized wanna-be, this is his last appearance on the Winners & Losers.
Journalistic restraint: Was the text bubble really necessary?
Civility at the UN: Apparently, one shouldn't cross John Bolton.
China's environment: Government white paper says pollution could cost the country 10 percent of its GDP.
Al Qaeda's number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for Palestinians to boycott PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's proposed referendum on Palestinian statehood because it would implicitly recognize Israel.
While the statement from al-Zawahri is nothing out of the ordinary, you have to wonder how much weight it actually has in the Palestinian territories. Prior to disengagement, the tight Israeli control of border crossings and internal security kept most international terrorists out of Gaza. However, in March, Abbas and the Israeli Defense Ministry agreed that Al Qaeda had infiltrated Gaza. Three months since their announcement, there isn't much word as to the strength of Al Qaeda cells there, but they could be a destabilizing factor for any new policy proposals.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said today of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "I think arguably over the last several years, no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women, and children on his hands than [he has]."
The good folks over at the National Security Archive - they uncovered the reclassification of declassified documents by the CIA earlier this year - file a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests with the US government. So imagine their surprise when, after filing a request with the FBI in 2005 for documents relating to al Qaeda, they received a letter stating that "no records responsive to your FOIA request regarding AL QAEDA ... were located...". Slate has a copy of the letter up and, as Timothy Noah points out, the Bureau noticeably does not say we have documents, but you can't have them. They say no documents can be located. It must be seen to be believed.
Michael Scheuer offers his take on the Goss CIA (bogged down), the Hayden nomination (bad choice), and Iraq ("finished") in our exclusive interview this week.
Not all of the conversation made it into the Seven Questions. So here's a nugget. It's been said before but is worth repeating. We're often told that terrorists want to kill us because they hate our freedoms. It may be more instructive to view it the other way around. In Scheuer's words:
Very few people on this earth, Muslim or any other religion or ethnic group or linguistic group will die because I have a draft beer after work or we produce X-rated movies or we have women in the workplace. What they die for is the perception that our policies are attacking their faith and their brotherhood.
As the government continues to shape policy aimed at dismantling al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, it’s important to remember that few people attack without first constructing some narrative of victimization, real or perceived. Whether Western countries can do anything to discredit these ideas is a different question, but one worth keeping in mind.
Joe Biden is one of the more thoughtful members of the U.S. Senate. Often I’ll disagree with him, as I do about his new Iraq proposal, but his ideas are always worth listening to. As for his verbosity, I tend to agree with David Brooks that it is born out of intellectual curiosity not pomposity.
All of which, makes his comments on Hardball, flagged by the Hotline blog, about the Zacarias Moussaoui verdict all the more disappointing: "I think that boy is about to have, as we Catholics say, an epiphany. I think he's about to find how that he may not have gotten the better end of the deal." Matthews then asks, “Do you think he'll survive for long in prison, Senator?" To which, Biden responds “I don't want to answer that because I'll get 6,000 letters saying I'm encouraging something bad happening to him. I think it's not going to be an easy road for him.” Biden should leave this kind of crass populism to lesser men. Joseph Biden is better than this.
To my surprise, Zacarias Moussaoui has not been sentenced to death. Instead, the jury gave him life imprisonment. I’m sure many people will see this as a baffling decision. After all, the man said he had “no regret, no remorse” about his involvement in the 9/11 plot and during the trial seemed to revel in discomforting the victims' families.
It seems like the right choice to me, though. (I should admit that I’m pretty much totally opposed to the death penalty). As Alec Russell of the Daily Telegraph wrote during the trial sending Mousssaoui to jail for life would make him not the martyr he aspires to be, but a “living symbol of justice and proof that the wheels of justice may grind slowly, but they do grind.”
United 93 isn’t the movie I expected it to be. Having read John Podhorertz and Rich Lowry’s pieces, I thought the film’s key message would be that even on 9/11 itself Americans fought back against the terrorists. Well, it’s not.
The legend of this flight played a key part in the nation’s recovery after 9/11. The fact that ordinary citizens took the fight to the enemy that day and saved the Capitol from destruction meant that the United States was not some helpless victim ravished by a cunning enemy but rather a nation that fought back and once again demonstrated those virtues of courage, ingenuity, and self-reliance that have so defined its history. These brave passengers were reassuring evidence that this generation was up to the challenge that history had presented it with. I think this is why George W. Bush took to ending his speeches in the fall of 2001 with the line, “But we have our marching orders: My fellow Americans, let's roll.”
The movie does depict bravery in the fight to retake the plane. But it also reminds us of something that it is easy to forget: The passengers wanted to land the plane. At the end of the film one feels deflated that all the passengers have died rather than elated that the Capitol has been saved. The movie also avoids patriotic bombast. There is no scene in which passengers declare that they must act to save Washington and the American system of government. Instead, they realize that the bombers are on a suicide mission and that they have to get control of the plane to have any hope of survival. (Although, it does seem like a cheap shot to have the voice of in-flight appeasement speak with a European accent.)
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s video debut marks a turning point in his role as the manager of the Iraqi al-Qaeda franchise. Since announcing that he had joined forces with an umbrella organization of insurgents named the Mujahideen Shura (consultative council), analysts had speculated that he had bowed to external pressure and relinquished his role as al-Qaeda spokesman for Iraq. But with this video, released under the Shura logo, he has firmly asserted control over the coalition.
The Mujahideen Shura first gained recognition for its role in the kidnapping of the Australian contractor Douglas Wood in May of last year. Though it claims to be a grand coalition of disparate insurgent groups, terrorism analyst Mahan Abedin reports that most of the council’s member organizations are small Salafi groups that have not had a major impact in the region. Zarqawi’s network is probably bigger than all of the other groups combined, and his joining the coalition does not mean that he has ceded any authority.
In fact, this video probably indicates that he will continue his leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq despite the rebranding. Its appearance is a direct rebuke to Ayman al-Zawahiri after his attempt to replace Zarqawi with someone carrying more local legitimacy. This internal struggle could be a sign that the al-Qaeda network is weakening, but it is certainly a demonstration once again of how difficult it is to dismantle a terrorist network that has no strict hierarchy of authority.
Scare tactics, hysteria, and experts’ insights are easy to come by whenever a new tape of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaces. Harder to find is a clear, objective source of material for the messages that terrorists send—at least, those messages that don’t come in the form of bombings or hostage videos. So, the people over at RAND have developed a Voices of Jihad Database, which offers a “a compilation of speeches, interviews, statements, and publications of jihadist leaders, foot soldiers, and sympathizers.”
The resource is far from comprehensive. (A search for “bin Laden” yields just 27 sources.) And the clustered results are a bit of a mixed bag of categories. It helps to search for broader terms, like “attack” (66 results) or “jihad” (162).
The larger question, though, is whether this collection of information, and others like it, will provide clues as to when, where, and how the next terrorist attack might occur.
Remember the letter in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's sidekick, chided chief insurgent in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for killing too many civilians? Apparently, that was only a warning: word is that Zarqawi was stripped from his political duties two weeks ago, apparently due to the dispute over civilian killings. The news can be interpreted as a positive signal. In her recent profile of Zarqawi in FP, Loretta Napoleoni underlined how:
Zarqawi was eager to drive a wedge between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Otherwise, he feared that the Iraqi insurgency might develop into a national resistance, with both sects finding common cause. These fears were confirmed in the spring of 2004, when al Sadr’s revolt attracted admiration among Sunni insurgents. Pictures of the preacher were plastered on the walls of neighborhoods where Sunnis lived. In his correspondence with bin Laden, Zarqawi relentlessly stressed the need to prevent Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis from uniting around a genuine nationalism. If this were to happen, he concluded, the jihadists would be cut out because they were foreigners and the insurgency would become a national undertaking.
Zarqawi's demotion, if confirmed, could indicate that al-Qaeda is farther from its goal of dividing Sunnis and Shiites than we might think.
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