Obama partying like it’s 1999

January 22, 2009

I read today that President Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay, and to restrict interrogation of battlefield detainees to regulations in the Army Field Manual. What this entails is no harsh interrogation techniques. We can try to create inducements for them to give us the information we want, but no roughing up allowed. Army Field Manual regulations were probably adopted in the first place because it used to be assumed that if we went to war with an enemy, violence would be restricted for the most part to military targets. Casualties are to be expected in this kind of combat. So if a captured soldier is not timely in giving us information, that is still a bad thing, but not terrible. It’s accepted as part of the cost of war. The thing is, while the jihadists do strike military targets they feel perfectly fine about hitting civilians, too. So such regulations are incompatible with the reality of the enemy we face.

This action on Obama’s part is a partial fulfillment of what I predicted 3 years ago. We are now so inured to the terrorist threat, we’re almost willing to believe that the end of the War on Terror is within sight and that we should be able to return to a pre-9/11 state of affairs–back to the Clinton era when jihadist violence was thought of as a far away problem that could be managed. We can treat jihadists who think they are at war with us as international criminals, rather like the mafia. You remember when the mafia assassinated President Kennedy, and brought down the Empire State Building, right?…I didn’t think so. We will try them in civilian courts to show how “civilized” we are. What we forget is the jihadists we face are societal hackers. They are not afraid of us, nor of our system of justice. They merely view it as an obstacle to their ultimate goal. The thinking goes that treating them this way will return international respect to the U.S. The question is will this stop jihadist attacks against the U.S.? No, I don’t think so. Obama has placed principle above pragmatism in this instance. Will we be attacked again? My sense is not right away. We have dealt a serious blow to the organization of international terrorist activities. They are not as effective as they used to be, thanks to our “rough treatment”, but I think that over time they will regain strength and confidence in their abilities to attack us under this administration. Obama talks tough, but I have yet to see his bite on the international stage.

One sign of this is that while Obama has proclaimed to the world that we will act more “civilized”, he hasn’t laid out a clear strategy of what we will do differently. What’s going to be done with the Guantanamo detainees? My own prediction is he will bring them to the U.S. and attempt to try them in our civilian courts. A mistake to be sure, but hey, at least we will be living up to our principles, right? FDR never censored the press during WW II, right? Lincoln didn’t violate anyone’s rights during the Civil War. We were true to our principles. Oy vay! How ignorant we are of our history.

All of the detainees at Guantanamo were read their Miranda rights when they were captured, weren’t they? The soldiers who captured them were careful to collect evidence with warrants issued by a judge, right? Wrong on both counts. If Obama thinks we’re going to be able to try these detainees as criminals he’s in for a big surprise. Or perhaps I’m overdoing this. Democrats have talked of giving detainees access to the courts merely to determine if they are in fact a threat to the country, or if they were captured wrongfully. There are indications that some were captured wrongfully in Afghanistan, not because of errors made on our part, but because of racial strife. Reportedly, after our invasion of Afghanistan, Afghanis captured any ethnic Arabs they could find and turned them over to the U.S. military as enemy combatants, regardless of whether they were on the battlefield or not. They just wanted to get rid of them. In any case, Obama hasn’t said how the detainees are going to be processed, nor what the purpose of the proceedings will be.

Perhaps Obama has a good offense up his sleeve against the jihadists. He’s been able to dupe the American people into voting for him without knowing a thing about him. Maybe he can effectively counteract the propaganda that the jihadists use in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe to fuel their operations. That’s the one hope I have for him. If he could win the war against the jihadists just in the political realm it would be an interesting and amazing victory. The only problem is I have not heard anything from him that indicates he’s even thinking along these lines. He may have the ability. Will he use it?

Edit 1/23/09: I heard on the news today that Obama’s order to stop rough interrogation techniques was only “for now”, not permanently. He’s just pausing the use of the techniques so that practices will be open for review. Obama also said that harsher techniques may be brought back into play if the Attorney General approves them, which Fox News noted is just what happened in the Bush Administration. Oh, so maybe we will waterboard somebody if we’re desperate enough. Sigh. It’s difficult to trust what the news is telling me. One day “It’s over”. The next day, “Well, not so fast.” I think I remember this from the Clinton Administration…


Unbelievable: Colin Powell endorses Obama

October 19, 2008

I heard about this back in August. There was breathless speculation that Powell was going to endorse Obama. It didn’t happen, and it made the Obama campaign sound like it was crying wolf to grab headlines. Earlier this week I heard the same thing and I brushed it off. “He’s not going to do it,” I thought. How could he endorse a candidate with such irresponsible foreign policy views? Well here it is. You have to see it to believe it.

Basically what Powell says here is he likes that Obama is intellectually curious, and gathers information and views from many sources. And he doesn’t like the direction the Republican Party is going in, with certain high level people in the party wondering whether Obama is really a Muslim, and whether he really has ties to terrorists that could do America harm. Perhaps he doesn’t like that McCain hasn’t disciplined those people in the party or thrown them out, since being the nominee of the party, he is the leader of it. He also said in so many words that he didn’t like McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for VP, because in his mind she’s not ready to be president. So he thinks Obama is ready? Is he serious?

It’s interesting that on Friday Christopher Hitchens, a long-time supporter of Bush and his policies in the “War on Terror”, also endorsed Obama on the O’Reilly Factor for the same reasons. Hitchens conceded that Obama is inexperienced and has some wrong ideas, but “he’s teachable”. I guess that’s an attractive notion to some, but I think if Obama does win he’s going to be taught more (brutally) by actual events than by experts, and we’re all going to be his guinea pigs while he learns. Great. I can’t wait.

The objections Powell had about McCain were that McCain seemed unsure about how to handle the economic crisis, that his foreign policy approach has gotten narrower, and that his campaign has focused too much on issues that are of little concern to the American people.

Have these men forgotten that it was McCain who came up with the winning strategy of the surge in Iraq, a policy that Obama opposed? Obama favored beginning the pullout of forces in 2007, a strategy that would have surely led to chaos in Iraq and the surrounding region. Has Powell forgotten that it was McCain who backed legislation in 2006 that would have regulated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which would have had a chance of nipping this financial crisis in the bud before it blew up on us this fall? Where was Obama on that one? He was in the Cloak Room in the Senate and couldn’t be bothered to come out and vote for it.

I’m sure McCain doesn’t believe that Obama has ties to terrorists that will do us harm, nor that he is a Muslim. I’m curious to know why Powell somehow thinks that doesn’t matter. The question from McCain’s perspective was never about whether Obama is the “Manchurian candidate”, but that Obama’s associations have never been vetted by the MSM (as they should have been), and that his associations say something about him and his judgement. That’s all.

Hearing that Obama is intellectually curious is a plus in my book. Both Hitchens and Powell said this. I’m intellectually curious myself, but I know that it’s not the end-all, be-all of judgement.

My grandmother was a nurse before she got married. She went through a nursing school that was more like a vocational school. There was book learning, but there was a lot of hands-on work. Students worked with real patients every day. By the time she graduated she knew how to work with doctors and patients, and she had probably seen it all as far as what kinds of problems patients could have. Her husband was a radiologist. Both of them told me growing up that book learning is good, but hands-on experience is invaluable. If you have a serious illness or operation, you do NOT want a doctor working on you who is just out of medical school. Get one who has been dealing with patients’ illnesses and physiology for many years. Why? The doctor just out of medical school is trained in the basics. Sure they’re competent, but they have been trained for the routine stuff, and they don’t know what they don’t know. Also what they don’t know, just from a lack of experience, is that biology can and does throw them curveballs. They’ll think one thing is going on when in fact it’s something else, and they’ll treat you (very convincingly I might add) for the wrong problem. People die in hospitals quite often, and not of natural causes. Sometimes it’s because of negligence (in which case they have a lawsuit on their hands), but often it’s because the doctor(s) did their due dilligence, but even that wasn’t good enough.

I have to admit I haven’t listened to a lot of what McCain has said about what he’d do on policy. One policy position I heard from one of his advisors that really impressed me is that he’s considering bringing in more people from different professions to serve as teachers in the public schools, rather than credentialled teachers who have gone through the education schools. This is a non-obvious solution to an obvious problem. Our schools of education (the university programs that train teachers), by and large, suck. This has been the case for decades. My mother who got her degree in education has said as much for years. This was the case when she went to school, though fortunately she found a good graduate private post-graduate program. It seems as though everyone but the people ensconsced in the education schools knows this. Many of these schools are a joke.

Anyway, that’s one policy position I listened to. The real reason I came around to McCain is I was impressed that he came up with the surge policy in Iraq, which is working well, when everyone else, including many Republicans (except Bush), wanted to throw in the towel and concede defeat. That shows judgement and leadership that Obama simply doesn’t have, and I’m surprised that Powell, who as a military man has been dedicated to success in military conflict (in my opinion), would back someone who doesn’t have the perception to understand what it takes to succeed in that theater, and who has a powerful constituency he has to please that believes war is never justified.

Colin Powell, I hate to say this, because I have long believed that you are a good judge of character, but I think you’ve fallen for a very well done PR campaign that has in my opinion caused you to go more with your feelings than with your head and sense of judgement. I am so very disappointed in you.

A couple good articles by Paul Danish

June 19, 2007

For those who don’t know, Paul Danish has been a prominent figure in Boulder for years. He served on City Council for a while, and he’s driven some policy decisions Boulder made. The main one was limiting residential growth. I have this vague memory that he also worked for Soldier of Fortune Magazine, which was published here in Boulder (maybe it still is). He’s written for each of the Boulder newspapers: The Daily Camera, the Colorado Daily (a privately run paper for C.U.), and now the Boulder Weekly. I don’t agree with everything he’s said or done, but occasionally I feel like he hits it right on the mark.

The first column of his I’ll cover here is titled, “Ending the Genocide in Darfur (not)”. What he says here is what I’ve been saying to those who will listen for months (though not on this blog): The Boulderites who support “ending the genocide in Darfur” are either being foolish or insincere, because a lot of them support ending the war in Iraq, not by winning it, but by cutting and running. Tell the truth to their face, man!:

There is, however, no chance that the United States will undertake such a campaign — because the folks who aver that they want to end the genocide in Darfur are for the most part the same ones who have been working for years to make it impossible for the United States to win in Iraq or take unilateral military action generally.

They have worked tirelessly to de-legitimize the Iraq war and to convince the American people that it is a lost cause (which it isn’t), and they have largely succeeded. They fiercely oppose the Bush Doctrine, which provides for the United States engaging in pre-emptive war against those who harbor its terrorist enemies, and which could easily be applied to the Islamic/fascist government in Sudan that harbored al-Qaeda.

Moreover, if the United States actually started bombing Sudan, does anyone have the slightest doubt that a lot of the folks with “End the genocide in Darfur” signs in their yards would be in the vanguard of those howling about American aggression and even accusing the United States of genocide.

And speaking of genocide, if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq prematurely, the subsequent civil war(s), and outright invasions would likely result in multiple instances of genocide.

The fact that the people who want to end the genocide in Darfur seem OK with throwing 25 million Iraqis under the bus suggests that their concern with ending genocide is a tad selective and more than a little unserious — if not outright disingenuous.

In other words, if we want to end the genocide in Darfur we need to support the idea of winning in Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq will not inspire confidence that we’ll be able to do anything constructive in Darfur, because the aftermath in Iraq will be tremendous and horrifying (yes, more than it is now, folks–it can get worse). Further, I doubt there’s much public support now for getting ourselves involved in “yet another mess” in Darfur, and there’s going to be even less if we pull out of Iraq.

The next column I was impressed with, though not as much, was “Climate change and radical change”. Here he says that yes, global warming is a problem and we’re causing it, but we’re not going to do anything about it. I think he’s incorrect about the “we’re causing it” part, as in “It’s warming because of our CO2 emissions”, but I agree that we (the industrialized/industrializing countries) are not going to do anything about it either, despite what Boulder decided to do about it (like it’s going to matter). Yes, I’ve heard that other cities around the country and the world have looked at what Boulder has done, and there are some interested parties who’d like to do what we’ve done, but again, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference in the climate. We can pay our “penance” to the environment if we want. We have free will. The most it’s going to accomplish is create another city bureaucracy, growing the city government, which is already the #1 employer in town (hey, it creates jobs!), and make some of our homes and businesses more energy efficient. The latter is fine with me. I think energy efficiency is good. What I think is bad is the resorting to scare tactics over a phenomenon whose purported cause is dubious at best, and abusing the good name of science in the process. But then, this whole thing isn’t really about science, is it? It’s all about social standing. The elite in our society have taken it upon themselves to flaggelate themselves, and by extension some of us as well, in the name of the environment. It’s now a required part of their social status. If they don’t, they’re ostracized.

Danish’s argument is that in terms of politics, China is using its economic growth to try to forestall a revolution (an overthrow of the government). In a few years China will pass us in the amount of CO2 it produces. Without China’s willingness to curb carbon emissions, we’re just spitting in the wind trying to curb ours. And China isn’t going to curb its emissions, because that will limit its economy’s growth, and the communist government there cares a lot more about its own survival than the climate.

Where we part ways

Danish’s most recent article, though, is one where I think he completely misses the boat. He excuses what happened at the CWA panel in April on sex, teens, and drugs. He caught the same disease a lot of our town leaders have, called “Circling The Wagons Syndrome”, where we defiantly preen about and yell to the outside world, “What are you looking at?!” It’s just bluster and doesn’t mean much of anything, but it’s kind of flabbergasting to people looking in on it from the outside. In a previous post I made reference to geoff’s post (over at “Uncommon Misconceptions”) about how the BVSD has announced that next year there will be more adult oversight of the CWA process. There’s no acknowledgement, of course, that outside criticism had anything to do with this. I’ll just say that Boulder is a provincial town. We don’t want “foreigners” (ie. the rest of the U.S.) to change us. We just want our oasis, undisturbed. I don’t agree with this attitude, but that’s the reality of this place.

Danish says he thinks Becker’s comment about, “I’m going to encourage you to have sex, and I’m going to encourage you to do drugs appropriately,” is just fine, because it made these things less of a “right of passage” for teens, making it less likely they’ll do them out of rebellion against authority. He said that if adults keep telling teens “kids don’t have sex” and “kids don’t do drugs” that because they’re growing up, they’ll think that that’s what adults do. I find this logic flawed, but then maybe teenagers think this way. Their reasoning capacity is not always the best. What I mean is I think Danish’s reasoning is flawed on this.

The way other CWA supporters have responded to Becker’s comment makes it sound as though they thought it was some sort of reverse psychology, that because an adult was sitting there encouraging them to do this, that it would turn teens off to it. From the audience’s reaction I don’t think it had that effect…

I think Danish read too much into it and was being overly generous towards Becker’s intentions and competence. Come on. Who are we kidding here?

Edit 6/22/07: Correction–I made reference earlier to a memory I had that Paul Danish worked for Soldier of Fortune Magazine. He used to work for them, but no longer does.

Amir Taheri digest

February 27, 2007

Once again I present my digest of articles by Amir Taheri.

Edit 3/6/2009: I’ve updated the above links. I used to get all of my Amir Taheri articles from Benador Associates, but they no longer host them. So I went looking on the net for other sites that had these articles. Some of the sites I reference above are not the news sources I site in this post, but the articles are the same.

Unlearning the lessons of war

February 8, 2007

And so the complacency sets in some more. I’ve written about this before. The attitude Americans are taking towards the jihadists is gradually changing from being actively focused on the threat, to relaxing that focus and thinking they are safe from it.

David Bell wrote a reasonably well thought out column in the L.A. Times called “Putting 9/11 into Perspective” (h/t to HotAir.com) where he argues that the U.S. has overreacted to the jihadist threat. He says the U.S. has taken a policy position that the jihadists represent an existential threat, equivalent to the threat of fascism in WW II. I’d say that’s accurate. Where I think he misses the boat is the difference between now and then. Now, we are not waiting for our enemy to grow in strength. We know what their aspirations are, ultimately. They have demonstrated that they have the skill and determination to carry out attacks, sacrificing their own lives in the process. We know they would like to grow in strength. We are going to deny them that opportunity. We could have addressed this threat sooner, in fact, but it would have been more difficult politically than it is now. After 9/11 it became clear to most people that we had to address it.

Before WW II Europe took the stance that I see some Americans taking: We shouldn’t do anything unless we are attacked. They do not like President Bush’s policy of pre-emption. A potential opponent should be allowed to do whatever it likes, such as develop WMD. No matter what their operating philosophy is, no matter what we read from their actions, as long as they don’t use them we should just leave them alone. We should attempt to talk to them as well, convince them we are not a threat, and offer them incentives to stop developing WMD or taking aggressive postures. This is basically the approach that Europe took to Nazi Germany, for too long. I’m not saying that diplomacy should not be given a chance to work. There comes a point though where you have to look at whether the other country is interested in acting in good faith. If not, and the other country continues to act aggressively towards your country you have to conclude that diplomacy is not working and prepare for war.

We need to remember that the Nazis originally were just a small political party inside Germany. After Hitler joined them they became a small peasant army. They were not that powerful. Hitler wrote about his intentions for the world with his book Mein Kampf. The Nazis only became powerful once Hitler was put in a position inside the German government, which he gained with political finesse. Once Hitler took the leadership of the government, and the Reichstag (their parliament building) was burned, then he was given ultimate power. He and the Nazi party had the full resources of the German government at their disposal. When Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, Europe noticed but said, “Let them have it.” When he invaded Austria they did the same. These were acts of aggression designed to increase Nazi Germany’s wealth and power, to build up a war machine. Europe practiced appeasement, partly out of a sense of guilt, and partly because they loathed confrontation. They “fed the beast” in hopes it would not come after them. They thought they could have a tolerant relationship with Nazi Germany. The rest is history.

The point is Hitler didn’t start out as a man of power. He did not come from royal birth, or a prestigious family. He tried being an artist, but was rejected by prestigious art schools. His first position of note was as a soldier in the German army during WW I. Other than that he was a troublemaker. He was arrested at least once and put in jail. Up until Hitler took power the outside world ignored him. The Nazi Party really started from nothing.

Had Bell taken a look at the Nazis before 1933 he probably would have said the same thing as he says about the jihadists, “Yes, their ambitions are vile, but their capacity is limited.” Up until Germany invaded other countries it was a weak state. It had been devastated after WW I, and the Treaty of Versailles just ground in the defeat more. Had Europe pre-emptively attacked Germany after 1933, Bell might’ve asked rhetorically, “Isn’t Europe overreacting?”

The general sense I’m getting from some quarters is that the jihadists are not really a threat to us, despite what we experienced on 9/11. The brain does not remember pain, the saying goes. The first to say that it wasn’t so bad were some on the far left, like Michael Moore: “There is no terrorist threat.” Moore was later quoted as saying that more people die from car accidents than terrorism. Bell makes a similar argument. Moore said these things shortly after 9/11 occurred. Was he right? I’m not drawing a comparison between Moore and Bell in terms of their character. Bell is clearly an intelligent man trying to make a thoughtful argument. I am drawing a comparison between what both of them are driving at.

Bell makes the argument that so few American civilians have been killed from jihadist terrorism, that we should view it as a small problem. I can go back to WW II as a comparison. How many American civilians were killed during that war? Not that many. What was the Pearl Harbor attack? Yes, nearly as many soldiers were killed in that attack as civilians who died on 9/11, but Pearl Harbor is on a far off Hawaiian island. Hawaii wasn’t even a state at the time, but a U.S. territory. It did not join the Union until 1959, 14 years after the war was over. Yet we lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting in a war that started on that island. What was the war about? Was it about an existential threat in terms of civilian lives? No. It was about a political existential threat: fascism.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Despite the fact that Nazi Germany declared war on us, did it represent an existential threat in terms of its capability to attack us? Did Italy, Germany’s ally? No. Nazi Germany has long been remembered through our history as once being a major threat to the U.S. I’m not challenging this notion. It was a major threat, but it was one that was far off (for us) at the time our involvement in WW II started. Looking at it from Bell’s perspective, would Germany and Italy have seemed like a major threat at the time?

Let’s look at the weapons Nazi Germany had. They had tanks and short range fighter planes. None of their airplanes could reach the U.S. They did not have ships. They had U-boats (submarines), but they did not have surface-to-air missile capability. They had underwater torpedoes. That was it. So they had the capability to sink our ships, threaten civilians on ships in the Atlantic, and disrupt trade. Even then they were “polite” about it. They would surface their sub near the ship, make their intentions known, allow the civilians and crew to leave the ship via. lifeboats, and then the Germans would sink it.

Did the Germans have the capacity to invade us? Absolutely not. At some point Nazi Germany developed the V-2 rocket that could reach England, but that was it. They didn’t have the capability to reach the U.S. If anyone would’ve had that capacity it was Japan. Had the war with Germany lasted long enough, they might’ve developed technology that could reach us. A year or so ago I read an article about an idea Hitler had about a potential weapon against the U.S., called the “Amerikabomber” (image). The article showed a conceptual drawing of it. It looked kind of like one of those planes you see modern day adventurers build who want to fly around the world. It was aerodynamic, had a large wingspan, and had two stages. It was guessed that it was designed to fly across the Atlantic, and crash into some location in the U.S. It was never built. So despite his lack of capacity, Hitler did not lack ambition of being able to cause civilian casualties in the U.S.

Bell also makes the point that the rate at which American soldiers died in WW II was much higher than in the War on Terror (so far). This is true. I’ve often used this argument myself about why the hysteria over how many U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq is irrational. We should feel lucky we have lost so few. Such a measure shows the sacrifice that was made to defeat the enemy, but I don’t see that it bolsters his argument much. It does show that the enemies we faced had a greater capacity to cause us harm, but it also shows that the world waited too long to address the fascist threat.

Bell’s argument is off base because it’s purely materialistic. It misses the fact that this is a political/ideological battle. Wars often are. There’s a saying that goes “war is politics by other means”. And likewise politics is war by other means. The way in which the jihadists hope to influence geopolitics is by killing innocent civilians. That’s what it boils down to. That’s what the war in Iraq is largely about. It’s an attempt to change the political equation in the Middle East with democracy. Bell misses the boat because he focuses solely on the civilian casualties, not the political threat. What political threat do I speak of? The threat is existential, because what the jihadists want to do is spread their philosophy of government throughout the world. You need only look to the Taliban and the way they treated people in Afghanistan as a small example.

Let me go back to another part of Bell’s argument: do they have the capacity to cause us great harm? From the very beginning, within a week of 9/11, I had a conversation about this with a liberal friend of mine. He didn’t believe the jihadists had the capacity to achieve their ultimate goal, despite what had just happened. He just thought of them as crazy fanatics with delusions of granduer. We agreed to disagree. I knew how I felt about the attack. I was devastated. He appeared more calm about it. I heard stories, even a year after the attack, about people in the Northeastern states being so devastated emotionally that they acted like zombies, numbed out by the experience. We seem to have forgotten that now.

Al Qaeda has shown a capacity to do a lot of damage with very little in the way of resources. Secondly, if they were to increase their resources by capturing a state like Pakistan, with nuclear weapons, I have little doubt they would use them.

The 9/11 Commission commented on the fact that we lacked the imagination to anticipate the al Qaeda attack. What I see in Bell’s argument is the same lack of imagination. It’s not what the jihadists have done so far that we have to worry about. We have to worry about what they could do. Attacks have to be anticipated. We can’t just take the posture of sitting back and waiting for them to happen.

The reason Bell feels he can make this argument is he feels safe. A lot of us feel safe. It is because of this that a creeping complacency is setting in, “It’s not so bad. What are we afraid of, little ‘ole terrorists?” As President Bush has said on a few occasions, there have been many more attempts by al Qaeda to attack the U.S., but they have been stopped. What’s the difference between something that was planned but was stopped, and a situation where nothing happens? To a lot of people there is no difference. They assume that nothing has happened.

This is a bit off the subject but the same thing happened with Y2K. You remember that catastrophic computer glitch that was supposed to be so scary? Remember how very little happened after the year 2000 rolled around? The truth was it was kind of scary, but the problem was fixed. Hence nothing much happened. Years later I’ve heard people say they think Y2K was just a big scam. I know better. The problem was very real. The fact that nothing happened is due to the fact that programmers did the job of fixing it well.

I saw an interview with someone recently where this creeping complacency was discussed. Unfortunately I’m terrible with names. I see programs on TV, interesting discussions, but a day later I forget who was involved. I don’t forget what was discussed though. The person interviewed was asked about this. He said, “Of course this is happening. It’s natural.” When you get far enough away from a traumatic event, normalcy returns and people forget about it. I think there’s also a kind of denial. People don’t want to be reminded about 9/11. We saw this last year when the movie “United 93” was released. There was resistance from some people, particularly New Yorkers, who said, “It’s too soon.” I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but I think some conservative commentators were right when they said the reason for this is people don’t want to remember. It’s too painful. They’d rather forget about it. If they don’t want to look at it they don’t have to, but I think in a way it’s unhealthy to turn away from the horror. If you turn away you’re not being honest about it. You’re choosing to not see the threat. Unfortunately I think the person in the aforementioned interview is right. This complacency is a natural process, and we’re likely to see more of it as time passes. I have made a conscious effort not to forget, because it doesn’t feel right to do so. It’s obvious to me the threat still exists, and it’s going to require vigilance to defeat it. I consider myself an active citizen, so I choose to take on the responsibility of educating myself about the issues that face our country. I’ll do all I can so that people who are willing to listen do not forget.

More great articles by Amir Taheri

February 2, 2007

Here’s another digest of articles on Iraq. I’ll probably make this a regular thing, just for articles by Taheri. Of all the information sources I’ve read, he has been the most informative on the situation in the Middle East, and Iraq in particular.

From “How Iraqis See W’s New Plan” (Update 12/31/14 – original article is now gone, so no link):

Jihadists have fought not because they hope to win on the battlefield, but to strengthen the antiwar lobbies in the United States and Britain. Some in the new political elite have become fence sitters because they regard the United States as a fickle power that could suddenly change course. Others have created or expanded militias, in case the United States abandons Iraq before it can defend itself against internal foes and predatory neighbors.

The new Bush plan has raised Iraqi morale to levels not known for a year. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had been dropping hints he might resign because of sheer fatigue, now says he is committed to restoring Baghdad’s sobriquet of Dar al-Salaam (The Abode of Peace) by clearing it of al Qaeda and Saddamite terrorists, militias and death squads.

“The plan that President Bush has announced is based on our plan,” says Ali al-Dabbagh, al-Maliki’s spokesman. “We presented it to him during the summit in Amman last month, and he promised to study it. The result is a joint Iraqi-American plan to defeat the terrorists.”

As if to underline that claim, the Iraqi army, backed by a U.S. helicopter gunship, launched a major operation in Baghdad two days before Bush’s announcement of the new plan. Over 50 jihadists were killed, and an unknown number captured.

Taheri has acknowledged in a couple articles I’ve seen that there are some in the Iraqi government who have displayed a “room service” mentality towards the U.S. military, calling them up to handle the hard problems rather than taking care of it themselves. This is what the Democrats have been complaining about, and the reason why they believe a gradual pullout will help them become more self-sufficient. Taheri has not said that the entire government is this way, however. And as I’ve said, a pullout would have larger consequences than what the Democrats have talked about.

Edit 3/6/2009: Benador Associates no longer hosts Amir Taheri’s articles. This is where I used to reference all of them. I’ve searched out other sources for the articles. Some of them are not the sources I cite above. Unfortunately I had to delete one of the articles from this list, because it doesn’t exist anymore on the web.

The Iraq Crossroads

December 8, 2006

A lot has been happening lately. A few weeks ago Gen. Abizaid gave his testimony to the Senate. Robert Gates was confirmed in record time to be the next defense secretary. And the Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by James Baker (Secretary of State in Bush Sr.’s administration), and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, presented their report to the President and congress.

I expected the ISG report to provide some ideas for a change in strategy to deal with the insurgency, fostered by Iran and Al Qaeda, and help promote the goal of a stable government in Iraq that is reasonably self-sustaining, that will not be a haven for terrorists, and will be an ally against our enemies. What I’ve heard is disconcerting. It looks like something the State Department would propose–an entirely diplomatic solution. It is marketed as promoting success in Iraq, but I think we need to be careful what “success” means. The point that Baker and Hamilton drove forward, which caught my attention, was that the U.S. is very divided right now, and that it needs to be united to fight this war. I agree the country is very divided, but what is the true objective here? To be united? To win the conflict in Iraq, meaning that we achieve our objectives? I’m not sure. The sense I get from some on the panel is the primary goal is to take realpolitik actions to hopefully end the conflict in Iraq, and thereby end the political conflict at home, with “ending the conflict at home” being the true objective. It’s a polite way of saying, “It was a mistake to go into Iraq. Let’s extricate ourselves while saving some face.” Is this what you consider to be “success”, the term the ISG report uses? Is this a “camel’s nose” into the tent of abandoning Bush’s “drain the swamps” strategy?

Conservatives and even some moderate Democrats have expressed varying levels of discomfort with this report. They are dubious of the idea of doing a deal with Syria and Iran, especially Iran, because it complicates efforts to stop them from developing nuclear weapons. I heard from a military analyst yesterday who ridiculed the recommendation that most U.S. forces get out, with only some trainers left behind, embedded with Iraqi units, plus some special forces for backup. That strategy reminds me too much of Somalia.

A few pundits and/or political commentators I’ve heard from have characterized this as thinking coming from the September 10th world, before 9/11 happened. My gut feeling agrees with that assessment, and for that reason I am very skeptical of the report’s recommendations.

Some Democrats and a few Republicans on Capitol Hill seem to love it. I’m sure they’re saying to themselves, “Finally someone else is saying what we’ve been saying for years! Listen to the growing chorus, Mr. President! We need to get out.”

Having said this, I think some of the recommendations are worth pursuing, like economic development in the stable parts of Iraq. One of the reasons we used to see insurgent attacks in Iraq is it was one way for people to make money. Just like in Afghanistan, investment needs to go into things that will involve people in constructive activities for their own country.

Defense officials, who testified the same day as Gen. Abizaid to the Senate, said that currently there is no court of competent jurisdiction to process insurgents who are captured. This is the reason that whenever insurgents are captured, they are released. In my opinion this is a matter of the utmost urgency. The government cannot be seen as effective if it cannot prosecute, imprison or execute insurgents. This is a no-brainer. Just getting this set up would go a long way towards solving the problem.

What I find frustrating about the discussion that goes on these days about “how to get out” is people act like Iraq is like Vietnam during the Cold War: we can turn the country over to whoever is the most powerful, and they will stay in their box. The Iraqi people have blown it, and it’s not our responsibility anymore. The problem is it’s not that simple. The U.S. was successfully able to pursue a policy of containment and deterance against Communism, even though we had some losses. Neither of these strategies work against Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq right now. Even the ISG admits as much. Leaving Iraq to regional forces is not a solution, in my opinion. That’s just a return to the status quo ante, without Saddam, but perhaps with someone worse.

The goals at this point should be to stabilize Iraq and stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, not “get out now”. Quit playing defense! There is absolutely no reason we should be on the defensive. None. If we adopt a defensive posture then the Islamists are right. We have the most powerful military in the world, but we don’t have the will to use it for its intended purpose.

The ISG report dreams of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by “flipping Syria”, as if Syria ever had an interest in ending the conflict with Israel. Could Syria be induced to promote the end of conflict with Israel? Maybe, but something about this feels too good to be true. In my opinion Syria’s leader has not shown himself to be trustworthy. We have to ask ourselves, is Assad like Egypt’s Saddat (who was assassinated for making peace with Israel, by the way), or is he like North Korea’s Kim Jong Il? The reason I make the comparison is the U.S. had made deals with Kim Jong Il in an effort to induce his government to stop doing things that were against our interests, like pursuing nuclear weapons, which they now have. Did diplomacy work in that case? No. What people should remember is it takes two to tango. It takes both sides of a conflict being reasonable people, who while having grievances with each other, and dealing with their own problems, are mature enough to come to compromise, and respect each other. If only one party has these qualities, no deal is going to succeed, even if the more mature party believes that an agreement has been reached.

What I mean to say is the goal should be a solution that eliminates the Islamist threat. Anything less is, while well intentioned, a capitulation to those in the Middle East who promote extremism.