Osama bin Laden is dead!

May 2, 2011

I got word rather late last night that Osama bin Laden was killed in an early morning raid by U.S. Navy Seals on May 1. Other details I’ve heard are that the Pakistani government was not told about the raid until yesterday. The U.S. government got intelligence last August that bin Laden was in a building in Abbottobad, Pakistan, just outside of Islamabad. Abbottobad is a wealthy community mostly made up of retired Pakistani military personnel. The building was 8 times larger than any other building in the area, and it was fortified against attack. It was also set apart from the community, and was only accessible by a dirt road. It was described on the news as a “mansion,” but the ABC News article I link to gives a description that makes it sound more like a large military building.

Obama said in a speech last night that the U.S. had been gathering intelligence on this location since it first learned of it. He said last week he felt he had enough information to know for sure that bin Laden was there, and he ordered a raid on it, which took place early yesterday morning. It was successful.

Reportedly, three other people were killed in the attack. One of them is thought to be one of bin Laden’s sons. Another was a woman that bin Laden’s fighters used as a human shield. There were children housed in the building, who were unharmed in the raid. No U.S. soldiers were killed.

I heard a report just a little while ago that bin Laden was given the opportunity to surrender, but he chose to fire his weapon, and so he was killed. Bin Laden always said that if it came to this, he would refuse to be taken alive. His body was taken by the Seals, and has been identified by comparing his DNA with that of his relatives. It is now in U.S. custody.

Shortly after the news broke of bin Laden’s death spontaneous celebrations started gathering at the White House, Times Square, and Ground Zero.

This is a great moment for President Obama, and he deserves praise for finally getting the leader of Al Qaida. Of course, my thanks go to the U.S. military who actually did the work! The only other “big fish” who is still at large is Ayman Al Zawahiri, who was bin Laden’s “#2”. The fight is still not over. As President Bush said, even if he was able to get bin Laden, it would not end Al Qaida as a movement and organization. That is still the case.

Edit 5-3-11: Reportedly the body was buried at sea, according to Islamic customs. The White House has backtracked on some details of the raid. See here.


The virulence of hatred, and its uses

January 18, 2010

I just watched this excellent PBS show on anti-semitism, called “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence.” It gives a historical sweep, showing that the violent prejudice that we see against jewish people in the Middle East today came historically from European attitudes about Jews, and that though it’s easy to get distracted by the complaints that Islamic radicals spout on about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the real problem is the oppression of Islamic peoples by despotic rulers.

The sense I get from this is that some Muslims place Israel in their minds as a proxy for the oppression that they feel in their own lives, wherever they are. The show focused particular attention on a document called The Protocols of the Wise Elders of Zion, which has been shown to be a forgery based on several theatrical plays. Yet one gets the impression from this show that it carries legitimacy in much of the Islamic world. I don’t entirely blame them for being convinced by it. I read “The Protocols” once many years ago, and with the exception of the slurs that were used, it seemed convincing, mainly because it referred to behaviors on the part of certain officials in modern society that matched what I heard on the news sometimes. But then I learned a bit about the document’s history, and gave it no credence.

I am not excusing the policy decisions of Israel. I’m not trying to say that Israel is always right. However I am saying that some Muslims exaggerate the power that Israel has over their lives, and/or the magnitude of the injustices they commit. In the Middle East, governments, or radical imams that are allowed on television, focus the attentions of their people on the Israeli-Palestinian situation so that they don’t direct their anger and frustration at their own government. Israel became the scapegoat that groups of Jews used to be. It has served as a useful distraction that the leaders of many Middle Eastern countries have used to protect their power.

The show doesn’t talk about it, but this “setup” has created a fertile environment for terrorist groups. Since Middle Eastern leaders have allowed Israel (and the U.S.) to be blamed for the injustices in their world, jihadist leaders have been able to come along and convert that anger into action.

This was one reason the invasion of Iraq was important. The hope was that one of the benefits would be a thriving democracy in the midst of the Middle East, which would stand as an example, and focus people’s attention back on their own governments. The gamble was that people would say, “They have democracy, and they are doing well. We don’t have democracy, and we are not. Let’s change our situation so that we can have what they have.” It would seem that Iraq has been having that effect. We can see it in the democratic movement that sprouted in Lebanon several years ago, which last I checked did not succeed (though I hope I’m wrong about that). We can see it in the unrest in Iran today. It was a gamble, and from my analysis of history, it was one in which we grossly underestimated the odds of success. Thankfully we have managed some amount of success in Iraq, but we cannot declare victory there yet.

Haiti: A disaster and a distraction

January 17, 2010

If you’ve been watching any news you’ve seen the wall-to-wall coverage of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti, and the humanitarian disaster this has caused. I feel sympathetic to their plight. However, Pat_S over at tammybruce.com has pointed to a disaster in the making that is currently being ignored by our news organs: the fact that Iran is continuing its progress towards a nuclear weapon, and that the Obama Administration’s efforts to stop their progress is failing (continuing President Bush’s failure to do the same). This is something we should be concerned about as well. When Iran gains a nuclear weapon (and it looks like it’s a matter of when, not if) it will change the balance of power in the world, not unlike what happened when the Chinese and the Soviets gained the bomb in the 1950s. We’re looking at a new worldwide conflict arising.

I fear that people are under the mistaken impression that the Iranian leadership, the people who actually run Iran’s government, care about our nuclear deterrent capability. From listening to people who know the Middle East, I’m not so sure. They will be in a position to threaten India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, not to mention Israel. This has severe implications. Prepare for oil prices to go through the roof. But hey, it will help the Obama Admin. promote wind power and solar, so that’s okay, right? It will promote a new national wartime unity in our country not unlike what FDR enjoyed in WW II. Repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, and we can run that movie all over again. Won’t that be great?

Israel is a huge “ground zero” flashpoint in this scenario. Military analysts have long predicted that if Israel is attacked like this, it will be World War III. Like the Nazis in Germany, Iran might be punchy enough and self-destructive enough to start it with reckless abandon. They could become one giant suicide bomber, destroying themselves and taking the peoples of many other nations down with them.

We also seem to be foolish enough to believe that once they have nuclear capability that we will be out of reach of that weaponry. Au contraire! They may not get a fission bomb over here. Their missile technology can’t make the trip, and making suitcase nukes takes sophisticated engineering. It’s not sufficient to have rudimentary nuclear weapons technology to make one. However dirty bombs delivered by terrorists are not out of the question.

9/11/2001, and our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were just the first act. More is yet to come, unfortunately.

Obama makes a decision on Afghanistan

December 4, 2009

Well I’m glad this day has come. Obama announced on Wednesday that he’s sending 30,000 soldiers to back up the forces we have in Afghanistan. I learned yesterday on the O’Reilly Factor that in addition we’re sending in 20,000 Marines, making the total deployment 50,000. And from what I heard in Obama’s speech it sounds like he understands the reasons for this decision, which is gratifying. Stanley McChrystal expressed confidence that he has been given the forces he needs to do the job. So I’m happy to hear that. I’ve heard a little about McChrystal’s resume, and he sounds like someone who is capable of handling this situation. He has studied, and is experienced in counter-insurgency strategy. The only caution I’d give to Obama is to avoid the temptation to micromanage the war. Keep your eyes on the big picture, and “don’t sweat the small stuff”. If he can do that then there’s a good chance we can achieve our goals.

I am cautiously optimistic that we will succeed in Afghanistan, if only because we’ve been tying our hands behind our backs on some things. We’ve revealed our methods of interrogation. The rules of engagement have been changed so that if there are civilians in the vicinity of the enemy we will not attack, and we’re not allowed to enter a town until we have notified the town that we are coming (which will also alert the enemy of our movements). This worries me. This is the one aspect that, I hate to say, sounds like Vietnam. In that conflict the UN had to be notified of any troop movements. The communist North Vietnamese had moles in the UN who would relay this information to them, and they’d know just what we were going to do. I heard the story of one officer who decided to break the rules and make a sneak attack. He won the battle, but was dishonorably discharged for failing to make the proper notification before making his move. It’s stuff like that that’s going to lower morale, and possibly make the war unwinnable. You can’t win a war if you’re disabling yourself to the point that you give the enemy crucial advantages.

I wanted to address a couple things in the speech. The first thing that jumped out at me was Obama claimed that there had been numerous requests for additional forces in Afghanistan, which were denied. This was surprising, since I don’t recall even the media ferreting out such requests. I would think with all of the rancor of opposing forces against the Bush Administration that somebody would’ve leaked that back when it happened. I didn’t hear a peep about this. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld came out with a statement yesterday saying that he never received such a request during his years in that post (he was replaced in 2006). I believe the Obama Administration corrected the President’s statement yesterday, saying that there was one request made a year ago for additional forces, just at the end of Bush’s term, which had not yet been fulfilled.

Obama came back to the subject of closing Guantanamo Bay. I’ve written previously about my opposition to that idea. He brought up the issue of “torture” as well. I’m not going to go into another harangue about that, because I’ve already talked about why this is a false charge.

Overall I’m satisfied with Obama’s decision, and I support the fact that he’s not going to run away from this fight, at least for now. I am still skeptical about his commitment. He has a lot of opposition within his party. I understand, but I still wonder if he’s willing to stand alone on this, or at least team up with the Republicans to keep it going until the battle is won. I’ve been nothing but critical of Obama in most of my posts, but I give him praise for this. Thank you for hanging in there, Mr. President.

Cheney prods Obama to make a decision on Afghanistan

October 22, 2009

Cheney at Center for Security Policy dinner

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“The rule of law will save us”

May 21, 2009

It saves us from chaos within our own country. It will save us from jihadists who seek to kill Americans and destroy us. So say the Democrats. Lanny Davis said today that “The rule of law is the basis of our security.” Former President Bill Clinton couldn’t have said it better himself. Anyone who has had to deal with the police when seeing a crime committed will see how laughable that statement is. Police usually show up after the crime has already long since occurred. Nothing against them. Just clearing up a misconception.

The law in its best form provides social stability. Nothing more. It’s a compact among us all about restraints we agree to place on ourselves so that we do not unduly distress or hurt each other, and provides compensation, criminal or civil, for harm that one party has done to another. This is designed to promote social harmony. I can agree that this promotes general security, because we won’t be threatening and killing each other to save our own skins, but in terms of addressing threats who have no regard for social harmony to begin with, it has nothing to do with security. The law in most cases can only address them after they have hurt someone. It’s only in the lucky cases where law enforcement manages to catch a criminal before they cause harm.

But the Democrats will say we will be ever vigilante against terrorist threats, but our vigilance will be restrained by our sense of civility. “We will not compromise our sacred values.” They believe in a social scientific sort of way that by showing the world that we live by our “values” (as they define them) at home and abroad the jihadists will not be able to recruit as well as they did under Bush, because we will be less hated, and we will gain the support of countries around the world in gathering intelligence on Al Qaeda’s plans. That may work in Europe (though I’m not counting on it), but I doubt it will work in the Middle East. What, you think the jihadists don’t have a better hold on the imaginations of like-minded Muslims than we do? The truth doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what we do to make ourselves look good. It’s a political campaign. You think Democrats care how much Republicans try to make themselves look good? They’re going to try to find a way to make Republicans look bad no matter how much they try to look agreeable to Democrats, and vice versa. Get a clue! It’s all about PR, though in the Middle East we’re dealing with a very different cultural context.

What galls me is that if one were to really look at what Obama is responding to, both complaints about Guantanamo and “torture” were, like the myth of CO2 causing global warming and the “hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq”, an anti-American PR campaign mounted by certain NGOs and European governments. They never had a basis in reality, but it doesn’t matter. The point was to make us a whipping boy for their own domestic politics, and in some ways to try to influence us to conform to their values. They have succeeded, perhaps beyond their wildest dreams.

The so-called “torture” techniques are the same ones we use to train our own soldiers to resist harsh interrogation! If you believe we have tortured our detainees then you must believe we torture our own soldiers. I have heard from a few soldiers who have subjected themselves to this training–one of them was former Col. Oliver North–and they say flat out it’s not torture. What a joke! I’ve seen one of Fox News’s own correspondents be waterboarded by our military to demonstrate what it really is. He clearly looked uncomfortable, but not in danger of being killed, or in fear of his own life. Now ask yourself, would a sane person volunteer to subject themselves to torture? What if he had been offered, “How about we demonstrate on you how you pull out someone’s fingernails?” You think the reporter would’ve volunteered? Not on your life! Think about this. It’s infuriating that people are getting away with calling our enhanced interrogations “torture” like they’ve succeeded in making people think that our cars, trucks, factories, and the very things we use for energy (not to mention our own breath) cause global warming! These are our new urban legends, and what’s shameful is that our own government is promoting them. Be under no illusions. We live in an age of irrationality.

Today I heard Craig Silverman on the Caplis & Silverman show on 630 AM talk about the “torture” issue. He asked callers “Should the Denver Police Department waterboard criminal suspects?” trying to equate our wartime detainees to “criminals”. I also heard Sen. John McCain say that Abu Ghraib was a situation where we tortured people. Abu Ghraib was not torture, at least as far as I could tell from the pictures. True, the “techniques” used were inappropriate, intimidating, and humiliating, but that’s not what torture is. It was criminal behavior, because the “interrogators” (some weren’t even trained as such) were violating U.S. policy. Torture is doing things to a detainee that cause excruciating pain and bodily injuries. That was never sanctioned by our enhanced interrogation policy and I hate seeing people with a straight face and conviction promulgate this lie. They either don’t know what they’re talking about, but are convinced they do, or they are carrying out a diplomatic feint to appease certain allies. In either case I consider it short-sighted and it risks our national security.

Both Silverman (today) and McCain (in the past) have brought up the history of waterboarding. Silverman said it goes back to the Spanish Inquisition. Both Silverman and McCain have brought up how it was used by the Japanese in WW II, and that we accused the Japanese of torture because of this practice. There’s a problem with this argument. The Japanese form of waterboarding was not the same as ours. They’d pump water into the victim’s stomach until it was full, and then press down on it, causing the water to go up the esophagus (throat) and down the trachea (windpipe), and was potentially deadly.

From what I could see of the Fox News demonstration, water is poured into the victim’s mouth until he reacts, raising his torso and arms, and shaking his head. At this point the water flow into his mouth is stopped, and he is allowed to clear the water from his mouth and throat. It’s a repetitious process designed to induce stress, but not to cause bodily harm. As was stated in the official documents which revealed our full catalog of formerly sanctioned techniques a medical doctor was always just a few yards away in case something did go wrong and the detainee’s life was in danger.

Liberals always pipe up that we violated the Geneva Convention. No we didn’t. The Convention is a pact between governments about rules of war. The reason we made the agreement was to make war a little more civilized. The people we captured did not fit the qualifications for Geneva Convention protection. This whole…(sigh) Overseas Contingency Operation (barf!) is uncharted territory. Even so, we have shown restraint.

People, we need to get real. War is a rough business. It disgusts me that there are still a lot of people who haven’t figured this out yet. We have shown restraint in this war. Our enemies have not. The idea that we’ve violated international law is a lie as far as I can see. I’m open to reasonable argument, but I have little patience for political games being played with our national security.

To the UK, I apologize

March 8, 2009

I feel I must apologize for our president. I’ve been hearing press coverage of PM Brown’s visit to the U.S. and it’s discouraging. I finally heard about the visit through the UK Telegraph, and now I’m embarrassed. Granted, from all accounts the “meat” of the reason for Brown’s visit was accomplished, but diplomacy is communication by various means including the use of words, decorum, and going through rituals of tradition, which indicate the state of our relationship with another nation. One of Barack Obama’s promises was to rebuild foreign relationships which had been “so badly damaged” by the Bush Administration. He’s getting off to a bad start (h/t to ArmyWife).

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.

A British official conceded that the furore surrounding the apparent snub to Mr Brown had come as a shock to the White House. “I think it’s right to say that their focus is elsewhere, on domestic affairs. A number of our US interlocutors said they couldn’t quite understand the British concerns and didn’t get what that was all about.”

Mr Brown handed over carefully selected gifts, including a pen holder made from the wood of a warship that helped stamp out the slave trade – a sister ship of the vessel from which timbers were taken to build Mr Obama’s Oval Office desk. Mr Obama’s gift in return, a collection of Hollywood film DVDs that could have been bought from any high street store, looked like the kind of thing the White House might hand out to the visiting head of a minor African state.

How is this a way to treat our closest ally? Obama was much more deferential to the nations of the Middle East than this. I don’t recall the U.S. being this ham-handed with any foreign dignitary during the Clinton presidency, or that of George W. Bush.

Mr Obama rang Mr Brown as he flew home, in what many suspected was an attempt to make amends.

I was aghast at the following:

The real views of many in Obama administration (sic) were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.

After all we’ve been through!!…Again, I must apologize. The UK has stuck with us arm in arm, more than many other nations have, in the War on Terror (as we call it here), and this is the kind of regard we have for them. Shameful. Well at least Obama had kind words to say about Canada, which has helped us out in Afghanistan. Of all the nations I can think of who have been our friends, I feel as though the UK has done the most heavy lifting for us. We should express our gratitude at every opportunity.

Why the slights? It’s being explained here that PM Brown is not popular in the UK. His power is declining, and Obama is not interested in weak leaders. I even heard it’s likely the conservatives will take over Parliament soon. This may be true, but I’ve never heard that excuse before with regard to state visits. When PM Blair was at his lowest popularity the White House still held joint press conferences with him, and the president still talked about our “special relationship” with the UK. When PM John Major’s popularity was only so-so, the White House showed him no less deference, as I recall. I think this reveals a certain arrogance on Obama’s part. What’s striking to me is how liberals are apparently blowing off these slights like it’s no big deal.

Actually, this is not the first time Democrats have put domestic concerns over diplomacy. I can remember not too long ago when they wanted to pass a formal resolution in congress condemning Turkey for the Armenian genocide. What they apparently weren’t aware of was that Turkey was helping us out in critical ways with the operation of the war in Iraq. Maybe they didn’t care. Once the Iraq war turned into a “fiasco” Democrats wanted nothing to do with it. As a result the Democrats were tone deaf on this issue. This is a sore point with Turkey, and at the time it was unwise to anger them.

Over the past few years Democrats have trumpeted how incompetent the Bush Administration was at diplomacy and foreign policy, as if they knew better. Incompetent compared to this?? You must be joking! Obama chided Americans during his campaign for our lack of knowledge about the world, and that the only foreign words we knew were the French “merci beaucoup”. PM Brown offered Obama a gift that had cultural and historical significance, showing that he and his crew had thought a lot about it. Obama offered Brown a set of DVDs. How quaint. I would be embarrassed and profusely apologetic if I were him.

I can’t help but think this latest incident has to do with our nation’s current view of the Iraq war, that it was a colossal foreign policy blunder. For those who have been paying attention it’s known that the UK didn’t just follow our lead into Iraq. PM Blair believed as we did that Saddam Hussein needed to be toppled. Now that we “know better” perhaps there are many in the powers that be who believe our relationship with the UK had something to do with this “colossal blunder”. After all, Bush uttered his famous words about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger, based on British intelligence. The threat of Iraq building nuclear weapons was the primary reason that most Americans think we invaded. I get a sense that there’s a desire to wash our hands of the whole affair, and everyone who was involved in it. It’s similar to the way in which people don’t want to relive the horror of 9/11. I can remember when the movie United 93 came out a few years ago people said they thought it was “too soon” to tell the story. The truth was a lot of us wanted to put 9/11 behind us, in a dark corner where we could ignore it. This sort of denial is never healthy.

Well at least for this American the UK holds special stature. I hope that in the future we will be able to make it up to you.

Edit 3/8/2009: Well this explains a lot. Morris Reid, former Clinton advisor, says “The special relationship (with the UK) is over and dead. It’s a different day.” Gee, I hadn’t gotten the memo.

I’ve been reading some more articles about Brown’s visit and it seems everyone thinks the DVDs were an odd “quickie” or “cheap” gift. A few sharp people made the point, “Better hope the DVDs were Region 2 encoded (European), not Region 1 (American) or else they won’t play.” D’oh!