Sometimes I wonder how many times I can restate essentially the same points about Iraq. I’ve been doing it for over four years now. I suppose I should derive some satisfaction from the fact that the majority of Americans are now against the war. Unfortunately, that’s like the majority of Americans being against the Big Bang—which they are. It’s way, way too late. All we can do now is try for a strategic withdrawal and hope the last helicopter out of Baghdad gets out safely.
Since I’ve started this Vietnam analogy, let’s keep going, shall we? And all the while, we must ask: does Bush really see the “War on Terror” as the new Cold War?
The Reverse Domino Effect
The second law of thermodynamics tell us that chaos spreads more easily than order. During the Cold War, we were afraid that relatively disordered states would reorganize under Communism because of influence by their neighbors, the so-called Domino theory.
We all know, however, that disorder and destabilization, or in other words, societal breakdowns, are easier to export than political reorganizations, or construction. Consider the problem of refugee camps—millions of people living in poverty, much of it somewhat abruptly imposed. Refugee camps are natural hotbeds of foment, be it criminal, political, or both.
Damascus now has an Iraqi quarter, and Iraqi refugees have also started taking up residence in the Palestinian refugee camps. Why is this important? Because in May, a harbinger event occurred in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli. A new terrorist group calling itself Fatah-al-Islam (variously spelled ‘Fateh-el-Islam”) or “Army of Islam,” got into a major firefight with Lebanese military forces, after police tried to apprehend a gang of bank robbers who turned out to be ‘terrorists’ retreated to the Palestinian refugee camps, where Lebanese armed forces are prohibited from entering.
Now, what’s significant about Fatah-al-Islam isn’t that they’ve turned to bank robbing; terrorist groups have been financing their activities by robbing banks for a very long time. What’s significant is that Fatah-al-Islam is robbing Lebanese banks in 2007. I predict that this is the beginning of a bold new age of free-for-all terrorism reminiscent of the 1970s, when you had what Wallerstein would call “anti-systemic” gangs—Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigades, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization. The days when someone like Carlos the Jackal might have had contacts with Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna and the Front de Libération du Québec and the Irish Republican Army. Back when people thought terrorism was sexy. (By the way, is anyone else upset those Matt Damon adaptations of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series have nothing to do with Carlos or Vietnam?)
If you haven’t seen the amazing documentary The Weather Underground, you never got to hear actual former members explain why white middle-class kids turned to terrorism in the 1960s (the same way middle-class Arabs turned to terrorism in the last few years). Brian Flanagan, former Weatherman, said something like (I’m quoting from memory) “The only way I can explain it is that the Vietnam war made us crazy… When you feel you have right on your side, you can do some horrific things.”
What Bush II has done, as I have been warning since the invasion of Afghanistan, is to reboot the cycle of displacement, violence and frustration which transformed the Mekhtab-e-Khidamat (a support organization for mujahideen from around the world who wanted to fight in Afghanistan) into Al-Qaeda.
I’ve written before about the tragic stupidity of the ‘flypaper’ theory, where war-mongers informed us that the war in Iraq was actually making America safer by drawing the world’s jihadists to Iraq instead of the United States. I countered that we were running the world’s largest, most advanced terrorist training camp, the way the Soviets had ‘trained’ the ‘Afghan Arabs’ like Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri who would eventually become the first generation of global jihadists.
Al-Qaeda started with the private contributions of middle- and upper-class Muslims, buttressed by what was essentially protection money from the Saudi royal family. But as all terrorist groups did, they migrated to more conventional crime (drug smuggling, kidnapping, and financial fraud).
But bank robbery just isn’t Al-Qaeda’s modus operandi; outright armed theft is a bit harder to reconcile with sharia than declaring it OK to sell intoxicants (like heroin) exclusively to infidels, which is how they managed the opium problem in Afghanistan. Bin Laden may be a lot of things, but he used to carry himself a bit differently.
The ranks of terrorist organizations are more likely full of ordinary street criminals than ideologues. At this point, though, there’s a more serious problem: Gangs of criminals are being given ideological ‘cover’ by the rising sentiment of ‘al-Qaedaism,’ or at least that incredible decrease in America’s standing across the globe.
And how lucky for these glorified thugs that the Bush administration is now tarring all opposition to our armed forces as ‘al-Qaeda,’ because now a whole new class of criminals have been given a political agenda, at least in public. Now there is a whole new generation of ‘Afghan Arabs,’ young men who feel like now is the time to take up arms in defense of Islam and/or to do some killing, looting, raping, what-have-you.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the U.S. occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are ‘force multipliers’ for terrorists in a literal, rather than figurative sense. The flypaper theory turned out to have caught more flies with vinegar than with honey—and they’re breeding.
So, who is behind this new wave of terrorism? Let’s look at the history of Fatah al-Islam. From a profile in a Turkish paper:
Fatah al-Islam announced its creation last November after breaking away from Fatah Al-Intifada, a splinter group of the mainstream Fatah movement. In its foundation statement, it introduced itself as an Islamic group seeking to liberate Palestine and restore Muslim sanctities captured by Israel. …Experts believe the group is ideologically but not operationally linked to Al-Qaeda and is played by Lebanese and Arab parties to achieve political gains.
Its leader Shaker Abssi, a Palestinian born in Areha in 1955, is a former colonel pilot.
Syrian authorities arrested Abssi in 2000 and sentenced him to three years in prison on charges of smuggling weapons, ammunition to Jordan and vice versa. No sooner had he been released than he went to Iraq following the US-led invasion. In Iraq, Abssi fought along with groups loyal to Al-Qaeda and made friends with a number of Al-Qaeda leaders there.
…Abssi went to Lebanon in 2005 with a group of youths he met in Iraq and stayed there around a year before getting into trouble with the Lebanese army in May 2006.
There is speculation that various governments (Lebanon, syria, Iran, Israel, the United States) are supporting or otherwise manipulating Fatah al-Islam because it represents a counter-balance to the now more mainstream groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. (Hamas itself was started with support from Golda Meir’s Israeli government who thought that its radical Islamism would be a good counterbalance to the secular PLO.)
Hamastan and Fatahstan
Divide and conquer—it’s the foundation of many a colonial empire. It isn’t even 20th-century thinking, it’s more like 19th-century thinking. The British were masters of this craft; consider Iraq, which is a fairly good (if late) example. By using the minority Sunnis the brokers between the two larger ethnic groups (Kurdish and Shiite) and forcing Iraq to accept the Hashemite (a Sunni) as its new King, they were able to ‘balance out’ factional movements.
I’ve been writing here that Americans really need to wise up about he fact that we’ve been trying to provoke a Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait, and that we really have to stop acting so surprised that it finally happened.
Well, not only have we achieved our goal, but our cup runneth over; the huge Iraqi refugee population and our strengthening of Iran have paid off in spades, recently in a set of violent incidents around the Middle East.
Now we have Hamastan and Fatahstan, Hamas taking over the Gaza strip and the successor to the PLO, Fatah, taking the West Bank. The civil wars we have been trying to provoke for decades are just getting started. Sunni vs. Shia, Religious vs. Secular, Old Guard vs. Young Turks.
Now, even for those who are s cynical as to belive that the inevitable deaths of civilians in the crossfire is a good thing, why don’t we rework the equation in our favor by depriving these groups of a common enemy to unite against? when Israel bombed Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, they got even the Sunni and Christian Arabs, their traditional enemies, to start chanting ‘we are all Hezbollah” in the streets all over the world.
Again, what America needs is strategic withdrawal. we are way , way overcommitted here, and our obnoxious presence is just about the only bargaining chip we have left. (Elephant once said we’re just going to end up trading Israel for Taiwan as part of a global retreat over the next century.)
The Dark Side of the Net
I was looking through my stats today, and I noticed that someone had come here from the United Kingdom looking for the phrase “fuck the soldiers.” Now, I knew I’d never written those words in that sequence, so I was curious enough to do the same search myself. It turned out I had written “fuck with the soldiers” at some point, which got me in the top ten results.
The other results had to do mostly with the petition by MySpace users to have the group “Fuck the soldiers” removed from the social networking site.
But there was one item which caught my eye, entitled “SOLDIER IN IRAQ FINDS POT PLANT, GRACES COVER OF HIGH TIMES’ GROW AMERICA.
JUNE 2, 2004 – Specialist Carlos Arellano was on patrol in Baghdad’s Green Zone on April 23 when he discovered a pot plant growing innocently on the street. He asked one of his fellow soldiers to snap a photo of him kneeling next to the plant. The photo was forwarded to High Times’ Grow America by a friend of Arellano’s via email. … Bloom quickly learned that Arellano was not only a soldier, but he was also a rapper named “Singe,” who’s first CD, The Epidemic, was released on StashBox Records several months before Arellano, in the Army Reserves, was called up to active duty and sent to Iraq. “Coded in the photo was a message that we couldn’t ignore,” Bloom says. “While Carlos is a hero defending his country in Iraq, when he comes home and smokes a joint, he’ll be a criminal.”
Whenever I see a story about a soldier that’s more than a month old, I immediately check to see if that soldier had been killed in action.
Robert Arellano said Wednesday his brother Carlos may have known he wouldn’t return home from Iraq. Carlos Arellano, a Marine corporal, had survived two previous tours of duty in Iraq, although he was wounded on the second. But Carlos seemed different before he left his family’s Rosemead home for his third tour, his brother said. “I think Carlos knew he was going to die this time,” said Robert Arellano, 27, a Marine of nine years.
Cpl. Carlos Arellano died Friday when a suicide bomber in a car set off a blast in Haqlaniyah, Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Also killed in the blast was Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey, 20, of San Joaquin.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people dying on both sides are my generation, and that people in the military aren’t politically or ideologically or culturally homogeneous. If you get a chance to see Soundtrack To War, the 2005 documentary about the music soldiers listen to in Iraq, you should. they run it on VH1 every once in a while.
Anyway, while I was searching for Carlos Arellano, I found his MySpace page. Someday, it will be in a museum, and I don’t mean that facetiously at all. It’s a perfectly preserved artifact, a life frozen in time.
A $282 million bank heist in Baghdad carried out by the bank’s guards:
Guards staged one of the largest bank robberies in Iraqi history, making off with a stunning $282 million dollars in cash from a private bank in central Baghdad, Aswat al-Iraq reports in Arabic. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Interior Ministry source told Aswat al-Iraq that, “Three guards working for the Dar al-Salam Bank located on Sa’adoun Street in central Baghdad were able to attack the bank . . . stealing a sum of up to $282 million dollars, and fled in an unknown direction after implementing the operation.”
…The New York Times confirms that the stolen money was denomiated in US dollars, not Iraqi dinars.
…and speculated that the perpetrators of the robbery may have been linked to militias, citing the ease of the getaway in a city thick with checkpoints.
While the sum of $282 million is massive, especially by Iraqi standards, it would fund less than one day of US expenses for operations in Iraq.
And it looks like the fighting between the Lebanese military and Fatah al-Islam has just started up again:
Four Lebanese soldiers have been killed after the army resumed heavy shelling of a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli where fighters from the Fatah al-Islam group have been holed up for weeks. The bombardment on Thursday came a day after more than 150 people left the Nahr al-Bared camp amid fears that the army was preparing an assault.
“Today’s bombardment is a first step in the final battle against the terrorist group whose fighters have refused to surrender to the army,” an army officer told the AFP news agency.
But a military statement denied that the bombardment was part of a final assault on the camp.
Yesterday as I was watching Fox News, I heard a small but sharp explosion and the clatter of plastic shrapnel. The batteries in my VCR remote, which I last remember replacing sometime in college, decided that they’d had enough. A cursory examination of the debris showed the batteries were supposed to expire in 2012, with the Mayan calendar. But no, these AA’s wanted to suicide-bomb their way into battery heaven, where presumably they are recharged by seventy virgin AAA’s every night.
It brought home the point that terrorists (if we choose to define them as such) are everywhere, and they’re not just Arabs, to the chagrin of racists everywhere. Part of the problem here is that we’re supposedly waging, in the words of Terry Jones, “a war on an abstract noun,” i.e., “terror.” Well, if that’s what we’re doing, it can’t just be a war on one particular group of loosely-knit terrorists, but on terrorism and intimidation-by-violence everywhere, no?
Let us turn, briefly, to that racist for all seasons, Debbie Schlussel:
An unnamed 23-year-old man from Canton, Michigan—a Detroit suburb near Dearbornistan with a large Muslim population composed primarily of Pakis, er . . . Pakistanis—should be among this year’s candidates for the Darwin awards. He and his friends created homemade bombs using gunpowder and tennis and ping-pong balls. The unnamed man almost lost one of his hands from an explosion from one of the bombs, Sunday. He and his friends were throwing the bombs onto the road from the side of a truck.
More from the Canton Eagle:
A night of hurling improvised cherry bombs from a pickup truck ended poorly for one Canton resident on Sunday night. According to Canton Police, a 23-year-old man sought treatment at Oakwood Healthcare Center on Canton Center Road after a Ping-Pong ball filled with a chemical compound exploded in his hand.
Sgt. Rick Pomorski said the man and two friends learned how to make the devices, which were also made using tennis balls, on the Internet.
“Playing with explosives is a very risky behavior,” he said. “It only takes one mistake and you could lose life or limb.”
The injury to the man’s right hand was extensive, said Pomorski, who has encountered this type of incident before.
… Since Muslim terrorists are generally more clandestine—and occasionally more clever—than that, looking for the best way to hurt the most infidels and not get caught, the man and his buddies might not be Muslims. But who knows? We know how the media generally tries to shield the “Religion of Peace,” from any and all crimes—like the Trolley Square terrorist in Utah, the UNC jeep jihadist in Raleigh, NC, the Seattle Jewish Community Center terrorist, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.
Maybe calling Debbie a racist is a little extreme. Is it really “racist” to hear about a crime in the news and immediately assume that it was committed by a particular minority? Oh… right, it is. Anyway, I submit to Ms. Schlussel: are you prepared to accept that this incident is significant no matter which way the matter of the perp’s ethnicity turns out? Because if he turns out to be a redneck Baptist, I’m going to officially stop calling Christianity the Religion of Peace. Same deal if he’s a Jain or Buddhist. Clearly, Debbie is betting that her powers of prognostication will bear out and this guy will be Muslim, but what has she bet against, exactly?
I’m prepared to accept that this incident is significant in the war on terror, by the way, no matter if he’s from Lahore or Laramie. This person clearly has problems, no matter his background. Being effective in any sort of war on terror, if we’re to take this phrase seriously, means preventing terrorist or pseudo-terrorist attacks on civilians regardless of the political affiliation of the assailants.
It’s strange to think that only a decade ago, it was the Democrats who had the Republicans over a barrel on this issue. After the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton cracked down on domestic terrorism from right-wing militias and many GOP members were raising concerns about civil liberties and profiling and so forth. You couldn’t buy fertilizer in sufficient quantities for a family farm without getting a visit from the FBI in those days.
If we’re REALLY going to start profiling, we could talk about the history of domestic terrorism, which is not great for white people, from the Ku Klux Klan, the militias, Operation Rescue and the anti-abortion killers, organized crime and so forth.
And then there’s the elephant in the room, the spree killing. Traditionally, terrorism is defined as having a political component, to distinguish it from aimless psychopathy. But that isn’t really a practical distinction when it comes to securing a campus or a workplace—no matter what their manifestos say, the goals of a random psychopath and a politically motivated psychopath are practically the same.
I’ve been wanting to write about the Virginia Tech shootings for a while. I wanted to wait for an appropriate amount of time Many people have pointed out that Iraq, for example, experiences the equivalent of a VT shooting every day.
That’s why I want to talk about VT’s associate vice president for university relations, Larry Hincker. Did anyone else catch the press conference he gave a few days after the shootings? His remarks were basically to the effect of, “get off my lands, you media vultures!” It was a terrible, yet beautiful moment.
I just spell-checked Hincker’s name on Google and it brought me to a blog post at Uncommon Sense and, coincidentally, my next point. This is some of what Uncommon Sense has to say about Hincker:
Well, it seems like the moron himself feels qualified to write on these matters. The only real difference between his screed and the thousands of imbecilic screeds like it is that he bet against the odds of being proved stupid, and lost. Guns don’t belong in classrooms. They never will. Virginia Tech has a very sound policy preventing same. Well, mutherfucker, your “sound policy” and $3.50 will get you a latte at Starbucks, you brainless and dangerous shithead.
I suppose if you take the pro-firearm argument to a logical extreme, restricting the Second Amendment rights of the mentally ill is unconstitutional and unconscionable. After all, the more paranoid you are, the greater your self-defense needs, right?
Gun advocates say we’d be safer if everyone was armed. Fair enough—why don’t we test that assertion before we go off half cocked there, buddy? It’s a fairly simple social experiment, which I will offer to any sociology student as long as I get credited for the idea.
All you need to do is set up a classroom or workplace-themed first-person shooter game. Then invite college students (or high school kids, if you’re a real gun nut) to play for a few hours, arming them with as many virtual weapons as they can carry. The students will be told there may be a spree killer and/or suicide bomber on the loose somewhere on campus. Not every character will be controlled by a player or be armed.
In test A, there will be one player at random will be assigned to play the serial killer. In test B, one student will play a suicide bomber. Test C will function as the control scenario, where no player will be assigned a malicious role.
So, how many people will ultimately end up getting shot? This blogger already wants to launch another Wilmington Insurrection because a “bill that would have given college students and employees the right to carry handguns on campus” didn’t pass the Virginia legislature over the objections of police officers and school officials:
I can think of about 64 parents, 108 grandparents, and who knows how many siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles that ought to be righteously securing many pounds of flesh among the pond scum, douche bags, and ass wipes peopling the Virginia “House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.”
Yeah, nice job of helping your fellow gun owners prove you’re uniformly well-adjusted.* How long before someone gets bored or annoyed or misfires their weapon (in real life)?
Unlike Schlussel and her ilk, I’m prepared to accept any outcome, even though I hypothesize a bad one. As I’ve said previously, you’re not going to get rid of guns in America. But you can at least educate people about them. Because if you’re going to argue that arming everyone is more effective than metal detectors, you’ve got to prove it to me.
the solution to the war in Iraq may be political, but it’s on the home front that conservatives are more right than they think. When it comes to domestic terrorism, there will always be some people who ‘hate America’ no matter what we do, in the sense that there are always some maladjusted citizens who want to go out and kill a bunch of Americans and terrorize the populace.
What’s effective against terrorists is an evolving defensive strategy, not the prosecution of illegal wars abroad. There was all this talk about there being a danger Al-Qaeda would get ideas from the VT shooter. How about the reverse? How about the home-grown terrorist groups of the future (or even the present)?
*Hey, does this qualify as a legitimate threat assuming this guy is actually armed? I don’t really think so, but it’s something we’re supposedly all going to have to consider in this post Virginia Tech atmosphere, isn’t it? Only joking!
Just wanted to thank everyone who’s been coming to this humble little blog lately. My traffic has doubled, due in no small part to my fellow Koufax nominees linking to my recent post about the whole British-to-Emirate ports deal. Then there are all the people looking up either David Sanborn or Muhammad Sharaf, sometimes in conjunction with Bin Laden, or Michael Moore. Search terms tell you a lot about how people think.
Oh The E-Rye-E Was A Rising, And The Gin Was A Getting Low
Speaking of which, I got into a bit of an argument (by accident, I swear!) with the estimable BattlePanda, who had posted on Ezra Klein’s blog, and I quote,
[I]f we let a British company run those ports for all these years, there is simply no reason not to let a UAE company run it now.
And that’s really what I’ve been trying to say. Also, for the record, there is definitely a segment of the outcry that is racist, and almost all of it is overblown. But as long-time readers here know, I put the ‘b’ back in subtle arguments.
In case you were wondering, I don’t see this as being a major issue either way when it comes right down to it. My objection is the same as John Nichols’ at the Nation: P & O is a corporation, and that’s really the issue. The reason only 5% of our cargo gets inspected is because more thorough inspection hurts the bottom line. And the reason I advocated nationalizing the port operations is because I’m a crazed pinko socialist baby-eating atheist.* It’s pretty simple, really.
Good points are being made on all sides here. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of legally required due diligence on the part of the government in approving the deal, which may or may not have anything to do with the appointment of David Sanborn as Maritime Administrator and John Snow being the head of CSX when they sold their port operations to DP World. Nixing the deal will prove to the Arab world that both parties are pandering to Arabophobes, and that no matter how nice Muslims play, they’re unlikely to get a fair shake in this country. Bush is not to be trusted. Neither are multinational corporations. Dubai is a vital port for our Navy, and for the passing of illicit nuclear and contraband materiel.
To tell you the truth, I’m tired of this story, even though it’s a windfall for Democrats and highly amusing to watch the GOP scramble to chastize Bush about it. As BattlePanda said, pass the popcorn.
Crunchy Red Staters
You know what I like to do when I’m bored or intoxicated? That’s right–watch the 700 Club. Pat Robertson may be a lunatic bordering on self-parody, but he sure is entertaining to watch. Yesterday, CBN featured a piece about “Crunchy Cons,” which are conservatives (usually religious home-schooler types) who are into organic food and environmentalism. At the end of the segment, Pat asks his co=host if she’s ever tasted organic chicken, and then goes on to talk about how it has flavors–flavors you couldn’t even imagine! Wonderful flavors! And the acid ain’t bad, either.
This kind of dovetails with an article I read in the Nation the other day about the Green Party in Germany. Even though they’re out of government, their programs and influence live on under the current centrist coalition. In particular,
Embracing a green jobs program the Greens had long championed, [CDU Chancellor] Merkel decreed that from now on 5 percent of all pre-1978 German housing would be made energy efficient every year. Toward that end, the government will spend 1.5 billion euros a year subsidizing the installation of more efficient insulation, heating and electricity systems in houses and apartment buildings across the nation. That is a major outlay of money, especially considering widespread calls to trim Germany’s budget deficit, but the program is seen as a win-win-win. The 1.5 billion euros will be recouped through lower energy bills. Lower energy use will mean less air pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And, most important of all for a nation fighting double-digit rates of unemployment, the efficiency upgrades will create thousands of jobs that cannot be outsourced overseas.
And everybody’s been talking about evangelicals getting in on environmentalism, too (I guess they figured out there should be some kind of Plan B in case Jesus doesn’t show up next week).
In a world where the kulturkampf is overheating, it’s always nice to see issues moving out of the controversial zone of ‘progressive politics’ into the mainstream. Particularly environmentalism, becuase if everybody doesn’t get hip to it soon, we’ll all be doomed (whoops! too late. But at least some of us are trying). And as I’ve said here in the past, all that needs to happen is show that the choice between evironmentalism and employment is a false dichotomy.
Let’s get back to Crunchy Cons for a second. This is the kind of movement I appreciate, because it really embodies a live-and-let-live spirit. Even if they embrace other values I find highly disturbing, conservatives going back to the land aren’t hurting anybody; they’re living lives of private virtue and contributing to the community while they do it. And while I’m not a big organic food consumer, I would gladly sit down at a farm table for a calm, rational discussion with people like that.
Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about here is not organic food. It’s NASCAR.
Imagine the impact it would have on America if just one of the “stock cars” running endlessly around the track were running on clean fuel? By the way, I am not talking about Ethanol until the Green Revolution is over and a gallon of corn-based alcohol doesn’t take more than a gallon of gas to produce. It wouldn’t even need a top-five finish, just be able to keep up with the rest of the pack. Trust me, it would sell a million clean vehicles in a week. I’m writing letters to some auto companies, who’s with me?
Gentlemen, Start Your War Engines!
While America was shitting themselves over port operations, Iraq proved once and for all that they are, in fact, in the midst of a civil war.
Sunnis destroy dome of an historic Shiite mosque, and 60 other Shiite mosques were attacked across Iraq.
Also, Sunnis are boycotting the Shiite-dominated government.
Don’t worry–just keep saying “we are bringing democracy and peace to the Middle East by invading Iraq,” and it’ll magically become true. Because our presence brings stability; and if things don’t stabilize, we’ll shoot you.
*You all thought I was kidding, didn’t you. Don’t worry, I only eat organic, free-range babies.
If you didn’t think the White House was bereft of shame or even a sense of irony before, all you need to do is witness the latest salvo in its attempts to whitewash its failures. Today, in the midst of the investigations of Bush’s illegal NSA spying program (Bush supporters might prefer “extralegal” or “supralegal”) and the revelations that Libby was authorized to leak by his “White House superiors,” the President goes on television and details the thwarting of a four-year old terrorist plot against a skyscraper he can’t properly identify.
As soon as I heard the “10 terrorist plot” meme in White House communiques, I knew that they were going to save details of each undisclosed one for tough PR situations like the one they find themselves in today. But if you look closely at the speech the president gave, you’ll notice something:
Since September the 11th, the United States and our coalition partners have disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda terrorist plots — including plots to attack targets inside the United States. Let me give you an example. In the weeks after September the 11th, while Americans were still recovering from an unprecedented strike on our homeland, al Qaeda was already busy planning its next attack. We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad — the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks — had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty [sic] Tower in Los Angeles, California.* Rather than use Arab hijackers as he had on September the 11th, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad sought out young men from Southeast Asia — whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion. To help carry out this plan, he tapped a terrorist named Hambali, one of the leaders of an al Qaeda affiliated group in Southeast Asia called “J-I.” JI terrorists were responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Southeast Asia, and members of the group had trained with al Qaeda. Hambali recruited several key operatives who had been training in Afghanistan. Once the operatives were recruited, they met with Osama bin Laden, and then began preparations for the West Coast attack.
Their plot was derailed in early 2002 when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al Qaeda operative. Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target, and how al Qaeda hoped to execute it. This critical intelligence helped other allies capture the ringleaders and other known operatives who had been recruited for this plot. The West Coast plot had been thwarted. Our efforts did not end there. In the summer of 2003, our partners in Southeast Asia conducted another successful manhunt that led to the capture of the terrorist Hambali.
Whom does the President credit with stopping the plot? Surprisingly, it isn’t the U.S. incursion in Iraq, but police in unnamed Southeast Asian countries. Why, if you look at the White House’s list of the Ten Plots, you’ll see that 70% of the time, it’s the “U.S. and allies” who stop terrorists; it seems awfully disingenuous to claim credit for something other countries did. And yet, to quote the White House just four months ago:
The West Coast Airliner Plot: In mid-2002 the U.S. disrupted a plot to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes. The plotters included at least one major operational planner involved in planning the events of 9/11.
There’s something else about the top ten list; the other two examples the U.S. claims sole credit for disrupting are the Jose Padilla and Iyman Faris plots, each of dubious viability.
Iyman Faris’ terrorist activities, for example, involved calling off a plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches after realizing it was unfeasible, and then working for the FBI as a double agent (not that this saved him any jail time). Faris had already thwarted the Bridge plan by himself before the FBI caught him, but in PR terms, the only thing that matters is that we caught us a terrist!
As for Jose Padilla, there is considerable dispute about his case, which I won’t really delve into here, but suffice it to say that the government held him for three years without charges, then charged him with none of the crimes they arrested him for in the first place.
So, by its own admission, the United States is nowhere near as effective in apprehending terrorists as “partner nations” with whom it claims multilateral cooperation. But what’s even more striking about the Ten Plots meme is that it underscores the effectiveness of what wingnuts decry as a wimpy, liberal approach–treating terrorism as a police matter.
However, when we do ‘strike at Al-Qaeda,” let’s say in Damadola, Pakistan, for example,
An AP reporter who visited Damadola about 12 hours after the attack saw three destroyed houses, hundreds of yards apart. Villagers had buried at least 15 people, including women and children, and were digging for more bodies in the rubble. Villagers denied hosting al-Zawahri or any other member of al-Qaida or Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime, and said all the dead were local people.
More than 8,000 tribesmen staged a peaceful protest in a nearby town Saturday to condemn the air strike, which one speaker described as “open terrorism.” Police dispersed a smaller protest in another town using tear gas. A mob burned the office of a US-backed aid agency near Damadola, but nobody was injured, residents said.
NBC News reported that US and Pakistani officials said Predator drones had fired as many as 10 missiles at Damadola in the Bajur tribal region. ABC quoted anonymous Pakistani military sources as saying al-Zawahri could have been among five top al-Qaida officials believed killed.
Doctors told AP that at least 17 people died in the attack, but residents of Damadola, a Pashtun tribal hamlet on a hillside about four miles from the Afghan border, said more than 30 died. They recounted hearing aircraft fly overhead before explosions in the village that were felt miles away.
Speaking as he dug through the rubble of his home, Zaman said he heard planes at around 2:40 a.m. and then eight huge explosions. He said planes had been flying over the village for three or four days.
At another destroyed house, Sami Ullah, a 17-year-old student, said 24 of his family members were killed and vowed he would “seek justice from God.”
No, we’d rather recycle news of a four year old plot than focus on how our military strikes have created terrorists and terrorist sympathizers faster than the U.S. army can kill them. The logic of terrorism fails for both sides; the terrorists think they can get Western countries to bow before them in supplication because they kill a few thousand people out of millions; we think that we can kill enough Islamists to get the Arab world to submit to Western civilization. As the example of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows, targeted assassinations, house demolitions and suicide bombings are peripheral to the actual issues at hand for the two camps–violence just begets more violence. But if you want to actually stop terrorists in an operational sense, you have to turn to the international police community. Killing brown people may be emotionally satisfying for a segment of the American public, but it only makes things worse.
Since I seem to be contenting myself with rehashing old themes lately, let’s go with the only one that people consistently seem to enjoy, i.e., actual casual asides.
The Bush-NSA Spying Scandal
Let us consider, for a moment, the depths of what has been revealed here. To begin with, I entered the words “warrant courts wiretap” in to the search engine at whitehouse.org, and you’ll notice a certain tone to the stuff the Bush Administration had been putting out before December 2005.
April 19, 2004
The USA PATRIOT Act uses proven law enforcement methods in new ways to reflect new technologies and new threats. The Act brought the law up-to-date with the new technologies actually used by terrorists, so America no longer has to fight a digital-age battle with outdated legal authorities.
- Roving wiretaps – in which a wiretap authorization attaches to a particular suspect, rather than a particular communication device – have been used by law enforcement for years to investigate ordinary crimes including drug offenses and racketeering. The USA PATRIOT Act authorized the same techniques in national-security investigations. This provision has enhanced the government’s authority to monitor sophisticated international terrorists and intelligence officers, who are trained to thwart surveillance, such as by rapidly changing cell phones, just before important meetings or communications.
- Before September 11, law enforcement could more easily obtain the business and financial records of white-collar criminals than of suspected terrorists.
[ed. note—does anyone else here detect a certain shrill bitterness here on the part of the Administration? Oh, the injustice of making it easy to get the "business and financial records" of business and financial criminals. And really, it begs the question—should we be wiretapping Ken Lay's cell phone in the name of national security?]
- The USA PATRIOT Act gives investigators the tools, such as roving wiretaps and delayed-notification search warrants, which are needed to stop terrorists before they strike, fulfilling America’s duty to win the War on Terror and never forget the lessons of September 11, 2001. The USA PATRIOT Act has not diminished our liberty – it has defended our liberty and made America more secure. Congress must renew the USA PATRIOT Act and take further steps to improve our ability to fight terror within the United States.
By the way, it has always bothered me that the guy who just got an failing report card from the actual government task force assigned to strategizing and reshaping our “War on Terror,” i.e., the 9/11 Commission, said, on Decmeber 19th,
And as the 9/11 Commission pointed out, to prevent this from happening again, we need to connect the dots before the enemy attacks, not after. And we need to recognize that dealing with al Qaeda is not simply a matter of law enforcement; it requires defending the country against an enemy that declared war against the United States of America. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country. Article II of the Constitution gives me that responsibility and the authority necessary to fulfill it. And after September the 11th, the United States Congress also granted me additional authority to use military force against al Qaeda.
and then turned around in the same speech and said,
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy,
all within the context of asking Congress to renew a law he just admits he broke and doesn’t deem necessary or sufficient for national security. His own government has held his administration responsible (or irresponsible, as the case may be) for making the country less safe than before 9/11, but disclosing an illegal seizure of power by the President is the most destructive act. And by the way, nice tie in to the Commission, I’m sure they appreciate a patronizing aside much more than steps towards making the country ‘safer,’ legally.
By the way, the reason I’m hapring on the 9/11 Commission recomendations is that they institue systemic upgrades to security rather than target a particular religious group, which is the key to stopping terrorism, not just “Al Qaeda,” whatever that may be. The part that Bush would rather seize on, because it provides a venue for the expansion of executive power (Nixon-style) is the wiretap stuff:
June 9th, 2005
Roving Wiretaps Are Essential In Investigating International Terrorists. The Patriot Act extended the use of roving wiretaps, which were already permitted against drug kingpins and mob bosses, to international terrorism investigations. They must be approved by a judge. …
Many Safeguards Exist To Ensure The Patriot Act Is Applied Responsibly.
- Judicial Oversight Protects The Privacy Of Americans. Wiretaps and search warrants require a high level of proof and permission from a judge. The tools in the Patriot Act are fully consistent with the U.S. Constitution. As Senator Diane Feinstein said, “I have no reported abuses.”
- Congress Also Has Oversight Responsibilities. Congress created a Civil Liberties Board to ensure the Patriot Act and other laws uphold civil liberties. The Patriot Act protects America and defends American liberties.
And, of course, there’s still the July 14th, 2004 “Q and A” session, which include such gems as,
Let me answer some questions, and then we’re going to get back on the bus and take it up the highway. Who has got a question? Yes, sir. Yell it — oh, there’s a mike. Q The Patriot Act —
THE PRESIDENT: Patriot Act.
Q The Patriot Act is due to expire —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q — coming next year. And I find that an important tool for protecting America. And in Wisconsin here, we have Senator Russ Feingold, as you’re aware, the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Wondering if you can tell us all here the importance of the Patriot Act and what we can do to help get that renewed.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me — that’s a great question. A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can’t move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.
and again in the infamous speech on April 20th, 2004 in Buffalo:
Incredibly enough, because of — which Larry and others will discuss — see, I’m not a lawyer, so it’s kind of hard for me to kind of get bogged down in the law.
Don’t you mean bogged down with the law?
(Applause.) I’m not going to play like one, either. (Laughter.)
Oh, that’s real fuckin’ funny.
…So the first thing I want you to think about is, when you hear Patriot Act, is that we changed the law and the bureaucratic mind-set to allow for the sharing of information. It’s vital. And others will describe what that means. Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.
When asked about this recently, Bush was a bit flummoxed, according to the New York Times:
As Mr. Bush continued to defend the program in San Antonio, he was asked about a remark he made in Buffalo in 2004 at an appearance in support of the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, where he discussed government wiretaps. “Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap,” Mr. Bush said in Buffalo, “a wiretap requires a court order.”
He added: “Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”
Democrats have seized on the remark, made more than two years after Mr. Bush authorized the N.S.A. to conduct wiretaps without warrants, in charging that the president had misled the public.
Asked about that charge on Sunday, Mr. Bush said: “I was talking about roving wiretaps, I believe, involved in the Patriot Act. This is different from the N.S.A. program.
“The N.S.A. program is a necessary program. I was elected to protect the American people from harm. And on Sept. 11, 2001, our nation was attacked. And after that day, I vowed to use all the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people, which is what I have been doing and will continue to do.”
The guy doesn’t even run out of resources at his disposal within the law before the goes for a secret program, but don’t let that bother you. After being caught in a lie, he assures us that the program was “limited in scope.” I’m not usually one to say “falsus in unum, falsus in omnes,” but to hear him tell it, the disclosure of any facts about the program basically amounts to treason. So we’ll understand if he lies to us again.
Most people have figured out that there are several possibilities:
- The Bush adminstration believes that FISA has been compromised by bin Laden and is not secure for submitting requests for otherwise legal wiretaps of the utmost secrecy.
- The targets of this program met with the requirements of FISA, which the Administration does consult from time to time. Why, according to ever faithful Atty. General Gonzalez,
Another very important point to remember is that we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda. We view these authorities as authorities to confront the enemy in which the United States is at war with — and that is al Qaeda and those who are supporting or affiliated with al Qaeda.
The Bush administration did not seek approval in violation of the law for absolutely no reason except they felt entitled by the authorization of force in 2001;
- The targets of this program did not meet the requirements of FISA because they were illegally identified through domestic spying such as Echelon or some other unauthorized search(es);
- The targets of this program were rejected by FISA for wiretaps and the executive decided to overrule them in clear violation of statute;
- The targets of this program did not meet FISA requirements because they are not connected with Al Qaeda. We know that Bush’s political enemies list has been shared with the FBI, how about with the NSA? What about all that Pentagon secrect spy group, CIFA, who target anti-war protestors? Is that what we’re talking about? Are our tax dollars going toward secretly wiretapping Kos or Michael Moore? By the way, I’m drafting a letter to be signed and passed around asking for the release of the enemies list via FOIA request.
At any rate, the real question is this: why would the Bush administration recklessly endanger the convictions of suspected terrorists by gathering evidence illegally?
More on this later. As well as a more in-depth analysis of Republican Fascism-liteTM.
The War on Christmas
Now that the War on Christmas is over (and Christmas won, of course), let’s take a minute to examine what was really being argued on the part of Christian soldiers such as Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson (lovefest excerpted verbatim)
O’REILLY: With us now, Fox News anchor John Gibson, the author of the book The War on Christmas: Why It’s Worse Than You Thought. This is so incredibly stupid I can’t believe it. All you need to do is use all the phrases: “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukah.” Plenty of advertising space, plenty of room for banners in your store. Why do you think they’re this dumb in excluding “Merry Christmas”? GIBSON: In the book, I talk about this going on in schools and libraries and public parks all over the country. And the only thing I can think about these retailers is they tend to worry about 100 percent of the customers. And if 85 percent of the country is Christian and 90 some percent celebrate Christmas, there’s that little extra percentage that may not.
O’REILLY: Yeah, but surely they understand, because they do understand. We called Toys “R” Us. They knew right away —
O’REILLY: — OK, that they’re in waters they don’t want to be in. So surely, they understand the anger that’s going to be engendered by millions of Americans who believe that their cherished holiday is being denigrated, disrespected.
GIBSON: Yes, it indicates hostility and —
O’REILLY: By not using the word.
GIBSON: — by refusing to say the word “Christmas.” And what I’ve noticed is the way this appears in schools, for instance, is we now don’t call it the Christmas break. It’s the winter break, as if people worship winter. And there wouldn’t be a winter break if there wasn’t Christmas at that time of year. So once you call it — change the name. You won’t use the word “Christmas,” then you go to “winter,” you can sort of push the Christmas thing out of public view.
O’REILLY: See, I think it’s all part of the secular progressive agenda —
O’REILLY: — to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square. Because if you look at what happened in Western Europe and Canada, if you can get religion out, then you can pass secular progressive programs like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage, because the objection to those things is religious- based, usually.
GIBSON: You have France or you have — or you have Holland, you have legalized prostitution, you have drugs. All those things come in which religious organizations tend to oppose. Once you start taking out even the secular symbols of religious holidays — Christmas trees, Santas, so forth — refuse to use the word “Christmas,” you can shove this religious stuff indoors, out of sight.
O’REILLY: Yeah, because no kid is going to come home and ask Mom what winter break is.
O’REILLY: But a kid might come home and say, “Hey, what’s this Christmas thing all about? Who is this baby Jesus guy?” You know?
Now, let’s look at the numbers here. America is actually 75% white and Christian, repsectively, as I have pointed out before. When it comes right down to it, the argument here is that America is, at heart, a Christian nation. It’s the refrain you hear from fundamentalist politicians and think tanks all the time, and it’s based on numerical superiority.
But if you think about it, America would be much more aptly described as being founded as a white country. Not all of the Founding Fathers were Christian—many were Deist—but all of them were white landowning males. See the Treaty of Tripoli for details about our so-called Christian origins. Certainly our legal history bears out this idea. I figure there’s a reason Fox News isn’t more openly pushing the idea of a white America, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why (based on the census and our rich national history, of course).
Now, if you believe that America’s mission statement expanded beyond just providing for white people at some point in the last hundred years, you might be able to recognize the ideas behind civil rights for minorities, the relentless commercialization of a formerly pagan holiday and Emily Post-style common courtesy might lead to a more open and diverse America.
Anyway, what’s so hilarious about the “War on Christmas” is that they keep insisting that Christians have a special right to be offended by inclusive phrases whereas non-Christians have no right to protest exclusive phrases. We can all hope Santa brought Gibson and O’Reilly some moral clarity, but it doesn’t seem likely.
And that’s because Gibson and O’Reilly have it right in one respect: Americans will do whatever retailers tell them to do. If Radio Shack tells you to have a Merry Christmas, you’e going to have a jolly fucking Yuletide, even if you’re goddamn sun-worshipper. And if they tell you to have some “Happy Holidays,” you’re going to put your crucifixes down and drink toasts of babies’ blood to Satan while sodomizing your same-sex secular progressive spouse—and no one will ever know of Christmas or Santa Claus or Irving Berlin ever again.
A New Idea in Campaign Finance Reform
McCain’s curtailments of lobbyists goes in the wrong direction; instead of proposing restrictions on Congress they have no incentive to approve (if you weren’t involved with Abramoff), why not have all lobbyists contribute instead to a slush fund to be equally distributed to all of Congress? You could sell it to lobbyists as a way to increase their lobbying power (while actually diluting/diminishing their ability to lobby particular votes), and then we’d have a record of all contributions. While Vasco v. US remains on the books, bribery is still legal, but by making the money go to a general fund, it would become functionally impossible (and monetarily impractical) to do the kind of influence-peddling deals like Abramoff did. Everybody would be able to see where the money came from and how much there was. If, say, the pharmaceutical industry wants to bribe Congress into favorable legislation, they’re going to have to give each Congressperson the same amount of bribes to do so—maybe a just a bottle of pills apiece. Seems fairer, no?