Post-9-11 events and analyses
Ken Novak's Weblog
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Study cites seeds of terror in Iraq
"New investigations by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank -- both of which painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States -- have found that the vast majority of these foreign fighters are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself. The studies, which together constitute the most detailed picture available of foreign fighters, cast serious doubt on President Bush's claim that those responsible for some of the worst violence are terrorists who seized on the opportunity to make Iraq the ''central front" in a battle against the United States...
interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.
A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, ''the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."..
American intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, and terrorism specialists paint a similar portrait of the suicide bombers wreaking havoc in Iraq: Prior to the Iraq war, they were not Islamic extremists seeking to attack the United States, as Al Qaeda did four years ago, but are part of a new generation of terrorists.." 12:22:13 AM
Monday, July 25, 2005
"War by Video Conference" by Phillip Carter
: Account of how key battles in Afghanistan were handled - remotely. "Perhaps the biggest problem was the Rube Goldberg command structure created by Gen. Franks. The war was run from Tampa, Fla., 7,000 miles and 10 time zones away by video teleconferencing. Decisions were made by committee and on Eastern Standard Time, often with an eye towards how the decisions would be briefed to the press at the Pentagon. Naylor quotes a deputy commanding general's priceless description of the SecDef's daily press briefing: "When SecDef started having a [press] briefing every day, it meant that for hours of that day you could not talk to the CENTCOM staff… . For hours of the day you were unable to get to a senior person to make a decision at CENTCOM because they were tied up prepping themselves for the SecDef's briefing." " 11:30:17 PM
Guerrillas in Iraq Refocus and Strengthen
: "In Baghdad, it is commonly understood that the recent success of the insurgency lies in part in the weakness of the Iraqi government. The Sunni leaders who were slain, for instance, were traveling with a single guard, whom one of the Sunni leaders had provided at his own expense. Pleas by the two Sunni leaders to the Iraqi government for protection had apparently gone unheeded. And in the case of the bombing in Musayyib, Iraqi officials said the gas truck, owned by the Oil Ministry, had been hijacked by insurgents on its way from Baghdad to Falluja several days before the bombing. To get to Musayyib, the truck probably passed through numerous military and police checkpoints, yet somehow, it reached its destination. ..
Still, part of the explanation for the insurgents' resiliency stems from their own shrewdness. American commanders believe that the rash of diplomat kidnappings came after the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi formed a cell in Baghdad specifically for abducting diplomats." 12:39:35 PM
Sunday, July 24, 2005
The World Is Round
: Interesting critique of Thomas Friedman's globalization and nationalism, with connections to Karl Marx, the fall of the Soviet Union, and more. "Globalization makes the world smaller. It may also make it—or sections of it—richer. It does not make it more peaceful, or more liberal. Least of all does it make it flat. .. As it has done in the past, globalization is throwing up dilemmas that have no satisfactory solution. That does not mean they cannot be more or less intelligently managed, but what is needed is the opposite of the utopian imagination." 12:43:37 AM
Saturday, July 23, 2005
The torture stories aren't over: "The Schmidt report calls the treatment of [Gitmo] detainees "abusive and degrading" but also "humane." That's the Orwellian world George W. Bush has introduced us to. .. [Attorney Marty Lederman has written] 'More disturbing still is the Report's repeated assertions that the techniques in question ... are not only "humane," but also are authorized by Army Field Manual 34-52. Field Manual 34-52 has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. .. Accordingly, by virtue of the Schmidt Report itself, this is not simply about al-Qahtani and other high-level detainees, nor about what is permissible at Guantanamo.'
One great merit of the Schmidt report - which is otherwise riddled with worrying euphemisms, dismissal of troubling facts, exoneration of almost all commanders - is that we now know that almost every one of the Abu Ghraib techniques was practised and innovated at Guantanamo. These were not improvised out of nowhere.. The kind of techniques used in Abu Ghraib - sexual humiliation, hooding, use of dogs, tying prisoners up in "stress positions", mandatory nudity, humiliating prisoners for their religious faith, even the famous Lynndie England leash - were all developed at Guantanamo Bay under the strictest of supervision. What we were told were just frat-guy, crazy techniques on the night shift - had been deployed by the best trained, most tightly controlled, most professional interrogation center we have." 11:34:19 PM
Rove's war: Why won't Judith Miller talk? "In the run-up to the war, Miller's articles on WMD were crucial in creating a political atmosphere favorable to the administration's case. But her articles were later revealed to be false, based on disinformation, and the Times published a long apology...
Bill Kovach believes that any pledge she may have made to a source should be invalid. Kovach is the former Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, former curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and founding director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. He describes the internal policy set within the Times on sources. "By the 1980s, we decided that we had to set some limits because reporters had been misled and the credibility of the news reports had been damaged by misleading sources. When I was chief of the bureau in Washington, we laid down a rule to the reporters that when they wanted to establish anonymity they had to lay out ground rules that if anything the source said was damaging, false or damaged the credibility of the newspaper we would identify them."
In the Plame matter, Kovach sees no obligation of the reporters to false sources. "If a man damages your credibility, why not lay the blame where it belongs? If Plame were an operative, she wouldn't have the authority to send someone. Whoever was leaking that information to Novak, Cooper or Judy Miller was doing it with malice aforethought, trying to set up a deceptive circumstance. That would invalidate any promise of confidentiality. You wouldn't protect a source for telling lies or using you to mislead your audience. That changes everything. Any reporter that puts themselves or a news organization in that position is making a big mistake." " 11:17:29 PM
Friday, July 22, 2005
Why Do They Hate Us? Not Because of Iraq: "It is also interesting to note that none of the Islamic terrorists captured so far had been active in any legitimate antiwar movements or even in organized political support for the people they claim to be fighting for. .. Even their calls for the withdrawal of the European troops from Iraq ring false. After all, the Spanish police have foiled terrorist attempts in Madrid even since the government withdrew its forces.
Western-based radicals strike where they are living, not where they are instructed to or where it will have the greatest political effect on behalf of their nominal causes. The Western-based Islamic terrorists are not the militant vanguard of the Muslim community; they are a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, frustrated by a Western society that does not meet their expectations. And their vision of a global ummah is both a mirror of and a form of revenge against the globalization that has made them what they are." For a fuller treatment of the ideas and history behind this, see The New York Review of Books: The Truth About Jihad. 11:19:54 PM
Thursday, July 21, 2005
"This episode is part and parcel of the debasement of the confidential source’s role in American journalism. ..
Many in the press are talking as though the Cooper-Miller mess destroys their ability to recruit and exploit confidential sources, but plainly they’re not talking about confidential sources the way we think about them in the investigative journalism biz. Investigative reporters strive never to hang a story directly on quotes or commentary from confidential sources; they use the sources to guide them to privileged material such as documents, in black and white. That protects the story, and in all but the rare case, it protects the source, too.
Washington confidentiality in the modern era is all about maintaining access, even if that access yields scarcely anything worth publishing. If you have a confidential chat with Karl Rove, and he leads you down the garden path, do you end up with anything worthwhile other than DC cocktail party chatter about your last conversation with Karl Rove? And should we be appalled and surprised that Rove used the occasion to mislead? To paraphrase George Orwell, you can’t blame Rove for taking such an opportunity to further his own interests, any more than you can blame a skunk for stinking." 1:10:45 AM
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Two Years Before 9/11, Bush was Already Talking About Attacking Iraq: "Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "Suddenly, he's at 91 percent in the polls, and he'd barely crawled out of the bunker." ..
"He told me that as a leader, you can never admit to a mistake," Herskowitz said. "That was one of the keys to being a leader." " 3:52:01 AM
Monday, July 18, 2005
Al-Qaeda's relevance in an age of reform: al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a video in mid-June, before the London attack. Here's how an al-Jazeera talk show covered it. "Rather than just air or report Zawahiri's remarks, the program presents short excerpts and then gives the guests a chance to comment and respond to each of Zawahiri's points in turn. .. [the] topic: is al-Qaeda relevant in the context of the current push for reform? "
Cole on Knowing his Own History; and Isaiah Berlin: I'm catching up on a few months of Juan Cole. Good note on the runup to Iraq: " Berlin made the key point that most ethical and social philosophers had assumed that a person could simultaneously pursue two virtues [but] in the real world, there are situations in which you can only have the one or the other. ..
Up until early March of 2003, I was not forced to choose between Justice and the Rule of Law because it appeared entirely plausible that the UNSC would pass a resolution authorizing the war, or that a majority, at least, would vote for it. It was during that period that I said I could not bring myself to protest the building war. It was because I knew Saddam's mass murders, and thought there was still a chance that he could be removed within the framework of international law. When the UNSC declined to do either, very late in the game, it became apparent that I could have either justice or the rule of law. At that point I chose the rule of law. I did not see the invasion, the war, or the subsequent occupation as legitimate.
Just because I chose the rule of law over justice, however, does not mean that justice as a consideration had evaporated. The US troops who gave their lives to depose Saddam and free Iraqis from his yoke were helping achieve justice, which any Kurd or Shiite in Iraq will tell you. I stand by that, and I assure every grieving parent who has lost a child in the Iraq war that it was a meaningful sacrifice, because the Baath system was monstrous. But this achievement was deeply flawed (and may yet be undone) because it was done illegally.
Bush's turn to illegal aggression contained the seeds of the failure of his Iraq policy. If he had remained within international law, he would have either had to give up the invasion or he would have gone in with the full support the international community, which would have given him the kind of troop strength and administrative expertise that might have made a success of it all.
The Neocons cannot for the most part imagine such a thing as a fraught internal debate over ethics on the part of the individual. This because they are mostly, quite frankly, sleazeballs.
Isaiah Berlin knew that we often cannot have it all. We have to choose among virtues. We have to decide which one trumps the other. These can be fraught decisions. And that is why I do not fault those who chose justice over the rule of law among the liberal hawks like Ignatieff and Friedman." 9:35:46 AM
Sunday, July 17, 2005
The Logic of Suicide Terrorism:It's the occupation, not the fundamentalism: Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win, The Logic of Suicide Terrorism: "Over the past two years, I have collected the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. .. This wealth of information creates a new picture about what is motivating suicide terrorism. Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. This is a Marxist group, a completely secular group .. They invented the famous suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Ghandi in May 1991. The Palestinians got the idea of the suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers. ..
The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw. ..
I have the first complete set of data on every al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004, and they are not from some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world. Two thirds are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops since 1990. [From 2003-5,] every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled. ..
Al-Qaeda appears to have made a deliberate decision not to attack the United States in the short term. We know this not only from the pattern of their attacks but because we have an actual al-Qaeda planning document found by Norwegian intelligence. The document says that al-Qaeda should not try to attack the continent of the United States in the short term but instead should focus its energies on hitting America’s allies in order to try to split the coalition. What the document then goes on to do is analyze whether they should hit Britain, Poland, or Spain. It concludes that they should hit Spain just before the March 2004 elections because, and I am quoting almost verbatim: Spain could not withstand two, maximum three, blows before withdrawing from the coalition, and then others would fall like dominoes.
That is exactly what happened. Six months after the document was produced, al-Qaeda attacked Spain in Madrid. That caused Spain to withdraw from the coalition. Others have followed. So al-Qaeda certainly has demonstrated the capacity to attack and in fact they have done over 15 suicide-terrorist attacks since 2002, more than all the years before 9/11 combined. Al-Qaeda is not weaker now. Al-Qaeda is stronger. ..
In the 1970s and the 1980s, the United States secured its interest in oil without stationing a single combat soldier on the Arabian Peninsula. Instead, we formed an alliance with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which we can now do again. We relied on numerous aircraft carriers off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and naval air power now is more effective not less. We also built numerous military bases so that we could move large numbers of ground forces to the region quickly if a crisis emerged. .. That strategy called “offshore balancing,” worked splendidly against Saddam Hussein in 1990 and is again our best strategy to secure our interest in oil while preventing the rise of more suicide terrorists. ..
Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop—and often on a dime. .. That doesn’t mean that the existing suicide terrorists will not want to keep going. .. There will be a tiny number of people who are still committed to the cause, but the real issue is not whether Osama bin Laden exists. It is whether anybody listens to him. That is what needs to come to an end for Americans to be safe from suicide terrorism. " 2:31:06 AM
A Reality Check from Iraq: "Jonathan Morgenstein was a Marine Corps civil affairs officer in Ramadi, Iraq, and received a master's degree in international policy from Stanford University:
As an Iraq War veteran, I disagree with how President Bush has assessed the war and how we should be conducting it. The president has mischaracterized the debate as a simplistic black and white challenge: "Is the sacrifice worth it?" But this mischaracterization clouds the debate and avoids two essential questions: What are the real conditions on the ground? And what must be done to win this war?
Unfortunately, the president continues to obscure the truth of the current conditions in Iraq. My personal experiences in Iraq confirm statements made by numerous officers there, including General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command – that the insurgency shows no signs of weakening, and its numbers continue to grow. The Bush administration must first recognize this serious problem in order to rectify it. Denial is not the path to success.
As a Marine Corps civil affairs officer serving for seven months in Ramadi, a hotbed of the Iraqi insurgency, my job was to cultivate economic, governmental and civil society development. .. The gap between President Bush's rhetoric and the reality that I saw on the ground is enormous. ,,
Iraqi troops will not be able to provide security for a long time, despite President Bush's assertions. President Bush has argued that the Iraqi Security Forces will soon be capable of providing security for Iraq. However, his assertion that "Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions," is misleading. President Bush's 160,000 includes Iraqi forces that: 1) have no uniforms or weapons; 2) don't show up for work regularly; 3) have no more than three weeks of training; and 4) are actually working for or with the insurgents.
Most Americans in Iraq have had personal experience with one or more of these problems. In fact, one of my unit's convoys was attacked with machine gun fire from an Iraqi police station. One Iraqi National Guard colonel told me personally that he works well with the insurgents. ..
My experiences in Ramadi tell me that we need to find ways to dramatically increase the boots on the ground—whether American or troops from other countries—to increase security. Without basic law and order, Iraq will see no progress. Nevertheless, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have consistently resisted calls for increasing troop levels. In his speech President Bush said that "our commanders tell [him] they have the number of troops they need." Virtually every Marine and soldier I met in Iraq complained that more troops were needed to win. Until President Bush speaks candidly regarding Iraq and admits we have made mistakes, we cannot solve the problem" 2:11:31 AM