Friday, June 30, 2006


I'm working on my dissertation right now so posts will be sparse in the next coming months. Nevertheless, with all the talk of whether or not to set a date for withdrawal, I'll post a paper I wrote for my class in Terrorism and Liberal Democracy for my International Security Studies degree. I tried as hard as I could to not let politics or ideology influence where my analysis went.

What Lessons on Countering Terrorists Can Be Drawn from the Military Operations in Iraq?

I. Introduction

On the night of November 10, three suicide bombers detonated themselves at three hotels across Amman, Jordan. The coordinated attacks killed 60, including the three suicide bombers. One blast ripped through a wedding reception at the posh Radisson, killing notables among the Palestinian and Jordanian elite. Within a day, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Iraq posted an internet message claiming responsibility for the bombing. The message reported that the suicide bombers were all Iraqis. Three days later Jordan announced it had caught the fourth bomber, an Iraqi woman who tried to detonate herself with her husband inside the Radisson. The bomb malfunctioned, sparing her life and the others surrounding her. During interrogation, she said her part in the campaign was to avenge the deaths of her three brothers who were slain fighting U.S. troops in Fallujah between April and November 2004.

Like Afghanistan before it, the Amman bombings suggest Iraq may become the next exporter of terrorism internationally. The jihadists have learned well the lessons of their war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and have exploited the Iraq war as a recruitment tool and training ground for new members and new terrorist ventures. If the United States and its “coalition of the willing” are to win in Iraq they must also learn the lesson of Afghanistan and deny Al-Qaeda and like-minded militants a new safe-haven in which to recruit, plan, and direct terrorist attacks. They must mitigate as much as possible “the ferocious blowback” caused by the war and occupation of Iraq, which “could be longer and more powerful than that from Afghanistan.” This paper will provide a short-term, multi-pronged strategy to do this, but first its important to show how crucial Iraq is to Al-Qaeda and its worldwide revolution of jihad amid renewed calls for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

II. Iraq: The New Afghanistan?

What occurred in Afghanistan beginning in 1979 is instructive to understanding how dangerous it would be to leave Iraq to today’s insurgents and jihadists. There are three similar, interdependent trends reappearing in Iraq today that occurred two decades ago in Afghanistan. First, there is a renewed call for and answer from Muslims to defend Islam within a particular country from outside “infidel” aggression. Second, the Iraq War, much like Afghanistan before it, is facilitating the creation of new terrorist networks, alliances, and financing opportunities that will provide the operational training, ideological radicalization, and funds to continue the fight in Iraq. Third, the war provides this new generation of terrorists with the capability to export terrorism to their own countries or internationally. Thus, if the U.S. were to withdrawal from Iraq, it would legitimize Al-Qaeda’s view of the U.S. as a paper tiger in decline and its corollary assumption: that radical Islam is in the ascendance and Iraq is its new strategic beachhead to begin the resurrection of its Islamic Caliphate. As a Century Foundation blueprint on Defeating the Jihadists wrote, “It is a bitter irony that Iraq has turned into the very thing we went to war to prevent: a terrorist sanctuary with an al Qaeda and jihadist presence that far exceeds what was there during Saddam Hussein’s reign.”

Another Call to Arms

The clarion call to jihad was heard by thousands of Arab men as they were summoned to defend their faith along side indigenous Afghan fighters as Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan. Among these foreign mujahideen, or holy warriors, that came to Afghanistan to fight between 1979 and 1988 were the three most important members of Al-Qaeda proper today: Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the arch-terrorist operating in Iraq presently, Zarqawi. The mujahideen’s victory over the Soviets had a profound effect on the insurgents and more broadly, Muslim youth. According to Zawahiri:
The most important thing about the battle in Afghanistan was that it destroyed the illusion of the superpower in the minds of the young Muslim mujahedeen. The Soviet Union, the power with the largest land forces in the world, was destroyed and scattered, running away from Afghanistan before the eyes of the Muslim youth. This jihad was a training course for Muslim youth for the future battle anticipated with the superpower which is the sole leader in the world now, America.
The U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq today has created the same opportunistic conditions for jihad that the Soviets created during their invasion of Afghanistan. The Islamic world saw the invasion and occupation as another instance of Western aggression comparable to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Echoing Afghanistan two decades ago, ex Afghan Arabs Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi have called on Muslims to take up arms against the U.S. in defense of Islamic Iraq. An estimated 500 to 1500 foreign fighters have answered and smuggled themselves into Iraq to fight against U.S. forces and their proxies. Despite their small numbers, the foreign fighters --particularly Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Iraq -- are responsible for the most brazen and bloody attacks.

The fear is that such spectacular and successful attacks that humble the U.S. forces are attracting young Iraqis to Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda rather than the primarily Baathist insurgency. The more foreign fighters can convert the Iraqi youth to jihad, the more the jihadists’ ranks will grow, which will make it much harder to separate the deterrables from the undeterrables using the political process. While the foreign fighters making up the jihadist ranks are undeterable due to ideology, the hope is Baathist insurgents – secular and once privileged and in power -- can be brought into the political sphere by demonstrating their minority rights will be protected within a democratic Iraq.

Also, mirroring Afghanistan, the longer the war drags on, the more foreign fighters will flood into Iraq. The most disturbing example of this is the young white Belgium woman recruited by the Zarqawi network who suicide attacked a U.S. military patrol a month ago. Her death shows the spread of radical Islam to the most unexpected of places and the most unexpected of persons.

New Opportunities for Alliance and Financing

The war in Afghanistan provided unlikely sources of financing to Islamic extremists due to the bipolar architecture of the Cold War. In an effort to give the Soviets “its Vietnam War,” the U.S. funneled $3 billion through Pakistan’s intelligence service Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). While little, if any, money went to the Afghan Arabs of which Bin Laden was a part, the ISI did give most of the money to Islamist guerilla factions that tended to be pro-Pakistani.
Considerable funding also came from Saudi Arabia as the monarchy tried to deflect their own Islamists’ attention away from their “apostasy” and promote the call of jihad in Afghanistan. More funding poured in from Islamic charities, many of which were created to support the Afghan resistance, and private individuals like Bin Laden. The guesthouses and training camps set up by such funds promoted communication between various jihadists and their related organizations. Bin Laden made the most of this, recruiting militants and building up contacts amongst the local mujahideen. By the time the Soviet invasion ended, according to journalist Jason Burke, he saw the future possibilities that Afghanistan made possible.
"He wanted to prevent the fragile international alliance created during the war against the Soviets falling apart. By uniting the various militant movements, split on national lines at the time, bin Laden (sic) hoped to concentrate their power.”
He did just that as the subsequent vacuum of power within Afghanistan followed by the Taliban’s rise to power made this strategy possible and successful until the U.S. military action toppled the regime after 9/11, destroying Al-Qaeda’s sanctuary.

The Iraq War, like the Soviet invasion before it, is the new conduit for the financing of jihad as well as for new alliances. U.S. Treasury officials assert that the same network of donors and Islamic charities -- operating throughout the Middle East and Europe -- that once funded the Islamists in Afghanistan are the main culprits funding the Sunni jihadists led by Zarqawi. Other funding includes cash couriers exploiting Iraq’s unsecured borders, especially the Syrian border. One instance of this was a Zarqawi operative, the Syrian Sulayman Khalid Darwish, sending donations between $10K and $12K into Iraq using suicide bomber volunteers.

The most prominent alliance has been the merger of Zarqawi’s Unity and Jihad Group into Al-Qaeda. In an audiotape played 27 December 2004, Bin Laden named Zarqawi as the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. European intelligence believes Zarqawi is attempting to build an “Islamic United Resistance Front” among the various Sunni terrorist organizations. Some of the notables include the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, the Ansar al-Islam, Muhammad's Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Black Flags Group. This united front will attempt to coordinate attacks with the Sunni Baathist insurgency to increase the power, scope and lethality of their attacks. These attacks aim to keep Iraq in chaos so that Iraq can remain a sanctuary for terrorists to train, communicate, organize and export their attacks internationally.

Exporting Terror

As the Amman bombings show, Iraq could be on its way to being an exporter of terrorism as Afghanistan became after the Soviet retreat. As the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the battle-hardened foreign volunteers returned home to begin their own domestic jihads. In Algeria, the returning mujahideen formed the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), whose terrorist attacks killed thousands of civilians, particularly after a military coup stopped Islamists from winning the country’s 1992 elections. The GIA then exported its terrorism to its once colonial master, France, with a string of bombings on the Paris Metro and the hijacking of an Air France airbus.

Egypt also felt the wrath of their returning mujahideen as well. The militants murdered over a thousand people between 1990 and 1997. An inspiration to many of these radical Islamists was the Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, otherwise known as the “Blind Sheik.” Rahman would later emigrate to New York City – a bastion for radical Islam – where he would be tried and convicted in 1995 for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. His godfather of terror like influence continued even after his life imprisonment as Jamaat al-Islamiyya murdered 58 tourists in an effort to force Rahman’s release. The attacks nearly destroyed Egypt’s tourism industry vital to its economic security.

But the most successful student of Afghanistan’s “University of Jihad” would be Bin Laden. He was able to take his experience and connections from the Afghan war and coalesce it into a horizontal terrorist network anchored by his own organization, Al-Qaeda, where he played the role of radical Islam’s CEO and venture capitalist. After being expelled from Saudi Arabia following his return from Afghanistan, he emerged as radical Islam’s main financier of terrorist operations, exploiting weak and failed states -- the Sudan and Afghanistan respectively -- to train new recruits in the techniques and strategies learned from the war. His attacks have been particularly directed at the U.S., its embassies and its interests abroad. Militants trained by Bin Laden are behind the Black Hawk Down disaster in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. This was followed by the two embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998, the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing in the port of Yemen, and finally the spectacular atrocity of September 11th. The U.S. overthrow of the Taliban ended Bin Laden’s and Al-Qaeda’s safe-haven in Afghanistan and resulted in the capture and killing of major Al-Qaeda operatives. Bin Laden is purportedly hiding, along with al-Zawahiri, somewhere in the mountainous areas between the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Analysts argue that just when the U.S. had Al-Qaeda on the run in Afghanistan and could have directed a decisive blow against it, the U.S. created a new breeding ground in Iraq. The subsequent emergence of the Baathist insurgency and the import of foreign fighters combined with disproportionate U.S. military responses created the anarchy and hatred exploited by Al-Qaeda inspired Islamists to create new sanctuaries, to train new recruits and to give them real-world experience in battling the world’s premier fighting machine. Again, this is Afghanistan redux. Someday the fighters will either force a U.S. withdrawal or they will be scattered throughout, or expelled from, Iraq due to U.S. and Iraqi military offensives. Either way, there will be a new generation of trained, combat tested militants ready to fight another day, bolstered by new networks and new sources of financing ascertained in Iraq. RAND’s Brian Jenkins summed this development up concisely, “Iraq has been a ‘net importer’ of terrorists but may be on its way to becoming a ‘net exporter,’ one that spawns ‘knowledge, veterans and operations.’” Amman is just the beginning.

III. Strategies To Mitigate the Damage Already Done

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has already created the favorable conditions Al-Qaeda exploited in Afghanistan due to the Soviet’s invasion. Therefore, the lesson and strategy is to rollback the insurgency and the Islamist movement’s gains in Iraq by denying the jihadists their safehavens, securing Iraq’s borders to stop the cross-border flow of money and volunteers, and separating the jihadists from the deterable Baathist insurgents and the Iraqi populace by winning broad political support. The lesson seems to have been learned as the Bush Administration has unveiled it’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” which integrates these short-term goals into a broader framework for establishing a functional democracy in Iraq and winning the war on terrorism.

For the U.S. to take the fight to the jihadists without alienating the public, the U.S. military will have to work flexibly and fluidly between the two opposing poles of counterterrorism: the criminal justice model (CJM) and the war model (WM). The CJM is concerned with preserving democratic principles even if it reduces the effectiveness of the counterterrorism response. The CJM is primarily organized around the police and the courts of a liberal-democratic state and is constrained by the rule of law. The WM favors using military responses to counter terrorism at the expense of liberal-democratic principles. As the Bush Administration’s new strategy outlines, the U.S.’s short-term response in Iraq will tend more towards the WM, but is constrained by the aim of moving toward the CJM if Iraq is to become more democratic. A strategy closer to the WM is more practical now as Iraq still relies on U.S. military force for security from jihadists and Sunni insurgents.

The Bush strategy is divided into three time periods: short-term, mid-term, and long term. I will concentrate wholly on the short-term strategy as it is devoted to denying Al-Qaeda and affiliated militants a safe-haven to exploit, while separating them from the Baathist insurgency and the general population with political and economic inducements. The short-term strategy is also divided into three interdependent, mutually reinforcing parts: the political, security and economic tracks. I will take them up individually.

The Political Track

The political track seeks to “isolate” the general population from the enemy – both jihadist and Baath insurgent – by facilitating democratic norms (i.e. elections) while seeking to “engage” those who can be swayed away from violence and towards peaceful participation. An important example of this was the Iraqi government’s call for the return of former junior officers of Saddam’s army disbanded by the Coalition Provisional Authority under its de-Baathification program. The hope is to drain the Sunni insurgency of new recruits and thereby decrease the number of insurgents converted into the ranks of the jihadists. Another way to instill democratic, pluralistic norms would be for the U.S. to empower civil society organizations -- such as unions -- like they did during the reconstruction of Japan. Iraq has a long history of unionism, unlike Afghanistan, which should be exploited for its ability to create a singular identity.

The political track looks to cement these gains by helping Iraqis “build” effective and responsive democratic institutions. The U.S. hopes the upcoming December legislative elections will further legitimize the democratic process as well as the Iraqi government, further distancing the population from the enemy. The U.S. and the Iraqi government must demonstrate their respect for the rule of law and human rights (i.e. the fairness of the Saddam Hussein trial and Abu Ghraib) to increase the popularity and legitimacy of liberal-democratic norms. Lastly, the Bush Administration must publicly promise not to build permanent military bases in Iraq to counter claims the U.S. is only seeking its imperial self-interest in Iraq.

The Security Track

The success of the political track strengthens the security track. As Iraqis gain trust in a democratic Iraq and see the U.S. forces as supporting such a development, the more prone they will be to provide intelligence on jihadist and insurgent elements. When the enemy is located, U.S. and Iraqi forces will “clear” these areas by going on the offensive. It is crucial here that military forces refrain from inflicting collateral damage or using indiscriminate means of warfare (i.e. cluster bombs and white phosphorous) thereby increasing support for the insurgents and the jihadists. As the Century Foundation advised, “we should cease the counterproductive assaults on the so-called no go zones. Civilian casualties and infrastructure damage done by such elective urban combat will, in the long run, strengthen anti-Americanism.” A way around this not touched on by the Bush strategy, but advocated by the Century Foundation, would be to strengthen special operation forces (SOF), allowing them to covertly combat the enemy surgically and discriminately on the basis of sound intelligence. This will avoid large assaults like that on Fallujah – a motivating factor for the female Iraqi suicide bomber in Amman, Jordan – that result in collateral damage thereby spawning more hatred for, and fighters against, the U.S. The greater use of SOF could result in soldier casualties and scenes similar to Mogadishu. The U.S. government should accept that risk.

Lastly as Iraqi troops “stand up,” the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces must deploy troops to secure Iraq’s borders – critically the Syrian border – and stop the flow of money and manpower fueling the insurgency and the jihadists. Most of the troops deployed to secure Iraq’s borders should be U.S. forces for two reasons. First, it will put more responsibility on Iraqi forces for maintaining security locally. Second, it will keep American soldiers away from the Iraqi population, thereby decreasing the likelihood of increasing hostile situations.

The Economic Track

A strong, reformed economy is no doubt crucial for a stable Iraq, but the biggest priority along economic lines is to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and neighborhoods destroyed during the U.S. invasion and occupation. The inability to quickly begin reconstruction has aided the insurgency, keeping Iraq in chaos thereby providing support and space for the jihadists to intermingle with insurgents and the general population alike. Again, critical of the Administration’s post-war plan, the Century Foundation report advised:
We need to get funds flowing immediately into small, quick-impact projects focused in Najaf, Sadr City, Fallujah, and other hot zones. Large –infrastructure projects are important in the long run; however, smaller sums, spread to thousands of community-based projects, are the best hope we have to deflate the insurgency.
Although progress has been made, much of Iraq’s electrical grid is still off and Iraq is still importing much of its oil because its refineries are not pumping at capacity. Oil is the future of Iraq. The U.S. must modernize and repair Iraq’s oil infrastructure for economic development to take hold and grow.

A useful anecdote for the importance of reconstruction comes from Ar Rutbah, a Sunni town in the hostile heart of Anbar province where the insurgency is strong. In April 2003, a company of SOF occupied it to force out Fedayeen Saddam fighters. By providing basic security, returning the town to civil rule, making a make-shift hospital symbolically out of the local Baath headquarters and getting basic foodstuffs to market, these SOF created a culture of democracy the locals cared about and which was defiant toward the insurgency. Unfortunately, as the SOF pushed out, subsequent troops failed to continue their example. As distance between the locals and the U.S. military widened, the insurgency moved in to exploit the mutual fear and hostility and Ar Rutbah fell.

IV. Conclusion

The Iraq war has been a strategic blunder in the U.S.’s war on terrorism. Whereas the U.S. invaded to stop a terrorist alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda that was nonexistent, the U.S. invasion created the internal chaos and ideological justifications for Al-Qaeda-inspired jihad. Today, Iraq is the central front in the war on terror as foreign fighters cross into Iraq, creating new alliances, networks, and funding opportunities that have begun to bleed out into the wider world. Fortunately, albeit late, the U.S. has learned the major lesson from Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda and its network cannot have a safe haven from which to train, recruit, organize, and direct new spectacular acts of terrorism. To accomplish this, the U.S. must do the following things:

1. Using the political process and inducements (i.e. reversing de-Baathification), separate the general population and deterable insurgents from the jihadists. Critical to this is the U.S.publicly avowing not to set up permanent military bases in Iraq. The U.S. should also empower civil society organizations that seek to create a singular Iraqi identity.

2. Increase the use of SOFs, which due to their covert, discriminate and surgical operations will minimize collateral damage thereby preventing the propaganda fueling support for insurgents and jihadists.

3. Plug up Iraq’s borders, especially with Syria. U.S. troops should bear the brunt of this to increase the Iraqi military’s readiness as well as to decrease the presence of U.S. troops in everyday Iraqis lives.

4. Disperse reconstruction funds immediately, focusing on hotspots within Anbar province and Iraq’s oil and electricity sectors. Reconstruction must follow in areas where military action has destroyed homes or infrastructure. Destruction upon economic insecurity only adds to the allure of the insurgency and the jihadists.
The short-term strategy is now to mitigate the damage by incorporating these interdependent tactics into a multi-pronged counterterrorism strategy, which in the short-term will lean more towards the WM, but which will simultaneously build the conditions for the CJM. The best solution to the terrorism problem will be political – winning hearts and minds – but those policies will only be effective if the U.S. and Iraqi forces can provide an adequate security environment for Iraqi moderates to work in. But all this hinges on whether U.S. domestic politics make withdrawal inevitable. If the U.S. leaves Iraq immediately, thereby giving the Al-Qaeda network its sanctuary, the jihadists will have succeeded in bringing about Zawahiri’s first goal in their imperial project: “Expel the Americans from Iraq.” From this sanctuary, more Ammans and 9/11s will assuredly follow.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

BJs Used to Be "Queer?"

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Welcome to Londonistan!

Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard has an intriguing and important article in the NYTimes Magazine this Sunday reporting on how London is managing its Islamist problem. Basically there's a fight between doing good ole' police work like forensic science and surveillance and community policing. I don't know if it's just the way Caldwell presents the dilemma but I don't see how they're mutually exclusive. Caldwell writes:
The London Metropolitan Police have long had an official, national counterterrorist role and were prominent in the fight against the I.R.A. But there is not yet a consensus on what the police role ought to be in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Are they there to take the fight to the malefactors, assuming they can find them, through hard-edged tactics ranging from surveillance to raids? Or are they there to keep the peace and listen, particularly in minority neighborhoods, minimizing the discontent, insecurity and alienation on which terrorism feeds? "Communities defeat terrorism" has become the mantra of the police under Sir Ian Blair (no relation to the prime minister), who has been commissioner since early last year. Blair is undertaking big reforms in the police, even as adversaries inside and outside the force call on Tony Blair to fire him — over the recent Forest Gate raid and the mistaken-identity killing in Stockwell last summer. By the end of this year, he hopes to have set up hundreds of Safer Neighborhoods teams, like the one Luswa and Asania serve on, which mix traditional bobby work with a bit of cultural translation. Commissioner Blair aspires to kill two birds with one stone — enhancing police familiarity with the most intimate corners of dangerous neighborhoods while winning the trust of communities that often feel left out of the main current of British life. But, as in the London of Hogarth and Mayhew, the borderline between cultural variety and dangerous criminality can be a fuzzy one.

The British government has dropped broad hints that it is stepping up surveillance and infiltration. The percentage of intelligence resources devoted to terrorism has more than doubled in the last five years. Mosques are not off limits. "Any cleric with radical ideas proselytizes at his peril," Lord Carlile told me. According to the Home Office, extremists are using mosques less and less — and private homes more and more — to carry out their activities.
I don't see how you can forswear surveillance and raids in a post-911 world where a few Islamist malcontents can do billions worth of damage if they are smart and motivated. The thing is, of course, to keep it within constitutional or liberty preserving bounds. This is an art and not a science which is why civil libertarians are taking umbrage at some of Blair's policies and tactics. This is a good thing and an indicator of healthy oppositional politics -- the sign of a vibrant democracy.

The problem with Brits in general is what Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips describes as the tendency to "not to want to give offense." I'm sorry but being offensive is the hallmark of a liberal democratic society. Nothing is sacred. Not religion, not ideology, not any ism. The British, unfortunately, have laws that provide a double standard if not extended to Muslims.
The government also brought to a final vote a "law against incitement to religious hatred" that it had been discussing for five years. It is here that the intellectual underpinnings of the Blair approach were clearest. The law, which had been sought only by Muslims, was first demanded by the U.K. Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, a group formed to protest Salman Rushdie's portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in "The Satanic Verses." One argument for the law was that Anglicans, as worshipers in an established church, were already protected from certain insults by blasphemy laws, while Jews and Sikhs were protected from others by antiracism laws. But to the legislation's detractors, these were just post-facto rationalizations, for the law was unprecedented in its sweep. As drafted, it would have made it difficult to criticize anything that advanced itself in the name of religious belief or practice, since the law permitted prosecution of anybody who was "reckless as to whether religious hatred would be stirred up" by things he said or wrote.
This is liberal political correctness gone horribly awry.

After being overseas, I'm convinced the United States is the best example of civic nationalism. We don't ask anyone living in this, or coming to this, country to worship any God or respect any opinion, we merely ask you to pledge your loyalty to institutions that defend each person's right to think what they want and express themselves however they see fit basically. This way loyalty is more anchored in a process rather than a firm ethos or ideology. And yes I acknowledge that if the religious right gets any more power then the process itself may be in jeopardy, but this only goes to strengthen the argument that fanatical evangelicals are similar to Islamists in that their religion is as political as it is spiritual.

The gist of all this is that Western countries must preserve the secular, democratic institutions that guarantee each individual's liberty from the authoritarians and fanatics that seek to limit it due to present security concerns or their delusion of what God really wants. Once we start limiting free expression in the name of not offending someone, we've compromised the West's greatest achievement: that each person is entitled to their opinion, no matter how wrong or vulgar it maybe.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

More Sectarian Strife

Sunni insurgents are at it again. Via the Times:
A day after a large group of gunmen seized scores of Iraqis from a factory, a police raid freed 17 of them, but 34 hostages remained unaccounted for, Fawzi al-Hariri, the Iraqi Minister of Industry, said today.

The abduction, involving 40 or 50 gunmen, some wearing police uniforms, represented a sharp escalation of a tactic that has become increasingly common in the continuing violence here.

The gunmen arrived at the factory in northwestern Baghdad at the end of the day shift on Wednesday in a large number of minibuses, then herded workers and their family members onto buses owned by the company, according to Iraqi officials and to a bus driver who escaped. The buses were normally used to take the workers to Shiite neighborhoods around Baghdad.

Almost immediately, the gunmen released 50 of the hostages, mostly women and children who had accompanied their mothers to the factory. And an hour after the abduction, two bodies were found nearby, an Iraqi official said.

The rest were taken to a poultry farm north of Baghdad, according to a kidnap victim who was interviewed by the Associated Press. The man, a Shiite, said the kidnappers sorted the hostages by ethnicity, and that he was let go because he had forged identity papers that described him as a Sunni.

"One of the gunmen told us to stand in one line and then asked the Sunnis to get out of the line," he said. "That's what I did. They asked me to prove that I am a Sunni, so I showed the forged ID and three others did the same. They released us."
More evidence that the Sunni insurgency wants to foment a civil war between the Sunni minority and the Shia majority and that the death of Zarqawi, although a huge victory for U.S. and Iraqi forces, is merely a drop in the pail.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who Will Guard the Guardians

This is startling; via the NYTs:
A guard started a gunfight inside a federal prison Wednesday as FBI agents tried to arrest him and five others accused of trading alcohol and pot for sex with female inmates, officials said. When the shooting was over, two people were dead and another was wounded.
Just like the food chain, more vicious predators prey on lesser predators. Here are the details:
The indictment accused five of the six guards of having sexual contact with eight inmates from September 2003 through September 2005 in exchange for contraband, which could include alcohol, drugs and money.

They guards also were accused of threatening to plant contraband in inmates' belongings or have them shipped to other facilities farther from their families if they reported the illegal activity.

According to the indictment, the guards showed inmates information about themselves and other prisoners on the prison system's computer system to prove their threats were real and that they could be tracked anywhere in the system. It said the guards switched duty assignments to arrange trysts with the female inmates.
I have a feeling that not only the run-of-the-mill guards indicted are involved in this despicable arrangement that ended in tragedy.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Shady Dealings

Human Rights Watch continues to argue the U.S. is helping the Colombian government of Uribe ostensibly to fight the nexus of terror and drugs at the expense of human rights and the rule of law. Check it out here.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Gospel of Hitch

The Christian magazine The World has a pretty much glowing profile of arch anti-theist Christopher Hitchens. Money graf:
What does he hate?

"Religion. I quite simply identify it with barbarism and backwardness and human stupidity. The methods of theocracy in action are a cult of death." The jihadists, he says, "say they love death more than we love life, and we have to prove that wrong. They're right on the first; they love murder, in which they exult, and suicide, in which they take pride." Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, he says, want to turn the Islamic world back to the seventh century and take the West with them. "Opposed to these and hated by them is scientific inquiry and philosophical inquiry, the emancipation of women, the secular state, and other very hard-won achievements of civilization. And it's good to be reminded they are fragile, they can be destroyed. We can be pushed back into the childhood of our species again."
Not what I expected from a Christian magazine: Color me pleasantly surprised.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The So-So Fight

Over at Slate, The American Prospect's Mike Tomasky and The New Republic's Peter Beinart duke it out over Beinart's new book The Good Fight.

Their digital sparring match is only moderately interesting as Beinart argues Tomasky has misrepresented his views.

But for me the interesting thing is Beinart's argument that we need to go back to post-war liberalism as a framework for today's Democratic Party if the Dems are ever going to rule again. I have a feeling that Beinart's book doesn't look at the dark-side of post-war liberalism. Under Truman, U.S. foreign policy was concentrated on attacking anything beyond the center-left in Greece and Korea that wished for something besides free-market economics by inventing the standard refrain of the Cold War: Communist subversion.

For me, if there's any template for rediscovering the vitality of liberalism and the left it lies in the thought of Thomas Paine. This succinctly would be as much liberty at home and abroad as humanly possible. This would mean economic democracy as much as political democracy. This would mean no less a total overhaul of our domestic political and foreign policy establishments.

Politics is too important to be left to the elite, and this is the lesson anyone should take from reading Thomas Paine.

As he so confidently wrote, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

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Monday, June 12, 2006

The New Leader?

Much like any institution, al-Qaeda in Iraq has to deal with the high costs of "turnover."
Al-Qaida in Iraq said in a Web statement posted Monday that a militant named Abu Hamza al-Muhajer was the group's new leader. Al-Muhajer succeeds Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed Wednesday by a U.S. airstrike on his hideout northeast of Baghdad, Iraq.

The purported successor was not immediately known. The name al-Muhajer, Arabic for ''immigrant,'' suggested he was not Iraqi.
When, or if, this is independently confirmed, al-Qaeda in Iraq, it seems, is still a foreign body within the insurgency. This is a good thing. I can't see ordinary Iraqis warming up to this small but vicious part of the insurgency as al-Qaeda in Iraq is much more a colonial aggressor than coalition forces. We should take the widespread celebration of ordinary Iraqis and from within the government as an indicator that Iraq does not want to fall under the sway of jihadism. But this also means that the majority portion of the insurgency is homegrown and may be reaching the point of a masse levee. If Iraq does become a mass uprising, there is only one thing the U.S. can morally do: Withdraw. Hopefully the killing of al-Zarqawi will increase Iraqi goodwill toward U.S. so that the U.S. and the Iraqi military can take the fight to the undeterrable jihadis while offering amnesty or diplomatic aggreements to the more moderate aspects of the insurgency.

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Warrantless wiretapping is going to get its day in court:
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was to hear the case brought by the ACLU against the National Security Agency. The Bush administration has asked Taylor to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the litigation would jeopardize state secrets.

But Taylor said she would first hear arguments on the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, despite the government's assertion that no court can consider the issues.
More to follow.


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Friday, June 09, 2006


I know Hitch can be abrasive sometimes, but he always makes me think a bit and consider a different vantage point. Today, he spoke directly to what I believe.
If we had withdrawn from Iraq already, as the "peace" movement has been demanding, then one of the most revolting criminals of all time would have been able to claim that he forced us to do it. That would have catapulted Iraq into Stone Age collapse and instated a psychopathic killer as the greatest Muslim soldier since Saladin. As it is, the man is ignominiously dead and his dirty connections a lot closer to being fully exposed. This seems like a good day's work to me.
Hitchens rightly puts the word peace in quotations because there is only one-side that wants peace in this conflict. We must never forget what type of committed hatred we face in the jihadists. To believe we can simply lay down our weapons and there will be peace throughout the Middle East and never another terrorist attack on any Western democracy is akin to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement pact with Nazi Germany.

Remember peace can sometimes be the most oppressive state of affairs imaginable. If you don't follow what I'm saying, take a minute and it should resonate historically.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006


I have to say I'm bewildered by Michael Berg's response to the news Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is finally where he deserves to be: dead in the dust from which he sprang. Here are some excerpts from his interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien:
Well, my reaction is I'm sorry whenever any human being dies. Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel bad for that.

I feel doubly bad, though, because Zarqawi is also a political figure, and his death will re-ignite yet another wave of revenge, and revenge is something that I do not follow, that I do want ask for, that I do not wish for against anybody. And it can't end the cycle. As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence.
Democracy? Come on, you can't really believe that that's a democracy there when the people who are running the elections are holding guns. That's not democracy.
Michael Berg is a sincere and empathetic man and I'm empathetic to his plight, but I do believe he represents the bankrupt ideology of pacifism. There are things worth fighting and dying violently for. This is doubly bewildering considering Mr. Berg is Jewish. I know its a standard rebuke to pacifists, especially Jewish ones, but I'd like to know what Mr. Berg thinks of those valiant Jews that fought in the International Brigades against Nazism and fascism during the Spanish Civil War or those brave Jews that gave their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Today the Jewish community faces a parallel ideology that seeks their destruction for their ethnicity and religion. Jihadis like Zarqawi, Bin Laden and Sheikh Khalid Muhammad have shown they cannot be deterred. They believe their fight is interminable. The only response to this ideology is to destroy it. Certainly this is not solely a violent struggle and Mr. Berg is right to argue the conduct of some coalition troops has the effect of a molotov cocktail. But when faced with an opportunity to wipe out those responsible for the most dastardly attacks against civilians -- who by the way are their co-religionists -- there is only one course of action and the U.S. military strike was correct.

And I for one do not know what historical record Mr. Berg is referring to when he says arms and democracy do not mix. The question is: Why does the military and police need to guard polling stations when Iraqis go to vote? I agree this is not the ideal atmosphere for democracy, but this is the problem with most of what Mr. Berg says: He lives in an ideal realm and not the real world where democracy is staggered toward. It's rarely, if ever, a linear procession. Often, the initial step toward democracy is violent. The quinessential examples of being the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

It's hard for me to understand much of Mr. Berg's criticism. If we do not fight against the Hitlers, the Milosevics, and the Zarqawis then we allow ourselves to be at the mercy of those who use violence as a political weapon to retain a stragglehold on society. Throughout history peoples have risen up against their oppressors and demonstrated that the iron heel of totalitarianism of any stripe will not crush their desire to live free.

I ask pacifists like Mr. Berg: What historical epoch would we live in today if those of yesterday did nothing?

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Zarqawi Dead

Here's the story from a smattering of newspapers.

NYTs. WaPo. BBC.

You won't find us jubilant about anyone's death very often, but this is a blow against Al Qaeda in Iraq, specifically, and jihadism, more generally.

Is that blow mortal? Possibly for the former but certainly not for the latter. Jihadism will survive, but there is no doubt that this ideology has lost one of its most vicious and capable pracitioners.

POSTSCRIPT: Remember Nick Berg!

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Way Too Close

The Senate has rejected the FMA, but much too narrowly. Via the AP on the NYTs:
The Senate on Wednesday rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but supporters said new votes for the measure represent progress that gives conservative Republicans reason to vote on Election Day.

The 49-48 vote fell 11 short of the 60 required to send the matter for an up-or-down tally by the full Senate. The amendment's failure was no surprise, but supporters said the vote reflected growing support among senators and Americans.

''We're building votes,'' said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is among supporters of the ban who were not in the Senate when the amendment was last voted on in 2004. ''That's often what's required over several years to get there, particularly to a two-thirds vote.''
So the right-wing of the GOP isn't going to let this die the quick death it deserves, arguing, like Orrin Hatch, that half the country supports the FMA. If so, prejudice still infects America's body politic.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Devil Does Not Exist, but the Radical Right Persists

For all of you concerned that today is the apocalypse, take a deep breath, and gain some commonsense. The devil does not exist. As far as evidence goes, there's absolutely no reason we should believe God exists. We are alone in the universe, and sad to say, the only real fear we have is from our own species, unaided by the prince of darkness.

I'm sorry, I take it back, there is another fear, or at least something to be annoyed about: capitalism preying upon stupidity. As Baltimore Sun's Matthew Hay Brown writes, really bad movies, bands and conservative pundits are trying to cash in on our gullibility.
The jumpy among us can stop holding their breath. The date might be 06/06/06, but no one is predicting anything particularly evil happening today. Unless, that is, you consider the slew of commerce to which we are to be subjected.

Heading the slate today is The Omen, making a rare Tuesday premiere to take advantage of the supposedly demonic date. Thrash metal veterans Slayer launch the Unholy Alliance Tour tonight in San Diego; supporting artists include Mastodon, Lamb of God and Thine Eyes Bleed. And conservative pundit Ann Coulter will be haranguing readers with her newest screed, Godless: The Church of Liberalism.
I revise once again, there is a third thing to be scared about: the likes of the reactionary radical Right-wing like Ann Coulter and her ilk, who like Islamists, want to destroy secular liberalism and the rights it protects.

These are the real devils.

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Right Wing Crazy Watch

To say that we here at Woodshavings are concerned about Bush's Federal Marriage Amendment would be an understatement. Bush's FMA is antithetical to the purpose of the Constitution, which is to protect our individual freedoms, no matter who or what you are.

Naturally the good people at Human Rights Campaign are scared and concerned too. And you'll understand why when you see what the right-wing crazies think of homosexuals. Here's my crazy ass Senator Rick Santorum conflating gay marriage with national security:
I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance. Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?
If you'd like to read more heinous and discriminatory talk from right-wing fanatics then click here.

It's a jaw-dropping read.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Harry Reid’s Response to the Marriage Amendment

This is pretty good.

In spite of the many serious problems we have just discussed, what is the United States Senate going to debate this week?

A new energy policy? NO.

Will we debate the raging war in Iraq? NO.

Will we address our staggering national debt? NO.

Will we address the seriousness of global warming – NO

Will we address the aging of America? NO.

Will we address America’s education dilemma? NO.

Will we address rising crime statistics? NO.

Will we debate our county’s trade imbalance? NO.

Will we debate Stem Cell Research? NO.

But what we will spend most of the week on is a constitutional amendment that will fail by a large margin, a constitutional amendment on Same Sex Marriage—an effort that failed to pick up a simple majority, when we recently voted on it.
This is not so good
I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. I believe in our federal system of government, described to me in college as a central whole divided among self governing parts. Those self governing parts—the 50 states—have already decided this on their own in state after state. For example, in Nevada the constitution was amended to prevent same sex marriage. Congress and President Clinton passed a law that gave the states the guarantee that their individual laws regarding marriage would be respected. The Defense of Marriage Act creates an exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution so that no state can force its laws of marriage on another.
This is a little better.
So why are we being directed by the President and this Republican majority to debate an Amendment to the Constitution, a document inspired more than two centuries ago? Why would we be asked to change this American masterpiece?

Will it next be to constitutionally dictate the cause of divorce, or military service, or even what America’s religion must be?
So I give Reid a mixed report card for his response to the President’s push for an amendment to define marriage, but I am in his debt for nicely outlining three levels (reflected in the three passages I quote above) on which we should consider this issue. I will briefly touch on each level and most likely circle back to them throughout the week.

On one level, this is a pragmatic issue, as Reid nicely articulates. With so many pressing national concerns—Reid names the War in Iraq, the impending energy crisis, national debt, and education among others—it is a waste of Congress's time to spend a week debating a constitutional amendment that is bound to fail.

On another level, this is a question of values. Conservative America dislikes homosexuality. Period. Laws and politics aside, some people believe gay couples should be treated just like straight couples, some people believe they should be treated differently. Unfortunately, Reid comes out on the wrong side of this issue, at least as far as progressive should be concerned. He shows no willingness to defend gay men and women's right to marriage.

And on another level, this is about preserving the integrity of our constitution. The United States has been relatively stable since its inception not because of an endless stem of stellar executives and lawmakers, but because our constitution serves as a bulwark against self-serving politicians and capricious voters. The Founders made it difficult to amend the constitution to prevent short-sighted attacks of this kind from succeeding, and the marriage amendment will surely fail. But Bush and the Republican backers of the marriage amendment are setting a dangerous precedent by threatening to tamper with the foundation of our democracy to promote a political agenda.


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Identifying a New Axis of Evil

Iraq be damned, we’ve got enemies at home.
Since 2004, state courts in Washington and California and Maryland and New York have ruled against marriage laws. Last year, a federal judge in Nebraska overturned a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, an amendment that was approved by 70 percent of the population. And at this moment, nine states face lawsuits challenging the marriage laws they have on the books.
And we must fight them, or be prepared to live in a world in which “every state would have to recognize marriage as redefined by judges in, say, Massachusetts or local officials in San Francisco, no matter what their own state laws or their state constitutions say.”

I had planned (and still do plan) to write a few serious posts about this issue, but Bush’s recent speech--laced with conservative-crowd pleasing references to “activist” judges--deserves only mockery.


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Ban Baby, Ban

The GOP may be divided over the question of immigration, but with his once touted “political capital” dwindling to mere pocket change, Bush is banking on the fact that his party is still united in homophobia.

Via NYTs:
President Bush on Saturday urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying in his weekly radio address that marriage "cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious and natural roots."

Mr. Bush's radio address was the beginning of what White House aides had said would be a major push to support the marriage amendment, which the Senate is to begin debating in the next couple of days. The effort comes after weeks of increasingly vocal complaints from cultural conservatives that Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans abandoned their issues after relying on them to win in the 2004 elections.
It’s political ploy through and through, considering that such a marriage amendment will never make it out of the gate.
It does not have anywhere near the two-thirds support it would need for approval in the Senate, let alone the two-thirds it would need in the House of Representatives before being taken up by the states — three-fourths of which would have to approve the measure for it to become law.
But rhetoric or otherwise, Bush is drawing another line in our nation’s cultural sand. The real showdown may be differed for now, but Bush’s speech prods both lawmakers and the rest of us to start choosing sides.

Though my posts have been scant for the past several months, expect to see a few updates on this issue as the Senate takes up debate this week.


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Friday, June 02, 2006

It's All in the Economic Emphasis

Never underestimate Fox News' ability to group numbers in a way that's beneficial to the Bush Administration. I was just watching our alabaster newcasters and instead of quoting the just released employment numbers as 4.6% unemployment, they instead chose to say the employment rate was 95.4%. This isn't a big deal in anyway, but it will be interesting to see if Fox News will group the numbers this way when -- if -- a Democratic President starts his/her stewardship of the U.S. economy.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Microcosm of Iraq's Woes

This is pretty old news, dating back from May 7th, but considering this small article reports on Iraq's trade union movement, I believe I can make the assumption no one really knows much about Iraq's labor movement and the hell of a hard time it's had since its reconstitution just short after the invasion of Iraq.

The article quickly shows how Iraq's trade unions are a microcosm of Iraq's worst woes.

Here it is in full, via

Workers union urges better protection of oil installations, personnel

By Ibrahim Sharif

Azzaman, May 7, 2006

The Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions (IFTU) has urged the authorities to upgrade security measures at the country’s oil installations to protect personnel.

Oil workers and installations are target of repeated attacks by saboteurs and rebels opposing U.S. occupation.

The IFTU organized a special meeting to discussion the oil industry and conditions of oil workers amid an upsurge in violence in both Kirkuk in the south and Basra in the north – the country’s major oil producing centers.

Oil refining operations at Baiji, a stronghold of anti-U.S. resistance, have been targets of repeated attacks which have reduced output to less than the half.

The union criticized current security measures which it described as “inadequate”.

It said the newly formed battalions charged with protecting oil installations were driven “more by their sectarian and ethnic grounds” rather than concern over the country’s sole hard cash earner.

“The oil sector must be place in honest hands whose aim is the service of the Iraqi people who are not affected by their party affiliation or ethnic and sectarian backgrounds,” the union said in a statement.

The IFTU said it opposed all schemes “to privatize the oil sector because the country’s oil reserves are a property of the Iraqi people only.”
I feel much anger when I think about Iraq, the way decent Americans were feared into supporting a war based on false premises and doctored intelligence and the innocent Iraqis who have died as their society has slipped into anarchy. Yet nothing angers me more than seeing Iraq's best hope -- it's liberal and secular labor movement -- being neglected by the occupation as the jihadists and insurgents target it for wanting what we take for granted here in the West.

If there is a Left deserving of its name, the IFTU and the whole Iraqi trade union movement should be the recipient of its solidarity and its resources. They are uniquely positioned to give Iraq what it needs most: economic development, liberalism, and secularism.

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