Posts Tagged ‘Al Qaeda’

Nuclear deterrence, nation-states and the real threat from nuclear proliferation

July 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 29, 2015

I’m not particularly eager to see Iran obtain nuclear weapons. For one thing, Iran’s government has traditionally shown extreme hostility toward Israel. For another, nuclear proliferation in general seems to hold great potential to destabilize any region.

Even so, I suspect the danger of Iran’s successful development of nuclear armaments may be somewhat exaggerated. The problem, I fear, is that atomic weaponry might fall into the hands of a terrorist organization such as the so-called Islamic State, al Qaeda or the like.

Nations can act recklessly — see Operation Iraqi Freedom — but generally, they do so with one underlying goal in mind: To insure their continued existence and, if possible, prosperity. A nation tied to a nuclear strike would almost surely face extensive shunning by the global community. Economic repercussions would be all but guaranteed; some kind of military counterstrike would be likely; the chances of a war being launched to unseat that nation’s rulers would rise significantly.

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Twitchy is mad as hell, and it’s not going to take it anymore: Ambassador Samantha Power edition

February 27, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 27, 2014

The Obama administration’s liaison to the United Nations, gave a lecture Sunday night at UCLA. Ambassador Samantha Power, the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book on repeated American inaction in the face of genocide, was speaking at the invitation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the memory of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in 2002 while reporting on al Qaeda terrorism activity in Pakistan. Pearl, infamously, was beheaded in a video that was posted on the Internet.

At some point on the evening of the lecture, Power posted the following tweet:

A number of conservative-leaning Twitter users reacted to Power’s message with a mixture of bafflement and outrage.

Several of these comments were collected by Twitchy, the quick-reaction infotainment site founded by conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. The organization gets most of its juice by finding supposedly outrageous tweets (generally from non-conservatives) and publishing outraged responses from conservatives.

Twitchy first posted about Power’s purported faux pas at 8:14 a.m. on Feb. 24, the morning after Power’s controversial tweet. That inaugurated a series of what would turn out to be seven separate articles, all bylined “Twitchy Staff.”

The first article quoted a tweeter asking if Power’s message was the dumbest tweet ever, or just of the week. “Arguably the former,” staffers wrote. After a tweet by conservative writer David Freddoso that called Power’s comment stupid, staffers added: “Yep. The idiocy, it scorches.”

Immediately following a tweet calling Power “an absolute idiot,” Twitchy closed out one of its articles with this observation: “Dangerous incompetence and appeasement from the Obama administration. Again.”

Twitchy’s fifth post about this kerfuffle, at 2:34 p.m. on the 24th, featured more than a dozen tweets calling for the ambassador’s resignation or firing. Included was this message from a conservative writer with more than 77,000 Twitter followers:

The elegance and wisdom of Burge’s dazzling punditry there is impossible to deny, is it not?

Now, there are plenty of ways to interpret the Power message that so outraged the folks spotlighted by Twitchy; in fact, the ambassador tweeted these two follow-ups in response to the stir that her original post caused on Twitter:

So Power acknowledges that Pearl was killed by bigots because of his religion and nationality. And her correction asserts that is not specifically his story but rather the work of the Daniel Pearl Foundation that reminds us that “individual accountability + reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”

Twitchy, by the way, dedicated a post to those two Power tweets. It was headlined “‘Definition of flailing!’ — Amb. Power ‘clarifies’ Daniel Pearl tweet; Doubles down on idiocy.”

For all the energy that Twitchy expended gathering outraged reactions to Power, no one on the staff evidently could be bothered to look up the full text of the ambassador’s remarks. I found a copy of them, which the U.S. mission to the United Nations evidently posted on the night of Power’s speech, with little effort.

Now, the lecture would take a while to process fully; the text runs just shy of 4,000 words, and I’ve only skimmed it. Still, a bit from near the beginning of the remarks jumped out at me. After acknowledging the murdered journalist’s parents, Power said:

I think their son would be very proud that the foundation established in his memory is dedicated to inter-cultural understanding. Given the circumstances of Daniel Pearl’s death, we should recognize how remarkable that is. Much of the world’s sorrow can be traced to cycles of retribution, where one group seeks revenge for real or imagined wrongs done by another.

Individuals become symbols, faiths become enemies, and hate becomes a currency of identity — all that we have in common — as fellow parents, fellow students, fellow believers — all that we have in common becomes reduced to a catastrophic alchemy of Us versus Them.

That was the ugly mindset of the men who murdered Daniel Pearl because he was a reporter, an American and, most of all, because he was a Jew. In that infamous video, the killers advertised their ruthlessness, betrayed their faith, and sought further to inflame passions that divide the world. Not long thereafter, the Daniel Pearl Foundation took its brave stand on the opposite shore, guiding us toward a more profound response to hate: urging dialogue, shared learning, reconciliation, and a recognition that individual — not collective — accountability is required to break cycles of violence.

Now, people are certainly free to disagree with Power’s assertions here. But they don’t seem particularly baffling or objectionable to me. And call me crazy, but I certainly don’t think that they constitute grounds for calling Power an idiot, asking if she smokes crack or comparing her to feces.

The Daniel Pearl Foundation itself would seem to agree. After all, it had invited Power to speak — she was, in fact, delivering the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture. The morning after the event, the organization tweeted:

Twitchy evidently never bothered to scan the foundation’s Twitter feed, even though it was linked to in two of the Power tweets that Twitchy itself cited. Nor is there any evidence that Twitchy sent an email or put in a call to the Daniel Pearl Foundation to get its reaction to anything Power said or tweeted.

Of course, Twitchy isn’t a news organization. It doesn’t seem to be geared toward advancing any specific policy goals, either. Instead, Twitchy is part of — well, not the conspiracy (real or imagined) that Hillary Clinton long ago bemoaned. No; Twitchy is part of a vast right-wing outrage machine.

Twitchy isn’t focused on reporting, or considering, or thinking. Rather, it’s a component in a vast virtual echo chamber, finding and promoting various spurious provocations.

The great Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum regularly uses a great phrase, “nothingburger,” to dismiss overhyped stories, hollow promises or ginned-up controversies. But for Twitchy, whether any given outrage has any substance or not is entirely beside the point. The fact that it will get some people angry is justification enough to throw up one, two, three or seven different posts about whatever comment is at hand.

A new hope appears in Syria, but Assad’s chemical menace likely can’t be removed peacefully

September 12, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 12, 2013

After some Keystone Kops–like antics and contortions by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration, a partial solution to the brewing Syria crisis suddenly emerged Monday.

Kerry in one breath raised and then dismissed the possibility of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turning over his entire chemical weapons stock as a way to deter possible American military strikes. Within a matter of hours, both Assad and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, had tentatively endorsed the idea. We’ll have to see what emerges, but this is a positive development.

Which is to say, it’s a positive development in the short term. I’m cautiously optimistic that Assad, Putin and the Obama administration can reach a bargain that staves off American military intervention in exchange for securing Syria’s chemical weapons. (Ideally, Syrian chemical and suspected biological weapons will be identified, secured and ultimately destroyed.)

Having fewer deployable weapons of mass destruction loose in the world — or in the hands of despotic or untrustworthy regimes — is obviously a very good thing. Averting American missile or bomb strikes that had a high potential of killing innocent civilians and a low potential of deterring future WMD use is also a very good thing. Preventing some kind of boots-on-the-ground intervention, and all the bloody consequences that are inextricably linked to those actions, is even better.

If Assad were to retain his chemical weapons, the best case is simply that nothing happens — the weapons see no further use. But plenty of much direr scenarios could easily unspool if Syria retains its WMDs. Perhaps Assad would gas more civilians. Or al Qaeda, which has loyalists among the rebel fighters, might capture his chemical and possibly biological weapons and attempt to use them, either in Syria or abroad. Read the rest of this entry »

Confessions of a reluctant hawk: Syria 2013 edition

August 31, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 31, 2013

President Barack Obama has declared his intent to launch military action against Syria; depending on if and when Congress gives its blessing, hostilities could commence within weeks — perhaps even days. I wanted to take some time to analyze the situation.

In July, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said that there had been at least 100,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war. The two-and-a-half-year-old conflict is said to have prompted 2 million Syrians (half of them children) to seek refuge in neighboring countries — this from a nation that had an estimated 22.5 million residents as of mid-2013. Rebels claimed last week that government forces deployed chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb, killing hundreds of people. The attack, which the United States officially believes to have been the work of the Syrian government, is said to have killed more than 1,400.

Syria has been ruled by the Assad family for 42 years; Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad as president in 2000. President Obama has called upon Assad to resign from office. Assad’s supporters include Russia and China; Iran, which is hostile to the U.S., is also among them. So is Hezbollah, a militant Shiite organization that Western many governments consider a terrorist group.

Unfortunately, the rebel coalition is not entirely filled with angels. There are reports that rebels massacred more than 100 villagers because they were Alawites, the same ethnicity as the Assads. At least one rebel faction has been linked to al Qaeda. Syrian leaders claim that the rebels themselves have used chemical weapons on at least one occasion — although evidently on not as large a scale as government forces are believed to have done.

With that in mind, let’s consider a few relevant questions:

• Does the United States have reason to intervene in the Syrian conflict?

Yes, but it’s virtually impossible to argue that our national security reasons are directly at stake. Instead, the best case is predicated on humanitarian and international law interests. Read the rest of this entry »

Talking about my generation? On revisiting the 20th century

August 23, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 23, 2013

On Tuesday, The Economist released what I thought was a surprisingly frivolous poll. (Especially coming from The Economist, for pete’s sake!) Under the headline “We still like Ike,” the publication trumpeted its findings that a plurality of Americans (18 percent) would prefer to go back in time to the 1950s above any other decade of the 20th century.

The older the age group surveyed, the higher its preference for the era of the Eisenhower presidential administration; 35 percent of those 65 and above picked the ’50s as their déjà vu decade. One-fifth of Republicans who were polled also preferred the 1950s, with Ronald Reagan’s 1980s coming in second and (interestingly) the tumultuous 1960s placing third among members of the Grand Old Party.

Among Democrats, the ’80s were the least popular decade of the latter half of the 20th century. The 1920s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’90s each were chosen by about 15 percent of Dems surveyed.

The least popular decades were the teens, chosen by 1 percent of poll respondents, and the 1930s, which covered most of the Great Depression and were picked by 2 percent.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Bush administration followed a trail of wishful thinking into Iraq

July 2, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2013

Last year, journalist Kurt Eichenwald released a detailed history of the roughly 18-month period between the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the start of the Iraq war. Among other things, Eichenwald’s book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, reinforces just how shockingly quickly American officials began turning their attention from finding and punishing those responsible for 9/11 to deposing Saddam Hussein.

On the night of Sept. 11, the Central Intelligence Agency director, George Tenet, told President George W. Bush and his advisors that “Bin Laden’s fingerprints were all over this operation, but other actors may have played a supporting role. He wouldn’t be surprised, Tenet said, to find Iran or Iraq wrapped into this somehow.”

At that meeting, the officials recognized that their immediate response must involve both Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda under the aegis of its Taliban-controlled Islamic fundamentalist government, and Pakistan. Engaging the latter state would be tricky, those at the gathering knew, since Pakistan officials actively supported the Taliban.

No matter, Bush said. The United States was at war with a merciless enemy, and governments around the world would have to choose sides. “This is an opportunity beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “We have to shake terror loose in places like Syria, and Iran, and Iraq.”

He surveyed the room with calm eyes. “This is an opportunity to rout out terror wherever it might exist.”

One significant strand in 500 Days involves the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his efforts to channel Bush administration anti-terror responses in productive ways. Almost from the beginning, Blair was troubled by what he heard out of the American president. He felt Bush’s lack of interest in building coalitions would ultimately hamper the global war on terror. He also was alarmed by the hostility Bush expressed toward Iraq.

“The evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq,” Blair told Bush in a phone conversation just three days after the Twin Towers had fallen. Presciently, the prime minister added: “I would strongly advise dealing with Afghanistan very distinctively. To go after Iraq would be certain to lose Russia and France.”

Immediately after the conversation ended, Blair conferred with his cabinet. “Rumsfeld has been looking for reasons to hit Iraq,” said Geoff Hoon, the British defense secretary, referring to his American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld. “They definitely want regime change, and that has been the channel of advice Bush has been getting since the election.”

“They would be mad to do Iraq without justification!” British foreign secretary Jack Straw said, Eichenwald reported. “They’ll lose world opinion.”  Read the rest of this entry »

In their rush to protect America from terrorism, Bush administration officials employed counterproductive tactics that verged on torture

June 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2013

In many ways, the United States was unprepared for the battle against terrorists that was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The nation’s leaders had to implement new objectives and policies geared to fighting al Qaeda and its ilk. This enemy, unlike others faced and vanquished by America, did not control a nation; had no formal government; dispatched warriors who wore no uniform. Yet American soldiers and spies would have to capture, interrogate and possibly send to trial these new foes.

This is one of many threads tracked by Kurt Eichenwald in his 2012 book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. As is now well known, officials in the administration of President George W. Bush took extremely expansive views of the powers that a wartime president and his delegates could wield legally. Unfortunately, Eichenwald’s book shows, that perspective was one of several factors that helped facilitate the torture of detainees by Americans and American allies.

Around the time the U.S. began invading Afghanistan, in October 2001, several lawyers met to lay groundwork for handling captives. Attending were John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer from the group tasked with providing legal advice to the executive branch; Alberto Gonzales, the chief White House counsel; Gonzales’ deputy, Tim Flanigan; and David Addington, senior counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yoo was shown a draft presidential order modeled on one President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had issued.

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CIA officials walk viewers through the methodical, sometimes misguided ‘Manhunt’ that led to Osama bin Laden

April 7, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 7, 2013

When commercial jet planes struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, most Americans had not heard of al Qaeda or the rich Saudi Arabian who headed it.

That was not the case for the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency unit that tracked al Qaeda’s leader. Alec Station, founded in 1995, knew that Osama bin Laden had declared war on America, and they had tied him to a number of terrorist operations around the world as the man who had either directly ordered or given other organizations funds to facilitate them. Al Qaeda itself had carried out deadly 1998 attacks against two U.S. embassies in Africa as well as one against the U.S.S. Cole.

Alec Station had been issuing warnings throughout 2001 that a large Qaeda operation, evidently targeting the United States, was in the works. Their inability to determine just what would happen, and where, would end up haunting many of the unit’s members; it also led, perhaps unfairly, to some blame for the 9/11 terror attacks being laid at their feet.

Prior to the Sept. 11 assault, the so-called Sisterhood that tracked Islamic terrorism was looked down upon by many others in the CIA. Analyst Cindy Storer tells documentary filmmaker Greg Barker in Manhunt, his new feature-length film, that she was counseled on one performance review that she was too passionate about finding bin Laden.

Once al Qaeda’s 19 hijackers brought down the Twin Towers and brought jihad to the headquarters of the world’s most powerful military, that all changed; resources poured into counterterrorism operations.

The attack on American soil prompted other modifications as well. “We changed the rule book a bit,” says former CIA field officer Marty Martin, who was brought back after 9/11 to lead the agency’s war on al Qaeda. “We were empowered more. We did get a bit more aggressive.

“My job is to kill al Qaeda,” Martin continues in the film. “Either get shoulder to shoulder with us or get out of the way.”

Yet even with these transformations, the bin Laden hunters spent nearly 10 years exploring dead ends and delving into dark places before they could find the world’s most-wanted terrorist.  Read the rest of this entry »

Means vs. ends: Account of bin Laden’s assassination raises uncomfortable questions

November 14, 2012

Author’s note: I have written two posts inspired by Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book The FinishTuesday’s post reviewed the book. Today’s post considers some of the philosophical and moral issues raised by the book.

~~~

As Mark Bowden makes clear in The Finish, his new book on the killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, several different tales have been told about the notorious terrorist’s final moments.

Obama administration officials initially indicated that bin Laden sought to use his youngest wife, Amal, as a human shield, and that he was killed in a firefight. Bowden and Nicholas Schmidle, in The New Yorker, write that the wife moved between bin Laden and the Navy SEALs who were moving into the compound. I gather that No Easy Day, a memoir by the pseudonymous Mark Owen, a SEAL who participated in the raid, makes no mention of Amal but says bin Laden’s bullet-ridden body was in a much gorier condition than the two journalists have written.

A serious question — prompted in part because of the differing accounts of those final moments — emerged nearly as soon as the world learned that bin Laden had been shot and killed. The question: Why hadn’t the United States captured the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks so he could be put on trial in a court of law?

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Bowden chronicles a top terrorist’s take-down in ‘The Finish’

November 13, 2012

Author’s note: I have written two posts inspired by Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book The Finish. Today’s post is a review of the book. Wednesday’s post considers some of the philosophical and moral issues raised by the book.

~~~

Mark Bowden is a respected investigative journalist with nine books to his credit, among them Black Hawk Down, the gripping true story of a military operation gone awry in the Sudan.

Given his background, it’s little surprise that the dramatic killing of Osama bin Laden — which is now perhaps the most famous special operations mission in history — drew Bowden’s interest. Nor is it a surprise that the author has produced a fascinating account of the mission that arguably made President Barack Obama able to win a second term in office.

By now the broad outlines of the raid on a large but obscure private residence in Abbottabad, one mile away from Pakistan’s military academy, are well known. As typically told, the story begins when Obama ordered American intelligence agencies to prioritize locating bin Laden, the notorious terrorist and al Qaeda founder who helped launch the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on New York and Washington, D.C.

When spies tracked down a courier linked to bin Laden, they discovered a familiar-looking thin, tall man pacing in the compound where the courier lived. Obama and top officials began sorting through probabilities and options. Once drone and missile strikes were dismissed as being too crude and leaving too much uncertainty, a special operations team began planning and practicing for a raid near the capital of what is ostensibly an allied nation.

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