News is breaking today about NATO forces killing a couple dozen Pakistani soldiers. This is likely to be a big story, is likely to have long-lasting repercussions, and is, undoubtedly, bad news.
For whatever reason, the first round of stories about this subject has come from Reuters – al Reuters to its friends. I don’t pay much attention to al Reuters these days, so perhaps I am unique in being surprised to see that it has adopted the term “war on militancy” to describe what we provincial rubes sometimes call the War on Terror. The latter isn’t the best term, and has certain propagandistic qualities, but … war on militancy? Really? The flaws of “War on Terror” can be somewhat forgiven by observing that: 1) the term was crafted during a crisis when terminology was not the number one priority, and 2) it was developed by politicians with an agenda, so of course it’s going to have propagandistic qualities. A great many war names have this quality – several European kingdoms went to great lengths not to use the US government’s term “civil war” to describe the North American hostilities between 1861-65, as those hostilities were only a “civil war” if you believe there was no right of secession.
I’m open to journalists, particularly international journalists, adopting a more neutral terminology than what our government uses. Actually, I’d kinda prefer that they would, since the neutrality of outsiders is always useful to examine ourselves. But “War on Militancy” is utter nonsense, made worse by the observation that a lot of people put a lot of effort creating it. Professional “journalists” – people who tell us that they tell stories objectively – spent years thinking about this, and the best they can do is an oxymoron? Personally, if I’m forced to pick between the nonsense jingoistic phrase of my government or the nonsense jingoistic phrase of an international news organization that has made it clear it opposes my government, I’ll take the domestic nonsense. At least it’s our nonsense.
One of the individuals charged with the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador lived near Austin, and today the local paper does a profile of him.
It is unclear how Arbabsiar spent his time in the Austin area, or if he had a job.
Muhammad Kosari, owner of Alborz Persian Cuisine on Anderson Lane, said that he recalls at least one time that Arbabsiar came into his restaurant.
“He started talking nonsense about going to Iran and getting Persian girls,” Kosari recalled.
He said Arbabsiar told him: “Over there you can pay 50 bucks and have a Persian girl.”
Kosari, who is from Iran, said he considered the statements disrespectful and told Arbabsiar to leave.
Sam Roostaie, who with his wife owns Pars Mediterranean Supermarket and Cuisine on Burnet Road, said he, too, was offended by Arbabsiar, who has come to his restaurant regularly over the past several years.
Roostaie, who is also Iranian, said that Arbabsiar would “make fun of people” and say other offensive things.
The Statesman story quotes this story from a San Antonio paper, which is even harsher:
“He couldn’t even pray, doesn’t know how to fast. He used to drink, smoke pot, go with the prostitutes,” Hosseini said, laughing with a clerk at his market in downtown Corpus Christi. “His first wife left him because he would lose his keys every other day. … This guy is not a mastermind.”
Though if he is inept, Arbabsiar isn’t the only boob mentioned in the story:
Neighbors, however, said it had been years since Arbabsiar lived in the stucco house he once shared with his wife on a suburban cul-de-sac. They said it appeared as many as 10 people were living in the house, and lately there had been some signs of suspicious activity: When residents looked for available Wi-Fi networks, names like “FBI Van 1” would pop up.
A $4 trillion government, and our leading anti-terrorism agency is pumping out wi-fi signals that announce the presence of its surveillance van.
Common sense does not mistake the difference between victory and defeat: the losers weep and cower, while the winners strut and rejoice. The losers have to change their ways, the winners feel more secure than ever in theirs. On September 12, retiring Texas Senator Phil Gramm encapsulated this common sense: “I don’t want to change the way I live. I want to change the way they live.” Common sense says that victory means living without worry that some foreigners might kill us on behalf of their causes, but also without having to bow to domestic bureaucrats and cops, especially useless ones. It means not changing the tradition by which the government of the United States treats citizens as its masters rather than as potential enemies. Victory requires killing our enemies, or making them live in debilitating fear. . . .
Let us first examine the attitudes and policies of the U.S. government that guarantee defeat—in fact, are defeat itself. Then we will be able to see more clearly what victory would look like, and how it could be achieved.
Read on for a useful thought experiment about what might have been.
Stanley Kurtz has some links and analysis about how our raid into Pakistan to kill bin Laden is playing out in Pakistan itself. The NYT story he links to is particularly worth reading (and here is the WaPo story, which he mislinked). I’ve been concerned about this more or less since I heard the happy news of OBL’s death. There is a non-zero chance that the good that came from killing him will be overwhelmed by the harm of a strong anti-American backlash in Pakistan.
In a thread regarding how spectacularly aggressive Obama was in his decision to raid Pakistan and murder bin Laden, FormerSwingVoter links to this NYT story. The lede:
President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday.
Ay caramba! This struck a cord in my memory regarding how much Obama talked during the campaign about his willingness to launch raids into Pakistan. At the time, I didn’t take him seriously. Whether Pakistan is a friend or enemy, it is not terribly stable, has a large and powerful Islamist population that is sympathetic to our enemies, and, um, has nuclear weapons. It struck me that there could not possibly be a terrorist target in Pakistan important enough to risk upsetting or destabilizing such a country, and that no right-thinking person would take a risk with such enormous potential downsides.
How common was disbelief of Obama’s campaign rhetoric? It’s hard to say, but I found this in our archives. In one of the debates, McCain said that Obama’s threats of launching ”military strikes” in Pakistan were unwise. The Washington Post factcheckers called McCain’s characterization “misleading” and said that Obama had insisted he would only go into Pakistan with the approval of the Pakistani government. Here’s a Jake Tapper discussion from 2007 regarding what Obama actually promised, which features Obama plainly trying to walk back any from any hint that he would “invade” Pakistan.
Am I glad Osama’s dead? Hell yes. But I’m still concerned about the long-term effects of our actions on Pakistan. The Pakistanis appear to be starting to sort out some of this, regarding who knew what, when. There are forces in Pakistan beyond our control, and if this shakes out in such a way that the baddies in Pakistan gain power, history will not view his death as happily as we now do.
I’m not saying we ought to brutalize the corpse, because that ain’t right, but if we’re in any way inconveniencing ourselves in order to treat his body in the way that he’d want it to be treated, that ain’t right either.
Though now that we’ve got the body, I’m curious what will happen to it. This is pretty much unprecedented in modern Western warfare. Saddam Hussein was executed by Iraqi civil authorities and his body handed over to a religious leader in his home town (there are videos if you search for them). Slobodan Milosevic died long after most people had forgotten who he was, and he was buried in his home town. The Ruskies buried Hitler’s ashes a few times before dumping them in a river; we either executed the leaders of Japan and cremated them, or left them in power to be buried in an official manner at a later time. Our greatest traitor, captured shortly after a war, lived a full life in peace and comfort and was given a Christian burial in a plot picked out by his wife. Kim il Sung and Ho Chi Minh – their deaths and burials were unfortunately beyond our control.
Here we have the body of a [figurehead] enemy leader, killed by our soldiers in an ongoing war. This has never happened for America, and is extraordinary in the recent history of Western war. Should we incinerate it and and dump the ashes at sea? Give the body to one of his wives or children (and which one?)? Give it to the Saudis? Bury it in an unmarked location (but it would certainly get founded out)? Going out of our way to treat it the way that Muslims treat a body sends the very mixed signal that I put in the title of this post, and seems to conflict with the whole “You’re our enemy and thus we shouldn’t fully respect your every whim when we kill you after a 10-year manhunt” thing.
Anyhow, I couldn’t think of a finer individual to get shot in the head, and I’m glad we got the body so that we can make certain it’s him. But, um, now what?
The longer the controversy over the Flaky Lower Manhattan Islamic Center Ground Zero Triumph Mosque goes on, the more hugely embarrassed I am.
Yes, there’s a non-zero chance that Cordoba House is front for something nefarious (though not a terribly clever one I’d add). Equally obvious is the fact that the center has so far achieved the exact opposite of its stated goals of fostering religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue; this shouldn’t have come as a terrible surprise.
Neither of those can excuse the sheer stupidity and offensiveness of most of the opposition to it. Never in my life have I heard so many conservatives so eagerly demand state intervention of any kind, let alone intervention to stop religious practice on private property. Not only has due process gone completely out the door, none of the mosque’s opponents — to my knowledge — have even proposed offering to buy-out Cordoba.
By far, though, the most amazing argument is not only that Cordoba is part of some Grand Jihad, but that its construction would be a major victory for that cause. Here’s the usually-sensible Newt Gingrich channeling Andrew McCarthy:
The proposed “Cordoba House” overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites. For example, most of them don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.
Today, some of the Mosque’s backers insist this term is being used to “symbolize interfaith cooperation” when, in fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest. It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.
It seems that TSA’s Standard Operating Procedures manual (or, at least a version of the SOP dated May 2008) got released online. Some years ago when I was a member of the national security apparatus (either as a James Bond-like secret agent whose job was to win poker games and bang models in Monaco, or as a schlub in northern Virginia who wrote training manuals for airport baggage screeners; my memory’s hazy on some of the details) I had access to that document and probably read most of it. I’m anxiously waiting to find out which contractor posted it – it may well be someone I know. How exciting!
Anyhow, reading the now-released details that are supposedly the most revealing, I have the exact same reaction that I had back when I worked on such matters: 1. It’s hard to think of a concrete way how someone could use specific details of screening techniques to defeat the screening process; but 2. the most important information in the book is how un thorough the screening actually is.
One of our great advantages in battling terrorists is that terrorists aren’t very bright and don’t seem capable of solid analytical reasoning. Anyone who flies a half dozen times a year knows exactly how spotty the screening can be. Immediately after I quit my job working on airport security issues, the wife and I went to France for a month. When we got to Paris I got to looking for something in the backpack I’d used as a carryon, and I found but a box cutter we’d used while packing. Ask anyone who flies regularly, and they’ll have a half dozen of those stories. I was disappointed that I’d made it onto an international flight with a box cutter, but I wasn’t surprised (well, I was surprised that it was in my backpack, but I wasn’t surprised I made it through security).
I’m not saying the screening process is a completely wasted effort. Nor am I saying that we need a significantly more complete screening process – a nation of frequent fliers like America would not tolerate El Al levels of scrutiny on every Des Moines to Chicago flight. But I am saying that a big part of why we’ve spent eight years without an act of air terrorism is because the baddies aren’t very good at calculating their odds of success. To the degree that releasing the SOP allows them to precisely calculate those odds, we’re less safe today than we were last week. However, I just don’t think many terrorists are smart enough to figure that out. Three cheers for ignorance and irrationality in the Muslim world!
However, 53% of voters believe the president places higher importance on ending the war. Just 28% say Obama thinks winning the war is more important. Another 19% are not sure.
Certainly the speech the president gave last week was not meant to communicate his desire to win. I think most of that 28% is composed of people giving the president a presumption of good faith – that surely he would not escalate a war, sending tens of thousands more Americans into combat, simply to provide political cover for when he cuts and runs. Given the content of his speech, I’m not sure it’s fair to make that presumption. He had an opportunity to lay out the ingenious plan for victory that he’s spent months crafting, but instead he mostly just groused about how much it sucks that we’re having to spend money fighting one of those war thingies.
War is, everywhere and always, a competition of wills. The American people don’t think our commander-in-chief has the will to win this war. Let’s hope our enemies in Afghanistan come to a different conclusion.
I hope Krauthammer is wrong, but I can’t think of a single reason why that would be the case:
Despite my personal misgivings about the possibility of lasting success against Taliban insurgencies in both Afghanistan and the borderlands of Pakistan, I have deep confidence that Petraeus and McChrystal would not recommend a strategy that will be costly in lives, without their having a firm belief in the possibility of success.
I would therefore defer to their judgment and support their recommended policy. But the fate of this war depends not just on them. It depends on the president. We cannot prevail without a commander-in-chief committed to success. And this commander-in-chief defended his exit date (versus the straw-man alternative of “open-ended” nation-building) thusly: “because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”
Remarkable. Go and fight, he tells his cadets — some of whom may not return alive — but I may have to cut your mission short because my real priorities are domestic.
Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?
I confess I feel conflicted about Afghanistan myself: given its history, I’m ambivalent about whether establishing a reasonably competent government with a manageable level of corruption is either possible or worth it. Unfortunately, it’s too late for second guessing on this and — as Krauthammer says elsewhere in the article — if Petraeus and McChrystal believe it’s doable, I’ll for it.
I do have one retrospective question: given the extraordinarily complicated nature of the GWOT — from defining victory to detainee status — would we have been better served in 2001 by acknowledging the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and then declaring war on them (the declaration could have defined al Qaeda as an irregular co-combatant, or something) ?
It seems to me that this was have solved the tremendous legal and strategic ambiguities that have been so troubling over the past eight years.
James Fallows has made something of an ass of himself in a pair of posts arguing that Vice President Cheney’s criticisms on President Obama are uniquely vile.
Certainly, Cheney has been attacking Obama strongly and I frankly find it rather unseemly. But, as NRO’s Peter Wehner points out, Cheney’s attacks are surpassed only by President Obama’s relentless blaming of the prior administration for all his problems. Obama is the aggressor here and — though I wish Cheney would remain stoically quiet as President Bush has been this last year, as does Fallows — I can’t fault him.
Fallows also made a different and very dangerous mistake that that, to my knowledge, no one else has pointed out. He wrote:
I am not aware of another former President or Vice President behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting Vice President at the time.) [emphasis added]
The typically oblique Andrew Ferguson explains what was so unusual about last night’s speech:
Obama’s critics to his right should remember the president’s critics to his left. The poor gentle souls must be gobsmacked. Obama is the first Democratic president in forty years to call for a significant deployment of American troops in the national security interest of his country. This is very big news. His predecessor, President Clinton, could give a stirring address dispatching bombers over Bosnia and be confident of the support of his fellow Democrats, because the show of power was purely humanitarian and had nothing to do with keeping us safe from our enemies. With great courage, Obama is trying something that hasn’t been tried within the living memory of most of the members of his party. He may even recall the era when liberal Democratic presidents — Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson — could lead a fight because it was in the interest of the country to fight.
This is a historical moment, and one we should be grateful for.
Republicans seem to be lining up to support Obama’s surge, which means that they’re behaving as the loyal opposition ought to. They might be bitterly opposed to the president on many domestic matters, but they’re with him when he’s trying to do right. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Congress.
Like any good conservative, I oscillate between loving and hating Lindsey Graham. Like his bff John McCain, there are moments when Graham’s departures from reason and principle are so inexplicable and indefensible that I would gladly see him rode of the party on a rail.
But exactly like McCain, there are moments when he stands taller than all the rest, calling down lightning bolts from a conservative god, and raining destruction and common sense on his enemies. Here he is, ensuring that Eric Holder has a backup anus in case his first one fails:
Holder imagines that he can hide inside that “thoughtful” routine that Obama so often relies on, but it is utterly pathetic here. Either he knows damned well what he’s doing and he’s lying or he’s outrageously unqualified for his job. His evasive style is so similar to Obama’s that he makes Obama look worse.
I’ll add that Graham is correct about the perverse incentive structure set up by our current Justice Department. If you kill American soldiers overseas, you get a military court; if you kill civilians in America, you get a civilian trial.
I’ll rephrase that, as a terrorist might see it: If you do combat with the greatest military force in the history of the world and happen to temporarily come out on top, your reward when captured will be a military tribunal held out of the public eye, followed by execution or an extended stay in a military facility; if you spend a while living in the wealthiest country in the history of the world and kill a few unsuspecting and unarmed civilians, your reward when caught will be a media circus trial with worldwide publicity, followed by decades of appeal and a lifetime spent in the world’s cushiest prison system where you are free to convert others to your murderous religion.
Graham is correct and Holder is wrong, but unfortunately Holder is the one who gets to make the policy that gives jihadists an incentive to come and kill American civilians. To every Republican who couldn’t hold his nose and vote for McCain, to every independent who fell for the hope and change shtick: Thanks!
Isn’t it awful how liberals treat the Constitution like dirt? As if it’s a living, breathing document that means whatever they want it to mean?
Yes, it is, and it’s even worse when conservatives do it:
I’m not quite certain if Napolitano is entirely correct, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that the decision to not declare war after 9/11 (as well as before the Iraq War) was a tremendous mistake and the progenitor of all the legal/detainee problems we’ve been dealing with so badly these past eight years. Certainly, the circumstances presented a extra few difficulties — one would have to word the declaration carefully — but it would be quite doable.
But to return where this post started, did O’Reily seriously just say “I don’t care about the Constitution”? Yes. Indeed, he did.