Sunday, January 31, 2010

Will the International Criminal Court Be Ending Its Impunity for War-Starters?

Here's an interesting idea, relevant to recent Chilcot hearings where Tony Blair testified about Iraq: "This isn't about a lie or deception. It's about a decision."

At a special "review conference" in Kampala, Uganda, the nations which have signed the International Criminal Court (ICC)'s founding statute, including Britain, are considering a proposal to let the court try the "crime of aggression".

If the proposal, backed by more than 70 countries, passes, national leaders alleged to have launched "illegal" wars could be seized, transported to the Hague, tried and imprisoned. That would be the case even if such a leader was democratically elected.

UK law requires British police to enforce indictments and arrest warrants issued by the court.

Britain, a member of the court, is not against the plan in principle. But of course it is fighting furiously for safeguards that would protect Blair and future British prime ministers from arrest. Britain is understood to be fighting for a provision that no prosecution can be launched without the permission of the UN Security Council - giving the UK, as a permanent member of the council, an effective veto. However, other European and Latin American countries say there should be no such restriction.

The "crime of aggression" is included in the ICC's founding Statutes (1998 & 2002), as one of four crimes covered by the court. On the other three - genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity - the ICC already has the power to try individuals. It has indicted 14 people, three of whom are currently on trial in the Hague. Inexplicably, the Statute does not currently allow the court to prosecute cases of aggression. The Kampala proposal amends the Statute, providing a definition of the crime and bringing it within the court's jurisdiction for the first time.

But the Chilcot inquiry heard last week that Blair's own Foreign Office legal advisers unanimously believe that - in the absence of a second UN resolution - he did commit the crime of aggression. Even so, under the current ICC Statute Blair's actions in the Iraq war do not constitute a prosecutable war crime, genocide or crime against humanity.

Britain could refuse to ratify the amendment - or even withdraw from the court - if it decides that it is totally unacceptable, but that would be an embarrassment for a country that strongly supported the establishment of the ICC.

The US does not recognise the ICC and will not be able to vote at the Kampala conference, which takes place in June. However, it is expected to send a large delegation of observers to exert pressure against the amendment, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law at University College, London, has commented,

I have heard very conflicting views about whether it will go through. Some people are optimistic and some are pessimistic.

If it happened, it could concentrate minds in the UK and perhaps have very significant effects.
Salutary effects, too!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Do Elections Have Consequences?

Obama has been in the White House for one year, and look how far we have gotten on his agenda!

President Obama, this is all much too much to hear: you have one of your unnamed spokespersons say,
We face the dual challenges of a massive GDP gap and also very substantial budget deficits out over time. As we move forward to FY2011 that's a transition year in which we need to be shifting our focus, making sure we're getting as much as we can from each dollar that the federal government has. And this is not the end-all-be-all, but it is an important category of restoring discipline to an important component of the budget.
The freeze is not going to effect the boiling off-the-books spending squandering on Afghanistan, but practically everything else is to be iced? You are fulfilling one of John McCain's campaign promises?

I campaigned for you because I thought you were an anti-Bush. I thought you were not going to let the warfare state squelch the welfare state. But you are on the path of drowning our government in the bathtub. It looks like Afghanistan is going to be defining your presidency after all, but not in the way we first anticipated. Instead of failure on the ground over there, it's ineptitude in domestic policy over here.

I don't think I'm going to watch the SotU speech tomorrow night. I don't think I could possibly get all the way through it without going through one or two barf bags. (Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!)

And now, with my credulity already strained to the breaking point, I hear that you have told Diane Sawyer,

You know, I -- I would say that when I -- the one thing I'm clear about is that I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. And I -- and I believe that.

You know, there's a tendency in Washington to think that our job description of elected officials is to get re-elected. That's not our job description. Our job description is to solve problems and to help people. And, you know, that's not just the view of elected officials themselves. That's also the filter through which the media reads things.
Barry, who are you kidding? If you are announcing one year into your first term that you are already lame duck president, that's what your going to have: a lame presidency.

You are taking me back to an angry conversation I had in a bar in 2004. Larry asked me,

Who would you rather have as President, John Kerry or George Bush? You don't know what John Kerry stands for, but you're damned sure what Bush stands for!
So, we're really not that far more advanced down that Progressive path than John Kerry, huh? Bush was the Great Decider and you, Obama, are the Great Explainer. God knows, Bush couldn't explain a god damned thing, but you can freaking explain everything, even - marginally - better than Kerry.

Well, the only reason I can think of for watching teevee tonight, is to look around the room for someone who's not in the Corporate Wing of the Democratic Party who's worth nominating in your place in 2012. That is, if you last that long.

Barry, you're embarrassing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Automotive Reincarnation

On Jul 15, 2008, Nora Gallagher published a column in the Los Angeles Times entitled Ode to a Dead Volvo. (Don't look for it.) I just found the clipping while looking for something else through the pile of stuff on my desk. It was reminiscent of cars in our family. In the process of looking for a digital version of the article to email to our family, I discovered, with a sense of eery and ironic amusement, that Gallagher had slightly re-written and updated her original column with a new ending.

I thought I would post both versions of Ode to a Dead Volvo simultaneously:

He was a 1989 Volvo station wagon, silver gray, turbo. We bought him used, one owner, in 1995, for $12,000 and we were lucky. We had another Volvo at home, a snappy red 850 (1993) who had a kind of Viking joie de vivre, if Scandinavians can be said to have joy in life. We named her Freya. When we brought the station wagon home it was clear he was more patient, less a Viking than a modern Swede, a socialist perhaps, and so we named him Oskar.

Oskar was my car. The first time he and I went on a longish trip, it was from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles with a friend in heavy rain. We hit rush hour traffic on the Pasadena Freeway, an elderly roadway of narrow lanes and bad curves, and Oskar drove like a draft horse, pushing his chest through the squalls and the waves from trucks, mowing his way past drowned sports cars.

He was comfortable. His leather seats were high, and reclined, like Eames chairs. When I drove him north to San Francisco the first time with another friend, she said, “It’s like driving in a living room.”

Nothing ever went wrong with Oskar. A few small things had to be replaced: hoses, brake linings, a wiper. Regularly, our mechanic, Steve, who had an old dog that used to lie outside his garage on a large cushion, would pat Oskar’s hood and pronounce him “good.” I took him in for his 3,000-mile checks and thought he would last forever.

I killed him. In my busy life, I ignored the smell of oil for two days. I had a list of things I had to do the day of Oskar’s death and among them was not dropping him off at Steve’s. And so on the freeway, I heard a fluttering sound, as if a flag were inside Oskar’s hood, and looked out the rear view window to see black smoke blooming from his tail pipe. I pulled over, at the foot of an exit, but not soon enough.

After the AAA tow, Steve met with me over the body. “That engine got hot,” he said, and looked at me as if I had shot his dog. I felt I had, practically, done exactly that. This car, so patient, so reliable, so destined to last for over 200,000 miles had died an early death at 158,619 because of my neglect.

And then? What to do? I mean, the decision to buy another car is freighted. It’s not only new vs. used, and cute vs. practical, and what we can honestly afford vs. a lark, it’s gas mileage, gas mileage, gas mileage. And emissions, emissions, emissions. And maybe we should just rebuild the engine. It was cheaper than a new car and in some ways, made green sense: recycling is a virtue.

And so I am faced with ... a Prius? I know there are many who love them A friend wanted to sleep in hers the day she brought it home. I having known Oscar, cannot bring myself to love a car that crows about its technology: that TV screen that advertises its energy consumption, that rearview video camera and odd button-like shift. (And isn't there something a little preachy about them?) My Oscar was self-effacing.

Perhaps it's too early; I should mourn. A car is more than its technology, more than it gas mileage.It's all the places you went together, all the ways it served you and, finally, who it was.

We test drove a Prius. I know there are those who love them: a friend wanted to sleep in hers the night she brought it home. But, I wasn’t sure. The TV screen, the technology –- isn’t there something a little preachy about them? And, of course, the Toyota dealer wanted what was essentially a ransom for this one -- silver, with gray leather interior -- which was, unbelievably, available. People were waiting five months for a Prius and plunking down thousand dollar deposits, non-refundable. But it was soooo expensive. We decided no, we’d rebuild Oskar.

Then a friend called. My husband mentioned our decision. Our friend, an environmental consultant said, “You can’t do that.”


“You actually can’t do that. The emissions on a car that old are terrible. You gotta either buy the Prius or something made within the last three years.”

Damn. The rubber hit the road.

We bought her.

We love her.

We named her Lady Murasaki.

Happy endings! Gallagher's new version is better than her original stalemated one. But I'm glad she skipped some of the details and changed the names to protect the guilty!

And, too bad Gallagher missed out on Cash for Clunkers!

Mad Mike's America Moves Up-Town!

My compliments to Mad Mike of MadMike's America. And to his entire MMA Crew. His new site has definitely moved Up-Town

A software architecture tapped from Word Press? Maybe. What is "Codex"? Whatever!

Mad Mike has definitely hit a grand-slam home run, and it's a game-changing development among my blogging friends. I have to admit it, I didn't think Mike had an innovative bone in his ancient body. But I was totally wrong! (And I always admit it, whenever I've been wrong!)

And now? I'll have to go and add another New Year's Resolution: Never to sell Mad Mike Short!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barack, Where's the Beef, er, CHANGE?

First: Along with many readers, I have no intention of abandoning Obama. I continue to hope - but - after the unbelievable loss of Ted Kennedy's seat to a Center-fold "Hunk", a Chameleon of a campaigner, I want to know what Obama learned from this debacle in Massachusetts.

I want him to stop listening to Rob Emanuel and David Axelrod and all those who advise him to move to the center. Balderdash. Republican-light, as Truman so forthrightly stated, will always lose to the genuine article.

I fear that his self-confidence has become hubris.

I wonder if he pictures himself as the American incarnation of Mandela. Does Obama envision himself as the Great Conciliator, the Great Collaborator? Does he imagine that he is He-Who-Achieves-Dominion-over-the-Rampant-Congressional-Divisiveness-&-Corporate-Greed that currently infects Washington, DC.?

Last November, when I voted for him, I believed Obama had the intention to speak to his fellow citizens regularly about the massive problems he inherited from Bush-eney, keeping us informed and involved. I also believed that he had the cajones to name the lies, the mis-statements, the fabrications, and the incessant fear-mongering that so poisons our nation's political dialogue - to speak the truth to the American people.

Instead, Obama has abdicated his role of teacher-in-chief while pandering away his "political capital" chasing impossible fantasies of winning over corporations and Republicants.

I want him to talk to us like he did as a campaigner. I want him to be the open, honest, transparent leader he told us he would be - the President who tells it like it is; the President who educates us about the multitude of complicated issues needing our attention, who lays out the pros and cons of possible solutions to those problems, and then who LEADS - who tells us why he favors the solution he believes will be in the nation's best interest. I want the real Barack Hussein Obama back.

I voted for BHO because I knew he "GOT IT!" I didn't vote for Rob, or David, but for BARACK.

I want the real deal - the beef - I want Barack to return to his own inner convictions, find his own courageous voice, and acknowledge the lessons HE has learned. I want him to return to inspiring those of us who voted for genuine change! Not pseudo-change, but Real Change - as he promised.

Beware of Russian Bears, Bearing Advice

An article, Russian Advice on Afghanistan, was published in the NYT one day before the current 7.0 Richter news cycle erupted in Haiti swept everything aside into obliteration. It was a column by Boris Gromov and Dmitry Rogozin, two gentleman who know whereof they speak.

Gromov is currently governor of the Moscow region, but during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, he did three tours of duty (1980-1982, 1985-1986, 1987-1989), and was best known for his two years as the last Commander of the 40th Army in Afghanistan. Gromov was the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan, crossing on foot the Friendship Bridge spanning the Amu-Daria river on 15-Feb-1989, the day the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan was completed. He received the highest military award – the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union - after Operation Magistral had lifted the siege of the city of Khost in eastern Afghanistan.

Dmitry Rogozin is Russia’s ambassador to NATO. His background, too, is of interest. In 2003, Dmitry Rogozin became one of the leaders of the Rodina (Motherland) "national-patriotic" coalition. Under Rogozin, Rodina shifted towards the far right wing of Russian politics and became one of the country's most successful parties.

When I read the original article, the advice from the Russians struck me as unusually solicitous.

I think that's what Michael Cohen had in mind when he wrote his brief rejoinder, The Story of Boris and Dmitry - A Play in One Act , in which he tries to reconstruct how this article came to be written. It goes like this:

Boris Gromov (governor of the Moscow region and commander of the 40th Soviet Army in Afghanistan) and Dmitry Rogozin (Russian Ambassador to NATO) are having a drink in a smoky Moscow bar.

So Dmitry, you look well. How are things in Brussels?

Well, you know, Boris, Brussels is lovely this time of year but I am increasingly worried.

Tell me more Dmitry.

Well it seems the Europeans are increasingly concerned about the war in Afghanistan; they are no longer convinced that it is in their national interest to fight an intractable war with the Taliban. I worry Boris . . . they might want to bring their troops home.

You don't say.

Yes, it is very concerning. After all if NATO isn't bleeding themselves in Afghanistan they might turn their attention to Mother Russia. Better to be bogged down in South Asia than poking their heads into the Caucuses or Ukraine.

Yes, yes. Quite true.

I have a thought. Let's write an op-ed for the New York Times in which we argue that NATO must stay in Afghanistan . . . . let me say . . . . what's the right phrase . . . ?

How about, "until the necessary conditions are provided to establish state local authorities capable of independently deterring radical forces and controlling the country."

Yes, that's it! And what's more, we could challenge the very manhood of NATO; call them "peace-loving" and selfish for not sending their young men to fight in a country that is of tangential importance to their national interests.

But Dmitry, that will take forever and cost the Europeans billions of dollars.


[Much laughing and guffawing ensues.]

How about we say that if NATO doesn't stay and fight it will be a "moment of truth" for NATO and the alliance might not survive. We can ever use the phrase "raison d'etre." I love that expression!

You know maybe it's the vodka talking, but why don't we also write that a "pullout would give a tremendous boost to Islamic militants, destabilize the Central Asian republic and set off flows of refugees, including many thousands to Europe and Russia?

[More merriment ensures.]

You know, Dmitry, this is a brilliant idea. But as long as we are arguing that NATO should stay, why don't we also whitewash the history of the Soviet occupation Afghanistan?

Interesting. What do you have in mind?

Well we could say that "we were fighting against the father of today's Taliban militants face-to-face, whereas Western armies prefer to fight from air."

[A long pause]

But Boris, this is not correct. Everyone knows that we dropped millions of mines on Afghanistan, specifically targeting civilians. We conducted air strikes and regular artillery barrages that killed ever more civilians. An estimated one million people died. The Americans try to do the opposite. Why would a fine paper like the New York Times allow us to make such an argument in their pages?

Dmitry, the Americans have short attention spans - our war was more than 20 years ago. Who remembers these things?

Maybe you are right. But you know if we're going to write something like that; we should really double down and also say that we "managed to deter the onslaught of Islamic fundamentalists for a full 10 years".

Oh Dmitry; now you go to far. Didn't our war in Afghanistan actually encourage and embolden Islamic fundamentalists?

Oh Boris, you're so naive.


Readers, please don't inquire why I didn't reproduce the original article. Didn't Shakespeare have Hamlet say,
I'll have grounds
More relative than this—the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Would MLK Say?

Martin Luther King, Jr., addressing the results of our disastrous foreign policy in Vietnam, said,
Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

Almost forty-two years later, these words ring as accurate as to how the people of Afghanistan regard Americans, as they were true when Martin first spoke them about the Vietnamese.

Sadly, Obama's continuation - actually his expansion - of Bush's disastrous policies, both foreign and domestic, make our President complicit in the fact that this is where we now find ourselves:

... forcing even our friends into becoming our enemies...
I am dismayed, appalled, angered, and in despair at this utterly unexpected result of Obama's failure to lead our nation in the paths that his soaring campaign rhetoric inspired and promised.

In the interest of fairness I have to acknowledge that no other president in our history has ever been confronted on Day One with such a multitude of intractable economic, military, legal, and ethical issues: two ongoing wars, fought in lands far from our shores, costing us precious blood and treasure we cannot afford, and a multitude of thorny and complicated problems, tied in Gordian knots, threatening our nation's very survival as a democracy, and as a (once-respected) member of the international community of nations.

Cleverly, Bush-eney and cohorts bequeathed these knotty problems to Obama believing them impossible to ever untangle, thus ensuring Obama's certain failure as President.

Obama's political party, true to its reputation of "eating its own", lived down to its characterization, especially in the United States Senate, increasing the likelihood that Obama will fail to implement his worthy goals.

And, the coup de gras turns out to be President Barack Hussein Obama himself. It seems that his personality, perfected over the years he worked as a Community Organizer, will not allow him to see, integrate, and accept the reality that is today's Republicant party - a party whose only objective is to regain political power in Washington in order to resume their demolition of our democratic Republic.

The Repubs, aided and abetted by Faux "News" and a largely AWOL "Third Estate", spins its fabricated lies with impunity. Meanwhile, Obama has expended all of his 'political capital' pandering to these hypocritical Republicants who want only to obstruct and who have no intention of working together for the good of the country.

How sad it is that he seems to have no one in his inner circle who seems willing or able to remind him that he promised those of us who voted for him that, together, we could take back our country - because he had inspired us and filled us with hope - we were "All Fired Up and Ready to Go!"

Where is that man who spoke those words with such vigor and conviction as a candidate?

Obama needs some of Martin's backbone.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr King's Day, Properly Observed

On April 4, 1967, Dr. King addressed a packed audience at Riverside Church in New York City and delivered a speech entitled Beyond Vietnam. Readers are invited to re-read Dr. King's comments on Afghanistan Vietnam at Politics Plus, wherein all comments are re-directed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti: Worse off than Afghanistan

Heartrending times we live in?
I'm not askin'; I'm just sayin'....

I avoid TV. It's worse than usual. Gone are the red-meat charges and counter charges between MS-NBC pundits and the clowns on Cluster Fux. That's to the good. But in its place is the real stuff in Haiti. The scenes are ... lurid and evocative. Even Trophy Wife, who loves E.R., will not look. I turn off my radio in the middle of an NPR reporter's eye-witness account of a flatbed truck going by him with bodies piled so high they have to be roped down. What's next for Haiti? I can imagine, so I don't want to go there... I shudder and try to find something middle-of-the road stimulating on C-SPAN: nothing more than a panel of ACLU-types moralizing about airport security. Finally, I settle on a book.

I'm been too busy these days to focus on current events. All I got is a few unfocused observations.

Barack Obama has got to be seen as pulling out all the stops to reduce Haitians' miseries. After all, look what he's says he's doing for Obamastan, half way all of the way around the world, where a good half of the people say they don't want to see any Americans except their backsides as they leave.

And you have the Republican dead-enders such as Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson demonizing the Haitians for the Good ol' Party (GOP)'s standard reasoning: no tax-payers' money goes to the poor people, anywhere, anytime.

Republicans don't deserve to be credited with being a political party. Not even a tea party. Maybe a fraternity party. Americans should see to it that Republicants are never again allowed to come close to governing. Because Republicants don't like government. And when they get reasonably close to government, they try to stick the worse possible people into office.

For evidence, I cite the first decade of this 21st century. You don't have to look further back than the 2008 presidential campaign when the Republicant presidential nominee accepted - accepted - Sarah Palin as his Rush Limbaugh's choice for number two C.I.C.

My God, my fellow Americans! Who's dumber than a stump if it's not John McCain? (The people who voted for him?) If he's not guilty of idiocy, he's certainly guilty of criminal treasonable 
negligence. And, they say he's in danger of losing, in his 2012 senatorial primary, to a Republicant who's even more extreme than the McCainster?

By now, if my readers haven't gotten a clear enough reason why I want to drop out of all political consciousness, I better quit right here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Obamastan: Where New & Promising Presidencies Go to Fail

So, why are we there? One reason is as likely as another, is my best guess.
Each day I keep trying to steal moments of discretionary time to fit the finishing touches on a putative game-changing post. Such a goal is illusory, of course, because there are those - even in the Liberal camp - who will not list to reason. They prefer to enlist their support in the Military-Industrial Complex's newest crusade: to make Afghanistan safe for Democracy or Democracy safe from Afghanistan.

I can't tell which it is from one day to the next. 

Their commitment to the Obama-McChrystal 18- month 18-year plan is based upon faith, hope, prayer, and even the CIC's personality cult. In the face of this, no effort on my part, no matter how my artful word-smithing improves (lots of room, there!), is going to convert minds I've always felt to be redeemable.

So once again, I retreat, saving my time and effort by resorting to the words of others. Today. I am reproducing the voice of one of greatest contemporary authorities on Western and Central Asia - that I read anyways.

Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, author of several books on Islam and politics. He is most renown on the Internet for his blog, Informed Comment.

Today he posted his review of President Obama's latest rant about terrorism in which Cole laments the Administration's retreat into buying off on the Cheneysque mythology of a American-led Global War on Terror (GWOT). Here are the concluding paragraphs of his Obama: The Age of the War on Al-Qaeda, which I trust will prove worthy of my readers' consideration:

Obama most unfortunately has allowed the right wing to maneuver him in to reviving the use of the word 'war,' and he is now talking about a 'war on al-Qaeda.' It is not a war, and cannot be fought like a war, and the word is just as misleading now as it was in the Bush-Cheney era. It is a counter-terrorism struggle. Highlighting al-Qaeda, moreover, gives Bin Laden what he always wanted, to parlay a few thousand cranks with weapons training into the central preoccupation of a superpower. Why not say, for our democracy to flourish, we must do good counter-terrorism? Wars imply a Pentagon role, and military action alone is more likely to provoke terrorism than to end it. In fact, if Bush had not invaded Iraq, al-Qaeda might well have died off by now.

Obama again talked about winning hearts and minds for the US in the Muslim world. But as the case of the Palestinian/Jordanian double agent, Humam al-Balawi, who detonated a suicide bomb at Forward Operating Base Campbell in Afghanistan showed, as long as the US backs Israeli encroachments on Palestinian land and Israeli attacks on and sieges of Palestinians, winning hearts and minds is complicated and in many cases impossible. The American right wing keeps repeating the stupid mantra that extremists and militants are 'evil' or 'hate us for who we are.' Maybe some are obsessed like that. But most do cite specific policies that enrage them, like the invasion of Iraq or the gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Vigilante violence is always wrong*, and their grievances give them no warrant to harm innocents (which is evil). But if winning hearts and minds is the issue, then US policy in the Middle East is an impediment. The large US footprint Obama is creating in Afghanistan has the potential to be another such obstacle.

A viable Palestinian state, a US withdrawal from Iraq, and an end to the Afghanistan war would do more to drain the swamp of al-Qaeda collectively than all the intelligence reviews and reorganizations in the world.
I would love to be on Obama's Presidential bus as much as I enjoyed being on his Campaign bus. But I'm not getting back aboard until Barry changes out the route, the bumpersticker, and the driver(s). Until that happens, I'd rather walk.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Question Headlines with Afghanistan Datelines

KABUL, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of people including students Thursday came to street in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in east Afghanistan, protesting against the killing of civilians by international troops.
The first question I ask myself is when is the last time I read a story when there was a protest against the Taliban for killing civilians? I don't think I recall a story like that. Not recently in our eight-year occupation, anyways. Further questions abound. Do Afghans only protest against NATO/USA forces because they fear the Taliban more?

According to the story I am reading, Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirms 10 people, including eight children, were killed by US led forces in Kunar province at the weekend. The US military and NATO have not confirmed whether the incident took place. Hundreds of people, including university students, blocked the main roads in Jalalabad, shouting "death to Obama" and calling for an investigation into the deaths.

Safiullah Aminzai, a student organiser from the University of Nangahar, stated,

The government must prevent such unilateral operations otherwise we will take guns instead of pens and fight against them [foreign forces].

Our demonstration is against those foreigners who have come to our country. They have not brought democracy to Afghanistan but they are killing our religious scholars and children.

Why these protests? General Stanley McChrystal, a smart and honest soldier, knows the answer. He supplied it in the middle of a Q&A at his October address at the London-based think tank, International Institute of Strategic Studies:

Let me describe it: a few days ago, just before we left to travel here, a bus south of Kandahar struck an improvised explosive device (IED) killing 30 Afghan civilians. That is tragic.

On the one hand, you might say that the Afghan people would recoil against the Taliban who left that IED. To a degree, they do, but we must also understand that they recoil against us because they might think that, if we were not there, neither would be the IED. Therefore, we indirectly caused the IED to be there. Second, we said that we would protect them, but we did not. Sometimes, then, the most horrific events caused by the insurgents continue to reinforce in the minds of the Afghan people a mindset that coalition forces are either ineffective, or at least that their presence in Afghanistan is not in their interest….
The General's answer begs additional questions.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jihadism and Terrorism: A Distinction with a Difference?

That Google News Item that first hit me between the eyes this morning has stood the test of two cups of coffee. So, I guess I'm good to go on it.

The five young Americans detained in Pakistan in early December said Monday that they had intended to go to Afghanistan to wage jihad against Western forces. But while defending their effort as justified under Islam, the young suspects also denied any links to Al Qaeda or plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as the Pakistani authorities have contended.

Ramy Zamzam 22, an Egyptian American who was a dental student at Howard University, addressed a court for the first time since his arrest in the city of Sargodha,

We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.
Think about that distinction, at least for a nano-second.

The men, ages 19 to 25, denied having ties with Al Qaeda or other militant groups during the court appearance. Their lawyer, Ameer Abdullah Rokri, said,

They told the court that they did not have any plan to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Pakistan. They said that they only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces.
Now, I can see that is a distinction with a difference. Terrorism, properly defined, consists in violence against civilians to attain a political purpose. Action against military forces constitutes warfare.

I'm sure there are laws on U.S. statutes proscribing American citizens from taking up arms against American troops. I don't know what they are, but I believe they should be enforced, should any of these five be extradited back to the States. And, of course, this case has spurred fears that Westerners are traveling to Pakistan to join militant groups.

But I don't think they should be charged with terrorism. If they were interested in terrorism, they would have directed their violence here, in the American homeland, against civilians. If it can be shown that their activity was merely to join the Taliban, as opposed to al Qaeda, then they should be charged with breaking any American criminal code which may outlaw enlisting in forces engaged in combat against the armed forces of the United States.

But Americans going abroad to fight in foreign wars does not or should not, in and of itself, constitute terrorism under American law. Americans fighting in foreign armed forces is not unheard of. The most obvious case was during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) when Americans joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

But the Pakistanis may feel completely different. Pakistan's judiciary may want to prosecute the five Americans aggressively to make a point, especially having come under criticism by the United States and India for failing to forcefully pursue the alleged Pakistani masterminds behind the November 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people. Additionally, Pakistani authorities say the five men had a map of a reservoir structure near nuclear power facilities in Punjab province, about 125 miles southwest of Islamabad.

That is a different story. Pakistani prosecutors plan to seek life sentences under the country’s anti-terrorism law.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

America's Afghanistan Mission(s)

As I did with repect to Iraq, I agree with Jon Soltz on Afghanistan.

Soltz is the Co-Founder and Chair of, and a leader of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans community. From May to September 2003, Soltz served as a Captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying logistics convoys with the 1st Armored Division. During 2005, Soltz was mobilized for 365 days at Fort Dix New Jersey, training soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served his country with distinction in the Kosovo Campaign as a Tank Platoon Leader between June and December 2000. Soltz is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College with a dual degree in Political Science and History. He has completed graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Soltz is asking, After Detroit Near-Attack, Is Afghan Strategy the Right One?

..... one of the most pressing questions is why we're sending nearly every Marine and Soldier we have to Afghanistan, when Abdulmutallab and a Somali man arrested for plotting a similar attack last month apparently had no real connection to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Indeed, as now has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab received materials and training in Yemen, a largely lawless, poor country just south of Saudi Arabia. The Somali man, picked up in Mogadishu, seems to have been wearing a similar device as Abdulmutallab, suggesting he received his materials and training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well.

Yes, the United States has done some right things to address the threat from this region - sending over $40 million in aid to Yemen last year to fight the squalid conditions in which many Yemenis live, and contributes to an atmosphere that breeds terror, and nearly $70 million in counter-terror funds, to help the government directly combat al-Qaeda. Those funds are expected to increase this year, as well they should.

Clearly, however, money is not enough. It's not enough to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen, or anywhere else throughout Africa, or any region in the future where al-Qaeda takes foot. The United States and its allies have the right to work in conjunction with governments to strike al-Qaeda camps and leaders, or do it ourselves if the in-country government is unable to.

That leads me back to Afghanistan/Pakistan. Yes, the region is still a major center of al-Qaeda activity, and yes, our military must be involved in the region to strike at the terror network. But, given the ability of al-Qaeda to spread and pop up in areas around the globe where we are not present, it simply doesn't make sense anymore to engage in a long-term counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which focuses on beating back insurgents rather than al Qaeda, and securing the country at large. That strategy relies on nearly every troop we have, and could have many of them stuck there far past President Obama's 2011 deadline, given Richard Engel's recent report on NBC that Afghan security forces are nowhere near ready, and may never be.
Assuming we could win in AfPak, whatever that would look like, could we even afford victory?
Now, yes, if it works, a counter-insurgency strategy could largely quiet al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, the same as a narrower counter-terror strategy would, but at what cost? What about the other branches of al-Qaeda around the world? It's clear they'll simply pick up the slack, in terms of striking the U.S. Without enough forces to stay flexible ourselves, and without indigenous governments capable of crushing al-Qaeda in their nation, we're simply letting al-Qaeda breed elsewhere, largely unfettered.

So, as President Obama examines the holes in security, he would be wise to also reexamine his decision to commit almost every troop we have to Afghanistan. Sun Tsu said to know thy enemy and thyself. We know al-Qaeda isn't going to stay put to fight where we want to fight. We know that we simply don't have the numbers to secure all of Afghanistan as part of a long-term counter-insurgency and fight al-Qaeda elsewhere. Combined, those facts suggest the far wiser course for the U.S. is to not rely on a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan for the long-term, but free up troops to take part in counter-terror operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, or wherever al-Qaeda may try to set up base next.
In other words, there is a difference between objectives being talked about.

Counter-insurgency is what occupational forces wage against indigenous forces. Counter-terrorism is what is waged to attack those who strike at civilian populations in other lands. So, just as we were doing during the Bush-Cheney years, we are fighting two wars (when we can only afford one): Counter-al Qaeda which we are mandated to do, and counter-Taliban which Obama-McChrystal have elected for us to do.

President Obama is seeing America's mission in double-vision. He needs a corrective prescription for his spectacles.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Obama Should Exercise Leadership (Somewhere!) on Airport Security!

Three years years ago I published on Backscatter, a full-body scanner technology, and recommended its implementation. More recently, I promoted the same on Swiftspeech.

Consider the Republican alternative??? --------------------->

When jihadist nuts are willing to place explosives in their own body cavities, the time for this technology has arrived. It should not be voluntary.

The failed Christmas Day attack aboard a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner has created congressional calls for greater use of body scanners that advocates say would have detected non-metallic items such as the explosives an Islamic militant from Nigeria is accused of smuggling on board.

Obama should get ahead of the curve on this one, (if no where else,) and push for full body scanning at all major airports in the USA. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) don’t need legislation from Congress to start using the devices at any of the 560 U.S. airports with scheduled airline service.

Dutch authorities said on Wednesday Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where the Nigerian suspect made a connection, will begin using full-body scanners within three weeks.

The devices detect objects concealed under clothes and can produce detailed images of the body. Operators in a separate room view images that blur the face and genitalia.

Because ceramic knives and explosive powders and liquids can pass through standard metal detectors without setting off alarms, authorities might consider forcing passengers to pass through whole-body imaging machines.

Please let the ACLU wail and roll over. But just let us get on with the terms of living in the 21st Century?