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Category Archives: War on Terror

Liz Cheney has a passion for Eric Holder that  positively gives me the vapors. Her war on the Attorney General’s prosecution of the War on Terror is fascinating. The Department of Justice has been dubbed the Department of Jihad. The tea partyists are calling for a lynching. But there has been a backlash. Eugene Robinson writes:

Presumably they know that “the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’ representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre”—in other words, older than the nation itself.

That quote is from a letter by a group of conservative lawyers—including several former high-ranking officials of the Bush-Cheney administration, legal scholars who have supported draconian detention and interrogation policies, and even Kenneth W. Starr—that blasts the “shameful series of attacks” in which Liz Cheney has been the principal mouthpiece. Among the signers are Larry Thompson, who was deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft; Peter Keisler, who was acting attorney general for a time during George W. Bush’s second term; and Bradford Berenson, who was an associate White House counsel during Bush’s first term.

“To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions,” the letter states.

But maligning is apparently the whole point of the exercise. The smear campaign by Cheney, et al., has nothing to do with keeping America safe. It can only be an attempt to inflict political damage on the Obama administration by portraying the Justice Department as somehow “soft” on terrorism. Even by Washington’s low standards, this is unbelievably dishonest and dishonorable.

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The neo cons have a charmingly parochial view of the world. They believe that if we simply occupy more countries and build more bridges (right after we blow them up), we can defuse radical Islamic jihad and spread democracy. No more 9-11s. No more terrorism. All it takes is enough troops. The trouble is that the U.S. army apparently can’t even take an American-born Muslim, pay for his education and train him to use a gun and win his particular heart and mind to the American Way. Is there something about our view of the world and the Muslim view of the world that is fundamentally irreconcilable? Nahhh, that makes far too much sense.

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Obama’s handpicked general, Stan McChrystal,  has been lionized by the right wing media as a military genius who can win the Afghanistan war. As troop fatalities rose over the past weekend conservative radio was all henny penny that we need more troops and we need them now (even when at least two of the deaths result from “friendly backfire”––one American helicopter collided into another U.S. helicopter, suggesting there are, perhaps, too many American soldiers in Afghanistan, at least at that particular moment.) So while Obama “dithers,” to quote our former Vice President, let’s consider what General McChrystal is smoking. Scott Ritter sums it up:

McChrystal operates under the illusion that American military power can provide a shield from behind which Afghanistan can remake itself into a viable modern society. He has deluded himself and others into believing that the people of Afghanistan want to be part of such a grand social experiment, and furthermore that they will tolerate the United States being in charge. The reality of Afghan history, culture and society argue otherwise. The Taliban, once a defeated entity in the months following the initial American military incursion into Afghanistan, are resurgent and growing stronger every day. The principle source of the Taliban’s popularity is the resentment of the Afghan people toward the American occupation and the corrupt proxy government of Hamid Karzai. There is nothing an additional 40,000 American troops will be able to do to change that basic equation. The Soviets tried and failed. They deployed 110,000 troops, operating on less restrictive lines of communication and logistical supply than the United States. They built an Afghan army of some 45,000 troops. They operated without the constraints of American rules of engagement. They slaughtered around a million Afghans. And they lost, for the simple reason that the people of Afghanistan did not want them, or their Afghan proxies.

Perhaps we need to listen to our historians, as much as we listen to our generals.

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Prosecuting the war on terror has always required a steely resolve, a heart of courage and a complete disregard for history, facts or anything approaching reality. It is a shame that the Nobel Prize committee can’t cough up a Nobel War prize. John McCain and the neo cons would be shoo ins.   Frank Rich of the New York Times explains:

Perhaps the most surreal aspect of our great Afghanistan debate is the Beltway credence given to the ravings of the unrepenant blunderers who dug us into this hole in the first place.

Let’s be clear: Those who demanded that America divert its troops and treasure from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 — when there was no Qaeda presence in Iraq — bear responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan that ensued. Now they have the nerve to imperiously and tardily demand that America increase its 68,000-strong presence in Afghanistan to clean up their mess — even though the number of Qaeda insurgents there has dwindled to fewer than 100, according to the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones.

But why let facts get in the way? Just as these hawks insisted that Iraq was “the central front in the war on terror” when the central front was Afghanistan, so they insist that Afghanistan is the central front now that it has migrated to Pakistan. When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front, it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen.

To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site

…Americans, meanwhile, want to see the fine print after eight years of fiasco with little accounting. While McCain and company remain frozen where they were in 2001, many of their fellow citizens have learned from the Iraq tragedy. Polls persistently find that the country is skeptical about what should and can be accomplished in Afghanistan. They voted for Obama not least because they wanted a new post-9/11 vision of national security, and they will not again be so easily bullied by the blustering hawks’ doomsday scenarios. That gives our deliberating president both the time and the political space to get this long war’s second act right.

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The Holy Scriptures warn us of false messiahs promising “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. However, the Good Book says precious little about folks who receive Nobel Peace prizes when they have no peace accomplishments to merit it. President Obama has been awarded this honor after a mere nine months on the job, with America embroiled in two land wars and, most recently, having just bombed the moon. The event is rich with irony. But our President accepted the award with appropriate humility and understood it as a reminder of what he has yet to be accomplished, rather than a metric of  “mission accomplished” achievements to quote his Nobel-prizeless predecessor. Whether Obama’s over-the-top apologetic rhetoric on foreign soil has emboldened terrorists remains to be seen. What is certain is his turning sabre-rattling into multilateral cooperation has at least emboldened our European allies. Which after the last eight years , is worth, at least, an honorable mention.

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It was his first speech before the UN assembly. He was received with more enthusiastic  applause than his predecessor. His speech was smooth, full of the same sort of rebukes of global apathy and calls to work together that you might find in any US presidential speech before these united nations. If Bush was seen as a global bully, Obama is seen as Mr. Nice Guy. And of course, right wing radio will argued that he just gave away the farm and emboldened our global enemies by being “too nice.” The second coming of Neville Chamberlain. At the end of the day, the UN will not be any the better for the Obama speech. Then came Omar Khadafi, or as he was introduced, “the King of Kings.” Wearing a robe that would make a 42nd Street pimp green with envy, he rambled on incoherently from a wad of misfiled scribblings. He received the sort of chilly applause you would expect for a global thug––a slightly better reception than he received in New Jersey. All in all, our Prince of Peace and Libya’s King of King were more eloquent than effectual. And isn’t that always the case? Which means the man who reigns from God’s throne is still the best bet for peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

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JibJab has done it again.

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Obama’s parallel between the Palestinians and Black America was an attempt to credit nonviolence as the prime mover in the civil rights movement. The president conveniently forgets the “burn, baby, burn”, by any means possible mayhem that helped loosen the White establishment’s hold on power. Christopher Caldwell observes:

Mr Obama’s criticism of terrorism is two-pronged. On the one hand he sees terrorism as morally wrong, and here he was most eloquent: “It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,” he said. On the other hand, he sees terrorism as ineffective, and here he is far less persuasive. “For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation,” Mr Obama said. “But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.”

You can say it was not violence alone that won black people their rights. But an American should not need reminding that the US civil war – fought over nothing but slavery and its constitutional implications – was spectacularly bloody, complete with starvation camps, torched cities and actual terrorism, too. Even the last century’s civil rights movement required not just the marches of Martin Luther King, but federal troops.

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The New Republic has an interesting take on the Cairo speech:

Obama’s Cairo speech had a misleading quality to it. The president was speaking the rhetoric of Reagan, while intending to execute the policy of George H. W. Bush. Conveying the image of an emotional, forthcoming, and understanding bridge-builder, he is actually a cautious and calculated leader, wanting to scale down America’s foreign policy–back to the days when “interests” were king, not “ideologies.” Obama is a new type of the old “realist.” He is a realist with feelings–one that can naturally combine a call for halting Iran’s nuclear weapons because of “America’s interests” (and others’) with his personal story of “an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama.”

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Obama goes to the Egypt. Bin Laden comes out of the woodwork.

The al-Qaeda leader’s remarks, aired on Wednesday by Al Jazeera television, came a day after comments by his deputy who described Mr Obama as a criminal and warned Muslims not to fall for his polished words.

Their statements marked a concerted al-Qaeda propaganda drive to pre-empt a major speech to the Muslim world that the US president is due to deliver in Egypt on Thursday.

“Obama and his administration have planted seeds for hatred and revenge against America,” the Saudi-born bin Laden said in the audio recording.

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I can’t help but wonder if the Yale hazing rituals made our former Fratboy President a little clueless about what constitutes inhumane treatment of unsentenced detainees:

Here are details of the methods described in the memos: WATERBOARDING :: This technique induced a sensation of drowning. The detainee would lie face-up and strapped down with his head inclined down. A cloth was placed over his face on which cold water was poured for periods of at most 40 seconds. “This creates a barrier through which it is either difficult or impossible to breathe,” one memo said. Each session could last no more than two hours. “Water may be applied for a total of no more than 12 minutes during any 24-hour period,” the memo said. :: Former US President George W. Bush authorised the CIA to use waterboarding in interrogations of senior al Qaeda suspects after the September 11 attacks. It was used against the suspected planner of the attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and two others – senior al Qaeda members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the government memos said. :: Human Rights Watch says waterboarding dates at least to the Spanish Inquisition and was also used in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. OTHER METHODS :: Placing an insect into a “confinement box” was sought as a tactic on Zubaydah. He could be kept in a larger box in which he could both stand and sit for up to 18 hours, but would not spend more than an hour at a time in the “smaller” box. Interrogators planned to tell Zubaydah they were putting a stinging insect into the box but it would actually be harmless “such as a caterpillar.” :: In “walling,” the interrogator would pull a detainee toward him, then slam him against a “flexible false wall” in a technique designed to create a loud sound and shock the prisoner. A detainee may be walled once to make a point or 20 to 30 times when interrogation requires “a more significant response to a question.” :: Sleep deprivation, in which detainees were shackled in a standing position, was used on more than a dozen detainees for more than 48 hours, on three detainees for more than 96 hours and on one detainee for the maximum allowed of 180 hours. :: Three interrogation techniques are typically used as a starting point to show the detainee has no control over basic human needs. They are “nudity, sleep deprivation (with shackling and, at least at times with use of a diaper), and dietary manipulation,” according to one memo.

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Until we do. Obama has actually learned something from the Iraqi war. Negotiating with terrorists sometimes works. This from the New York Times:

The President declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Until we do. Obama has actually learned something from the war on Iraq. Negotiating with terrorists actually works.
Mr. Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. “There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region,” he said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.

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Apparently, General David Petraeus is having an unhappy honeymoon with the new Commander-in-Chief. The pillow talk is not what it used to be. And it seems this President is not comfortable with a Petraeus scheme of simply relabeling Iraqi-based troops and calling that a withdrawal:

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, “Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama.”

Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.

Gates and Mullen had discussed the relabeling scheme with Obama as part of the Petraeus-Odierno plan for withdrawal they had presented to him in mid-December, according to a Dec. 18 New York Times story.

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Okay, nobody has accused Obama of having a shortage of gray matter. But, wow! His first televised interview, he does for Arabic television. And he can say that members of his family are Muslim, and that he grew up in Muslim countries. All the stuff that didn’t play well in West Virginia, gives this guy a leg up in the West Bank. Hopefully, this does more than reduce the flag burnings. Hopefully, it helps reshape the globe. Yes we can.