The Daily Demarche
Don't Call it a Comeback (sorry, couldn't resist).
Thanks for the kind notes, everyone. It is good to be back, but I do want to say upfront that I am not committing to any kind of regular schedule this time. I'll post things as I can and look forward to your comments and e-mails.
Today's topic- two articles that caught my attention recently. The first, "No Coyote Needed- U.S. Visas Still an Easy Ticket in Developing Countries
" by David Seminara
, has been kicking up a bit of a storm in the halls of the Foreign Service lately. The second article is from Foreign Policy magazine and is entitled "Meet the New Face of Al Qaeda
" (no author listed). This article has not, to my knowledge caused much of a stir and no one in the FS (or anywhere else in the U.S. government that I am aware of) seems to be connecting the two pieces.
Seminara's article deals with the fact that while most Americans think of illegal immigrants as "desperate migrants sneaking across the Mexican border... a 2006 Pew Hispanic Center study [found] nearly half of the 12 million-plus illegal aliens in America arrived legally with temporary, non-immigrant visas." The Foreign Policy piece details four "new faces" of al Qaeda- at least one of whom was a so-called "'clean-skin' operative" due to the fact that he had never been identified as a terror threat and never had an encounter with law enforcement. To me the connection leaped off the pages: it appears that way too many people are getting visas who probably should not and that al Qaeda is now deploying people we don't know about who very well might "qualify" for visas under the best of circumstances- which Seminara makes clear do not exist in the field.
Oh, and least two of the four could have made it into the U.S. on the visa waiver program. The woman detailed was Belgian and one of the men was British. What is with the past tense in these cases? Three of the four have already carried out suicide missions, and one is in custody after attempting to do so, which is the only reason we know about them. Here are some excerpts from the FP article:Shehzad Tanweer -British-Suicide bombing in London - epitomizes the threat of “clean-skin” operatives, authorities say. He was an A-student and a gifted athlete with many friends. Tanweer had no history of violence or run-ins with police. His family described him as “proud to be British.”
Muriel Degauque- Belgian, born Catholic-suicide bombing in Baquba, Iraq-Terrorism experts believe Degauque was the first European Muslim woman to execute a suicide attack. European women who marry Muslim men are now the largest source of religious conversions in Europe, and European counter terrorism officials are increasingly concerned that female converts represent a small but potentially deadly element of the terrorist threat in Europe.
Ahmed Said Ahmed al-Ghamdi- Saudi Arabian (son of a Saudi diplomat)- Suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq - Ghamdi’s radicalization is notable because he was smart, well-connected in Riyadh, and had excellent career prospects. Raised within the Saudi upper class, he represents the higher end of the intelligence scale among Middle Eastern youth, a group not traditionally thought of as a hotbed for terrorist recruiting.
Kafeel Ahmed- Indian- Attempted suicide bombing in Scotland- Ahmed’s case shows how new technologies are helping to recruit the next generation of terrorists. Authorities believe he was radicalized in Islamist chatrooms, where he followed events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine closely. He was fond of downloading speeches delivered by Osama bin Laden, yet he showed little interest in Islamist causes in India. It was also on jihadist Internet sites that Ahmed downloaded hundreds of bomb designs.
In his piece Seminara draws on an impressive collection of data and his own experiences working on the visa line in Macedonia and Bulgaria to explain why he feels that there are serious problems in the visitor visa adjudication process. While some of what he recalls is no longer 100% accurate (things have changed a bit since he left) the errors are minor and in no way reflect the overall impact of the piece- for example there have been fee increases, and supervisors do now review some visa issuances (but not all). Seminara offers a laundry list of the reasons he believes are behind this problem, here are a few of my favorites:
• Foreign service officers tend to have a diplomatic rather than a law enforcement mindset.
• Developing countries place great importance on visas in bilateral discussions.
• There is a lack of accountability and emphasis on adherence to the law as a promotion criterion.
• Consular officers’ tend to value applicants’ purpose of travel over their legal qualifications for the visa.
• DHS has failed to implement meaningful exit controls or to share entry/exit data with consular officials overseas, leaving officers without adequate information on visa renewal applicants.
• The lack of feedback to consular officers on visa overstays leads many to underestimate how serious the overstay problem is.
• Officers evaluate how well-off visa candidates are by the standards of their home country, rather than by U.S. standards, and often fail to understand how a school teacher in Romania might prefer to be a cab driver in Chicago, or why a nurse from Ecuador would wash dishes at a restaurant in New York.
• Refused applicants, their relatives, and members of Congress place pressure on consular officials to overturn visa refusals, and sometimes manage to “wear down” consular officers.
• The simple reality that it is far easier to say “yes” to applicants than to shatter their dreams by telling them that they don’t qualify to come to America.
This is not the whole list, but you get the idea. I remember well looking out of my visa window and seeing the more than 2,000 cases we averaged per day (I spent my first 2 years as an FSO in a "visa mill") as well as the pressure to go faster and the seemingly never ending faxes/letters/calls/e-mails from Congressional offices wondering why some constituents cousin/friend/lover/co-worker had been denied a visa. I have very little doubt that had any of the four individuals profiled in FP appeared at my window they most likely would have gotten a visa from me, and that if they had applied recently to come to the U.S. the decision would have been the same.
Seminara does an excellent job describing the "culture of issuance" that pervades many consular sections, and describes in detail why visa interviewing is an "art, not a science" and the simple fact that it is quite hard to look another person in the face and say "no" to their visa request. I am not quite convinced that he has arrived at the correct conclusions, however- his number one recommendation is to take visa issuance away from State and give it to DHS. It is my understanding that DHS ever so briefly considered this when the agency was formed and that they basically said "no, thank you." He also calls for supervisors to review "all" issuances, which I don't think is even remotely realistic. Even if they had the time, they would not have the totality of the interview to review- primarily the applicant would be gone, so what would they be checking? Two points I agree with wholeheartedly, however, are:
• Refocus visa adjudication away from giving applicants the “benefit of the doubt” and toward strict adherence to the law.
• Allow consular officers access to entry/exit data to increase the quality of decision-making by preventing chronic visa abusers from renewing their visas.
Of course for the second point we'd actually have to have an idea who is leaving the country.
The reality is that we don't seem to be moving in that direction, and in fact may be regressing by offering visa free travel to South Korea, Czech Republic and more EU countries. Foreign born terrorists are not the only threat to national security, to be sure. But stopping them should at least be a pillar of our national security strategy. Hamstringing our officers in the field by not collecting valid data (entry/exit) and not sharing what data we do collect while expanding the visa waiver program strikes me as a recipe for trouble. I highly reccomend reading the entire Seminara piece, it is well worth the time.
Now if only I could a few folks at Foggy Bottom and on the Hill to read these two articles together...
Is anyone still reading this thing?
I am kicking around the idea of starting up again, having finally found a few spare minutes in the day, and feeling inspired by the return of The Diplomad
. I guess the only question is: is anybody out there?
Change of Address
It is with very mixed emotions that I sit down to write this post. This will be my last posting at The Daily Demarche, as I move into semi-retirement from blogging. Recent life events and work, and a few other factors, have not allowed me to dedicate the time and attention to this blog that it and you deserve. I have not been able to meet the "daily" portion of the title for some time, and do not see that changing anytime soon.
I am not, however, throwing in the towel completely. I plan to continue to write and post, but no longer on this blog. As the title of this post suggests I am relocating- I will primarily be blogging at American Future
with Marc Schulman, who has generously agreed to allow me to hang my shingle with his, at one of the best blogs on the 'net. My plan is to post there at least once a week, more frequently as time allows- or as world events inspire me to forgo sleep in order to post. I am sure that nearly all of you are familiar with Marc's outstanding blog, and know for a fact that many of you visit here from there. From time to time I will also post at The Intelligence Summit Blog
, although I would not venture to guess with what frequency. Consul at Arms
now bears the burden of being the last of the Foreign Service blogs, although I imagine New Sisyphus
will still have something to say about foreign policy from time to time.
The reaction to this blog has wildly exceeded my expectations, with an average of well over a thousand hits per day in the last year, thanks in part to several "instalaunches" from the likes of Instapundit
, Austin Bay
and Michelle Malkin
, but even more so the readers who have spread our name by word of mouth, and an established group of commenters who have kept me on my toes with excellent debate and ruthless spell and fact checking. I hope that you will check in frequently at American Future; if at all possible I will try to establish a regular day to post there- although once you start to read Marc's posts you might forget all about looking for me! I owe a debt of gratitude to many people and blogs, and hope I can remember to mention them all here- I apologize in advance if I leave anyone out.
First I have to thank Mrs. Dr. D who tolerated all the time I spent in front of the keyboard and the occasional late night outburst as I surfed the net news. I can only hope that all of you have or find a mate like her. Next comes The Diplomad
who inspired me to start this blog- and who nine months after his last posting still generates traffic for The Daily Demarche- if you are out there reading this, we miss you, and thanks. I also have to thank Smiley, who believed in the project early on and wrote some of the best posts on this blog-including this one
. I've missed him here but can't say I fault him in the least for not being around as much.
I also want to thank A Guy in Pajamas
who helped to spread the word early on about us, as did Toni from Bear Creek Ledger
(formerly The View From Tonka) and my all time favorite member of the loyal opposition Eric Martin at Total Information Awareness
. Blogs like Expat Yank
kept me informed on events in far away places, and The Atlantic Review
restored (somewhat) my faith in our public diplomacy efforts.
Every blogger who participated in our "What if We Never Invaded Iraq
" and "China Syndrome
" blog projects reinforced my belief that the finest minds in policy analysis and imaginative thinking are not necessarily to be found in the press, or think tanks or the government. Every blog on the blogroll to the right- and many that I am ashamed to say I never got around to adding- played a part in the happiness I found writing this blog, as did every person who ever left a comment or sent me an e-mail (even the hate mail!), and all of you contributed to my sense that our democracy is alive, well, and in good hands.
I will continue to use the same e-mail address dr.demarche AT gmail.com, and look forward to reading your comments at American Future
. If all goes well I hope to have my first post ready for Marc to publish by Tuesday, at the latest. And so, it is not farewell, but see you later.
Thanks again to all of you,
(End of post.)
Marc Schulman, at American Future
, has posted the first of three parts of an excellent collection and analysis
of ten years worth of the New York Times' coverage of and stance on Saddam Hussein, Iraq and the war to free the latter from the former.
As Marc describes it:This post, which covers the eight years of the Clinton administration, is the first of three that employ the Times’ editorials to trace and analyze the evolution of the newspaper’s position on Iraq. The second will cover the pre-invasion Bush administration, while the third will deal with the period from the fall of Baghdad to the present.
This timeline of editorials and articles should be required reading for both those who support and oppose the war in Iraq; especially those sitting in Washington trying to remember what lead us to the point we have reached today. As one commenter noted, it is "like watching time-lapse photography" of the evolution of not only one major media player's opinions on the subject, but also our policy towards the region.
Spend some time refreshing your memory on this subject, you won't be disappointed.
(end of post)
There are two holidays that mean more to me when I am far from home, the first, July 4th, probably goes without saying. The second is Thanksgiving. I was surprised at how forcefully my first Thanksgiving in a foreign country struck me. At home the day had always meant football, turkey, mom's pumpkin roll, family and friends- to be sure those are all things to be missed, and I still do miss them every year. But none of them accounted for the deep rooted sense of missing America on that last Thursday in November. Gradually, however, it came to me that in addition to the food and family, the football and friends, what I was missing was the sense of tradition. America, writ large, is not a land bound by many traditions, and these two holidays are in a large part what define our common cause for celebration.
So today, though I am far from home and not likely to see any football, I am thankful for the friends and family I have with me here. I am thankful for the efforts that we all will make today as we gather together here, in an effort to have a traditional thanksgiving (I've been hoarding a few cans of whole cranberries for months just for today!).
Beyond that I am thankful for the accident of birth that allows me to call myself an American. I am thankful for the brave men and women in our armed services, for those among us that struggle to protect us all from those who would do us harm. I am thankful for our allies in this struggle against our enemies, no matter how the left and MSM belittle them. I am thankful for purple stained fingers proudly thrust in front of the media's cameras.
I am thankful for you, for reading this, and hope that you too can celebrate this American holiday with thanks, wherever you are.
(end of post)
Is he, or isn't he?
As I write this, speculation abounds as to whether or not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is still alive. Iraqi and U.S. forces took a house in Mosul on Saturday, and some of the occupants blew themselves up to avoid capture. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari earlier today stated
:"In my view, I would say there must have been some key leaders of the insurgency, especially the fundamentalists -- al Qaeda type of people -- so I would not be surprised if he could be one of those who blew himself up." "We know that American and Iraqi forces ... surrounded a house where there was fierce resistance and when the American and Iraqi forces jointly tried to storm the building the occupants blew themselves up, they committed suicide," Zebari added. "They believe there must have been some key leaders from the terrorists, from the fundamentalists who committed suicide instead of handing themselves up."
Now I am not certain that I agree with that sentiment- a great many non-key members of al Qaeda have blown themselves up, and let us not forget how Saddam himself, a key leader if there ever was one, was dragged from a hole in the ground with no fight whatsoever. Reports
from within our government indicate scepticism that al-Zarqawi was in the house, although we may be closing in
on him. Of course allied forces will continue to check to see if he was killed in the raid, but-I have to ask, does it really matter if al-Zarqawi is dead? (Although, if he really is, I'll gladly eat 72 raisins
to mark his passing.)
Al-Zarqawi has recently become a bit of a pariah in the middle east, or at least in parts of it, after his group claimed responsibility for three bombings in Jordan (several good video clips embedded in that piece). One of these bombings targeted a wedding party- killing the fathers of both the bride and groom, and several other relatives and party guests. His killing of, or sponsorship of the killing of, non-Muslims was not enough to invoke the ire of the "religion of peace", but this time by striking close to home, he may have gone too far. Having crossed the line, he may be more valuable to al-Qaeda dead than alive.
One of the constant problems with the "war on terror" is the very nature of the enemy- amorphous, difficult to pinpoint or identify. While "men" such as Osama bin Laden and al-Zarqawi put a face to the enemy, it is the ideology, not these men, who we fight. It is the ability of such men to convince others to strap on explosive belts and decimate a wedding, or to fly airliners into skyscrapers that makes them dangerous, but it is the continuing supply of willing volunteers that ensures the battle will continue.
We have seen proof that volunteers exist from all walks of life and all parts of the world; and it is no secret that Terror, Inc. makes great use of the internet. Now MEMRI reports that
"Until December 13, 2005, supporters can sign an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi online".
The oath reads, in part, as follows:
"I invite you to the first day of the month of the great swearing of an oath of loyalty to the commander of the Muslim armies, Sheikh Osama bin Laden, and to the commanders of the global jihad: Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, and to all the jihad fighters.
"Oh God, you need this oath of loyalty, the oath of death for Allah that will terrorize the infidels and earn the jihad fighters in particular, and the Muslims in general, reward in the world to come...
"Moreover, for this oath of loyalty to death it is not necessary for you to die now - but in the near future, the very near future, Allah willing, we must all join this blessed convoy, particularly since we have sworn an oath of loyalty.
"This [signing of this] oath of loyalty will continue for one month, and will be posted in all the forums so that the number of oath-takers will be [as] great [as possible], and so that Osama bin Laden will have an army in Afghanistan, an army in Iraq, and a massive army in the waiting list on the Internet pages.
"This is the Internet that Allah operates in the service of jihad and of the mujahedoun, and that has become [a tool in service of] your interest - such that half the mujahedoun's battle is waged on the pages of the Internet, which is the only outlet for passing announcements to the mujahedoun.
"Anyone who has already sworn an oath of loyalty is asked not to do so again, because at the end of the month there will be a count of all those who took the oath..."
"We swear loyalty to Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah preserve him, and to the commanders of the global jihad, Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Sheikh Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, and all the Jihad fighters. [This is] an oath of death for Allah.
Al-Zarqawi was elevated to the unholy pantheon of al-Qaeda with the beheading of Nicholas Berg. His death, at his own hands to avoid capture, would only ensure his place there. We should not get overly excited if really is dead. The men and women who brought about his death, if indeed they have, deserve a "well done", but for the time being we can be sure that there is another scoundrel prepared, to take his place, and if there isn't you can bet that OBL is running his own version of The Apprentice to find the next one- only his unsuccessful contestants aren't fired, they are handed an explosive belt and sent out to wreak havoc. Web sites such as the above indicate there is no shortage of willing participants.
This is a war of attrition, plain and simple. There will be no Paris accords this time (just ask Paris), no dividing of a country at some arbitrary parallel. We- the non-Muslim (and incresingly non-jihadist version of Islam) will either win this war by stamping out all of the "al-Zarqawis" out there, or we will lose it and Islamofascism will win the day.
To answer my own question, then, it doesn't really matter if he is dead, because the ideology that spawned him is not, and those who chose to follow him will carry on. The death of one man, al-Zarqawi or even bin-Laden, will not end this epic struggle. It would, and should, boost morale for us and our allies, but the fight is far from over. So let us not focus entirely on al-Zarqawi. He is a small piece of a large problem, the face of the enemy, but not the hands that pull the trigger. We will not mourn his passing when that day comes, but neither will we celebrate to the point that we lose focus. Al-Qaeda and Islamofascism predate al-Zarqawi, and they will continue to be a threat once he is gone. Let us not elevate his importance any further by celebrating his death. Once less murdering thug plotting to kill innocent people is a good thing, but there is no need for us to reinforce his myth.
Save the celebrations for the day the war is over.
This is it.
There is no better ideology on Earth than democratic, small "L" liberalism- and there are no better people on the planet than those in our armed forces- and I am claiming all the forces of all countries who love freedom here.
Need proof? Watch this
from our British allies
(click "orignal size" in "View Size" drop down box for best resolution). Turn on the speakers, work safe.
I mean, compare that to this
Okay, couldn't resist that. Here is the real deal.
Seriously chilling stuff.
Mug tip to Cathy for the first clip- God bless your son and his comrades in arms.
OBL Inc., take note- love of freedom and a sense of humor cannot be defeated.
(end of post)
Venezuelans to take long way to el norte?
Apparently while the rest of Latin America was busy protesting the presence and policies of President Bush in Argentina a few weeks ago, President Vincente Fox of Mexico and President Fidel Castro, er, Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela were working themselves up to see who is the big enchilada.
Chavez has set out to derail the Free Trade Area of the Americas, primarily because Castro's Cuba would not be included, and when Fox backed the plan Chavez called him a "puppy" of the United States, and it just went downhill from there.
For the most part the U.S. has stayed out of this, it really is none of our business, but United States Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield did make a brief statement today, as reported by the excelent blog Venezuela News And Views
, self described as "...the diary of Venezuela slow decent into authoritarianism, the slow erosion of our liberties, the takeover of the country by a military caste, the surrendering of our soul to the Cuban dictator... ( Note: the comments in brackets in the following quote are by the host of that blog, I am assuming he also made the translation as the comments were in Spanish):[The US has been accused of being behind] of the presidential assassination attempt, coup d’etat, promoting Venezuelan voter abstention, internal divisions within Chavez party, campaign of the opposition, Vargas floods [in February because Bush did not sign Kyoto] bombs in the CNE office of Carabobo, killing a prosecutor [CIA involvement in the Anderson case, at least not alone there], complot to terrorize Venezuelan kids at Halloween, Colombia’s DAS declarations, decreasing PDVSA production, the International Trasnparency campaign [where Venezuela was revealed as one of the most corrupt countries], international negative media campaign, campaign against the Aves island [a tiny island in the Northern Caribbean that some island state would like to take away from Venezuela, something totally unfounded for this blogger who would suggest to trade it for the Guyana portion stolen from Venezuela by the Brits, but I digress]How can I sleep with so many conspiracies and intrigues? The truth is that in this world there are some things that have nothing to do with the US, and this is one of them [the Venezuela Mexico spat]
It is not often that you get to hear a U.S. Ambassador say something like that!
The spat between the two leaders has escalted, and both countries have recalled their Ambassadors (although to be fair Fox threatended to declare the Venezuelan Ambo persona non-grata
if Chavez did not apologize). The Guardian reported yesterday
that Chavez sent Fox a message when he recalled his Ambo: "Don't mess with me."
I haven't seen Fox's reply yet, but with Venezuela poised to become a Castro-ite satellite state I would bet that a good number of the Venezuelan population hopes things cool off betwen the two leaders soon- after all the may have to cross Mexico to get to the border of the U.S.
(End of post)