The Daily Demarche
An open letter to the world:
I have carried this within me for some time now, across six countries and three continents. Today I put this burden down. You do not know me, but I am an American.
Actually, you do not know me because
I am an American- you can not get past that word, the label. I live with you, I am friends with your children, I have visited your house and many of you have eaten in my home. Many, many of your friends and families are neighbors of my family in America.
But you do not know me.
I am not from New York, or California. My zip code is not 09210, I did no got to school in the Big Apple. If you have visited either of those places you do not know me, or even worse, if you have been to Disneyland you have no idea who I am. My parents are neither rich nor poor. My family never owned slaves.
I do not carry a gun- but I reserve the right to. I may or may not have voted Republican in the last two elections, and I may or may not vote Democrat in the next two. That is the soul and beauty of my country. I believe in God, but subscribe to no religion that you can identify with. I expect to succeed.. or fail... on my own. I remember the last Great War, but am not ashamed- for I carry the lessons of that war within me- and we were neither instigators nor conquerors. Can you deal with that? I am not sure- but if you can't than you will
not know me.
If you watch movies from Hollywood, or read novels by Stephen King you do not know me. If you listen to Britney Spears or Bob Dylan you do not know me. If you went to University or College in the U.S. you might know a little about me as an adolescent trapped in an adult body- but that is often worse than knowing nothing at all. If you saw me on the news about the Iraq War- supporting it as a soldier or protesting it in the street, you do not know me.
And you know what? None of that matters. For all of my travel, for all of my time living among you, I don't really know you either. So let's make a deal. In a pub don't ask me about the 2nd Amendment and I'll leave the subject of the 1916 civil war to rest. Let's not address Terry Schiavo 5 minutes after we meet and I'll not mention the Jewish treasures in your museums. Don't tell me who I should have voted for and I'll not mention the millions dead in two World Wars at your country's behest. Do not mention the plight of slaves in the New World over my first plate of rice and I will refrain from bringing up the Killing Fields.
Am I asking you to ignore me, or to not engage me? Never. I am asking you to apply your own standards for rationality. Let's talk as people, not countries. Let us know each other as individuals first. The reality is, we need to talk, you and I. Will we be friends? I hope so, but doubt it. That, however, is not important. What matters is the conversation. When your friends say "don't talk to the Americans" and mine say "you'll never make friends here" both perpetuate the same self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is our chance. Here I am, willing to listen. You have the option of slogans or conversation, preconceptions or reality. All you have to do is talk to me. You know who I am, and I know you can always spot me. I am the American in your neighborhood, in you restaurant or your shop. You can either berate me mindlessly, or open a dialogue. The choice is yours. You think I do not care, and you are wrong.
I'll be waiting, world. Stop by or drop me a line- but do not expect me to toe your line without a reason. I want the same thing you do- peace and happiness for my family first, and then I'll do whatever I can for yours. I have no shame in admitting that- and will not take your burden on for you. May God be with you, and when He is not may you have friends who will be- and in my heart of hearts I hope that America is one of those friends, as I hope you will be a friend to us. The opportunity is yours for the taking- so do not let it pass you by when we meet on your home turf
Nancy Powell - What Advertising Works In The Third World
Regular readers know that we ocassionally post a "guest piece" or an exceptional e-mail (always with the author's permission). We do not edit (except for formatting to work with Blogger) or alter content in any way. Publishing these posts and e-mails is not necessarily an endorsement, it just means we found them interestimg and thought you might too. The following is from frequent commenter Peter Rice (Retired from the US Foreign Service), now living in Sarasota, FL . He is writing in response to a piece about former Ambassador to Pakistan Nancy Powell.
From my time in India and my conversations with people running the rewards for turning in terrorists program, a few comments about Nancy Powell:
India with a bit more than 1,000,000,000 people has a daily newspaper circulation of around 10,000,000 newspapers (about half in English), or about 1 newspaper for every 100 people.
The vast majority of Indians never sees nor reads a newspaper. There is typically only one AM radio signal (plus one FM signal in the largest cities), Govt. of India radio (called All India Radio) plus short wave at night, IF the signal can be received. For most of India, there is only one broadcast TV signal, from TV Very Boring (Govt. of India owned). The rich have satellite TV, the other 95% do not. We left India in 1999 and more likely get satellite TV now, but it would be very difficult to get a "turn in a terrorist" advertisement on satellite TV, considering that the majority of the viewers in Asia are likely to be offended by such advertisements.
Yes, there are billboards, but advertisements for turning in terrorists would likely offend some groups and the billboard would likely be taken down within hours. Billboards were the favorite media for advertising Indian movies.
The rest of South Asia is much the same. So advertising on match books/boxes is one of the few effective media. In most of the Third World (and the old Second World, the USSR and Warsaw Bloc) there are no free matches, so smokers (lots of males in the Third World smoke) are happy to take free matches.
In the USA, I remember there being advertisements inside matchbooks. Not advertisements to appeal to gentlemen (or lady) diplomats, rather for high school diploma mills, trade schools, and such.
I was told by people involved in the "turn in a terrorist program" (my name for it, not theirs) that the match box advertisements did produce leads that caused several terrorists to be caught.
Knowing the nature of far too many FSOs, Nancy Powell was offended by the manner of the advertising (on match boxes), offended that such advertising might offend some Pakistanis (it certainly would, anything that helped us would offend some of them), and/or just offended by anyone who was helping to fight "GW Bush's War".
We will not know what was in Powell's head. We do know the nature of the culture of the State Dept. whereby the ambassador is supreme and all powerful, able to openly disobey orders from Washington, DC (unless the orders are really really important to the Secretary of State).
As a test of this, think of how few ambassadors have been fired by the Secretary of State, fired in the sense of being removed from their job and returned to the USA. I know of none other than the fool who was ambassador in Panama City when we invaded, and he said on TV that he was unfit for the job and that everyone knew that he was unfit when he was sent there.
Powell was just a typically ambassador, she chose not to like the match box for rewards program and ordered that it not be done in "her country", Pakistan. And as a female, she will get another job as ambassador, and likely in a nicer post.
Another of the many examples that FSOs can choose to not follow orders, in particular those coming from GW Bush and his appointees, whom many of them despise.
Retired from the US Foreign Service
Today's Special: Traditional blogging- corrected.
I had a hard time deciding what to write about today and could not pick a single topic, so I decided to do some more "traditional" blogging. Here are a few of the more interesting things I came across today and a brief comment on each:Medal of Honor Memorial defaced.One panel had a hole in it, while glass in a second panel was chipped. Each panel weighs about 200 pounds with glass that is one inch thick.
In addition, walls around the memorial were spray-painted with obscenities aimed at Gov. Mitch Daniels and President Bush, peace symbols and a plea to "legalize ganja," a reference to marijuana.
Melvin E. Biddle, of Anderson, also expressed disappointment over the attack on the memorial. His name is one of those listed on the glass panels, a tribute to his actions during the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
"It's just a shame we have people like that," Biddle said.
Melvin, you have hit it on the head. When they catch the scumbags who did this I will gladly pay for one way tickets for them to move to any hell hole you care to name, sir. (Thanks to Double Canister at 10 Yards
for the tip)Lessons
(corrected)In rural Bangladesh a madrassah teacher is on the run. Maulana Nazmul Haq has been accused of raping nine of the students at the school and forcing several to have abortions.Initially, when the first student complained to the police in Hatibandha on March 21st, the man put off his arrest by promising to marry the complainant, described in the story as "a hapless orphan." However, a total of nine girls have now lodged complaints. Interestingly, the police have concluded that only four of them were raped.
Wretchard is hosting a new blog by Dymphna called I Could Scream
-Examining the plight of Islamic women. This will be a new must read (thanks to Oroculations
for the tip). Thanks to Wretchard too, for pointing
me in the right direction to give credit where due.The Aid SwindleThe international community has sought to deliver quick success in rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan. But the country has become an El Dorado for international consultants and professional aid workers who ply the streets in Land Cruisers. Their methods have also fostered an atmosphere of corruption and sloppines that has left many Afghans feeling disappointed and cheated.
Hmmm. I seem to remember the Dipomad having something to say about the extravagances of the NGO set. I really miss those guys sometimes.Nuke the Holy Land--For World Peace"Rest assured that the American-Israeli Harpoons are nuclear, and the Zionists have every intention of using them on Tehran and Damascus if they think they can get away with it. Dangerous people do dangerous things in dangerous times, and there is nothing more dangerous that a pack of religious fanatics with their backs to the Mediterranean," added Vialls.
This is an interest piece about Israel, nuclear weapons and Harpoon missiles. Of course, I don't think this author and I have same "pack of religious fanatics" in mind when we discuss the Middle East. For even more odd writing click the last link in that paragraph. I really don't think this is a man I would cite.The Iraq Culture Smart Card SYNOPSIS: The Iraq Culture Smart Card is a Guide for Communication and Cultural Awareness. The 16-panel, folded card includes information on religion, religious holidays, clothes and gestures, ethnic groups, cultural groups, customs, and history, social structure, and understanding Arabic names. Also included are “Do This” and “Don't Do This”, commands, numbers, questions, and helpful words and phrases. The 15” x 11” card folds to 3 ¾” x 5 ½” and is printed on waterproof, tear resistant synthetic paper.
I found this through Der Spiegel online who pithily ended their blurb with: "They are meant for the 19- or 20-year-old soldier, moving door to door in a hostile environment," said Marine Col. Keith Lawless to the New York Times about the cards. "This will help him stay out of trouble." You know, kind of like the card the Germans issued their troops in WWII. Of course theirs was simpler "If it looks Jewish, kill it."
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"ideologies of hatred"
In catching up on my reading from the holiday I came across an interesting piece by Bouthaina Shaaban, Syria's Minister for Emigrant Affairs. More accurately, what I found was a re-write of a piece by Shaaban from only a week ago. The new one is entitled Bush's policies succeed only in defaming all Arabs
and ran on the Houston Chronicle site on the 27th. The first piece was the UPI Outside View in the Washington Times on the 21st- Syria's question to Condoleezza
. The differences between them are subtle, but interesting, and I'll try to remember to indicate which piece I am referring to by denoting them HC and WT respectively.
From the WT:Damascus, Syria, Mar. 21 (UPI) -- Reading the headline "Rice commits that Washington will build a different kind of Middle East," I understood the anxiety haunting the people of the Middle East. Rice's remarks to the American troops in Kabul reveal Washington's official concept of the region: "a different kind of broader Middle East that's going to be stable and democratic and where our children will one day not have to worry about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those airplanes into those buildings on September 11th." As such, those remarks imply dangerous prohibitions, for Rice has accused the region of harboring "ideologies of hatred," and talked about "those people" referring to the people of the region as the culprits who flew "those planes into those buildings on September 11th."
From the HC:DAMASCUS, Syria "I recently picked up a newspaper and saw the following headline: "Rice Promises That Washington Will Build a Different Kind of Middle East."Unsure what this could possibly mean, I looked closer at Condoleezza Rice's remarks to U.S. troops in Kabul, Afghanistan, to see if I could learn what this new Middle East was going to be."A different kind of broader Middle East that's going to be stable and democratic," was what she described that day, "where our children will one day not have to worry about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those airplanes into those buildings on September 11th."So let me get this straight. Rice believes that our region harbors "ideologies of hatred" and that it is populated by "those people." Those terrorists.
As I said, subtle, but real. Minister Shaaban, I can not tell you what Secretary Rice believes, as I am not privy to her thoughts. But I can tell you this: your region does harbor ideologies of hatred and is populated at least in part by terrorists. Does that news shock you, or is it the fact that an American administration is calling the kettle black
? You can splutter and equivocate all you like, and draw comparisons to Abu Ghraib if it helps you sleep at night.
But do us a favor and don't pretend that (HC)
the entire U.S. "war on terrorism," ...has severely damaged America's reputation and credibility around the world and ...has led to the disastrous policies that will harm relations between the United States and the Arab world for decades to come.
I will stipulate that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have harmed relations in the Middle East- they have made you and others of your ilk frightened, and scared men are dangerous. But I can also tell you that the decision to interfere in the ME was made by OBL and his minions when they turned airplanes into missiles. Much to our shame we were largely content to ignore the likes of the Taliban as they beat women for showing an ankle, or executed them for having the temerity to have been raped. Much to our shame we were content to ignore the madrasses in which hatred for Jews and the West was presented as "education." No, sir, there would be no "war on terrorism" were there no terrorists.
Minister, you push all the right buttons using Israel and apartheid in the same sentence (HC) with no regard to the fact that black South Africans were oppressed because they were black, and that Palestinians are being walled out of Israel because of the tendency to blow themselves up in crowded places. You want to end "all kinds of occupation, settlement, discrimination and hatred against Arabs and Muslims" (WT)- you were doing great up until the last three words of that quote. Some pigs are more equal than others, after all, I suppose. You even end the HC piece with a great soundbite:
I'm sure Rice recognizes the great difference between the reports she receives from pro-Israeli think tanks which see nothing in the Middle East except resources susceptible to extraction and unarmed people vulnerable to occupation or oppression and the reality of the Arab people's long history of building civilizations and proselytizing for peace.
Did you manage to keep a straight face as you wrote that? You do have incredible resources, which leads me to wonder why the "Arab people's long history of building civilizations " is precisely that- long a matter of history. Where are the great Arab civilizations of today? Where are the great centers of learning, the research institutes and hospitals? I won't even address the idea that Islam is proselytizing for peace. I don't have your ability to write pap and smile at the same time.
Minister Shaaban, the second draft of your article is better than the first. With a bit more work I am sure the New York Times will pick it up, and you will briefly be the golden boy of the "America is always wrong" crowd. In the meantime, if you are sincere in your expressions that you "want a future where they [Arab children] enjoy freedom, dignity and equality" (WT) and that "the events of Sept. 11 have weighed heavily on Arabs and Muslims just as they have on the people of the United States" (HC) I have a suggestion. Stop pretending that there are no terrorists and that Islamofacism is not a problem. Do what you can to solve your social issues at home, and expand your definition of children, Arabs and Muslims to include women and girls. Stop wasting time with pre-emptive whining and do what it takes to drag your country, your region and your religion from the 16t to the 21st century. In other words, build your own "Different Kind of Middle East".
Follow up on Nancy Powell.
Yesterday I promised to address How a Lone Diplomat Compromised the Hunt for Bin Laden Congressman Launches a Probe and Reaches the President
by Richard Miniter. After reading it carefully and hunting around for more information on the topic all I can say is I don't have enough information to make a call on this one. Someone once told me there are at least three sides to every story: mine, yours and the truth. I don't know what took place with the match books, but I do know that I am not counting on throw away reward announcements to find bin Laden and end the war with al Qaeda. I am not defending the non-distribution of any materials, mind you, it just seems this article is a little light on the facts. TigerHawk
goes a step beyond that and has fisked the heck out of this piece:You can't believe everything you hear from the State Department, but in this case it is a little difficult to see why a "senior State Department official" would bag the Department to protect Nancy Powell. The Sun does not explain why we shouldn't take the State Department at face value on these two facts -- that the program was terminated before Powell received her credentials, and that it was substantively ineffective.
I am curious to see where this one goes, and I'll be watching closely. Until then, it is one piece, from one journalist with a bunch of suspect facts. Thanks to all who sent this one by e-mail, sorry for a less than exciting rebuttal, but there doesn't seem to be much to say at this point that TigerHawk has not already said.
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Email Round Up.
Just back from the long weekend get away, I hope everyone enjoyed theirs as much as I did. It was very nice, only one anti-American dust up the whole time, and that a weak and semi-drunken one! Thanks to all who wrote in while we were away- a few good points came up that I'll try to get to either via posting or direct reply.
The most e-mailed bit concerned Ambassador Powell in Pakistan. I am sure you have all heard of this piece: How a Lone Diplomat Compromised the Hunt for Bin Laden Congressman Launches a Probe and Reaches the President
. We'll have comment on that soon, hopefully tomorrow.
There were also a number of e-mails about the Kennan piece, I'll try to address those en masse in a post.
Finally, we received a press release for an online publication and blog called "America Is
" by a Portugese writer. Here is are a few excerpts from the blog (from 2 posts):New European Online Site Concentrates on Fresh View of AmericaLISBON, Portugal, March 17 /PRNewswire/ -- A European online publisher wants to widen European perceptions of America with the launch of a new website America-is.com that focuses only on America and American issues across all subjects.The first text `America' is the latest work of Portuguese writer and poet Paulo Jose Miranda and is written in 99 points ranging from one liners to fuller explanations.Miranda says: "In Europe, no matter what kind of education you have, when the subject America is brought up, suddenly all intelligence vanishes from the discourse."It is as if we in Europe lack a US chromosome. The text America is completely different. It perceives the greatness of America all along in its 99 points."America-is.com1. The duty of every American is to make America grow. And every one who makes America grow is American. In Europe, it doesn’t make sense for a citizen of a country to immigrate to Germany, for instance, and become German, but to come to America and become American makes total sense. Coming to America is in itself already being American. To come to is not to visit; those who come don’t go. America is not a natural country. It’s a created country; an invention of human beings. Since World War I, the story of the world is to come to America.48. There is hope everywhere. But it definitely grows more in the fertile fields and cities of America. Of necessity, hope grows more where there are more dreams. Hope: that which isn’t pulling that which is; that which is still desired imposing on that which is already had. Hope prevents humankind from falling down from itself.63. The life of America remains open if we forget to close the refrigerator. The life of America heats up food in two minutes. The life of America is heard from afar. The life of America is seen by all.
Sorry for the round up type post, but it was long travel filled weekend. Back tot he regular stuff tomorrow.
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Keep the pressure on Annan.
Before I get into a topic today I'd like to take a moment and point you all in the direction of a promising new blog "Americans For Freedom
"- a collection of links and commentary on the freedom movement in the Middle East. Thanks to this site I found "Blogs by Iranians
", a comprehensive list of English language blogs written by Iranians around the world. Good stuff on both these sites.
Now for today's thoughts.
This weekend is the Easter holiday, and at least around here it also seems to be the start of spring. A season of rebirth and renewal, if I may be so cliched. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the United Nations. Big things are afoot in New York, and there has been much talk and even more written about what, if anything, the UN can do to get back on track (as if it ever was on track).
Koffi Annan's plan to reform the U.N. is not necessarily a bad one, it is simply insufficient for the task at hand. A timeline for reducing global poverty, more focus on human rights and reducing terrorism, and even examining the Security Council are all worthwhile ideas, but one key element is missing. Nowhere in all of this have I seen a plan by Mr. Annan or anyone else to make the U.N. relevant. Moral superiority (self-perceived) abounds in the hallways of the U.N., but outside that club there is precious little proof that the United Nations as it exists today or as it will continue to exist even with these reforms has any relevance to the real world. The Economist
has summed it up nicely:Mr Annan's reform plan, which was set out in a report to the General Assembly this week, will be presented at a summit of world leaders in New York in September. It needs America's support. Is that likely?There is quite a lot that Mr Bush's people seem to like: a new intergovernmental peace-building commission to help prevent "post-conflict societies", like Congo, becoming failed states; a replacement for the UN's awful Human Rights Commission, whose members often include the worst torturers, by a smaller, elected Human Rights Council; an agreed definition of terrorism that denies any exemption for "freedom fighters" like those in Chechnya and Palestine; even an attempt to confirm a nation's right to launch a "pre-emptive" strike in the face of an "imminent" threat without going to the Security Council.
I for one do not feel that these plans go deep enough, however. Trying to be all things to all people means ultimately being nothing to everyone. The U.N. will continue to exist if for no other reason than the fact that it already exists and massive organizations that have convinced a large portion of the world of their worth rarely go away, not to mention the monumental levels of corruption that ensure those involved will fight to the death to keep the gravy train rolling. So, the U.N. will roll on and America will continue to pay the lion's share of the budget as well. Where does that leave us?
This is the best chance we are likely to ever see when it comes to righting the sinking ship that is the U.N., to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on U.N activities are put to good use. John Bolton will have his work cut out for him. We, and any other members of the U.N. serious about refining and focusing the mission of the global body, must continue to pay close attention to the reform movement. We must not, for a single moment, release the pressure on the oil for food scandal, or the sexual abuse by peacekeepers issue. Each and every abuse, incidence of corruption or misuse of power must be run to ground. An almost Herculean effort.
Can it be done? I don't know, and in fact often doubt it. We owe it to ourselves for the money we spend, and to the world for the promises the U.N. has made all these years and so rarely delivered on to try. If the U.N. can be reborn this is the best possible time to attempt it. The people of the world are speaking up, they are demanding freedom and liberty, and now it is time to look for justice, starting in the hallways of the U.N. building in New York. Mr. Annan has barely scratched the surface, let's not let up the pressure now.
Finally, I will not be posting over the Easter weekend, Mrs. D and I are going on a sort of pilgrimage, we both need a little time to tend to matters of the spirit, but I'll be back on Tuesday. I wish you all a pleasant weekend and if you are so inclined a joyous celebration of the holiday.
You're welcome, Mr. Petri.
As an American living abroad, and a diplomat, I (and I think most of my colleagues) am especially tuned in to anti-Americanism. Overt acts or displays of anti-American attitudes are infrequent, to be sure. Most of these opinions are safely displayed in newspapers or television, it is rare to be subjected to any direct comments or actions. Even rarer, however, is an explicit display of pro-Americanism- especially coming out of Germany.
David, at David's Medienkritik
, organized a pro-America rally
in Mainz, Germany when President Bush visited there, and for that we thank him (he also reported this
pro-America moment by the German Navy). Oddly enough (or maybe not) there seems to be a general spirit of pro-Americanism in Iran
, as well. But when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is, who is pro-American out there?
Well, it seems that one Herr Manfried Petri is, and he is not about to hide it. On the same day that President Bush visited Mainz Herr Petri turned 50, and he bought himself a present: a full page ad in the most liberal paper in his town. The ad appeared as follows:...a photo of a US flag fluttering in the wind covered half the page, and below it, printed in large and bold type, were the words: "Thank you America for 50 Years of Freedom and Peace!" Then came Petri's name and his date of birth. Nothing else.
This little expression of thanks cost him obver €6,000, or nearly $7,500, reports Der Spiegel online
. Why would he do something like this?
He mentions an important event in his life, his first trip to East Germany, when he was 18. At the border crossing, soldiers held mirrors under his car to check for contraband. In East Berlin, he witnessed military parades and experienced nighttime curfews. His next important journey was to Cleveland, Ohio, where he spent a year attending a boarding school in 1972. In Ohio, he made friends he still has today. With them, he discussed the Vietnam War, demonstrated against President Nixon, and discovered a liking for politics. He decided to get involved in politics in his own country and, writing on a postcard from Ohio, he applied for membership in Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD). He said he was doing so "because of Willy (Brandt)," the German chancellor and Nobel Prize winner who was an early voice of reconciliation between post-war East and West Germany. Petri maintained his belief in the SPD even after Brandt resigned amid a spy scandal in 1974, but left the party in 1982, when Helmut Schmidt, Brandt's successor as chancellor, was voted out of office.
For every person like Herr Petri who has the courage to openly support America (and the means to do so in such a public way) there are many others who are fond of America but do not wish to buck the prevailing opinion, and that is too bad. It is precisely these voices that countries like Germany, France and Spain need to hear. For now, though, it is my great honor to say thank you, Herr Petri, for your gesture, and it an honor to count you as a freind of America.
The Last Frontier
Frequent readers know that I have just returned from an overdue visit to the United States. I was lucky enough to travel around in the U.S. while there, to a region I had not visited before (I am often struck by the fact that I've seen more of the world than of the U.S., I really need to work on that). This region, known for it's conservatism, was the last place I expected to find a thriving hotbed of multiculturism, but of course my preconceived notions proved false.
More than the Starbucks and Whole Foods stores, more than the occasional Thai restaurant or vegetarian Indian place, however, I was struck by the shear number of Mexican stores, restaurants and Mexican nationals in the area. Having been without good Mexican food (or practically any Mexican food) for a long time I was very happy to see these stores and places to eat. I was less happy to see the knots of men and a few women gathered on the street corners every morning waiting for a pick up to take them to that day's labor. Do I know for a fact that all of these men and women were in the U.S illegally? I do not. Would I bet large sums of money that the vast proportion of them were? I would.
I have addressed illegal immigration from Mexico before, in the "Tortilla Curtain
" and "El otro lado
" among other pieces. Now, with the discovery of a new tunnel across the border
- a tunnel that is paved with concrete and includes an intercom system, the issue has come to the fore again. Speculation abounds that this tunnel was built by and a drug cartel for the movement of cocaine or other illegal substances. That sounds like a reasonable enough assumption. Of course the above referenced article is from the New York Times, and so the security angle is played down in favor of the liberal bleeding heart finale of the piece:For some Mexicans, the border here seems a cultural affront. On Monday evening Carmen Castillo, a 47-year-old former nursing aide who along with her husband was deported last September after living illegally for 18 years in California, came to the Mexicali wall to visit her five children and a grandchild she had never met. She talked to her children, all of whom were born in the United States and have citizenship, playing with the new baby through the rusty bars dividing the countries."It's like visiting in prison," a daughter, Carmen Nero, said as she held her infant son up to the bars. "It's heartbreaking. It's sad that there's a fence when we know we are all supposed to be together."
I have said this before, and I still hold it to be true. Were I a poor Mexican dirt farmer I hope I would be able to find the courage to face the long and often dangerous trek north in search of a better life for my family. I am not, however, a Mexican dirt farmer. I support a rational fix to our immigration system and encourage a dialogue on the issue. In the meantime, families that feel separated by the border are free to be together- in Mexico, until such time as the relatives in Mexico can enter the U.S. legally.
Presidents Bush and Fox along with PM Paul Martin will meet today with a host of other leaders, and odds are that this will be another pro-forma meeting, perhaps paving the way towards an eventual accord, but nothing more. The Council on Foreign Relations has produced an excellent set of recommendations for the future of U.S.-Mexico-Canada relations- briefly excerpted here from the 15 page document:
1. Create the institutions necessary to sustain a North American community. We propose that the trinational summit become a regular event... We propose further the establishment of a North American Advisory Council to prepare and monitor action to implement the decisions made at these summits.
2. Immediately create a unified North American Border Action Plan. The threat of international terrorism originates, for the most part, outside of North America. Our external borders are a critical line of defense against this threat... The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States should articulate as their long-range goal a common security perimeter for North America. In particular, the three governments should strive toward a situation in which a terrorist trying to penetrate our borders will have an equally hard time doing so no matter which country he elects to enter first.
3. Adopt a common external tariff. We recommend that the three governments begin by harmonizing external tariffs on a sector-by-sector basis to the lowest prevailing rate consistent with multilateral obligations.
4. Stimulate economic growth in Mexico. To realize the full benefits of economic integration, and to ensure that these benefits are distributed broadly, Mexico must increase and sustain a rate of growth commensurate with its development goals. Mexico must devise a set of policies that commands broad public support and decide on the steps it will take to attract investment and stimulate growth.
5. Develop a North American energy and natural-resource security strategy. A reliable supply of key natural resources is essential to the region's long-term security and prosperity, while respecting each country's individual policies and priorities...Ultimately, regional collaboration on conservation and emissions could form the basis for a North American alternative to the Kyoto Protocol.
6. Deepen educational ties. Given its historical, cultural, political, and economic ties, North America should have the largest educational-exchange network in the world. We recommend the expansion of scholarship and exchange programs for students at both the secondary and university levels, the development of a network of Centers for North American Studies in all three countries, and cross-border training programs for elementary- and secondary-school teachers.
Just as I support a gradual end to traditional foreign aid in exchange for a program of market development, I am convinced that as long as Mexico is poor we will face hordes of illegal immigrants. By extension, as long as we cannot stem the flow of illegal workers we have no hope of weeding out the potential enemies of America who may make use of this back door into our country. Plans such as the one put forth by the Council are a step in the right direction, but they will take time. Unfortunately time is one element we can not trade with the radical Islamists that want to see us all converted or dead.
So as the leaders of North America meet today I hope that they keep one thing in mind. The people of the United States of America are not callous, we would all love to see a prosperous Mexico, able to feed, educate and defend her citizens. We appreciate the trade and close relationship we have historically had with Canada and Mexico. At the same time, however, we will hold our government responsible for our common defense. Paved, lighted tunnels across our border do not give me a warm fuzzy, and I know that I am not alone in this. While we work to spread liberty and freedom around the world we must continue to be vigilant at home, and this means securing our borders. President Bush has proven that he is able to speak plainly to the leaders of Europe and the Middle East. It is time for the same type of talk with our neighbors. The message should be clear and simple: we will protect our borders. That protection can benefit all of us, but the choice is yours.
I'll revisit this idea once we have an idea of what, if anything, emerges from today's multilateral talks.
"Impervious to the Logic of Reason"
While I was in the U.S. one of the most influential men of the 20th century, George F. Kennan, passed away. He was 101 years old. I am certain that many others have already blogged about the importance of this man and the impact of his life on U.S. foreign policy, but I would be remiss if I failed to comment here.
In 1946 Kennan was quoted as saying that the Soviet Union was "impervious to the logic of reason, but highly sensitive to the logic of force." Statements like this, coupled with the "long telegram
" and the 1947 adaptation of the telegram for publication as "The Sources of Soviet Conduct
" (aka "the X article, as that how he signed it) in which Kennan developed and detailed his containment theory thrust him into the spotlight of international diplomacy.
The Cold War may be over (I reserve the right to comment on that topic later), but Kennan's 1947 piece still rings true today, and is just as applicable to the struggle against Islamic radicals as it was against communism. Read the following excerpt of the X piece and substitute Islam or Islamo-fascists for Russia/Soviets/Soviet Union etc: But in actuality the possibilities for American policy are by no means limited to holding the line and hoping for the best. It is entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement, by which Russian policy is largely determined. This is not only a question of the modest measure of informational activity which this government can conduct in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, although that, too, is important. It is rather a question of the degree to which the United States can create among the peoples of the world generally the impression of a country which knows what it wants, which is coping successfully with the problem of its internal life and with the responsibilities of a World Power, and which has a spiritual vitality capable of holding its own among the major ideological currents of the time. To the extent that such an impression can be created and maintained, the aims of Russian Communism must appear sterile and quixotic, the hopes and enthusiasm of Moscow's supporters must wane, and added strain must be imposed on the Kremlin's foreign policies. For the palsied decrepitude of the capitalist world is the keystone of Communist philosophy. Even the failure of the United States to experience the early economic depression which the ravens of the Red Square have been predicting with such complacent confidence since hostilities ceased would have deep and important repercussions throughout the Communist world.
By the same token, exhibitions of indecision, disunity and internal disintegration within this country have an exhilarating effect on the whole Communist movement. At each evidence of these tendencies, a thrill of hope and excitement goes through the Communist world; a new jauntiness can be noted in the Moscow tread; new groups of foreign supporters climb on to what they can only view as the band wagon of international politics; and Russian pressure increases all along the line in international affairs.
Indeed, last year on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Foreign Policy published "Everything I needed to know about fighting terrorism I learned from George F. Kennan." In reading this article one gains a better sense of the true insight and import of Kennan's thoughts and words. While describing the struggle against communism, he boiled down the larger issue of the struggle of American ideology against fascist or repressive ideologically anti-American regimes. To wit:
Like the Soviets before them, Islamic militants are a product of both ideology and circumstance. Although the militants can trace their ideas to strains of puritanical Islam from the 14th century and to the Wahhabi and Salafi movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, much of their pathology is unrelated to religion. Al Qaeda is, to a large extent, a symptom of social dislocation.
The benefits of economic globalization have largely bypassed Arab countries, even as it has exposed them as never before to outside influences. In oil-rich states, elites have used their wealth and power to maintain authoritarian rule and avoid economic and political reform. It is no surprise that the citizens of these countries view the outside world through the prism of exploitation. Meanwhile, the pervasive exposure to Western mass culture has served both to attract and alienate these societies. It's an old story: The more modern and dynamic society undermines the traditional society's values, practices, and allegiances. The recurring response to such an existential crisis is a surge in millenarian beliefs and an inclination toward nihilism. As has been the case in countless struggles before, terrorism is the quintessential weapon of the weak against the strong.
These conditions, however, need not be permanent. Hard as it may be to penetrate the anti-American sentiment prevalent in the Muslim world, the United States must undertake a strategy of engagement similar to what Kennan proposed for the Russian people. The two worlds are not as far apart as many think. A 2003 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reveals that citizens in Muslim countries place a high value on freedom of expression and the press, multiparty political systems, and equal treatment under the law.
As was the case in the Cold War the current struggle with militant Islam has the potential to be long and dangerous. We are already seeing Cold War type flare-ups with "client states"- our fighting men and women are engaging our enemies and their surrogates daily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Americans at home live under the shadow of fear of another 9-11 style attack. Do not get me wrong, I do not hold that Kennan's ideas and words alone are enough for us to defeat the Islamo-fascists. While there are parallels and comparisons between the Cold War and the current battle, they are not exactly the same- the lack of a nation state readily identifiable as the enemy is only the most obvious of the discrepancies. These issues aside, however, there is much of the nearly 60 year old theory that is applicable today.
In closing I turn once again to Kennan's words, and ask that you read radical Islam into them:
Thus the decision will really fall in large measure in this country itself. The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.
Surely, there was never a fairer test of national quality than this. In the light of these circumstances, the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will find no cause for complaint in the Kremlin's challenge to American society. He will rather experience a certain gratitude to a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history plainly intended them to bear.
Go in peace, Mr. Kennan.
On Life Overseas
I was going to blog about some serious topic, like the UN or reforming the Immigration service, but it just isn’t in me tonight. I hope, therefore, that readers will permit me the indulgence of a brief digression from the usual heady fare, even if it is tangentially related who we are and what we do.
A common misconception of life in the Foreign Service is that we spend our days in vaulted offices behind hardwood desks and our nights at cocktail parties swapping gossip over martinis. I like to poke fun at this stereotype, but it is largely untrue. For one thing, most offices are not that nice (I work in a 6 x 10 foot cubicle), and while we do have to go to cocktail parties and receptions, they are overrated, and I personally would rather spend that time with my family than with the Peruvian Second Secretary for Dingleberry Affairs.
There are other downsides to life in the Foreign Service: moving every few years, leaving old friends, having to make new ones, to say nothing of the threat that comes with being a US government official overseas. I don’t think the average American has to remain vigilant of hostile surveillance (either from terrorists or foreign intelligence agencies), varying routes and times of travel so as to make themselves a hard target, nor do they have to have their car searched for bombs every time they park at work.
The other thing that is difficult for many FSOs is that spending such a huge chunk of their lives (around two thirds of their careers) overseas means sacrificing time away from their families. Being away from your parents as they age is nearly as difficult as knowing that your parents can’t be there to see their grandchildren growing up. If a parent should become ill or die while you are overseas, you must deal with the guilt of knowing that you couldn’t be there, even if your presence there couldn’t have helped.
To compensate for this feeling of disconnection from American friends and family, Foreign Service families become closer and embassy communities become close-knit. While this fishbowl-like situation can have its downsides, the feeling of community in an Embassy is one of my favorite things about the Foreign Service.
Today I went to a party in honor of the 40th wedding anniversary of a colleague. He and his wife have been in the game for a long time, working for several government agencies both domestically and overseas. They have traveled around the world several times, and had created a series of posters with pictures of their children and their various travels in exotic locales. Due to work/parenting commitments, their children couldn’t make it to the event; fortunately the wider embassy community consisting of friends and "surrogate family" came out in numbers.
We had a great time, eating, drinking, sharing stories from around the world. The food was good, the company was great, and to top it off we sang songs from various periods to commemorate the lucky couple. The whole event put into sharp relief a few things about this life that far overshadow the negatives I mentioned above.
It is axiomatic in the Foreign Service that as you spend time living overseas in other cultures you both begin to lose track of what is happening in America vis-a-vis popular culture and gain an enhanced appreciation of America, Americans, and what it means to be one. This manifests itself in many ways: you find yourself discussing your hometown (which you were all too happy to leave behind for college) with your colleagues with a surprising fervor and longing; conversations about your sports team evoke a shared nostalgia; and you find yourself craving the most amazing things, like Burger King or Taco Bell.
Luckily, one of the most essential aspects of the American character is reinforced overseas: the sense of community and mutual support that I believe we often take for granted. Much ink is spilled over the decay of American communities, but I believe that this is alarmism. I believe that it took September 11 to make us realize that a sense of community and of neighborly helpfulness is woven into the fiber of our nation, and it transcends all of our contrived divisions, be they red-blue, democratic-republican, or whatever.
Those of us that are fortunate enough to serve our country overseas are always aware of this; we rely on it. I know that, should I need something, I could call any one of twenty or so people who would drop whatever they were doing to come and assist me. Naturally, any one of those twenty or so people could rely on me should they need anything. The friend who provided such support for me after the distance between the US and my post proved too much for a long term relationship became the recipient of my support when a bitter relationship ended in divorce (an occurrence that, like alcoholism, is more prevalent in the Foreign Service than among the general populace).
The bad news is that these people, with whom you become so close, eventually pack up their bags and move on, to another post, to retirement, or to a job back in the US. Or they remain behind while you pack up your bags and move on to another post. The good news is that when you are in Abuja, and they are in Ulan Baatar, and you just had a hankering to go to Mongolia, you know who to call. And while a phone call may be expensive, they are always there to talk to, even if you got the time zones all wrong and called them at 4:30 in the morning.
And there is always the thought that, since Washington DC and the staid confines of the Harry S. Truman building are the axis mundi of the State Department, you will in all likelihood run into your friends in the corridors or cafeteria in the land of the grape smugglers. Then there are stories to exchange and old times to reminisce about, and the possibility that you might meet up later at the Brickskeller or some other place for beers and more reminiscing.
This afternoon, just as the day was beginning to grow old, we loaded the car and headed back home, the laughter, stories and singing echoing in our heads. The good weather only added to the good mood. As I piloted the car home, the sun glinted off the water on the horizon, blotches of black describing ships plying the waters. Privately I realized that this was one of the moments where, despite the numerous hardships the job entails, I’m a pretty lucky guy.
This just in...
I may not have time to blog right now, but luckily there are plenty of others doing a great job.
Check out this great piece on The Word Unheard
(brief excerpt follows):More Lebanese Blogger Coverage: 188 Cell Phone Photo Slideshow!
What a day for Lebanon! Once again, their courage, passion and love of freedom serves to humble this American...A MUST SEE! Ya Libnan is still at it and at it well……for a 188 photo slide show. Amazing work, rsh!…and a first person report from Monday’s HUGE Independence Demonstration…
Back to the protest, everyone was gathered as they have never done before at Martyr's Square. There is no specific age group or gender or social class or religion. Everyone was singing patriotic songs and expressing their anger and dismay with different slogans – with the main themes being "7orriyyeh, Siadeh, Istiklal" (Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence) and "7akeekah, 7orriyyeh, Wi7deh Watanniyyeh" (Truth, Freedom, National Unity). Strangers were saluting each other with a wave of a flag, a nod, or simply a genuine smile. I couldn't help the flurry of questions that popped to mind: Where were we during the last 5 or 10 years? What were we waiting for to express such solidarity and such nationalistic pride? The last time anyone of us carried a Lebanese flag (if ever) was during some school event or at Cub Scouts a long time ago. Did we have to lose an icon such as Mr. Hariri for us to react? Unfortunately, a good deal of us were afraid to participate in such protests. You would hear statements such as: "They are taking down names" (whoever 'they' are), "we would go to jail"
Then see Re-branding America in The Boston Globe (brief excerpt follows):
Of course, it may be hard to imagine the United States, or any other country, implementing Anholt's comprehensive nation-branding strategy. But taken less literally-as a policy critique, rather than as a program-Anholt's argument is simply a business-flavored version of what Bush's critics have been saying all along: Talking about freedom and democracy won't get us very far if those efforts are competing with Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act. In a media-saturated world, image matters, and people won't listen to our sales pitch if our policies send a conflicting signal. In other words, we've got to ''live the brand.''
Nation-branding as a discipline is the confluence of two seemingly disparate fields: marketing and diplomacy. In the 1960s, marketers became interested in what is called the ''country of origin'' effect. Why is it, they asked, that simply sticking a ''Made in Japan'' label on a stereo boosts its value by 30 percent? Clearly, they argued, there was something about Japan itself-perhaps its reputation as a technically savvy society-that made consumers value Japanese technology over similar products from, say, Brazil. What are the roots of these national stereotypes, and how can marketing take advantage of them? And what if Brazil wanted to develop its own high-tech export industry? How could it change those stereotypes?
At the same time, throughout the Cold War the United States operated countless programs in what is known as public diplomacy, from Voice of America radio to CIA-funded magazines, such as Encounter and Look. Unlike propaganda, which spoke directly about the superiority of American values, public diplomacy fostered pro-Western sentiment through the open exchange of ideas and the dissemination of American culture.
During the 1990s, however, public diplomacy was scaled back, a mistake that the 9/11 Commission highlighted in its report. (''If the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world,'' the report declared, ''the extremists will gladly do the job for us.'') But it's not enough simply to revive Cold War strategies, argues Anholt. In a world increasingly connected by ubiquitous 24/7 media, there has to be a ''brand'' strategy-the message has to be coordinated and consistent, and it has to respond to stereotypes already in circulation. Nation-branding, then, is what you get when you take traditional public diplomacy strategies and add marketing tools designed to change national perceptions.
Finally, A Guy in Pajamas provides a link to an excellent piece for Saint Paddy's Day.
Allah Made Me Funny
Time for a vacation form my vacation- I need to blog a little. Seems family and friends can only listen to me ramble so much. Frequent readers know that Public Diplomacy and the war against radical Islam are frequent topics here. Imagine my surprise on returning to the U.S. for a brief visit and finding that these are also common topics for American Muslims.
America's Muslims, it seems, are engaging in a little public diplomacy of their own- from imams to rock tours to comedians, they are reaching out to America. "Allah Made Me Funny
" bills itself as "The Official Muslim Comedy Tour" featuring comics nicknamed the "Ayatollah of Comedy" and "Bin Laughin".
" who bills themselves as (ahem) Pakistan's Biggest Rock Band (or the Pakistani Pioneers of Rock, if you prefer), according to their website is:"back with another documentary entitled 'It's my country too'. Directed by the award winning Ruhi Haq from the BBC, Salman talks to various Arab Muslims based out of Dearborn Michigan, about how their lives were affected by 9/11 and the discrimination they faced. Dearborn has one of the largest Arab-Muslim concentrations in the US"
I have not seen the comedy show or heard the band, and so have no idea if they are any good. That is really immaterial here, though. The news is not whether these shows are good, but that they even exist. The BBC has picked up on the theme running a piece by the producer of the above mentioned documentary. A sample:
"The more mainstream America hears the moderate voices, the less suspicious they'll be," he says.
"We as American Muslims must stand up, be proud of who we are, and be people who say unequivocally and enthusiastically, that we're American Muslim."
However, he is also critical of his own community. He says: "Our problem as a community is that we're very isolationist. We don't want to get out there and make bridges with people, connect with people."
Those quotes are from Mr. Bin Laughin, Azhar Usman, a former attorney now headlining the "Allah" tour. He is right on the money. If moderate Islam is to emerge into the light of day in America it will have to be of it's own volition.
I've been keeping my eyes and ears open here, soaking in as much as I can. I've been gone a while, but not much has changed. Not much usually does, until something like a September 11th makes it change. America's Muslim community existed on the fringes of society for many, many years before that terrible day. Will it be able to emerge now, and counter the forces of Islamofacism, or at least encourage the rest of the moderate Muslim world to help defeat the radicals within that threaten to destroy them all? I have no idea. It will bear watching, and perhaps we can even learn a thing or two about public diplomacy as applied to the Muslim world.
Thanks to all and sundry for the good wishes for my trip home- I'm here, arrived a few days ago, safe if no longer sane. The human body (mine at least) was not made for intercontinental travel.
I am on a borrowed computer with a dial-up modem, so this will be short. I just read this article and had to share it:Iraqi insurgents refine propaganda tactics on the Web
A quote:The Iraqi insurgency appears to have mounted a full-scale propaganda war.
And while the methods are not new - most militant groups now rely on the Web to recruit new adherents - the recent flurry of propaganda from Iraq has a distinctly defensive sound.The violence has not let up, but the relatively peaceful elections and the new movements toward democracy in other Arab countries appear to have had a dispiriting effect on the insurgents, terrorism analysts say."I think they feel they are losing the battle," said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, an American nonprofit group that monitors Islamist websites and news operations. "They realize there will be a new government soon, and they seem very nervous about the future."
One can only hope. Nervous men become desperate men, and while desperate men are dangerous, they are more prone to mistakes.
(End of Non-Post- be back soon)
On "Spain's 9/11"
March 11, 2004 was Spain’s 9/11. No strangers to terrorism and tragedy, both as Americans and as likely targets for terrorists due to our profile and official status, we here at the Daily Demarche offer, once again, out heartfelt condolences to the victims and survivors of those cowardly attacks.
The response of the Zapatero government to the Madrid attacks is, unfortunately, not worthy of our respect. It is, in fact, almost beyond self-parody. Zapatero, who swept into power after the Aznar government bungled the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, has decided that his country will take on global Islamofascist terrorism by... holding a conference
If one thing exemplifies the tragically stereotypical European response to something as cataclysmic as the Madrid bombings, surely it is this. A conference, where inbred “experts” can blather on about the varied “root causes” of terrorism. We learn that one of the novel proposals is to forge a strategy of “containment” of terrorism.
I’m not exactly sure what this means, or perhaps I can’t get my mind around the idea that so many PhDs, “experts” and supposedly smart people could fall for this poppycock. By acquiescing to a containment of terrorism, one must by definition allow and condone the existence of terrorism in certain places. According to delegate Louise Richardson of Harvard University, containing terrorists “should be our goal” because terrorism has been around “at least since the time of Christ.”
I wonder if Ms. Richardson would want to move to a country within whose borders we have “contained” terrorism. I can’t think that many people would. I see in this preposterous statement nothing more than an admission that some countries and peoples are beyond saving, that the savages can’t handle any form of government other than the illiberal kind in whose bosom terrorism flourishes. In short, statements like these smack of the same old tired realism that is (sadly) the ultimate conceit of the academic caste and the European elites, which holds that “some people just aren’t cut out for democracy, bless their little hearts.” Furthermore, in today’s globalized world, containing the ideologies and theologies that create terrorism is nigh upon impossible. In other words, containment is a prescription for disaster. Ideologies travel not only by word of mouth from imam and politician, but by website, text message and blog. Containment, as practiced against the Soviet Union, has absolutely no chance at success against the amorphous, lycanthropic threat posed by al Qaeda. To attempt to ring fence islamic fascism in one country is to write that country off, and inherently a failed venture besides.
I learned an interesting thing when I entered the government: there are a profusion of “experts” who work as analysts, professors, think-tankers, etc, who, given a single area or topic, can blather on at great length about the issue, who can tell you everything about it, all of the factors that come into play, etc. Yet a truly good analyst is hard to find because, for some reason, being able to recite all facts pertinent to an issue is something wholly different from being able to prescribe a realistic, effective course of action. For some reason or another, there are plenty of high-powered M.A.s who can do the former, but someone who can do the latter is worth his weight in gold.
Somewhere, amid the ego stroking, the calls for “unity”, and the endless cliched platitudes that must continually swirl around the conference room, I like to think that someone is finally waking up and coming to the realization that the hemophiliac “experts” really just like to hear themselves talk and sound important. Perhaps, like a winner in the classic game of conference bingo, he or she will jump up and shout “Bullshit!” at the top of his or her lungs, but in all likelihood, he or she will make some hard realizations, chief among them that conferences and mind-numbing platitudes don’t stop terrorists.
While there are no easy answers to the question of stopping terrorism and there are a number of causes of terrorism (of course, when I say “terrorism” you all know I’m primarily talking about the brand used by Islamic fascists to advance their nihilistic vision), the lack of democracy in the middle east must be considered a huge factor in the creation of terrorist entities. Combine this with a religion whose most austere adherents preach nihilism as salvation and stand for nothing less than the subjugation of Western culture, and you’ve got something that begins to approximate where we are today.
I think we’ve known this for some time now, and this is why I think that Zappo’s conference is an utter waste of time. What is needed is not to vainly recite bland cliches, it is to roll up our sleeves and set about recasting the political status quo in the middle east. Naturally the US, as the country with the most at stake, will do the most heavy lifting. But this does not mean that Zappo’s Spain has no role to play.
To be fair, Spain continues to contribute to reconstruction in Afghanistan. But Zappatero’s cowardly withdrawal of troops from Iraq, contrary to his promise to keep troops there under the rubric of a new UN resolution legitimating the Iraqi Interim Government (which we now call SC 1546) did nothing more than embolden our fascist enemies, and has not made Spain safer. If he thinks that hosting a conference will make Spain safer a global terrorist movement that wishes to take over parts of his country, then I truly feel sorry for the Spanish people.
Marc Schulman on Britain, Multilateralism, and Terrorism
(Frequent readers of these pages (if there are any such creatures) will know of the high esteem in which we hold Marc Schulman, proprietor of American Future
, the "most underrated blog on the web" according to no less an authority than Yours Truly. We are therefore honored to have Marc guest posting during our pseudo-hiatus. His contribution is below.Enjoy,Smiley.)
During the 1930s, there was considerable concern as to whether the Western democracies could stand up to the challenges posed by totalitarianism. In particular, it was thought that democracies, because they intrinsically lacked the single-mindedness of totalitarian regimes, would be unable to mobilize their populations in time for the looming, inevitable confrontation. Fortunately, the doomsday prognostications were proven wrong. Unfortunately, tens of millions of lives were lost before they were proven wrong.
This look at the past provides a context for looking at a saga now unfolding in Britain. Back in December, I wrote
about a UK Law Lords ruling that the government was acting illegally in detaining without trial foreign nationals (but not British citizens) suspected of terrorist involvement. The legal basis for the decision was that the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act of 2001 violated the European Human Rights Convention by discriminating against foreigners.
The legal basis for the Court's decision was straightforward. The extra-legal thoughts of some of its judges, two of whom I quote here, are of equal, if not greater, interest:Lord Hutton
was more concerned about detaining foreigners than about terrorism:
The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. Lord Scott
argued that the legislation condoned practices equivalent to those of revolutionary France and Stalinist Russia:
Indefinite imprisonment in consequence of a denunciation on grounds that are not disclosed and made by a person whose identity cannot be disclosed is the stuff of nightmares, associated with France before and during the revolution, with Soviet Russia in the Stalinist era, and now associated, as a result of section 23 of the 2001 Act, with the United Kingdom.
Faced with the Lords' decision, the Blair Government had a choice to make: it could relinquish the power to detain anyone without trial, or it could introduce new legislation that would enable the authorities to detain both foreign nationals and British citizens. By opting for the latter option, the Government sparked a national uproar spanning all political persuasions. This January 27 editorial
from the conservative Telegraph typifies the reaction:
Since the end of January, the Government has been attempting to win approval for the new legislation. Parliamentary approval is, at best, uncertain. If approval isn't forthcoming, the Government may be forced to release eleven terrorist suspects -- the most prominent of whom is Abu Qatada -- in circumstances under which it may be difficult to monitor their activities. The suspects in question include alleged associates of an Algerian man convicted in the United States for plotting to attack Los Angeles International Airport.
As a direct consequence of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, citizens of this country could be liable to a form of house arrest, without trial. That is the bizarre irony that arises from the House of Lords ruling in December which judged the detention powers under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act to be incompatible with the Convention. Those powers, applying only to foreign nationals, were deemed unlawfully discriminatory.
The logical conclusion to which the Government has been forced by its own actions, is that, if the threat from organised terrorism is sufficient to warrant such Draconian measures as the suspension of our traditional idea of habeas corpus, then it should apply to everyone who resides here, citizens included . .
This dilemma is of the Labour Government's own making. Had it not incorporated the European Convention, it would have been free to determine, as previous British governments have, what the liberty of its own population entailed. It would have been within its power to impose conditions on foreign nationals that did not pertain to citizens, if it had a democratic mandate to do so.
The convention has, at least on the Law Lords' interpretation, removed that possibility. At the same time as circumscribing the remit of democratically elected government, it has placed enormous (and, again, unprecedented) power in the hands of the judiciary, whose own political inclinations are unaccountable to the electorate.
While I can't claim to understand why Qatada hasn't been brought to trial, it's clear that the evidence against him is compelling. According to Newsweek,
A special British immigration-appeals tribunal set up to review the cases of suspects detained under the antiterror law ruled last year that Abu Qatada "was heavily involved, indeed was at the center in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with Al Qaeda." The three-judge panel, which relied in part on classified intelligence information, concluded that Abu Qatada "was a truly dangerous individual."Also according to Newsweek,
Others who could soon be released include individuals described in British court papers as associates of Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian-born terror suspect who was arrested by U.S. Customs in December 1999 as he tried to enter the United States from Canada driving a car with a trunk filled with bombmaking material. Ressam later confessed to plotting a postmillennium attack on Los Angeles International Airport and became one of the U.S. government's most important pre-9/11 informants on the inner workings of Al Qaeda.Who's To Blame?
If the suspected terrorists are released, the blame will fall, not on the UK Law Lords, whose ruling was mandated by the precedence of EU over British law, not on the Members of Parliament, who had to choose between suspending habeus corpus for everybody or nobody, but on the EU, for adopting a Human Rights Convention making it illegal to discriminate between foreign nationals and British citizens.
This episode should serve as a case study of the consequences that can follow from the voluntary relinquishing of sovereignty. Had the UK Government not agreed to conform to the EU's Human Rights Convention, the 2001 Act would not have been overturned, the suspected terrorists would remain in detention, and the world would not now be faced with the possible prospect of an extra measure of violence of unknown magnitude and timing.
It's particularly noteworthy that the Convention applies to all foreign nationals, not just to EU foreign nationals. As such, the Convention enables the EU to claim that it's protecting the rights of everyone, everywhere. This assertion of universality has a familiar ring: it's the same as the International Criminal Court's (ICC) claim that even those individuals who are citizens of countries that aren't signatories can be brought to trial, and the UN's claim that it's the sole repository of international legitimacy.
All three of these multilateral institutions suffer from a democratic deficit. The EU is the least bad of the three: at least its member countries are all democracies. However, these countries are steadily relinquishing their sovereignty to a body that's not elected by their peoples, but whose laws trump their own. The British are now experiencing the consequences. Their safety, and the safety of others, may be jeopardized by the actions of the most democratic of the multilateral institutions.
Imagine, then, how much worse it would be if the ICC or the UN, whose memberships aren't restricted to democracies, were to achieve the status of the EU. To those who favor US membership in the ICC, I point out that there are conflicts between its provisions and those of our Constitution, and ask why we should sacrifice the integrity of our fundamental law and, thereby, our sovereignty, to an unproven institution whose judges don't necessarily share our concept of justice. And to those who advocate that we accept the UN's contention that it's the only source of legitimacy, I point out its repeated failure to enforce its own resolutions, and ask why we should place greater reliance on it to provide for our security.
Turning to Lords Hutton and Scott, I suspect that, even if Hutton didn't think that the detention law was a greater threat than terrorism and Scott didn't believe in the moral equivalence of today's Britain with yesterday's France and Soviet Union, the Law Lords would still have acted as they did. That's what adherence to the EU Convention required.
Nonetheless, I find their words profoundly disturbing. Here are two presumably learned men, one saying, in effect, that terrorism really isn't that much of a threat, and the other that measures taken to combat the threat place us in the same category as totalitarians. The first says that we don't need to be armed; the second that we shouldn't be armed.
This is where the parallel to the plight of the democracies in the 1930s comes into play. Back then, there were those who didn't take Hitler seriously enough, soon enough. Had the democracies rearmed sooner and faster, the war might have been prevented or, at least, shortened. And there were others, some pacifists and some not, who believed that, by rearming and encouraging a militaristic spirit, we more and more resembled those that we feared. They, too, paved the way for the disaster that overtook Europe in 1939.
Getting By With A Little Help From Our Friends
(Editor's Note: Due to various circumstances beyond our control both the good Dr. and I are not able to blog too much in the next week or two. Doc, as our readers already know, is heading back to the US for a few days, and I will be having my hands full with various projects here in my corner of the Far Abroad, although I will be posting from time to time. Fear not, gentle readers, as we have made arrangements with some of our fellow bloggers to pick up the slack in our absence. Our first installment is brought to you courtesy of the fine folks over at the Seeker blog. Look for more posts from some of our other fellow bloggers in the upcoming days. Enjoy.Smiley)
America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies (Take 2)
- The Saudi Dilemma
- The Iraqi Lever
- The European Game
- More Tidbits on Al Qaeda and Iraq
- How Do We Know It's True?
- Stratfor Is Not Infallible
- Barron's Interview
- David Warren Review
- Lee Smith Slate Article
- CNN Interview 2001
- Americans Unaware of the Successes
: America's Secret War
could be an important book on "the Fourth Global War" against the Islamists. As of 2 March, 2005, the book is #6 on the Foreign Affairs Best Seller List.
The author, George Friedman, is the founder of Strategic Forecasting Inc
(the 'shadow CIA' as Barron's calls it, usually referred to as Stratfor). Friedman's biography is here at the Johns Hopkins' Principles of War Seminars
where he is a speaker.
The book is about what Friedman terms the Fourth Global War. It is only in the last three of thirteen chapters that the book concentrates on Iraq. In the following, many of the examples I draw from the book are Iraq issues - for two reasons: I've studied Iraq in more depth, and there is more in the public record to contrast with Friedman's framing.
Why an important book? First, a small portion of the book is material you will have seen elsewhere - little is in the public record. It is a book just brimming with surprising tidbits that definitely haven't seen ink at the New York Times
. Perhaps it is old news to CIA hands who work the Middle East. But CIA analysts cannot write about it, while Stratfor can. The U.S. administration cannot say it, but Stratfor can. Stratfor is also free to write tantalizing current history that is rubbish. I hope that readers who have knowledge of at least parts of the story, and will be kind enough to confirm or deny specific information in the Comments section.
Below I'll give an a priori argument that Stratfor at least believes the content is accurate. That's the best I can do for the material that is not in the public record. I should mention that I've been searching since October 2004 for reviews by people with enough knowledge of the events and strategies to enable a critique. If such reviews are out there I've not found them.
Seeker Blog readers know that the blog's epigraph is the Niels Bohr quote: "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." While I have problems with some of Friedman's work, the fact is he and Stratfor stick their neck out every day making predictions. That's risky, and is bound to lead to some "oops!"
For example, be aware that Friedman is not a supporter of the administration's democracy development goals for Iraq or the region. He considers that "mission creep". Whether he is correct I do not know. I am a strong supporter of the democracy objectives, so we disagree on this point, and I sincerely hope he is wrong.
I also disagree with Friedman on another important point - his view is that the "insurgency" in Iraq has won, and that the only option for the U.S. now is to withdraw. This is discussed in the Stratfor Is Not Infallible section below, and in my separate post Seeker Blog Bets Contra to Stratfor on “Facing Realities in Iraq”.
For examples of the exposition, let's sample pages 234 to 265 which deal with how the effort to dismantle Al Qaeda led to the decision to invade Iraq:
The Saudi Dilemma: The central dilemma the U.S. now faced was how to get the Saudis into the war. The problem was that the Saudis did not think the United States was going to win this war. They understood the region and their own country far better than the Americans, and the United States did not terrify the Saudis nearly as much as Al Qaeda did. The Saudis had heard U.S. rhetoric in the past and were not impressed. Somehow the U.S. had to demonstrate just how serious and frightening it could be, and then be in a position to put massive military and political pressure on the Saudis.To this point Friedman has painted the background of the joint dilemma facing the Saudis and the administration. Next he explains how the Saudis attempted to wiggle free of their dilemma by demanding that the U.S. to do something about Israel immediately. If the U.S. could be pressured into imposing a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, then the Saudi leadership could argue that giving up Al Qaeda was a quid pro quo for Palestine. So in February, 2002 the Saudis launched a major PR campaign, beginning with Abdullah's speech offering not only to establish diplomatic relations, but to proceed to full normalization of relations if the Israelis were prepared to withdraw from the occupied territories.
This was the origin of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. There were other strands, such as fear of weapons of mass destruction, concern that Al Qaeda was collaborating with the Iraqis, and a genuine feeling that Saddam Hussein was a monster. But to understand the American decision to invade Iraq, it is essential to understand the American concern, even obsession, with the course Saudi Arabia was taking amid growing evidence that the Saudis were financing Al Qaeda.
The key figure in all of this was a Saudi prince, Turki al Faisal, who became head of Saudi intelligence in 1976... He was responsible for overseeing Saudi Arabia's role in recruiting and supporting mujahideen in Afghanistan... It would not be accurate to say that Turki al Faisal lost control the weapon he created. It was not his idea to create it (it was Jimmy Carter's), and the weapon was never truly under anyone's control...
Two weeks before September 11, Turki al Faisal was suddenly and unexpectedly fired as head of Saudi intelligence... U.S. intelligence wondered if the entire point of firing Turki al Faisal was to disrupt intelligence cooperation with the United States, especially since he and Saudi intelligence were the U.S.'s primary window into Al Qaeda...
In January 2002 ... the Saudi government quietly informed the United States that it would like U.S. forces to be removed from its land... The problem the United States had was that it could not let the rift end there. Saudi Arabia was still the key to the American war on Al Qaeda, and the U.S. could not win that war without the Saudis.
It was not exactly a war between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia...It was a case in which intentions simply didn't matter much. The net result was that Saudi Arabia and the United States were on a collision course... the focus of the United States turned overwhelmingly to the Saudis.
In the few months since September 11, U.S. intelligence had developed a substantial amount of information revealing that Saudi citizens and many significant figures in the Saudi establishment, had, with the knowledge of Saudi intelligence, provided financial support to Al Qaeda... Saudi intelligence knew the truth of the matter and did nothing. Moreover, senior government officials had to know as well.
It was this intelligence that drove men like Bush, Cheney, and Powell...to turn on the Saudis and demand a fundamental shift in their policy. The Saudis did not reject the demand but rather deflected it. It was this deflection that most concerned the administration. It was clear that the Saudis weren't planning to solve the problem - or more precisely, couldn't solve the problem.
...Bush telephoned Abdullah to tell him that he welcomed the proposal and that he was sending a senior U.S. delegation to Riyadh to discuss it... The delegation would include... George Tenet... the last man Abdullah wanted to see in Riyadh... He was the U.S. specialist in the nuts and bolts of the peace process. However, by sending Tenent to Riyadh, the administration put the Saudis in the one position they didn't want to be: having to explain themselves to someone who knew what he was talking about.... The administration was playing the Saudi game. They were publicly focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but their [ed., the Saudis] not very well-hidden agenda would be the focus of the meeting.How does Abdullah wiggle out of this new dilemma? Now we come to a piece of the narrative where we have public information. You will probably recall the big splash Tom Friedman made with his February 17, 2002 "the speech in the drawer" column about his midnight dinner with Crown Prince Abdullah in the tent (a very dramatic scene)? Here George Friedman asserts that Abdullah gamed the other Friedman:
Abdullah decided to flank Bush by playing an even bigger card: Tom Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, influential, knowledgeable about the Middle East, Jewish - and eager to play a hand in revolutionizing Arab-Israeli relations. Abdullah invited Friedman to dinner and floated an idea to him - total recognition of Israel and normalization of Arab-Israeli relations in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Simple, persuasive - and impossible. According to George Friedman, Abdullah's "speech in the drawer" did not even have the backing of the Saudi government, had not been discussed with any other Arab states, let alone with the Palestinians.
The Saudis, as usual, had nothing at risk and were not in a position to bring those who were at risk - like Hamas and Syria - to the table... Not only were the Saudis still a problem regarding Al Qaeda, but they were not willing to do anything about it - and in addition, they were trying to maneuver Washington into deeper problems than it already had. That was the main goal of Abdullah's Israeli-Palestinian initiative. The administration began to raise, in ernest, the question of whether the U.S.-Saudi relationship had any future. That posed a second, more serious question: If the Saudis were no longer to be thought of as allies, and the Saudis were the center of the Al Qaeda problem, then what should the United States do about Saudi Arabia?Friedman does not provide any footnotes or references to help us assess the truth of all that. But the narrative seems plausible and internally consistent to this point. You can see why the book is compact at 341 pages, because Friedman doesn't spend a lot of words justifying his assertions.
In the next twenty pages Friedman covers the decision-making turmoil in the administration, the various options, the logic for and against Iraq, tantalizing tidbits regarding the secret war with Al Qaeda, UN maneuvering, how France sandbagged the administration, and several examples of the practice of applied deception. There are several pages devoted to the administration's quandary: they could not go public with the most critical of their reasons for "Iraq now" rather than "Iraq later".
The Iraqi Lever: One of the reasons for Saudi disregard of the United States was a conviction, shared with much of the Islamic world, that the United States was a military weakling... The Islamic world did not take the United States seriously as a military power - and the Saudis were no exception.Friedman's first lever is plausible - though, sadly, I don't know any senior Saudis I can ask to confirm or deny. The second lever I have problems with. He argues that the potential downward pressure on oil prices of rehabilitated Iraqi reserves levers the Saudis: "The prospect of Iraqi oil moving freely into the market unnerved the Saudis, to say the least". Perhaps it did, but I don't understand the leverage, as it is only effective while the threat of freeing Iraq is alive, but collapses after a free Iraq has become a reality. Am I missing something here? Onward ...
The United States needed a military victory of substantial proportions ... It needed to win a war ...
From the American point of view, the occupation of Iraq would give the United States two critical levers over the Saudis. The first, and most important, was the very real presence of several U.S. divisions along the Saudi Arabian border with Iraq ...
The second lever was oil, although not the way in which many critics of the war talked about it. The United States had never had an interest in directly controlling Persian Gulf oil.
... secret arrests of potential Al Qaeda members were driving Al Qaeda up a wall... The FBI and CIA might not know they were holding an Al Qaeda member, but Al Qaeda would. Al Qaeda would never be sure what U.S. did or didn't know about their arrestees ... Therefore the FBI was constantly arresting people that were Al Qaeda without knowing it and Al Qaeda was constantly adjusting its organization to cope with what might be a serious breach in security ...That's bold - we know what was in the minds of the administration! Whatever, the next bit on DOD is quite interesting, and plausible:
.. A Muslim could hate the United States, but whether he joined Al Qaeda as a result didn't depend on his level of hatred, but rather on whether he perceived Al Qaeda as being able to defeat the United States ... Following this reasoning, the way to prevent increased active support for Al Qaeda was to create a sense of overwhelming power.
The decision to invade Iraq was partly driven by the historic weakness of prior U.S. military encounters in the region. At least in the minds of the administration, the inability to engage Al Qaeda effectively left no alternative but to invade Iraq.
It was also essential, from the standpoint of the Defense Department, that apart from being perceived as militarily capable and willing to endure hardship, the United States must not be perceived as being constrained by alliances. The Defense Department did not object to coalition building. It did object to coalition building that reshaped the battle in order to minimize its ferocity. From the point of view of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, it was the ferocity of the battle plan that was of the essence.Friedman confirmed several of the conclusions I had reached regarding Iraq and regime change. But he did not discuss one of my key conclusions re: "why Iraq soon?". That missing conclusion was: containment via the sanctions regime was essentially finished - while diplomacy dictated that U.S. leadership not go public with this view. France, Russia and China had been tunneling around the sanctions since 1992. All three were committed to ending the sanctions regime, thus allowing Saddam to resume his dream of leading the Arab world, and controlling the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. Whether a nuclear Iraq was 2 or 10 years away after the fall of sanctions one can debate - but the end result was very clear - an armed and dangerous Iraq at the hinge of the Middle East.
The European Game: The reason for the war was complex and difficult to explain. The process of public explanation undermined the war's utility. If the President was to say that the reason for invading Iraq was to prove that the United States was really much tougher than people thought, and that the occupation of Iraq was intended to intimidate neighboring countries, it would undermine the United States's ability to attain either goal. During World War II, for example, the core American strategy was to allow the Soviets to bleed the Germans dry so that the United States could then land in France and defeat a weakened Germany. It was certainly true, but it was not something that could be said publicly. Roosevelt preferred to speak in terms of the Four Freedoms and the United Nations rather than publicly embrace the actual strategy. Indeed his strategy and his ideals were not incompatible. Nevertheless, explaining his strategy was not something to be done in polite company.
More Interesting Tidbits: Quickly, here are five more selected tidbits from the book that I thought were worth highlighting:
How Do We Know It's True?
- Al Qaeda's primary risk is discovery by intelligence. Al Qaeda is intimately familiar with U.S./allied intelligence - they were taught by the CIA in the Afghan war. They had, and likely continue to have, good access to Saudi Intelligence - with whom the CIA has been working closely since early in the Cold War. Its simple - if the Saudis know it, Al Qaeda knows it.
- Al Qaeda's primary skill is "evading the CIA and allied intelligence agencies."
- Al Qaeda is designed to survive a massive counterattack by the U.S., and is "prepared to lose a good portion of its leadership".
- At the same time, because the number of Al Qaeda's key operatives is small, Al Qaeda is quite risk averse regarding mission compromise. Allied intelligence has used this against Al Qaeda to stop operations. E.g., by leaking that the CIA is interrogating "X", since Al Qaeda doesn't know whether "X" has compromised an operation, they are likely to cancel it to avoid the risk. See the Lee Smith article below for more...
- The Baathist-Islamist insurgency was planned before the Iraq invasion: Arms caches were created, safe houses were designated. Leaders were designated along with areas of responsibility. Communications protocols were laid down - mostly human rather than electronic, to avoid detection.
Well, dear Reader - did you already know all of this? The example given of devious strategy to allow the Soviets to bleed the Germans dry is one that should be verifiable 60 years after the war. If you are a student of WW II who knows the truth of this, please leave a comment!
How can we verify all the rest? I had a friend, very senior in the CIA, who died two years ago (suspiciously). Even so, I could ask, but he would not be able to confirm or deny.
While I can't validate by evidence, I can argue that the book represents Stratfor's best assessment as of summer 2004, reasoning as follows:
Stratfor Is Not Infallible:
- This is a Stratfor book, authored by the founder and chairman.
- Stratfor makes a living selling geopolitical assessments.
- Within, say, 5 years the truth of many of the assertions will be known.
- Some will be known sooner, at least to a few people, some of which may write op-eds.
- Note also, the CIA has proven very capable of getting any message it wishes published.
- If material portions of the book turn out to be rubbish, the financial impact on Stratfor is not good.
- Conclusion, there are very likely some projections that prove to be wrong, but I'll wager that Stratfor gave it their best shot.
(A) The future has become history: In my research I've found at least one outstanding example of a Friedman forecast that has not played out. In 1991, Friedman published The Coming War With Japan I've not read the book, it's not available in our library system. A few Amazon reviewers thought the analysis was good, though the conclusion in the last chapter doesn't look so hot 24 years later: As the U.S. converts its global military supremacy into economic leverage, America and a rearmed Japan will be set on a collision course; the rivalry between them could well spill over into a "hot war," the authors maintain.
Did the St. Martins Press insist on a speculative final chapter to justify an attention-grabbing title?
(B) The future is still in the future: Stratfor published an intelligence report Dec 30, 2004 titled Facing Realities in Iraq. Therein they take a negative view on the prospects for democracy in Iraq, primarily based upon concerns about terrorist intimidation and infiltration. I agree that intimidation is slowing progress but argue that infiltration has not doomed the democratic experiment in SeekerBlog Bets Contra to Stratfor on “Facing Realities in Iraq” I do not agree that civil war is imminent, nor that the only option open to U.S. strategists (having "lost" the "insurgency" war), is for the coalition military to withdraw from the cities to the arc of western desert:
After the January elections, there will be a Shiite government in Baghdad. There will be, in all likelihood, civil war between Sunnis and Shia. The United States cannot stop it and cannot be trapped in the middle of it. It needs to withdraw.David Warren Review: An informed 10/06/2004 book review by David Warren, who himself has good sources on the region:
In America's Secret War, Dr. Friedman argues that the enemy grew out of the Cold War, an artifact of Jimmy Carter's decision to use Saudi Arabian money and Pakistani expertise to create a guerrilla army that could harass the Soviets then occupying Afghanistan. "Al Qaeda", the product, mastered the art of covert operation, and as the Soviets collapsed, began turning it against the West, biting the hand that fed them. Their large ambition is the creation of a new, pan-Muslim caliphate, however, and they attack Western targets as a means of advancing an Islamist revolution at home.Barron's Interview: The Feb. 21, 2005 interview with Friedman "World of Worry" has a number of useful tidbits. Among these are comments on the U.S. coercion strategy:
Realizing they couldn't win like this, after Tora Bora (in which Osama bin Laden and company slipped away), and that they couldn't depend on the Saudis for help in cutting the enemy's financial resources, they embarked on a mission to change Saudi Arabia by first changing Iraq, and then probably Iran, alternately playing Sunni and Shia radicals against one another. It is, Dr. Friedman thinks, a strategy that appears to be blundering to success.
After subtracting some hype, there is much truth in this view. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have been indirect conflicts, justified in a geostrategic calculation that would be impossible to communicate in election-year soundbites. President Bush is trying to do the fighting "over there", instead of "over here", and in my view, he could have started in any one of half-a-dozen Middle Eastern countries, with the same chaotic results, Saudi Arabia being my own first choice. His intention, through judicious regime changes, is to change the overall complexion of the region, to make it impossible for the Jihadis to hide.
I find Dr. Friedman's account of President Bush's strategy coherent, but narrower than the thing itself; yet President Bush's strategy also narrower than required by the reality. Senator Kerry's proposals I find recklessly incoherent.
For according to me, we are facing a gathering Islamist ideological challenge that was not invented by Osama bin Laden. It has a Shia, Iranian version (that triumphed in 1979 with the fall of the Shah), and a Sunni, Arabian version; the two being capable of co-operation as well as mutual antipathy. Terrorism is only the weapon of convenience on both the "Hezbollah" (Shia) and "Hamas" (Sunni) sides.
As a political scientist and admirer of realpolitik, Friedman feels that the U.S.'s aggressive action and military presence in Iraq has inestimably helped the war on terror by, among other things, motivating reluctant allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan and erstwhile enemies like Syria and Iran to help the U.S. by cutting off their support of al Qaeda and serving up better intelligence to Western governments.
"I call it the coalition of the coerced, but the tempo of timely arrests of al Qaeda operatives around the world, and the fact that the U.S. suffered no terrorist attacks running up to last year's election, can in good part be attributed to better intelligence from the Islamic world," Friedman avers. "Our victory in Afghanistan was insufficient. We had to show the Islamic world that we meant business by putting large numbers of troops into the Mideast, into harm's way, rather than cutting and running such as the U.S. had done previously in its rapid pull-out from Beirut in the 1980s and Somalia in the '1990s.
Lee Smith Slate Article: There are some thoughtful related comments by Lee Smith at Slate on Aug. 13, 2004: "Does the U.S. press know we're at war?" Lee Smith dug up a few tidbits I've not seen published elsewhere. Example, regarding the threat of a 2004 pre-election "Madrid attack":
George Friedman, chairman of Stratfor, a private global intelligence company, learned that it was the latter. "There was a decision in the U.S. intelligence community to roll up the al-Qaida networks we know about now and push them out of a pre-election attack," he told me.CNN Interview: CNN did an online interview-chat with Friedman on Nov 21, 2001. An interesting Q&A, including still-unanswered issues like this:
That is to say, the most important information that came from Khan was not about the five potential financial-sector targets in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., that al-Qaida had chosen as far back as four years ago to attack. What U.S. intelligence learned is that there was an extremely serious, imminent operation in the advanced-planning stages. The information placed in the Times, Friedman explains, "was part of a systematic series of leaks, designed to confuse al-Qaida. They don't know what we know and what we don't know. Since their operational principle is never attack into a highly secure environment, the assumption is that they'd abort this operation."
I asked Friedman... why other intelligence professionals were skeptical of the government's actions. For instance, CIA officer Robert Baer argued, "You get no benefit from announcing an arrest like this."
Friedman explains that there are two sides to any debate in the intelligence community: intelligence and security. "The gut of an intel guy like Baer is that you never shut down an operation by going public," says Friedman. "The security people have a narrower point of view: The best way to make al-Qaida go on tilt is to reveal that they have been penetrated. In this particular case, I see the need to let al-Qaida know that we know something. Otherwise, they will continue their operation, thinking they are secure. Maybe we sweep the board before the operation is executed, and maybe we get hit hard. Better to force them to abort their operation even if we lose intelligence opportunities. I see Baer's point of view, but in this case, I'm with the security guys."
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How much do you think intelligence played a part in the rapid retreat of the Taliban from most of Afghanistan?Epilogue: The Epilogue/final chapter was published online Oct 4 to update readers on events since the book was written 60 days earlier. That's quite an interesting author-reader service, that I would like to see more of when the subject matter is this dynamic:
FRIEDMAN: That has to be stated two ways. To what extent did the Taliban retreat as part of its own strategy of reverting to guerilla warfare, and to what extent did they retreat under U.S. military pressure. Remember that they pulled out of cities that were not under particularly heavy attack. So, the real question is whether or not this is an attempt by the Taliban to execute its own war plan, and whether or not that attempt will be successful. That really is the intelligence question now. Have the Taliban collapsed, or have they repositioned themselves for an extended guerilla war?
Between August and October 2004, all eyes were focused on the Iraq campaign. The basic strategic reality, however, on October 1, 2004, is this: Al Qaeda has failed to achieve its strategic goals; there has been no rising in the Islamic world; virtually all Muslim intelligence services are working with the United States against Al Qaeda; and Al Qaeda’s credibility and operational integrity are being questioned everywhere.Madrid: Friedman credits Al Qaeda with a sophisticated understand of the fragility of the western alliance. Madrid was a cunning, successful attempt to cause a quake on the one of the faultlines:
On the other hand, the United States has not achieved its own fundamental strategic goal: It cannot guarantee the security of the United States against an Al Qaeda attack. It has not broken Al Qaeda with any degree of confidence. Indeed, in the worst-case scenario, it has not been able to guarantee that Al Qaeda does not have weapons of mass destruction.
From the broader, strategic perspective, understood in terms of Al Qaeda’s goals and American goals, Iraq has been a very dangerous place, but far from the decisive battlefield. Al Qaeda has needed a political uprising in the Islamic world. The United States has needed security. Neither side has achieved its goals.
Momentum clearly has been with the United States and not Al Qaeda. The key has been the coalition of Muslim states the United States had created. The intelligence services of almost all these countries are now using their deep knowledge base of Al Qaeda operations against them. The sole valuable outcome of the Iraq campaign has been that most countries in the region are now convinced that the United States’ obsession with Al Qaeda was not to be trifled with—however irrational they might regard it—and their resources are being thrown into the campaign.
Al Qaeda’s view of the force the United States had arrayed against it was that it was inherently fragile, that it was the Achilles’ heel of the U.S. war effort. It set in place a program designed to split the alliance. The crowning moment occurred in Spain in March 2004. Al Qaeda set off a series of bombs in a Madrid train station, causing massive casualties. The attack occurred on the eve of Spanish general elections. The effect of the attack—coupled with massive political incompetence on the part of the Spanish government—was to swing the election against the pro-American government and bring to power an anti-war government that ordered Spanish troops out of Iraq.Americans Unaware of the Successes: Friedman argues that Islamic world does not believe the U.S. is losing the war, but Americans are unaware of the successes because the Bush administration doesn't communicate effectively.
Documents found after the attack showed that Al Qaeda had a stunningly sophisticated understanding of Spanish politics. Far from being coincidental, the attack was carefully planned to achieve well-defined political outcomes and, indeed, succeeded perfectly. The Madrid bombings drove home two points about Al Qaeda. First, Al Qaeda was as smart as many in the West feared. Second, it now had a program to use Western elections as the frame within which to create political unrest in the West. The plan fit in perfectly with Al Qaeda’s understanding of the United States and its allies. From the beginning, Al Qaeda had argued that the Christian world did not have the stomach for prolonged conflict. This campaign, therefore, fit in neatly with its world view.
The war is at a strange crossroads, for which we find few precedents. The broader war is certainly moving in favor of the United States. The Iraq campaign has problems, but none that present a strategic challenge to the broader war or to even the Iraq campaign itself. The enemy has failed to achieve any of its goals and seems incapable of mounting a serious attack at this point. The war is not over and it is not won, but the United States is ahead on points.We are keeping our copy of America's Secret War to serve as a scorecard as history catches up with the forecasts. E.g., if we don't have Shia/Sunni civil war within the next two years, we'll tick the BZZZ - WRONG! box next to that one...
However, this is a war in which global perception is almost as important as military force. The perception of incompetence creates a military reality. But there is a corrective paradox. The perception of American incompetence is much greater in the United States than in the Islamic world. The Islamic world may view the United States as vicious, tyrannical or satanic, but they do not take lightly American military power and they do not believe that the United States is losing the war. Some are confident that the United States will eventually lose the war. But most are betting on the United States to win. The interesting thing is that the Islamic politicians have sided with the United States, seeming to know something most Americans don’t.
Whoever wins the election, the basic course is now set. The United States is depending on its power in the region to compel local governments to crush Al Qaeda, even if that were to mean civil war. Al Qaeda is hoping to strike in such a way as to empower the Islamic masses to rise. Of the two outcomes, the American is by far the more likely.
The last three months have confirmed two realities. Trends continue to favor the United States. Americans—to a large measure because of the political failures of the Bush administration—seem unaware of it.