Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Geek's Praise And Pan For The Week

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally stepped out of the shadows this week--twice really, but one of these rare appearances has already been covered. The real praise for the often invisible SecState is for her honesty in Pakistan.

She had the guts to bring the rhino in the john front and center as she quite properly accused the government of Pakistan for having had the knowledge necessary to get Osama bin Laden and his number two guy, Zawahiri, at any time over the past nine years. As an exercise in "fence-mending," her approach is noteworthy in its unconventionality. But, public honesty in this matter is long overdue--and still incomplete.

The government of Pakistan or at the very, very least, its Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has known where the top men of al-Qaeda have been all along the way. The many, many stories of bin Laden's having traipsed around the country, including stays in military hospitals, have been too numerous, too consistent, and from too many diverse sources over the years to be the creation of fabricators and other pitfalls in the wacky world of intelligence.

Further, when the intimate relationship between ISI and the Taliban of Afghanistan is factored into consideration, it becomes even more unlikely that the al-Qaeda pandjandrums' whereabouts is unknown to the Boys of Islamabad. They may have experienced the embarrassment of having their creation, Taliban, turn against its creators, but that doesn't imply the ISI has lost its ability to collect what is known as "actionable intelligence."

They have. They know it. We know it. They know that we know. So, there is no excuse to pussy-foot around the issue. And, to her credit, Ms Clinton hasn't kept on the artful dodging that typified the Bush/Cheney years. Presumably, some of the credit must go to President Obama for allowing the sharp and amazingly public change in policy.

Pakistan, in a way which resembles the old French policy of placating terrorist groups but which has taken it to much, much greater extremes, has sought to buy its peace from terror attacks by both permitting "foreign" groups to operate from its soil and protecting them from other "foreign" antagonists. The government and military of Pakistan sat back, hands folded on their collective laps, until it had become explosively evident that Taliban had slipped its ISI leash and unilaterally cancelled the old deal.

The US would have acted quickly and (hopefully) effectively had the government of Pakistan, the Pakistani military, or ISI given notice of bin Laden's or Zawihiri's address. Not only did the phone call never come, the Pakistani organs publicly (and privately) maintained they were completely mystified and baffled as to where any of the terrorist heavyweights might be. They often added that the wanted men must still be in Afghanistan.

Considering the largess spread by the US Congress and administrations both past and present, a largess which will be paid by our descendants on to the fifth generation, the Clinton Bluntness Gambit is well justified. Now, both the administration and the congress must back her play. The challenge, the glove cast before Islamabad, must be renewed--and expanded. It is all well and good to praise the Pakistanis for finally having taken some sort of more or less effective action against the Islamist jihadists, but that is not enough.

It is not enough to justify all the money we have and will spend on the Lads of Islamabad. It is not enough that they have finally decided that they have to do something or lose their heads to the swords of what they like to call "miscreants."

To not only justify the money we have lavished upon their regime and its assorted military goodies, they must now show they really have joined the side of civilization in opposition to the barbaric forces of the Islamist jihadists. To do this they must hand us the head of Osama bin Laden, with or without the rest of his body. Ditto, al-Zawihiri.

It may have been a thumbs-up for Secretary Clinton. But, it is the back of the Geek's hand to the UN Human Rights Council. Well, to err on the side of specificity, its Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alston.

Mr Alston is all het up over the use of Predators and Reapers in the FATA of Pakistan. He is reportedly even more exercised over the unwillingness of the US, specifically CIA, to supply the family jewels on how targets are determined and engaged. The Special Rapporteur used language in his press conference the other day which echoed very well the approach taken by Justice Goldstone regarding the IDF.

He hinted darkly that the US "may" be committing war crimes in its use of UAVs. He can't be sure of this, however, unless the US provides all the relevant and requested information.

There is no doubt that Mr Alston would like to know the details of UAV missions and the supporting targeting systems. So would the targets. And their supporters around the world, many of which are represented on the Human Rights Council.

When not engaged in absurdities such as the widely decried hang wringing over the probable abuse of the human rights of transgendered persons as was the case with the UNHRC in-house "expert" on counterterrorism, the august body undertakes travesties such as its perversion of the already malformed Goldstone Panel Report. Now, the Council wants to drag the US into the same mire as it has Israel.

Recently the Jerusalem Post quoted a critic as terming the Goldstone effort as "a Magna Carta for terrorists." Mr Alston seems to be doing his best to augment the Goldstone effort.

While there is no debating the unfortunate fact that non-combatants have died from the Predator attacks, there is also no debating that this was not the desired effect of the attacks. US decision makers and those who execute the decisions are quite well aware of the ground truth that the killing of uninvolved civilians is counterproductive to say the least.

The gold (not Goldstone) standard for adjudicating an action during war as a crime is that of intent. The law of land warfare in the US and everywhere for that matter is intent pure and simple. It has been acknowledged for decades, centuries, perhaps longer, that in war civilians will be killed. It is unavoidable. Inescapable. So, showing a commonsense usually lacking in the area of jurisprudence, the standard of intent was evolved long times past.

Mr Alston needs to get a grip. The collateral loss of civilian life is an unfortunate reality of war whether carried out by UAVs or undertaken in a very up close and personal fashion. And, intent cannot be proven or disproven from an examination of the protocols and procedures for targeting and servicing the targets chosen.

Not unless someone, somewhere, at sometime, deep inside the Beltway wrote an order saying in effect," It is our intent that civilians be intentionally targeted." Sooner whales will fly than that sort of order would surface--or even exist. Not even Dick (Kill-'em-All-And-Let-Hell-Sort-It-Out) Cheney was that stupid.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not Everything Is Bad In The USA

While there have been any number of obituaries written for the status of the US in international affairs recently as well as many, many doom laden forecasts regarding the inevitably downward trajectory for the US on the world's stage, perhaps all these negatives need to be reconsidered. Reconsideration is required when one considers the latest report from Legatum. This group, located in the UK, performs an annual ranking of countries using broader criteria than the usual hard power, hard infrastructure matters of GDP, per capita income, and the like.

On the basis of the broader criteria which include such "soft" features as governance, education, entrepreneurial innovation, and personal freedom, the US ranks number nine among the over one hundred countries rated. More to the point, the US is number one among large population countries defined as those with more than fifty million residents.

Finland is number one. But, it like the rest of the eight which score better than the US, are all small population states. Most, again like Finland, have homogeneous populations. None, not even multi-lingual Switzerland (number two) and bi-lingual Canada (number seven) have the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of the US. And, none have the emphasis on the individual, the rights, prerogatives, and responsibility of the individual which have characterized the US since the gitty-up.

Of interest as well is the fact that with the exception of Japan (and the questionable semi-autonomous Hong Kong) all of the top twenty are either Western European or Anglophone states. Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference do not show up until the United Arab Emirates lists at number forty-seven.

That means that the OIC is outranked not only by Israel (number twenty-seven) but even by countries not typically thought of as "rich" whether by "hard" or "soft" criteria such as Estonia (thirty-one), Latvia (thirty-seven) or Chile (thirty-six). While many countries in the top half of the rankings have problems in the categories of "democratic institutions," "personal freedom," and "social capital," none present the dismal picture shown by most of the Muslim dominated countries.

Indonesia, the largest population Muslim state in the world and often proclaimed loudly to be a democracy, comes in at number sixty-one. It is dragged down by such "soft" features as education, health, and "personal freedom" where it ranks number one hundred out of one hundred four countries.

American "allies" in the effort against Islamist jihadists such as Turkey (tied with Russia at number sixty-nine), Egypt (eighty-eight), and Saudi Arabia (eighty-one) are not hallmarks of democracy, personal freedom, enterprise or any of the "soft" power and infrastructure features. Turkey, for example, is at one hundred and three in the "social capital" category, which is far more important than the rather uninspiring name implies.

Showing the depth and breadth of the problems confronting Pakistan as it attempts to deal with its own internal war as well as its role in sustaining the Islamist jihadists in Afghanistan is its ranking: ninety-nine. It hits the middling level only in "economic fundamentals" and "social capital." In the other seven categories it ranks at the bottom of the global well. Even Iran at ninety-four does better with only six criteria falling in the bottom quartile.

The Legitum rankings imply that there is still a profound linkage between the "soft" power and infrastructure features of the US and its role in the world. It is the soft power facets of the American mosaic which provide its most potent set of levers in the increasingly horizontally connected world today--and tomorrow.

While the US may rank rather poorly in the "health" category at twenty-seven (for comparison, considering the health care "reform" bill(s), Canada with its "single payer" approach ranks only five places higher), this factor is far outweighed by the US rankings in enterprise, innovation, social capital, democratic institutions, and personal freedom. While there is room for improvement to be sure, particularly in education where the US is rated at number seven, the fact remains that the US has one heck of a lot going for it.

"If you've got it--flaunt it" is a far better and more accurate approach than is the constant murmurings and occasional shouting of apologies. The Obama administration would be well advised to reconsider its approach to other peoples, other countries--particularly those of the Arab-Muslim world.

They have little to be proud of and much for which apologize to their own citizens as well as to others in the world. To the contrary the US has much to be proud of--and little to apologize for whether to its own residents or people elsewhere in the world.

The Legatum survey might not be perfect as the group openly acknowledges, but its results comport well with the gut feeling a well informed person must have from simply looking at the affairs of the world. It has few surprises beyond that of a European based organization actually finding the US to be worthy of a very high rank.

As the old saying has it, "The truth will out." And so it has.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fear Of Free Speech In The EU

It appears as if the European Union has joined the list of those afraid of free speech. The worthies of that organization don't put it that way, of course. No. The intent of the new Equal Treatment Directive is to spare the sensitivities of those who might be somehow, someway, someday offended by somebody's oral or written statement.

In a trenchant and not particularly biased analysis Paul Belien, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, has shown the way in which a basically fairminded and proportionate effort to assure that people suffering from a physical handicap would not be discriminated against in access to goods and services including housing bloomed under the ministrations of the Society of Perpetually Indignant and Concerned to a portmanteau attack on freedom of speech and opinion. Kowtowing to the supposed needs of homosexuals and the very real demands of Islamists, the Directive (which must yet be approved by all twenty-seven member states' Foreign Ministers and which was an initially tightly focused proposition) has become a very ambiguously worded device to gag all potential critics of, among other things, Islam, or even Islamist jihadism.

The "Equal Treatment Directive" would not only supplant existing national laws on the subject, it goes far, far beyond the (so-far) nonbinding UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on the subject of "religious defamation." This resolution, which the US cosponsored with Egypt, was meant to be a compromise with the far more sweeping demands made by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). It was also intended to be part of President Obama's "outreach to the Arab/Muslim world" gambit.

Ms Clinton has made her (and presumably, the Obama administration's as well) position on the religious defamation versus free speech matter more clear. She has been reported to have taken a strong stance against the proliferation of religious defamation laws. Her statement leaves no word for dubious interpretation
Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called 'anti-defamation' policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion, I strongly disagree. The United States will always... stand against discrimination and persecution... But an individual's ability to practice his or her religion has no bearing on others' freedom of speech.
The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faith will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.

That seems to be that. One can only hope that the sentiment continues to prevail regardless of trends among the trendy in the European Union or cage rattling from the Muslims.

The problem with freedom of speech and opinion is that while everybody is in favor of the idea--for himself--very few are in favor of the idea when applied to purveyors or holders of uncomfortable, unpleasant and even frankly insulting views differing from one's own. As the noted and indefatigable free speech crusader, Nat Hentoff put the matter in the title of one of his books a few years back, Free Speech for Me But not for Thee.

While opponents of free speech and its necessary companion, freedom of opinion, may couch their arguments in terms of "sensitivity" or "concern for the dignity of others," they are actually motivated by fear. Fear pure and simple undergirds every attack on the rights of others and thus all to speak freely and openly on anything and everything.

Individuals who say, "That hurts my feelings," or "That offends me," are actually saying, "I'm not tough enough, not resilient enough, not secure enough in my identity, values, beliefs, personhood, to listen to that, to read that."

The same is true of groups which hold the necessity of restricting the untrammeled rights of others to speak or write in a way which is less than fawning adoration. When Muslims, when a Muslim entity such as the OIC, demands limits be placed on the rights of free expression, they are actually declaring a lack of faith in the integrity, the power, the validity of their own religious beliefs.

Both Christians and (to a much greater, even lethal extent) Jews have been vilified and attacked in speech both oral and written, both actual and symbolic. Neither has crumbled before these attacks; neither has been deterred, let alone defeated by these "hate crimes," this "hate speech." Arguably, both Jews and Christians have been strengthened in their beliefs, in their collective identity, their collective faith by "negative" speech, by "defamation."

It is of more than passing interest that Muslims alone among the "People of the Book" show this unique sensitivity to any remarks or comments which might be interpreted as "defamatory." Is it perhaps that Muslims are afflicted by some basic insecurity about the value of their beliefs?
Alternatively, is it perhaps attributable to the fear dominated aspects of Islam itself? Whatever the root might be, the bitter fruit of the plant is fear. A fear of a fear so pervasive that Muslims believe they must be protected against it no matter what the cost to other people, other cultures, other societies, other countries.

The High Minded, ever-so-sensitive, ever-so-multicultural activists of the European Union and their colleagues in the US may sincerely believe that the poor Muslims must be protected against those so foul minded as to criticize the religion. They may so despise their own cultural roots, their own national heritages that they are more than simply willing to eviscerate the freedom of expression and inquiry, speech, and opinion that so many of their ancestors bought over the centuries with their own blood. In any event, these super-sensitive, paternalistic, patronizers of the "lesser breeds without the law" are actually serving the worst interests of those they seek to "protect" at the cost of liberty.

By silencing through the force of law those who would criticize, those who would be so bold as to argue against any particular religion, any cited lifestyle, any ideology, the end result is to further fear, inhibit the opportunity to grow stronger through enduring--and countering--unwelcome speech with acceptable speech. The great club of law swings against all--and when it comes to limiting speech, that mindless bludgeon injures all--the would be protectors as well as the purported victims.

It is a cliche that the answer to bad speech is good speech, better speech. Only through the free exchange on the part of all comers to the marketplace of ideas and beliefs can progress toward a more humane world be made. The only place where free expression can be absent without ill effect is the graveyard.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's The Religion

Even more than the Geek the Geekness is bothered by the reluctance of senior American officials among many others to acknowledge the role played by Islam in the wars currently underway throughout the world. The Geekness has a much closer acquaintance with the power of religion to influence deeply the worldview and behavior of young people than does the Geek for whom the dynamic has always been a matter of intellectual curiosity only.

The other day the Geek posted on the continuum which takes political movements from Islamic to Islamist to Islamist jihadist with limited goals and ends to Islamist jihadist with global goals. It is similar but not identical to the process described long ago by Crane Britton to describe the leftward movement of the French and other revolutions. The processes in both cases are facilitated by the existence of external pressure whether military or non-violent but still coercive in intent. This leads to the maxim: Pressure consolidates long, long before it fractures.

In the post the Geek commented that Islam is a religion by and for warriors without superior in the faiths of humankind. The Koran celebrates both war and the virtues presumed to characterize the warrior. Mohammad, the Perfect Man, was a successful military leader--and a profligate spiller of blood. The Faith which the Prophet and his Companions brought to Mecca spread by the sword across an enormous swath of the Western and, ultimately, the Eastern world.

The warriors of the scimitar and Koran proved superior in both political will and pure military capacity to the Crusaders of the two handed sword and Bible. The warrior power of Islam propelled its believers to the walls of Constantinople and finally to the walls of Vienna where the crest of the flood broke and receded.

Islam promises eschatological rewards to those of the Faith who die in battle against either the infidel or the apostate. The promises are in the sacred literature. They were not later additions tacked on by ambitious religious leaders as they were in Christianity.

It is the eschatological dimension which assures not only that there will be an inherent appeal by Islamist jihadism to young men but that the appeal will be far stronger, far more pervasive, and far less easy to defeat in battle than the secular promises of ideologies whether Fascist, Nazi, or Communist. To enjoy the benefits promised by the secular ideologies, one must stay alive for all such ideologies are present life based. The eschatological rewards are to be provided in the life after life.

That is one very powerful difference between what the US and other countries are facing today and the foes fought and defeated in the past. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, both hostilities termination and conflict resolution are easier to achieve with an opponent who is present life oriented than one who looks to the life beyond the present one.

It is a commonplace that youth is attracted to causes larger than the self. The search for personal identity, worth, and meaning which typifies the years of adolescence and early adulthood is both bolstered and challenged by the need to belong to something larger, much larger than one's self. It is this universal experience which makes youth notoriously idealistic, ever ready and eager to embrace a large enough cause, a cause which demands much of the self and promises much in return.

The Geekness reminded the Geek of the tales of martyrdom for the faith which characterized so much of the American landscape during the Fifties. She related the tales heard day after day in the parochial school she attended about the way in which Christians were tortured, imprisoned, and killed by the "godless commies" of yore. She noted that many of her age both in and out of parochial environments embraced the idea of being "martyred" for belief with great enthusiasm.

On reflection the Geek recalled the mood of the day as well. He remembered and then researched the literature of the early Cold War including the stories which decorated that ancient universal publication, My Weekly Reader. The notion--and the appeal--of standing up, dying if necessary for belief were both omnipresent and powerful as a source of both worldview and behavior. The view and the behavior need not be Christian to be sure, but they were demanded of youth, by youth, and gave rise to much of what we look back on as the raging wonder decade, the Sixties.

If that dynamic was so prevalent and powerful within the semi-secular suburban middle class youth coming of age during the Cold War, then how much more compelling must be the beliefs of Islam and the far more demanding Islamist jihadism to the youth not only of the Mideast or Central Asia but the West and the US as well. Islam in and of itself is a very potent creator of a sense of community, an anodyne for anonymity, an answer to perceived impotency. Islamist jihadism due to its emphasis on war and martyrdom is far more so.

The notion of putting one's life on the line for a belief--for the meaning that belief brings to one's life--has an appeal in and of itself. When the demand is accompanied by the promise of a very great eschatological reward, it is irresistible--at least to some.

Not all Muslims need nor desire the attractions, the promises, the assumed rewards emphasized by the purveyors of Islamism and jihadism. The assorted surveys conducted by many different organizations over the past few years make that clear. It is a fact which is both real and irrelevant.

Islamist jihadists are drawn from a small percentage of all Muslims to be sure. The youth for whom the challenge and message of Islamist jihadism has both meaning and attraction may represent only a small fraction of all Muslims, but as events of recent months in countries as disparate as Somalia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and the US have proven, it is a sufficiently large fraction as to be a very real problem.

True Belief as Eric Hoffer pointed out over a half century ago is potent because it provides an adherent with a personal identity, and, with that, a sense of belonging, of worth, of purpose, of cosmic meaning. Secular ideologies have capitalized upon this psychological reality.

So have religions. Christianity and Judaism have and do make use of the idealistic and searching nature of youth. Of these two, one does not promise eternal reward (or punishment) as a portion of its doctrine and the other makes no specific mention of the special rewards accruing to those who die in combat against the infidel and apostate.

Islam does so provide. And, Islamist jihadism emphasizes, perhaps to an exaggerated extent, the rewards to self and family of martyrdom in war. It gives both substance and reality to the oft repeated claim of Islamists that, "We love death more than the others love life."

That is why the crux of the war between the Islamist jihadists and the rest of the world's people is one of religion, not economics, nor political disenfranchisement, nor lack of social status, nor absence of "opportunity" (whatever that means), nor any of the other sociological and psychological explanations so glibly offered by regiments of academic, journalistic, and political "experts."

It's not the economy. It's not politics. It's not the Israeli "occupation." It's not the presence of American troops in the Mideast or Northwest Asia.

It's the religion, stupid.

As Allah wills.

Predators--The High Tech Knife In The Back

The American public is either supportive of or indifferent to the use of the Predator and Reaper UAVs in the war against Islamist jihadists. But, the indication given a few weeks back by the wave of indignation over the never employed CIA program to kill the same targets up close and personal using human operatives shows the same public would not accept assassinations of the more traditional sort.

A thoughtful--and thought provoking piece from the New Yorker has been posted on Cryptome.
The issues raised by this article are important and deserve wide consideration. Of particular importance is the ethical distinctions between the usual form of killing which requires some close connection between killer and target and the new, stand-off means provided by the UAV.

Assassination, or if you prefer the more sanitary term, targeted killing, is never pleasant. No matter how much the victim may merit this most extreme of sanctions and no matter how much the trigger-puller or knife-wielder agrees with the necessity of the operation, there is always a moment, at least a brief flashing instant, of trepidation before the trigger is pulled or the knife implanted. Or, there is a time afterwards, perhaps long afterwards, after extraction or exfiltration, after debriefing, after the celebratory drink that the pang of regret probes deep and hard in the mind, the heart, the soul. It passes, but its occurrence has the salvation of proving the contact between killer and the killed was fundamentally human in nature.

Of course, it must also be remembered that the killer, again regardless of training and experience, regardless of equipment and support, must take a risk, a very real risk of somehow losing as the encounter occurs. The target may not go willingly and quickly to his death. The sheep may turn into a lion when the ultimate moment comes. Or, his security people may be more alert--or lucky--than anticipated or planned for. Or, something, some little damn thing, goes wrong. Assassination, like war itself, rarely goes perfectly as planned.

The ethical objections raised to the use of UAVs in lieu of the traditional man-in-black seem to focus on the detached, sanitary, inhuman nature of the act. Likewise, the emotional reaction against the use of the tried-and-(Usually) True methods of targeted killing seems to focus on the fact that the act is uniquely human. That it demands one person in a calculated, planned, most cold blooded way take the life of another.

It is ironic to say the least that both proponents and opponents of the UAV in the sky, Hellfires at the ready, emphasize the (in)humanity of the act of killing. The proponent argues that the distance, the remote nature of the button pusher from his target makes the action both more controllable and less risky. The opponent contends that the lack of risk and the remoteness of the killer combine to denature the act of killing from any of the virtues normally associated with men at war such as courage, initiative, determination, and the willingness to place one's life at hazard in the pursuit of national goals.

Another school of argument against the use of UAVs takes a more abstract view. Yet it is still a view anchored in the reality that warfare is a fundamentally human endeavor. This more rarefied argument holds that the lack of risk, the absence of casualties, allows, even encourages a government to use lethal means in support of policy in a hidden way which evades the normal controls and constraints on a president's ability to wage war without let or hinder on the part of the public or congress.

Proponents of the Predator way of war answer that the lack of friendly losses serves to liberate the necessary conduct of policy from artificial limitations imposed by the fear of friendly losses. The UAV is a safe way to neutralize individuals whose existence necessarily presents a clear threat to US national and strategic interests without high cost to the country either in lives or prestige.

There is much merit in this contention. The UAV option does allow the removal of obnoxious personalities without the high visibility of manned air operations or even relatively low signature special forces or black ops. A well conducted UAV strike or campaign of multiple strikes can be conducted without a high profile which automatically invests national prestige with potentially disastrous effects.

The counter is self-evident. A UAV hit is not invisible to the people on the downrange end of it. Since very few such strikes kill only people in real need of killing, the excess deaths will attract attention--and opposition. The UAV is just as likely as a manned airstrike or a misdirected artillery round to create more people hostile to the US than it removes from the game.

Another purely human based argument against the UAV and its attendant bravery of being out of range comes from the cultural reality that it is seen, particularly in tribal and similar societies, as being singularly "unmanly," and thus it rouses more contempt than it generates fear within the recipient population. The result of the bootless cruise missile attacks so beloved by the Clinton administration are illustrative of this contention. They aroused a certainty within the Islamist jihadists of Taliban and al-Qaeda that the Americans were so afraid of dying that they could be defeated by terror.

The cruise missiles were used in order to both punish and deter the Islamist jihadists. That they failed in both missions is obvious. The record to date on the Predators and Reapers is not so clear cut. At least not yet.

The strikes have killed genuine bad guys. There is no doubt but their existence has served to lessen both combat efficiency and morale of the Islamist jihadists to some extent. But, counter measures have already been devised--and posted--by the jihadists. And, the loss of even a major figure such as Baitullah Mehsud had no lasting effect on either the political will or will to combat of the Islamist jihadists.

At the same time there can be no denying that the UAV attacks have killed non-combatants. The figures are soft and contradictory, but at least three hundred civilians have been killed so far this year by Predator strikes in Pakistan. There can be no denying that these unintended deaths have brought with them a swelling of pro-Islamist jihadist sentiments which are real albeit exaggerated by the Pakistan government for its own reasons.

In short, lethal Predator attacks have a utility, a limited one, but quite real. They are a useful tool but no more than that. The same may be said of the traditional approach to carefully targeted killing. Assassination is a tool, a useful one, but limited.

From the perspective of ethics there is no real choice between the two methods. Both have a tinge of distastefulness to the ethically tender. Both reduce war to a form of single combat. In that respect both are preferable to the mass encounter of armed men.

Properly conducted, either method can allow a president to pursue necessary national and strategic interests in a low visibility way which limits but does not eliminate the possibility of invoking national prestige to an undesirable extent. The most essential difference comes in the effects upon the collective mentality of the recipient population.

If the use of UAVs has a counterproductive effect in the way the Clinton administration's cruise missile attacks demonstrated, then the bravery-of-being-out-of-range option must be eschewed no matter how gee whiz attractive it may be. After all, the purpose of assassination either up close and personal or from a distance is to have a positive effect upon the enemy, to cause him to bend to our political will.

The tool has to be matched to the task. As one does not use a sledgehammer to pound in a tack, one does not use a method which produces more enemies than it kills. That is the real criterion for assessing the use of Predators and Reapers in Pakistan or Afghanistan--or anywhere.

The crux of decision making is not which will give a sanitary distance to killing, or which will give the president more options and greater deniability. It is which will have the greater probability of bending the enemy to our political will.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Big Shock--Iran Does A Sideslip

To the surprise of no person well oriented as to time and place the mullahs are trying to wiggle out of the "done deal" with the P5+1 in Vienna. Brokered by the IAEA the deal would have had Iran send most of their low enriched uranium to Russia for enrichment to twenty percent, the level required for the old US provided reactor used by Tehran for the production of "medical isotopes." After enrichment the fuel would have been forwarded to France for fabrication into fuel rods not susceptible to further enrichment.

The UN sponsored agreement was seemingly favored by Iran which sent the typical encouraging words at Vienna while saying the opposite back home. By the Friday deadline the governments of the US, France, and Russia had all signed off officially on the deal. The Iranians said they needed more time--even though they leaned toward acceptance.

The Obama administration reportedly responded with mild disappointment to this development. If the Deep Thinkers and Global Strategists of the White House and Foggy Bottom are mildly disappointed about the delay, what do they think of the apparent counterproposal out of Tehran? The word from Iran is that the regime now wants to buy twenty percent enriched uranium from abroad while keeping their low enrichment stockpile safely at home.

An unnamed "diplomat" appeared on the state run PRESS TV to aver that the world powers should accept this "confidence building" proposal and that "they should avoid past mistakes in violating agreements and try to win the trust of the Iranian nation." It is hard to decide whether to laugh or simply shake the head in dismay.


Yes, dismay that anyone might have thought the Iranians would actually go forward with the deal to which they had initially agreed after several days of tough talk and sundry palaver. It would have been a shock of seismic proportions had the mullahs and their factotums actually gone along with the agreement without any attempts to stall, buy time, test political will within the assorted capitals of the P5+1, or in some other fashion undercut or enervate the agreement.

Even more dismaying is the thought that any person involved with the negotiations or within the policy formation groups behind them would have believed that a decision with the implications of that calling for the shipment of 1.2 metric tons of low enriched uranium would be made with the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei apparently out of service. With the grand supremo perhaps hovering in the anteroom to the next life, who is in charge in Iran? Who would dare make a final decision absent the imprimatur of the Chosen Voice of Allah (or the Hidden Imam, take your pick?)

There are divisions within both the secular government and the clerical establishment on the nuclear question among others. These divisions are no reason to hope for a significant modification in the country's international (or internal) behavior. If anything the splits will force a harder stance by the most hardline individuals in the regime. The use of internal factionation to justify harder lines and more resolute stances under pressure is a historically honored practice by authoritarian regimes.

If the Obama administration was prepared for the Iranian reaction it would be both welcome and far more unexpected than was the latest version of the Tehran shuffle. If the administration was expecting a move of this nature, the probable counter will be a firm and swift denial of the gambit. The French and British will join in highest likelihood. The Russians will council patience as will the Chinese. The Germans will swing either way depending on the political mood du jour.

The mullahs and their frontmen will then pin the tail of blame on the Great Satan and its companions. They will then offer--with appropriate gestures of magnanimity--to continue the talks in Vienna or somewhere.

The Chinese will agree immediately. The Russians, their noses slightly bent out of place by the Tehran rejection, will take a bit longer but go along with more talk.

The Germans will stick a wet finger into the political winds. The French will most probably hang tough. The Brits will wait to see how Obama and company respond.

The administration will again be divided as it has been all along (and as it is on Afghanistan) between the hawks such as SecState Clinton and the doves such as National Security Advisor Jones. Veep Biden will talk more or less tough while leaning hard to the dove side. President Obama will, as has usually been the case, try to stay above the fray as time rushes on.

The internationalist minded, multi-culturally inclined people at the top will once more offer the open hand and the open mind. Time will continue to march on as the centrifuges both announced and otherwise continue to spin.

It has been reported that the Israelis are anxiety ridden. They have good reason to reach for either the big bottle of tranks or the operational plans for an attack on Iran--no matter how unlikely to succeed and likely to be the cause of a world of hurt for the US--and the globe.

The Israelis are right to be worried. And, they are not alone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Islam(ism) And The Future Of Afghanistan

A very important consideration which must enter the current and prolonged strategic review in and around the Oval Office is the role that Islam, or its more politically oriented variant, Islamism, is likely to play in Afghanistan. Arguably, this is the single most critical consideration other than that of preventing an obvious military defeat of the US and its Western allies.

The starting point is self-evident. The Taliban of Sheik Omar and its guest, al-Qaeda, were and are prime examples of both Islamism and its armed component, jihadism.

It is equally self-evident that the US and its associates have no desire to see their efforts at ending the threat of al-Qaeda and nation-building in Afghanistan crowned by a post-hostilities reemergence of an Islamist regime, particularly one which would tolerate or assist jihadist groups. The unfortunate reality is that such an outcome is of high probability.

To make sure there are no problems in communication, three definitions are in order. Islam refers to the religion in and of itself without considering any governmental or political implications.

Islamism refers to what is often called, "political Islam." The Islamist seeks the establishment of a political system as well as a judiciary based on the principles and practices of Islamic law, Shariah. The Islamist may use strictly constitutional and non-violent means to reach this goal. The Islamist goal may or may not be inclusive of the establishment of a global caliphate.

Jihadism rejects the non-violent approach. It seeks the Islamist goal or goals by means of military or quasi-military force including the use of political and social terrorism or the threat of such. The jihadist goals may be limited to a specific country or people. Or, the goals of the jihadist may be far more expansive including the realization of a global caliphate.

The original Taliban fostered by the Pakistani Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other elements of the Pakistani government was an excellent example of the limited form of Islamist jihadist group. The goals of Taliban were limited to the country dubbed "Afghanistan" and were more narrowly focused on the Pushtan segment of that region's population.

The assorted groups which fall under the general rubric of Taliban in Pakistan are also an example of the limited goal Islamist jihadist group despite some occasional lapses into a more expansive rhetoric. Unless either the Taliban of Afghanistan or its counterpart in Pakistan sponsor or invite the presence of Islamist jihadist entities of broader agenda, or gain control of nuclear materials, neither represents a clear and present danger to the rest of the world.

In reality, the probability of such a benign outcome coming to pass is slim to none. The reasons for a gloomy assessment are to be found in the record of history--both ancient and quite recent as well as in a brutal contemporary fact.

Islam in and of itself is a warriors religion without equal in the history of humanity. Its sacred writings both extol warfare on behalf of the faith and equate the non-Islamic peoples with the "House of War." Beyond these doctrinal features, the religion promises the greatest of postmortem rewards to those who die in combat with either the infidels or the apostates.

In the great days of early Islam, the warriors faith gave impetus to a series of conquests which were (and are) awesome in their breadth. The same may be seen in the response of the Islamic societies to the ill-advised, religiously justified wars of conquest launched by Europe under the rubric of "Crusades." Islam combined with ethno-linguistic motivations to provide an unbeatable combination. Not until the initial waves of faith diminished did Islam retreat from the Gates of Vienna and languish in the doldrums of the Ottoman Caliphate.

More recently, the movement from less to more extreme Islamism and jihadism is clear in Somalia. Looking back at the first of the Islamist groups in that bloody stretch of desert, the Islamic Union, one sees an Islamist group which had the limited goal of establishing an Islamic republic under Islamic law in place of the warlord dominated government.

The Islamic Union met with limited success. It was not militarily competent. And, its brand of Saudi sponsored Wahhibist austerity did not sit well with the majority of Somalis who were used to a more laid back form of Sufi oriented Islam.

The Islamic Union was a failure. After a time it was succeeded by the Islamic Courts Union, which was a far more dedicated group of Islamist True Believers. The ICU was not only more competent in the arts of military and quasi-military operations, it was far more ruthless in its application of both terror and Shariah. As a result, it conquered most of Somalia even if it did not win the affection or loyalty of most Somalis.

At the high point of its success, the ICU modified its application of Shariah so as to gain more popular support. It had nearly established unquestioned operational dominance of Somalia when the Ethiopian government with the support of the US launched its invasion of the country.

The Ethiopian military blew the ICU away. But, as an invader it could not gain any genuine acceptance let alone support from the Somali population. Resistance to the invader never ended.

Al-Shaabab emerged as the most extreme, most willing to kill--and die--faction in the badly divided resistance movement. It was also the group with the most severe view of Shariah and the most expansive view of its goals.

Al-Shaabab was and is an expansive jihadist group. It seeks not simply the establishment of an Islamic republic in Somalia but a conquest of those portions of surrounding countries which have a significant Somali population. This includes Kenya, Djibouti, and the Ogaden.

Al-Shaabab has openly aligned itself with not only al-Qaeda but the global Islamist jihadist movement generally. Al-Shaabab has a brisk two way trade with other jihadist groups around the world. It also serves as a convenient operational training ground.

The progression from less to more extreme in the theory and practice of Islamism as well as the identical progression from less to more expansive in goals is the result of the pressure of war. It is an illustration of the long exhibited truism that pressure consolidates far more than it fractures a political movement. Not only does pressure consolidate political will, it tends to make the political will demand an ever greater reward for the years of sacrifice.

The increased appeal of Taliban's ideology and sense of group commitment to the youth of Afghanistan is an indicator that the Somali trajectory is not unique to that venue or that particular people. The prolongation of the war in Afghanistan without a clear and convincing defeat to Taliban both by the foreign forces and the Afghan National Forces will assure the movement from less to more extreme, less to more expansive, will not only continue but accelerate in Afghanistan.

The same dynamic applies to Pakistan. The only difference is that the foreign presence is marginally less evident and thus marginally less inflammatory.

A second and even more dramatic justification for the gloomy assessment for the future of Afghanistan comes from History News Network. In a thoughtful post the writer presents a convenient synopsis of the current state of official play in the Wonderful World of Terrorism. Working from the US State Department listings, it is shown that of the 126 "official" terrorist groups, 64 are of Islamist jihadist nature. This number far and away eclipses the next highest sector, "secular nationalist," which can claim only 36 members.

The take-away from this is simple: Islamist jihadism has a wide appeal. While sometimes linked to nationalistic objectives in the short run, the majority of the listed groups have expanded their horizons in the same manner as seen by the progression in Somalia. It almost leads to an equation: The broader the view, the greater the appeal--and the zeal.

The implication for Afghanistan and the Obama administration's strategic review is clear. The US must finally rely upon the capacity of the regime in Kabul to cut a deal with those elements of Taliban most willing to abandon expansive goals. While doing that, the prime task for the foreign forces is to identify and kill those of Taliban and al-Qaeda least likely to play the old and honorable Afghan game of "let's make a deal."

For all his drawbacks, Karzai remains today what he was when we chose him to be "our man in Kabul"--an accomplished Afghan deal maker, or, if you prefer, an accomplished politician in the unique context of Afghan society. For all his many positive attributes, Abdullah Abdullah is not so skilled. But, the participation of Abdullah is critical since he is the main man for the Tajik minority, or the old Northern Alliance which was Tajik dominated.

The president has already shown a willingness to accept Taliban as a permanent fact of Afghan political life. That was a good move. It shows a readiness to acknowledge reality, no matter how unpleasant, that eluded the Bush/Cheney administration.

The crux of the challenge is to keep the correct up close and personal pressure on the most intractable elements of Taliban while holding the door to government participation open for those who may embrace Islamism but reject jjhadism. It is a circle which is most difficult to square, but not impossibly so.

Many if not most adherents of Taliban will pack it in if there is a reasonable probability of seeing their desires and needs addressed without the necessity of living under the constant threat of death from American or other guns (to say nothing of sleeping in the cold and eating bad food). Pressure only consolidates when there is no safe and honorable way out of the vise.

The role of the regime in Kabul, regardless of the way in which the 7 November election goes, is to provide the safe and honorable way out. The role of the American and other foreign forces is to provide the inducement of unceasing pressure--and to kill those jihadists who need killing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's All So Predictable

The Iranians are so drearily predictable--in some ways. The bombings the other day which sent a fair number of people including heavyweights of the Revolutionary Guard Corps to their paradisaical reward was followed immediately with all the customary accusations against the US and UK.

Now the factotums of the mullahs have rounded up the usual suspects. These unfortunates, who may or may not be connected with the Soldiers of God, will be subjected to the normal interrogation methods of the Revolutionary Guards and, in the fullness of time, the survivors will confess and implicate others.

That is all normal in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The rituals are so ingrained as to be stereotypical. No surprises.

The only surprise in the wake of the bombing was the absence from state television of the Grand Ayatollah Khemenei. Normally the Supreme Leader takes to the air to sermonize up a storm whenever something perturbs the the Iranian scene. He was all over TV and radio during the weeks of opposition unrest following the election fraud last June. This time he was AWOL.

The lack of reassurance and thundering denunciations directed against the malignant counter revolutionaries gives much credence to the scattered reports from the Land of the Mullahs to the effect that the Grand Ayatollah is desperately ill, perhaps comatose, maybe even dying. The state media have been silent on the rumors, neither indignantly denying them nor even, Soviet style, averring the Ayatollah had a "minor indisposition."

In the category of What-Is-Going-On-Here? an advisor to the secretary of the Iranian National Security Council has told the press in that country that there "are circumstances" which may require Iran to enrich uranium to sixty-three percent. The advisor did not vouchsafe just what reasons or "circumstances" might require enrichment to this level.

So far the centrifuges have spun the devil's metal to five percent U 235, a level suitable for use in electrical production oriented reactors (among other uses.) The Iranians have agreed, more or less, perhaps, quite possibly, to send 1.2 metric tons of their current inventory of five percent stock to Russia for enrichment to twenty percent. That is the level necessary for use in the elderly US supplied reactor which is used, according to the Iranians, for the production of radioisotopes used in medical procedures.

For use in nuclear munitions, the uranium must be enriched to well above ninety percent, the higher the better.

Why the Iranians might need sixty-three percent enriched uranium is a poser. Perhaps the advisor simply plucked the number from the vacuum. Perhaps a messenger of Allah whispered it in his ear, but there seems no real-world based reason for that number.

Or, it could be one more example of institutional confusion within the Iranian government. The record shows the mullahs and their wallahs are often afflicted with a lack of left hand-right hand coordination.

Most likely it is another small move in the predictable Iranian game of introducing confusion in the context surrounding international negotiations. In the past the Tehran minions have shown a real genius for tossing contradictory statements, conflicting requirements, and alternating threats with protestations of peaceful intent all with the apparent goal of keeping their interlocutors off balance.

In any event the Iranians seem to be winning one more time with their fun, fantasy, confusion, and chaos approach to international relations. The West, or at least the P5+1, seems content with the Iranian's seeming commitment to send uranium to Russia and thence to France for final fabrication into fuel rods. The International Atomic Energy Agency, or at least its outgoing Chairman, seems quite pleased with the Iranian's promise to cooperate one more time with the inspection regime which will now include the formerly secret enrichment facility.

SecState Clinton has warned the Iranians not to dither over the details of the agreement for outsourcing uranium enrichment. She animadverted any delay would prove costly to the regime. Her play was accompanied by a solemn statement by the EU ForMin, Solano, to the effect that the world will not accept a nuclear weapons equipped Iran.

Well, everybody played their expected roles in Vienna. The Iranians, the West, SecState Clinton, ForMin Solano, the IAEA. Time has been bought--maybe. But, for what purpose?

The script is different for different players when it comes to the purpose. For the West, it now looks like a year or so has been purchased during which something more permanent might be worked out with the Tehran regime. For that regime it means more time during which more centrifuges, both declared and otherwise, might be set to spinning without fear that bombs might start falling.

Buy time and hope for the best--now that is real recipe for creative, forward looking foreign policy. It is a real prescription for attaining the Obama goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

The Geek fearlessly predicted that when push came to shove both Russia and China would make sure the Security Council did nothing with the infamous Human Rights Council resolution further perverting the already less-than-evenhanded Goldstone Report. China has now made clear that it would assure the Security Council would not refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

That was an easy prediction to make. China (and Russia) is very, very sensitive to matters of national sovereignty and defense. Considering that the Chinese tend to be very robust in protecting the structural and territorial integrity of regime and country, the mandarins would be quite loath to establish any precedent which might someday, in some way, restrict their freedom of action. The Kremlin is no more willing than Beijing to see action limiting precedents established. So, it is no surprise that neither Power is willing to do other than join with the US in blocking any meaningful action on the UNHRC resolution or the underlying report.

The final piece of drearily predictable action (or words) comes from President Obama. He allowed on MSNBC (AKA Obama-Is-The-One network) that he may make a troop decision before the final outcome of the scheduled 7 November presidential runoff election is known. He also said that the decision might not be announced. Well, whowie-zowie! How's that for a good, clear presidential statement?

Considering that the decision has to be made sooner rather than later as it takes time to get troops moving--or to properly prepare the public for a unilateral declaration of defeat, the time sensitivity is self-evident. At the same time, as it is equally self-evident that the needs of the US as regards both national and strategic interest is separable from the composition of the Afghan government, there is no need, no requirement, that a "legitimate" (at least from the perspective of Washington) be in place in Kabul.

Our only real national or strategic interest in play over there is the ability of the Islamist jihadists to claim military victory over us as they have with the Red Army back in pre-Taliban days. Anything else from the status of women in the country to the amount of opium produced or the nature of the central government (if any) is of diminishing importance. All that matters is that the US inflict a sufficient number of losses on both Taliban and al-Qaeda that neither is in a position to offer a threat to the US or its allies in the near- to mid-term. The necessary penumbra surrounding that centrality is to provide no possible basis for a later claim by the Koran toting thugs of jihad that they had forced the US out of the place, that they had won.

To assure that will require more troops. That is axiomatic.

If the president makes the choice to impose a unilateral defeat on the US in the manner that Congress did during the end period of the War in Vietnam, then he needs to say so now in order to limit the political damage before the next election comes to pass.

One thing for sure, it is neither necessary nor desirable for Mr Obama to play some sort of updated version of "I've got a secret" regarding his decision. It is akin to hiding a rhinoceros under a tablecloth.

Give that sort of bushwa a rest, Mr Obama. You should be too grown-up to play that kind of game.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It Couldn't Have Happened To A More Worthy Bunch.

The Jundallah (Soldiers of God) have been waging a very low intensity defensive insurgency in the southeast of Iran, the section claimed as part of the latent state of Baluchistan. From time to time the Jundallah bombers and trigger pullers have staged a mediagenic event. The last time around it was an attack on a Shia mosque which resulted in a fair number of civilian casualties.

This time the suicide bomber took on a far more worthy target. The man in "tribal costume" (to quote the LA Times) penetrated the gymnasium where five high ranking commanders of the much feared Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps were holding a "solidarity" meeting with a view to bringing the Baluchi Sunnis and the Persian Shia together in harmony. When the man pushed the clicker he took the five heavyweights and a number of others with him.

At nearly the same time a second bomber took out a vehicle containing another bunch of Revolutionary Guard thugs.

The televised images of the carnage at both sites reportedly rocked Iran. The event(s) must have rocked the Revolutionary Guard even more as it showed their vulnerability at the very time they have been riding very high in the saddle.

Not surprisingly the first reaction of the regime in Tehran was to blame the US and the UK for the twin bombings. Being completely unable (not to mention unwilling) to acknowledge that the Baluchi of Iran, not unlike their ethnic and religious fellows in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are pursuing the goal of an independent Baluchistan, the Iranian elite went instantly to the default position: The Great Satan did it.

There can be little if any doubt that the US government is quietly pleased with Iran's discomfiture--up to a point. While anything which weakens the regime's hold on power is to be welcomed, the timing of today's incidents is disquieting. Iran is scheduled to hold yet one more round of talks with the US and its partners in the P5+1 tomorrow. The potential exists for the Iranians to use the twin bombings as an excuse for further delay. As if they really need one.

A State Department spokesman did the expected. The US deplored and condemned the attack and denied any connection with the Soldiers of God. The Brits have probably done the same.

The geographical, political, and social realities produced both the insurgency and its latest expression of political will and military capacity. The lines on the map which split the Baluchi into three national jurisdictions were made without regard for the desires and self-identification of the local inhabitants. For a mort of years this did not matter. More recently, say in the past thirty or forty years, it has not only mattered greatly, it has inspired resistance to all three national governments.

The Baluchi are a readily identifiable nationality. They are ethnically and, to a large extent, linguistically distinguishable from the other peoples inhabiting each of the three states. The Baluchi are also religiously distinguishable in Iran from the majority Shia. The Baluchi in all three countries but particularly in Pakistan and Iran believe with good reason that they have been discriminated against by the governments.

The combination of political disaffiliation and a developing national consciousness gave rise to the pursuit of a state of their own: A unified Baluchistan under the sole control of the Baluchi. As established states are not known for their willingness to voluntarily disassemble, an insurgency of the defensive sort was inevitable.

The existence of hydrocarbon deposits as well as other extractable resources assures that an independent Baluchistan would be economically viable at least in the near- to mid-term. Unlike many independent nation-states of the "decolonised" world, a Baluchistan would have both an economic reason to exist and the means by which existence would be assured. In this way as in features of self-identification, tripartite division, and a resort to defensive insurgency, nascent Baluchistan is identical to another latent state, Kurdistan.

The geopolitical realities of the Baluchi like those surrounding the Kurds presents the US with a set of seemingly irresolvable problems. The ancient, more honored in the breech than in the observance American policy of "self-determination of nations" would seem to require Washington to support fully the aspirations of Baluchi and Kurds alike. At the same time the existence of American agreements with the governments of Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan make support impossible.

Justice as much as such exists in the international arena is on the side of the Baluchis as it is with the Kurds. Both are identifiable nations, both have long standing aspirations for statehood, both have been mistreated, discriminated against, and generally ignored by the sundry national entities, and both have waged long insurgencies for the same reason the American colonials did. But, none of this matters.

As Turkey, Iraq, and Iran cannot continence the amputation of their Kurdish components, Pakistan and Iran cannot admit of losing their Baluchi majority provinces. Nor can the US or any other power give assistance either open or covert to the insurgents.

This means that no matter how much the US might like to contribute to the dismemberment of Iran, it cannot do so. The insurgencies of Kurd and Baluchi alike are not fungible. That means we cannot support an anti-Iran effort without simultaneously supporting the insurgencies directed at our "allies," Pakistan, Iraq, and Turkey.

There is no practical way to assure that any assistance granted to the Soldiers of God in Iran would not translate into aid to their counterparts in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. Our personnel turn a blind eye to movement of arms, drugs, or men across the Afghan-Iranian border only at the risk the same will ultimately flow to anti-Islamabad fighters in Pakistan.

The best, most determined efforts to control an insurgency will finally fail. We have learned that lesson before. There is no need to repeat it, particularly given the instability resident within both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The pooch in Baluchistan or, to err on the side of accuracy, Sistan-Baluchistan Province, is one which the Tehran regime will and have been screwing--royally. The Persians are a bare majority in Iran. While the Kurds are only seven percent of the sixty-six million and the Baluchi a mere two percent, they are quite set upon their goal of national independence. It may be only a matter of time before the other ethnic and linguistic minorities take the road pioneered by the more factious Kurds and Baluchi.

The regime in Tehran cannot tolerate any dissent. The mullahs and their stooges have shown that repeatedly. The US government might hope that disaffiliation and dissent continue and grow as such might have positive policy implications, but there is nothing that Washington can do directly to foster or support separatist movements.

That is an unfortunate but very real ground truth. And it will remain the truth unless and until the US is willing to embrace the Wilsonian notion of "self-determination" even at the expense of critical countries such as Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan.

The presence of this governing reality does not, however, preclude discrete applause for the Baluchi bombers of the Soldiers of God. It does not prevent saying of the dead and maimed members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, "It couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch of guys."

Israel Declared Terminal--More Or Less

There is a yarn running around the web. The yarn first came out last March and died quickly and very quietly. However, it is back with a vengeance spurred no doubt by the Goldstone Report and its adoption by the UN Human Rights Council.

The original source of the yarn in both its original and latest incarnations is Press TV, the state owned organ of the mullahs of Tehran. It has been picked up and built upon by both Arab and Far Left sites. The links are examples. A more inclusive list would tire the Geek's arthritic fingers.

Allegedly, per a man named Franklin Lamb, who is identified by Press TV as "an international lawyer," CIA did a study on the future of Israel. The study concluded that even with US support and assistance Israel as it currently exists has a life expectancy of no more than twenty years.

The reasoning according to Lamb and his assorted interpreters residing behind the pessimistic assessment is predicated upon two factors. One of these is the increasing willingness of Americans generally to accept a "one-state" as opposed to the current "two-state" solution to the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is demographics, specifically the great disparity between Arab and Israeli lactation rates.

These two factors combine in a synergistic fashion with the American emphasis on democracy to assure that Israel will become a secular or at least a non-Jewish state governed by the Arab Muslim majority. Lamb and others take notice of the number of Israelis who hold dual citizenship--including some half million who are Americans as well as Israelis.

Commentators argue that the coming Arab majority will push many Israelis to invoke the other half of their dual citizenship capacity to leave Israel for the US, Russia, and other destinations. The initial CIA report purportedly makes reference to the "unexpectedly" rapid collapse of the White minority regime in South Africa and the equally "unexpected" implosion of the former Soviet Union to justify the conclusions of the impending death of Israel.

Leaving aside the degree of "unexpectedness" in both cited historical precedents, it is fair to look at the differences between Israel and either South Africa under White rule or the Soviet Union. While those who are passionately anti-Israel might wish it otherwise, the Jewish state is not dependent upon pure coercion to maintain its coherence. Both White dominated South Africa and the old Soviet Union were completely dependent upon the power of the state to coerce their citizens into obedience.

For many decades the Soviet Union and South Africa also relied upon the appeal of a specific ideology. In both cases the faith attenuated over time leaving only naked force to continue the status quo.

Israel relies upon both ideology and religious conviction to uphold social and political coherence within its population. The secular ideologies of democracy, free enterprise, and liberal institutions such as an independent judiciary, a free press, and universal education link well with the ancient tenets of a faith which has been tested repeatedly during centuries of persecution and attempted eradication. The several pillars of belief which unify the Israeli population also connect the Israelis with both coreligionists and ideological affiliates around the world.

This means that the government of Israel does not have to rely upon force alone to maintain its existence--or that of the state. Force is needed not for domestic security and regime maintenance purposes but rather for deterring or defeating external threats. This is not at all akin to the situations which existed in the years prior to collapse in either South African or the Soviet Union.

The Geek has to admit he has read some really, really out-to-lunch assessments coming from CIA. To the best of his knowledge and belief he has never run across one which ignored basic realities such as the vast gulf between the internal dynamics of Israel and both South Africa and the Soviet Union which are alleged to exist in the cited report. While it is possible that the Agency has been hiring the mentally incompetent in recent years, it does seem unlikely.

Rather the eager resuscitation of the March Press TV story is based in the reinvigorated desire on the part of the anti-Israel players around the world to further the cause of delegitimizing the Jewish state. The Goldstone Report, or to err on the side of accuracy, the adoption and forwarding to the Security Council of a resolution based on a part of the Report by the UNHRC, has given a new and improved impetus to the campaign of delegitimization.

The Obama administration and many on the Left of the American political spectrum are both frustrated with the state of play in the Mideast and willing to see Israel as the reason. It is as if the administration and others expect "more" from the civilized, Western Israelis than they do from the comparatively speaking uncivilized Arabs.

Leaving aside the arrogance and patronization implicit in this attitude, the emphasis on Israel's responsibility for the deadlock in the "peace process" is simply factually wrong. While the Israelis are far from guiltless in the blocking of peace, the Arabs still hold the record for both poor negotiating capacities and sheer cussed intransigence.

The Arabs--and not simply those who fall under the rubric of "Palestinians"--now want the US and the West to carry their water. The desire, hope, and apparent strategy of the Arab and Muslim countries is to force the West generally and the US in particular to wash their collective hands of the latest incarnation of the eternal "Jewish question."

Israel has never been seen as "legitimate" in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim countries. Nor will it ever be perceived of as being such. Not as long as the Koran is read and believed.

Now the Arab and Muslim states hope to transmit their view of Israel's inherent lack of legitimacy to the people and governments of the West. The recent growth of Israel bashing and flat out antisemitism in many Western countries has undoubtedly given much encouragement to the men behind the new strategy.

Antisemitism is never far below the surface in any Western country including the US. (The Geek remembers well when his best friend in high school was rejected by an Ivy League college because the institution had already admitted its full quota of "those of the Hebrew faith.") It is easy to invoke a stylishly covered form of antisemitism by re-branding Israel as "fascist" or "Nazi" or "apartheid."

It is even easier to indict Israel as a genocidal power intent on committing crimes against humanity. This is the true import of the UNHRC adoption of a carefully selected portion of the Goldstone Report. It is also the import of the presumably "leaked" CIA "death-of-Israel" study.

The play given to the Lamb revelations by Press TV and other Arab/Muslim outlets both on the web and in more traditional modes is to be expected. After all, these states and people have opposed Israel since the very earliest days of Zionism. Having proved repeatedly their own incompetence at ejecting the Israelis by force or terror, it is not surprising they now hope to make the West--most importantly, the US--the executioner of Arab dreams.

What is truly pathetic--not surprising--simply pathetic is the eagerness with which the American political Left has embraced the Arab/Muslim cause.

It is pathetic because Israel was established by European Leftists. It's vision was that of European Socialists. The country initially prospered because of Leftists. Its strongest supporters in the US were from the Left. During the Eisenhower administration the Democratic Party, particularly the Left segment, repeatedly excoriated the President for his principled refusal to supply weapons to the new state of Israel. When Ike blew the whistle on the Franco-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, the Democratic standard bearer, Stevenson, criticized the decision harshly.

Even during the Great Land Grab War of 1967, the American (and European) Left loudly sang the praises of the IDF. The Arab states got no comfort from the democratic Left anywhere outside of France. They certainly received no support from the American Left. The Yom Kippur War six years later saw the same resounding support for Israel from the American Left--even the farthest fringes.

With a remarkable amnesia, the Left has abandoned this heritage. With an utter lack of both consistency and principles, the Left, even the moderate Left, has rushed to the cause of "Palestine" and the "Palestinians." They have warmly embraced the feudalists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and the authoritarians of Egypt, Syria, and Iran. They have kissed and made up with the terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah--and of Fatah (or the Palestinian National Authority, if you insist.)

In the process, the Left has given the finger to the Israelis, to democracy, liberal institutions, and social justice. If that isn't pathetic, then the Geek does not know the meaning of the word.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pakistan's "Mother Of All Battles"

After weeks, months really, of announcing, "We're coming! We're coming!" the Pakistani Army is finally moving into South Waziristan. The operation has been called--in imitation of Saddam Hussein's boast eighteen years ago--"the mother of all battles." As was the case with the late Iraqi dictator, the current Pakistani offensive is far more likely to be apparent than real. At least as regards its long term effects.

The Army had no choice but to finally send men (some thirty thousand according to reports) in on the ground considering the loss of military "face" in the series of attacks across the country last week. Actually, the Army had little choice following the 6 October television broadcasts of Hakimullah Mehsud, the new head of Taliban in Pakistan. The Army, it should be recalled, confidently declared Hakimullah dead, killed in a shoot-out with a rival. (The purported trigger pulling rival was on TV along with the AK-47 brandishing Hakimullah.)

The "boy general" as the twenty-eight year old Hakimullah has been dubbed wasted no time demonstrating that his televised threats were quite real. The coordinated series of highly embarrassing attacks convinced even the most denial laden doubters that there was more bite than boast in Hakimullah and Taliban alike.

The ponderous Pakistani ground offensive which features armored units, artillery, jet aircraft, helicopter gunships, as well as the far more useful infantry has moved with accustomed caution into the rugged and remote South Waziristan terrain. The offensive will be greeted by an estimated ten to fifteen thousand adherents of Taliban and al-Qaeda. With only a three to one advantage at best, the ground forces will not be able to range far or fast. And, every inch of the way they will be inhibited by the threat or the reality of ambushes, suicide bombers, and the ever present roadside IED.

It is also important to keep in mind when appraising the Pakistani offensive and its probable results that it is not aimed against threats beyond the Taliban and (a few, even a very few) al-Qaeda personnel. The Punjabi origin terrorist groups which were once trained and financed by either or both the Army and the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence for operations in the Kashmir are not in the cross-hairs. They are immune despite the fact that it was Punjabis and not folks from South Waziristan who executed the commando raid on the Pakistani "Pentagon" in Rawalpindi last week.

At the moment the public--or more accurately, the English speaking, educated, middle-class public--is in support of the new offensive. Whether the same can be said of the members of the public not easily accessible to Western media is highly questionable. In the past the opposition to military operations in Swat and elsewhere has come from the Pakistani hoi polloi not the Western oriented and educated elite.

The majority of the Pakistani Army ranks is drawn from the same voiceless element of Pakistani society. How long the snuffies will keep a will to combat once heavily engaged is also questionable. It is even legitimate to doubt that the rather road bound Army is physically up to the task of humping the bush of South Waziristan, particularly as casualties mount, the weather worsens, and results are hard to see.

The larger context also militates against any sort of definitive success crowning the new offensive. The Army (and ISI) do not see eye-to-eye with the civilian government. This lack of a unified vision came into sharp focus with the Army's severe criticism of the government for accepting the new US foreign aid package with its insistence on civilian supremacy and continuity of counter-insurgent efforts in return for a few billion more of our (borrowed) dollars.

Pakistan is a financial basketcase. It has survived (barely) on loans from the IMF and foreign aid. Industries are often silent because of electricity shortages. Healthcare in rural areas is non-existent. Education of a secular sort is available only to those who can pay, and pay well. The largest of Pakistan's provinces, Baluchistan, sits on vast amounts of natural gas and other extractable resources but remains both undeveloped and laden with political disaffiliation.

Then there are the "seminaries." Madrases litter the landscape. Religious education--much of it Wahhibist or Salifist in nature--is the only form of education available to many, perhaps most, Pakistanis. And, the record shows, these institutions are the wellspring of Islamist jihadism. In short, whether the current offensive fails completely or only partially (the most likely outcome) or succeeds beyond the wildest imaginings of its designers, the stockpile of up and coming jihadists will be replenished and then some.

The various Islamist jihadist groups in Pakistan which includes but is not limited to Pakistani Taliban have made the long term goal quite plain. The demand is for an Islamist state governed according to the strictest interpretation of Shariah. This means Islamist control not only of the state but of the Army and, last but far from least, the nuclear arsenal.

The Army by having picked up the gauntlet hurled by the "boy general" has mounted the tiger. Having climbed aboard, it has no easy way of getting off--unless the tiger is killed by the ride. This is not likely. At some point in the not very remote future, one can expect the offensive to simply peter out. The Army may declare victory but will probably limit itself to saying the goals of the offensive have been achieved.

If the Swat campaign is a fair example this will mean the Army has collected enough Taliban scalps to feel its honor has been maintained. The backstage reality will be, again in the mode of Swat, the slow pace of Army operations has allowed the heavyweights of Taliban as well as a good percentage of the trigger pullers and bomb carriers to exfiltrate at their leisure.

The Army will return to its cantonments. Taliban et al will stay undisturbed in their new locations and rebuild their structure in South Waziristan, provided the Army actually perturbed it in a noticeable way during the "mother of all battles."

At the same time the government will hold its begging bowl higher, maintaining it now has a greater claim on the resources of outsiders due to its having defeated the dreaded Taliban. Not much will change behind the public pretenses and diplomatic rhetoric.

Pakistan will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis unless and until the governing elite can convince an ever skeptical public by both word and deed that the status quo has both existential and functional legitimacy. The country will continue to be threatened by Islamist jihadism unless and until the government can meet the competing demands for an effective and non-corrupt rule of (admittedly Islamic tinted) law. The jihadists will continue to be both replenished and empowered unless and until the government can provide effective secular education for all who want it--and suppress the Islamist "seminaries."

Without basic, systemic changes, the outcome of the current offensive matters not in the slightest. Win, lose, or (most likely) draw, the government will not be more secure. And, Taliban and the others will not be more than temporarily discommoded.

That means President Obama had best not raise his (or our) hopes of a new day coming to the far marches of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It ain't a going to happen, not this time. And, probably not in our lifetime.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Voting, Voting And More Voting

Forty some years ago the protest folk singer Phil Ochs did a dreary ditty about the loss of the nuclear submarine Scorpion. It contains the line, "The crew have turned to voting; the officers to drink." Well, the Geek rather reckons that voting both in Afghanistan and the UN Human Rights Council may drive the Obama administration--or at least its foreign policy section--to drink.

In the Afghanistan theater of operations (which on occasion resembles a theater of the absurd) the voting is that of a contested nature. OK, it should not surprise anyone oriented as to time and place that Karzai's crowd stole the election. It is unfortunate that so many Americans and others in the West ignore the commonality of fraud, election theft, ballot box stuffing, and other related peccadilloes throughout the world. (Heck, leaving aside the questionable role of the SCOTUS in the 2000 election, electoral fraud was a major contributor to the 1960 presidential election right here in the good ole USA.)

The crucial factor in the Afghan elections is not contained in the question, "Did Karzai win fair and square?" Nor is to be found in the closely related query, "Will Karzai beat Abdullah Abdullah fair and square in a (so far hypothetical) runoff election?"

The critical question is actually, "What difference in the course and probable outcome of the war in Afghanistan will it make if Abullah wins?" The answer is simple, "Not much."

Abdullah will preside as has Karzai over a government which is disunited, inefficient, and riddled with corruption. None of these unpleasant realities is unique to Karzai. (Indeed, none are unique to Afghanistan or the Afghan culture.)

True, the Tajiks might enjoy more of the blessings(?) of power and closeness to the money stream. Equally true, some of the Pashtuns displaced at least temporarily from access to money and power may show their displeasure by uniting with their fellow Pashtuns in the Taliban. Neither of these developments will either aid or hinder the US and its allies in the task of militarily subduing the Glorious Warriors of the One True Faith.

The only possible impact the election of Abdullah might have on the course of events in Afghanistan is with respect to Pakistan. The Tajiks were the majority of the anti-Taliban oriented Northern Alliance. The Pakistani memory regarding such things runs long and deep. There is little reason to believe that an Abdullah presidency will have any real, positive impact upon Islamabad--and particularly on the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence. When Abdullah was foreign minister in the Karzai government, his ministrations had no good effect on the movers and shakers of ISI, the Pakistani government, or Army.

A further complication which might well ensue upon an Abdullah victory in the proposed runoff comes from his deficiencies as a politician Afghan style. The lack of personal charisma, personal appeal, magnetism and charm was the main reason the US chose Karzai as "our man in Kabul."

One of the implications of Karzai's personal skills exists in his capacity as a deal maker. This, of course, is one of the main things we have against him and his fraudulent election now. He made deals then and now. Back then, the US, the UN, and all the other outsiders liked his style. Over the ensuing years, his deal making orientation caused us and all the rest to see him increasingly as an undesirable fountainhead of corruption and, (perish the thought) potential maker of a separate peace with Taliban and the other Islamist jihadist groups.

Politics in Afghanistan has always come in one of two forms. The lesser form is that of a ruthless central authority which cozens and coerces the several antipathetic ethnic and tribal entities into a moment of unity--normally against an external threat or invader. The greater form is one of national level Let's-Make-A-Deal. In this area Karzai is superior to Abdullah.

Now take a dekko at the importance of Let's-Make-A-Deal. Every insurgency ends in two distinct phases.

The first is hostilities termination. That means simply the fighting stops. It may stop because one side sees itself being defeated. It may come because both sides are exhausted. One or both sides no longer have the political will to keep on shooting.

The second phase is conflict resolution. Unless and until the insurgency--which means both the insurgent and the status quo--reach the stage of being willing to hammer out a way of coexistence, of power-sharing, of alleviating the grievances which led to war, simple hostilities termination means a temporary armistice, not a permanent or semi-permanent peace. The nitty-gritty of conflict resolution is making deals, pure and simple. Deals must be struck, bargains made on how power is to be shared, on how money is to be apportioned, on what the basic institutions of society and polity will be.

While outsiders may be useful in achieving hostilities termination (and that is the definition of success for the US in seeking to assure the Islamist jihadists cannot claim a military victory over all of us "infidels") the outsiders are useless in achieving conflict resolution. The second, more critical stage in ending an insurgency is an insiders-only game.

Conflict resolution means quite bluntly that at some time, in some place, somebody from Kabul must sit face-to-face with Omar or his successor and make a deal. At this place and at this time the presence of outsiders is not only superfluous, it will be counterproductive.

From all reports, Karzai is better equipped to play the role of deal maker than is Abdullah. It is also important to note that Abdullah will not be a negligible quantity when deal making time comes. He knows that. Karzai knows that. The question is, "Does the Obama administration not only know that but is it willing to act on that knowledge?"

The Obama administration and other outsiders can and should play a key role in assuring that Karzai and Abdullah work together regardless of elections past or future so that both men can play their roles when conflict resolution time comes around. This may mean overlooking the irregularities of Karzai's reelection. It means going along with Karzai should he reject any negative conclusions from the Electoral Complaints Commission. It means accepting whatever "vox populi, vox dei" emerges should a runoff be held.

The Obama administration and all the other well-intentioned outsiders have to keep their collective eyes on the prize. The prize for us is that of "not-losing," of achieving hostilities termination without giving the slightest excuse for the Islamist jihadists to claim victory over the "forces of infidelity." (Memo to the administration: al-Qaeda and Taliban still declare that they and they alone "defeated" the Red Army way back when during the days of Reagan/Bush.)

Now, gang, the other vote. The Human Rights Council has once more shown the truth behind all the accusations that it, like its ill-begotten predecessor, exists only as a cudgel with which the countries of the Arab-Muslim World can bash Israel. Once more, the worthy nations of the Council led by the Arab states and ably supported by human rights champions such as Russia and the Peoples Republic of China passed a resolution which endorses the justly criticized Goldstone Reprt.

Exacerbating the sin committed against both truth and impartiality, the resolution made specific reference to Israel alone. It ignored even the mild negative comments made by Justice Goldstone and his colleagues concerning the wrongs committed by Hamas and other groups in the months and years before Operation Cast Lead.

The US opposed the resolution along with five other courageous countries. Eleven other countries abstained. Five, including the UK and France, declined even to abstain showing a degree of gutlessness which surpasses rational understanding. Twenty-five states, primarily members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, voted in the affirmative.

Now the issue passes along to the Security Council. The US--if the POTUS is to be believed--will do whatever is necessary to block the report and its associated (or grafted on) provisions and recommendations. Presumably, this means the US will exercise its veto.

A veto in the UNSC does not mean the end of the Goldstone Report or the included demands that the International Criminal Court be invoked against Israeli governmental and military personnel. The OIC is inventive. It is persistent. And, it has potent support from at least two Great Powers (Russia and China) as well as a host of Small Powers in Africa and Latin America.

With the members of the European Union apparently afflicted by a massive case of Kick The Stubborn Israelis Around, it is not beyond the pale to think that a General Assembly move will be made to circumvent the Security Council. Nor is it unthinkable that the relevant committees of the UN will lean hard on Israel to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal--and abandon it.

While there are a number of negative potentials with the Goldstone Report, one ground truth already exists. The Obama plan for a comprehensive Mideast peace is dead in the water. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear.

The "international community" or at least the UN did nothing, zero, nada, to stop the rain of rockets, mortar rounds, and other attacks conducted by Hamas from the Gaza Strip of which it has been the de facto government since it shot its way to power back in 2007. Now Justice Goldstone, his committee, the UNHRC have condemned Israel, and Israel alone, for the actions it took in legitimate self-defense.

Israel took the self-same "international community" including the UN at its collective word in 2005 when it withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The word was worthless as events proved beyond a shadow of a doubt--reasonable or otherwise.

It is totally illegitimate to expect Israel to take more "risks for peace" in the wake of the Human Rights Council's action. It is totally without foundation in the consensually accepted reality to expect Israel to look to any entity beyond its borders for defense, for protection, or even for support when the rockets fly again. No Israeli government would now be so lacking in sense as to take any action whatsoever which might increase the risks faced by the citizens of Israel.

Well, the action of the Human Rights Council was democracy in action. The majority rules. And, the Obama administration now has to face the unpleasant fact that its Mideast policy is a casualty of democracy. All of the genuflections to Muslim sensibilities, all of the distortions of history in favor of the Muslim sense of self-worth, all of the pressure on Israel regarding the "settlements" have come to nothing.

If anything the famed Obama "open hand" has emboldened the intransigence of the members of the OIC. The same "open hand" and apologies for presumed past American "sins" also emboldened countries whose interests and policies are inimical to the interests of the US. The cliched chickens have come home to roost.

Perhaps the time to grow up is upon the Nice Young Man From Chicago. The time is over for him to believe his own press releases about his greatness. The time is now for Mr Obama to accept that he is the president of a Great Power--and act like it! The time is now for an end to apologies, for explanations of how he is not George W. Bush, for "open hands." Most of the countries in the world expect the US to take a stance, a clear and consistent stance with policies which reflect that. Like us or hate us, the nations of the globe expect the US to act as a leader, to say without ambiguity what is and is not acceptable to the US. And, to carry out with deeds what we announce with words.