Ted Koppel in The Wall Street Journal on overreacting to terrorism…somewhere before Tim Graham’s point lies substance

Ted Koppel in The Wall Street Journal on overreacting to terrorism “Terrorism, after all, is designed to produce overreaction,” writes, Koppel, the famed news broadcaster. And with America‘s wide closure of foreign embassies and drone strikes, “It appears to be working.” In particular, the U.S. permanent surveillance state has played directly into Al-Qaeda‘s hands. “We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al Qaeda could never have achieved that on its own. We have inflicted it on ourselves,” he writes. James Breiner, director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University tweets, “Couldn’t agree more w/ Ted Koppel.” But Tim Graham of conservative media watchdog NewsBusters caustically writes “Koppel wants terrorism de-emphasized to the point that it’s seen as less dangerous to America than household ladder accidents.”

Koppel:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324653004578650462392053732.html

Atlantic Wire (last item) Five Best Wednesday Columns:  http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/08/five-best-wednesday-columns/68072/


Update 1(?) on Al Qaeda Question posed yesterday

Found in Foreign Policy Situation Report this morning:

Whither the U.S. on MaliThere was an interesting development over the last 24 hours, with a faction of the Mali rebels indicating they would peel off, potentially negotiate with the French, and go so far as to help fight other extremists in the northern part of the country. AP: “Three al-Qaida-linked extremist groups have controlled Mali’s vast northeast for months, capitalizing on chaos that followed a coup d’etat in Mali’s capital, Bamako, in March. But in a new sign of splintering, former Ansar Dine leader Alghabass Ag Intalla told the Associated Press on Thursday that he and his men were breaking off from Ansar Dine ?so that we can be in control of our own fate.'” The leader said his group neither identified with AQIM or another group, the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa, but rather with a group with a set of grievances against the government.” 

AQ must not have registered its service mark and trademarked its name!

For more:  http://www.newser.com/article/da40pamo2/malis-ansar-dine-rebel-group-splits-amid-blistering-french-air-strikes-growing-african-force.html


The most dangerous “state” belief–I’m sure it is sincere

Convincing oneself that one is following a valid process, to do something one’s own lawyers believe to be legal, to achieve something  appropriate that others in the future will confirm by following this example must surely be one of the most common and self-deceptive journeys upon which the human mind can embark.

“For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.”

via Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists – The Washington Post.


“Fear” changing us…”What the Olympics tell you about terrorism | Stephen M. Walt”


We are being allowing our civil liberties to be eroded close to the vanishing point, we are privatizing our military and defense (two governmental functions at base) at great cost economically and socially in that we are creating interest groups that thrive on war and covert operations, and most people seem unconcerned.

Key to this is the creation and manipulation of “fear.”  Think of it, fear exists in endless supply, accompanied by secrecy it is nearly impossible for citizens to to know whether or not there is a factual basis for it, and it can be used to justify the expenditure of billions on activities which,  because secret, are not subject to public audit and democratic oversight.  Congressional oversight, if it really exists at all, is so constrained by the executive branch that it might as well not exist.  This is changing our system of government fundamentally without our knowledge or consent.

Please read the whole article from which this is quoted.

“The second lesson is that we continue to over-react to the “terrorist threat.” Here I recommend you read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart’s The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security.   Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed “Islamic terrorist plots” against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.” They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying “we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,” noting further that al Qaeda’s “capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”

via What the Olympics tell you about terrorism | Stephen M. Walt.


Revenge, Justice and Our Need to have Osama Dead

This morning among the comments one by lexalexander following a Chronicle of Higher Education Review article on our primitive need for revenge, I found the following that captured my feelings about the Osama Bin Laden death better than I have been able to express them to myself:

“The killing of bin Laden has unleased a dog’s breakfast of emotions in me personally and, I suspect, the American psyche in general. Yeah, I wanted revenge. No doubt. But I also wanted justice. The fact that we got both, kind of, in the same instant allows us to feel good about feeling evil, and that’s only the beginning of the emotional and psychological stew we started cooking Sunday night.”

The article, dealing with the biological need for revenge, and the comments of which this is only a part of one, are worth thinking about.

I think I prefer justice to revenge, that is, I have been taught to do that and I have embraced that preference to such a point that I will state it as my true belief.  Yet I also know that I experienced a gut-level satisfaction on hearing that he was dead at our hands that would not have been as great as I would have felt had he been captured.  For what it’s worth, I do not think even our most sophisticated interrogators would have gained any significant information from him.

Intuitively one knows that giving our biological urges free-rein would produce chaos for society yet imposing our ideals of whatever origin, i.e. religious, philosophical or from any other source, creates a tension that characterizes much of our life.  How deeply satisfying to find a moment to “feel good about feeling evil.”

We should spend time thinking about “the emotional and psychological stew we started cooking” when his death, at our hands, was announced.

Moral choice in Afghanistan, how war aims become transmuted by war itself into moral issues…

The whole story (link below) is interesting but two points hit me hard in this story and I have added emphasis to make them visible.  First is that analysis of 76,000 WikiLeaked documents covering escalation of the insurgency 2004- end of 2009 show al-Qaeda had become an afterthought in the war.  Those documents are more compelling testimony to me than Leon Panetta and other government officials claiming it, because they are raw field stuff, not material filtered to and from officialdom.  Second is that al-Qaeda has to deal with Afghan mistrust of foreign intrusion, just as we do.

These two points make me think that, in terms of our initial war aims, we may have done as much as ever can in Afghanistan.  What remains are all those things we’ve learned (or, more correctly, progressed from “knowing” to “feeling intensely”) since arriving, i.e. the plight of women under the Taliban, the impact of the drug based agricultural system on the country, the fragility of the government we set up, the extent to which one becomes the victim of one’s best judgments as we are now bound to Karzai who is quite possibly no longer bound to us, and readers can extend the list.  But are we willing to walk away from the likely fate of women after we leave, the drug situation, a government which will almost surely reconfigure to our disadvantage if it doesn’t fall completely or fault Karzai for not wanting to give his life and fate to the United States?

The question in Afghanistan for me is increasingly not one of whether the war is now necessary but are we prepared to suffer the consequences of having gone to war there and left it to its fate when our initial purposes were met; are we able to step away from what we now know and feel intensely that we knew abstractly and from a distance before going in?

Facing Afghan mistrust, al-Qaeda fighters take limited role in insurgency

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; A01

On Aug. 14, a U.S. airstrike in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed a Taliban commander known as Abu Baqir. In a country where insurgents are killed daily, this attack was notable for one unusual detail:

Abu Baqir, the military said afterward, was also a member of al-Qaeda.

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports posted by the Web site WikiLeaks underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

Bin Laden, thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, is scarcely mentioned in the reports. One recounts how his picture was found on the walls of a couple of houses near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in 2004.

A year later, U.S. forces also saw his likeness on a jihadist propaganda poster near the Pakistan border. In 2007, a district subgovernor in Nangarhar province informed U.S. officials that a local newspaper would print “names of personnel working for bin Laden.”

Other al-Qaeda leaders are similarly invisible figures. One report describes a botched June 2007 attempt to capture or kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda military commander. U.S. Special Forces missed their target, instead accidentally killing seven children in a religious school in Paktika province.

There are also fleeting references to Abu Ikhlas al-Misri, the nom de guerre of an Egyptian who serves as an al-Qaeda commander in Kunar province. In 2008, an Afghan district official confirmed to U.S. officers that he had heard a rumor that Abu Ikhlas was suffering from a “sprained ankle.” But otherwise, at least in the WikiLeaks reports, the Egyptian remains in the shadows.

Change in strategy

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda’s leadership and fighters have largely sought refuge across the border in Pakistan. There they have been targeted by U.S. drone attacks from the skies as they try to remain beyond the reach of U.S. forces.

The evasion marks a departure from al-Qaeda’s approach in previous conflicts. Bin Laden and other jihadist leaders recruited thousands of Arabs and other foreign fighters to combat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al-Qaeda also persuaded hundreds, if not thousands, of followers to travel to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, where they played a significant role in fueling the insurgency and sectarian violence.

This time, U.S. military officials and analysts say, al-Qaeda has changed its strategy, mostly limiting its role in the Taliban-led insurgency to assisting with training, intelligence and propaganda. Although the terrorist network still considers the “liberation” of Afghanistan its primary strategic objective, it is biding its time until the infidels lose patience and leave.

“The numbers aren’t large, but their ability to help local forces punch above their weight acts as a multiplier,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. “They’ve learned from their previous experiences, when their foreign fighters were front and center.”

In Iraq, he noted, al-Qaeda figures from elsewhere alienated the locals by trying to hijack that insurgency.

U.S. military officials say al-Qaeda recognizes the same risk in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders often see al-Qaeda, their erstwhile ally, as “a handicap,” according to an unclassified briefing presented in December by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

Although Taliban commanders want support from al-Qaeda and jihadists around the world, according to Flynn, they are sensitive to the idea that ordinary Afghans might view it as foreign interference.

Excerpt from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/22/AR2010082203029_pf.html