“Al Qaeda,” the New Brand Name? Secretary Clinton’s testimony…What is “Al Qaeda” these days, to it, to us?

There seems little doubt that the original Al Qaeda” organization, based in Afghanistan and led by Osama Bin Laden, has been “decimated,” to use her term.  Our enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to be the Taliban and the Haqanni Network.  Yet reports often refer to one or both “Islamic militants” and “Al Qaeda” as if they are two different groups, the latter in some sense more dangerous to us than the former.

Yesterday in her Senate testimony Secretary Clinton referred to Al Qaeda as “a brand,” saying that some groups using that name included people who were trained in Afghanistan by the now decimated organization.  She went on to refer to use of the name to recruit adherents and used the term “affiliated with Al Qaeda” to describe other groups of Islamic militants.  She pointed to yet other groups that do not use that designation.

Is there any meaning left in the term Al Qaeda that distinguishes these people from Islamic militants from a public perspective?  (I can see why intelligence agencies might make some distinctions particularly to understanding the biographies and training of those individuals who have migrated from Afghanistan.)

I raise this question because the term is still such a “hot button.”  It seems to me that officials and the media use it to heighten the sense of threat, even as it seems to be losing its ability to be more of a threat than any other militant group.

In my quest to cool hot buttons, if they have no real heat, I raise the question, what is Al Qaeda?  What does that term mean now?

Why shouldn’t Iran get the bomb…or why wouldn’t it…Am I the only one?

There is some reason to believe that our policies on nuclear agreements and proliferation of nuclear capabilities for energy and possibly warfare at some point, are recognizing the obvious, however sad the reality may be.

From the Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2012 (emphasis added):

“The Obama administration in 2009 signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates that bound the Arab country not to enrich uranium domestically or reprocess spent plutonium fuel, the two technologies that can be used to produce atomic weapons.

[USNUKE] Yonhap News Agency/European Pressphoto AgencyWorkers in Ulsan, South Korea, applaud the installation of the South Korean-built reactor core in July 2010.

President Barack Obama cited the U.A.E. agreement as the “gold standard” for future nuclear-cooperation pacts. Washington has used the deal to press Iran over its nuclear program, arguing that Tehran should follow the Emirates and rely on the international market for nuclear fuel.

U.S. officials involved in the policy review said the Obama administration concluded that most countries wouldn’t be willing to follow the U.A.E. model, and that insisting on it would hurt American interests.

They said Washington risked losing business for American companies seeking to build nuclear reactors overseas, and could greatly diminish its ability to influence the nonproliferation policies of developing countries.

I know why many countries in addition to the US don’t want Iran to get the bomb and see it as a threat to their security.  What I don’t know is how all these pronouncements about how it cannot be allowed to get the bomb have any meaning.

Absent going to war with it, a security-threatening step not taken when India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and, much earlier, the Soviet Union, got the bomb and in part because all the named countries and the US have it, the argument for why Iran should not get it is far from obvious.

Iran, for better or worse, is the place where conclusions about what will adequately defend it from aggression or prepare it for pre-emptive war is to be made.  It may want it for the latter purpose: to wage aggressive war against its perceived enemies but it is far from clear to me why it shouldn’t prepare for its plans, aggressive or defensive, as it chooses, if the other nuclear powers have done so.

What possible activity, especially long-term activity, short of war (which, although the US seems at times to forget its own experience, is a “long-term activity”, extending beyond the engagement of troops), can stop Iran?  Agreements, inspections, and embargoes may delay the process or make it necessary for Iran to be more covert about how it secures atomic weapons but all are delaying tactics.

It looks to me like Iran will have nuclear weapons no matter what the rest of us want.  I suspect that even after “regime change” any new regime would feel obliged to continue the process of securing them, just to show it was independent and not subject to Israel and the West.

Don’t hesitate to explain where you think I misunderstand this issue.

Call the White House TODAY about the Patriot Act extensions…

Call 202-456-1111 between 9:00 and 5:00ET and ask to speak to someone working on renewal of the Patriot Act.  If the line is busy, please keep trying.  When you speak to someone, urge them to have the president veto the provisions coming to him and to take additional steps to revise the act in light of ten years of experience to restore rights the Act usurped in the first heat of 9/11.  Whatever modifications in procedures may be needed to confront our enemies, ten years experience is enough to allow for the crafting of something more fitting and more like a scalpel than the axe that the current Patriot Act is as used against enemies and citizens.  Ask the person to use the Bill of Rights as a guide for new legislation.

Sometimes People We Don’t Like Say Important Things…Update 1

Patriot Act revision is the public policy matter I regard as more important than any other facing our country, presented here by a man I generally do not support.  My first awareness of him was in his famous Rachel Maddow interview in which he appeared willing to roll-back the entire civil rights era’s gains and not only do I not favor that, I cannot imagine any seriously thoughtful American supporting that position today.  I shared Rachel Maddow’s increasing astonishment as her questions brought forth amazing and unbelievable answers from him.  I suspect that I will be amazed, negatively, again by him.  Yet, in this presentation, he is saying something important and worthy of public debate and consideration:

The original post’s commentary is below, on Donald Rumsfeld’s Memoir:

The title of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, “Known and Unknown,” comes from a remark he made about whether Iraq had supplied or was willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me,” he quipped in 2002, “because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Long before he became Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration I had read and found quite thoughtful some of the famous Rummy’s Rules, (pdf at: http://www.cornerbarpr.com/images/home/rumsfeldsrules.pdf) which have been amplified in 2001.  He certainly didn’t obey them all but they contain some substance that, like the remarks quoted above, bear serious thought.

We spend what seems like enormous time on the unknowns and fill in our ignorance with speculation, often stated forcefully as if it were fact.  A very high percentage of the commentary I see focuses on the motivations of particular individuals as if they were obvious.  Perhaps I am unique but quite often introspection reveals that I don’t know my motivations or whether they are many, mixed and sometimes contradictory.  How can I assert vigorously the motivations behind the actions of another person, no matter how much I suspect that I know them?

Before leaving the comments on Rumsfeld, let me mention something I heard in an NPR interview a few weeks ago about national infrastructure cybersecurity.  At the end of the conversation the host asked quite credulously “Is it possible that our infrastructure already contains bugs that we don’t know about that would disable it?” (paraphrase).  We really desperately need to refine the quality of our thought for this is an unknown presented as a valid question in a serious interview.  Obviously there could be bugs already planted that we don’t know about.   That’s part of not knowing something.  It doesn’t belong in a serious interview.

WikiLeaks telling the truth, DOD lying…Didn’t we have an election for “change” in 2008?

The following are to tease you into reading the full Glenn Greenwald piece in Salon which seems to show that the Department of Defense isn’t as worried about Taliban retribution against Afghans who help us as it is in “getting” WikiLeaks:

“UPDATE II:  Sean-Paul Kelley, who very harshly criticized WikiLeaks for the lack of redactions in the released documents, today, to his immense credit, re-considers and retracts that criticism in light of the evidence presented here.

UPDATE III:  Newsweek‘s Mark Hosenball follows up on the issues raised here in a new article today, with more evidence proving that WikiLeaks has been attempting to secure the Pentagon’s cooperation in redacting names — exactly as Assange has been explaining — while the Pentagon has been issuing multiple false denials of these facts.  Shouldn’t anyone who criticized WikiLeaks for its lack of redactions also be criticizing the DoD for refusing WikiLeaks’ requests for redaction assistance (and then falsely denying it happened)?”

Please read the following from Greenwald:  http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/08/20/wikileaks

Now you can go to jail if you try to cover the oil spill…Governments are on BP’s “take”…

At first I was annoyed at the assumption that the government should not work with BP on the spill.  There really is no alternative that makes sense, given the special knowledge BP and its contractors have generally and specifically about the specifics of this well.  Strangers would have a steep, and I fear, long learning curve.

But, apart from keeping the public and reporters out of places where their presence might intrude on work to stop the spill, it did not occur to me that the police powers of the various governments would be used to keep reporters from taking pictures of whatever they might see, something I feel even more strongly about if they are on public property when they are doing their reporting.  I also didn’t expect anything to be confiscated or shared with BP, nor questions to be asked the answers to which are none of BP’s business.  This strikes me as a bad state of affairs.

It also strikes me as a place where good investigative journalism can circumvent these measures by its sheer cleverness and get the stories out.


What if what we want to do is impossible to do?

The US aims in Iraq and Afghanistan always seem to have as a bottom line the establishment of a functioning democracy.  In Afghanistan there is also an added objective that frees women from previous customs of abuse and provides secular education for the citizenry.  We also seek to avoid “nation-building” for a variety of reasons of which the most politically compelling is the desire to avoid long-term involvements similar to those we undertook in Europe after World War II.  Our aims seem obviously desirable to us, beyond dispute.

But what if the people of Afghanistan and in some part, the people of Iraq, find them disputable and at odds with their deeply held beliefs and traditions?  Presumably we would continue or re-institute the fight in either or both countries if we had not achieved our aims or they proved quickly abandoned after we left.  And, if we did that, we would be involved in “nation-building” again, perhaps on a larger scale and for a longer time than in Europe.

My point is that our aims may be contradictory; without “nation-building” democracy, women’s rights, universal secular education may be unachievable.  We may have set ourselves up to fail, independent of any action by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or Iran’s interest.

We have involved ourselves in two traditional societies:  Iraq is less so but the influence of religious affiliations in both Iraq and Afghanistan pervades many areas of public policy and that influence is long-standing.  Our influence has been transient, however powerful.  Both countries look forward to our leaving.  It is difficult to avoid thinking that among the leaders, that eagerness for our departure is not so they can get back to doing things the way they have done before we forced them to do them our way.

Addendum:  Today, April 23, 2010, the Washington Post carried this story that could hardly crystallize my point better:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/22/AR2010042206227.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead