My friend John from Power Line spent the better part of today cleaning up and re-editing the captured video from the al-Qaeda training facility. (I blogged about it this morning.) John’s efforts can be viewed through this Power Line News link. Be sure to check it out — if the earlier Times of London version gave you downloading headaches, John’s version should play much more smoothly.
Month: October 2006
In A Word — Yes!
The London Times asks if Kofi Annan has blood on his hands as he prepares to end his term as United Nations Secretary-General. Apparently the Times does not consider this a rhetorical question, as it provides a rather lengthy answer:
Srebrenica is rarely mentioned nowadays in Annan’s offices on the 38th floor of the UN secretariat building in New York. He steps down in December after a decade as secretary-general. His retirement will be marked by plaudits. But behind the honorifics and the accolades lies a darker story: of incompetence, mismanagement and worse. Annan was the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) between March 1993 and December 1996. The Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 men and boys and the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda happened on his watch. In Bosnia and Rwanda, UN officials directed peacekeepers to stand back from the killing, their concern apparently to guard the UN’s status as a neutral observer. This was a shock to those who believed the UN was there to help them.
Annan’s term has also been marked by scandal: from the sexual abuse of women and children in the Congo by UN peacekeepers to the greatest financial scam in history, the UN-administered oil-for-food programme. Arguably, a trial of the UN would be more apt than a leaving party.
The charge sheet would include guarding its own interests over those it supposedly protects; endemic opacity and lack of accountability; obstructing investigations, promoting the inept and marginalising the dedicated. Such accusations can be made against many organisations. But the UN is different. It has a moral mission.
It was founded by the allies in 1945 to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”. Its key documents – the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the genocide convention – are the most advanced formulation of human rights in history. And they have been flouted by UN member states for decades.
A more specific charge would be that, under the doctrine of command responsibility, the UN is guilty of war crimes. Broadly speaking, it has three principles: that a commander ordered atrocities to be carried out, that he failed to stop them, despite being able to, or failed to punish those responsible. The case rests on the second, that in Rwanda in 1994, in Srebrenica in 1995 and in Darfur since 2003, the UN knew war crimes were occurring or about to occur, but failed to stop them, despite having the means to do so.
It’s hard to improve on this essay by the Times. Read the whole thing, and shake your head in wonder that anyone considers this organization the least bit credible.
What’s The Difference Between The Mafia And Congress? Scale
Ever wonder how caucuses in the House choose their leadership? In the Senate, it comes from seniority. In the House, they determine it like a multi-level marketing plan. As the New York Times reports, money talks … loudly:
To move up the ladder in Congress, you must do more than win votes. You are, quite literally, expected to pay your dues.
If you are a rank-and-file member of the House, the amount is up to $100,000. If your ambitions are to preside over a powerful committee, the duty is $300,000. For a top party leader, the tally can climb beyond $600,000.
Make those checks payable to the Republican or Democratic Congressional campaign committees. …
Four years after Congress tried to reduce the influence of money in politics by rewriting the rules of how campaigns are financed, Republicans and Democrats alike have found myriad replacements for the river of financial contributions known as soft money.
The practice of paying what the parties refer to as dues is not illegal, and it is not an entirely fresh notion by either party. This year, Democrats are hoping to glean about $33 million in dues from their House members, an amount that would be about one-third of their fund-raising goal. That makes the dues an important piece in the Democrats’ strategy to overtake the Republican majority.
Let’s just make this perfectly clear. Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002 because John McCain, Russ Feingold, Christopher Shays, and Marty Meehan all told us that money has become too influential in politics. They forced us to give up the right to name names in political advertising in the last 60 days before an election. In exchange, the House selects its leadership on the basis of how much cash members can raise for the party.
Seems to me that Shays and Meehan forced us to pay for their addiction.
This tradition, which appears more in line with the Mafia than with competence, has its humorous moments. Nancy Pelosi takes this so seriously that she sent around a spreadsheet showing the assessments for each Democrat in the house and what they had contributed to party coffers. Predictably and understandably, this grandstanding upset a few members, including Maxine Waters, chief deputy whip for the Democrats, who has only kicked in less than 20% of her $250,000 assessment. Luis Gutierrez, ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, declared he would contribute nothing at all until Pelosi
sent a dead fish wrapped in newspaper made a two-minute phone call. Gutierrez made his first dues payment shortly thereafter.
Rather than punish the electorate for the sins of the politicians, the BCRA contingent should have focused on the behavior of Congress first. If the Democrats and Republicans want to take the smell of cash out of politics, perhaps they would have been better suited getting the stink off of leadership assignments in the House.
A Graphical Depiction Of The Challenge In Afghanistan
With Pervez Musharraf appearing to retreat in the war on terror and Hamid Karzai demanding results, the situation in Afghanistan and the Waziristan region appears to be inexplicably troublesome of late. Musharraf and Karzai have more trouble than just borders in this situation, though, and what we are now seeing may be a nationalist movement that has escaped Western attention until now. The Toronto Sun’s Eric Margolis explains the problem, and Swaraaj Chauhan at The Moderate Voice produces an interesting map to underscore his point.
In order to understand the difficulties, Margolis argues, one has to understand the tribalism in play:
Tribal politics lie at the heart of their dispute. The 30 million Pashtuns (or Pathans), the world’s largest tribal society, are divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan by an artificial border, the Durand Line, drawn by divide-and-conquer British imperialists.
Pashtuns account for 50-60% of Afghanistan’s 30 million people. The Taliban is an organic part of the Pashtun people. The Western powers and Karzai are not just fighting “Taliban terrorists,” but a coalition of Pashtun tribes and other allied nationalist movements. In effect, most of the Pashtun people. …
The other half of the divided Pashtuns live just across the Durand Line in Pakistan, comprising 15-20% of its population. Pashtuns occupy many senior posts in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Pashtuns, including anti-Western resistance fighters, never accepted and simply ignore the artificial border bifurcating their tribal homeland.
Washington keeps demanding Musharraf crack down on Pakistan’s pro-Taliban Pashtuns. But Washington fails to understand that too much pressure on these fierce warriors could quickly ignite a major historic threat to Pakistan’s national integrity: A Pashtun independence movement seeking to join the Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan in a new state — Pashtunistan.
Take a look at Swaraaj’s map:
What we’re looking at is something similar to the Kurds to the West. The Pashtuns spread out over a wide geographical area, and would be the dominant ethnic group in the region if not for the political borders drawn during the British administration of an earlier age. The Taliban sprang out of the ultra-Islamist Pashtun tribal structure, and that tribal society has a great deal of influence in Pakistani politics as well. Their stronghold is in the mountainous border region, including Waziristan.
So how does that impact the war on terror and on radical Islamists? This map shows that the entire effort in Afghanistan is taking place on enemy territory regardless of which side of the border one sits. Kabul sits in Pashtun turf, making it more difficult to ensure its security.
This shows the difficulty facing both leaders. Taking on the Pashtuns means fighting a significant component of both nations, and up to 30 million members of a closed-off tribal society. Their loyalties are to themselves rather than any sense of nationhood as the borders are drawn, and their recent actions may hint at a broader nationalistic impulse. Given their footprint in the area, that will play out mostly in Afghanistan, but it could threaten Musharraf’s power in Pakistan as well.
No wonder Musharraf cut a deal in Waziristan. He wants to mollify the Pashtuns in order to keep them from rising up and demanding an expression of nationalism within Pakistan. He doesn’t want to lose Waziristan as well as Kashmir. And this is why Karzai is so unhappy; without Pakistani pressure on the Pashtuns in Waziristan, they will have secured their flank enough to put all of their energy to undermine Karzai.
The problem with the Islamists might just be the symptom here of a greater tribal/nationalist problem.
Turkey Warns Iraqi Kurds On Terrorism
Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth conducts an intriguing interview with Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s foreign minister, in which he warns Iraq and the US to curb Kurdish terrorists — or Turkey will do it themselves. Gul has plenty to say on Iraq’s internal security troubles, and issues a warning to America about withdrawing from Iraq:
Q. So, would Turkey invade northern Iraq to bring the PKK under control?
A. We will do whatever is necessary to fight this organization. I want to give the message that if our friends don’t help us, we will do the job ourselves. …
Q. In the United States many people believe the time has come to withdraw.
A. How can you leave a vacuum over there? Then, what will happen? All the neighbors of Iraq and the U.S. should work hand in hand with the Iraqi government and the different tribes in Iraq to bring stability. I think it is possible. There is no other way. You have to put things in order.
Q. Here people are asking, why doesn’t Iraq split into three parts?
A. The neighboring countries will not accept this. That idea should be forgotten—it should not be an option. Those [who favor it] don’t know Iraq or the region.
Gul also feels quite a bit more sanguine about Iran than the US does. He has spoken directly with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sees the last offer as very positive. Gul says that the main problem is trust; neither Ahmadinejad nor the West want to make the first step. The Turk believes that if the West guarantees the last incentive package, Ahmadinejad will permanently suspend uranium enrichment. Of course, Gul and Turkey would prefer not to have to face a nuclear Iran, but Gul doesn’t explain how to square his impressions with the speeches given by Ahmadinejad extolling the virtues of the annihilation of Israel, a feat that would require the nuclear weapons Gul says the Iranians would forswear.
We should remain concerned about the PKK and its activities. Freeing the Kurds from Saddam’s grip always held the risk of expansionist impulses for the long-oppressed Kurds, and we have encouraged it tacitly in regards to Iran. The Kurds themselves see Turkey as their main problem and radicals have conducted terrorist attacks in th eastern portions of our putative ally. We cannot afford to have Turkey invading northern Iraq; it would set the entire country on fire and probably end the autonomy of the Kurds. That would douse the momentum that the Kurds started a few years ago into modernizing their terrirtory and engaging with the West.
Gul’s warning on an American withdrawal should be considered very carefully here at home. The Turks did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in the end balked at allowing the 4th Infantry Division to transit through their territory, which caused us no end of problems, especially in Anbar. They are just as clear about opposing a precipitate withdrawal. The Turks need to have us on the inside, bringing Iraqi security forces to the point where they can maintain stability and put an end to sectarian violence themselves. They also cannot afford to have supported yet another American administration that fails to complete its mission in Iraq. They had enough of that for the twelve years prior to OIF.
UPDATE: An anonymous CQ reminds us that Gul is a not-so-well-disguised Islamist himself, and he can hardly be described as an honest broker with Iran. Tigerhawk has more on a unilateral PKK cease-fire.
Look Forward For Security
Richard Clarke takes to the pages of the New York Times to deliver a lesson that everyone should have learned after 2004. The controversial former counterterrorism chief reminds Americans that we cannot secure the nation through blame games, and that the time has long since passed for us to exercise hindsight and start looking forward:
For most Americans the history is clear and well told in the 9/11 commission report: Almost 3,000 people were killed. In the years before that terrible day, the Clinton administration prevented some attacks and tried to destroy Al Qaeda and its leadership, but was unable to do so, in part because the institutional bureaucracy did not believe the magnitude of the threat.
As for the Bush administration, it deferred action on Al Qaeda until after 9/11, and then took a number of steps in response, including invading Iraq, but was also unable to destroy Al Qaeda or its leaders.
In short, both administrations failed.
All the finger-pointing and hunting for scapegoats last week won’t rectify those failures, or help us avoid future ones. Fortunately, unlike too many of our political leaders and pundits, most Americans are far more concerned about what we are doing now in the name of fighting terrorism than about petty partisan bickering about the past.
Unfortunately, Clarke uses this argument briefly to open an attack on the Bush administration’s decision to go into Iraq, which is another form of the same impulse he decries. The Iraq invasion happened three years ago. We now have to fight the terrorists in front of us, in Iraq and elsewhere, and we need to focus on that task. How do we best ensure the survival of the democratic government in Iraq and defeat the terrorists who want to destroy it? That should also be our focus.
He also attacks Bush for pushing too hard to get broader powers to fight terrorism. This seems a rather strange argument, considering the success we have had in preventing another major attack. Clarke also plays the canard of Congress refusing to provide Clinton with anti-terrorism tools he requested, which is a reference to the Aviation Security and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, a measure that had a lot more to do with domestic investigation of gunpowder than international terrorism. In fact, Congress earlier that year had passed the Terrorism Prevention Act, which really did provide counterterrorism tools to the federal government. At any rate, the powers granted to the executive since 9/11 have come from Congress, and Congress can rescind or adjust them if it feels that the executive is abusing them.
However, for the most part, Clarke has it correct. We need to look at the status quo and decide what steps we need to take in today’s situation to make the nation and our assets abroad safer. We need to end the partisan bickering over what happened before 9/11 and resolve to do better in the future.
Al-Qaeda Home Movies
The Times of London has new video of the 9/11 hijackers from more than a year prior to the attacks. Unlike other martyrdom videos that have been released, these tapes appear to have been less formal affairs. Without a soundtrack for some reason, no one can be sure what al-Qaeda’s intent was in taking them, but they look more like home movies than anything produced for a specific purpose:
It is the first time that a videotape has appeared of Mohammed Atta — who flew an American Airlines plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center — at a training camp in Afghanistan. It fills in a significant gap in the timing of the build-up to the attacks on the United States.
Dates on the tape show Atta was filmed on January 18, 2000, together with Ziad Jarrah, the pilot of United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers apparently stormed the flight deck.
The Sunday Times has obtained a copy of the video through a previously tested channel. The tape has no soundtrack and a US source said lip readers had tried without success to decipher what was being said.
Despite the deadly tasks the men had been assigned, they appear in high spirits, laughing and smiling in front of the camera. Only when Atta, with an AK-47 propped on a wall beside him, reads a document marked in Arabic “the will”, does he become solemn. Both are well groomed, without the haggard appearance of the identity mugshots issued after September 11.
The tapes display dates in January 2000. The Times argues that this clarifies a problem in the 9/11 timeline regarding the whereabouts of the Hamburg cell leaders, but that isn’t correct. The 9/11 report, in pages 166-167, describe very clearly the travels of Atta and Ziad Jarrah, both of whom can be seen in this tape. They left Germany in November 1999 for Afghanistan, and returned to Germany on January 31, 2000.
Whatever value is in these tapes lies in the behind-the-scenes look at the jihadis in their own environs. They look like they’re having a good time at a retreat, full of smiles and laughter while planning the mass murder of tens of thousands (the Towers would normally have held more that 30,000 people). Unlike the photographs of Mohammed Attah and Ziad Jarrah released after the attack, these two project an air of relaxed joy. We see none of the dead look in Atta’s eyes, nor the sharp figures that made his photo in particular seem so menacing. One can understand why he managed to hide himself in Western society so easily.
No one has been able to discern what the two men are saying on this tape. Apparently, AQ has issues with technical aptitude in its audio-visual department. The silence gives the video a disconcerting feel that mirrors our experience with the jihadis — a disconnect, a sense that what they have to say is so alien to us they may as well remain silent. It also reminds the viewer that their voices have been silenced … along with almost 3,000 others because of their bloodthirsty pursuit of a totalitarian vision.