State of the Union

To Stop al-Qaeda, Stop Bombing & Occupying Muslim Lands

Apparently, the threat is both serious and specific.

The United States ordered 22 diplomatic missions closed and issued a worldwide travel alert for U.S. citizens.

The threat comes from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, the most lethal branch of the terrorist organization.

“After Benghazi,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “these al-Qaeda types are really on steroids thinking we’re weaker and they’re stronger. …

“They want to drive the West out of the Mideast and take over these Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity … and if we ever take the bait and try to come home and create fortress America, there will be another 9/11.”

By the time this column appears, America may have been hit. Yet is it not time to put al-Qaeda in perspective and consider whether our Mideast policy is creating more terrorists than we are killing?

In 2010 America lost 15 citizens to terrorism. Thirteen of them died in Afghanistan. The worst attack was the killing of six Americans at a Christian medical mission in Badakhshan Province.

Yet, in 2010, not one death here in America resulted from terrorism.

That year, however, 780,000 Americas died of heart disease, 575,000 of cancer, 138,000 from respiratory diseases, 120,000 in accidents (35,000 in auto accidents), 69,000 from diabetes, 40,000 in drug-induced deaths, 38,000 by suicide, 32,000 by liver disease, 25,000 in alcohol-induced deaths, 16,000 by homicide and 8,000 from HIV/AIDS.

Is terrorism the killer we should fear most and invest the lion’s share of our resources fighting?

Since 9/11, al-Qaeda has not proven a terribly effective enemy. Some plots—the shoe-bomber on the airliner over Detroit, the Times Square bomber—failed from sheer incompetence. Other attacks have been thwarted by excellent U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism work.

Our home front has been well protected.

But by having fought a “war on terror” overseas in Graham’s way—invading, occupying, nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq—we lost 6,000 soldiers and brought back 40,000 wounded Americans.

Were the wars in which we suffered such casualties, and that cost us $2 trillion and counting, really worth it? Did they make us more secure?

The Taliban are making a comeback. Iraq is sinking into civil, sectarian and tribal war. Our influence in the Islamic world is at a nadir. And Graham concedes the enemy that we went over there to destroy, al-Qaeda, is not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Mali, and is now “on steroids.”

Ten years ago, anti-interventionists warned that a plunge into the Islamic world would produce what it was designed to prevent. We could create more terrorists than we would kill.

For the root of 9/11 was Islamic hatred of America’s perceived domination and a fanatic determination to drive us out of their world.
They were over here because we were over there. And if we went over there in even greater force, even more Muslims would rise up to expel us from what is, after all, their neighborhood, not ours.

So the anti-interventionists argued.

Dismissing such warnings as “isolationism,” George W. Bush launched the war. The result? Precisely what opponents of the war had predicted, an al-Qaeda that has metastasized and is now “on steroids.”

Now, Graham says, al-Qaeda wants “to drive the West out of the Middle East”—their objective all along—and “take over these Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity.”

But was it not the United States that dumped over Moammar Gadhafi and opened the door to the al-Qaeda that perpetrated the Benghazi atrocity?

Was not liberating Benghazi why we went to war?

We liberated it, but for whom?

Gadhafi, though himself a terrorist responsible for the Lockerbie Pan-Am bombing, was an enemy of al-Qaeda. So, too, are Hezbollah, Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad. All are fighting to prevent a takeover of Syria by rebels whose principal fighting force is the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Does not Vladimir Putin have a point when he asks why America is arming an insurgency dominated by the sort of people who did 9/11?

Graham says al-Qaeda wants to take over “Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity.”

Yet the Muslim country al-Qaeda has the best chance of taking over is Syria. And we are arming the rebels who are allied with al-Qaeda and who want to take over Syria?
“If we ever take the bait and try to come home and create fortress America, there’ll be another 9/11,” warns Graham.

Graham is saying we must stay in the Middle East and fight on until al-Qaeda, which has grown since our intervention and because of our intervention, is annihilated.

Otherwise they create a caliphate and come over here and kill us all.

After 58,000 dead we left Vietnam. How many Americans have the Vietnamese killed since we left?

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” Copyright 2013

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Justin Amash: Snowden Is a Whistleblower

Flickr / cc. Photo by Gage Skidmore
Flickr / cc. Photo by Gage Skidmore

A Republican Congressman told Fox News yesterday that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, and not a traitor—another clear example of the shifting conversation on civil liberties on the Right.

Fox host Chris Wallace, clearly skeptical, asked Justin Amash of Michigan directly: “You still consider him a whistleblower?”

“Yes,” replied Amash.

Amash stressed that Congress could not provide effective oversight without Snowden’s revelations: “Members of Congress were not really aware … about what these programs were being used for, the extent to which they were being used.”

Late last month, Amash proposed an amendment to strip funding for an NSA program that collects the telephone records of people in the United States. While the amendment failed–narrowly–the vigorous debate it prompted exposed deep divisions in both parties in the NSA debate: it’s not Republican versus Democrat but civil-libertarians versus security hawks. As Jim Antle explained in TAC,

While the Tea Party was split down the middle, with many conservatives bucking the party leadership, civil libertarians on the left also revolted…Republican leaders can’t control the libertarians in their midst and are starting to conclude it’s better not to try. Civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are no longer allowing Barack Obama’s presence in the White House to keep them silent.

According to a Quinnipiac poll released last Thursday, a majority of U.S. voters agree with Amash’s recent comments: 55% percent of respondents say Snowden is “more a whistleblower” than traitor, 34% “more a traitor.”

Particularly interesting is the shift in Amash’s own party that these polls have highlighted. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Republican demographic has been one of the most drastically changing in recent years. In 2010, 72% of Republicans said counterterrorism did not go far enough, which had fallen to 46% by this summer. And according to last week’s poll, Republicans almost mirror national sentiment: 51% of Republicans label Snowden a whistleblower.

Crucially, the poll was conducted before Snowden accepted asylum in Russia. Whether that will change the public’s mood remains to be seen, but Amash remained circumspect on that question: “He may be doing things overseas that we would find problematic, that we would find dangerous. We will find those facts out over time,” he conceded. “But as far as Congress is concerned, he’s a whistleblower. He told us what we needed to know.”

Nor have the recent al-Qaeda threats and embassy closings changed Amash’s mind; if anything, he says, these dangers should reinforce our wariness of expansive government powers:

“It’s precisely because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you could have national security justifications for violating people’s rights.”

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When the Drone War Comes Home

Defense News parses this new,  totally surprising, threat:

“We need to be cognizant of the fact that nations elsewhere, and non-nation players, can easily develop unmanned systems themselves,” Chung said. “So that leaves us to think about the adversarial unmanned systems. We need to think not just about our unmanned system but the ones that want to attack us.”

One suggested solution is body armor, which should be fun for senators and DOD officials to wear all day in a globally warming world.

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Who Can Check the Surveillance State?

“Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail,” said Secretary of State Henry Stimson of his 1929 decision to shut down “The Black Chamber” that decoded the secret messages of foreign powers.

“This means war!” said FDR, after reading the intercepted instructions from Tokyo to its diplomats the night of Dec. 6, 1941. Roosevelt’s secretary of war? Henry Stimson.

Times change, and they change us.

The CIA was created in 1947; the National Security Agency in 1952, with its headquarters at Ft. Meade in Maryland. This writer’s late brother was stationed at Meade doing “photo interpretation” in the years the CIA’s Gary Powers, flying U-2s at 70,000 feet above Mother Russia, was providing the agency with some interesting photographs.

This last week, through security leaks, we learned that the NSA has access to the phone records of Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. Of every call made to, from or in the U.S., NSA can determine what phone the call came from, which phone it went to, and how long the conversation lasted.

While NSA cannot recapture the contents of calls, it can use this information to select phones to tap for future recording and listening.

Through its PRISM program, the NSA can acquire access, via servers such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL, to all emails sent, received and presumably deleted or spammed. And if the NSA can persuade a secret court that it has to know the contents of past, present or future emails, it can be accorded that right.

Our ability to intercept and read communications of foreigners and foreign governments seems almost limitless. In the Nixon years, Jack Anderson reported that we were intercepting the conversations of Kremlin leaders in their limos, and listening in on Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev. Our capacity today is surely orders of magnitude greater.

Last week, we also learned that Barack Obama, by Presidential Policy Directive 20, has tasked our government to prepare for both defensive and offensive cyberwarfare to enable us to attack whatever depends on the Internet anywhere in the world.

Lately, the U.S. and Israel planted a Stuxnet worm that crippled scores of centrifuges and disabled Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz. If we can do this in Iran, can we not do the same to nuclear plants all over the world, creating two, three, a hundred Chernobyls and Fukushimas?

Is it too much to imagine that, one day, if not already, the United States will be able to cyber-sabotage the power plants, electrical grids and communications systems of any country on earth? Read More…

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President Obama Embraces the False Choice

For those of you just joining us, there have been two big revelations about the NSA’s data-mining efforts since Wednesday, both reported by the Guardian.

The first:

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largesttelecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

And the second:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

A few things to keep in mind: Technically the latter only applies to foreign nationals living outside the U.S.—keeping tabs on which is the NSA’s job description—but it seems impossible to separate one from the other. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the tech companies’ denials that they cooperated. As for the collection of phone records, it’s probably safe to assume that this is going on with most major providers.

In a press conference today, during which he took one question from the press–”because  I don’t want the whole day to just be a bleeding press conference”–the president tried to reassure Americans that the NSA is full of really good people who would never in a million years think about violating your Fourth Amendment rights, and that ”You can’t have 100% security and then 100% privacy.” From the AP report:

In his first comments since the programs were publicly revealed this week, Obama says safeguards are in place. He says nobody is listening to the content of phone calls. And he says the internet targeting is aimed at foreign nationals, not American citizens.

Obama says he increased some of the “safeguards” on the programs after taking office. And he believes they help his administration stop terrorist attacks.

From a political standpoint, these massive data collection efforts the administration’s stated commitment to ending the war on terror pretty hard to believe. They also contradict the president’s former views—he sponsored the SAFE Act, which would have banned them, and talked frequently about the “false choice” of liberty or security during campaigns.

Read More…

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John McCain’s Islamist Photo Op and the Problem with ‘Material Support’

Senator John McCain undermined the point of his trip to Syria—to prove that it really is possible to arm the right rebels and not the wrong ones—by posing with what the Lebanese press has claimed are Islamist kidnappers. Even the reliably hawkish Andrew McCarthy is cracking jokes. Allahpundit gets it right:

… [McCain] actually says at 4:40 that the rebels “are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for for well over 200 years.” It’s one thing to believe that 10 years ago, before a series of exceptionally hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Egypt; it’s another to believe it now. It’s so surreally untrue that it eclipses McCain’s one solid realpolitik-minded argument here, that aiding the Sunni rebellion is a way to weaken Iran and, especially, Hezbollah by bleeding them in a Vietnamish quagmire of their own. We’ve spent two years watching Egypt bend towards Islamism and now here’s Maverick attempting to sell the public again on the idea that Syria’s a liberal democracy in the eventual making if we just pick the right people to empower, knowing full well that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood probably constitutes one of the milder expressions of Islamic fundamentalism among the rebel hordes.

Of course, McCain’s office pushed back hard, saying ”it would be ludicrous to suggest that the senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible.”

But that isn’t really the point. The point is that he didn’t know what sort of people they were and turned out to be wrong.

More troublingly, apart from being inappropriate meddling by the legislative branch in a tense diplomatic situation, McCain’s photo-op could possibly constitute ‘material support’ for terrorists under the PATRIOT Act, as Doug Bandow points out:

Having his photo taken with Islamic extremists could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement, which, based on past cases, could be seen as providing “material support” for terrorism. Presumably that isn’t what Sen. McCain intended. But the law’s application is not based on intent.

To be fair to the rest of us, the Justice Department should investigate. The alternative would be for Senator McCain to launch a legislative effort to restrict the application of the law to what most people would reasonably consider to be aiding terrorists. …

A legislative rewrite obviously would be the best response. Still, as much as I oppose vague and ambiguous criminal enactments by the federal government, I would enjoy seeing Senator McCain in the dock. It would be cosmic justice for his support of the catastrophic invasion in Iraq and endless occupation of Afghanistan.

This vague, sweeping definition of ‘material support‘, defined in the 2010 case Holder v. Humanitarian Law also made the likes of John Bolton, Howard Dean, Tom Ridge, Louis Freeh, and Clarence Page terrorist supporters under the government’s own definition, for giving paid speeches on behalf of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. The Islamo-marxist cult was de-listed late last year after a coordinated lobbying campaign headed up by the agency that represented Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad.

Count me with Bandow in thinking it would have been nice to see some law enforcement agency be consistent enough to arrest and jail any of the above supporters of terrorists, if just to prove a point about the overreach of executive power since 9/11. But why quibble over some abstract principle like equal justice under the law when there are terrorists to fight support?

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Ralph Nader and Bruce Fein Prod Obama to Release Guantanamo Detainees

Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein have released a letter today calling for President Obama to release the 86 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay that have been cleared for transfer.

“No statute or other legal limitation blocks you from this enlightened course of action, which you have commended as who we are as a people. We are supposed to be willing to take risks that other countries shun because we find imprisoning, killing, or otherwise punishing the innocent to be morally reprehensible,” the letter reads.

On Tuesday, Obama promised to reopen discussions with Congress over closing the installation, which he has promised to do since campaigning for president the first time.

The letter arrives in the midst of a hunger strike by Guantanamo detainees, which has led to cases of force-feeding. It comes under the imprimatur of the National Commission on Intelligence Misuse to Justify War, a relatively unknown entity about a year and a half old, registered to the same address as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. Tony Shaffer sits on its board.

Earlier this year, Nader and Fein also released letters calling for a pardon of whistleblower John Kiriakou and for the Harvard Law Review to take the president’s constitutional abuses more seriously.

Here’s the rest of it:

Ralph Nader and Bruce Fein’s letter to Obama on Guantanamo

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Smearing Richard Falk

Amazing for its viciousness and rank dishonesty is the campaign waged against UN special rapporteur for human rights in occupied Palestine Richard Falk for making some pretty straightforward “blowback” points in the aftermath of the Boston terrorist attack.  Falk’s piece is here; written before the perpetrators were discovered, it notes chiefly the relative calm compared to 9/11, and the greater reflectiveness of many of the callers to PBS and other venues, who noted (as have several other commentators) that many innocents are also victims of American violence. Falk also laments what he perceives as Obama’s apparent obeisance to Israel and fears a war with Iran. Falk is a lucid and often deep thinker, but this was not an unusual piece.

Yet the old and venerable Falk (he was a prominent international law professor when I was in college, a very long time ago) had enemies lying in wait. Within a few days a well-funded neocon group called UN Watch and its various media allies had ginned up an intense public relations campaign, based on falsifying the meaning of his piece, using ellipses to distort its sentences, to claim that Falk had said that the Boston victims somehow deserved their fate. Phan Nguyen at Mondoweiss records in meticulous detail the contours of the misrepresentation campaign here. UN Watch’s rendering of Falk got assistance from the New York Post and someone from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and they obviously sent out a lot of messages to politicians, diplomats, and UN functionaries  claiming (falsely) that Falk had blamed Israel and America for the terror attack, while asking them to respond. Many politicians responded as you would think they would, with US UN ambassador Susan Rice calling for Falk to be stripped of his post. (One shudders to imagine this spineless creature as Secretary of State.)

The question is why. I don’t believe that Professor Falk has any particular power or influence as the UN rapporteur for Palestine, and I’m not sure if his reports have saved a single Palestinian olive tree or water cistern from Israeli destruction. I’d like to be mistaken. If the reason is simply ideological, it’s difficult to believe that Israel lobby is all that concerned about people who say that if the United States persists in fighting what appears to Muslims as a war against Islam, with drones and whatnot, some Muslims  are going to become radicalized and do evil in return. A young Yemeni made precisely that point before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee early this week, and he was treated respectfully—despite much senatorial grandstanding. Americans are ready to at least entertain the notion that a violent foreign policy (even one that uses drones autopiloted from the sanitary airconditioned confines of Nevada)  can produce blowback. Glenn Greenwald argued the point here.

The smear campaign was probably started not because what Falk wrote was ridiculous but because it was reasonable. He commited the additional offense of mentioning Israel’s obvious efforts to ignite an American war with Iran. My guess is that UN Watch and its allies thought Boston provided an opportunity, that there would be enough righteous anger at the perpetrators of the terrorist attack to open a window where a smear campaign might work. If Falk could be forced out, it would illustrate their power to punish dissent and control the American discourse. Lo and behold, they got Susan Rice to endorse them.

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Chechens and American Hawks, an Interesting Alliance

In an important column, Justin Raimondo explores further the Chechen connection, which is not only the path to the older Tsarnaev brother’s radicalization but a Cold War leftover inside the Beltway and a cause dear to many neoconservatives. Because the Chechens are anti-Russian, they have many friends in Washington. Enough perhaps to influence the FBI to take Russian warnings of Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s terrorist connections with a grain of salt.


The problem is that the Chechen “freedom fighters” are US allies, along with their ideological compatriots in Libya and Syria. When the Chechen rebel “foreign minister,” Ilyas Akmadov,” applied for political asylum in the US, the Department of Homeland Security nixed the idea – but were overruled by a bipartisan coalition of political heavyweights, including Madeleine Albright, Alexander Haig, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain. In a letter of endorsement, Albright gushed that Akhmadov is “devoted to peace, not terrorism.” McCain wrote: “I have found him to be a proponent of peace and human rights in Chechnya.”


Although support for the Chechen independence movement is bipartisan, that troublesome little sect known as the neoconservatives has actively backed the Chechen cause from the get-go: an impressive list of prominent neocons, including Bill Kristol, sits on the board of the Chechens’ principal US propaganda outfit, the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (formerly the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya). According to Glen Howard, head of the Jamestown Foundation, a neocon outfit focused on Central Asia, the Chechens aren’t Islamist terrorists, they’re just cuddly “nationalists” rebelling against a Russia that has gone “fascist.” “The Russians are trying to treat Chechen separatism through the prism of 9/11 and terror rather than as a nationalist movement that has been defying Kremlin rule for 200 years,” says Howard. This analytical premise, however, doesn’t seem to apply to, say, Afghanistan.

This may explain why the FBI didn’t put Tamarlan Tsarnaev under surveillance after Russian intelligence informed them that he held six(!) meetings with a Chechen Salafist militant during his trip to Dagestan. There may well be  a lot of  opportunities for self-radicalization via the Internet for alienated young Sunni Muslims, but in this case there is also a real trail to leading to established foreign groups with a record of terrorism. The trouble seems to be that the FBI ignored it, despite specific warnings. Why?

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Sunni and Shi’a Terror: A Difference That Matters

Regardless of what we find about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s stay in Dagestan, the Boston Marathon case illustrates that we will not soon be done with terrorism inspired by Sunni Salafist doctrines. The Tsarnaevs had no understandable grievances, were not avenging the deaths of  relatives, were fighting for no territory. They were apparently young men having trouble finding a place of psychic belonging in the world, and they had access to the internet and found the doctrine of Salafist jihad. Under such circumstances, there may always be some takers. Police work will help, and so will limiting immigration.  But unlike that large portion of  terrorism connected to concrete and plausible political goals, from the Stern Gang to the IRA, the FLN to the Tamil Tigers to the Kurds to various Palestinian groups, this phenomenon seems truly mindless.

Andrew Sullivan wrote last week about the Tsarnaevs:

A little lost in modernity; finding meaning in the most extreme forms of religion; in many ways assimilated by the West but finding new ways to feel deeply, internally alienated by it: this is a classic profile of an Internet Jihadist. And there is nothing traditional about this religion. It’s hyper-modern, spread online and combustible with any other personal dramas.

We will probably have no choice but to  live with it, just as the United States seems prepared  to live with  homegrown mentally ill loner gunman having access to automatic weapons.

The same week the Tsarnaevs took over the news cycle, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved  the so-called “back door to war” resolution, described by Paul Pillar as “an open invitation to Israel to start a war with Iran and to drag the United States into that war.” Read More…

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