Powered by WebAds

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

I am running a bit behind - a phenomenon that may continue as what appears to be an insane week continues.

Here is Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Friday, September 9.
1) If only we had invited Bin Laden to a campfire to roast marshmallows and sing "Kumbaya."

A professor of philosophy (I think his discipline would more correctly be called "sophistry"), Simon Critchley writes in the Opinionator column of the New York Times, The Cycle of Revenge:
I’ve never understood the proverbial wisdom that revenge is a dish best served cold. Some seem to like it hot. Better is the Chinese proverb, attributed to Confucius, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Osama bin Laden’s grave was watery, but the other still appears empty. Is it intended for us?

Revenge is the desire to repay an injury or a wrong by inflicting harm, often the violent sort. If you hit me, I will hit you back. Furthermore, by the logic of revenge, I am right to hit you back. The initial wrong justifies the act of revenge. But does that wrong really make it right for me to hit back? Once we act out of revenge, don’t we become mired in a cycle of violence and counterviolence with no apparent end? Such is arguably our current predicament.
Fine, but was going to war with Al Qaeda motivated by revenge, or by an interest in self defense. After all an Al Qaeda on defense doesn't have the same capacity for offense. This is like those so-called experts who claim that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is geared towards making Hamas less popular. No doubt any action Israel takes that can undermine Hamas politically is good, but Israel's primary goal is interdicting the flow of weapons. Here too, fighting Al Qaeda may have an element of revenge to it, but the primary goal is to degrade Al Qaeda's capacity.

I won't respond to the whole argument, but later Critchley writes:
This is exactly what Bin Laden hoped to bring about. He admits that Al Qaeda spent $500,000 on the 9/11 attacks, while estimating that the United States lost, at the lowest estimate, $500 billion in the event and the aftermath. He even does the math, “That makes a million American dollars for every Al Qaeda dollar, by the grace of God Almighty.” He concludes, ominously, “This shows the success of our plan to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy, with God’s will.”
Like it or not (I don’t like it at all), Bin Laden had a point. The last 10 years of unending war on terror has also led, at least partly, to the utter financial precariousness that we see at every level of life in the United States: federal, state, city and individuals laden with debt. We are bankrupt.
But why grant Bin Laden some sick posthumous victory?
Charles Krauthammer, in his latest The 9/11 "overreaction?" Nonsense addresses most of this idiocy, but on this specific point, Krauthammer writes:
Perhaps, says the new conventional wisdom, but these exertions have bankrupted the country and led to our current mood of despair and decline.
Rubbish. The total cost of “the two wars” is $1.3 trillion. That’s less than 1/11th of the national debt, less than one year of Obama deficit spending. During the golden Eisenhower 1950s of robust economic growth averaging 5 percent annually, defense spending was 11 percent of GDP and 60 percent of the federal budget. Today, defense spending is 5 percent of GDP and 20 percent of the budget. So much for imperial overstretch.
Yes, we are approaching bankruptcy. But this has as much to do with the war on terror as do sunspots. Looming insolvency comes not from our shrinking defense budget but from the explosion of entitlements. They devour nearly half the federal budget.
All in all an excellent rebuttal to Critchley's nonsense.

2) "Turnip Truck Tom" Friedman blasts New York Times for aiding Qaddafi

I'm no fan of Thomas Friedman, but he makes one good point in his recent column, The Whole Truth and Nothing But:
How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time. He claimed that his people loved him. He also controlled the flow of information to his people to prevent any alternative narrative taking hold.
This is a fascinating indictment of his own paper, because until the New York Times discovered that Qaddafi was a really bad guy, the paper had helped the Libyan leader and his family spread those very lies.

For example, four years ago, a NEWS article in the New York Times featured a fawning profile of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, A Son Radiates His Own Light in His Father’s Libya which included this precious description:
The man — part scholar, part monk, part model, part policy wonk — was Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the powerful 33-year-old son of Libya’s extroverted and impulsive president, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. He is, in short, the un-Qaddafi.
Yes, the same man who just a few months ago was promising a fight to the end, was the "un-Qaddafi."

And just two years ago the same Saif, in an op-ed at the Times, No ‘Hero’s Welcome’ in Libya, told us:
Mr. Megrahi was released for the right reasons. The Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, freed Mr. Megrahi, who is dying of cancer, on compassionate grounds. Mr. MacAskill’s courageous decision demonstrates to the world that both justice and compassion can be achieved by people of good will. Despite the uproar over the release, others agree. A recent survey of Scottish lawyers showed that a majority of those surveyed agreed with the secretary’s decision.
No mention of how many Scottish doctors thought that Megrahi had no more than 3 months to live as we were assured at the time. Two years later Megrahi is still alive. His imminent death was a con that the New York Times abetted.

A few months earlier his father, Moammar, also wrote an op-ed, The One State Solution, which despite moments of lucidity - mentioning Israel's lack of strategic depth and arguing that the Palestinians left on their own accord in 1948 - was a prescription for the end of the Jewish State:
If the present interdependence and the historical fact of Jewish-Palestinian coexistence guide their leaders, and if they can see beyond the horizon of the recent violence and thirst for revenge toward a long-term solution, then these two peoples will come to realize, I hope sooner rather than later, that living under one roof is the only option for a lasting peace.
Friedman was correct, dictators need lies and his own paper was willing to publish Qaddafi's lies. I know that the Times values "debate" but when one debater is a tyrant or a terrorist is, it is reasonable to assume that he is lying. Giving him a forum thus strengthens the scoundrel and debases the forum. I don't think that Friedman meant to criticize his paper. He doesn't have the self awareness that he was spreading a dictator's lies, when he first reported the supposed Saudi "peace plan" in 2002. He certainly wouldn't recognize that the Times did the same thing.

3) What they wrote 10 years ago

Above I cite the most recent columns by Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Friedman. Now Friedman laments the lost decade:
Why has this been a lost decade? An answer can be found in one simple comparison: How Dwight Eisenhower and his successors used the cold war and how George W. Bush used 9/11. America had to face down the Russians in the cold war. America had to respond to 9/11 and the threat of Al Qaeda. But the critical difference between the two was this: Beginning with Eisenhower and continuing to some degree with every cold war president, we used the cold war and the Russian threat as a reason and motivator to do big, hard things together at home — to do nation-building in America. We used it to build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, push out the boundaries of science, teach new languages, maintain fiscal discipline and, when needed, raise taxes. We won the cold war with collective action.
George W. Bush did the opposite. He used 9/11 as an excuse to lower taxes, to start two wars that — for the first time in our history — were not paid for by tax increases, and to create a costly new entitlement in Medicare prescription drugs. Imagine where we’d be today if on the morning of 9/12 Bush had announced (as some of us advocated) a “Patriot Tax” of $1 per gallon of gas to pay for education, infrastructure and government research, to help finance our wars and to slash our dependence on Middle East oil. Gasoline in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, averaged $1.66 a gallon.
Friedman uses his domestic preferences to criticize President Bush. Given that the war was a military and foreign policy issue, not a domestic one his criticism is a non sequitir. Furthermore any time Friedman calls for sacrifice, it rubs me the wrong way. Simply put, he does not practice what he preaches.

But what did he write 10 years ago? His first column after 9/11 was World War III. He made a strong point here:
First we have to prove that we are serious, and that we understand that many of these terrorists hate our existence, not just our policies. In June I wrote a column about the fact that a few cell-phone threats from Osama bin Laden had prompted President Bush to withdraw the F.B.I. from Yemen, a U.S. Marine contingent from Jordan and the U.S. Fifth Fleet from its home base in the Persian Gulf [See more on this below. CiJ]. This U.S. retreat was noticed all over the region, but it did not merit a headline in any major U.S. paper. That must have encouraged the terrorists. Forget about our civilians, we didn't even want to risk our soldiers to face their threats.
(Here's CNN's report on Yemen.)

His second point was also on target:
Second, we have been allowing a double game to go on with our Middle East allies for years, and that has to stop. A country like Syria has to decide: Does it want a Hezbollah embassy in Damascus or an American one? If it wants a U.S. embassy, then it cannot play host to a rogue's gallery of terrorist groups.

Does that mean the U.S. must ignore Palestinian concerns and Muslim economic grievances? No. Many in this part of the world crave the best of America, and we cannot forget that we are their ray of hope. But apropos of the Palestinians, the U.S. put on the table at Camp David a plan that would have gotten Yasir Arafat much of what he now claims to be fighting for. That U.S. plan may not be sufficient for Palestinians, but to say that the justifiable response to it is suicide terrorism is utterly sick.
These are generally solid ideas, but in subsequent years, he hasn't stuck with them. His third idea was also correct:
Third, we need to have a serious and respectful dialogue with the Muslim world and its political leaders about why many of its people are falling behind. The fact is, no region in the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, has fewer freely elected governments than the Arab-Muslim world, which has none. Why? Egypt went through a whole period of self- criticism after the 1967 war, which produced a stronger country. Why is such self-criticism not tolerated today by any Arab leader?
Though I have no idea if he's correct about Egypt after 1967, he's right on the other counts. But even if he was mostly correct in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, these are not views he's stuck with. His prevailing view is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the center of the problems of the Middle East even as he acknowledges here, that America needed to take a stronger approach to the Arab Muslim world.

The next day Friedman had a chance to think and wrote, Smoking or non-Smoking,which, unfortunately was marred by his usual platitudes and half-baked analogies.
Mr. Peres is on to something -- this sort of division is going to emerge -- but we must be very, very careful about how it is done, and whom we, the U.S., assign to the smoking and non-smoking worlds.
As Mr. Peres himself notes, this is not a clash of civilizations -- the Muslim world versus the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish worlds. The real clash today is actually not between civilizations, but within them -- between those Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one. We make a great mistake if we simply write off the Muslim world and fail to understand how many Muslims feel themselves trapped in failing states and look to America as a model and inspiration.
Unlike Friedman, Charles Krauthammer does not view the past decade as lost:
In the end: 10 years, no second attack (which everyone assumed would come within months). That testifies to the other great achievement of the decade: the defensive anti-terror apparatus hastily constructed from scratch after 9/11 by President Bush, and then continued by President Obama. Continued why? Because it worked. It kept us safe — the warrantless wiretaps, the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, preventive detention and, yes, Guantanamo.
Krauthammer's first column after 9/11 was To War not to Court, which was straightforward.
You bring criminals to justice; you rain destruction on combatants. This is a fundamental distinction that can no longer be avoided. The bombings of Sept. 11, 2001, must mark a turning point. War was long ago declared on us. Until we declare war in return, we will have thousands of more innocent victims.
We no longer have to search for a name for the post-Cold War era. It will henceforth be known as the age of terrorism. Organized terror has shown what it can do: execute the single greatest massacre in American history, shut down the greatest power on the globe and send its leaders into underground shelters. All this, without even resorting to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
This is a formidable enemy. To dismiss it as a bunch of cowards perpetrating senseless acts of violence is complacent nonsense. People willing to kill thousands of innocents while they kill themselves are not cowards. They are deadly, vicious warriors and need to be treated as such. Nor are their acts of violence senseless. They have a very specific aim: to avenge alleged historical wrongs and to bring the great American satan to its knees.
His next was more of the same. It was originally titled We need moral clarity and it emphasized those who were confusing the situation even then:
Moral obtuseness is not restricted to intellectuals. I was subjected to a High Holiday sermon by a guest rabbi warning the congregation, exactly seven days after our generation's Pearl Harbor, against "oversimplifying" by dividing the world into "good guys and bad guys."
Oversimplifying? Has there ever been a time when the distinction between good and evil was more clear?
And where are the Muslim clerics--in the United States, Europe and the Middle East--who should be joining together to make that distinction with loud unanimity? Where are their fatwas against suicide murder? Where are the authoritative communal declarations that these crimes are contrary to Islam?
Ten years ago Charles Krauthammer saw a need to fight and is now satisfied that the fight has been (mostly) won. Thomas Friedman after briefly taking a rational look at things saw a need for understanding; ten years later he considers the decade lost.
Regarding the Fifth Fleet claim by Friedman, a retired Naval officer writes by email:
There was no "withdrawal" of the Fifth Fleet from the Persian Gulf. That is categorically false. I'm sure it's because Friedman didn't know any better, but it shouldn't be counted in a "good point." It is accurate to say that the Marine contingent was pulled out of Jordan. The FBI profile in Yemen was lowered, but the FBI wasn't withdrawn. There is an FBI presence in the US delegation in virtually every nation, and there continued to be one in Yemen. Its size was reduced.

Regarding the Fifth Fleet, its HQ in Bahrain was put on high terrorist threat alert twice in 2001 prior to 9/11, as was the US embassy in Manama. The "few cell-phone threats from Osama" were suspected to be the prelude to another bombing attack like the ones in Kenya, Tanzania, and Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. The concern was for the safety of personnel ashore and their families. During one of the alerts, family members of both embassy and Navy personnel were sent back to the US because of the immediacy of the perceived threat. The embassy reduced hours and services, but the Fifth Fleet activities continued on a normal basis (other than the extremely tight perimeter security). No facilities were closed and no capital equipment was removed from Bahrain. The number of Fifth Fleet ships, submarines, and reconnaissance aircraft in the Persian Gulf actually increased.

Although the threat was considered less likely against our Air Force facility in Kuwait (this was prior to having huge bases in Qatar and Iraq), security was tightened there as well. (We were still directing and flying in the No-fly zone enforcement operation in Iraq.) Security was also tightened at the embassies and residence compounds in the rest of the area. Embassy families in the Gulf nations weren't having much fun. Funds were made available for voluntary evacuations for family members, but the evacuations weren't mandatory as they were in Bahrain.

I was assigned to US CENTCOM HQ throughout this period and, in the intelligence directorate, monitored the threat along with the status of our Defense and embassy personnel ashore. The "few cell-phone threats from Osama" turned out to be the prelude not to a bombing overseas, but to the 9/11 attacks.

Last point: the useless American responses to the USS Cole bombing in 2000, the embassy attacks in Africa in 1998, the US barracks attack in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and WTC I in 1993 made a far bigger impression on Islamist terrorists than the terrorist threat alerts in 2001. So did the Marine Barracks in Lebanon in the '80s, for that matter. Friedman could have mentioned our inertia after the actual, high profile attacks, but he chose to focus on what happened after 20 Jan 2001. Check his piece at David's link. He doesn't make the obvious point about the attacks in the 1990s at all. He confines himself to (1) decrying the measures taken during the terrorist threat alerts under Bush, and (2) the inevitable reductio ad Palestinium.

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 11:26 AM, Blogger Ashan said...

Friedman probably doesn't realize the irony implicit in his words about Kadhafi:
"How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time. He claimed that his people loved him. He also controlled the flow of information to his people to prevent any alternative narrative taking hold."

These words can easily apply to Friedman's beloved Obama. An imperious, ideology-driven demagogue, Obama has exhibited throughout his short, yet disastrous and devastating rampage on American society and its founding values, to be utterly incapable of telling the truth. Time and again he vents his hatred, to the point of calling for revenge, against those who harbor contrary positions or call out his variances with the truth.

I would posit that Barry Hussein is a far bigger and more insidious liar than the despised Kadhafi.


Post a Comment

<< Home