15 Years, And An Eternity

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  On this quiet Sunday, many Americans will recall the horror of that awful day, the nightmarish quality of the footage of crashing planes and burning, collapsing buildings, and the heroism of those who responded to the worst attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor.

dsc03553Fifteen years is not a long time, but it’s long enough to begin to assess the historical significance of 9/11 — and it is becoming clear that our world was dramatically changed, and probably permanently, on that fateful day.  In the years since, terrorist attacks on America and the rest of western world have, unfortunately, become commonplace.  An enormous security apparatus has been created to try to protect us from future assaults, and in our zeal to achieve such protection we’ve authorized incursions into our personal liberties that would not have seemed plausible during the carefree ’90s.  We’re routinely scanned, videotaped, patted down, and probed these days.  And the threat of terrorism and security issues also have created new perspectives on formerly run of the mill political issues — like immigration.

When 9/11 happened, it was a terrible shock, but we did not know what the future would bring.  There was resolution, of course, but also a sense of hope — hope that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda could be defeated, and hope that the world could return to what it was.  Now we have 15 years of history under our belts, and it seems that such hopes will not be realized.  Even as the fight against terrorism has killed bin Laden and decimated al Qaeda, new groups like ISIS, fueled by a hateful perversion of the Islamic faith, have sprung up and become committed to destroying western culture and imposing violent, intolerant, medieval policies in its place.  With each new shooting, bombing, and attack in San Bernardino, or Paris, or Brussels, all committed by people radicalized by their indoctrination into dark ideologies, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is not a fight that can be conclusively declared to be won, but instead a long, constant struggle against loathsome groups, cells, and individuals that just want to inflict harm and are perfectly comfortable with killing innocents to achieve their twisted goals.  America and its western allies simply need to continue that desperate fight against the forces of evil.

Fifteen years later, we are dealing with a sobering reality.  Fifteen years is not a long time, but the world of 9/10 seems like an eternity ago.

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The Embassy Closures

The United States closed 21 of its embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa on Sunday, and most of those facilities will remain closed this week.

As usual, our government seems incapable of speaking with one voice on exactly why it has taken such a step.  The State Department says the closures are “out of an abundance of caution” and not in response to a new threat, whereas talking heads on the Sunday shows said the closures were in response to the most serious threat identified by intelligence-gathering efforts in several years.  There also has been an apparent intelligence leak disclosing that the United States reportedly intercepted an exchange of messages between al Qaeda leaders about a plot against an embassy.

Although I wish our government could get its act together on messaging, I don’t see a viable alternative to closing the embassies.  If we have received credible intelligence information that our embassies and consulates in the Muslim world are targets of an impending attack, there are few options.  Physical security arrangements can’t be enhanced overnight; far better to get our people out of harm’s way until better information about the threat is developed.  Although some people may criticize that course as showing weakness, it seems like the only prudent option.  We don’t need another Benghazi-like situation.

The deeper issue here is what this apparent threat means about al Qaeda itself.  With the killing of Osama bin Laden and the publicized deaths of countless “high-ranking al Qaeda leaders” over the years, we’ve been led to believe that al Qaeda has been severely diminished.  If al Qaeda is capable of attacking an American embassy, that fact suggests a resurgent organization — or one about whom the reports of decline have been greatly exaggerated.  If the former is true, how much of the resurgence is due to the bad feelings generated by the continuing American presence in the Middle East and our aggressive use of drones?

The recognition of substantial al Qaeda capabilities that is implicit in the decision to close the embassies is sobering, to say the least.

Many Questions To Be Answered, Publically And Quickly (IV)

I’m glad to see reports that Senate Democrats are joining their Republican colleagues in asking the Obama Administration to answer questions about what happened in Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

As the story from The Hill linked above shows, the Obama Administration’s story about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi remains vague and unfocused; today Administration aptly described the Administration position as “evolving.”   The Administration seems to have backed away from its initial position that the attack was the result of unplanned demonstrations about a YouTube video, and has begun to use words like terrorism and even, apparently, al Qaeda to describe the attack.  It’s long past time that full disclosure should be made, including communications between Ambassador Stevens and the U.S. State Department about security and terrorism issues in Libya and planning related to security at U.S. installations.

As the participation of Senate Democrats indicates, what happened in Benghazi is not a partisan political issue.  Instead, it is a national security issue, a sovereignty issue, and also an issue of fairness to American diplomatic personnel across the world.  We need to ensure that our people are adequately protected and that our government is reacting prudently and appropriately to threats and warnings.  As far as I am concerned, meaningful congressional hearings into the disastrous Benghazi incident cannot begin soon enough.

Lipstick on a Pig

This week marked the end of the Iraq war and I am in agreement with Bob’s post earlier this week that the president should not be touting this war as a foreign policy success.

During the time prior to March 20, 2003 when we initially invaded Iraq we were told that this would be a quick war, that we would be greeted as liberators, that the war would be paid for in full by Iraq’s oil revenues, that Iraq had connections to al-Qaeda and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

What ended up happening was the war lasted almost ten years, we were considered occupiers by many in the Arab world, we ended up paying $2.7 trillion in conflict spending ($4.4 trillion if you add in obligations to wounded veterans and interest payments on the money we had to borrow to fund the war), there were no connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda and Saddam’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons were discontinued in 1991.

It’s not surprising that John McCain came out against the president’s decision to withdraw having said in the past that it was fine with him if we were in Iraq for one hundred years since we have been in Japan for sixty years and in South Korea for fifty years. It’s this kind of thinking that I voted against in 2008.

Below is a brief exchange between Senator McCain and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about a month ago regarding the Iraqi withdrawal that shows a stark contrast between the current administration’s foreign policy and McCain’s had he become president.

I particularly liked Panetta’s comment where he says “we need to stop telling independent nations what they need to do”. The Iraq War turned out to be a pig and putting lipstick on it just isn’t pretty.

Token Drawdown

Within the next few weeks the President will make what I believe is a very important announcement as to the number of troops he plans to have brought home from Afghanistan. Currently we have approximately 100,000 troops there and we have been fighting the war there since October 7, 2001.

It is hard to believe that this October we will have been there ten years and the estimated final date of withdrawal has now been pushed back to 2014. If all goes according to plan we will have been in Afghanistan for a minimum of thirteen years, but I have my doubts and we will probably be there longer.

I saw where John McCain weighed in and said he believes we should bring home only 3,000 of our troops and that we can still win this war. I understand the fact that we don’t want the loss of life of our soldiers that have died there to be in vain, but does anyone honestly believe that we are winning anything ?

Last week the Congress held a vote which would have attached a mandate to the $690 billion supplemental defense bill spending (estimates are that being in Afghanistan is costing us $3 billion a week) for 2012 requiring the negotiation of a political solution and reconciliation in Afghanistan along with an intelligence estimate as to the number of al Qaeda we are still fighting. Its been reported that most of al Qaeda have moved into Pakistan over the past ten years.

The house vote was mostly along party lines with 178 Democrats supporting the bill with 26 Republicans joining them. All opposed were of course Republicans. Recent polls show that 70% of Americans believe it’s time for us to get out and I am one of that 70%. The frustrating thing is that if 70% of Americans believe this why can’t we get a simple majority in Congress to force the mandate I have mentioned above. The problem I think is no moderate politicians.

I was listening to a conversation last night between two individuals and one said to the other, it’s not like we are losing thousands of American lives over in Afghanistan we are only losing a few every couple of days. Have we become so callous that most of us now think this way ? I hope not.

Whenever I read in the paper of more war dead I think of the picture above, some ones mother, some ones father, some ones aunt, some ones uncle, some ones sister or some ones brother. It’s only my humble opinion, but I am comfortable that our mission / objective in Afghanistan is done so the faster we bring our troops home the better.

Osama’s “Rights”

The BBC is reporting that some of the sons of Osama bin Laden have given a statement to the New York Times protesting that their father was not captured alive and put on trial.  They say that a trial was needed so that “truth is revealed to the people of the world.”

Sorry, boys, but you’re not going to find any sympathy for that position from this quarter.  Osama bin Laden himself was a mass killer who showed no regard for international law or the rights of the innocent victims of 9/11 who were killed in cold blood for no reason — or the rights of any of the other victims of the many terrorist acts that al Qaeda planned, bankrolled, or executed over the years at bin Laden’s direction.  Nor do I think old mumble-mouth was much known for “truth.”  For his many confessed crimes, Osama bin Laden deserved to die.  I’m not among those who are squeamish about the circumstances of his death or the way in which his remains were disposed of.

There’s not only a silly double standard at play here.  I suspect that many of those who argue that the United States should have engaged in heroic measures to take bin Laden alive and should have put him on trial are simply sorry that bin Laden, ever the egoist who enjoyed watching himself pontificate, did not get a final chance to occupy the world’s stage in a protracted trial that would become a circus and a forum for his violent, anti-western philosophies.  I’m glad that he didn’t get that opportunity, and that he left this world without so much as a whimper.  It was a fitting end for a bad, bad man.

Don’t Disclose The Photos

Normally I am a proponent of full disclosure of government documents, government meetings, and government decisions. In the case of the bin Laden death photos, however, I agree with the President that the prudent course is to not release them to the press and public.

I don’t agree with the President that releasing the photos would be like “spiking the football.”  It is a close question, and I don’t think the people who favor of disclosure (or most of them, anyway) are doing so because they want to rub bin Laden’s death in the noses of terrorists and al Qaeda sympathizers.  Instead, the three main pro-disclosure arguments seem to be that (1) doing so will avoid conspiracy theories about the fact of bin Laden’s death, (2) disclosure favors legitimate interests in transparency (and the photos are sure to be leaked eventually), and (3) there is no reason to treat bin Laden differently from mobsters who were gunned down and whose gruesome death photos have long been part of the public record.

I understand these reasons, but I don’t agree with them.  There is no need to release the photos to avoid conspiracy theories.  Members of bin Laden’s family have confirmed that he was shot and killed.  We’re kidding ourselves if we think releasing the photos is going to prevent nuts from developing nutty scenarios; they will just claim the photos were Photoshopped or use the photos to spin some other web of conspiracy.  Nor should the call for transparency trump everything else; the government has a legitimate interest in keeping some things secret. And bin Laden’s situation is different from that of a gangster — the St. Valentine’s Day massacre didn’t pose a risk of inflaming the sensibilities of millions of people in faraway parts of the world where American soldiers are currently engaged in hostile operations.

The short of it is, we don’t need to release the photos, and there are reasons of military advantage and good taste not to do so.  It is not as if the government hasn’t disclosed the facts of bin Laden’s death — it is just withholding one particularly gruesome piece of the record in the interests of decency.  Years from now, perhaps, when the furor has died down and soldiers are out of harm’s way, the photos can make their way into the public record.