Thursday, September 29, 2005

Shadowland: Guilt by Association

A Spanish court has jailed the reporter who interviewed bin Laden after 9/11. What his conviction says about the dangerous ambiguities of pursuing journalistic balance in an age of terror.

By Christopher Dickey
Updated: 4:10 p.m. ET Sept. 29, 2005
Sept. 29, 2005 - When I asked the waiter for a glass of wine, I saw the man across the table from me recoil ever so slightly, as if I were testing him. Which, in a way, I was. We were ordering lunch in the old Jewish quarter of Granada, Spain, at the Torquato Restaurant (his choice). Across a narrow valley the palace and the paradisiacal gardens of the Alhambra stood as tribute to the glories of the Muslim caliphate that ruled this part of Europe for more than 700 years. But I hadn’t come for historical tourism on that afternoon of Jan. 11, 2001. I had been working to set up a meeting in faraway Afghanistan with a reputed terrorist mastermind named Osama bin Laden. I’d been told that my luncheon guest, Tayseer Alouni, a naturalized Spaniard whose family lived in Granada but who worked for Al-Jazeera television in Kabul, might have the connections to make that happen.
Indeed. On Monday of this week a Spanish court sentenced the Syrian-born Alouni to seven years in prison after convicting him of collaborating with Al Qaeda. At the same trial, 17 other alleged members of an Islamist cell, part of which prosecutors linked to planning for the September 11 attacks on the United States, received sentences ranging up to 27 years. ...

Iraq: Suicide Notes

Anyone who's read much Jihadist literature will be struck by the weirdly chivalric tone of it. These guys love to see themselves as heirs of Salah el-Din, whose knights fought and defeated the Crusaders to re-take Jerusalem. If you've seen Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven," it will give you some notion of that vision. There's much of the same spirit in the biographies sketched by this fascinating New Republic article:

THE ONLINE BIOS OF IRAQ'S "MARTYRS."Suicidologyby Husain Haqqani & Daniel Kimmage Post date 09.26.05 Issue date 10.03.05

n 2003, a 26-year-old Moroccan who called himself Abu Osama Al Maghribi took the proceeds from the restaurant he owned with his father in Tangier and went to Baghdad. There, Al Maghribi, who named his own son Osama in honor of Osama bin Laden, turned a car purchased with his restaurant money and the sale of a plot of land he owned into a weapon of jihad. A friend who accompanied him describes what happened: "Abu Osama came back and got his bride--his car--and flew ahead of me. I was behind him, in my car. There was a lot of traffic, and he started to maneuver between the cars as though he were on a race track going for first place. I couldn't keep up. My strength flagged, I stopped the car, and I cried. I saw him pulling away from me and drawing nearer to his target. His heart grew still to tear out the criminal hearts. He will be blessed, and the criminals will face hardship; he will rise, and they will fall. I saw a column of smoke rise 20 meters into the sky amid a deafening roar. He felled 50 infidels."
This account comes from "The Martyrs of the Land of the Two Rivers," a collection of 430 biographies of insurgents who are connected by conviction, if not organization, to a global jihad symbolized by Al Qaeda. As suicide bombings--not to be confused with other insurgent groups like Sunni Baathists--continue to rock Iraq on an almost daily basis (including a dozen that took place on a single day, September 14), these biographies provide the most extensive account thus far of how these jihadists see their mission. ...

Dealing in Death

Web site: U.S. troops traded Iraq photos for porn access
No evidence of felony, Army says

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau
Wednesday, September 28, 2005; Posted: 1:54 p.m. EDT (17:54 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Army is investigating reports that troops took photographs of dead Iraqis and traded them to a pornographic Web site in return for access to that site, Army sources said Wednesday...

Given the reluctance of the American government and most media to show the corpses of the war's victims, and the inclination of the American public to change the channel if they do, there is something horribly appropriate about the way these soldiers and that site came to equate cadavers and pornography. -- CD

Classic Bin Laden

TAYSEER ALOUNI: What do you think of the so-called "war of civilizations"? You always keep repeating "crusaders" and words like that all the time. Does that mean you support the war of civilizations?

BIN LADEN: No doubt about that...

Al Jazeera television correspondent Tayseer Alouni was convicted in Spain this week for allegedly collaborating with Al Qaeda. My Shadowland column will look at the case in detail, and its impact on press coverage, later today. If you want to delve deeper, you should start with the full transcript of Alouni's interview with Bin Laden in October 2001. - CD

Iraq: Playing by the Numbers

The 'Second' Man
The slain Abu Azzam may not have been Zarqawi’s top deputy after all. Will his death have any effect on the Iraq insurgency?

By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Updated: 4:31 p.m. ET Sept. 28, 2005
Sept. 28, 2005 - U.S. intelligence officials and counterterrorism analysts are questioning whether a slain terrorist—described by President Bush today as the “second-most-wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq”—was as significant a figure as the Bush administration is claiming....

See below. - CD

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Al Qaeda's Comeback Artists

This from The Washington Post report on the killing of Zarqawi's supposed Number Two:

...U.S. and Iraqi officials said Abu Azzam was killed Sept. 25 during a raid on his hideout in a high-rise apartment building in Baghdad when he refused to surrender to Iraqi and American troops.
The officials identified Abu Azzam as the operational commander for al Qaeda in Iraq, a group led by Zarqawi, whose insurgent network has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in the country.
A statement purportedly posted on an Islamist Web site Tuesday by al Qaeda in Iraq denied that Abu Azzam was Zarqawi's deputy and said the group was not yet sure if he had been killed. The statement called him "an al Qaeda soldier who heads one of al Qaeda's units operating in Baghdad." The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be confirmed.
"By taking Abu Azzam off the street, another close associate of Zarqawi, we have dealt another serious blow to Zarqawi's terrorist organization," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for coalition forces, said in a statement....

The problem is, we've been here before. In January, as Newsweek reported at the time, an Iraqi general claimed to have rounded up key Al Qaeda operatives after a suicide bomber miraculously survived, was meticulously interrogated, and named a lot of names:

...General Kamal says information supplied by al-Shayea helped Coalition forces round up several of Zarqawi's key lieutenants within a matter of days.
Among them is Abu Umar al-Kurdi, real name Sami Muhammad Saeed al-Jafi, a terrorist demolition man who confessed to 32 car bombings over the last two years. Even if Zarqawi continues to elude capture, nailing al-Kurdi was a critical score. It might—just might—eventually help change the course of this war that has seemed to defy political or military solutions, despite last weekend's elections, and despite an enormous toll in blood that included the loss just last week of 31 Americans in a nighttime helicopter crash.

The situation is not noticeably better today. Indeed it's notably worse.--CD

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Iraq: The Usual (Innocent) Suspects

Larry Kaplow, a correspondent with Cox Newspapers, has about as much experience on the ground in occupied Iraq as any American reporter. His articles appear frequently in The Austin-American Statesman, from deep in the heart of the war to deep in the heart of Texas. Anyone who wants to keep track of unfolding events and vital details in this conflict should be reading Larry's reporting:

Detention of Iraqis may be fueling insurgency
Those arrested by U.S. military usually have done nothing wrong; many come away with new resentment.

By Larry Kaplow
Sunday, September 11, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The U.S.-led dragnet for insurgents catches the harmless much more often than the dangerous, according to military figures, helping breed resentment among Iraqis who often languish in prison for months before the system sets them free.
Nearly 75 percent of all detainees arrested are being released because there is not enough evidence that they pose a threat, according to the Army.
About half are freed within days of their arrests by the units or divisions that captured them. But thousands of others are sent to major prisons, such as Abu Ghraib, where they wait an average of six months before being released, according to 1st Lt. Kristy Miller, spokeswoman for the military's detention system in Iraq.
From March 2003 through early last month, 42,228 Iraqi detainees had been sent into the system. As of Friday, 12,184 remained in U.S. detention...

Pat Tillman: American Hero, American Tragedy

Robert Collier of The San Francisco Chronicle published a detailed account on Sunday of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire, the investigation that followed and the evidence of a cover-up. It is both surprising and horrifying, as these few brief excerpts suggest:

...A Chronicle review of more than 2,000 pages of testimony, as well as interviews with Pat Tillman’s family members and soldiers who served with him, found contradictions, inaccuracies and what appears to be the military’s attempt at self-protection.
For example, the documents contain testimony of the first investigating officer alleging that Army officials allowed witnesses to change key details in their sworn statements so his finding that certain soldiers committed “gross negligence” could be softened.
Interviews also show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known — a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author. ...

Tillman had been a great football player, and more:

Moved in part by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tillman decided to give up his career, saying he wanted to fight al Qaeda and help find Osama bin Laden. He spurned the Cardinals’ offer of a three year, $3.6 million contract extension and joined the Army in June 2002 along with his brother Kevin, who was playing minor-league baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization.
Pat Tillman’s enlistment grabbed the attention of the nation — and the highest levels of the Bush administration. A personal letter from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanking him for serving his country, now resides in a storage box, put away by Pat’s widow, Marie.
Instead of going to Afghanistan, as the brothers expected, their Ranger battalion was sent to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Tillmans saw combat several times on their way to Baghdad. In early 2004, they finally were assigned to Afghanistan.

The account of precisely how Tillman died at the hands of men who were in fact his friends and admirers is the most succinct and persuasive I've seen:

... Although the Rangers are an elite combat group, the investigative documents reveal that the conduct of the Tillmans’ detachment — A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment — appeared to be anything but expert as it advanced through a remote canyon in eastern Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, on a mission to search for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in a village called Manah.
According to the files, when one of the humvees became disabled, thus stalling the mission, commanding officers split Tillman’s platoon in two so one half could move on and the other could arrange transport for the disabled vehicle. Platoon leader Lt. David Uthlaut protested the move as dangerous, but he was overruled. The first group was ordered out in the late afternoon, with Pat Tillman in the forward unit. Kevin’s unit followed 15 to 20 minutes later, hauling the humvee on an Afghan-owned flatbed truck. Both groups temporarily lost radio and visual contact with each other in the deep canyon, and the second group came under attack from suspected Taliban fighters on the surrounding ridges.
Pat Tillman, according to testimony, climbed a hill with another soldier and an Afghan militiaman, intending to attack the enemy. He offered to remove his 28-pound body armor so he could move more quickly, but was ordered not to. Meanwhile, the lead vehicle in the platoon’s second group arrived near Tillman’s position about 65 meters away and mistook the group as enemy. The Afghan stood and fired above the second group at the suspected enemy on the opposite ridge. Although the driver of the second group’s lead vehicle, according to his testimony, recognized Tillman’s group as “friendlies” and tried to signal others in his vehicle not to shoot, they directed fire toward the Afghan and began shooting wildly, without first identifying their target, and also shot at a village on the ridgeline.
The Afghan was killed. According to testimony, Tillman, who along with others on the hill waved his arms and yelled “cease fire,” set off a smoke grenade to identify his group as fellow soldiers. There was a momentary lull in the firing, and he and the soldier next to him, thinking themselves safe, relaxed, stood up and started talking. But the shooting resumed. Tillman was hit in the wrist with shrapnel and in his body armor with numerous bullets.
The soldier next to him testified: “I could hear the pain in his voice as he called out, ‘Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat f—ing Tillman, dammit.” He said this over and over until he stopped,” having been hit by three bullets in the forehead, killing him.
The soldier continued, “I then looked over at my side to see a river of blood coming down from where he was … I saw his head was gone.” ...

There is much more, all of it sad, much of it infuriating.

Thanks to Jesse Kornbluth's Swami Uptown and The Cunning Realist for bringing the article to our attention. - CD

Monday, September 26, 2005

Further Beyond Good and Evil

Name: michael allen
Hometown: LA, CA
Loved your journal entry! One of the most insightful and poetic analysis of modern terrorism I've read. Not long ago, a Colorado congressman said that the USA should Nuke Mecca and Medina if the USA suffers a nuclear attack. From his point of view, "evil" is Islam. I wish someone had the balls to tell him and people who agree with him this. Nuking Islam for something a terrorist does would be like striking out at Ohio for what Timothy McVeigh did. Wasn't Tim from Ohio? Or strike back at the US army. Wasn't Tim a decorated Gulf War veteran. Or strike back at the Catholics. Wasn't Tim raised Catholic? Or strike back at the conservatives. Wasn't Tim an anti-goverment Republican? Or strike back at white people. He was white. Anyway you get the point. However, I don't know if our leaders or most of the voters do.

Shadowland Flashback: The Suicide Solution

"Here and Now," produced by Boston's WBUR Radio and broadcast on more than 40 stations nationwide in the United States, called today to talk about this Shadowland column from earlier in the month:

The Suicide Solution
What if suicide bombing were a disease? Could we find a cure? Some researchers think so.

By Christopher Dickey
Updated: 6:50 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2005
Sept. 6, 2005 - Mohammad Sidique Khan’s voice-from-the-grave video got me thinking the other day. Most Americans were focused on the disaster in New Orleans, that city betrayed by the cupidity of shortsighted politicians, flooded with pestilence, plagued by chaos. Al-Jazeera’s broadcast on Thursday of the Yorkshire-accented musings of this Muslim fanatic who blew himself up in the London Underground two months ago in the attack that killed 52 innocents, seemed weirdly irrelevant given the scope of the national tragedy that now faces the United States.
Yet the next such cataclysm could easily be the work of men like Khan, who are willing to kill themselves to slaughter the maximum number of their enemies—meaning all of us in the American and British democracies. “I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe,” said Khan.
“Thousands.” Suicide attacks of one sort or another have been with us for a long time. But never, apart from Japan’s kamikazes during World War II, in such industrial quantities. What changed? And how can we reverse the trend?...

Iraq's Constitution: Formula for Civil War

This from the International Crisis Group report "Unmaking Iraq" (PDF) just out today:

Instead of healing the growing divisions between Iraq’s three principal communities -- Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs -- a rushed constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings. Without a strong U.S.-led initiative to assuage Sunni Arab concerns, the constitution is likely to fuel rather than dampen the insurgency, encourage ethnic and sectarian violence, and hasten the country's violent break-up.
At the outset of the drafting process in June-July 2005, Sunni Arab inclusion was the litmus
test of Iraqi and U.S. ability to defeat the insurgency through a political strategy. When U.S. brokering brought fifteen Sunni Arab political leaders onto the Constitutional Committee, hopes were raised that an all-encompassing compact between the communities might be reached as a starting point for stabilising the country. Regrettably, the Bush administration chose to sacrifice inclusiveness for the sake of an arbitrary deadline, apparently in hopes of preparing the ground for a significant military draw-down in 2006. As a result, the constitution-making process became a new stake in the political battle rather than an instrument to resolve it.
Rushing the constitution produced two casualties. The first was consensus. Sunni Arabs felt increasingly marginalised from negotiations beginning in early August when these were moved from the Constitutional Committee to an informal forum of Shiite and Kurdish leaders, and have refused to sign on to the various drafts they were shown since that time. The text that has now been accepted by the Transitional National Assembly, in their view, threatens their existential interests by implicitly facilitating the country’s dissolution, which would leave them landlocked and bereft of resources....

Another Salvador Option

Much of the recent talk about "the Salvador option" in Iraq is misleading. But this trial, if and when it takes place, should shed some light on the history of what actually did happen in Central America two decades ago:

From the Center for Justice and Accountability:

El Salvador: Col. Nicolas Carranza
News & Commentary
Legal Documents
BackgroundThe 1979-1981 period in El Salvador was marked by rampant human rights abuses, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention and murder. The Security Forces, with assistance from "death squads," carried out widespread atrocities against suspected political “subversives,” including opposition political figures, members of labor unions, and people who provided care and education to the public, such as teachers, doctors, rescue workers and priests. Experts estimate that 10,000 to 12,000 unarmed civilians were killed in 1980 alone, including revered Salvadoran Archbishop Romero. CJA filed a separate case against one of the conspirators in the Romero assassination in September 2003.

Chavez v. Carranza
On December 10th, 2003, CJA filed a suit on behalf of several Salvadorans against former Salvadoran military commander Nicolas Carranza for the torture they endured and for the murder of their family members. The complaint was amended in February 2004 to add the claims of John Doe. On September 30, 2004, Judge Jon McCalla of the Western District of Tennessee denied Carranza’s motion to dismiss the case. The trial is scheduled for October 2005.Carranza, now a U.S. citizen living in Memphis, was Vice-Minister of Defense of El Salvador during the 1979-1981 period. In that position, he exercised command and control over the three units of the security forces – the National Guard, National Police and Treasury Police – responsible for most of the attacks on civilians. Despite being removed from his position as Vice-Minister due to U.S. pressure over his horrible human rights record, Carranza was later brought back in 1983 as head of the notorious Treasury Police, where he exercised command and control over the members of that group. The lawsuit also alleges that Carranza conspired with, or aided and abetted, subordinates in the security forces who carried out these abuses....

It will be especially interesting to see what, if anything, the trial brings out about Carranza's relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency, including allegations in the 1980s that Carranza was "on the payroll." --CD

Slouching Towards Shiastan

The American public missed a lot of important stories overseas during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. This is one that was reported in Newsweek International on Sept. 5, 2005:

Terror on the Tigris
The Shiites suffer a new tragedy—this time a stampede that kills hundreds. Is the creation of an oil-rich 'Shiastan' now becoming inevitable?

By Scott Johnson, with Joe Cochrane, Michael Hastings and Melinda Liu

... Imagine a Kurdistan run by ayatollahs. Iranian-style morality enforcers have been gaining strength in the south ever since the U.S. invasion. In formerly wide-open Basra, functioning liquor stores have become a rarity. The owners got too many death threats. Many Iraqi Christians are fleeing the area, moving to Baghdad and elsewhere. Women are increasingly afraid to leave their homes without a headscarf. Hard-liners in Nasiriya have reportedly been tearing down "get out the vote" posters that portrayed a woman with her hair visible. Some women may welcome the mullahs at first, as a force far more effective than the local police against street crime. "They think, 'Here comes a group of vigilantes that's providing us security'," says Manal Omar, Middle East coordinator for the activist group Women for Women International. "They don't realize how far it will go. It's what the Taliban did in Afghanistan."...

Most Wanted: Flipper

From The Observer:

Armed and dangerous
Flipper the firing dolphin let loose by Katrina by Mark Townsend HoustonSunday September 25, 2005

It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing....

In the mid-1980s, when the United States was supporting Iraq in its war on Iran, it wasn't allowed to base any troops on Kuwaiti or Saudi soil (much less in Iraq). So in a bizarre compromise, it built huge floating bases on barges offshore. Worried about the threat for Iranian frogmen, it trained porpoises as watchdogs (watchdolphins?). Years later I was told by someone familiar with those operations that these highly trained imported animals fell in love with some of the local fauna and took off. They or their offspring may still be out there somewhere ... - CD

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Iran: Resolute Irresolution

The headlines about the IAEA resolution passed on Saturday move quickly from the notion of referral to the Security Council to the possiblity of sanctions. Read the resolution for yourself. After all the recallings and commendings and notings and deplorings and a very interesting "uncertain," the actual findings (followed by requests) are complete mush:

1. Finds that Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT SafeguardsAgreement, as detailed in GOV/2003/75, constitute non compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the Agency’s Statute;
2. Finds also that the history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities referred to in the Director General’s report, the nature of these activities, issues brought to light in the course of the Agency’s verification of declarations made by Iran since September 2002 and the resulting absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security;
3. Requests the Director General to continue his efforts to implement this and previous Resolutions and to report again, including any further developments on the issues raised in his report of 2 September 2005 (GOV/2005/67) to the Board. The Board will address the timing and content of the report required under Article XII.C and the notification required under Article III.B.4; ....

From the official IAEA Web site:
IAEA Board of Governors Adopt Resolution on Iran
24 September 2005 At the end of week-long meetings beginning 19 September, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution on the implementation of safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The resolution finds that Iran´s failures and breaches constitute non-compliance and calls on Iran to return to the negotiating process. It was adopted by a vote of 22 in favour, 1 against and 12 abstentions. Adopted Resolution [pdf] :: IAEA Board Report [pdf] :: Transcript of Director General´s Press Briefing :: Iran Coverage »

Lebanon: Another High-Profile Bombing

From Al-Jazeera's English-language site:

Journalist injured in Lebanon blast
above is right next to the asp:img closing tag with -->Sunday 25 September 2005, 19:14 Makka Time, 16:14 GMT

A prominent journalist working for an anti-Syrian television station has been seriously wounded after a bomb placed under her car exploded, Lebanese security officials say.
The officials said May Chidiac, who works for the private Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, was inside her car when the bomb exploded on Sunday in the Christian port city of Jounieh, north of Beirut.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chidiac was injured and taken to hospital.
LBC, in a news flash, said the bomb was planted under the driver's seat of Chidiac's Range Rover and exploded as soon as she started the car.
The station said Chidiac, a longtime news anchor, was in critical condition and that her arms and one of her legs were amputated.
The front part of her car was burned and the car severely damaged, LBC reported. ...

May is, for want of a better analogy, the Diane Sawyer of Lebanese television. - CD

Zanzibar: Fear of Nature and the Nature of Fear

This is an intriguing Sunday morning meditation from my wandering friend Andrew Ehrenkranz, who's been in Africa a lot of late, but most recently has been holed up in Utah. When I read this, it started me thinking about the distance we used to believe existed between our rational societies and those that are still rife with superstition. Now, how sure can we be that we're so different? Is the theory of the shetani and their role in the rage of the sea any less plausible than the notion of "intelligent design"? - CD

Chris, I was thinking about spookery in an odd sense this weekend, as Rita was coming. And after she's fallen, it struck me again. We animate these hurricanes with names-- Katrina, Ivan,Camille-- like Poseidon's angry newborns, springing from our warm waters in a great tantrum. It is not a storm until it has a name, a name like our own, and though we can't comprehend its power or its devastation, we can speak of it like what its not-- human. I remember walking on a beach on the eastern coast of Zanzibar, near a small village called Bwejuii. I'd stopped to marvel at a particularly gargantuan beachfront villa, so architecturally decadent and seemingly so heavily secured, I'd become curious enough to ask a passerby who lived there. "Definitely a foreigner," he said, "Zanzibari's are afraid of the sea." Why, I asked? "Bad things live in the sea.. That's where the shetani sleep." Though not in the Judeo-Christian sense, Shetani means " devil", and since Zanzibar's an island, there's a lot of shetani here. Depending on who you talk to, a shetani is either a spirit that inhabits or takes possession of a human, or a human-like creature like a blue monkey with the head of a child and webbed feet. Shetani can be sent to you through a curse or just plain enter your life unannounced. If someone's life take's a turn for better or worse, a shetani, or a curse by the bush doctors controlling a number of shetani, had something to do with it. Things like this, I learned, happen for a reason The shetani have always been in Zanzibar, long before the Arabs or Europeans arrived, perhaps this part of Africa's original colonizers; young or old, strong or meek, Muslim or Christian, every Zanzibari, they say, has to contend with a shetani. Sure, most Zanzibari's eat fish, and are aware of the sea's charm and benefits, but few locals want to live anywhere near it. The sea, itself, isn't innately malevolent-- it's the devil spirits inhabiting it that make fierce winds, rough waters, and great waves. Best to keep away from the ocean, it's believed, if you want to steer clear of the shetani in your life. Let sleeping dog's lie, which incidentally is also something I learned Zanzibari's aren't too keen on, for differentsuperstitious reasons. There's a lot more to it obviously, and I've rambled, but it strikes me- when we fear the sea, it's a fear for what it can do. They fear it for what it contains. - Andrew

The Coming War with Iran (in Iraq)

The clash between U.S. forces and Shia militias in Baghdad overnight is one of several skirmishes in recent days that probably mark the beginning of a widening confrontation between Coalition forces and Iranian backed militias. The worst so far have actually been in Basra, and the British press has covered them extensively. As The London Sunday Times wrote this morning, British troops "find themselves caught between insurgents bent on mayhem and local militias desperate to grab power." The coming vote on the constitution next month and national elections due in December have heightened the violence not only among those who oppose the process (largely Sunni Arabs), but among those participating in it who want to control it (various Shia factions).

The Times' narrative of how two British SAS men were captured, then freed last week, and what followed, is a riveting read that goes well beyond the paper's front-page report that the SAS men were involved in a secret war against Iranian agents:

Focus: Playing with fire
British troops are famed for winning hearts and minds but last week Basra erupted. Ali Rifat, Michael Smith and Richard Woods on an SAS mission that went horribly wrong

I was struck by this especially graphic passage:

'Not far away [in a stinking Basra hospital] lay another young victim, 13-year-old Raed Kareem, who was also in the vicinity when Iraqi demonstrators clashed with British troops trying to rescue the SAS men.
A bullet, which he blames on the British, hit him in the stomach, ripping through his liver and bowel.
“I was never politically motivated nor belonged to any of the militias or parties,” said Kareem. “But now I pray to Allah to cure me in order for me to take revenge on those detesters of everything Arab and Muslim.”
Money or compensation from the British are not what he wants. “I just want them to leave my country,” he said.'

And I found this analysis as succinct as it is indisputable:

'Gareth Stansfield, an expert in Middle East politics at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and Exeter University, believes the Iranians are already the real winners from the Iraq war.
“Iraq has been delivered to Iran on a plate by the coalition,” he said. “It sits there as a powerful neighbour, with very complex and strong links in the south . . . and politically with the Kurds in the north.
“I would go so far as to say that the pre-eminent foreign force in Iraq is not the US, it is Iran. It has succeeded in its geopolitical aim — Iraq will never threaten them again — and it has tied up the US in a swamp of insurgencies.”'

We've been warning in Newsweek since 2002 that Iraq is much more friendly turf for Iran than it is for the United States, and if we occupied Iraq, we'd pay the price. We also warned in 2002 that the country could well come apart, pulling its neighbors into a regional war. A particularaly apocalyptic piece for Newsweek International called "Storm Clouds" (issue date Sept. 16, 2002, but no live link on the Web that I can find) began:

'When western diplomats in the Middle East talk among themselves, many compare the present moment to August 1914. Then, Europe was stumbling toward a cataclysm. So reckless was the rhetoric that a single terrorist act, an assassination in Sarajevo, would unleash the first world war. "There is a moment," says a U.S. State Department veteran, "when people are going about their daily lives, thinking things are bad but they'll get by. And then, from the morning to the afternoon, everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same." Ten years from now, the summer of 2002 may well be remembered as just such a moment for the Muslim world. Here's how the story will read:

The U.S. war on Iraq was short. The dictator Saddam Hussein fell more quickly than expected. The aftermath was far worse. After the United States pulled out, Iraq quickly splintered along ethnic and religious lines: Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south, a Sunni majority in between. Saudi Arabia followed, as the oil-rich east and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the west broke away from the reign of Riyadh in the center. The fall of the House of Saud was disastrous, ending decades of quiet partnership between Riyadh and Washington that had assured the world of a steady flow of affordable oil. The Middle East went topsy-turvy. Pro-American regimes were left at odds with their people, undermined by radicals preaching a new Pan-Islamic nationalism. By 2010 Al Qaeda was a name out of ancient history, but the new radical groups operating out of Africa, Europe and even the United States had U.S. policymakers nostalgic for Osama bin Laden...."

So much for prophecy. - CD

CSIS: Saudi Militants in Iraq

The problem of Saudi militants joining the jihad in Iraq, either to die or to train and take their skills home again, is one of the great and growing security concerns in the Middle East. It's a key reason the Saudi government is speaking out so strongly now about the dangers of all-out civil war in its neighbor to the north. A new report from the CSIS by Nawaf Obaid and Anthony Cordesman, written with substantial Saudi input, helps to clarify the situation. Its conclusion, the role of Saudis in Iraq has been exaggerated, but there's still a hell of a lot to worry about:

"Interrogations and other Saudi intelligence gathering operations reveal that these individuals do not come exclusively from a single geographical region in Saudi Arabia, but from various areas in the Kingdom, especially from the South, Hijaz, and Najd. They are usually affiliated with the most prominent conservative tribes and are generally middle class. Most are employed, many are educated, and all are Sunni. ...

"The average age of these fighters is 17-25, but a few are older. Some have families and young children. In contrast, other fighters from across the Middle East and North Africa tend to be in their late 20s or 30s. As part of a massive crackdown on Saudi militants attempting to enter Iraq, the Saudi government has interrogated dozens of nationals either returning from Iraq or caught at theborder. They were then questioned by the intelligence services about, among other things, their motives for joining the insurgency. One important point was the number who insisted that they were not militants before the Iraq war. Backing up this contention, of those who were interrogated, a full 85% were not on any government watch list (which comprised most of the recognized extremists and militants), nor were they known members of al-Qaeda. The names of those who died fighting in Iraq generally appear on militant websites as martyrs, and Saudi investigators have also approached the families of these individuals for information regarding the background and motivation of the ones who died. According to these interviews as well, the bulk of the Saudi fighters in Iraq were driven to extremism by the war itself. ... "

"Saudi Militants in Iraq: Assessment and Kingdom's Response," by Nawaf Obaid and Anthony Cordesman. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Revised Sept. 19, 2005. (PDF file)

Newsweek Article: Saudi Storms

As hurricanes batter the American coast and send oil prices up, Al Qaeda is watching, and drawing lessons.
By Christopher Dickey
The shoot-out earlier this month around a seafront villa in the Saudi Arabian city of Ad Dammam lasted almost 48 hours, and ended only when security forces brought in light artillery. They blasted the opulent home until the roof came down on the people inside. In the immediate aftermath police said they couldn't tell from the charred remains just how many members of "a deviant group" had died in the battle. Finally, with DNA tests, they counted five. Police also found enough weapons for a couple of platoons of guerrilla fighters. The inventory given out by the Saudi Interior Ministry included more than 60 hand grenades and pipe bombs, pistols, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, two barrels full of explosives, video equipment, a large amount of cash and forged documents. It was the documents that really set off alarms. ...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Saudi Impatience

The latest from Col. W. Patrick Lang (Ret.), formerly the "Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism,” and later the first Director of the Defense Humint Service for the Defense Intelligence Agency. He's commenting on Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal's remarks in the New York Times that since before the invasion of Iraq, "the main worry of all the neighbors" was that the potential disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would "bring other countries in the region into the conflict":

...Yesterday, I sat with a member of the Saudi royal family to discuss this problem. This American educated prince told me that the Saudi government is now very concerned about Iranian ambitions, not just in Iraq, but eventually throughout the area and especially with regard to the oil reserves in the Kingdom and the Islamic Holy places in the Hijaz. He told me that American behavior is incomprehensible to the Saudis.
I have been told by American observers at the recent OPEC Vienna meeting and other recent meetings in the Gulf that the Iranian delegations at these meetings behaved with great arrrogance toward the Saudis, saying in private that they (Iran) will have Iraq and that the Saudis, and others, should adjust their positions accordingly.
We are going to reap the whirlwind. There are those among us who probably think that will be good. I do not.

This note from a well-connected Saudi friend, though carefully measured, gives you some sense of the mood in Riyadh, Jeddah and the Waldorf in New York after the latest round of encounters with the Bush administration:

I have been observing recently that our meetings with American officials and scholars have become increasingly repetitive and ever less productive. We art told each time that the talks have been very good, that the Americans have listened, asked for our advice, and were generally responsive. But, ultimately, the actual effects of the talks have been very limited and American policy changes almost nil.

I am beginning to wonder whether the Americans are patronizing us and whether we are both wasting our time. It is time, I think, to apply different tactics.

From now on we should be the ones asking the Americans questions. We should ask them what they want to do in the Middle East, where exactly they are heading, what their true intentions are and how they intend to achieve them. They will realize that we are more than a mere sounding board or an ally that needs to be flattered. We should tell them: “We will gladly discuss options with you and tell you honestly what is achievable, but first you must be clear and candid with us. We are your friends and we can help you, but first you must tell us what it is you are doing and what it is you want.”

Through this reversal of roles we stand to learn far more about and from each other. We could open a new dimension in our talks, be more candid and transparent with each other; that is what a real partnership is about.

What is definitely not acceptable is to spend all our time trying to be polite and "understanding" in order not to distance ourselves too much from each other. We have understandably gone through a phase of rebuilding confidence with America but we have become so careful that we are missing the essence of important issues and avoiding disagreements which could be brought up more forcefully and constructively. This caution was arguably a necessary phase but it is not serving either of us anymore today.

I think it is time for us to rebuild our relationship with America on a new understanding. Rather than being called on for advice that is then discarded, we should find out exactly what the Americans want and how we can both accommodate our needs. It is time for a reversal of roles.

Prince Saud's press conference at the Saudi Embassy in Washington is also of interest.

My most recent on-the-record interview with Saud Al-Faisal was last May, when he was still trying to put the best face on an increasingly bad situaton. - CD

Al-Qaeda's Windbags

One has to consider the source, of course, but The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), co-founded by senior Israeli intelligence officer Yigal Carmon, does disseminate a lot of fascinating translations from the Arab and Muslim press. Today's is from something claiming to be a new weekly Al-Qaeda Internet broadcast, which was applauding the hurricanes for doing God's work in the United States. An excerpt:

"The entire Islamic world overflowed with joy when Hurricane Katrina struck in America, which seemed to reel from the strength of the hurricane and went asking for aid from all the countries of the world. Broken and completely humiliated, George Bush, a fool who is being obeyed, announced his obvious incapability to deal with the wrath of Allah that visited the city of homosexuals.
"While Louisiana is trying to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, another hurricane fiercely struck the state of North Carolina, on the Atlantic coast, but so far there have been no casualties or significant damage, as was expected. We hope that Allah will humiliate America with this hurricane to make it a lesson for whoever wants to listen."

Enough of that. - CD

Friday, September 23, 2005

Shadowland column: Rita's Revelation

As oil prices soar, so will demands for atomic energy. Iran knows this and Americans should, too. Why it's time to rethink the global approach to nuclear proliferation.

By Christopher Dickey
Updated: 3:27 p.m. ET Sept. 23, 2005
Sept. 23, 2005 - Acts of God are on everyone's mind just now. They're forcing mass evacuations, inundating cities, driving up the cost of gasoline, weakening the economy, undermining the war effort in Iraq. The Almighty is so often on the tongue of politicians these days, both American and foreign, that invocations of the divine have started to sound like little more than boilerplate. Of course, over the years, few politicians have called on God more often or more automatically than the leaders in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

So when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to the United Nations last Saturday, it shouldn't have surprised anybody that his language was fit for a Revolutionary Guard revival meeting. Peace and tranquility depend on "justice and spirituality," he kept saying. "Faith will prove to be the solution to many of today's problems." You might hear the same pieties from our own zealous politicos. But here's the problem: on the question of nuclear proliferation—a very big question indeed—Iran's fundamentalists seem to have a clearer sense of fundamental realities that ours do....

For more:

Iran: Background on the Debate

From the Council on Foreign Relations Web site:

Debate continues at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over a resolution drafted by the European Union to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its suspect nuclear program. Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, warns it would view the IAEA’s adoption of the resolution as a “confrontation.”
Gary Sick tells CFR’s Bernard Gwertzman the U.S. should consider bilateral talks with Iran; the Council’s Iran expert Ray Takeyh testifies on Iran’s nuclear program and tackles Tehran’s strategy in another Gwertzman interview; and our Background Q&A reviews Iran’s nuclear stance. President Ahmadinejad presents his country’s case for nuclear power in a UN address (PDF), as the U.S. State Department outlines its case against Tehran in this brief (PDF).
Non-proliferation Treaty EU-Iran 2004 Agreement (PDF)

Iran: Promises, Promises

I just got this note from the author of "We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs," who writes under the name of Nasrin Alavi. It's one of the most interesting takes I've seen on Iran's nuclear posturing:

Europe’s strategy of offering Iran the carrot of engagement - rather than the stick of regime change and war -- appears to be gradually crumbling away. Iran is emboldened by soaring oil prices and US entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also banking on the energy needs of Russia, China and India, with which it has fostered growing economic ties. Bowing to Russian and Chinese pressure, the European Union has for now backed off from a demand that the UN nuclear watchdog should report Iran to the Security Council.
President Ahmadinejad’s asserted at the 2005 U.N. General Assembly that Iran has an "inalienable right" to operate a nuclear power program. Europe and the United States took this as a sign of defiance. Yet there are also strong signals that Tehran wants to talk directly to the US and may feel that she can now engage with the US from a position of strength. Public announcements by many of Iran’s leading hardliners that Iran should pursue a ‘Chinese model’ of governance would mean liberalizing the economy and making peace with Europe and the United States – while maintaining political repression.
Iran’s eerie amorous offensive towards the US at the World summit appears to have gone completely unnoticed by Western audiences. Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president for a quarter of a century who has had the go-ahead from Tehran to join World Summit leaders at their final photo call, thereby breaking the taboo of being photographed with the leaders of the US and Israel. Muhammad-Ali Abtahi, an ex-vice-president of the Iranian parliament describes in his blog how five years earlier ex-president Khatami, “aware of many consequences,” had refused to take part in such a photo.
Ironically, representatives of Iran’s hard-line parliament accompanying Ahmadinejad were muzzled as Tehran tried to put an amiable spin on Ahmadinejad’s visit to the UN. Mehranghiz Marouti, one of the MP’s, told the Aftab Daily on her return to Iran, “We expected to be able to put forward our viewpoints to the press, but did not have permission from Tehran.”
In a Newsweek interview when asked about US-Iran relations, Ahmadinajad declared that Iran, “would like to have relationships that are equal and just with all countries in the world.” This surpasses anything an Iranian President has ever uttered in reference to US relations. Yet regardless of what Ahmadinejad insisted in another US interview, “access to the nuclear supply process” was never an “election slogan” by him or any of the other prospective presidential candidates. And despite Tehran’s’ cocky attitude, Ahmadiinejad knows that his actual election platform of distributing oil wealth amongst the poor may come to nothing if Iran is isolated.
During his election campaign Ahmadinejad was promoted as the man of the people. He tapped into the vein of popular anger against corruption and cronyism. He appealed to the minds and hearts of jobless youth and underpaid workers promising food and housing subsidies for the poor. With hindsight, it seems anyone standing in the second round against the “corrupt Rafsanjani clan” was bound to become president. I was amazed at the number of people in Iran who told me that they had voted ‘tactically’ against Rafsanjani.
According to Behzad Nabavi, acting chairman of parliament during Khatami’s era, the modest looking mayor of Tehran backed by the establishment ‘was promoted as an anti-establishment figure.’ At one stage during his campaign Ahmadinejad even falsely complained that the ‘establishment’ had cut off the electricity supplies of large areas of Iran so that his campaign speeches promising a fight against corruption could not be heard by the ordinary people.
Ahmadinejad comes from and is endorsed by the hard-line core of the regime that has ultimately controlled power in Iran since the revolution. Ahmadinejad’s possible inability to keep his campaign promises in the next four years will be a critical challenge to the heart of Iran’s revolutionary elite.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Iraq: How to Get Out

Excerpts from a Saudi friend's letter:

If an American withdrawal were handled professionally and methodically, the chances of seeing a united Iraq may indeed grow, hence ostensibly benefiting the Iraqi people and the future of their country. Let us say that the Americans go to the UN with a fixed timetable and a declared policy to withdraw their troops while safeguarding Iraq. Coalition troops would be replaced in phases by UN-sanctioned troops from acceptable countries. A UN Resolution would emphasize the territorial integrity of Iraq and guarantee Iraqis, through the Security Council and the General Assembly, with all the international aid and support they may need.

In such a scenario it seems more likely that Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, faced with the shared determination of the international community and the help of their neighbors, would be ready to work responsibly towards filling a new vacuum rather than engaging in sectarianism and divisive politics. Such a consensus is already supported by the Iraqi people and neighboring countries, all strongly in favor of a united Iraq. The proposed scenario will of course leave many questions unanswered, but it seems a better alternative than American troops staying in Iraq to watch Iraqis die and a country disintegrate....

Americans do not like comparing the situation in Iraq to the one they faced in Vietnam. But on one crucial point, the comparison may be necessary. Withdrawing from Iraq may be a temporary embarrassment and setback for the United States, but this is due to an initially flawed policy, while withdrawal seems to be eminently sensible policy. America would also be strengthening its position at the UN and adding to the UN’s capacity to resolve similarly complicated disputes with steadfastness and adequate means. At the end of the day America will be a winner. It will be showing the world that it is able to correct flawed policy, to lead wisely, and to work for the best interests of all.

Five Stars in the Green Zone

The Hotel Rasheed, in Baghdad's Green Zone, is a five-star dump, pocked with holes left by rocket fire on one side, vulnerable to snipers on the other. The best hotels outside the Green Zone are mostly worse -- and even easier targets. (See reviews.) But the Iraqi press reports that help is on the way for those who want luxury in the middle of a war zone: the Ministry of Housing and Construction is planning a 23-story hotel with all the amenities. This will make life easier for visiting contractors and Congressional delegations, no doubt. What it will do for the hearts and minds of Iraq's people, hundreds of whom have been killed and maimed while waiting in line at the various entrances to the Green Zone, is less certain.

Last year the technocrat mayor of Baghdad, Alaa al-Tamimi, wanted to open up the Green Zone and revitalize the heart of the city. He was overruled by the terrorists and by the Americans, and finally deposed in what amounted to a coup by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which now rules the Baghdad badlands outside the Green Zone, with the help of U.S. troops. - CD

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

History: Nazi Chocolate Bar

The British National Archives offer a steady stream of revelations about the eccentricities of espionage:

MI5 files reveal secrets of exploding chocolate bars
"Chocolate bombe"

Newly released files reveal German techniques for camouflaging sabotage equipment (KV4 /284)- these include drawings and photographs of an exploding chocolate bar and a mess tin concealing bomb equipment. Original German propaganda leaflets (KV3/210) feature a spoof Evening Standard article and a peculiar document claiming to have been issued by supporters of Hitler in Whitehall that sets out the fate of England after it is defeated.

The full inventory of disguised weapons dreamed up by the Germans for their secret agents is not just an amusing bit of James-Bondian fantasy from the past, it's a cautionary set of precedents for terrorism today:

KV 4/283 (1940-1941) – bombs disguised as a tea canteen, a can of peas, a suitcase, a mess tin, a can of motor oil, a thermos flask; detonators disguised as a pen and pencil set, a torch battery, shaving soap and a shaving brush, a tin of talcum powder, a clothes brush; toilet soap; a fuse hidden in a leather belt.
KV 4/284 (1942-1943) – bombs disguised as lumps of coal, a can of motor oil, a booby-trapped attaché case, a car battery, a can of cleaning polish, firelighters, throat pastilles, a tin of cassoulet and a tin of Smedley’s English red dessert plums; a hand-grenade disguised as a slab of eating chocolate.
KV 4/285 (1943-1945) – bombs disguised as a grinding stone, a belt, the heels and soles of a boot, a bolt-head, a tin of chub in tomato sauce, and a tin of Australian fruit salad.

Quiet Americans

"He was as incapable of imagining pain or danger to himself as he was incapable of conceiving the pain he might cause others."
-- Graham Greene, "The Quiet American"

I have never been able to read that line without thinking of President George W. Bush and the many well-intentioned Americans who support him. Greene understood the terrible danger of naive good will. I pointed this out before the Iraq invasion, in the hope it might make a difference. Vain hope. - CD

Rules of Engagement

Another vivid on-scener from Newsweek's Michael Hastings in Iraq, "A Daily Dance with Death," 20 September 2005:

'...The long day is winding down. Dusk falls and the temperature drops. A half dozen Marines pull up chairs outside the house, in the fluorescent glow of "chem" lights—civilian campers call them glow sticks. These young Americans don't want to get blown up, they want to go home. And they don't want to kill civilians. They talk about the rules of engagement, stricter than when they fought in Iraq in 2004. That was "the Wild West," says Aziz. A recent shooting left a nasty impression, he recalls. A car carrying two women, two men and two kids failed to stop at the extensive barriers before the checkpoint at OP2. The driver ignored both warning signs and the multiple concrete blocks. The car came forward even after the tires were shot out. Eventually, a Marine opened fire. The two women were killed. The bullets blew the back of one woman's head off, says Franklin, adding: "It was even worse than the s—- I saw last time I was here." But the enemy knows the Marines can't fire first. Lately, the Marines say, cars probe the defenses, driving up to the post to see how far they can get before being shot at. "You're supposed to wave, throw a flash bang, say hi, make a baloney and cheese sandwich, shoot in front, shoot the tire, shoot the other tire, have some tea, shoot the engine, then shoot the windshield," says Aziz....'

The American soldiers are disciplined, but the world around them is not. Anything unpredictable is potentially fatal for them, or for the people accidentally involved. One of the most damning depictions I've seen of this situation was the American report on the killing of an Italian intelligence agent last spring:

Shadowland: Body Counts, 12 May 2005
The Pentagon secretly keeps track of many grim statistics in Iraq. The numbers are not encouraging.

Shadowland: Reality Checkpoints, 11 Mar 2005
Why did U.S. soldiers shoot at the car carrying Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena? Here's the most likely scenario.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Guns and Butter

'Whatever his other accomplishments, Bush will go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible chief executive in American history. ... Today's Republicans believe in pork, but they don't believe in government. So we have the largest government in history but one that is weak and dysfunctional. Public spending is a cynical game of buying votes or campaign contributions, an utterly corrupt process run by lobbyists and special interests with no concern for the national interest.... We denounce sensible leadership and pragmatism because they mean compromise and loss of ideological purity. Better to be right than to get Iraq right.'
-- Fareed Zakaria, "Leaders Who Won't Choose," Newsweek, issue date 26 September 2005

What do George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein have in common? Not nearly as much as some rabid Bush-bashers would claim. On the critical issue of human rights, for instance, there's simply no comparison. Saddam is an unrepentant genocidal monster who knew exactly what he was doing when he ruled his Republic of Fear. Bush had no idea what he was getting into in Iraq, thought Americans would be loved by the liberated, still can't figure out why we're resented, wishes everyone had the same sense of Christian charity he sees in himself, and feels sorry, I'm quite sure, for all those people who've died because of his illusions.

There is one cautionary parallel that might be worth keeping in mind, however: the belief that you can have guns and butter, fighting a war and pampering your people at the same time. As a friend of the NYT's Tom Friedman said, memorably, "We're at war. Let's party!"

Saddam Hussein launched his pre-emptive war against Iran in 1980, thinking it would be over quickly -- imagining, even, that his troops would be welcomed by the Arab population of Khuzestan. Saddam's illusions were soon exposed and the war dragged on for eight bloody years, costing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian lives and the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars on the battlefield. But Saddam, even as he terrorized his population, also tried to buy it off. In Baghdad at the height of the war in the mid-1980s, when I first started going there, you had no sense at all of the carnage on the eastern front. Creature comforts were plentiful and the families of soldiers who died were amply rewarded with cash or cars. Vast construction projects continued apace, huge monuments were built, as were several luxury hotels.

Even oil-rich Iraq wasn't as rich as all that, so Saddam started borrowing the huge sums needed to keep up his warring and his partying. When, at last, Iran said it was ready for a truce, Saddam declared himself the victor. But he'd mortgaged his country. Within two years, when his Kuwaiti and Saudi creditors started demanding their money back, Saddam decided the only way he could get out of his financial bind was to invade them.

The moral of the story: war without sacrifice is likely to be war without end.

(Also see "Firebombings: From My Father's Wars to Mine," which discusses, among many other things, the role of technology in reducing our sense of sacrifice: "For more than fifty years after World War II, and more than thirty years after my father wrote ['The Firebombing'], technology, especially American technology, continued to dehumanize the inhumanity of war until, by the late 1990s, we were able to convince ourselves, at our great distance from the destruction, that such a thing could be waged as a war that was humane.
"Now that's a pretty dangerous concept if you think about it. Because a humane war, especially one waged from a sanitary distance, is implicitly an EASY war. It doesn't have to be righteous. It doesn't even have to be memorable.") - CD

Syria's Serious Troubles

"It is now almost beyond doubt that by the time the chief [UN] investigator, Detlev Mehlis, completes his work next month, he will have direct evidence that the assassination [of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] was orchestrated from Damascus. If so, the killing of Hariri will probably count as one of the most disastrous own goals in the history of international politics."
-- Brian Whitaker, "Damascene Subversion," The Guardian, 19 September 2005

Whitaker winds up reporting almost as much rumor as fact, with some of his most interesting tidbits drawn from . But the thrust of the article is right in line with the analysis of The Washington Post's David Ignatius and others cautioning that the United States would make a mistake if it pushes too hard and too fast to bring down the shaky Bashar Assad regime. As David puts it, "The mess in Iraq is a potent warning about the dangers of kicking over hornets' nests."

For those who want a program to the key players in the Syrian game, Whitaker presents a useful list of the bosses who could have ordered the Valentine's Day massacre that took Hariri's life:

"Besides President Assad himself, the inner circle at the time is believed to have consisted of:

· Maher Assad, the president's younger brother, who has various military and security functions, including overseeing the presidential guard· General Ghazi Kenaan, the interior minister, who previously spent 19 years as head of military intelligence in Lebanon.

· General Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law (married to his elder sister, Bushra) who is head of military intelligence. His relations with the president's younger brother have not always been good, and it was reported in 1999 that Maher shot him in the stomach following a quarrel.

· General Bahjat Suleiman, the hardline head of the internal security division of the General Intelligence Directorate, who reportedly went into semi-retirement last June.

· Abdel-Halim Khaddam, vice-president and the only Sunni Muslim among the inner circle (the others belong to the minority Alawite sect). Khaddam was on good terms with Hariri and had business dealings with him. He was also the only Syrian official to pay his respects to the family in Beirut after the assassination. In June it was reported that Khaddam was stepping down from the vice-presidency. It is unclear whether he has actually done so, and no successor has been announced."

For more background (some of which may have been a little over-optimistic), see:

Shadowland: CSI: Beirut, 30 Mar 2005
Syria is playing for time, and the Lebanese investigation into the Hariri assassination is a farce. Meanwhile, chaos is building.

Shadowland: The Default Democratizer, 15 Mar 2005
Bush's focus on freedom comes after a string of disastrous policy mistakes in the Middle East. But for the people living there, that's still not bad.

Cover Story: An Arabian Spring, 6 Mar 2005
Democracy: Many Arabs are fed up, and want their freedom. Can people power prevail?

Shadowland: The Rap on Freedom, 4 Mar 2005
Dictators and despots may believe that Washington's rhetoric on democracy is just another American fad. But the political climate really has changed in the Middle East

Shadowland: Democratic Terrorists?, 24 Feb 2005

Lebanon could emerge as the center of a new Middle East. But first the United States may have to come to terms with Hizbullah.

Background from the Council on Foreign Relations:

Syria reportedly tries to secure a deal with the United Nations to avoid punishment if, as many expect, the UN investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination implicates Damascus. CFR’s Bernard Gwertzman interviews Damascus-based Syria expert Joshua Landis, there is analysis from the Christian Science Monitor, a Washington Institute briefing on the Hariri investigation, and a BBC backgrounder on Syria’s long stay in Lebanon.

Shining Path Finder

I asked my poet-friend M.A., who's in Peru just now, to give me an update on the late, unlamented Sendero Luminoso guerrilla movement. He responded with this wonderful little evocation of a country adrift:

Sendero Luminoso -- "Shining Path,” which well describes Peru's snailtrack of terrorism -- was most effective in terrifying the campesinos down into Lima, which grew from a population of 2,000,000 to 8,000,000 within a decade and has become the national cloaca. Anyone with money left. Some went to Spain and have since returned to enjoy their higher financial-class status here. Most, I think, rode out the SL terrorism in Miami. One of the best guys I know here spent seven years at the University of Arizona, safe from the kidnap-worries of his father. Now the SL leadership are all in jail, along with [the ever spooky Vladimiro] Montesinos and members of [former President Alberto] Fujimori´s administration. Bruce Chatwin´s great biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare, wrote an interesting novel, “The Dancer Upstairs,” about the Peruvian experiment in terrorism. Like most things here, it got lost or forgotten or just petered out with the quickly exhausted national attention span. Nobody seems to keep the record straight; people don´t lie, but the truth changes. People go out momentarily to buy a newspaper and come home hours later from the movies.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Iran: Contra ... or Pro?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to take some getting used to. His speech last week at the United Nations and the handful of interviews he gave, including one to Newsweek's Lally Weymouth, did little to ease American and European suspicions that he's just a front for hardline Iranian mullahs hell-bent on building atomic weapons and sowing terror throughout the Middle East. To be sure, Ahmadinejad's language sounds reasonable. But his body-language -- his whole personal style -- is a little too reminiscent of the hostage takers who were America's nightmare a quarter-century ago. Probably he wasn't part of the embassy takeover team. But he looks and talks like he wishes he was.
What Westerners think about Ahmadinejad, however, really isn't as important as what Iranians think. And the computer-literate class, at least, doesn't like him. When Iranian blogger Hossein "Hoder" Derakshan conducted an online poll asking his readers if they accepted the legitimacy of the disappointing reformist President Khatami (1997-2005) and/or the legitimacy of this new President Ahmadinejad, 14 per cent said they accepted the legitimacy of both; 64 per cent said they accepted Khatami's legitimacy, but not Ahmadinejad's; only 3 per cent said they accepted Ahmadinejad alone; and 19 per cent said neither were legitimate. Online polls of this kind are notoriously unreliable indicators of wider public opinion. But, still, with 2,355 respondents, it's an interesting sample.
Before the Bush administration gets too excited about the Iranian people denying Ahmadinejad's legitimacy, however, it might want to listen to what Hoder has to say about the results of his own poll. In his opinion, foreigners "are not in a position to judge" the legitimacy of elected officials in somebody else's country. Secondly, he says, "an isolated Iran would be much more harmful than one with which the world and the U.S. is engaged." Hoder argues that since Ahmadinejad's mentor, Ayatollah Khamenei, now controls almost all sources of power in Iran, at least there is a clear interlocutor. The United States should take advantage of that fact, Hoder says. "The U.S. will never have a better chance to normalise relations."

For more on Iranian bloggers, see "Writing Lolita in Tehran," or go directly to Hoder's English-language blog.

Re-Training the Taliban in Iraq

Unholy Allies
The Taliban haven't quit, and some are getting help and inspiration from Iraq.
By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau

...Daud and other Taliban leaders tell NEWSWEEK that the Afghan conflict is entering a new phase, with help from Iraq. According to them, Osama bin Laden has opened an underground railroad to and from jihadist training camps in the Sunni Triangle. Self-described graduates of the program say they've come home to Afghanistan with more-effective killing techniques and renewed enthusiasm for the war against the West. Daud says he's been communicating a "new momentum and spirit" to the 300 fighters under his command...

This is an extraordinary story by Newsweek's veteran correspondent Ron Moreau and our superb Afghan reporter, Sami Yousafzai. It reflects concerns that have been building since before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it could be used as a "school" for Al Qaeda killers. Now the Taliban seem to be taking graduate courses there. Fortunately, the latest round of elections in Afghanistan went off relatively peacefully this weekend, and the administration will say that's a defeat for the Taliban, whatever they might have picked up in Iraq. Perhaps. But we should remember the specific tactics the Afghans are gleaning from the suicidal terrorists in Baghdad and Anbar are not meant to target voters, they're mainly meant to target soldiers, including and especially Americans. -- CD

Iraq: Facts on the Ground

Militias Wresting Control Across Iraq's North and South
Residents Tell of Growing Climate of Fear
Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru Washington Post Foreign ServiceSaturday, August 20, 2005; 7:00 PM
BASRA, Iraq -- Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials. ...

This story, which led The Washington Post on a summer Saturday and seems to have gotten lost after Hurricane Katrina swept through the gulf coast and the media a few days later, is one of the most important reports that has come out of Iraq in months. After reading it, one realizes that the Iraqi constitution, so important to what passes for U.S. political strategy in this war, is essentially just a piece of paper. Facts on the ground are what count in Iraq as the militias carve up the country in the interests of their co-religionaries and warlords. The U.S. thus finds itself in an unenviable and extremely dangerous contradiction: the one segment of Iraqi society that feels very strongly about keeping the country united is to be found among the Sunnis, yet the insurgency the U.S. is trying to defeat is also Sunni. And the foreign-led element of the Sunni offensive, the Jordanian Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's murderous clique, is doing its best to push the country into all-out sectarian war. In essence, we are fighting to hold together nations that are not a state in a country that wants to come apart.

For more background see the Shadowland column "Make or Break" from last November.

Also worth a look, certainly, is Anthony Shadid's new book, "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Malevolents Abroad: A Dialogue

An exchange from earlier this year with M.A., an American writer living overseas:

M.A.- I have suddenly today synthesized and crystallized an American duality- guys like you go out interested in the rest of the world, fascinated by and respectful of multiculturalism at its various sources and in all its shifting, kaleidoscopic implications; others -- let's, between us, call them proud C-students --go out to develop those other cultures, motivated by a genuinely missionary or profitable but ultimately practical impulse to raise standards of living. When other cultures don't see the light, however, and refuse to change their "backward" ways, the second type of American dismisses them as benighted. And isn't that exactly what the Taliban did to the Buddhas of Bamiyan? It would be inflammatory, unto losing the point, to draw the parallel with what you so deftly term the current Republican theology...but they sure as hell are American fundamentalists.

C.D.- It’s a duality that goes back at least to the time of “The White Man’s Burden” and the Anti-Imperialist League of 100-plus years ago.

M.A.- The WM's Burden isn't quite what I meant, which was more about a contradictory tension in the American personality...

C.D.- All Kipling's biographers agree he meant it seriously as an exhortation to take up the burden. I read it as deeply ironic and an appreciation of the kind of duality you're talking about. Kipling was, after all, the ultimate Orientalist. Even Edward Said, in his introduction to Kim, grudgingly admires him for that. But Americans are not Orientalists, they're missionaries, at best, or "Quiet Americans," and at worst they're just blundering tourists. They're not interested in the actual culture where they're trying to sow their message of religious or political or economic salvation. It's not a problem to be understood, it's just a problem to be solved. Which is what I took you to be saying about those C students.

M.A.- You say it exactly: problem solved, but not understood. And what I meant by the American fundamentalism is how fast that salvationist practicality turns into dismayed resentment of the ungrateful frogwog. It goes back psychologically through our own Manifest Destiny and the Indians we didn't bother to colonize, despite Jefferson's British-model plan that began with the peace-through-trade overtures of Lewis &Clark. As a national trait, it's a deep distrust of confusion and the curiosity that kills the cat, an impatience with abstraction and anything else that keeps the job from getting done. In God we trust, and the surrender monkeys can keep all that cultural hoity toity and free sex. And doesn't that also describe the Taliban?

"You'd think it's raining engine blocks..."

In case you missed it, Newsweek's Michael Hastings has a very nice on-the-ground report from Iraq about how tough it is to winnow the good news from all the bad. A brief excerpt:

'The jaunt was also intended to highlight Tikrit as a town where security was under control. But to get our little group of about a dozen people to the school required 13 armored Humvees and two helicopters—one of them an Apache attack craft—flying close air support. With three soldiers in each Humvee, that makes for about 39 troops, or roughly four soldiers for each “VIP.” Hundreds of Iraqi police lined the streets from the base to the school, both to show the visiting muckety-mucks their strength and to make sure we didn't get hit. Before leaving the compound, the hosting State Department official in Tikrit gave the mandatory warning: “If something bad happens, please stay in your vehicle. If something bad happens when you are not in your vehicle, please move quickly back to the vehicles. Please listen to your vehicle commanders, and they will do their best to keep you safe.”'

Bon Mot...

"The 21st century Republican party is an improbable combination of country club and revival meeting."
-- Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Also see "Poisoning Patriotism," about the broadside Schlesinger fired at the Bush administration last year on the eve of the election.

Blue-Eyed Bombers?

As my colleague Mark Hosenball points out in the current Newsweek, Al Qaeda is using more English speakers in its videos, whether threatening the West from behind masks or, like Mohammad Sidique Khan, explaining their motives from beyond the grave. But let's not forget that Al Qaeda has been recruiting "Western" converts for years in Europe and the United States. My novels Innocent Blood (1997) and The Sleeper (2004) dealt with a fictional character who's an all-American boy turned terrorist, based on some real-life precedents. Among them is an African-American from Washington, D.C., named Clevin (or Kevin) Holt, who fought alongside Palestinians in Lebanon and with the muj in Afghanistan during the 1980s, and may have shown up in Bosnia in the 1990s, when U.S. forces were on the lookout for him. Since then, the middle-aged Holt seems to have disappeared completely. In France during the 1990s, a gang of French veterans from Bosnia, including Christophe Caze and Lionel Dumont, were accused of several robberies around the city of Roubaix. Caze was killed and the phone numbers in his captured agenda gave French investigators an invaluable key to the basic Al Qaeda infrastructure in Europe. Dumont, who was captured, escaped and recaptured as he moved around the Balkans, Japan and Germany, is due to go on trial in France later this year. And then there was John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," now serving 20 years in the slam. Remember him? An all-American boy from Marin county. What happens when someone like this falls prey to the spreading pathology of suicide bombing? Al Qaeda's English-language propaganda campaign suggests it may be preparing the way for some of these guys to move from talk to action.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

From a Saudi friend: A Change of Approach in Iraq

A Saudi friend of mine e-mails his analysis of the current Middle Eastern scene to several acquaintances every week. But because he's close to some parts of the Saudi government, he doesn't put his name on these missives, lest his opinions be considered official. This is his latest, slightly abbreviated:

Many minds are preoccupied today with what to do next in Iraq. Finding a viable way out appears frustrating and intractable. Yet the most dangerous response of all would be to give in to this frustration and “make do” with the current approach. None of us has a perfectly sound vision of what should come next, but it is clear that the continuation of the American occupation has made a bad situation worse, with little hope of reversing that trend.

In the absence of clear solutions, it's tempting to opt for a wait and see policy, hoping that the Iraqi debacle will resolve itself over time. But time is almost certainly not on the side of stability in Iraq. Whatever we do, we must not give up on the idea that Iraq requires our intense and creative thinking. The current mess in Iraq is not good for Iraqis, it is not good for regional stability, and it is not good for America. There are some who take pleasure in seeing America injured and wounded. These forces should not be encouraged. America helped us get rid of a murderous dictator; now we must help Americas address the problem they face in Iraq. It is in the interest of us all—except of course the terrorists—to bring about a stable, united and independent Iraq.

The many Iraqis who are hoping for their country to hold together deserve our full support. Deep down Iraqis understand that their future is one, even if they are not quite sure what this will look like and how it will come about. Sunnis and Shia can work together, and they can both work with a Kurdish entity. We should keep this in mind when we consider our options in Iraq.

Overcoming the terrorists and securing an effective American withdrawal are of course the more thorny and urgent issues. The United States will have to withdraw eventually, and the sooner the better. The first question then is how to secure a safe withdrawal and a stable transition. Obviously the United Nations and Iraq’s neighbors will have to play a leading role.

Broadly speaking, it was clear from the beginning that Iraq’s transition would not go well without a strong role for the United Nations and the international community. Today America will finally have to come around to this idea. The circumstances have become far tougher but this does not mean that such a move should not be considered. By enlisting Iraq’s neighbors and putting together a credible UN-sanctioned force, composed mainly of Muslim and Arab soldiers, the situation can be transformed, although it remains a challenge.

America cannot abandon her commitment to supporting Iraqi unity and stability. Any international force would necessarily receive extensive material, financial and logistical support from the Americans, and indeed from the community of nations. A UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s unity, independence and territorial integrity should be passed, and all forces enlisted to help initiate a new phase and to stabilize Iraq.

The only thing we can be sure of today is that America will eventually have to withdraw and that this step is in fact essential to reestablishing security and stability in Iraq. We should hence apply our minds and our energies to considering how best to manage such a situation.

What we have today is unacceptable and it is threatening not only the future of Iraq, but the entire region and hence very directly the stability of the world economy. We must think creatively, reflecting on how the situation can be transformed rather than how intractable it appears. The responsibility belongs to all of us and failing the Iraqi people—and hence also ourselves—is not an option.

Battle Fatigue

Name: Becky and Kevin
Hometown: none given

Good Morning,

Don't you ever get tired reporting the same old Bull Shit day after day? Well, I'm tired reading what you would do and what you can learn.

How about journalist learning to keep their personal opinion and knock off the bashing. You and newsweek have caused harm and destruction in the middle east with your lame story. You journalist think you guys know so don't.

Why do you think that Newsweek mag and other news paper sales are down? Big hint! We just got tired of your Bull Shit!
We gotten tired of your Bush bashing..old song and dance. I hold you and every other news journalist accountable for all the misleading news and targeted our troops and alias more.

You journalist are like cancer either love to cause more harm to other people rather reporting the truth.
So screw you Dickey and your column.


To which I say...
Well yes, Becky, I do get tired, but I keep coming back to the same subjects precisely because the people who are causing all this grief expect that eventually we the public will just lose interest, change the channel, and let them go on doing what they've been doing.

In early August I published my 100th Shadowland column, "Pre-Emptive Peace," explaining why Washington should set a clear timetable for complete American withdrawal from Iraq. It also includes dozens of links to past articles on related subjects, and apart from my personal archive, it's the best point of reference for Shadowland's long, ongoing, and, I'm sad to say, largely accurate chronicle of disaster.

Best regards, Chris

Shadowland: "Beyond Good and Evil"

The Shadowland column posted September 13, 2005, on, marked the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in a couple of different ways. I tried to put President Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina in the context of his reactions to 9/11 as they happened, rather than as we've been made to remember them, and I published for the first time a long memo about the nature of terror and terrorists that I wrote four years ago in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity in New York and Washington. I was hoping to get us beyond good and evil (to borrow Nietzsche's memorable phrase) and suggest more realistic terms for the problems that face us. More than a hundred readers have responded to from around the United States and from places as far away as Hyderabad and Goteborg:

"America represents a real threat to peace..."
Name: John
Hometown: Göteborg, Sweden
...What you missed is that every thing you described, as individual motivations and pathologies, could be applied to the average American soldier. Ben Laden's recruitment message is the same as every military recruiter everywhere including the U.S. "Be All You Can Be", "Serve the greater cause", (Insert: Freedom, peace, the nation, the religion, or just for the fun of it, etc., etc.) to give meaning to your loser life, all you need is a gun, a tank, a bomb, or a plane and the will to kill people and you can achieve glory. Isn't that the ultimate message of every recruiter cruising the malls and inner cities of America trawling for "losers" and "alienated" youth. Common sense tells me America is in deep trouble not from the flag burners, as you correctly point out, but from, what you really missed, the vast silent majority of the world who is coming to know you, for who and what you have become, the new Germany, the new Reich. Like the Germans of 1939, as a people, you have come to believe that because of a self-percieved culutral superiority you are entitled to a disproportionate share the world's resources. For that purpose alone, in your most recent ventures, you are willing to fictionalize and rationalize, as unfortunate collerateral damage, the killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of totally innocent men, women and children. You are in Afghanistan, not for Ben Laden, but for strategic control of a pipiline. Your are in Iraq not for any of the many fictionalized reasons given, but for the establishment of permanent military bases. The purpose these bases is to control the resources necessary for the establishment of a "New American Century". You have recently developed a new nuclear doctrine of premptive strikes and are developing new nuclear weapons for the express purpose of terrorizing, governments and their populations with a goal of extortion. The other, silent, six billion of us are slowly coming to a firm point of understanding that America represents a real threat to peace and danger to our very existence. Well, that's what common sense tells me. I wish you and yours all the best and peace be with you. Sincerely John

Is God a Republican?
Name: Earnán
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
If Katrina is, in the words of one of your readers, the judgement of God ("If we are to believe that President Bush and the Christian Right have been talking directly to God these past six years, then it follows that this is God's answer to their agenda.") it is surpassingly odd that God has chosen to smite Democrats, poor people and people of color. Maybe He _is_ a Republican?

American Aristocracy?
Name: Rick
Hometown: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
...Not everyone in Idaho is a fan of the Bush regime. My vision is seeing the unfolding of an Orwellian scenario. I see a powerful aristocracy selling the American public off for record profits, as they laugh their way to the bank. ....

"Evil exists"
Name: nobody (e-mail alias "biblelover")
Hometown: none
As much as you liberals want to deny the fact that "evil" exists(and you want to destroy biblical Christianity in the world at all costs),the plain and simple truth is that there ARE evil people in this world and we,both liberal and conservative,must try to destroy them or they will destroy us. I know that you would love to see Bush keel over and die from a heart attack,but I would rather have a Republican president with,at least, HALF of a brain than a liberal one with NO BRAINS WHATSOEVER!!!! And getting rid of us "religious types" will not get rid of terrorism. I have met liberal socialists that would use the same tactics that Osama used on 9/11 for their "perfect" world...and from your writings,I believe that you are one of them. AM I RIGHT??!!!

"Overheated rhetoric"
Name: Deidre
Hometown: none
Your Beyond Good and Evil column had a profound effect on me. These days, I actually try not to read too many commentaries (I’m worn out by overheated rhetoric and often too tired to search for value in the flood of news available to me.) But what you call an internal memo to your editors was one of the most informative pieces I’ve read. Maybe the wrong things are getting published. Thanks for sharing.

Good news ... not.
Name: richard
Hometown: taylor, texas
The President who came to office as the compassionate-conservative has proven to be neither. War breeds contempt and hatred even from our friends. Congressional spending continues out of control with nary a veto from the supposed conservative president. There is classic case of the "emperor has no clothes" atmosphere around this president. Tell me only the good news and don't dissent from my opinion.

[Also of possible interest: Shadowland: The Empire's New Clothes, 24 June 2005./ CD]

Historical Perspective
Name: Ramon
Hometown: Kendrick Ok
The Grant administration revisted.

Fanaticism and Fatalism
Name: Jennie
Hometown: none given (Internet address has an ".is" suffix for Iceland)
Mr. Dickey,
I just finished reading your "Shadowland" piece "Beyond Good and Evil What Bush could have learned after 9/11 and should learn after Katrina".
I was especially enthralled with the section in italics titled "Septemer 2001". It was truly remarkable and forthright - your piece highlights so many points that we have forgotten in four years thanks to the bombardment of the 24 hours news channels such as "CNN" and "Al-Jazeera" - although I myself am a self-confessed "CNN Junkie".
You had many notable points in your missive - 2 of the strongest points are -
"The fact is, the actual terrorists we're looking at are mostly loners and losers, much like the assassins who took pot shots at politicians and celebrities in America from the 1960s to the 1980s. Eventually, of course, presidents and the rest of the Beatles got better protection. So the Lee Oswalds and the Squeaky Fromms of today target innocents, because innocents are easy targets.".
I agree with you that we are dealing with something much deeper than a sense of religious fanatacism or some deep sense of fatalism - we are dealing with unhappy and truly unsettled people who cannot handle the "issues" (unhappy childhood, less than ideal circumstances, unfulfilling life, work etc.) that most of us learn to cope with.
Yes, you are so correct in that technology has enabled these people to get together and form a bond that is in many ways, unbreakable.
I imagine that the reasons the politicians do not talk about this is that how can we defeat this, what I call, "undefined angst". Making a political battle against those I would call "losers that cannot cope in society" is so much less politcally palatable than fighting "evil" and "enemies of freedom".
Your other exceptionally strong point was -
"In the mid-1990s, bin Laden was cornered in Afghanistan along with a few other outcast firebrands. Even Sudan didn't want him around any more. The glorious jihad against the Soviets was long over, and Kabul was reduced to rubble by the Afghans fighting each other. Efforts to take the jihad home to Arab countries and wage revolution against the regimes there— in Egypt, in Algeria, in Jordan — had failed. The Bosnian slaughter was over after Dayton, and the Bosnians didn't want holy warriors from other countries hanging around. Peace was in the air between Israel and Palestine."
In 1996 I was in Isreal for work (I was invited by El Al Airlines to discuss the "Aeronautical Telecommunication Network" or "ATN"). Yes, peace and hope were in the air. I visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a tourist on a day off from meetings. Tour guides were excited at the many Muslim Arabs that were visting Holy Sites - including Christian and Jewish sites where I met some of these Arabs - that came from Arab countries whose populace had never been to Isreal or Palestine before.
This peace and optimism must have made the people you mentioned in your column terribly uncomfortable and perhaps seething with a fury.
I think you are correct, this is not a "clash of civilizations" but a clash between people who want to be happy and try and make the world a better place and people who are determined to feel persecuted and unhappy and want to find some kind of notorious glory by making others feel terrified. Blair, Bush and others cannot win elections trying to send in troops to fight those with an "undefined angst" in whatever country they may be in.
Thank you so much for your column.
Sincerely, Jennie

A Christian Terrorist?
Name: angela
Hometown: hyderabad, india
i agree fully. as a nonamerican, i'd like to know why there's silence from the US governmentabout your christian evangelist radio preacher who talked about'taking out castro'? at the UN there's talk about taking action against those who preach terrorism. will he now be prosecuted, along with mullahs and maulvis who preach similar terror tactics? or is terrorism defined solely as action taken against the interests of western powers alone. as a christian myself i'd like the term to include christian fundamentalism as well, with its righteousness dovetailing with narrow nationalism

Blame the Liberals
Name: Jon
Hometown: CT
Why do Americans feel the need to blame someone for this tragedy? Because we have become a nation of having the government do all for us. Who are to blame, the liberals who make it their credo to help ALL, People can't stand on their own 2 feet because of the welfare system. Gone are the days of being self sufficent, that's where America's greatness comes from! "Act don't react"

Preaching to the Choir
Name: Kaity
Hometown: none given
I find myself subsconsciously nodding after every sentence while reading this report. But I think Christopher Dickey is preaching to the choir. Those who need to read this article are those who still truly believe in the nobility and the integrity of our current president and his 'consigliere.' Unfortunately, those people aren't apt to read Newsweek. Great report...

It Takes A Villain
Name: Derek
Hometown: Storrs, CT
Mr. Dickey, I normally do not read blogs, though in this case I am certainly glad that I read your opinion on "beyond good and evil." As human beings, we must constantly have an enemy; if we do not, we make ourselves the enemy. The terrorists have villified us, while we have villified and exaggerated them in order to maintain the farce. Hopefully many in the very near future will have the clarity of your vision and will abandon this foolish notion of "Orientalism" that so stains our vision of the Middle East.