Thursday, May 30, 2013

The role of religion, the definition of terrorism – beware the original thinkers

Following a public beheading on a quiet London street, the ‘’terrorism’’ debate has once again assumed center stage.

As I see it, this discussion is taking place under two different orbits. 

The first concerns the role or non-role of Islam in motivating this and other terrorist attacks.

Today, some argue that in the context of terrorism, the very mention of Islam is unacceptable. These commentators claim that in order to confront terrorism, we must disconnect religion from our consideration of the terrorist identity. They assert that to do otherwise is to commit the cardinal sin of analysis – allowing emotion and simplicity to drive observations against pure logic. But these postulates are wrong. Their obfuscation isn't an act of intellectual boldness, it's political correctness cloaked under a banner of false original thinking.

Do we really believe that Hizballah is a secular actor? Or that the jurisprudence of Sayyid Qutb played no role in shaping the political identity of the Muslim Brotherhood (you know, the group that now rules Egypt)? Or that Catholicism wasn’t important to the IRA? Or that the KKK burnt crosses just because they liked that shape? Give me a break. Yes, from most perspectives, extremists abuse the ideological tenets of the faiths to which they claim allegiance. However, by restricting our conceptions of the political faces of religious faith, we impose an intrinsic limitation upon our broader understandings of terrorism. This is the philosophical process of the dark ages.

Facing the rise of both populist and political anti-Islamic groups, it’s easy to understand why Muslims fear the real hand of prejudice. Yet the counter to this abuse doesn’t reside with sensitized debate. Instead, in order to address prejudice, we must re-frame the debate towards the greater truths. The truth, for example, that the real representatives of Islam are not those who murder with gleeful indistinction, but rather those who live for tolerance and die for freedom.

Next, there’s the question of terrorism as a term.

Here, writers like Glenn Greenwald are arguing that terrorism is an explicitly subjective and therefore implicitly worthless word. But again, for me at least, this is an intellectually weak argument. There’s a clear distinction between those who behead an unarmed man and those who wage war to attack oppressive enemies. Ignored by Greenwald and Moore is the truth of Afghanistan and Iraq. That from the early years of the US and British engagement in those countries, American and British military personnel were fighting and dying to support foundations of democratic governance. Yes, this democracy was (and is) far from perfect. Yes, civilians were killed. Yes, on a few occasions horrific war crimes did occur. But many civilians were undoubtedly saved. In the absence of American and British soldiers, Iraq would be a sectarian slaughterhouse (Iraq’s present difficulties providing terrible evidence to that effect) and Afghanistan would remain a citadel of gross inhumanity. Describing US and British foreign policy as the cause or the companion to terrorism is the ultimate endorsement of a blinding hypocrisy. It implies that we were responsible for al-Zarqawi’s bomb factories, torture chambers and beheadings. It's the equivalent of blaming bodyguards for assassins. It is, in short, morally repugnant and intellectually absurd.

It’s true, our discourse on terrorism and religion is often overly simplistic. But we won’t resolve this challenge with qualified speech or false moral equivalency. Such a course will excuse the extremist whilst disrupting our grasp of critical and complex issues.

For links to some of my other terrorism focused analysis, please click here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

America's exploding debt still poses a lethal threat

London - Attack (Day 2)

The soldier killed has been identified as Lee Rigby - he has been praised by his former Commanding Officer/senior NCOs. 

Most notable of today's news - the arrest of two further individuals on suspicion of conspiracy to murder. This is important - it could indicate a broader plot and a larger degree of premeditation. I'll have a broader piece on the attack coming out over the next day or so.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

UK terrorist attack - beheading in London

For links to my other terrorism/Middle East focus writings - please click here.

Today's brutal attack on a British soldier has shocked the UK - the British Government have stated their belief that this is a terrorist attack. This suggestion is supported by footage indicating an Islamist extremist political motivation may have been involved. The UK Government has now operated its crisis response team - COBRA.

At present, the UK's intelligence/security agencies will be engaged in a three fold effort. First, to establish whether the individuals who committed this attack are acting alone or as part of a broader cell/operation. Second, to quickly gather accurate information on the detained suspects - who they are, their nationality, known affiliations etc. Third, to assist the British Government and Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command in the development and implementation of a responsive security plan. (The US Government will also be providing support). The UK is very effective at domestic counter-terrorism.

Though much is still unknown, I have a couple of early observations. 

For a start, it's deeply troubling that armed police apparently took so long to respond (ITV News/BBC News report 20 minutes). Regardless of the precise time, the suspects appear to have wandered around unchallenged for a prolonged period. Had they desired to harm more individuals, they would likely have been able to do so.

More important is the horrific nature of the attack. In the beheading of an unarmed solider, we once again have a point of notice for all those who doubt the sustaining brutality of Sunni Islamist extremists. These are not soldiers of resistance, they are murderers. They believe that their perverse interpretation of God's will excuses any act - however terrible. By murdering children, or marathon runners, or commuters, or teenagers, or women, or military personnel, they seek to scare the world into submission. 

Our response must be the opposite - to meet these killers with intelligent force and unwavering resolve.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ted Cruz eligible for Presidency?

Regarding the reports on Ted Cruz's natural born citizenship status, check out my piece for The Guardian from a while back - The birthers' constitutional illiteracy. Cruz is eligible.

For an update, read here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Obama spinning in the rain

This is a brilliant photo. From today's Rose Garden press conference with the Turkish PM. As Obama spins under the 'rain', a US Marine stands his honorable watch.
(photo Saul Loeb/APT/Getty)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Before – During – After; Benghazi and why Truth makes a difference.

‘’Who’s tweeting about Benghazi? Rich, middle-aged men and Chick-Fil-A lovers.’’

The Washington Post is better than those words.

Four Americans died in Benghazi. Albeit temporarily, we lost a diplomatic compound to a group of terrorists.

Facing this reality, you’d think we’d want to leave no stone unturned- that endeavor in the pursuit of facts would overwhelm narrow partisan agendas. But this is Washington. And Washington being Washington, the partisan shields are up and the spin turbines are running at full power.

Yet, this obfuscation must not dissuade us from scrutiny. For three key reasons, our examination of the Benghazi attack is a continuing necessity.

1)      The security failure that preceded the attack.
In the run up to the day of the attack, September 11th 2012, the threat environment in Benghazi was severe. The Consulate was operating in a precarious post-conflict environment. A terrorist presence was obvious and ongoing. Consider the following record. In June 2012, while traveling through Benghazi, the UK Ambassador’s convoy was ambushed and two of his bodyguards injured. In response, the UK removed British diplomats later that month. In August 2012, after suffering a number of violent incidents, the Red Cross also evacuated their staff. The US mission to Benghazi had also been a focus for regular attacks.

Clearly, the danger was considerable.
It’s true; the State Department serves America in a challenging world. Understandably, security decisions must balance threat assessments with available resources. Achieving total protection for every diplomatic outpost is impossible. But even accepting the great benefit of hindsight, far greater security should have been availed to the Benghazi mission. Instead, security requests from the Consulate to Washington were met with delay, rejection or absurdity.
We need to know who dropped the ball. We need to know whether or not Secretary Clinton was briefed on the threats and security requests. We need to fully understand why these failures took place.

2)  The failure to re-enforce the Consulate during the attack

The Department of Defense’s response to the Benghazi attack was woeful. We had forces ready to launch an immediate-action rescue operation. Yet, to the team’s great consternation, their deployment was denied. An extraordinary decision. We need to know why, after years of unrestrained, unqualified and ultimate commitment, America’s testament- ‘leave no man behind’, was thrown into the fire.
But our questions can’t end here.
We also need answers as to why after 10 years of proximate war, we still lack the meaningful capacity to respond to MENA crisis events? Why does US force posture remain so predicated upon defending a Western Europe which refuses to defend itself? We also need clarification for another relevant question; one of executive leadership. Why, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, did President Obama decide to go on a fundraising trip instead of managing the crisis from the White House? Regarding Benghazi, the President’s main contention has always been that the facts weren’t clear early on. If so, why didn’t he stay in Washington to find those facts?
3)  The post-Benghazi talking points

In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the effective management of intelligence material is absolutely critical. It’s also a task of extreme complexity. Hearsay blends with eyewitness accounts, eyewitness accounts are blurred by personal inflections and every source must be framed objectively. Only then, can intelligence data be assessed and offered to policy makers as an informational product. However, when politicians intervene at the assessment stage, truth becomes subjective.
Before last November’s election, the Obama Administration claimed they hadn’t influenced the Intelligence’s Community’s Benghazi related talking points in a major way. Last week we received proof that this statement wasn’t true.

At present, the Administration’s answers simply don’t add up.
For a start, consider last week’s testimony by State’s former top security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom. Under oath, Nordstrom stated that the Libyan investigation of the attack was complicated by the US Government’s unwillingness to identify those responsible. Yet, this statement conflicts with the excuse given by Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, to remove talking points on the suspects (an action Rhodes claimed was necessary for investigative reasons). That’s not all. Along with Nordstrom’s testimony, we also now have evidence that the FBI had few concerns over the original talking point drafts. Drafts, which as Stephen Hayes notes, were the result of confident intelligence estimates. Taking this information together, a concerning picture arises- was the Administration seeking excuses to manage the domestic political fallout of the attack? In essence, was the intelligence community being used as a pawn to spin the Sunday news circuit?
Consider some further context. We know that the #2 US diplomat in Libya during the attack, Gregory Hicks, was ‘stunned’ by Susan Rice’s Sunday comments. But what about Hicks’ submission that he was pressured not to talk with Congressional investigators and second, by Nordstrom’s statement that the State Department’s Benghazi investigation failed to interview certain key officials. Now Hicks (a highly regarded professional) believes he’s being punished for his honesty. Combined with the news that other whistleblowers are ready to come forwards, it’s obvious that we need to ask further questions. Again, the Obama Administration might claim we’re delusional conspiracy theorists, but let’s face it; their record in this area is far from stellar.

In the end, the importance of our questions is certain. It’s unquestionably evident that major failings occurred in Benghazi before, during and after the attack. It’s also unmistakably clear that our present understanding of what happened is insufficient.

We should always remember that indifference to truth isn’t just the greatest enemy of democracy, it’s also fundamentally un-American. It’s a civic responsibility to ask questions. It’s the responsibility of a democratic government to provide honest answers.
Especially when citizens have died in the service of democracy.

If interested, check out some of my other thoughts on MENA related security issues.

Friday, May 10, 2013

BBC World News Debate - Guantanamo

Below is a link to the video of my BBC World News - Guantanamo Bay debate (from last week). If interested, you should also check out my BBC World Service radio discussion + Daily Caller article.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why Moyes is the right man to replace Sir Alex

Update: Also check out What America's politicians could learn from American sports

Succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who made Manchester United the world’s greatest soccer club, would be hard for any Coach. 13 Premier League trophies, 5 FA Cups, 2 Champions League crowns. Yes, he could be arrogant and was often petty with critics, but nonetheless, Ferguson is a giant of the soccer world.

But even as a Everton fan, I can accept the hard truth- David Moyes is the right man for Manchester United. 

Sure, I’m sad to see him leave Everton. After all, Moyes is the guy who built my team into the top level club that it is today. He may not have won a trophy, but amidst severe financial constraints, Moyes has been an incredible servant to the Toffee nation. His eye for talent was unmatched, his developmental leadership sustained and his tactical knowledge spot on. Risen from former battles against relegation, Everton are now a regular contender for European qualification.

This record is why Moyes has been picked as Sir Alex’s replacement. 

Manchester United needs two things from their next coach – a steady hand and a fresh vision. 

On the first point, it’s evident that United is a team in transition. The old guard –Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and co. are on their way out. Key strikers - Rooney and Van Persie aren’t getting any younger. United has to look to the future. They need a Coach who can continue developing United’s future talent core – players like Phil Jones, Tom Clerverley, Danny Welbeck, whilst also maintaining United’s present domination of the Premier League. With his experience shaping players like Mikel Arteta, Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney into the stars they are today, Moyes has a pedigree that United will have found deeply appealing. At the same time, United understand that they need a Coach who can find new talent. Again, Moyes ticked the box.

Of course, a contemporary Premier League coach has to be more than an administrator and a scout, he also has to be a tactical master. Cue Moyes. Before he took the reins, Everton was a team known for its plucky resolve and not much else. The glory years of the 80s were a memory. A great goalkeeper, long balls and a sprinkling of hope had become the tactical modus operandi. Check out today’s Everton and you see a very different team. Sure, the basic foundation of physicality remains, but there’s something else present now – ingrained tactical intelligence. Forward hoofs have been replaced by a confident, smooth passing game. Set pieces are refined. Play makers are spread in various positions across the field. This is a team with versatility and aggression. This is a club that wins.

United’s executive leadership know that if they’re to be able to transition current glory into a similarly successful future, they’ll have to have a Coach who can compete with the English Premier League’s (EPL) exceptional and growing talent. With a talented young coach working wonders at Tottenham, Mourinho seemingly on his way back to Chelsea and Mancini keen to splurge even greater millions on a new set of stars, the competition is about to get even tougher. Moyes knows this league better than anyone (except Sir Alex).

I suspect there was one final factor to David Moyes attractiveness. His character. 

Unlike many EPL coaches, Moyes is renowned for his sense of fair play and integrity. He rarely complains about officials and when he does so, he tends to have good reason. Now that Ferguson has gone, United has a legacy to uphold. In the end, they’re a business as well as a cultural institution. Moyes gets this. He can build upon this legacy and he can take it forwards.

Sure, I’ll be sad to see him go. But I also get why United wanted him. 

With the abiding gratitude of a mournful Toffee, I wish him all the best.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sexual Abuse in the US Military

By the latest stats, sexual assaults in the US Military have increased 30% since 2010. While I suspect that a significant element of this increase is due to increased reporting, it's increasingly evident that the scale and systemic nature of this problem is severe. The President was correct - we need to deal with this. Now.

In addition to the steps that are already being taken, I think we need to look at creating a Joint Force Protection Command - perhaps asking recently retired General Mattis to return as the CO. Though this Command would not need to be particularly large, it would provide central cross-force orientation and leadership towards addressing this deep problem. It would also integrate these efforts into the heart of the DoD bureaucracy.

Every branch of the Armed Forces must instigate proper reporting chains that protect victims whilst seeking appropriate judicial remedies for suspected offenders. I'd like to see USAF-Chief of Staff, General Welsh, make an address on this issue. His leadership qualities are superb.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Israel bombs Syria (Analysis)

 Some thoughts on Syria re-Israel air strikes.

1) The Israelis are enforcing their red lines against Assad - that transmission of advanced materiel to Hezbollah will not be tolerated. The Israeli concern is that Hezbollah is using the chaos of the Syrian civil war to transport significant supplies to their base of operation in Lebanon. Hezbollah also (rightly) fears that Assad's fall will dry up this crucial supply line.

2) The Israelis have made the decision that speeding Assad's withdrawal from power is preferable to the risks of escalation. This is a major strategic development on Israel's part - It illustrates that the Israelis are unafraid to anger the Obama Administration (which apparently was not warned in advance) and that Israel no longer believes the Assad regime can survive in a way that is viable for Israeli national security interests (for a time, the Israeli Govt. was unsure as to whether Assad's fall would be a good or bad thing re- what would follow).

3) The Israelis are attempting to send a unequivocal message to Iran in regards to previously stated red lines over the Ayatollah's nuclear program (see here). Indeed, the Israelis previously bombed a Syrian nuclear facility. Essentially, the Israelis are transmitting this message - ''Unlike the US, our red lines mean something.'' As I recently wrote, under Obama, US red lines have become a sick joke. The US is likely to conduct some measure of new intervention in the coming weeks.