Sunday, July 31, 2005


Ramez Maluf has some advice for Karen Hughes on how to improve the U.S.'s image in the Arab world.
There exists in some minds the notion that the United States can improve its image by somehow “winning the argument” over U.S. policy. Don’t buy it. Defending American policy will always be an important element of your work, but if your office confines its activities to justifying U.S. policies, its success will be limited and you’ll burn out in no time. This head–on approach actually restricts dialogue and cements the existing counterproductive imagery. Instead, your work must focus on issues over which you have some control, and where U.S. policy can do the least harm.

Don’t waste your time disputing the stereotype. Move the argument elsewhere and introduce other images. The United States needs to change its “brand” in the Arab world, and the focus should be on images relevant to Arabs in their own context.


Most Arabs live in societies where popular expression, other than in support of the government’s agenda, is almost nonexistent. The Arab world generally sees only the results of American political debates in the form of U.S. government policy. But Arabs love to watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, or hear actor Sean Penn rail against the war in Iraq, or read that a senator or congressperson argued in favor of a more equitable policy in the Middle East. This dynamic, and its electoral and social complexities, is not sufficiently advertised outside the United States. Try a hard–hitting documentary on the 2004 U.S. election. Odd as it may seem, your office should take pride in making opposition to its policies known. It’s one of the beauties of the American system.

It would be interesting to see Hughes trumpeting the existence of political dissent in the U.S. while abroad at the same time her boss and his party are vilifying those dissenters here at home.

I remain extremely skeptical of Hughes' fitness for this position. She's proven very skilled at selling Bush to the folks, but as far as I know she has shown no particular interest or knowledge of Arab or Islamic culture. Her "I'm jes' a girl from Texas" cornpone schtick may make Tim Russert tremble with glee, but I suspect it will go over in Arab media about as well as one of those Acme anvils that always seemed to be falling on Wile E. Coyote.

On the other hand, as a campaign flack, Hughes was able to convince a substantial number of American voters that the layabout rich kid George W. Bush was a reg'lar ole hardworking Texas guy, so maybe she can work miracles for the U.S.'s image in the region. We'll see.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


From the BBC:
Japanese scientists have unveiled the most human-looking robot yet devised - a "female" android called Repliee Q1.

She has flexible silicone for skin rather than hard plastic, and a number of sensors and motors to allow her to turn and react in a human-like manner.

A little late, my Japanese friends. The U.S. has had four Laura Bush models operating since 2001.

Monday, July 25, 2005


About a year and a half ago, apparently, Donald Rumsfeld sat stark upright in bed in the middle of the night as it occurred to him that counterterrorism was best handled cooperatively between nations. The entire universe then responded "No shit."

The Pentagon's new strategy
emphasizes "encouraging" and "enabling" foreign partners, especially in countries where the United States is not at war. Concluding that the conflict cannot be fought by military means alone--or by the United States acting alone--the new Pentagon plan outlines a multipronged strategy that targets eight pressure points and outlines six methods for attacking terrorist networks.


Going after high-value targets like Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi, his emir in Iraq, is still a big part of the strategy but only a part. Three less direct approaches will now receive much greater emphasis: helping partner nations confront terrorism, going after supporters of terrorist organizations, and helping the State Department-led campaign to reduce the ideological appeal of terrorism. The latter category includes such things as military-provided humanitarian aid. U.S. aid to tsunami victims, for example, dramatically swung Asian public opinion from a negative to a positive view of America. Despite fears that the U.S. military is waging a duplicitous propaganda war, many military officials say that "information operations" are an inevitable dimension of warfare and must play a role, along with the State Department's public-diplomacy efforts.

I hope this will be perceived as a thumb in the eye to the priapic warblogger types who constantly ridicule the "law enforcement" approach to counterterrorism. Yes, Glenn, it's a lot less exciting than the Abrams-tank-crashing-through-a-wall method that gets you and your 101st Fighting Keyboarders so moist, but it's also more likely, indeed has proven, to produce actual results. Just saying.

For a Pentagon that has been seen as primarily championing pre-emptive attacks against terrorist threats, the new strategy's enthusiastic embrace of foreign partners is a real sea change. [Doug] Feith describes the reasons for it. "How do you fight an enemy that is present in numerous countries with whom you're not at war?" he asked. "The answer, in many cases, is we're going to have to rely on the governments of the countries where the terrorists are present. We can't do it ourselves, because you're talking about actions on the sovereign territory of other countries. . . . We need to have countries willing to cooperate with us and capable of doing the things they need to do to serve our common interests."

This seems an almost complete, though of course completely welcome, retreat from the obstinate unilateralism of the Bush Doctrine. Hopefully, some Democrat much more notable than me will take the opportunity to point out that Rumsfeld's Pentagon has essentially adopted John Kerry's strategy for fighting the war on terror.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Responding to Gene Stone, Kathryn Lopez writes in the Corner:
From Gene Stone on the dark side of the H-Bomb (most of it), writing about Rick Santorum's outed staffer:
There has to be word for a gay Uncle Tom. Uncle Bruce? Mr. Traynham wins the weekly Uncle Bruce award.

In other words, if you happen to be gay, there is only one acceptable way to think.

I can't say that I'm completely unfriendly to Lopez's point here, hackneyed as it may be. I've always been uncomfortable with the idea that someone's race, gender, or sexual orientation necessarily proscribes certain political views for them. On the other hand, it's hard not to take issue with members of disadvantaged groups who throw their lot in with the opponents of social progress and equality.

Take Ann Coulter, who regularly attacks feminists, or rather attacks a sensationalized wicca-lesbian-Marxist strawwoman she insists is representative of feminism. Coulter is at at least intelligent enough to know that her ability to earn buckets of money publishing dubitably sourced anti-liberal screeds and making an ass of herself on TV owes no small debt to the feminist movement which she constantly degrades. How should this fact enter in to the debate? Is it worth pointing out? Perhaps it's better left as a meta-irony, attending everything Coulter says or writes.

Similarly, Mr. Traynham surely must understand that the only reason that he can remain chief of staff to one of the nation's most powerful lawmakers after having come out as gay is because of the hard work done, the humiliation and violence endured, by gay rights activists. It's hard for me to reconcile the image of Oscar Wilde rotting away in Reading Gaol, his life destroyed by accusations of buggery, with the idea of Robert Traynham, a century later, serving on the staff of Rick Santorum, a man who has built a political career on exploiting the same sort of prejudice that put Wilde in prison. I guess sometimes freedom is like that, but forgive me if in this case I don't particularly feel like celebrating.

But, finally, if we must call names, and I recognize that sometimes we simply must, I offer that Uncle Roy, as in Cohn, is a better choice than Uncle Bruce.

"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live."
-Oscar Wilde

Thursday, July 21, 2005


In an extraordinary example of a win-win situation, the United Arab Emirates has outlawed the use of child slaves as jockeys in camel races. Now they will be using remote-controlled robotic jockeys.
Robots weighing up to 15kg were dressed in the clothes of human jockeys during the race held in the capital Abu Dhabi, which officials described as "successful", the WAM news agency reported.

Earlier this month the UAE outlawed using children under 18 - raising the age limit from 16 - in camel races, a practice condemned internationally as a form of slavery.

Using robots would've just been cool. Dressing them up in human clothes? Now that's bloody wonderful.

On the other hand, this could be the beginning of a destabilizing arms race, as neighbouring countries seek to close the robotic jockey gap.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I suppose watching Fox News is sort of my unhealthy coping mechanism, and this evening I was treated with Bo Dietl being interviewed by Neil Cavuto, or rather Cavuto letting Dietl smell an Arab shirt and then setting him loose on an entire culture.

From NewsHounds (Warning: like so much of what appears on Fox News, this is plain old hate masquerading as working-class straight-talk):
Dietl said he has been to Saudi Arabia, to Riyadh and Jeddah, "the whole joint over there, boppin' around. You got a bunch of people, about 9,000 what they call royal family. They're all inbreeds. They marry each other and half of them are mongoleze [sic], and all that kind of stuff."

Dietl again, about Saudi Arabia: "They got oil, we need oil, we should go over there and take the oil. Everyone hates us anyway in these Muslim countries."

Dietl said Muslims believe that if a bullet is dipped in pig's blood, "if they get shot with it and they get killed, they can't go to never never land with the 72 virgins." Dietl suggested all our troops in Iraq start dipping their bullets in pig's blood, they tell the world that they're doing it, and maybe that'll help.

Dietl said he just met with John Meyer's son, "just back from Flueeja [sic]. I keep sayin' the wrong words. I don't even want to say these words because I hate the places anyway." Dietl said Meyer's son told him that when they attacked that town (Fallujah), "they went in and they found more syringes, they found more crystal meth," that "not besides being religious they're all jacked up on all kinda drugs there." Dietl said sometimes "they gotta shoot three or four times to take them out. This is our problem with dealing with real crazies. What do you do with a mad dog? You put a bullet in a mad dog's head."

Needless to say, the only mad dog to be seen here was Dietl himself, flecks of spittle flying from his mouth as he barked his racist nonsense through the rolling, unshaven seas of his many chins. One could almost smell the well bourbon on his breath. I'm used to a certain level of xenophobia on Fox, but this crap almost put me off my saag paneer. Saag paneer, dammit!

Dietl is the most decorated policeman in New York City history. Excellent. Why this should cause us to give a damn what he thinks about the Middle East or Islam is anyone's guess. My best idea is that having this clown on the show made the smarmy, unctuous Neil Cavuto seem almost reasonable by comparison. That's tough, but Dietl came close.

Look, I understand that Dietl's upset. I would be upset too if Stephen Baldwin had played me in the overly sensationalized, almost straight-to-video movie version of my life. But this sort of racist shit belongs at the end of a Queens bar, not on a news channel, even one as questionable as Fox. One can imagine the sustained outrage from Cavuto, O'Reilly, Gibson and the rest of the Fox apparat were similar statements about Christianity or Judaism to appear on al Jazeera. But then, comparing al Jazeera to Fox is rather unfair. To al Jazeera. I apologize.

P.S. When it comes time to make the film version of my life, I will of course be played by Bernie Mac.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005


My good friend Griff alerted me to this Barbara Lerner column in NRO, in which she criticizes Sharon's Gaza withdrawal as, among other things, "bad for America."
Our enemies know...we are handing Gaza over to Hamas, an international terrorist organization of global reach and ambition that is one of America's deadliest enemies. We think Hamas only attacks Jews. They know that Hamas is a main recruiting agent for Arab jihadists, not just from among the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and from the much larger numbers of Palestinians scattered in strategic enclaves throughout the region and the world, but for other Arabs too. We think Hamas sends all these jihadists only to Israel. They know Hamas sends a never-ending stream of them to Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans, Kashmir, Lebanon and, most critically for us right now, to Iraq.

Reading this article, as with the vast majority of right-wing commentary on Israel-Palestine, you'd never know that Israel has maintained a brutal military occupation since 1967, and that it has been steadily expropriating Palestinian land for Jewish "settlement". That would seem an important bit of knowledge to have were one to reasonably assess the situation. Of course, Lerner is not interested in anything like that.

First, let's be clear on why Sharon proposed the Gaza withdrawal. It certainly wasn't to "jump start" the peace process, which Sharon has consistently shown nothing but contempt for, just as he as shown contempt for the very idea of, and done everything within his power to frustrate the creation of, a Palestinian State. The Gaza withdrawal is being done primarily if not solely to give cover to Israel's consolidation of control over large areas of the West Bank, including, importantly, the land around Arab East Jerusalem. A simple cost-benefit analysis told Sharon that maintaining 8,000 Israeli Jews in armed camps amidst 1.3 million Palestinian Arabs was just not feasible in the long term. Pulling out of Gaza enables him to represent himself, with the aid of extremely compliant U.S. news media, as a courageous compromiser, even as he moves to ramp up settlement activity in the West Bank.

It is unfortunately true that Hamas stands to benefit the most from the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Some of the blame for this belongs of course to the corrupt and ineffectual Palestinian Authority, but a larger share belongs to Israel itself. Throughout the second intifada, Sharon targeted the PA infrastructure rather than concentrating on the people committing the actual terrorism. That is, even as he was demanding that the PA control violent Palestinian elements, he was destroying their ability to do so. There's also the inconvenient if not insignificant fact that the Israeli government supported Hamas in its early days as a potential counterweight to the nationalist PLO. Nice plan.

Juan Cole has more on the Gaza withdrawal.


Somehow I missed this story about Alliance Base in Paris, where intelligence agencies from France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia, and the U.S. coordinate counterterrorism operations.
Alliance Base...was set up by the CIA and French intelligence services in 2002, according to U.S. and European intelligence sources. Its existence has not been previously disclosed.

Funded largely by the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, Alliance Base analyzes the transnational movement of terrorist suspects and develops operations to catch or spy on them.

Alliance Base demonstrates how most counterterrorism operations actually take place: through secretive alliances between the CIA and other countries' intelligence services. This is not the work of large army formations, or even small special forces teams, but of handfuls of U.S. intelligence case officers working with handfuls of foreign operatives, often in tentative arrangements.

Such joint intelligence work has been responsible for identifying, tracking and capturing or killing the vast majority of committed jihadists who have been targeted outside Iraq and Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to terrorism experts.

The CIA declined to comment on Alliance Base, as did a spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington.

This is interesting:
The rarely discussed Langley-Paris connection also belies the public portrayal of acrimony between the two countries that erupted over the invasion of Iraq. Within the Bush administration, the discord was amplified by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has claimed the lead role in the administration's "global war on terrorism" and has sought to give the military more of a part in it.

But even as Rumsfeld was criticizing France in early 2003 for not doing its share in fighting terrorism, his U.S. Special Operations Command was finalizing a secret arrangement to put 200 French special forces under U.S. command in Afghanistan. Beginning in July 2003, its commanders have worked side by side there with U.S. commanders and CIA and National Security Agency representatives.

Yes, even as Rumsfeld was running at the mouth about "Old Europe," French special forces were being put under U.S. command in Afghanistan.


Sean Nelson is right that we should not assume a direct connection between Iraq and London. Terrorist violence is a standing order for the al Qaedists, regardless of current events. In Usama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa (legal pronouncement or ruling), his directions were clear: strike at them wherever and whenever. At most, Iraq should be considered just one more entry on bin Laden's very long list of grievances.

I think Nelson is off, however, when he claims that the London bombings have no political character. Nelson wrote:
[T]o connect the invasion of Iraq with the bombing of London represents the worst kind of moral blindness, because it invests the act with a political and spiritual legitimacy to which it is simply not entitled. The perpetrators of this mass murder have no legitimacy—political, spiritual, or otherwise. They're just murderers.


This was not a political act (though politics were its Trojan horse). It was a religious one. And religion must be held accountable.

Religion is of course the motivation behind Islamist terrorism, but that by no means makes this terrorism non-political. Islamists themselves make no distinction between the religious and the political, indeed one of their goals is a polity in which any line between the two is erased. The compartmentalization of religion and politics into separate spheres is a Western innovation, one I happen to like very much (though I'd argue that many liberals have an unrealistic view of just how separate religion and politics can and should be kept.) This distinction simply does not apply, however, when we are considering the motivations and goals of Islamist terrorism.

From bin Laden's 1998 fatwa:
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."

Clearly, bin Laden advocates the use of terrorism as a means of changing the behaviour of governments: His goal is the removal of Western troops from Muslim lands, and the creation of a single Islamic state throughout the Middle East. This seems to me political by definition. Bin Laden's objectives may be somewhat more abstract and grandiose than those of the Irish Republican Army or the Zionist Irgun, for example, but his objectives are still political, albeit a politics which is completely entwined with religion.

As to Nelson's claims about legitimacy, I also regard both the means and ends of Islamist terrorism as illegitimate, but I'd offer that legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder. In the view of a very small minority of fundamentalist Muslims, the al Qaeda ideology (and at this point al Qaeda is much more an ideology than it is an organization) and the violence it inspires are legitimate responses to what they perceive as an aggressive and invasive West. This is certainly not meant to justify or excuse terrorism, only to point out that it matters very little whether Nelson or I consider it legitimate. For those willing to kill and die for this ideology, its legitimacy is a matter of fact.

As unspeakably tragic as the London bombings were, It's encouraging that they seem to have inspired many more moderate Muslims, both in Western and Islamic media, to publicly condemn the perversion of their religion. The largest Sunni Muslim organization in Briatin yesterday issued its own fatwa condemning suicide terrorism. This is where the true solution lies, in the growing movement of devout Muslims willing to vigorously challenge bin Laden's terrorist ideology as illegitimate, unrighteous and un-Islamic, and to champion the values of consensual government and pluralism in the Islamic world.

Monday, July 18, 2005


American fundamentalist Christian terrorist Eric Rudolph gets two life sentences.

Eric Rudolph, who has confessed to the Atlanta Olympics bombing and three other explosions that killed two and injured 150, received two life sentences today for a fatal abortion clinic blast after angrily denouncing abortion and telling the federal court that "deadly force is needed to stop it."

Mr. Rudolph, a 38-year-old former Army explosives expert, pleaded guilty in April to setting off a bomb that injured a nurse, Emily Lyons, and killed a police officer, Robert Sanderson, outside the Woman All Women abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., in 1998.

He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole today in a federal courtroom in Birmingham.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


If you haven't seen John Boorman's Point Blank, do. Just out on DVD, it's one of the great gangster movies. Lee Marvin, in my favorite of his performances, has about ten lines. Also, Archie Bunker's in the movie.


Sarah Vowell is funny.
The Supreme Court's ruling last month upholding the right of the Texas State Capitol to keep a Ten Commandments sculpture - sponsored by that great theologian Cecil B. DeMille to promote his Charlton Heston epic - on its grounds as an historical artifact is arguable from a legal perspective. But to the amateur historian and professional ironist, it's a delight. Because I've been to the Texas State Capitol, and that granite Moses movie ad is one of the least offensive things there.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Last week, the Daily Howler had this excellent post on Joe Scarborough's scolding the media, in the wake of the London bombing, for focusing on insubstantial issues and "taking their eyes off the ball" in regards to terrorism. Scarborough's critique might have made some sense had it come out of someone else's mouth, but when you understand that Scarborough has been at the forefront of the newsmedia's effort/obsession to find out "Where the White Women At?" it just sounds like stunningly self-righteous noise.

One week later on Scarborough Country:
Mediterranean mystery
Jul. 14: George Smith and Jennifer Hagel where a young Connecticut couple on a Mediterranean cruise for their honeymoon. The 26 year-old Smith vanished as the ship sailed between Greece and Turkey. Is this a crime or an accident? Joe Scarborough investigates with Hartford, Connecticut’s NBC Station WVIT reporter Lisa Salvati.

Way to keep your eye on the ball, Joe.


The latest salvo from Victor Davis Hanson contains the usual chest-pounding and poop-throwing. Hanson is quite good at distilling the dominant conservative War on Terror hogwash and gathering it in one place, the better for us to examine and dismiss. Hanson's whole argument here, such as it is, amounts to a series of tendentious, misleading non-sequiturs, and the vigorous hacking of strawmen. I'll stick to the most egregious ones, otherwise I'd be here all day.

Hanson claims that, in the Leftist "mythology, the attack on September 11 had in some vague way something to do with American culpability." There are very few at this point who deny that U.S. foreign policy was a factor in the rise of transnational jihadism. Richard Perle, not noted for leftism, has recognized that the U.S. is "in a sense, paying a price" for it's support if Arab authoritarian regimes during the Cold War. The U.S.'s role in supporting the Afghan-Arab mujahedeen against the Soviets, and the great extent to which that contributed to the Islamic fundamentalist phenomenon, is well known. Recognizing these facts is of course different from suggesting that "we had it coming," or that 9/11 was an example of chickens coming home to roost, but Hanson ignores this in order to make his crude rhetorical point and paint everyone to the left of him as a Ward Churchill.

Responding to the charge that the U.S. "unfairly tilt[s]" toward Israel, Hanson writes:
Prior to 9/11, the United States had given an aggregate of over $50 billion to Egypt, and had allotted about the same amount of aid to Israel as to its frontline enemies.

I'm very curious where Hanson got these numbers from, because he's only off by about $123 billion. In his defense, he's not a math professor. From the Christian Science Monitor:
Adjusting the official aid to 2001 dollars in purchasing power, Israel has been given $240 billion since 1973, Stauffer reckons. In addition, the US has given Egypt $117 billion and Jordan $22 billion in foreign aid in return for signing peace treaties with Israel.

"Consequently, politically, if not administratively, those outlays are part of the total package of support for Israel," argues Stauffer in a lecture on the total costs of US Middle East policy, commissioned by the US Army War College, for a recent conference at the University of Maine.

More Hanson:
Two thirds of al Qaeda’s command is now captured or dead; bases in Afghanistan are lost. Saddam’s intelligence will not be lending expertise to anyone and the Baghdad government won’t welcome in terrorist masterminds.

Quite right, now it's only the rest of Iraq's Sunni Triangle which welcomes terrorist masterminds. Good show.

And you can't have a Hanson column that doesn't decry leftist "moral equivalence":
For the hard Left there is no absolute right and wrong since amorality is defined arbitrarily and only by those in power.

Taking back Fallujah from beheaders and terrorists is no different from bombing the London subway since civilians may die in either case. The deliberate rather than accidental targeting of noncombatants makes little difference, especially since the underdog in Fallujah is not to be judged by the same standard as the overdogs in London and New York. A half-dozen roughed up prisoners in Guantanamo are the same as the Nazi death camps or the Gulag.

What's that you say? Taking back Fallujah? Not so fast, Vic.

Hanson's vilely dismissive comment about "half-dozen roughed up prisoners in Guantanamo" is quite typical of the way conservatives have downplayed both the extent of the abuse of detainees and the horrible effects that reports of that abuse have had in the Arab and Islamic world. He simply doesn't get it, or doesn't care to.

It should be obvious that it is Hanson and his type who are in fact promulgating a myth, one in which Bush has made the hard choices and walked a lonely path of bravery while the Democrats and Euroweenies jealously bit at his ankles. This mythology mistakes stubbornness for steadfastness, political utility for moral clarity, and refuses to admit the tragic state of affairs in Iraq and of the United States' reputation in the region, both of which can be traced directly to inexplicably foolish decisions undertaken by President Bush and his gang.

Hanson would have us believe that there are only two ways to combat terrorism: The Way of Bush, or the Way of Appeasement. The only way for him to justify the former is to completely mischaracterize and misrepresent the latter.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


That's what I asked myself when I saw (via Washington Monthly) that Justice Sunday II was on the way. Wasn't the first Justice Sunday only a few months ago? I thought I was going to have to wait a whole year for the next one, the excitment building as I counted down the days, weeks, and months, lying in bed unsleepingly the night before, and then leaping out of bed at dawn the day of, making sure that the TV and cable worked so that I'd be sure not to miss a righteous, fundamentalist reactionary second of it.

Cause you know the first Justice Sunday was the bomb, yo. I don't think I'll ever see a DJ battle like that again. And who can forget Bill Frist biting the head off of that bat? And the end, when James Dobson nailed himself to that cross on stage, live, on camera, and John Ashcroft stabbed him in his side and red, white, and blue confetti spurted out, and then the Rockettes came out can-canning in their little devil costumes as they wrapped the whole church in a big American flag...yeah. That was great.


Very good series in Asharq Al-Awsat on the Afghan-Arabs. The work's origin is worth noting:
Asharq Al-Awsat has obtained a rare manuscript entitled, 'The Story of the Afghan-Arabs: From the Entry to Afghanistan to the Final Exodus with Taliban', written by a man who lived in close proximity to the most important moments of the drama. The writer reveals a number of secrets and explains many ambiguities in the activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In thorough detail, he recounts the struggles of the "hawks and the doves" within the organization, on issues such as weapons of mass destruction and the desperate efforts made by Osama bin Laden to obtain a "dirty bomb" from the Russian arsenal, through his correspondence with Khatab, the leader of the 'Arab Mujahideen' in the Caucasus.

Asharq Al-Awsat has obtained the manuscript through a mediator, but only after difficult and protracted negotiations.

The author, who is considered by fundamentalists in London to be the leading ideologue of Al-Qaeda, and one of the first batch of "Arab Afghans" who lived and worked in Qandahar, exposes the widely conflicting perceptions of Bin Laden's inner circle with regards to weapons of mass destruction and the most suitable methods to be adopted in the confrontation with America.

Asharq Al-Awsat is certain that the author had documented his experiences as they unfolded in front of him, from the vantage point of his membership to the Shura (Consultative) Council which constituted Bin Laden's inner circle and his close relationship with Mullah Omer, the deposed ruler of the Taliban. In deference to a request from those close to the author, Asharq Al-Awsat would not disclose his name, under the present circumstances.

Parts II, III, and IV.


Blogcritics list of Underrated Albums, via LGM. An additional entry that almost immediately came to my mind: All Shook Down by the Replacements. It's the Mats last record and essentially Paul Westerberg's first solo album, but the band's trademark drunken vigor makes even the mid-tempo tunes rock, something that's missing in Westerberg's later work. The lap-steel guitar work on "When We Began" is a treasure, as is the lyric
"Off with their heads, and on with my pants!"

which, given that the record was released in 1991, can also be seen as a harbinger of the Clinton years.


David Ignatius writing in Lebanon's Daily Star, examines two recent works and their possible implications for the U.S. in Iraq. The first is Robert Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, reviewed here by Michael Scheuer, in which Pape
analyzed the 315 suicide attacks that took place around the world from 1980 to 2003 and concluded that in nearly every case, terrorists were resisting what they regarded as foreign occupation. Their goal was "to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland." They turned to suicide attacks because, in their judgment, these worked against democratic societies, which have difficulty absorbing the pain the terrorists can inflict.

The second is an unpublished paper by Duke University political scientists Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver and Jason Reifler, in which
they argue that it isn't casualties, per se, that drive American public opinion about war. Instead, it's the public perception of whether a war is winnable.

"When the public believes the mission will succeed, then the public is willing to continue supporting the mission, even as costs mount. When the public thinks victory is not likely, even small costs will be highly corrosive," the authors wrote.

Interesting. Both of these works deal with perception: Pape's with the perception by insurgents, and the communities which aid and support them, that the occupation of their country by an invader is an end in itself; Gelpi, Feaver, and Reifler's with whether the American public perceive the war as winnable, worthwhile, and progressing accordingly. It seems that both of these elements could be dealt with to some extent with Iraq by presenting a timetable, even a rough one, for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops over perhaps two years. I think that any tangible sign to Iraqis that they are getting their country back is much more likely to dilute support for the insurgency than it is to invigorate it. And any sort of light at the end of the tunnel will probably arrest, at least temporarily, the shrinking of support for the war among Americans, not that I'm concerned in the least with Bush's political fortunes, just with the negative implications which those declining fortunes could have for Iraq and the Middle East.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials have insisted all along that Israel's "security barrier" was being built solely to keep out terrorists, and was not intended as a political border. This week, minister for Jerusalem Haim Ramon admitted what pretty much everyone knew to be true, which is that the wall is and always was in fact intended as a political border.

Ramon said demography was also a main factor for the barrier route in Jerusalem. It encloses Maaleh Adumim, a settlement with nearly 30,000 Jews, while excluding four Arab sections, including a refugee camp, with 55,000 Palestinians altogether. Of Jerusalem's 700,000 residents, about a third are Palestinian.

Besides keeping suicide bombers out, the route of the barrier "also makes Jerusalem more Jewish," Ramon said. "The safer and more Jewish Jerusalem will be, it can serve as a true capital of the state of Israel."

In other news, al Jazeera reports today on Palestinian farmers who are being denied access to their own crops which lie on the other side of Israel's wall.

Khalid Yassin of Ram Allah Human Rights Centre told on Tuesday that farmers in the West Bank village of Mas'ha had in effect been banned from their properties since 4 July due to the closure of Gate 46.

"Entry was always difficult - Israeli troops only allowed access at a couple of times during the day.

"But now occupation forces have shut the gate for good, even though cattle still need to graze and crops need to be tended to. The olive harvest in October and November will be impossible," Yassin said.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


There's an extremely troubling article in the New Yorker alleging involvement by medical personnel in the interrogation of detainees at Gitmo. Unfortunately the article isn't available online, but here are two interviews with the writer, Jane Mayer, one from the New Yorker website and another from Democracy Now!

Here's Mayer in the New Yorker interview:
The chief focus of the U.S. military detention center in Guantánamo Bay is to gain "actionable intelligence" by interrogating the detainees. Everything there is geared towards this end. The reason that some critics have called it a giant psychological experiment is that U.S. military officials have deployed Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, or BSCTs, to help devise and implement interrogation strategies—a melding of psychology and military intelligence. The psychologists and psychiatrists who work in these BSCTs apparently develop individually tailored psychological approaches aimed at creating rapport with—or, if necessary, breaking the resistance of—each detainee. The techniques they have employed, I was told, follow very closely the techniques studied and perfected by behavioral scientists working in a different capacity for the military since the Cold War.


Before 9/11, many of these behavioral scientists were affiliated with SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) schools, where they used their knowledge to train U.S. soldiers how to resist coercive interrogations. But since 9/11, several sources told me, these same behavioral scientists began to "reverse engineer" the process. Instead of teaching resistance, they used their skills to help overcome resistance in U.S.-held detainees.

Mayer's article also mentions that one of the techniques for breaking prisoner resistance is prolonged exposure to various "noxious" noises, including, and I wish this were a joke, the music of Yoko Ono. Friends, it just keeps getting worse.


This New York Times Magazine article on Syria under Bashar al Assad is well worth your time.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Apparently desperate for a way to represent the London attacks in a way that will reflect well on President Bush, Cliff May writes (in reference to this NY Times article):

Investigators now think that the attacks were carried out by homegrown extremists using low-tech explosive devices.

The attacks of 9/11/01 were highly sophisticated and killed thousands. The attacks of 3/11/04 in Madrid were somewhat less sophisticated and killed hundreds. The attacks of 7/705 appear to have been the work of amateurs and killed dozens.

Anyone see a pattern here?

And so much for the theory (contained in a recently leaked CIA “assessment”) that the battlefields of Iraq are turning out the most highly skilled terrorists ever (while our forces, presumably, learn nothing).

This is spinning of the highest order. First, if the London attacks were orchestrated by amateurs, as now looks likely, this of course in no way affects, let alone disproves, the CIA's assessment that Iraq has become a fertile training ground for Islamist militants. The salient point of the CIA report is that Iraq-trained militants will return to their home countries and provide counter-weight to President Bush's Middle East reform agenda.

Second, yes, I do see a pattern here. I see two. I see the increasing democratization of deadly force. And I see the continued willingness of conservatives like Cliff May to brazenly spin any and every event as a vindication of Bush policy.


In the spirit of peace and reconciliation, Israel is moving forward with a plan to build an agricultural park in a densely inhabited section of Arab East Jerusalem.

In early June, the City of Jerusalem said it would explore alternatives to demolition, though it contends the Palestinians had no permits and built without regard to urban planning. Even so, the prospect of the largest single destruction of Arab homes in East Jerusalem in almost four decades had already set off political undercurrents that reached to London and Washington.

Over 1,000 Palestinians live in the 88 affected homes, and Palestinians had received orders to tear down 64 of the homes before the city agreed to reconsider, said Sami Ershied, one of the lawyers appealing the orders.


Palestinian ministers said that Palestinians were discriminated against when applying for building permits in East Jerusalem and that unilateral measures there by Israel would undermine the peace process. They also criticized Israeli attempts to change the city's demography, especially in the east, where about 200,000 Palestinians live.

Peace groups, made up of both Palestinians and Jews, opposed the demolitions and gave tours of the area to diplomats and journalists.

Pay special attention to that bit about discrimination against Israeli Arabs with regards to building permits, as this is a method which Israel has typically used to put more and more Arab land into Jewish hands. Israeli Arabs are consistently denied permits to develop their own land, often for the flimsiest of bureaucratic reasons. After a period of time, usually a few years, that land will be siezed by the Israeli government under eminent domain and be sold at very friendly prices to Jewish settlers who will then move in and build a mini-fortress (such as this one) in the midst of the Arab neighborhood. This process can only be understood as low-intensity ethnic cleansing: Force the Arab people out, move the Jewish people in, bit by bit.

Here's a first hand account of what the people of Silwan are going through, written by an Israeli peace activist.

You have to imagine what it feels like to wake up one morning in your own house, the house your grandfather built long before the state of Israel existed, and to find the official notice on the wall. Your home, where you have lived your life, is soon to be destroyed; you and your children will be refugees. It must seem unreal; a house is so stolid and enduring a presence, a thing of mortar and stone as well as intimate refuge. Now the intimacy has been violated; you are threatened, afraid, exposed. A long line of condemned homes stretches all the way up the hill, toward the wall of the old city. In the protest tent where we have come to plan the next moves, a large-scale aerial photograph is pinned to the wall, each of the 88 buildings circled and numbered. Abed points to number 9, his grandmother’s home: the man who built it, her grandfather, died 100 years ago, so the house goes back to the 19th century, Turkish times. Anywhere else it would be preserved as a historic monument, but in Israel-Palestine such considerations are irrelevant; Israel, or Sharon, wants this plot of land, like all the rest.

This is part of the war that Israel is waging against the Palestinians Arabs. I get extremely frustrated when I see references to the violence framed as "the insane cycle of Palestinian suicide bombing and Israeli retaliations," usually by people who clearly should know better, because this leaves out the most important part of the equation, which is the Israeli occupation, the brutality and day-to-day inhumanity of which cannot be overstated. Palestinian resistance, of which suicide bombing is one particularly egregious element, is first and foremost a response to that occupation. And Palestinians understand, as far too few Americans seem to, that the occupation exists primarily to facilitate land grabs like the one happening in Silwan.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Iran and Iraq have agreed to broad military cooperation, including the training of Iraqi soldiers by Iran. (BBC, al Jazeera)

Asked about possible US opposition to Iran-Iraq military cooperation, Shamkhani said: "No one can prevent us from reaching an agreement."

Iraq's al-Dulaimi echoed Shamkhani's comments.

"Nobody can dictate to Iraq its relations with other countries," he said.

This should be good.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


As the Germans like to say, someone needs to be shot for this.

Iraqis call it Assur, the Fence. In English everyone calls it the Wall, and in the past two years it has grown and grown until it has become an almost continuous rampart, at least 10 miles in circumference, around the seat of American power in Baghdad.

The wall is not a small factor in the lives of ordinary Iraqis outside it. Khalid Daoud, an employee at the Culture Ministry, still looks in disbelief at the barrier of 12-foot-high, five-ton slabs that cuts through his garden.

A few months ago, he said, the American military arrived with a crane and tore up the trees in his garden, smashed the low wall surrounding it, swung the slabs into place and topped them with concertina wire.

Good lord, people. What supergenius thought this one up? As if the U.S. didn't have enough trouble with Islamists pointing to the presence of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as evidence of a Crusader-Israel conspiracy, now the U.S has built it's very own "separation barrier," similar, in both its appearance and its ruinous effect upon the lives, property, and livelihoods of the local population, to Israel's apartheid wall.

Do you think any Iraqis see this comparison?

"We are the new Palestine," said Saman Abdel Aziz Rahman, owner of the Serawan kebab restaurant, by the northern reaches of the wall.

Way to win the hearts and minds, guys.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Rob tags me. Here are the rules.

Do you ever read those stuffy book lists you see circulating, like 'List your five most important books,' and think to yourself- no wonder these people are so damned boring. Some of the titles give me a damned headache, they are so dull. Knowing things is great, but fiction makes life bigger and better and in color.

So, in the proud spirit of anti-intellectualism (just kidding), I am going to offer you the five books I liked enough as a teen/young adult to read again as an adult.

In no particular order:

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. Okay, I read it before my teens but I thought I should mention it because it's such an awesome book, and I continued to reread it into my teens and adulthood. It has everything a young (and old) boy needs: action, adventure, swordfighting, political intrigue, an inescapable island prison, buried treasure, assumed identities, beautiful ladies with great, heaving bosoms, and of course, traitorous ex-friends getting their just comeuppance.

Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut. This was my first experience reading Vonnegut, and though my love of his novels has lessened somewhat as I've gotten older, my appreciation for this collection of highly imaginative, often bizarre, and unapologetically political short stories has only grown.

The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. This book did for comics what Leone did for Westerns. It recontextualized and redefined an entire American mythos. For good measure, it also has the Joker gassing David Letterman and his entire studio audience, a young female Robin, and Batman whupping Superman's ass. Dude. No, dude.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's possible that no single subject, certainly no book, has had more computer code expended upon it, so I'll keep it short. Loved it as a kid because it had swords and monsters and ginormous battle scenes. Rereading it as an adult was, and continues to be, an infinitely richer experience. Also, swords and monsters and ginormous battle scenes still get me all upset. Favorite scene: Aragorn looks into the Palantir to declare himself to Sauron. The stones on that guy.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X with Alex Haley. Even though it's non-fiction, I still think this belongs on the short list for the Great American Novel, along with Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and Invisible Man (like how I snuck four more entries on to my list?). In addition to being a massive reality check for this white boy, this book was an early catalyst for my interest in Islam. The Haj sequence, where Malcolm discovers true Islam on his pilgrimage to Mecca, and turns away from the exclusivist heterodoxy of the Nation of Islam, is as moving as anything I've ever read in literature.

If I may color outside the lines for a moment, here are a couple books I read as a very young kid, but still enjoy.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. From the moment a giant rhinoceros shows up out of nowhere and eats James' parents, I was hooked. Of course, after I grew up, dropped acid, and had my own series of adventures with giant fruit and massive insects, I understood this book a lot better.

Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss. "When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle's on a poodle and the poodle's eating noodles...they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle." I'm thirty-two years old and still have yet to make it through the entire book without a mistake.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Be sure to stop by Lawyers, Guns, and Money all regular-like to read Scott's ongoing commentary on Justice O'Connor's retirement, possible replacements, and the broader implications for our society.

While I still strongly recommend Scott's writing on O'Connor and other legal issues, be sure to ignore his unfortunate comments on David Lee Roth, who was, of course, one of the greatest rock n' roll frontmen of all time.



Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has expressed regret over anti-India comments he made to former US President Richard Nixon.

"The Indians are bastards," Mr Kissinger said shortly before the India-Pakistan war of 1971, it was revealed this week.

Mr Kissinger also called former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi a "bitch" during the conversation.


Mr Kissinger told NDTV that this was not a "formal conversation".

"This was somebody letting off steam at the end of a meeting in which both President Nixon and I were emphasising that we had gone out of our way to treat Mrs Gandhi very cordially," he said.

"There was disappointment at the results of the meeting. The language was Nixon language."

Sure, Hank. Blame the dead guy.