Nazila Fathi takes a look. Apparently there’s some public tolerance of transsexuals, but not of homosexuality.
Rosa Brooks had a great take on the Bollinger/Ahmadenijad face off a few days ago.
Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative journalist, writes in a new article entitled “Shifting Targets” that there has been “a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning” for war with Iran inside the Bush administration.
Most significantly, Hersh — who has been warning for months that the administration is seriously plotting for war with Iran — reports the administration has switched its rationale for war. The focus has shifted from a broad bombing attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities to “surgical” strikes again Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere.
On CNN’s Late Edition this morning, Hersh said the administration has adopted what it views as a rationale that can win over the public and international allies, while accomplishing its key objective of initiating a military conflict:
You can sell [this approach]. It’s more logical. You can say to people, the American people, we’re only hitting those people that we think are trying to hit our boys and the coalition forces. And so that seems to be more sensible. Because the White House thinks they can actually pitch this, this would actually work. In other words, you can do a bombing and not have the world scream at us and also get the British on board.
In his article, Hersh writes, “This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran,” emphasizing the shift in rationale. The “shifting emphasis” is “gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon.”
Hersh also reveals:
During a secure videoconference that took place early this summer, the President told Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, that he was thinking of hitting Iranian targets across the border and that the British “were on board.” At that point, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice interjected that there was a need to proceed carefully, because of the ongoing diplomatic track. Bush ended by instructing Crocker to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution.
The White House has even prepared a “Clinton did it too” defense for attacking Iran, according to Hersh. “If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.”
Via Marc Lynch, “Can’t Win With Them, Can’t Go To War Without Them” by Peter Singer (the one who writes about private military contractors, not the controversial philosopher). The basic argument, to quote Lynch’s gloss, is that contractors are a kind of addiction “a cheap fix which allows for poorly conceived military interventions beyond the real means of the United States.” Their use is counterproductive in counterinsurgency situations, yet we’ve organized ourselves so that it’s impossible to conduct a counterinsurgency without them.
It was back in October 2006 when I first started hearing knowledgeable western analysts suggest that cutting a deal with the Taliban might be the only way to stabilize Afghanistan. Naturally, such talk was not in favor in political circles in the US, but now it looks as if Hamid Karzai himself is thinking along those lines.
Last week, Daniel Drezner and I were wondering what ever happened to the PR rollout for bombing Iran. Don Van Natta reports for The New York Times on Freedom’s Watch, who’s Iraq-related ads have already made a stir: “the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy.” Sounds fun.
This, incidentally, seems to be one of the main reasons why widespread predictions of Republican disaffection with the Iraq War haven’t come true. A bit contrary to what most people thought, a significant segment of the Republican donor class seems to be composed of big-time war enthusiasts. Many of the GOP members of congress who made some gestures toward distancing themselves from the war are now facing primary challenges, and with outfits like Freedom’s Watch springing up everyone knows money could be made available for more.
Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) returns from a visit to the UN and cosigns a letter with several House colleagues:
In order to achieve a comprehensive international climate regime that includes all major emitting countries after 2012, there is an urgent need to make significant progress in negotiations at the Conference of Parties to the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) being held this December in Indonesia. You have invited representatives from the world’s leading emitting countries to Washington, DC on September 27th and 28th under the auspices of advancing these negotiations.
We are concerned that in announcing the Major Emitters Meeting, and then again in the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Sydney Declaration, you have focused on reaching long-term “aspirational” goals. Given the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provide clear evidence of global warming impacts on all continents and most of the oceans, we need actual reductions in global warming pollution, not aspirational goals.
Indeed. Full text below the fold:
I should say that I agree with the spirit of Reihan Salam’s argument that the egregious problems we’ve had with private military contractors in Iraq should serve, as such, to discredit the PMC problem. That the PMCs working in Iraq operate in a legal black hole is, in my mind, a huge problem but also an eminently solvable one.
That said, I’m not actually seeing the specific compelling argument in favor of such widespread use of PMCs. The arguments Reihan adduces sound to me like good arguments in favor of a professional military staffed by volunteers which, of course, is what we have.
I do, however, sometimes feel like there may be a decent case for something like the UN hiring PMCs do conduct certain kinds of humanitarian options. It’s pretty obvious why a standing UN military force might be a useful thing to have (could deploy quickly into a crisis as soon as the Security Council authorized it, etc.) and also pretty clear why you’re not likely to see one created. One could, however, much more easily imagine the Security Council creating a standing budget that could be used to fly a crack team of PMCs in somewhere to guard a refugee camp or impose a no-fly zone. Other times, this seems like a terrible idea: does Africa really need more mercenaries?
This is just one hilarious slide in an endlessly hilarious Navy PowerPoint presentation about how to convince the kids these days to join the military. Read Noah Schachtman and Entropic Memes for more. According to their own data, the real issue here actually has nothing to do with MySpace or emoticons and everything to do with the fact that the war in Iraq has — correctly — made military service look less appealing to people than it once did.
It’s one thing to ask people to sacrifice and risk their lives for a worthy cause, but it becomes another thing entirely when the main mission facing the military is fruitless war that appears to be continuing mostly to salve the egos of politicians.
Yesterday, the U.S. military announced that it had recently killed Abu Usama al-Tunisi, billed as “one of the most senior leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq.”
ThinkProgress noted yesterday that there was evidence to suggest al-Tunisi may have been killed a year ago. An online posted published in May 2006 by al Qaeda supporters hailed the “martyrdom” of al-Tunisi. A translation of the martyrdom message was posted online by terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann in July 2006.
Is it possible that there are two separate Abu Usama al-Tunisis serving as commanders for Al-Qaida in Iraq? Perhaps… but the likelihood of this incredible coincidence rapidly plummets when one considers that both of these men have been identically described as the commander of Al-Qaida’s Aeisha Brigade and active in the area of al-Yusifiya.
If we put aside this theory, we are left with quite limited possibilities. It would seem that either Al-Qaida supporters were engaged in a deliberate misinformation campaign on their own password-protected chat forums, or else the U.S. military has potentially been the victim of questionable intelligence.
It should be further noted that Al-Qaida has prided itself in the past on providing accurate and timely information concerning the “martyrdom” of its military commanders. When former Al-Qaida commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in mid-2006, the same Al-Hesbah Network [the network that reported al-Tunisi's death] was one of the first sources to correctly confirm the news of his death on behalf of Al-Qaida.
Given all the reasons Kohlmann suggests for doubting the military’s claims, there should have been a responsibility on the part of journalists to double-check this story before reporting it. However, today’s mentions of al-Tunisi in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Associated Press fail to resolve — much less mention — this important discrepancy.
UPDATE: After doubts were raised about the recent death of al-Tunisi, counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann wrote of confirmation that Tunisi did in fact die in a raid recently.
Sameer Lalwani looks at some of the stories behind the stories out of Burma. I think he’s particularly smart on the role of new technologies.
For the Guardian I try to put the story of Bush rejecting exile options for Saddam Hussein into the broader context of his administration’s approach to nuclear proliferation. Rejecting the rule-based framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Bush sought another way outside the bounds of international law:
That way, known as “counterproliferation” by its advocates, was, in essence, brute force. The US would break its non-proliferation treaty commitments by building a new generation of “bunker buster” nukes, turn a blind eye to nuclear activities by friendly states, and restrain WMD acquisition by hostile states through intimidation rather than a legitimate international process. Iraq was targeted not merely on its own terms but in order that Bush might make an example out of Saddam and send a message to the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea and other states. Cutting a deal with Saddam wasn’t an option.
Unfortunately, as a result of the same thinking, neither were any number of other moves that could have improved American policy. In particular, the invasion force needed to be small enough, and the reconstruction plan fast and cheap enough, that the US could credibly threaten to do it again if other countries didn’t get the message.
Read the whole thing.
White House photo by Eric Draper
ThinkProgress has obtained a letter being circulated on Capitol Hill today by the Senate Democratic Leadership that calls on Clear Channel CEO Mark Mays to repudiate its employee Rush Limbaugh’s “phony troops” remark. Clear Channel is Limbaugh’s parent company, and it owns or operates at least 1,165 radio stations in the United States.
The letter, signed by Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV, Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Patty Murray (D-WA), states that Limbaugh’s comments were “outrageous” and “unconscionable”:
Although Americans of goodwill debate the merits of this war, we can all agree that those who serve with such great courage deserve our deepest respect and gratitude. That is why Rush Limbaugh’s recent characterization of troops who oppose the war as “phony soldiers” is such an outrage.
Our troops are fighting and dying to bring to others the freedoms that many take for granted. It is unconscionable that Mr. Limbaugh would criticize them for exercising the fundamentally American right to free speech. Mr. Limbaugh has made outrageous remarks before, but this affront to our soldiers is beyond the pale.
Yesterday, ThinkProgress asked whether lawmakers who voted to attack a MoveOn newspaper ad would now condemn Limbaugh. The Senate leadership is challenging all their colleagues to demonstrate whether they can show principled condemnation by signing onto the letter. It specifically calls on Clear Channel to issue an apology and demands Limbaugh do the same:
Thousands of active troops and veterans were subjected to Mr. Limbaugh’s unpatriotic and indefensible comments on your broadcast. We trust you will agree that not a single one of our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends serving overseas is a “phony soldier.” We call on you to publicly repudiate these comments that call into question their service and sacrifice and to ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize for his comments.
UPDATE: More smears against the military by Limbaugh. Huff Post notes that he called Iraq war vet Paul Hackett a “staff puke,” claiming he went to Iraq “to pad [his] resume,” and attacked him as “a liberal hiding behind a military uniform.”
Here’s the “Student’s Guide to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”. Jim Henley notes the key passage:
Distributing a petition is an excellent protest tactic for several reasons. First, it is a very easy and cost-effective way to draw attention to the issues at hand. Second, a petition can serve as an advertisement for other events, such as film screenings and panel discussions (when you ask students to sign the petition, hand them a flyer about the other activities you have planned throughout the week). Perhaps most importantly, a petition forces students and faculty to declare their allegiances: either to fighting our terrorist adversaries or failing to take action to stop our enemies. For this reason, we encourage you to make a special effort to bring this petition to those groups who might be least likely to sign it, for example to campus administrators, student government officers, and the Muslim Students’ Association.
In short, the main goal of the “David Horowitz Freedom Center” here is to write up a petition deliberately designed to be unlikely for Muslim groups to sign and then to use Muslim groups’ failure to sign the petition as evidence that they’re on the side of “our terrorist adversaries.” This is a great way to go about things if you want to (a) be a campus troublemaker, (b) over the long run turn hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world into hardened enemies of the United States, and (c) create a large group of disaffected Muslims inside the United States who’ve been made to feel that adherence to their faith is unwelcome in America and fundamentally incompatible with loyalty to this country.
Back in saneville, what we’d like to do is build as broad a coalition as possible of people opposed to bin Laden-style acts of terrorist violence against civilians. We’d like to frame our opposition to this kind of terrorism in a manner calculated to gain allies rather than alienate them in order to score points in endless and pointless campus political battles. We’d like to empower mainstream Islamic groups so that Muslims around the world can feel that their concerns can be addressed through legitimate political mechanisms rather than violent holy wars, and so that mainstream Muslims have a platform from which to fight back against extremism.
The U.S. military announced today that it has killed a “senior leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.” Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson “identified the man as Abu Usama al-Tunisi, a Tunisian described as a close associate and likely successor to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Egyptian leader.”
CNN quickly jumped on the story, reporting that al-Tunisi was “killed Tuesday south of Baghdad.” CNN’s Jamie McIntyre reported:
[The military was] able to zero in on this al Qaeda leader in a series of operations that began in early September, and it’s really a textbook of how the U.S. military is operating. Each operation, they capture somebody who’s a little bit closer to the guy they’re looking for.
CNN said the death was confirmed by a hand-written note from al-Tunisi that was found in the aftermath of an airstrike “in which he says he’s surrounded and desperate for help.” “The main thing here,” McIntyre reported, “is the U.S. military insists this was a dangerous terrorist” and it deals “a serious blow” to the al Qaeda leadership. Watch it:
“The martyrdom of Abu Usama al-Tunisi [from Tunisia], the commander of [Al-Qaida's] Aeisha Brigade [tasked with air defense missions]… I announce the news to the Islamic nation regarding the martyrdom of one of its heroes and true men.”
While it’s possible that there could have been two different Abu Usama al-Tunisis, it is the responsibility of news organizations to resolve these kinds of questions and double-check the facts before reporting them.
Moreover, there is reason for skepticism. In July, the U.S. command in Baghdad “ballyhooed the killing of a key al Qaeda leader but later admitted that the military had declared him dead a year ago.” Also in July, the military announced the capture of a “top leader of al Qaeda in Iraq” who had been captured weeks ago.
UPDATE: After doubts were raised about the recent death of al-Tunisi, counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann wrote of confirmation that Tunisi did in fact die in a raid recently.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnel’s statements about FISA delays and the need for sweeping new powers continue to be fact-challenged, as Spencer Ackerman and Pamela Hess at the AP confirm.
The indispensable Leila Fadel reports from Baghdad for McClatchy:
During the ensuing week, as Crocker and Petraeus told Congress that the surge of more U.S. troops to Iraq was beginning to work and President Bush gave a televised address in which he said “ordinary life was beginning to return” to Baghdad, Blackwater security guards shot at least 43 people on crowded Baghdad streets. At least 16 of those people died.
Now, obviously, Blackwater is operating in a legitimately deadly environment so some of this violence was probably justified. But “interviews with eyewitnesses and survivors of each incident describe similar circumstances in which Blackwater guards took aggressive action against civilians who seemed to pose no threat.” And of course the system under which Blackwater is operating — a system in which neither US military justice nor Iraqi law applies to Blackwater personnel — is an open invitation to abuse. No government, be in headquartered in Washington or Baghdad, that was genuinely concerned with the well-being of the Iraqi people could possibly let an organization operate under those terms.
In case Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s recent odd commentary about gays in Iran has sparked your interest about the broader question of queer life under repressive Islamic theocracies, it’s lucky for you that the May 2007 Atlantic had this great piece from Nadya Labi about gay life in Saudi Arabia. This section even includes a hint as to what Ahmadenijad may have been talking about if you want to give his words a generous construction:
This is surprising enough. But what seems more startling, at least from a Western perspective, is that some of the men having sex with other men don’t consider themselves gay. For many Saudis, the fact that a man has sex with another man has little to do with “gayness.” The act may fulfill a desire or a need, but it doesn’t constitute an identity. Nor does it strip a man of his masculinity, as long as he is in the “top,” or active, role. This attitude gives Saudi men who engage in homosexual behavior a degree of freedom. But as a more Westernized notion of gayness—a notion that stresses orientation over acts—takes hold in the country, will this delicate balance survive?
This is, I think, a not uncommon pattern around the world and throughout history — with participation in same-sex acts much more divorced from concepts of “gayness” as an identity than it is in the contemporary west.
I don’t really share the objections that people frequently raise to celebrities getting involved in political causes. Donating what one can donate to good causes is a good thing to do. And as Tyler Cowen has observed, in the developed world one of the scarcer commodities out there is attention is grabbing people’s attention is something movie stars are very good at doing. Watch this video of Angelina Jolie talking about refugees living in Syria and you’ll see:
This is an issue a lot of people have tried to write about and raise awareness of, but the level of action has thus far been pretty tiny. But this is a hell of a powerful anecdote, and Jolie’s able to tell it in a way that gets more people’s attention than if it was just another article in a highbrow magazine somewhere.
The BBC reports that violent suppression of protests in Burma has begun and according to official Burmese media “nine people were killed on Thursday as troops fired tear gas and bullets to clear large crowds of protesters off Rangoon’s streets” though western diplomats think that’s an underestimate. Yesterday, Kerry Howley, who’s lived in Burma, observed that “while the world may be watching, I doubt most Burmese are.”
The country’s communications infrastructure is incredibly limited. Seven people out of 1,000 own televisions, and they’re not getting BBC. They’re watching MRTV-3: all government propaganda, all the time. It’s difficult to get a license for a satellite or an internet connection. Cell phones cost thousands of dollars; even most expats don’t carry them. I worked in relatively cosmopolitan Yangon, but a friend who worked in upper Burma once told me the villagers he worked with had never heard of Aung San Suu Kyi. The land lines rarely work, and when they do, sane people do not discuss political matters over them. It’s probably safe to assume you know more about what’s going down on Sule Pagoda Road than much of Burma does.
In these kind of situations, it seems to me that the key variable tends to be the loyalty of the security services. It often turns out to be difficult to get rank and file soldiers to shoot at unarmed countrymen protesting in the streets against a corrupt regime. But when they’re willing to follow orders, there’s ultimately nothing the protesters can do to ensure success.