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.