Monthly Archives: March 2008

On Fitna &c

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My past few posts on Islamist terrorism, including Fitna, were provided without much editorial content. For those interested, here are my opinions:

First, Barry Cooper’s “‘Jihadists’ and War on Terrorism,” addresses a vitally important subject but one that often makes radical leftists of the Marxist variety uncomfortable. Why do some terrorists view the killing of civilians as a “moral” act? Further, why do some terrorists view suicidal martyrdom as “the highest morality”? These questions make radical leftists uncomfortable because they tend to view conflicts through a structural lens. The actions of individuals, in these accounts, are largely diminished or explained as resulting from broader factors like social class, economics, etc.

Cooper, by contrast, seeks the individual motivation for these sociopathic acts:

The term used by Voegelin, which he borrowed from Schelling, and which I used in New Political Religions, is “pneumopathological.” Literally, a pneumopathology is a spiritual sickness, in contrast to psychopathology—a psychological disorder. The difference between the two is that psychopaths cannot tell the difference between good and evil, whereas pneumopaths can tell the difference perfectly well and go out of their way to hide what they know—typically by using religious symbols and language to intoxicate themselves into oblivion with respect to what they know.

What are the implications of this analysis for the prospects of defeating Islamist totalitarianism? How do you defeat a cadre of individuals who are not motivated by an individual leader like Bin Laden but by a shared narrative or vision of reality? I haven’t had a chance to read Cooper’s New Political Religions but I plan on having a look soon. If he conducts a comparative study of various pneumopathic movements across time and space that would be especially interesting.

Cooper opines:

How the Islamist militants or salafist terrorists came to the conclusion that killing the innocent by means of suicide attacks was moral or was evidence of martyrdom is particularly surprising because the salafists take their name from the al-salf al-salihin, or “pious forefathers.” We shall see, however, that they have nothing in common with the pious forefathers or, more broadly, with what, in the absence of a Muslim orthodoxy, is often referred to as Koranic Islam.

Which brings me to Fitna. I did not post the movie due to an affinity with the political perspective of the filmmaker nor because I agreed with the message of the film. I disagree with the thesis of the film. I do not believe faithful followers of the Koran hate non-Muslims and are committed to violent jihad. I agree with many others who have written that religious edicts and quotations can be taken out of context. Nevertheless we must—all of us—address the fact that most of the terrorism in the world today exists in the Islamic world and is being committed by Muslims. The vast majority of it is being directed against Muslim people by Muslim people.

Unlike many neoconservatives who view the fight against Islamist totalitarianism as a clash of civilizations, I contend a primary element of the struggle is this internal dynamic within Islamic societies and nation-states. As Cooper writes:

Political disorder in the modern Islamic world has evoked a genuine horror at the structure of reality. From this experience arises a desire to escape reality or transform it along the lines of a second reality more congenial to the pneumopathological terrorist imagination. We in the West have encountered such forms of consciousness before in the great ideological movements of the last two centuries, and we shall no doubt see it again after the last member of al-Qaeda has been killed, or retired, or converted to peaceful Sufi mysticism.

Which brings me to John David Lewis’ “’No Substitute for Victory’ The Defeat of Islamist Totalitarianism.” Lewis compares the American response in World War II where the enemy was motivated by a religious ideology—Shintoism—that justified Japanese imperialism and aggression, to that of the contemporary war against Islamist totalitarianism. In the contemporary conflict our use of force and targets are limited whereas during World War II large-scale bombings of civilian populations were, if not common, militarily acceptable. Lewis strongly believes that these strategies are applicable today if only the American public and our politicians had the strength of will to use overwhelming force against our enemies.

As Lewis’ notes:

The Islamic Totalitarian movement has a similar fire burning at its core—an authoritarian, state-centered religion, replete with state-funded educational indoctrination, a massive suicide cult on behalf of the deity and state, and hope for a final battle over the Americans. The key to extinguishing this fire, I submit—the sine qua non required to end the spiral of indoctrination, jihad, and suicidal attacks on the West—is to do what was done against Japan: to break the political power of the state religion. State Islam—Totalitarian Islam—rule by Islamic Law—must be obliterated.

Reading Lewis’ words I can sense his anger and frustration. But a huge problem with his approach is, in many cases, we are dealing with internal struggles within states rather than wars between states. The soundness of this approach grows even more questionable when we are dealing with conflicts within allied states. Afghanistan and Iraq are the obvious examples. We are not at war with the central governments of either of these countries. What kind of support would the central governments of Iraq and Afghanistan receive if the United States—their allies—started bombing civilian populations as we did in World War Two? I think Lewis’ main policy prescription, “America, acting alone and with overwhelming force, must destroy the Iranian Islamic State now” is similarly reckless. Force must always be an option but it should be the last option.

John David Lewis: “No Substitute for Victory” The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism

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[Another dated article. This time from The Objective Standard Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 2006-2007). Regular readers of this blog realize I am not an acolyte of Ayn Rand nor do I subscribe to objectivist ideology. However, I find the author's comparison of state-sponsored religions intriguing while disagreeing with many of his conclusions. More later...]

Author’s note: This article was adapted from a lecture I presented at the Ayn Rand Institute’s OCON conference “The Jihad Against the West,” in Boston, MA, on October 21, 2006.

The Greek historian Thucydides, writing about the calamitous war that had destroyed his own world, made an important observation about the causes of historical events: Even though circumstances may change, human nature remains the same; and certain human elements—especially moral and psychological factors—are at the root of all wars. We can disagree with Thucydides about the identity of those factors, and reject his pessimistic view of human nature, but we will benefit from accepting his challenge to rise above particular circumstances and focus on the principles of human action that are common to all time. Differences in technology, politics, or economics will always remain secondary to the ideas that motivate aggressors to launch bloody attacks and that empower—or restrain—defenders opposing those attacks.

In that spirit, let us begin by considering an event of cataclysmic proportions, a deadly attack against Americans, and then examine two possible responses to it. This approach will show us that the crisis we face today—a series of highly motivated attacks against the heart of civilization—is not unique, can be understood, and can be ended—if we choose to understand and end it.

The attack under consideration kills thousands of Americans. Foreign governments, well known to us, have sponsored such attacks for years in their pursuit of a continental-scale totalitarian empire. The fire motivating the slaughter is a militaristic, religious-political ideology that values war as a demonstration of loyalty to a deity, demands obedience to its spokesmen, and imposes its edicts over millions of people. Thousands of individuals, indoctrinated as youths, are eager to engage in suicide attacks, and many more are willing to die through acquiescence and submission, should the state so demand. The enemy soldier is highly motivated, thoroughly brainwashed, and willing to die for his god and his cause. The enemy’s children and soldiers memorize words such as these:

The battlefield is where our army displays its true character, conquering whenever it attacks, winning whenever it engages in combat, in order to spread our deity’s reign far and wide, so that the enemy may look up in awe to his august virtues.1

They accept, as moral imperatives, ideas such as these:

[F]ight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war; but if they repent, and practice our way, then accept them. . . . You shall fight back against those who do not believe in God, nor in the Last Day, nor do they prohibit what God and His messenger have prohibited, nor do they abide by the religion of truth.2

Millions of people embrace such injunctions as unquestioned commandments. Their suicidal attacks continue for years.

How should Americans respond to this attack? Under the pressures of a deadly emergency, American leaders must make important decisions, and the American people must decide whether they will support those decisions. Let us consider and evaluate two options, and ask which we should use.

[read it all here]

1 Senjinkun, or the Japanese Field Service Code, substituting “our deity” for “the Emperor.” In John Dower, Embracing Defeat (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 277.

2 Koran 9.5, 29.

Geert Wilders’ Fitna

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Fitna, the controversial video on Islamist terrorism by Dutch politician Geert Wilders was removed from Liveleak.com due to “threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill-informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, LiveLeak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It is still available on YouTube.

Stuart Appelbaum: American Labor Can Help Right Anti-Israel Left

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[H/t to JLC. This opinion piece by Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Jewish Labor Committee and of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, dated March 27, 2008, is in the Friday, March 28 issue of The FORWARD.]

For more than two years, Israelis living in Sderot and other towns near Gaza have been the target of choice for Hamas terrorists. Launching its arsenal of Qassam rockets from residential neighborhoods and even schoolyards, they have as much as dared Israel to fight back. Now it has.

Predictably, much of the world is expressing its dismay — and those of us who call ourselves progressives are fuming that much of it is coming from our counterparts on the left overseas. However, it’s not enough for us to be indignant. Absent the involvement of the American labor movement, any effort to build worldwide support on the left for the Jewish state will be extraordinary difficult.

To grasp the enormity of the challenge facing Israel’s friends on the left, one need only look at the Socialist International’s condemnation last month of “the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza.” The umbrella body of social democratic, socialist and labor parties went on to point out that it has “consistently denounced the attacks against Israel coming from Gaza as well as the incursions into Gaza by Israel, for both serve only to worsen the cycles of violence that in the end harm innocent people the most.”

Of course, those who have even a passing familiarity with Hamas understand that their raison d’etre is the creation of a chain of violence and retribution. Suggesting that Israel and Hamas are both to blame for the bloodshed in Gaza is akin to saying that the would-be victim who fights off a mugger bears equal responsibility for the violence as the assailant.

Statements like the Socialist International’s, however, are salutary compared to some of the venom generated by the left abroad.

For example, Australia’s Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia joined forces recently to condemn a parliamentary resolution congratulating Israel on its 60 years of statehood. Their words speak for themselves: “We, as informed and concerned Australians, choose to disassociate ourselves from a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948.”

Why do voices that so often cry out for social justice serve up these kinds of diatribes against Israel? Why do they hold Israel to standards that no other nation in the world would ever be expected to meet? And why do so many of them claim that, in the final analysis, Israel is responsible for everything Hamas does or will do?

It is the triumph of instinct over intellect, and one can only conclude that, at least in part, what we are increasingly witnessing on the left overseas is antisemitism cloaked under the veil of anti-Zionism.

Why, then, has this worldview remained so marginal among American progressives? After all, no serious contender for this year’s Democratic presidential nomination has offered anything less than total support for Israel.

The answer may be found in the labor movement.

[read it all here]

Barry Cooper: “Jihadists” and the War on Terrorism

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An old edition of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Intercollegiate Review arrived in my mailbox this morning. The article, “’Jihadists’ and the War on Terrorism,” by political scientist Barry Cooper immediately caught my eye (PDF available here). Professor Cooper teaches courses in political theory and Canadian politics, political thought and public policy at the University of Calgary. I don’t agree with all of Cooper’s findings, for example, the notion that Hamas and Hezbollah are pursuing traditional “national liberation objectives” as opposed to the transnational goals of Al Queda. As Efraim Karsh and others have argued, all three organizations envision a reestablishment of the caliphate. That criticism aside, the article explores some interesting psychological motivations (“pneumopathology”) for terrorism.

Here is an excerpt:

On September 10, 2005, a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail described a document produced by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). This document expressed the opinion that “individuals who have attended terrorist training camps or who have independently opted for radical Islam must be considered threats to Canadian public safety for the indefinite future.”

The story goes on to indicate the central problem: these people believe “it is actually moral to commit acts of violence to fulfill one’s religious obligation and the highest morality is that of a martyr.” In his book about a nineteen-year-old Canadian, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah (Sammy to his friends), Stewart Bell noted: “For a terrorist to confess is not to admit to sins: it is the opposite, to say proudly before God that he is not only a believer but one who has acted on his faith.”2 Sammy had been arrested in Oman in March, 2002, and eventually was returned to Canada. Before that, he had trained at the Al Farooq camp near Kandahar where a senior Canadian diplomat was recently killed. Sammy had also pledged bayat, personal allegiance, to Osama bin Laden in the summer of 2001.

Kandahar is, today, the theatre of operations for the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, on its second deployment to Afghanistan. Previously, the Patricias had fought alongside the U.S. 101st Airborne and the 10th Mountain divisions in Operation Anaconda. Canada’s special operations unit, Joint Task Force Two, has also been deployed in Afghanistan pretty much continuously since December 2001.

Parochialism alone does not dictate beginning this essay with reference to Canadian sources and actions—though it is probably fair to say that most Canadians, like most Americans, are unaware of what the Canadian military has done in support of the United States. Rather, it is to draw attention to the most significant practical feature of the story of Sammy Jabarah and the problem to which the CSIS report and Stewart Bell direct our attention. Specifically, some terrorists are of the opinion that acts of violence against civilians are “moral” and that martyrdom, even including the suicide of the alleged martyr, is “the highest morality.” Both of these matters carry implications that extend far beyond the borders of North America.

[read it all here]

McCain’s Religious Advisors, Just as Questionable as Obama’s

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[Many, including myself, have been critical of Senator Obama’s affiliation with Rev. Wright. Here is a long excerpt from Michael Weiss’ (Snarksmith) post on Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s religious advisors. They sound just as nutty as Rev. Wright. Read more at But I am a Liberal!]

Daniel Koffler has done an admirable job of highlighting John McCain’s embrace of Rev. John Hagee, a man who blames anti-Semitism on the Jews’ “disobedience” from their “covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God;” who supports Israel because it’s Jesus’ heralded return depot; who calls Roman Catholicism “a false cult system” (I admit I’m rather in sympathy with him here) but also the “great whore” (if only); and who cites homosexuality as the inspiration of the flood that wiped out New Orleans. (Buggery used to cause earthquakes, so this leads me to suspect the gay community is a veritable Captain Planet of elemental disaster.)

…McCain’s new “spiritual guide” is another chiliastic sociopath called Rev. Rod Parsley, whose name reminds me both of a Price Is Right announcer and a foil for Bertie Wooster.

Here is what the good reverend says in his book Silent No More, itself titled like a memoir that might have been written by one of the fey wizards of Hurricane Katrina:

The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

In point of fact, the American navy, whose history McCain is well versed in, was created to destroy Islamic slavery in the Barbary Coast, whereas the parturition of the country resulted from a famous quarrel with a fellow member of “Christendom.”

[read it all here]

Thoughts on the Tibet Freedom Struggle

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Personal posts at Bob from Brockley and Martin in the Margins—in addition to images of Buddhist monks hurling bricks at PLA soldiers—prompted me to write this. If you don’t frequent Bob or Martin’s blogs, you should. Also have a look at Modernityblog on Tibet and Burma.

March 10 marked the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. A series of non-violent demonstrations in Lhasa and other cities throughout Tibet were coordinated with efforts by Tibetan exiles in India to march to the Chinese border in protest of the upcoming Olympic Games in China. Solidarity demonstrations were held at major cities across the United States and around the world.

However, whether through government action, provocation by protesters, or some combination of the two, what started as a peaceful protest escalated into police violence, attacks on government personnel and facilities and communal violence by Tibetans directed against Han Chinese. Some reports allege pallets of bricks were placed at strategic locations, suggesting at least some support for violent resistance. Government media has televised images of men appearing to be monks throwing bricks and other material at police.

The Dalai Lama’s position as spiritual and political spokesperson for the movement has been unquestioned for decades. A pacifist and advocate of non-violent struggle, he has long advocated a “middle way” a willingness to abandon any discussion of independence in exchange for an offer of Tibetan autonomy.

For the exile community in India, particularly radical students, this is not enough. NYT reports:

[A] handful of radical Tibetan exile groups have said angrily that the “middle way” has achieved nothing in nearly 30 years. They have called for an Olympic Games boycott, burned Chinese flags and refused to call off a march from here to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, which he has called impractical in opposing a mighty state intent on using force.

So the question arises of whether the Dalai Lama, who has spent the last 49 years here in India and built one of the most powerful exile movements in the world, is out of touch with his own people. Or is this monk, regarded by his followers as a reincarnation of Buddha, the ultimate political pragmatist?

There is no clear answer. Whether his doggedly conciliatory posture will ever assuage China’s government, or whether his allies will intensify pressure on China on his behalf remains a mystery.

But a hint of his influence here bleeds through the often angry, inventive protests that have gone on nearly nonstop for over a week. For all the slogans of fury — “Free Tibet” and “Death to Hu Jintao” — China’s president, the most common is a call-and-response homage: “Long live the Dalai Lama.”

NGOs and others concerned with the Tibet issue as well as labor and human rights organizations are calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games in China. China never should never have been considered in the first place, IMHO.

Bob notes a certain distance from the Tibetan struggle in his youth attributable to something he calls “Stalinophilia.” In Bob’s words, “I mean the worldview that sees state the state socialist regimes in the Peking and Moscow families as bulwarks against the “real” enemy, Western capitalist/imperialism, and therefore, dispite their evident evil, worth supporting (albeit “critically”).” Today, he finds this position “shameful” but remains critical of supporting nationalist movements.

Martin’s experiences are more personal than political and somewhat similar to my own. He writes, “As a teenager I had a deep interest in eastern spirituality and a romantic attraction to the countries on the old hippy trail – Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh. More recently, I went through a phase in which I was seriously interested in Buddhist philosophy, and it was the Tibetan variety that appealed to me most strongly.”

My early familiarity with Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism came through affiliation with the Vedanta Society during my late teens. The Vedanta Society teaches a monistic (non-dualist) form of Hinduism that had some appeal with Western intellectuals in the early to mid twentieth century. A lot of their teachings focus on the commonalities of world religions. Unlike Martin, my experience was largely cerebral, rather than spiritual. I did not try to join the group or become Hindu or anything like that. But I did learn a lot about India and Hinduism as well as a little about Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Like Martin, my interests shifted from spiritual and metaphysical concerns to politics, society and culture. When I entered college I was able to explore these interests in greater depth and remember writing a paper titled “Tibet and China: Cultural Genocide?” I was reminded of it when the Dalai Lama made his recent comments on this matter. I studied Hindi and Nepali as well as some area studies courses before finishing my baccalaureate degree and had the opportunity to travel to South Asia, starting at Tamil Nadu in southern India and finishing at Nepal Ganj in Nepal’s terrai region. Throughout these studies–while I did not realize it at the time–I was moving away from the Vedantic focus on the commonalities of cultures and religions and becoming more interested in what makes us unique and different. Rather than asking “what makes us human” I was wondering “why do we see the same things so differently?”

While living in the Bay Area I occasionally found myself in arguments discussions with white Tibetan Buddhists who mentioned how the Tibetan people had known only peace prior to the Chinese occupation. While certainly against the conduct of the communists, I was quick to point out that in antiquity the Tibetans were known for their fighting abilities and were feared as dangerous warriors by the Han Chinese. The Buddhist presence in Tibet was not the result of entirely peaceful relations either. Far from it. The Buddhists took over a vast territory dominated by the Bon religion.

What we know as Tibetan Buddhism is an amalgam of Buddhism and this earlier belief system. One manifestation of this is Tibetan art. The image below looks like a protector deity often found on Buddhist tanka paintings. But this is a Bon image.

bhairav.jpg

The Government of Tibet in Exile notes:

[W]ith the increasing royal patronage of Buddhism, Bön was discouraged, and faced persecution and banishment. Practically nothing is known about Bön during the period from the eighth to the early eleventh centuries. However, with the relentless devotion and endeavour of sincere followers such as Drenpa Namkha (9th century), Shenchen Kunga (10th century) and many others the Bön, Tibet’s indigenous religion, was rescued from oblivion and re-established itself alongside Buddhism in Tibet.

While my current academic and professional work has nothing to do with South Asia I continue in my attempt to understand why people can come to very different conclusions about the same events or phenomena. These differences do not only translate into differences of interpretation but differences of perception and cognition.

More:

Bon Foundation

Statement of the Dalai Lama on the 49th Tibetan Uprising Day

Government of Tibet in Exile

Mainstream Media:

The Hindu

Hindustan Times

NYT

Times of India

Iraq War: Five Years Later

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I was going to write a post with the title “Iraq War: Five Years On” but the always astute Norm Geras beat me to it. Mr. Geras writes:

I do not understand how anyone who supported the war can look at that death toll (whatever its exact size), and at the injuries, and the numbers of refugees, and the extreme social dislocation, and the civil and ethnic conflict, that have followed upon the war, and say sincerely that they weren’t wrong in any way, that the hopes and/or expectations they had in supporting the war have not been dashed or had to be radically adjusted.

Jules Crittenden, in an identically titled article at The Weekly Standard concurs,

The errors committed in this war have contributed greatly to American frustrations. There was a failure to recognize the extent of the challenge ahead, even as ambitious plans were being laid starting in late 2001. The Bush administration could have had a blank check and recruits lined up around the block, but instead insisted on taking us into war with a post-Cold War military that is only belatedly being built up. The administration failed to seize control of Iraq with sufficient urgency and, when a complex insurgency was well underway, failed to move with sufficient skill to quell it until late in the day. The greater failure was to not adequately communicate the mission to Americans and to the world.

All wars go through evolutions, and it is unrealistic to expect no missteps. In this case, however, they are cited most frequently not as arguments to improve the war effort, but as excuses for abandonment. The Bush administration has made good at last with a counterinsurgency strategy that has hobbled Al Qaeda in Iraq and has the Shiite militias in a box. Iraqi military capabilities are improving, and the next president appears likely to inherit a somewhat pacified, reconciled Iraq; an enhanced American position of influence in the Middle East; opposing terrorist organizations that are sharply compromised; and a string of nascent democracies. At considerable cost of American blood and treasure, the United States is now in a position of marked if precarious influence in the most dangerous part of the world. The new president will have to consider how much of that he or she wants to throw away or build upon.

Unlike Mr. Geras, my position shifted from opposition to the war to support rather than from support to opposition. I agree that my hopes and expectations have been radically adjusted. However, I still think there were three options available at the time (regardless of arguments about WMD, etc.).

Option one was continuing the sanctions regime and no-fly zones. If we trust the figures coming from the lefties, the sanctions were killing 10,000 Iraqis a month. If we trust conservatives, the sanctions regime was not effective. We know Saddam was enriching himself through the Oil-for-Food program and all the rest.

Option two was dismantling the sanctions regime and no-fly zones. This was the policy preference of the radical left but was not supported by most centrists or conservatives.

Option three was war. War should never be the first option, but given the other two I think it was the only choice we had.

But Mr. Geras is absolutely correct about the need to question assumptions. American Enterprise Institute Vice President Danielle Pletka put it this way:

[W]hat about the mistaken assumptions that remain unexamined? Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well. I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties. And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.

I thought similarly about Iraq. I know elections are no guarantee of freedom and liberty, that the institutions of civil society are the building blocks of any successful democracy, but I had hope that these organizations would develop over time. The emergence of a free labor movement was an especially encouraging development. But the insurgency made it extremely difficult for these fledgling movements. Nevertheless, it was an improvement over totalitarianism as evidenced by the testimonies of survivors of Saddam’s death camps.

President Bush recognized this in his recent speech:

What our troops found in Iraq following Saddam’s removal was horrifying. They uncovered children’s prisons, and torture chambers, and rape rooms where Iraqi women were violated in front of their families. They found videos showing regime thugs mutilating Iraqis deemed disloyal to Saddam. And across the Iraqi countryside they uncovered mass graves of thousands executed by the regime.

Because we acted, Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children. Because we acted, Saddam’s torture chambers and rape rooms and children’s prisons have been closed for good. Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer invading its neighbors or attacking them with chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer paying the families of suicide bombers in the Holy Land. Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer shooting at American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and defying the will of the United Nations. Because we acted, the world is better and United States of America is safer.

When the Iraqi regime was removed, it did not lay down its arms and surrender. Instead, former regime elements took off their uniforms and faded into the countryside to fight the emergence of a free Iraq. And then they were joined by foreign terrorists who were seeking to stop the advance of liberty in the Middle East and seeking to establish safe havens from which to plot new attacks across the world.

The battle in Iraq has been longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated — but it is a fight we must win. So our troops have engaged these enemies with courage and determination. And as they’ve battled the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they have helped the Iraqi people reclaim their nation, and helped a young democracy rise from the rubble of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.

The U.S. Defense Department recently released a study of 600,000 documents from Saddam Hussein’s archives concluding that he supported many terrorist groups, secular and religious. However, the report did find a “smoking gun” or direct connection with al Qaeda. The (redacted) report, Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents, is available here.

While many left critics of the war have correctly pointed out that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime was secular, this did not preclude the regime from finding common cause against the United States with a variety of radical Islamist movements after the 1991 Gulf War. Anthony Lake writing in The New York Sun notes:

• The Iraqi Intelligence Service in a 1993 memo to Saddam agreed on a plan to train commandos from Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat and was founded by Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

• In the same year, Saddam ordered his intelligence service to “form a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia.” At the time, Al Qaeda was working with warlords against American forces there.

• Saddam’s intelligence services maintained extensive support networks for a wide range of Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations, including but not limited to Hamas. Among the other Palestinian groups Saddam supported at the time was Force 17, the private army loyal to Yasser Arafat.

• Beginning in 1999, Iraq’s intelligence service began providing “financial and moral support” for a small radical Islamist Kurdish sect the report does not name. A Kurdish Islamist group called Ansar al Islam in 2002 would try to assassinate the regional prime minister in the eastern Kurdish region, Barham Salih.

• In 2001, Saddam’s intelligence service drafted a manual titled “Lessons in Secret Organization and Jihad Work—How to Organize and Overthrow the Saudi Royal Family.” In the same year, his intelligence service submitted names of 10 volunteer “martyrs” for operations inside the Kingdom.

• In 2000, Iraq sent a suicide bomber through Northern Iraq who intended to travel to London to assassinate Ahmad Chalabi, at the time an Iraqi opposition leader who would later go on to be an Iraqi deputy prime minister. The mission was aborted after the bomber could not obtain a visa to enter the United Kingdom.

A long time skeptic of the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq and a former CIA senior Iraq analyst, Judith Yaphe yesterday said, “I think the report indicates that Saddam was willing to work with almost any group be it nationalist or Islamic, that was willing to work for his objectives. But in the long term he did not trust many of the Islamist groups, especially those linked to Saudi Arabia or Iran.” She added, “He really did want to get anti-American operations going. The fact that they had little success shows in part their incompetence and unwilling surrogates.”

A former Bush administration official who was a member of the counter-terrorism evaluation group that analyzed terror networks and links between terrorists and states, David Wurmser, said he felt the report began to vindicate his point of view.

“This is the beginning of the process of exposing Saddam’s involvement in Islamic terror. But it is only the beginning. Time and declassification I’m sure will reveal yet more,” he said. “Even so, this report is damning to those who doubted Saddam Hussein’s involvement with Jihadist terrorist groups. It devastates one of the central myths plaguing our government prior to 9-11, that a Jihadist group would not cooperate with a secular regime and vice versa.”

I recently heard Peter Feaver discuss five elements of the U.S. policy in Iraq:

1) Security
2) Reconstruction
3) Strengthening local government
4) Transparency in tax collection and resource allocation
5) Political Reconciliation

The surge has done a remarkable job in the first category. Progress has been made in categories two and three as well. But by the time you get to categories four and five, progress is minimal.

More:

American Enterprise Institute: Iraq Five Years Later, What’s Next?

Brookings: Iraq Reports

Peter Feaver (former National Security Advisor, 2005-2007) on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (March 20, 2008).

Victor Davis Hanson: Mirror, Mirror. On Iraq.

Christopher Hitchens: How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I didn’t.

Oliver Kamm provides a nice roundup of Iraq commentaries here.

Reuters: Bearing Witness, Five Years of the Iraq War

Michael Weiss on Iraq (Pajamas Media).

Wright Ain’t Right

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After a significant period of silence, coverage of the loony comments made by Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama’s pastor Reverend Wright, have been getting coverage in the mainstream media. Here is one example:

We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost (Sept. 16th 2001).

The Contentious Centrist, But I am a Liberal!, and other bloggers have been covering the story—including Wright’s connections to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and trip to Libya—for some time. But now that every American household with a television is being bombarded with clips of his venom, I suspect it will have some negative impact on Obama’s candidacy, especially in the general election.

Not for the “progressive” party faithful. From them one generally hears one of two responses. First, “you can’t hold him responsible for what his pastor said.” But the further one moves to the left, the more you hear, “Obama’s pastor was correct, the United States is a horrible imperialist country,” or something along those lines. For most liberal Democratic voters, Senator Obama’s condemnation of Reverend Wright’s comments and Obama’s removing him from his team of advisors on religious issues is more than adequate. “What more can he do?,” they ask?

Unfortunately for Obama this will probably not be enough for so-called “Reagan Republicans” or centrists. In order for Obama to win in purple states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, he needs the support of patriotic, blue-collar voters who will not think highly of Reverend Wright’s comments. If polls are correct, fewer than 8% of Americans agree with the opinions of Wright. This is encouraging.

But this is deeper than rhetoric and speaks to Obama’s worldview. I have not read either of Senator Obama’s books but if the twisted thoughts and rancorous opinions of Reverend Wright form a basis of Obama’s political ideology, it will prove very damaging among a significant constituency of American voters. Many of us are troubled that Senator Obama and his family attend a church where such hateful ideas were being taught.

More: Sultan Knish discusses the role of another “Obama mentor,” Father Michael Pfleger. Here is a small excerpt (read the entire post here):

Father Michael Pfleger like Jeremiah Wright has a close relationship to Farrakhan and a close relationship to Obama. A closer one than he does to his own Cardinal Francis George who has questioned whether he should even be a priest and at one point reassigned him entirely…

I’ve known the minister (Farrakhan) both as someone who I have great respect for as a prophetic voice, as a mentor but also as a friend and as a brother. We’ve become very close friends over the years. Our families have been close; he’s shared dinner at my house as I have at his many, many times. He has preached from our pulpit here

at this church on three different occasions. We’ve worked together on issues not only for this community but in the city and in the nation…

Pfleger defended the Nation of Islam repeatedly and insulted Jewish critics of NOI as “narrow minded” Father Michael Pfleger also invited Kareem Irfan, former chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago to speak on the anniversary of 9/11. Kareem Irfan is infamous for excusing beheadings by terrorists and is an ISNA member, a Saudi subsidized Wahhabi group with close ties to terrorism.

As a side note, it was an amazing coincidence that Reverend White’s “chickens coming home to roost” comment was getting wide play as we were making a transition from discussing the early civil rights movement—A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—to the early development of black power and the New Left. Malcolm X’s comment about the “chickens coming home to roost” in reference to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was briefly discussed.