August 01, 2007

Obama Vs. Al Qaeda and Pakistan: (MUCH) Tougher Than Bush

Marc Ambinder discusses the foreign policy agenda that Sen. Obama is laying out this morning.,/p>

As President, Barack Obama would order attacks on terrorist camps in Pakistan even if its president, Gen. Pervais Musharraf, refused to give permission and would link American aid on Pakistan's progress in rooting out its terrorist havens.
Posted by armand at August 1, 2007 09:54 AM | TrackBack | Posted to International Affairs


Oh please. It's easy to be "tough" in a stump speech.

Posted by: jacflash at August 1, 2007 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Well do you have any reason to think he wouldn't launch an attack if he had actionable intelligence involving a meeting of the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan?

Sure it's easy to be tough in a stump speech. But it's also a commitment, and I don't know of any reason to assume he's lying about such an important matter.

Posted by: Armand at August 1, 2007 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I'm no great Bush supporter, but there is no evidence that Bush won't do #1 (attack in Pakistan when Musharraf won't give permission); that situation hasn't arisen (to my knowledge, Musharraf has given permission every time).

As for #2 (link aid to rooting out terrorism), it is clear that Bush isn't doing that. I'll be curious to see if whoever is the next President will do this. Just for the record, every administration for the past 50 years has given the Saudis what they wanted, and none of that has worked well. I have no optimism that a change in administration would result in a change in US policy in Pakistan (or Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or Egypt, or...). The great secret everybody knows but doesn't talk about is how consistent US foreign policy has been for half a century, irregardless of who was in the White House.

Posted by: baltar at August 1, 2007 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Well earlier this month there was this story in the New York Times:

A secret military operation in early 2005 to capture senior members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas was aborted at the last minute after top Bush administration officials decided it was too risky and could jeopardize relations with Pakistan, according to intelligence and military officials.

The target was a meeting of Qaeda leaders that intelligence officials thought included Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy and the man believed to run the terrorist group’s operations.

But the mission was called off after Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, rejected an 11th-hour appeal by Porter J. Goss, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, officials said. Members of a Navy Seals unit in parachute gear had already boarded C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan when the mission was canceled, said a former senior intelligence official involved in the planning.

Mr. Rumsfeld decided that the operation, which had ballooned from a small number of military personnel and C.I.A. operatives to several hundred, was cumbersome and put too many American lives at risk, the current and former officials said. He was also concerned that it could cause a rift with Pakistan, an often reluctant ally that has barred the American military from operating in its tribal areas, the officials said.

The decision to halt the planned “snatch and grab” operation frustrated some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units, who say the United States missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of Al Qaeda.

Posted by: Armand at August 1, 2007 02:30 PM | PERMALINK

Troubling if true about the aborted operation, of course we'll never know if they also had reason to believe it was a ruse. But Obama also describes Iraq as being a distraction when as much as I can tell Al Queda in Iraq is bigger now than Al Queda anywhere else. The worst thing about this terrorism is that it is learned, there are people teaching it, and until we uproot those people from Saudi, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Iran, Lebanon, and anywhere else, knocking out the leadership won't be sufficient because others will take their place unless they have a better option.

And if that nasty rumor about there not being any hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11 is true, it could be that bringing him in alive from a snatch and grab operation would provoke outrage and some level of constitutional crisis from those who'd want to see him put to death not just for the East Africa bombings but for 9/11. Given the adage that tough cases make bad law, bringing him back (not) alive might be better that scurrying to change laws so that he can be tried for 9/11, bending or breaking existing jurisprudence. I recall some people making the argument that we shouldn't let the terrorists take away people's right to due process, I can't recall the exact location. But of course I'm sure King Bush II wouldn't care about any of that liberty stuff.

Posted by: Morris at August 1, 2007 04:07 PM | PERMALINK

Armand: I hadn't seen that. Again, I'm not a Bush supporter, but the key equation is balancing damage to Al Qaeda versus harm to Musharraf, right? It's one thing to blow up some random Al Qaeda official (of either some, great, or no importance), but if the cost of that is to destabilize Pakistan, then it gives one pause.

While I'm not sure I'm fully on board with Obama (re: Pakistan), I'm certainly happy to have a full and complete discussion of just how relevant and helpful Pakistan has been, and just how much aid (money, political support, etc.) they deserve.

Morris: Your reference to Al Qaeda in Iraq being bigger than "global" Al Qaeda is one of those things that drives me nuts. Al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist before we got there (in a sense, we created it), and if we went home, they'd disappear. Whatever Al Qaeda exists in Iraq (I wonder how much control Bin Laden has over them?), they have no global reach: they have skills in insurgency and little else. I don't see them as a threat to anyone but the US Soldiers in Iraq (and the Iraqi government we are propping up). The fight against Islamic fundamentalism isn't in Iraq, it's in other places (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.); let's quit fighting in Iraq and concentrate our resources someplace more useful.

As for a lack of evidence on Bin Laden for 9/11; that's irrelevant. We've certainly got evidence for the African embassy bombings (he's been indicted for that), and you can only hang a man once.

Posted by: baltar at August 1, 2007 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

What are you talking about regarding a) ruse and b) Bin Laden not being connected to 9/11? Both of these things seem pretty soundly connected to reality.

And of course Iraq is a distraction from al Qaeda as it's not there - al Qaeda in Iraq is there, and that's a somewhat different animal.

And of course why is al Qaeda in Iraq in existence? B/c we are there (it didn't exist until long after we occupied the place), so taking away the target (us and our blood, lives and treasure) seems a fair way to weaken the organization and stop giving them targets to practice against and arguments of occupation and imperialism that give their people strength and sympathy.

As to your point about the leadership - are you saying we shouldn't attack them if given the opportunity? I don't quite get the point. Does killing one person end al Qaeda? No. But it goes a long way toward accomplishing that.

Posted by: Armand at August 1, 2007 04:25 PM | PERMALINK

We only get a certain point of view and accompanying evidence from the media, it's never the whole story. If there were evidence it was a ruse, they may not even disclose that to leaking advisors because that might endanger the method by which we learned it was a ruse.

If you go to the FBI website, Bin Laden's the most wanted terrorist, and in his wanted profile it talks about how he's wanted for bombings in East Africa. It doesn't talk about 9/11, and according to internet rumor it's because we don't have hard evidence connecting him to it.

Last I checked, Al Queda in Iraq takes orders from Al Queda, and their also, you know, terrorists, so it's like saying the KKK in Wisconsin is different from the KKK, and in minor ways it may be, but if they didn't believe in the Klan, they wouldn't take the Klan's name.

As to no Al Queda being in Iraq before the liberation, Maj Gen Caldwell disagreed:
"Caldwell said al-Masri is thought to have come to Iraq in 2002 after training in Afghanistan with the mission of creating an al-Qaida cell in Baghdad."

So that kinda blows your "Al Queda in Iraq existed only after we occupied it" theory to smithereens. They don't need arguments of occupation to get people to kill Americans, we weren't occupying Iraq on 9/11, we'd left Iraq and we left Mogadishu. Running away didn't work. The only argument they needed was that we're not Muslim, we're infidels, and our culture threatens them, and they'll go to Heaven if they die killing us. Sure we want to kill their leaders and their followers, but it's the Wahabi teachers and those who fund them who we need to go after. As long as they give people the message they should kill us, we're naive to believe they won't.

Posted by: Morris at August 1, 2007 06:22 PM | PERMALINK

1) Well what we do have are multiple stories from government officials, none of whome suggest it was a ruse. Why do you think that it is? Sure it could have been the work of the great spider at the Vatican, but if there's no particular reason to think that it is, and there are government officials who think that it's not ...

2) Actually no, Al Qaeda in Iraq isn't the same thing as Al Qaeda, and no it doesn't always take orders from UBL or Zawahiri (as witnessed by the multiple public comments from Al Qaeda HQ suggesting that Al Qaeda in Iraq might want to change its tactics).

3) Youe quote about Masri shows that such a cell DIDN'T exist, and Al Qaeda in Iraq does have an official birthdate that's public knowledge (Baltar probably knows it - without looking it up I want to say it was in late 2004). So, ummm, no that doesn't blow my argument to smithereens - quite the reverse.

4) And were there terrorists pre-Iraq - well sure. That's kind of from the files of no duh. Are there more now - and are they getting lots of training courtesy of our presence in Iraq? Sure, that's also from the files of no duh, though if you want actual files feel free to look at the last few National Intelligence Estimates. Our own government says our presence in Iraq is fueling the growth of the terrorist movements.

Posted by: Armand at August 1, 2007 07:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Youe quote about Masri shows that such a cell DIDN'T exist, and Al Qaeda in Iraq does have an official birthdate that's public knowledge (Baltar probably knows it - without looking it up I want to say it was in late 2004). So, ummm, no that doesn't blow my argument to smithereens - quite the reverse."

Sorry, Bro, unless wiki's got it wrong, the biggest AQ in Iraq players were there as of 2002.

"In the summer of 2002, Zarqawi was reported to have settled in northern Iraq, where he joined the Islamist Ansar al-Islam group that fought against the Kurdish-nationalist forces in the region."

As Powell said in his UN speech:
"Zarqawi's activities are not confined to this small corner of northeast Iraq. He traveled to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, staying in the capital of Iraq for two months while he recuperated to fight another day.

During this stay, nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there. These al Qaeda affiliates, based in Baghdad, now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network, and they've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months."

The bipartisan Senate report on Powell's speech:

POWELL SPEECH CONCLUSIONS - TERRORISM PORTION(U) Conclusion 103. The information provided by the Central Intelligence Agency for the terrorism portion of Secretary Powell's speech was carefully vetted by both terrorism and regional analysts.(U) Conclusion 104. None of the portrayals of the intelligence reporting included in Secretary Powell's speech differed in any significant way from earlier assessments published by the Central Intelligence Agency.(U)

According to terrorism expert Alexis Debat via UPI:

"Zarqawi ran two al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, where he and al-Masri first met. From those camps, Zarqawi developed a personal network of fighters that is believed to be dispersed in the Middle East and Western Europe."

Now, if you argue that AQ in Iraq didn't exist in the last millenium, there's no way those could be AQ in Iraq training camps they were running, they could only be Al Queda itself training camps. Further, how did Zarqawi get $200,000 to start up Jund al-Sham in 1999 (again according to wiki) from UBL unless he and UBL are on the same page. And since Zarqawi's death (back to UPI):

"Debat said al-Masri's apparent relationship with al-Qaida's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri suggests Zarqawi's networks will be more closely controlled by al-Qaida's leadership."

To tell you the truth, I don't care whether a terrorist blowing up a bunch of people is AQ, Jund al-Sham or Ansar al-Islam (officially, the first Baghdad cell of AQ in Iraq began in early 2003 according to defenselink). They're the same people, with the same mission, just using doublespeak to get more support from the locals where they locate. UBL isn't a threat because he's AQ, that's just ridiculous. What makes him a threat is he wants to kill people, as many people as he can without regard to whether they're women or children, and he has people giving him money and people carrying out his orders and people making tools with which he can kill people. Your argument is like saying we need to crack down on the Crips but don't worry about the Bloods, because they're different. What makes them dangerous isn't their name, it's what they're about.

If you think we're fueling terrorism by being in the Arab world, why don't we just leave? Oh, that's right, we tried that in Mogadishu and they paid us back with 9/11. They're savage warriors, and just because we meet them with weakness doesn't mean they interpret it as mercy. We can let them push us back, out of the Arab world, out of Asian countries where Islam thrives, out of Paris and London.

A hundred fifty million people in our own country believe Bush is wrong, but people aren't swarming at him with bombs and guns. Tens of thousands of Muslims think Americans are wrong, and they do swarm at us with bombs and guns. They are taught that to hate us and die killing us brings glory. We don't teach that. Vive la difference!

Posted by: Morris at August 2, 2007 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

We don't teach that? Ummmm, you and I are both from the South and know perfectly well that in some places "we" do teach that ...

And you spent a ton of time there linking to this and that, but still, the fact is that al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist until after you say it did. People who later joined them were there, sure, but the organization didn't exist. And no, not all the people involved have/had the same views. Zarqawi famously had other interests before deciding to link up with Al Qaeda, and famously didn't get along with Zawahiri. Are there similarities among some of the groups? Sure. But there are some rather considerable differences too. Your wording sounds as silly as a Jesse Helms type in the 1970s, failing to note that there were big differences among the "Communists" - differences we could in that case and can in this case use to our advantage.

And its not like we are going to up and leave the Arab world in its entirity - that's a silly strawman. But all we are doing in Iraq is providing them with targets and playing into their public relations agenda (and, it would seem, attempting to strengthen a pro-Iranian government).

Posted by: Armand at August 2, 2007 07:06 PM | PERMALINK
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