25 January 2008

If Edwards wants to be a grown up he should....

The answer is....treat us like adults and don't think that we don't remember that he was the attack dog not less than a month ago. I don't appreciate the fact that he is no parading as the one adult in the campaign not throwing mud. I point to the following items:

Via ABC News after Clinton cried in New Hampshire:

"I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business," Edwards told reporters Laconia, New Hampshire.
Or after a debate in Ohio where Clinton had a bad day he sponsored this video.

Or his stated intent to attack before that debate. Here

I didn't eve have to search hard for these.

18 January 2008

Another Bifurcated Terrorist

The account of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah's recruitment and time as a al-Qaeda member (CBC) very cleanly re-demonstrates a point made very well by Paul Berman in Terror and Liberalism. The point is that the most dangerous men in al-Qaeda are well educated, intelligent people who are pulled into terrorist organizations while attempting to reconcile a split personality.

They are split between their Western and Islamic identities. The al-Qaeda ideology gives them a pure ideal to belong to. They can convert their discomfort and disconnection in a hectic and harrowing modern world into hate for the people who make them uncomfortable.

Men like this are the most dangerous men in the entire al-Qaeda operation because they are smart enough to be good tools and planners, yet young and confused enough to be manipulated. While it is true that many attacks are perpetrated by the hopeless men and women from dire economic circumstances people like that are a dime a dozen.

Planning is another affair entirely. You need to recruit and brainwash the victim, have someone make the bomb, find them the materials, pick the target, conduct surveillance of it, then make the pieces move at the right time. It's not easy. And those are the small events, the amount of planning that goes into attacks like 9-11, the Madrid train bombings and the U.S. Embassy bombings is probably staggering. These are not stupid people. The true masterminds probably border on levels of brilliance.

The come from diverse backgrounds that allow them to be very familiar with the world in which we live in. Here is just a short list of the big fish who have made the news:

  • Osama bin Laden was born into an extremely wealthy family with extensive ties to the west in Saudi Arabia, he studied engineering at an elite secular university.
  • Kahlid Sheikh Mohamed, the mastermind of the 9-11 attack, earned a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. (Global Security)
  • Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second in command of Al-Qaeda, is a physician.
  • Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of Islamist thought went to western schools in Egypt then studied at Colorado State University. He spent time as a high level member of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior.
  • Richard Reid the shoe bomber comes from a London suburb which the BBC describes as "...hardly a natural breeding ground for dissidents - the borough's schools are among the UK's best, and street crime is half that in smarter areas such as Kensington and Chelsea." (BBC)
  • Mohamed Atta, the lead 9-11 hijacker, attended a variety universities in Germany where he began his path to radicalization.
Dealing with men like this will not be easily accomplished unless we are willing to get into a serious discussion with the Islamic world about the meaning of plurality in modern society and in Christianity and Islam.

I will close with an quotation from an article titled The World of Epictetus by Admiral James Stockdale originally written for The Atlantic Magazine. In this section of the article he is discussing three types of psychological profiles of prisoners in captivity.

"One of the things North talked about was brainwashing. A psychologist who studied the Korean prisoner situation, which somewhat paralleled ours, concluded that three categories of prisoners were involved there. The first was the redneck Marine sergeant from Tennessee who had an eighth grade education. He would get in that interrogation room and they would say that the Spanish-American War was started by the bomb within the Maine, which might be true, and he would answer, “B.S.” They would show him something about racial unrest in Detroit. “B.S.” There was no way they could get to him; his mind was made up. He was a straight guy, red, white,
and blue, and everything else was B.S.! He didn’t give it a second thought. Not much of a historian, perhaps, but a good security risk.

In the next category were the sophisticates. They were the fellows who could be told these same things about the horrors of American history and our social problems, but had heard it all before, knew both sides of every story, and thought we were on the right track. They weren’t ashamed that we had robber barons at a certain time in our history; they were aware of the skeletons in most civilizations’ closets. They could not be emotionally involved and so they were good security risks.

The ones who were in trouble were the high school graduates who had enough sense to pick up the innuendo, and yet not enough education to accommodate it properly. Not many of them fell, but most of the men that got entangled started from that background. The psychologist’s point is possibly oversimplistic, but I think his message has some validity. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

The people we need to worry about most are in the third group. They can come down on either side of the argument, and are powerful because they have capacity for great works of both good and evil.

Why I hope Giuliani's late start approach works

I was thinking about the election today and I came to the realization that I really hope that Giuliani's plan to start late into the primary season focusing on traditionally more blue states in the Republican race works well but still fails miserably.

I want the strategy to do well enough to encourage other candidates to try it in later presidential elections. I would find it ideal if people got back to the feeling that it was OK to run for the nomination in all states rather than trying to build momentum on Iowa and Vermont. Two very nice but electorally unimportant and non representative states.

If people ran on the whole country I think we would get a more balanced campaign and candidates would have to focus on projecting their issues to the whole country rather than focusing on a few states while the rest of us sit in the cheap seats and watch the theater.

On the other hand I hope his strategy fails because I don't feel that Giuliani is qualified to be president. I wouldn't honestly follow him to the bathroom. I think he has no idea what "limited executive power" is, and I don't think that closer inspection of his real dealings Americans aren't going to find anything they like (Bernie Kerik).

And not to make light of tragedy of 9-11, but that situation will make anyone in executive power look good. The President is the prime example of this, his approval rates have had nothing but a downward trend since the immediate aftermath of that event, which probably means he was never a great president but people give you leeway when they think your saving their world.

04 January 2008

MAJ Andrew Olmsted RIP

This post froze the blood in my veins. It is the last public testament of a blogger who was also a Major in the U.S. Army.

He died yesterday while serving his country in Iraq.

I've been reading and enjoying his work for some time. He spoke eloquently about what was going on in Iraq from his point of view on the ground. His opinion was always frank and honest.

Please take time to read his entire post, but these are the parts that I felt the most as a fellow service member:
I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.


Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.

As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.

Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.

I hope I never write a letter like this, but if I do I wish to be half this eloquent.

RIP MAJ Andrew Olmsted.