The media sometimes has trouble conjuring a feel-good story out of an airstrike, but not now. In the last few days, news outlets across the world have fallen all over themselves to champion Maryam al-Mansouri—the first female combat pilot in the United Arab Emirates—who flew in a nighttime sortie over Syria on September 22.
Once again, a U.S. president vows to eliminate an extremist militia in the Middle East to make the region, and Americans, safe.
And that means it’s time again for a reality check. Having failed in its bid to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States is still trying to dismantle both organizations. Over the course of 13 years of war, that mission has spread to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and West Africa, as militant groups on two continents have adopted the al-Qaeda brand.
The life history of typographical and other errors is sometimes interesting, especially when it comes to “terrorism studies” and the panic of the national security state.
For example: On June 27, a federal grand jury indicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing case. The charge sheet sketches out a narrative of “radicalization” – the dots that authorities in hindsight supposedly failed to connect – by listing texts Tsarnaev allegedly downloaded to his computer:
Welcome to the Sanaa Sheraton! It’s now officially part of an expanded US Embassy estate that some are calling Yemen’s “Green Zone,” the plush, heavily guarded civilian headquarters for revised twenty-first-century “rules of engagement” in the Yemeni “theater.” It’s a risky place to stay.
Quite a few eyebrows were raised last week when Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, perhaps one of the most infamous “terrorists” in Pakistan, extended an offer of humanitarian aid to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — notwithstanding the $10 million bounty Washington has placed on his head.
As a recent arrival in Beirut, I quickly learned the Lebanese map, geographic and political, when the bomb hit Ashrafiyya on October 19, killing eight and injuring more than 100. A friend in the US e-mailed to ask if the bomb was close, but since I didn’t hear it explode or smell the smoke, gauging distance and direction by senses, it couldn’t have been. Even before it became known that Wisam al-Hasan, a Lebanese intelligence chief, was the apparent target, a friend here parsed the “political grammar”: neighborhood, bomb location in relation to the headquarters of various political parties with various stances toward Syria.
On January 5, amid much pomp and circumstance, President Barack Obama released the newest version of the US Defense Strategic Guidance. The document delineated the future course of US defense strategy, reiterating the commitment of the US to its strategic partners — the oil sheikhdoms — in the Persian Gulf, and shifting its focus to conventional warfare and deterrence capabilities in East Asia. So far, so predictable. Also notable, however, is this paragraph:
The 9/11 Commission Report is the closest thing in print to an official narrative of the events that gave rise to the “war on terror.” In American political culture, the Commission embodied a trans-partisan act of knowledge creation, handing down a narrative meant to establish treasured national consensus. Also, the Commission acted as a filter trusted to use classified information in a manner that educated the public without jeopardizing national security.
When 19 al-Qaeda hijackers attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States faced a strategic dilemma that was unique in magnitude, but not in kind. Terrorists had killed numerous civilians before, in the US and elsewhere, with and without state sponsorship. Al-Qaeda was not the first non-state actor to present no coherent demands alongside its propaganda of the deed or to have no single fixed address. Nor were Americans the first victims of unprovoked terrorist assault to set aside political differences, at least for a time, in search of a unified self-defense.
Iyad Allawi, the not terribly popular interim premier of post-Saddam Iraq, is in a position to form a government again because he won over the Sunni Arabs residing north and west of Baghdad in the March 7 elections. The vote, while it did not “shove political sectarianism in Iraq toward the grave,” as Allawi would have it, rekindled the hopes of many that “nationalist” sentiment has asserted itself over communal loyalty.
For the past two months, President Barack Obama has been weighing Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request to send an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda. That same effort, according to Obama, entails ensuring that the Taliban can’t regain control of the country. But a military strategy alone won’t beat al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Achieving lasting stability in Afghanistan will require national political reconciliation, the establishment of a functioning, accountable political system, and a credible government. In this respect, the outcome of Afghanistan’s presidential election, marred by cheating, was a step in the wrong direction.
So much is still unknown about the shooting at Fort Hood Army base and the motives of the alleged shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, but still I have that same queasy feeling in my stomach that I've had before: this will not be good for Muslims.
First things first. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is in custody. We should judge him fairly and, if he is found guilty, punish him accordingly.
The same is true for Sergeant John M Russell. In May 2009 Russell shot and killed five of his comrades at a combat stress clinic in a US Army base in Iraq. Before that, Sergeant Joseph Bozicevich killed two American soldiers at his base just outside Baghdad in September 2008. What do these incidents point to?
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as the army has launched ground operations and air raids to “eliminate and expel” the Islamist militant groups commonly known as the Tehreek-e Taliban or the Taliban in Pakistan (TIP). The targeted districts border Swat, a well-watered mountain vale described as “paradise on earth” in Pakistani tourist brochures, where the provincial government tried to placate the Taliban by agreeing to implement Islamic law (sharia). The February agreement, the Nizam-e Adal regulation, was approved by the lower house of the Pakistani parliament on April 12 and signed into law soon afterward by the president, Asif Zardari.
April has already been a cruel month in Iraq. A spate of bombings aimed at Shi‘i civilians in Baghdad has raised fears that the grim sectarian logic that led the capital to civil war in 2005-2007 will reassert itself. On April 6, a string of six car bombs killed at least 37 people; the next day, shortly after President Barack Obama landed in Baghdad, another car bomb killed eight; and on the morrow, still another bomb blew up close to the historic Shi‘i shrine in Kadhimiyya just northwest of the capital’s central districts, taking an additional seven civilian lives.
The Middle East has always been a difficult challenge for Western human rights organizations, particularly those seeking influence or funding in the United States. The pressure to go soft on US allies is in some respects reminiscent of Washington’s special pleading for Latin American terror regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Israel such organizations also face a powerful and influential domestic constituency, which often extends to senior echelons of such organizations, for whom forthright condemnation of Israel is anathema.
The day after Christmas, the wires buzzed with reports that Pakistan was moving 20,000 troops from its western border with Afghanistan to locations near the eastern border with India. The redeployment, said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Qureshi, came in response to “certain developments” on the Indian side of the boundary, one reportedly being that New Delhi might be considering military strikes on militant bases inside Pakistan. Pakistani security officials stressed that these moves were “minimum defensive measures”: No soldiers had been taken away from the theater of counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, only from “snowbound areas” where the army sits idle.
Within 24 hours of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration had announced the identities of the alleged perpetrators, all but one dead, and had largely reconstructed the plot as it understood it. In short order the administration put forth the notion that another such attack was imminent and authorized immediate, aggressive law enforcement and domestic anti-terrorism actions. These activities were justified with statements such as this from Attorney General John Ashcroft: “Today’s terrorists enjoy the benefits of our free society even as they commit themselves to our destruction. They live in our communities—plotting, planning and waiting to kill Americans again.”
Militant Islam is under global scrutiny for clues to conditions that foster its rise, and to strategies for reversing that growth. But the key is not in Islamic doctrine, US foreign policy or formal ties to various nations, as many analysts have asserted. It lies at the community level, with clan and local leaders.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, jihadists remain a minority in Muslim countries. Yet armed militants and suicide bombers continue to wreak havoc worldwide and militant recruitment shows no sign of abating. The reason is found where most recruitment occurs: ungoverned areas of failing or repressive states where public resources are stolen, wasted or otherwise not used for productive social ends.
Residents of Lebanon might be forgiven for wanting to forget the last 12 months. The month-long Israeli onslaught in the summer of 2006, economic stasis, sectarian street violence, political deadlock and assassinations—most recently that of Future Movement deputy Walid ‘Idu, who perished along with ten others in a June 13 car bomb explosion—have weighed heavily upon the country. It is as if the dismembered corpse of the 1975-1990 civil war—assumed to be safely buried—has been exhumed and reassembled, all the more grotesque. Since May 20, the Palestinians in Lebanon, too, have been made to relive past nightmares.