Positive Spin on the U.S. Wars (my cynical id)

The Taliban and their friends in Pakistan safe havens have gotten a rude awakening. It’s about time we took the battle to its true center, North Waziristan and over the Pakistan border in general.

Helicopter attacks and increased drone strikes on insurgents who fire on coalition forces in Afghanistan and then retreat over the border to Pakistan are finally being accepted (with limits) by the Pakistani powers that be. In September alone there were 20 drone bombings and a copter raid killed at least 40 retreating Taliban. The CIA has a network of Pashtun informants and spies that allow these attacks to be accurate. And the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are murdering their own people in numbers over who might be informants.

It’s just about the coolest thing I’ve heard with regard to the Afghanistan(/Pakistan) war since the CIA, with the Northern Alliance, ousted the Taliban back in 2001 (without the U.S. military).

We have to put it to Pakistan or we have to go home. We’ve given them billions so they can play both sides and enough is enough.

THE TAKEAWAY FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN

Sure we went to war with countries that posed little or no threat to us, compared to Iran and Pakistan. (The Iranian leadership hates America and Israel and is desperate to acquire nukes. Pakistan has nukes and both countries have and support various terrorist/extremist groups that could snag those nukes.) Sure, instead of just toppling oppressive regimes we saw as hostile, we decided we had to stick around and pretend we could make those nations democracies. Sure, we played right into Osama bin Laden’s hands and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to make the world think we’re brutal imperialists and to turn a new generation of potential terrorists against us.

But what have we learned? And more importantly, what have we relearned that has been stripped of ambiguity going forward?

1. There will always be war. The sooner we accept this, the better.

a) Fighting has been humankind’s defining trait since the dawn of time and the century that brought the world the most progress also brought by far the most devastating war and destruction.

b) 9/11 and our response to 9/11 have assured perpetual war. Now not just the hawks and the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about know this, the public knows it. That knowledge has been stripped of all ambiguity.

c) The invasion and occupation  of Iraq and Afghanistan will be seen as U.S. failures. But instead of promoting caution in further overseas adventures, it will only fuel our need to not be perceived as weak. Already prognosticators see no other option but military action if Iran continues to strive for nuclear weapons.

d) But even if the status quo remains with Iran for years, non-state actors will provoke the U.S. to attack other countries at some point. The sooner we accept this, the better.

2. We’ve relearned our allies are our enemies.

a) We can assassinate our enemies from the sky, and this is acceptable in Pakistan, a country we’re not at war with (it’s acceptable to the American people as well!). Pakistan works with the U.S. and against U.S. interests at the same time. We used the threat of a massive terrorist attack in Europe to finally go into Pakistan, where it was said to be planned. This has blowback potential.

b) We once supported Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

3. We’ve learned that politics makes bad military strategy.

a) Bush and Rumsfeld’s light-footprint strategy to limit U.S. casualties was a disaster.

b) Obama should have either pulled out or sent in more troops for the long haul. Instead he split the difference and prolonged our withdrawal for a year, actually doing himself no favors politically and learning nothing from the light-footprint Iraq fiasco. Obama will pull out before the 2012 elections.

c) The U.S. obtained its immediate objectives (removal of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban) easily. Did we really believe we could start a stable, democratic government (Bush’s political goal) in Iraq or keep amorphous, splintered groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban out of power forever (Obama’s stated goal in the campaign)?

4. We learned that the more we fight the better at fighting we get.

a) The military learned a new kind of war: counterinsurgency (COIN) for the 21st century. Our military is much smarter than it was 6 or 7 years ago, and has adapted impressively. (Too bad COIN is the most costly of all war strategies.)

5. We’ve relearned that our adventures and interference in the world can backfire and that, as the most powerful nation, we have serious limits. However, we’ve learned that we can still protect the American public (especially our non-Muslim citizens) by destabilizing other nations. Iraq self-destructed because its citizens lived in sectarian fear and had to join violent extremists to survive a civil war (spurred on by U.S. de-Baathification and the like). They spend so much time and energy killing one another that they do not pose a threat to the U.S. in the near future. Even al-Qaeda spent most of its resources inciting sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 instead of focusing on the U.S.

6. We have relearned that the United States is not concerned with civilian casualties in developing and Muslim countries, or in countries that commit mass sectarian violence within themselves.

The United States of America became (by WWII) and remains the most powerful nation in the world by engaging in often ridiculous and counterproductive wars and coups. History, the present and the foreseeable future all prove there will be war.

Be glad you’re on the winning team (because even the innocent losers are massacred).

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Destabilization was obvious: a brief history of Iraq

Studying Iraq’s modern history for a few days and reading books such as Patrick Cockburn’s Muqtada, it seems obvious that the W. Bush Administration either intended to destabilize—i.e incite civil war in—Iraq or at the very least considered chaos as an acceptable side effect to the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. It’s no secret CIA studies had concluded that a major outbreak of sectarian violence would follow a regime-changing invasion. It’s also been a stated neocon goal in regard to the defense of Israel.

The volatile cross-identification of tens of millions of Middle Easterners—tensions based on religion, region and race, not to mention family bloodline and political party—and the traditions of violence in Iraq have been U.S. news since the Iranian Revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq War. The Baath party (Arab nationalists) and its early de facto leader Saddam Hussein, a secular Sunni, had ruled Iraq for two generations by 2003. In a society such as Iraq where one either rules or is oppressed, leaving a power vacuum is a recipe for bloodshed—then add a dollop of Islamic martyrdom and stir with unpopular Western forces. The complexity of hatred that America has either witnessed or directly fostered upon the fragmented country for 40-odd years might have tipped off U.S. warmongers (who had taken a day to study Iraqi history) that civil war was likely to erupt.

(In the 1970s, Saddam himself recognized that Iraq’s sectarian rivalries and tribal and religious divisions had to be quashed with a combination of violent repression and rapid modernization.)

Saddam engaged in ethnic cleansing, brutally silenced dissent, murdered countless allies in paranoid fits and instigated an unpopular eight-year war where hundreds of thousands were killed. It certainly wasn’t a hard sell for the Bush Administration to paint Saddam Hussein as the tyrant whose removal would be a cure-all and allow the U.S. to be “welcomed as liberators.” (This war argument was, of course, supplemental to the WMD hoax that Donald Rumsfeld et al force-fed the American public and Congress.)

But, again, a cursory study of Iraq in the second half of the 20th century reveals that the “liberators” prediction was absurd and that anything other than civil war could not have been realistically presumed (at very least in the short term). Here are some warning signs about the largest and most clearly defined potential insurgent group, the Shiites.

1) Without a doubt, studious Shiite Muslims live through their history and pay very close attention to it (chess is still forbidden because Yazid, the Umayyad leader who beat up on Muslims from 680 to 683, was playing it during the Battle of Kerbala). Shiite Muslims, a 70-plus percent majority in Iraq, remember that the U.S. supported secular Saddam and the Baath party, indirectly or directly, from 1963 to 1991.

2) The Shia themselves are separated into several factions along philosophical, familial and economic lines, e.g.: Quietism practicing Marji’iyyah clerics; political parties like al-Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq [ISCI]; millions of poor in what is now Baghdad’s Sadr City. Saddam’s atrocities and the Iran-Iraq war in particular—pitting Shiite against Shiite—resulted in further division (Iran’s Shia theocracy also has a lot to do with the lack of Shia unity).

3) Adding U.S. insult to Shia injury: After Saddam’s army was humiliated by U.S. forces in 1991, George H.W. Bush said it was time for the Iraqi’s to overthrow him themselves. When Shiites rose up and rebelled against the Iraqi president, they assumed they would have U.S. military backing. But the U.S. left, and Saddam crushed the violent Shia uprising with, of course, extreme prejudice. Even if the Shia had misinterpreted H.W.’s dedication, how could the second Bush Administration—a direct descendant not just in name, but in cabinet too, of the offending previous president—assume that Shiites in general would welcome U.S. forces as liberators? Nearly the exact same administration betrayed them to the tune of about 100,000 dead.

Did the Bush Department of Defense (DOD) anticipate the reaction of the divided Shiites—not to mention desperate Arab nationalists and Sunnis, nihilistic al-Qaeda and the emboldened Kurds—to be a unified front once the Americans stepped in to smooth the post-Saddam path? Did the DOD experts expect to only deal with Sunni vs. Shia (both of which only serve as an umbrella for a variety of subset insurgencies)? Did they care?

The U.S.’s 2003 invasion exacerbated Shia schisms, illustrated by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army (now the Sadrists) and its disconnect from both the Shia religious authority (grand ayatollahs such as the current leader al-Sistani) and the Shia politicos. This should not have been a surprise to the administration’s Iraq experts, but they underestimated this Shia insurgency by thinking not many would follow the nonclerical Muqtada—even though his twice-martyred family is a descendant of Muhammad’s cousin Imam Ali (the figure at the heart of the Shia/Sunni split in the 7th century).

The Sadrists, probably one of the easiest threats to be predicted, became arguably the most violent and frustrating force the U.S. occupiers had to deal with from 2004 to 2007. Muqtada al-Sadr still refuses to deal with U.S. now and is certainly not beholden to Shiite prime minister Nur al-Maliki. Muqtada, in exile in Iran, has even recently met with al-Maliki’s rival Ayad Allawi (the Shia ex-Baathist the U.S. installed as prime minister in 2004).

More than six months after the Iraqi elections in March, a government has not been formed. It’s good that the civil war is over. It is too bad nobody won.

As there are countless players and organizations to reference, the following timeline skews toward Sadrist ascendance and U.S.-influenced events. (It’s important to note that the holiest Shia cities, Najaf and Kerbala, are in Iraq near Baghdad, not in Shia-ruled Iran)

TIMELINE
1958 – General (later president) Qassim overthrows the Hashemite Monarchy. In general, secularism, nationalism and even communism are superior to Islam or religion as a governing force at this time.

Late 50s – Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (Muqtada al-Sadr’s cousin and father-in-law), descendant from a line of respected Shia clerics going back to the 7th Imam and Muhammad himself, helps found and lead Shia political activism and the Dawa party. The practiced doctrine of Quietism (separating Islam from politics and the state) had led most Shia cleric elders (i.e. Marji’iyyah, ayatollahs) away from seeking direct political power, even though they were the majority. Sunnis, on the other hand, traditionally did not separate Islam from the state. Many Marji’iyyah saw Baqir al-Sadr and Dawa’s political aspirations as dangerous because they would draw attention.

1959 – The mainly Sunni Baath party (Arab nationalists) and Saddam Hussein in particular try to assassinate the communist leaning President Qassim. The U.S., under the Truman Doctrine auspices of containment, begins to back the Baath party.

Early 60s – 1) Saddam, a student of Stalin, helps create the Baathist secret police. 2) Baqir al-Sadr rallies the urban poor Shia (in what would become Sadr City), providing services and promoting his Dawa party—even drawing many Marji’iyyah to tentatively ally with him.

Feb. 1963 – The Baathists stage a military coup encouraged by the U.S. It is seen as “anti-Shia” by the majority of Iraqis. The U.S. sees the party as an enemy of communism. However, despite Qassim’s death, the Baathists cannot hold on to power.

1967 – The Shah of Iran, a U.S. ally installed by the CIA in a 1953 coup, declares himself a Persian King of Kings, expanding his powers and becoming more repressive and unpopular with Shiites, students and intellectuals.

1968 – The Baathists finally seize control of Iraq. Saddam is made vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, head of security forces.

1974-76 – Saddam consolidates his de facto leadership of Iraq. He has seized Iraq’s oil interests and marched the fractious nation into modernization. After a tentative peace with the northern Iraq Kurds, Saddam sacks the region and deports hundreds in his bid to take over oil interests in Kirkuk (and foster Arabization). Saddam becomes General of Iraq’s armed forces.

1978 – In a fateful move, the Shah of Iran asks Saddam (now vice president) to kick exiled Iranian Grand Ayatollah Khomeini out of Najaf, Iraq. Khomeini, who had been speaking out against the Shah (and against Shia Quietism) for years, moves near Paris where mass media outlets allow him to address the millions of disenfranchised Shiites in Iran much more easily than from Najaf. Khomeini has been reinterpreting Shiite religious authority to not only dove-tail with political power, but to in fact supplant it (Knomeinism).

1978-79 – 1) During the Iranian Revolution, the Shah is deposed and Khomeini assumes supreme leadership. 2) Saddam becomes official president of Iraq and immediately has 22 “disloyal” Baathist party members executed. 3) Al-Dawa and Baqir al-Sadr, tolerated by Saddam to keep the Shia majority in check for the last decade, support the revolution.

1980 – Saddam, to avoid the Shah’s fate, cracks down on Shia militants and sees fit to execute the man whom Shiites see as Iraq’s Khomeini. Grand Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr and his sister are murdered. He becomes the Sadrist’s first martyr. Many Dawa members flee to Iran, including future Iraqi prime minister Nur al-Maliki.

1981-1988 – Iraq goes to war against Iran. Despite being supported by U.S. money and arms (Special envoy Donald Rumseld visits Baghdad to make sure Saddam knows where on his side), the war is a bloody stalemate à la WWI’s trench warfare. Iraqi Shiites are forced to kill their religious brothers in Iran. Captured Iraq Shiite soldiers (betrayers of the faith) are treated far worse than Sunni or secular Arab prisoners.

1987 – Saddam begins a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, using chemical weapons and killing at least 50,000.

1991 – Khomeini has died and the Iran-Iraq War is over. Saddam invades Kuwait for oil control. When the U.S. responds, Saddam’s prized military deserts him.

1992 – With the hopes that the U.S. military will help finish the job, a Shiite rebellion explodes with Baathist’s murdered throughout the south. Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr (cousin to first martyr Baqir al-Sadr, and father to Muqtada) takes control of the many young militant Shia poor in Sadr City, Baghdad (then called Rebellion Township). Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the most powerful Shia cleric in Iraq today, encourages the uprising with much more subtlety. Both the U.S. and Iran do nothing to support the uprising, leading to further Shiite rifts after Saddam crushes the rebellion. However, the ghetto of Rebellion Township was so Shia- entrenched that Saddam could only contain the area, not control it nor kill Sadeq al-Sadr. In fact, soon after the uprising, Saddam believes he is shrewd by making Sadeq al-Sadr the Marji’ al-Taqlid, the Shiite religious leader of Iraq to appease the Shia after massacring their people.

1998 – After years of targeted U.S. bombings and harsh sanctions (leading countless Iraqi’s to die), Saddam still refuses to comply with U.N. disarmament terms. War with Iraq is discussed but unpopular with the American public. President Bill Clinton signs the Iraq Liberation Act, calling for regime change.

1999 – Openly critical of Saddam while gaining support of millions of Shia poor throughout the 90s, Sadeq al-Sadr and his two eldest sons are finally assassinated. Just as his cousin Baqir al-Sadr did when he became an official target of Saddam in 1980, Sadeq donned the white death shroud before he was killed. He became the second martyr.

2003 – 1) Saddam and his Baathists are quickly eliminated by Coalition forces. The U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority’s Iraq Governing Council (IGC) is set up with Paul Bremer as viceroy and Shia ex-Baathist Ayad Allawi as interim prime minister. 2) Muqtada al-Sadr consolidates control of the almost 2 million Shia in Sadr City, providing basic services through his Sadr Bureau and arming his Mehdi Army (he, of course, runs the newspaper Hawza). Muqtada, hero to the Sadrists, opposes the U.S. occupation and speaks to the illegitimacy of the Iraqi Governing Council. He declares a shadow government and is at odds with both the leading Shia cleric, al-Sistani, often seen as the representative of the middle class and wealthy Shitte elite, and the Coalition’s Shia IRC “stooge” Ayad Allawi.

Counterinsurgency Redefined

The COIN Field Manual defines insurgency as an “organized movement aimed at overthrowing a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict” and counterinsurgency as “those political, economic, military, paramilitary, psychological and civic actions taken by the government to defeat an insurgency.” Insurgents can be revolutionaries who want to upend the political power structure of a country or secessionists that seek independence. Insurgencies are always internal wars, with one exception, says the manual’s Chapter 1 overview: the “liberation insurgency” where “indigenous elements” seek to overthrow what they perceive as a foreign government’s occupation.

Though Chapter I “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency” is mostly written with an eye toward analytical inclusion of historic insurgency trends and definitions, make no mistake, this manual is about the specific U.S. entanglements of the here and now. As General John Nagel writes in a new introduction: “It is designed both to help the Army and Marine Corps prepare for the next counterinsurgency campaign and to make substantive contributions to the national efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The 2006 manual was a comprehensive update to a shorter, hurried manual written as a response to the explosion of violence in Iraq after 2004’s de-Baathification. Its primary function was to layout the best (if not the most feasible) of all military strategies for the two American wars. It was also seemingly written to get the Pentagon off the hook, as COIN in its most effective form 1) “emphasizes the primary role of traditionally non-military activities and the decisive role of other agencies and organizations” and 2) admitted in the manual, requires an extensive commitment of time and resources that no U.S. politician, nor the general public, would provide nor have much patience for in wars of choice.

Some, like Don Bacon, argue that authors General David Petraeus and General James Mattis, in fact, hijacked the term counterinsurgency to spin the perception of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To avoid calling ourselves an occupational force, which often has a negative connotation, they made COIN the overarching term for U.S. strategy (what has been conflated with our goal and mission as well), and of course insurgentsounds bad. If the bad guys are the “insurgents” (conveniently decreasing the potential for them to be called Iraqis or Afghans or even Sunnis or Shias in the media) then what would that make America as leading the “counterinsurgency”? This argument makes sense because pro-war propaganda is key to help garner support while conducting not just one but two wars of choice.

Whether the manual’s jamming of COIN into the nation’s vernacular was a side effect of media coverage or a sly attempt to reframe the wars to make us look noble and good, the field manual is the ultimate guide to a “just war.” It is not concerned with how or why these wars were started, but how to conduct them now with not only minimal damage to the Host Nation (HN) but a solid commitment to protect the HN civilians, and make the HN more structurally and economically sustainable. It paints our intentions in the best of all lights (though in a much different way than George W. Bush did, even though we haven’t been greeted exactly as liberators).

The field manual’s first chapter implies but never states that counterinsurgency is good and insurgents are evil. The most obvious distinction is that insurgents tend toward terrorism as tactic to “sow chaos and disorder.” There are more subtle tells, such as phrases within the counterinsurgency definition like supporting “constituted government” in “restoring and enforcing the rule of law,” as if the ruling parties of nation-states were inherently benevolent and never to be insurged upon. (Ironically, Mao Tse-Tung, the iron-fisted famine-causing Red China dictator, is cited as the leading insurgency expert.)  The most dubious “just war” implication in the first chapter overview portrays counterinsurgency as defensive—a response to aggression and not the cause. This of course wouldn’t matter at all in terms of public opinion if the field manual were not being sold on Amazon.com.

A very short history of some “counterinsurgency”

In the paper “Effective Leadership in Counter-Insurgency: The North-West Mounted Police in South Africa, 1899-1902,” the author makes a strong, if not obvious, case that having a leader who is respected personally by his men and who has the appropriate experience (in this case, as a veteran mounted North-American Indian killer) is key when fighting insurgents, especially as the fighting is particularly unpredictable and stressful. Though the paper, which opens by discussing the modern-day trend away from traditional warfare to guerilla warfare (a.k.a. irregular warfare), was written in 2008, its title bears no relationship to the COIN manual definitions.

Instead it refers to the Canadian Mounted Police regiment called to South Africa to “fulfill its assigned task of counter-insurgency” against the Boer settlers, who were whipping the British army with snipers, ambushes and the intimate knowledge of their land. And thus throughout the paper, the “counter-insurgency” is simply a group of men with guerilla-combat experience employed to defeat the “insurgents,” who—true to typical underdog definition—used hit-and-run tactics to compensate for their lack of numbers and/or technological disadvantages.

Counterinsurgency came into its modern incarnation as President Kennedy took over the Cold War. He believed one of our biggest threats to be Soviet-sponsored “wars of liberation” in smaller nations around the world. As such he expanded Eisenhower’s CIA-run undercover and paramilitary missions to “overt and covert war against the internal enemies of friendly governments…. ”

Kennedy sought a large increase in Special Forces and increased military authority abroad (over U.S. ambassadors in particular) to go beyond containment of the Soviet threat and provide comprehensive support to countries facing communist insurgencies, though he asserted that “the main burden of local defense against overt attack, subversion and guerilla warfare must rest on local population and forces.” His requisite speeches clarifying the need for billions in military buildup and foreign aid to take on the threat by nonnuclear “forces of subversion, infiltration, intimidation, indirect or non-overt aggression, internal revolution, diplomatic blackmail, guerilla warfare or a series of limited wars [his words]” makes the War on Terror and its Middle Eastern boogiemen seem like cowboys and Indians in scope. (A result of our Hubris of Toughness according to Peter Beinart.)

Cuba and Vietnam, the two biggest concerns of the Kennedy administration and the trial and error of infant COIN, were unmitigated disasters.  After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a broader, comprehensive vision of COIN was needed and a cadre of high-level national-defense officials, called upon by the likes of Robert Kennedy, became Special Group Counterinsurgency. It was created by National Security Action Memorandum 124 to “assure the use of U.S. resources with maximum effectiveness in preventing and resisting subversive insurgency in friendly countries.”

In South Vietnam, the U.S. backed in battle Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem against the North Vietnamese communists and their Vietcong “insurgency” in the South (ostensibly because of the Domino Theory for all of Southeast Asia). But Ho Chi Minh was teaching the Vietcong from the Mao insurgency playbook. Among the major COIN mistakes the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations would make: Camelot allowed Diem, the only effective SV leader, to be killed in a 1963 coup de tat after his corrupt, oppressive regime became national news. Coup after coup followed and, as anyone who knows about COIN today will tell you, it doesn’t work without a legitimate Host Nation. The field manual derives a good portion of its existence from the lessons of Vietnam—where we bombed and murdered the indigenous people as we tried to win their “hearts and minds.”

For Kennedy’s part, his counterinsurgency plan had been based on Diem defeating the Vietcong on his own, and JFK spoke out against putting any boots on the ground (as in Cuba). “Counterinsurgency” in the U.S. in 1963 didn’t even involve soldiers.

Anwar al-Awlaki, American Terrorists and Yemen

Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki became a terrorist superstar this summer with the recent CIA focus on al-Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula crew (AQAP), with possible drone strikes planned for Yemen. A series of articles (CBS; WaPo) highlighted that it is due to the internet-savvy New Mexico-born motivational jihadist, the AQAP operations manager. Replacing Osama bin Laden as the highest profile target, the 38-year-old Awlaki has reportedly chatted with the Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Day would-be plane bomber and the Times Square would-be car bomber—his sermons were attended by at least three of the 9/11 hijackers. The U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan in response to 9/11 motivated Awlaki to step up his terror-promoting activities and profile.

Constants on a Path of Jihad‘, a lecture from a founder of al-Qaeda he appropriated and popularized, has been called “the virtual bible for lone-wolf Muslim extremists,” and he targets English-speaking Muslims in America and Britain for recruitment (see ‘Do Not Trust Them‘ and ‘Your Just Reward‘ his videos from December). He also has a book called ’44 Ways to Support Jihad.’ It is worth noting that he preaches against vice and sin often, though he pleaded guilty to soliciting a prostitute and another lesser charge (stemming from prostitute services) in Denver.

That Obama and the U.S. National Security Council have put this Colorado State grad (with a masters from San Diego State) on the CIA ‘kill list’ is an auspicious event as he is the first U.S.-born citizen to earn this honor. After this fact was revealed, U.S. human rights groups decided to sue the administration—on behalf of his father, though not because they like people who want to destroy America. The ACLU et al would like some guidelines set before the government starts gunning for Americans absent a battlefield or some due process.

“Enemy Combatants”

The anachronism of someone born and raised in America, well-educated and holding a prosperous position, wanting to wage terror on innocents in this country says something about U.S. hegemony. But with a diverse multireligious 300 million people, it’s surprising that we have our first native-born Wanted Man.

The home-grown terrorist issue has come up most famously with John Walker Lindh (dubbed American Taliban) and Jose Padilla. One was caught before we realized he was American (Lindh) and the other before there was any proof he was a terrorist (Padilla).

John Walker Lindh

Lindh was born in Washington DC, converted to Islam in 1997 at 16 and went to study Arabic in Yemen. At 20, he was nabbed in Afghanistan—where he had gone to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance—during the U.S. invasion in 2001. Convicted of conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens, he is now serving out a 20-year sentence.

Jose Padilla

A Brooklyn-born of Hispanic descent, Padilla represents a failure of our nation’s right to due process. Picked up in May 2002 on suspicion of plotting a dirty bomb (radioactive) attack, the Islamic convert was designated by the Bush administration as an “enemy combatant” as a way to avoid bringing him to trial. Imprisoned for more than three years, Padilla was put on trial and finally convicted of criminal conspiracy after attorney general Richard Ashcroft, under pressure from civil rights groups, had to make a case. He had been dubbed the ‘dirty bomber’ long before any trial had been set up, but the supposed plot never came up.

The Republic of Yemen, briefly

The Muslim democracy—one must be Muslim to hold office—has re-elected as president the same man, Ali Abdullah Saleh, since the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990 (he had been president of North Yemen since 1978). International observers have defined these elections as “partly free.” The government includes a Constitution requiring that the president share power with an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Shura Council. Sharia is, of course, the law for the 28 million-ish Yemenis, mostly of Arab origin. (Yemen has the world’s highest birth rate, and the population is expected to double by 2050. The capital, Sanaa [2 million], has grown so rapidly in the past two decades that it may run out of water.)

Yemen and President Saleh have some current issues: A bloody civil war raging in the North since 2004 between the government forces and Shiite Houthi rebels; a poor, secession-minded tribal South; and flourishing al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula bases. The latter has the U.S. looking toward a serious aid increase to Saleh.

In December 2009, the U.S, with Yemen’s support fired cruise missiles at al-Qaeda training camps near Sanaa and in Abyan province in the south. Some Yemenis in Abyan claim that the attacks killed many more civilians and children than reported and have led to anti-American backlash. The U.S. and British embassies closed for security purposes around the same time.

In 1991, when Saudi Arabia and other Arab states expelled 850,000 Yemenis, approximately 15,000 emigrated to the U.S. and the number is around 20,000 currently.


We Need Another World War II Documentary About the U.S.

If I have to suffer through one more PBS/Channel 13 WWII documentary…. While PBS should be required viewing and Ken Burns’ War is a quality (if sentimental) film, please call me when the station runs a WWII documentary from the point of view of the Philippines or Poland. America’s Perilous Fight: Iwo Jima, with new color footage, is neat. But airing it not more than two weeks since the last installment of War serves only to drive home its redundancy.

We need to see Iwo Jima again like we need another History Channel program about Hitler. But at least the shows about Hitler aren’t naval-gazing generation worship. What more can possibly be gleaned by rehashing our most victorious victories? Maybe we should seek to create and air war documentaries that tell us why people hate in this country instead of constantly re-congratulating ourselves for saving the world. We had almost 600,000 dead and wounded in WWII, and that sucks; the rest of the world, 54.5 million.

World War II was not an equal opportunity destroyer. Was the U.S. the only combatant nation that can’t claim a civilian casualty? Maybe (China lost more than 5 million; Poland saw 2.5 million citizens die). Was the U.S. the country that gained the most while suffering the least in WWII? Without a doubt. Fuck our romantic view of the Great Generation’s War. It continues to color our vision of war as noble and just.