Encouraging Signs of Al Qaeda’s Decline

obl shirtsAfter bumming myself out yesterday with musings about a potential Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, I was glad this morning to stumble onto more upbeat news from the global war against Islamic fascism.

The New York Times reported Saturday:

“Many students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.

While stopping short of actually saying so, the article makes the case for staying the course in Afghanistan:

Even counterterrorism officials who agree that Al Qaeda is on the wane, for example, say the organization might well regroup if left unmolested in a lawless region in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Somalia.

And here’s the meat of the matter:

Nevertheless, some government officials do take quiet, if wary, satisfaction in two developments that they say underlie the broad belief that Al Qaeda is on a downhill slope. One is the success of military Special Operations units, the C.I.A. and allies in killing prominent terrorists.

In Pakistan, missile strikes from C.I.A. drone aircraft have taken a steady toll on Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies since the Bush administration accelerated these attacks last year, a policy reinforced by President Obama. A count of such strikes, compiled by the Center for American Progress in Washington, found a handful in 2006 and 2007, rising rapidly to 36 in 2008, and another 36 so far in 2009, nearly all in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In addition to thinning the ranks of potential plotters, the constant threat of attack from the air makes it far harder for terrorists to move, communicate, and plan, counterterrorism officials say. And while the officials say they worry about a public backlash in response to the civilians killed during the air attacks, those officials also say the strikes may be frightening away potential recruits for terrorism.

The second trend is older and probably more critical. The celebration in many Muslim countries that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has given way to broad disillusionment with mass killing and the ideology behind it, according to a number of polls.

Between 2002 and 2009, the view that suicide bombings are “often or sometimes justified” has declined, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, from 43 percent to 12 percent in Jordan; from 26 percent to 13 percent in Indonesia; and from 33 percent to 5 percent in Pakistan (excluding some sparsely populated, embattled areas). Positive ratings for Osama bin Laden have fallen by half or more in most of the countries Pew polled.

The phenomenon of Islamic fascism is broader than just Al Qaeda, but it’s heartening to see the decline of support for Al Qaeda in Muslim countries.  I’ve long believed that the best  hope for a stable peace lies in an Islamic Reformation, parallel to what Martin Luther kicked off in Christianity with his 95 Theses in 1517.  I just hope that Islam can reform itself more quickly than Christianity did.  More than 130 years of religious violence passed between the 95 Theses and the Treaty of Westphalia.

(Photo of pro-Osama T-shirts in Islamabad in 2007 from AFP, via Gateway Pundit.)

Ahmadinejad Seems to Have a Death Wish

Just two days after Western leaders revealed that Iran has a secret nuclear facility, the Holocaust-denying nutcase who presides over Iran has started staging missile tests.  The missiles tested Sunday were short-range, but apparently Iran plans on Monday to test missiles capable of reaching Israel (not to mention American bases in the region).

It has become hard to imagine a peaceful ending to the Iranian nuclear problem.  I’ve gone back and forth on this, but it seems highly likely that Israel, which twice before has launched pre-emptive attacks on nuclear facilities in hostile countries, will do so again.  I wish I could be confident that our President would then stand behind one of our staunchest allies, but after Obama’s call at the UN for a “Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967,” I cannot.

Not very cheery thoughts on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  I wish my Jewish friends an easy fast.

Time for Obama to Step Up in Afghanistan

McChrystalIn today’s Washington Post, Bob Woodward reports on a long-awaited request from Obama’s hand-picked general in Afghanistan, requesting more troops for the war that candidate Obama claimed he wanted to win.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

McChrystal concludes the document’s five-page Commander’s Summary on a note of muted optimism: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

Now parts of the President’s party, desperately seeking a war to lose after being thwarted in Iraq, will turn up the pressure for surrender and retreat. I continue to be hopeful that Obama, who retained Bush’s Defense Secretary and Iraq strategy, will not want to be known to history as the president who lost in Afghanistan.

Ajami, on Taking the War into the Arab World

In today’s Wall Street Journal, my old professor Fouad Ajami explains why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both were appropriate and necessary responses to 9/11.  An excerpt:

Fouad AjamiBut it will not do to offer up 9/11 as a casus belli in Afghanistan while holding out the threat of legal retribution against the men and women in our intelligence services who carried out our wishes in that time of concern and peril. To begin with, a policy that falls back on 9/11 must proceed from a correct reading of the wellsprings of Islamist radicalism. The impulse that took America from Kabul to Baghdad had been on the mark. Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw. He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a lesson was made of him.

There was never any doubt that we would strike back at Afghanistan — precisely one member of Congress voted against the authorization for use of force.  President Gore or President Kerry would have toppled the Taliban.  There was really no choice.

President Bush, to his enduring credit, knew that we had to do more than just Afghanistan.  After years of mismanaging the Iraq war, Bush finally found a general and a strategy to turn the war around.

Now some of the same voices who urged surrender and rooted for defeat in Iraq are going wobbly on Afghanistan.  President Obama, who seized hold of the “good war” as a club to batter Bush’s “bad war,” has little choice other than to give the strategy that succeeded in Iraq a chance to succeed in Afghanistan.

Never Forget

This post was first published a year ago today.  It is dedicated to the men and women of the United States armed forces, and to every firefighter who has ever run into a burning building — 343 of them in particular.

wtc8The name of this blog comes from something that English statesman Edmund Burke apparently did not actually say, so I’ve felt free to modernize the language:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Regardless of who said it first, that sentence is the purest possible distillation of my worldview, and today is a powerful annual reminder of why I regard it as an enduring truth.

The events of 9/11 were the legacy of more than two decades of doing nothing, or next to nothing, in response to attacks from fascists in Islamic guise.

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

Only after 9/11 did America, led by a President who despite his substantial flaws was resolute enough to call evil by its name, finally mount a sustained response and take the battle to the enemy. And no, Saddam was not behind the 9/11 attacks — but liberating Iraq and planting a (still-fragile) democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East is an essential part of the broader war.

All of this is why, despite profound disagreements with the Republican Party on social issues, despite voting for Bill Clinton three times (including 2000), I can no longer vote for Democrats for President. Not until the party has a standard-bearer who understands the cost of meekness in the face of fascism, and who is prepared to stay on the offensive against people for whom “death to America” is not a metaphor.

Anti-National-Debt Ad is Free Speech, Not “Evil”

The ad certainly provokes thought.  Well-scrubbed youngsters in a classroom place their hands on their hearts and start to recite the pledge — but it’s a different pledge from the one I learned in school:

I pledge allegiance to America’s debt…and to the Chinese government that lends us money… And to the interest… for which we pay… compoundable… with higher taxes and lower pay… until the day we die.

My first thought was to link this 30-second ad with the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s back-to-school message — using children to make a political point.  But the well-produced ad was released September 1, and clearly was created before Obama’s planned speech became a target.

I learned of the ad from Matt Miller’s latest podcast, which I listened to shortly after posting about Miller yesterday.  He approvingly called it a “fascinating fake ad” with a “chilling message from an advocacy group.”

The advocacy group turns out to be the Employment Policies Institute, which SourceWatch.org describes as “one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.”

They make that sound like a bad thing.

Berman was profiled a couple of years ago on “60 Minutes,” which noted that he relishes the nickname opponents have pinned on him: “Dr. Evil.”   The Debt ad is a bit of a departure for EPI, whose primary mission seems to be arguing that increases in the minimum wage hurt poor people by stifling entry-level job creation. Other Berman-related ads compiled by “60 Minutes” focus on attacking unions and America’s “war on obesity.”

But as long as no laws are broken, lobbying is another form of free speech, and industries have every right to advocate for their own interests.  Berman’s messages should be evaluated on their merits — and in some cases, those merits are considerable.  I love the Pledge ad — our children really are going to be subjugated throughout their lives by the national debt we are recklessly accumulating, and the ad drives that message home in a memorable way.

My main quarrel with the Dr. Evil story is esoteric and parochial. The concept of evil inspired the name of this blog, and the word shouldn’t be trivialized.  People who fly airplanes into buildings are evil.  People who take sides on public policy issues are not.

Thank You, Mr. President, For Your Message to Kids

obama schoolCan we now please have an end to the silliest non-controversy of the young Obama administration?

I caught the tail end of the President’s speech on CNN’s live stream, and I’ve read the prepared text.  The kids just saw a highly accomplished black man, who lives with his wife and plays an active role in raising their delightful young children, tell students of all races that it’s important to stay in school and do their best.

Any excuse for staging such an event is a good enough excuse for me.  Given that the black man in question is our President, it would be a huge opportunity lost for him not to provide a back-to-school message.

Here’s the beginning of the part I caught, from the prepared text:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Hear, hear. Fellow conservatives would be well-advised to save their criticism for more consequential debates.

Clintonite Matt Miller Makes the Case Against the Public Option

matt millerMatt Miller is the host of my favorite treadmill companion, KCRW’s weekly podcast “Left, Right and Center.”  The four (sic) participants might more accurately be described as “Left, Left, Left and Right,” since Miller, who represents the nominal Center, is a former Clinton White House aide — although I’ll concede he’s more of a centrist than Arianna Huffington and Bob Scheer.  But I digress.

Miller is out today with a sensible op-ed titled “Why Liberals Should Drop the Public Option” in the Washington Post.  He argues that universal coverage can best be achieved by market-based means — pointing to Switzerland and the Netherlands as models, rather than “fully socialized systems, such as those in Britain and Canada.”

I respect those in my party who seek the single-payer system into which the public option might eventually evolve. But I don’t agree that it’s the best answer for the United States. Though single payer has merits, especially in administrative efficiency, it is also likely to freeze in place our fragmented, uncoordinated system of fee-for-service care. It would encourage providers to goose volume (to boost their incomes) rather than improve quality and would offer greater rewards for providers of acute care when we need a fresh focus on chronic disease management. Single payer also asks government to do things I don’t think it is competent to do, such as setting prices across a large swath of the health sector in ways that seem certain to create damaging rigidities or resource misallocations (as happens in Medicare).

Finally, if government is the sole payer, provider payments will become even more politicized than they are today. On the eve of beneficial innovations in drug therapies, devices and cost-effective ways to deliver better care, it is ill-advised to make the government’s hand too rigid. Private health plans have many flaws, to be sure, but if sensibly regulated they’re likely to respond more nimbly to disperse medical innovations.

Liberals should make peace with the notion that a regulated market of competing private health plans can be the vehicle for getting everyone covered.

This argument resonates for me — even though in a single paragraph (see boldfacing), Miller opines that single-payer would be more efficient, then notes that Medicare (a limited single-payer system) causes resource misallocations.

No system will be perfect, but to me it’s axiomatic that competing, regulated insurers will be more responsive to change and innovation than a government bureaucracy.

BTW, I found Miller’s column via “The Slatest,” Slate‘s new thrice-daily compilation of the hottest stories in the current news cycle.  My politics have moved to the right since 1998, when I (and perhaps a few dozen other people) shelled out $19.95 for a year’s subscription to Slate, but I still give them props for online innovation.  I also like their weekly political podcast, “The Gabfest” — even though it could be described as Left, Left and Left.

http://www.kcrw.com/news/programs/lr

MSM Discovers Van Jones — After He Resigns

Van Jones“Green Jobs Czar” and 9/11 “Truther” Van Jones resigned this morning, shortly after midnight on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Echos of Chas Freeman: Once again an Obama appointee has been forced out amid controversy — before much of the mainstream media got around to covering the controversy.

As Jennifer Rubin of Commentary‘s Contentions blog wrote before the resignation was announced shortly after midnight this morning, It’s hard to believe this isn’t a fictional character dreamed up by Obama’s conservative critics.”  The latest revelation was that he participated in an anti-American recording narrated by convicted cop-killer and far-left poster child Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Even now, the online New York Times feels the story is worth only a bland headline in tiny type near the bottom of the homepage: “White House Adviser on ‘Green Jobs’ Resigns.”  The Washington Post, to its (comparative) credit, has a prominent link near the top of the homepage: “Embattled Obama Aide Resigns.”

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall coverage that would have ensued if a Bush appointee were discovered to have views that far out on the opposite fringe?

Recovering from a Hacker

You can’t currently use certain internal links on my blog successfully, because of a hacker.  Any blog using a non-current version of WordPress software is vulnerable to this hacker.  See http://wordpress.org/support/topic/307660?replies=1 for more info.

There should be a special place in hell reserved for computer hackers…

Update: This now appears to be fixed — a mere 8 hours later!  (I did take a couple of fairly long breaks.)