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Saturday, July 30, 2005

The legitimacy of the Iraq war?

I finally got around to reading Paul Wolfowitz's "exit interviews" in the July/August 2005 Atlantic, conducted by Mark Bowden.

I'd like to analyze much of what he said, but I'm too tired tonight.

However, I've got to put this up ASAP.

On September 15, 2004, Bowden pressed Wolfowitz to explain what failure in Iraq might look like. Wolfowitz "dodged the question" and replied:
"One reason I don't think we will fail is because all the enemy has is its ability to terrorize," he said. "It doesn't promise people a better life. Does it appeal to Iraqi nationalism? It certainly doesn't appeal to Shiite or Kurdish views of the Iraq they want to see. I don't think it appeals to most Sunnis. So we have superior force, we've got resources and a lot of money, which is slowly making a difference. But that alone isn't enough. At the core what we have is legitimacy. I don't mean we as Americans, but this effort has legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people as a whole."
In Wolfowitz's world, up continues to be down. And vice versa.

I've blogged on a number of occasions about the legitimacy crisis in US foreign policy, the neocon view of legitimacy, the legitimacy of resistance against foreign occupation, and the illegitimacy of the Iraq war.

Wolfowitz's statement has me flabbergasted.

"At the core what we have is legitimacy."

They couldn't get a UN resolution, the coalition of the willing is a joke, US poll numbers around the world are terrible, the Iraqi people want the US out, President Bush has said he wouldn't want his country to to be occupied...

"At the core what we have is legitimacy."

Sleep on that.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The saviors in the Bush administration

On July 26, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reported in the New York Times that the US is no longer fighting a global "war on terror" (GWOT):
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice.
The new acronym, potentially, is SAVE.

Sounds appropriate for an enterprise President Bush originally (in 2001) compared to a crusade, eh?

I'm kind of interested in the framing of public policy, so this new "catchphrase" seems to be something worth closer examination.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has been using the new phrase since at least July 7, though the Times reports only on something he said last week. On October 10, 2004, and again on October 22, 2004, Rumsfeld used the phrase "global war against extremism." November 8, 2004, Rumsfeld used the phrase "global war against extremists." He also used that phrasing on February 3, 2005.

Much more frequently (2 or 3 dozen times), Rumsfeld (since September 7, 2004), has been discussing the "global struggle against extremism" or (since August 26, 2004), the "global struggle against extremists."

Thus, the US action is no longer "war" -- the US is engaged in a "struggle," which is obviously something very different. Indeed, the adjective "violent" has been added to describe the extremists, potentially making the US response to their actions all the more reasonable to other states -- and perhaps young people considering a career in the armed services.

In September 2001, Rumsfeld warned us all that the US was engaged in a "new kind of war," but now this one is not even a war. Even the long-time competition with the Soviet Union was commonly called a "cold war."

Note also that wars are typically won or lost, but struggles might last indefinitely. Kind of like the struggle between the Yankees and Red Sox. Maybe someone should remind the White House that in baseball, the same pitcher cannot get both the Win and the Save.

In any event, something odd is definitely happening; this new language is truly a remarkable political development. Arguably, the Bush administration is now trying to sound more like their domestic political critics and opponents. Consider this from that NY Times story:
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club on Monday that he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." He said the threat instead should be defined as violent extremists, with the recognition that "terror is the method they use."

Although the military is heavily engaged in the mission now, he said, future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military," he concluded.
General Myers sounds more like General Clark, former Democratic candidate for President.

They deny this, of course, but it sure sounds as if the administration has gone soft:
Lawrence Di Rita, Mr. Rumsfeld's spokesman, said the shift in language "is not a shift in thinking, but a continuation of the immediate post-9/11 approach."

"The president then said we were going to use all the means of national power and influence to defeat this enemy," Mr. Di Rita said. "We must continue to be more expansive than what the public is understandably focused on now: the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq."
It's all quite a contrast to what Karl Rove said just last month:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war," he said in a prepared text released by the White House. "Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

Rove went on to say that conservatives wanted to "unleash the might and power" of the military against the Taliban in Afghanistan, while liberals wanted to submit petitions. He cited a petition he said was backed by that called for "moderation and restraint" in responding to the attacks.
This is going to be an interesting 15 months before the 2006 congressional mid-term elections. Republicans want to be the tough blood and guts guys on national security, in opposition to wimpy Democrats -- but in recognition that the war in Iraq is no longer popular, they also want be for greater reliance on diplomatic, economic and political tools.

They want to be saviors!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Egyptian bombings

I'm certainly not an expert on the politics of the Middle East, but I'm not going to let that stop me from speculating wildly about the motives behind the recent bombings at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in Egypt.

Conservative bloggers, don't you know, have been somewhat sarcastically pointing out all week that Egypt didn't send troops to Iraq.*** Mubarak's Egypt wasn't part of the "coalition of the willing."

So, take away that ready explanation for terror (though perhaps not), and what's left?

The July/August Atlantic has an interesting short piece on the "Show Me" Sheikh of Egypt, Ali Gomaa. The latest grand mufti of Egypt openly denounced Wahhabism this past December and that likely makes him (and Mubarak's regime, since this is a government-appointed post) an enemy of Wahhabists. Apparently, Gomaa is a credible and popular anti-fundamentalist cleric. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the principal geographic center of Wahhabism.

Oh, and Mubarak's announced plan to democratize may also make Egypt a concern -- even to the Saudi state.

So...if you were a Saudi terrorist, or sympathetic to their cause, how would you counter Gomaa and Mubarak?

Perhaps by attacking the resort, the terrorists were drawing attention to the fact that Gomaa's Egypt (and Mubarak's Egypt, obviously) not only embraces western tourists, it hosts them in luxury hotels. The resort city has casinos and is sometimes known as the Arabian Las Vegas.

This seems simplistic, I know, but Sharm el-Sheikh is perhaps as symbolic a locale as the Pentagon or World Trade Center.

Question for Abu Aardvark (who is a genuine Middle East expert): does this mean hip-swaying Nancy Ajram's charity concerts later this week might actually emphasize the terrorists' point?

Alternative explanation: Earlier this year, Mubarak held talks with Palestinian President Abbas and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal at Sharm al-Sheikh. Indeed, an Australian newspaper recently declared that "the resorts of the Gulf of Aqaba have also become the destination of choice for Middle East peacemaking."

Perhaps the terrorist message is simpler: stop making peace?

*** Excellent retort by Abu Aardvark: "Given the recent gory murder of Egyptian ambassador to Iraq Ehab el-Sharif by Iraqi insurgents, this is pretty damn unfunny."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

POWs: McCain vs. Cheney

Monday's Washington Post website has an interesting AP story about some Defense Department legislation proposed by Republican Senators.

John McCain (previously identified as my favorite Republican member of Congress), John Warner and up to 10 other GOP Senators are supporting various amendments to a policy bill that would try to reign in the dubious treatment of various prisoners in the "war on terror."

McCain's proposed amendments regulate DoD most tightly:
"What we're trying to do here is make sure there are clear and exact standards set for interrogation of prisoners," McCain said on the Senate floor...

One of McCain's amendments would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual _ and any future versions of it _ the standard for treatment of all detainees in the Defense Department's custody. The United States also would have to register all detainees in Defense Department facilities with the Red Cross to ensure all are accounted for...

Another McCain amendment would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody no matter where they are held.
In short, the Arizona Senators amendments would try to preclude future Abu Ghraib, ghost prisoner and Gitmo horror stories.

To me, this is the most troubling part of the news report:
The administration said in a statement last week that President Bush's advisers would recommend a veto of the overall bill if amendments were added that restricted the president's ability to conduct the war on terrorism and protect Americans.

"They don't think congressional involvement is necessary," McCain said in an interview.
Unsurprisingly, Dick Cheney has met twice with GOP Senators trying to convince them to stop what they are doing.

Let's hope McCain and his colleagues hold on. There are plenty of like-minded Democrats to assure that this passes the Senate.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Is the plot thickening?

Remember that secret memo I discussed last week? It was written by the State Department's INR (Intelligence and Research bureau), identified Joseph Wilson's spouse as an undercover agent -- and ended up on an Air Force One flight to Africa the week before Robert Novak revealed Valerie Plame's name on July 14. The memo's subject was the alleged transfer of uranium to Iraq. A retired INR official told the AP:
"It wasn't a Wilson-Wilson wife memo," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation remains underway. "It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our disagreement" with the White House.
Regular readers may recall that INR was skeptical about the Iraq WMD evidence throughout the buildup to war.

There are a lot of partisan rumors flying around on the web -- and in other media. On July 22, The New York Times reported an attempt to link the White House's nominee for UN ambassador to the story:
Democrats who have been eager to focus attention on the case have urged reporters to look into the role of several other administration officials, including John R. Bolton, who was then under secretary of state for arms control and international security
Do these Democrats know anything? Is this a snipe hunt? A fishing expedition?

MSNBC's David Shuster reported last week that Bolton did testify about that memo. This revelation has created a stir in the blog world because the Times says that, unlike Public Diplomacy nominee Karen Hughes, Bolton did not disclose any contacts with the ongoing legal case in the forms he filed for his Senate confirmation hearing.

It really isn't a surprise to think that Bolton talked to Fitzgerald's grand jury. After all, he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. As Condi Rice said when announcing the nomination on March 7, his primary responsibility has been nonproliferation of WMD:
In that position, John has held primary responsibility for the issue that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has identified as one of our most crucial challenges to international peace and security: stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
At Bolton's confirmation hearings, it was made clear that the nominee often fought with people from INR about what the agency had to say about WMD.

The speculation is that Bolton may have seen the original June 10 memo and attempted to shoot down its contents sometime before Colin Powell got it on July 7. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has previously revealed that Bolton played a critical role in the creation of a December 19, 2002, Fact Sheet entitled "Illustrative Examples of Omissions from the Iraqi Declaration to the United Nations Security Council." This was created as part of the US response to Iraq's required report about its WMD activities, turned over to the UN in December 2002, as required by Security Council Resolution 1441. One item specifically mentioned in State's summary: Iraq had failed to disclose its "efforts to procure uranium from Niger." On July 14, 2003, of course, INR publicly revealed it had long questioned that claim. Yet, perhaps thanks to Bolton, it was part of the US case for war.

Of course, Bolton was in Australia at a conference the week after Wilson's op-ed appeared, but that doesn't mean he didn't talk to someone between June 10 and July 5 (when he was still in Washington). Indeed, Wilson heard rumors that he was going to be named publicly as the source of skeptical reports about the Niger uranium story "in late June," which is one reason he decided to write his July 6 op-ed.

If Bolton was fighting the PR battle, as well as the internal bureaucratic war with INR, who would have had the story?

Steve Clemons of the excellent blog, The Washington Note, has provided extensive coverage of Bolton's stalled nomination. Friday, Clemons reported a blog scoop. Bolton was frequently a source on WMD for Judith Miller (jailed reporter in the Plame case):
TWN has just learned from a highly placed source -- and in the right place to know -- that John Bolton was a regular source for Judith Miller's New York Times WMD and national security reports.

The source did not have any knowledge on whether Bolton was one of Miller's sources on the Valerie Plame story she was preparing, but argues that he was a regular source otherwise.
Then again, maybe Bolton just worked with his pals at the White House, Veep's office, and Pentagon. In April, USA Today quoted Karl Rove as saying that he's known Bolton for 30 years.

Presumably, they are friendly.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Naming names

In the past week, I've heard a number of Republican-friendly commenters on TV go on-and-on about the "fact" that neither Karl Rove nor Lewis "Scooter" Libby used Valerie Plame's name in their summer 2003 conversations with journalists. To these analysts, this means that no crime could have been committed in the case.

Today, NRO Corner writer John Podhoretz explains that NBC's Tim Russert might have used the same excuse with the grand jury when he attempted to explain his apparent conversation with Libby (who says he learned of Plame from Russert). I've put the key part in italics:
Is somebody lying? Maybe -- but on the other hand maybe there's a lot of weaseling going on here and some of it is Tim Russert's. Knowing as his lawyer must have that the criminally dangerous portion of the statute being invoked requires the actual use of Plame's name, maybe Russert told the special prosecutor he didn't use the NAME. "Joe Wilson's wife" is not Valerie Plame's name.
Regardless of Podhoretz's claim, check out the statute apparently in question. It only requires that someone reveal information that identifies the individual. It says nothing about leaking a name (see italicized parts of all 3 key sections):

Intelligence Identities and Protection Act (1982)
Section 421. Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources
(a) Disclosure of information by persons having or having had
access to classified information that identifies covert agent

Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified
information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses
any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not
authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the
information disclosed so identifies such covert agent
and that the
United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert
agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be
fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or

(b) Disclosure of information by persons who learn identity of
covert agents as result of having access to classified

Whoever, as a result of having authorized access to classified
information, learns the identify of a covert agent and
intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert
agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified
information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies
such covert agent
and that the United States is taking affirmative
measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship
to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned
not more than five years, or both.

(c) Disclosure of information by persons in course of pattern of
activities intended to identify and expose covert agents

Whoever, in the course of a pattern of activities intended to
identify and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that
such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence
activities of the United States, discloses any information that
identifies an individual as a covert agent to any individual not
authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the
information disclosed so identifies such individual
and that the
United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such
individual's classified intelligence relationship to the United
States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than
three years, or both.

(d) Imposition of consecutive sentences

A term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be
consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment.
Sorry for including the entire section, but this makes it clear that Podhoretz and the talking heads I've seen on TV are quite wrong.

Other commentators, by the way, have suggested that other crimes may have been committed by those leaking Plame's identity. John Dean mentioned the Espionage Act of 1917, for example, in a mid-August 2003 column. Liberal Oasis notes that Russert himself pointed to the possibility that one or more leakers might have violated the terms of their basic Standard Form-312, which goes along with their classified security clearance.

Podhoretz also writes that Libby is an experienced hand who couldn't possibly have been so stupid as to have revealed Plame's identity. Then again, Podhoretz writes that "Libby saw friends and colleagues sucked into special-prosecutor investigations throughout the 1980s."

I wonder if Podhoretz would have written in the '80s that Elliott Abrams, John Poindexter, and Caspar Weinberger were too smart to lie to Congress?

Note: Podhoretz is Abrams's brother-in-law as Abrams married Podhoretz's half-sister.

Legal update

There are new leaks about the Valerie Plame case. Many of the leaks, however, are contradictory and concern the "chicken-and-egg" part of the story. Administration officials often claim that they heard about Plame's status from journalists...but the journalists say they learned from the officials. Hmmm. There's also the question of who read that memo I discussed yesterday.

Let's continue to consider the apparent main characters: Libby, Rove, and Fleischer.

First, there's this Bloomberg news report from earlier today:
Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, one person said. Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn't tell Libby of Plame's identity, the person said.
This begs the question. Even if Libby is telling the truth, how did Russert find out? Which one is telling the truth? Who has more to gain by lying?

Rove: The American Prospect's Murray Waas reports that Karl Rove never disclosed talking to Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame.
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed CIA officer Valerie Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper during Rove’s first interview with the FBI, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
Cooper also said that they never talked about welfare reform (Rove says that was the subject of the discussion) -- though Cooper acknowledges that his voice message may have mentioned it and he had been assigned such a story earlier. But the Wilson/Plame story pushed welfare reform to the back burner.

Finally, on July 18, 2005, Bloomberg reported that White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer was among those who looked over the State Department memo identifying Valerie Plame as a secret agent:
Fleischer was among a group of administration officials who left Washington later that day on a presidential trip to Africa. On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.
However, today's NY Times says that Fleischer denies having read the memo:
Mr. Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the document, a person familiar with the testimony said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about not disclosing what is said to the grand jury.
Deny, deny, deny.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"I heard that too"

In case you were wondering, this AP photo (hat tip to Dan Froomkin) was taken in June 2003. Karl Rove and Robert Novak are side-by-side at a party celebrating Novak's 40 years writing a newspaper column. Rove's button says, "I'm a source, not a target."


Keep in mind that Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote his op-ed disputing the Bush administration's claims about uranium from Niger on July 6, 2003. However, he was already on the White House radar screen because he had been talking off-the-record to reporters for weeks. Wilson was ticked that the 2003 State of the Union address claimed Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa -- and he was trying very hard to spread the story about his 2002 trip (sponsored by CIA in response to a request from the Vice President's office about the possible uranium deals), which he felt debunked Bush's claim.

Novak disclosed Valerie Plame's identity in his column on July 14. Rove apparently claims that Novak told him that Wilson's wife (Plame) was CIA. When Novak asked Rove about Wilson's wife and job, the presidential advisor apparently said he had "heard that too."

Time Magazine's Matt Cooper also identified Rove as a source for his story, which appeared a few days later.
"Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A. and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'W.M.D.'? Yes."
In short, Karl Rove has been publicly named as someone who told reporters that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent -- and yet he continues to serve as Bush's brain.

For those following the potential criminal implications of this case, note that government officials granted access to official secrets sign an oath promising not even to confirm the accuracy of an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. They have an obligation first to try to find out if the information has been declassified. If they confirm an unauthorized disclosure, that too is an unauthorized disclosure.

According to his account, Cooper also talked to Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, on the following day. Get this, Libby also apparently said, "Yeah, I've heard that too," when Cooper asked him if Plame arranged Wilson's Africa trip.

Unauthorized disclosure #2?

None of this smells good.

Here's an ironic twist concerning Libby's alleged involvement:
Libby is strikingly reticent to volunteer personal details about himself. He refuses to use his first name, for example, using only his initial, nor does he offer any details about his marital or family status.
There are lots of ways to think about what happened. I like to consider the big picture. Clearly, someone in the White House was trying to retaliate against Wilson and possibly discourage future whistle-blowers. The Boston Globe's Derrick Z. Jackson called the White House attempts to silence the truth "dirty tricks." The NY Times columnist Frank Rich said it was all "Worse Than Watergate," because the point of the original lying and the political dirty trick was to cover up a weak case for war.

Bad news continues to leak out of Washington. Even the potentially distracting nomination of a political hack to the Supreme Court hasn't pushed the story off the front page. The Washington Post reports, Thursday July 21 on p. A1:
A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.
You can safely ignore those Republican loyalists on TV who keep claiming that Plame's identity was "well known," or that she wasn't really a spy.

"Secret" is an official government classification level. This is from a government intelligence page outlining the different levels:
Secret, which refers to national security information that requires a substantial degree of protection. The test for assigning a Secret classification is whether its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.
The memo was apparently prepared for Secretary of State Colin Powell, based on notes from a meeting held February 19, 2002. It was written by someone in State's INR June 10, 2003 for Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman (a career Foreign Service Officer), but delivered to Powell on July 7, 2003. Powell took the memo on Air Force One for a trip to Africa with President Bush and key members of the White House staff (but neither Rove nor Libby!).

Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was apparently seen reading the memo on Air Force one.

I've read quite a number of recent news stories and blog entries about the leak story. There are numerous ties to the big picture -- the administration was selling a bunch of lies about Iraqi nukes, some key people in (and out) of Washington knew it, and the hacks tried to pressure them into keeping their mouths shut. In this case, since Wilson didn't work for the government any more, they tried to apply leverage through his wife.

The key question: will anyone be held accountable?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Keep Louisville Weird

Yesterday, when I was dropping off one of my kids at camp, I parked behind a car bearing a bumper sticker that read simply, "Keep Louisville Weird."

Puzzled, a googled it and came up with this website. It turns out that the bumper sticker is promoting a progressive cause!
Quite simply, Keep Louisville Weird is a grassroots public awareness campaign, recently and quietly begun by a small but growing coalition of independent Louisville business owners who are concerned with the spreading homogenization of our hometown.

We’re concerned that the proliferation of chain stores and restaurants in Louisville is not only driving the independent business owner out of business, but is also robbing the city of much of its unique charm.

While we don’t discount the need for the Wal-Marts of the world, we’re troubled by the current civic notion that excitement for our town should come from the courting, establishment and promotion of chain stores and restaurants that can be found in many other cities across America.
Naturally, the group has its own blog. The group was also featured in Louisville Magazine; the owner of a bookstore near my home is pictured. Indeed, a number of my favorite local businesses are part of the coalition.

Apparently, Austin (TX), Raleigh (NC), and Boulder (CO) have similar movements.

Large right-wing media have even noticed, and responded.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Most of the world's major media are reporting that the 7/7 London bombers were suicide terrorists, willing to give up their life for their cause.

I've watched CNN and MSNBC enough the past week to know that this "fact" is now part of the conventional wisdom. Suicide is repeatedly used as an adjective to describe the bombers. Say it over and over and over...and it becomes truth. Right?

What if it is wrong?

Apparently, there is pretty good reason to be skeptical that the four alleged bombers intended to commit suicide. Two of the men had pregnant wives, meaning they didn't fit the typical profile of suicide terrorists, and the men purchased return fares for their trains, apparently believing that they had a future. Some credible media outlets around the world have reported this dimension of the story, but it will have to become a lot more prominent to overcome the huge advantage for the "suicide bomber" angle.
"We do not have hard evidence that the men were suicide bombers," a Scotland Yard spokesman said. "It is possible that they did not intend to die."

One hypothesis is that the bombers' al-Qaeda "controller" had told them that timers would give them a chance to escape, when in fact the devices were primed to go off immediately.

A security official said: "The bombers' masters might have thought that they couldn't risk the four men being caught and spilling everything to British interrogators. The stakes were too high, so they could have lied to them and deliberately sent them to their deaths."

...None of the men was heard to shout "Allah akhbar" (God is great) which is normally screamed by suicide bombers as they detonate their bombs.

The devices were carried in backpacks - not strapped to their bodies as is usually the case - so the bombers may have believed that they would be able to put the bombs down and get clear.

The four men also carried driving licences, bank cards and other personal ID. Police at first thought this was because they wanted to be acknowledged as "martyrs", but now they are not so sure. Suicide bombers usually carry nothing that might identify them.
One of the alleged bombers bought a 7 day parking pass for his car and left a lot of explosives in the trunk. That sounds like someone intent on having a future.

According to a Reuters report from this weekend, the British police have not concluded that the terrorists were suicide bombers:
Police have carefully refrained throughout the investigation from publicly using the term "suicide bomber", describing the four men only as bombing suspects.

"We've never used the phrase 'suicide bombers'. We've always been aware that amongst the things we need to clarify is the notion these people intended to die as well as letting off a bomb," the spokesman said.
Would it matter if the bombers were not intending to kill themselves in the attacks?

Well, it could be good news if they were not suicide terrorists. Suicide bombers are scarier than regular terrorists because they are so committed to their ideals that they are willing to forfeit their own life. This means they will run much higher risks than "ordinary" terrorists and are probably more difficult to stop because they can adapt to a given security situation on the ground. They can also actively seek to maximize loss of life.

Bluntly, if a terrorist willingly commits suicide in at attack, he or she locks in many operational advantages. The terrorist also likely generates more media attention. The horror of the attacks is magnified if the public starts to believe that there are many devoted terrorists willing to commit these violent acts and die in the attacks.

I have been teaching about terrorism since the mid-1980s, admittedly as part of broader scope classes on US Foreign Policy, International Relations, or National Security. However, my students over the years could tell you that I have suggested all sorts of nasty terrorism scenarios that don't require that much weaponry or imagination. People with automatic weapons and/or bombs can do a lot of potential damage to a nation's psyche by repeatedly attacking "soft" targets, like malls, fast food restaurants, schools, post offices, etc. Think about the national horror after the Columbine school shootings.

These scenarios are more difficult to develop, actually, much more difficult to develop, if the terrorists plan to survive their attacks -- whether to live their normal lives or to strike again on other days.

It is still too early to know if the 7/7 London bombers were played for patsies by a handler/mastermind, but I think the major media outlets should stop calling them suicide bombers. It may be inaccurate and it plays into the hands of the terrorists.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Not so sleepy Saturday

The remnants of Hurricane Dennis have been lingering in the Ohio Valley for most of the past week. It has rained most days and is often cloudy and gray. Today was no exception, which would ordinarily make it a sleepy Saturday. You know, a day of rest and relaxation.

And I certainly didn't do much on Saturday -- watched the Yankee-Red Sox game, updated some of my University webpages, went to the grocery store, etc.

Regular readers know that I haven't blogged very much lately, and haven't added any new content in 48 hours.

So...I was more than a little surprised when I discovered that nearly 800 people have visited the site today! Most have arrived via and are reading my "Forged Documents" post from February 10, 2004. That post discusses the possible origins of the Niger documents from Italy, but I assume people are reading because of the latest revelations about Karl Rove and Valerie Plame. Plame's spouse went to Africa and helped disprove the Niger-uranium story, despite the existence of forged documents suggesting Niger was selling nuclear material to Iraq.

I've long been interested in the two stories myself, so I'm not surprised people are still interested in the possible connections.

The page they are visiting is probably the most frequently viewed page on this blog, thanks to a previous link from and a link from Atrios.

Over the past 18 months, literally thousands of readers have seen that post and probably think I'm running some sort of conspiracy-theory blog.

Am I?

I prefer to relate some of my more speculative blogging to the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. For example, we'd know a lot more about the Valerie Plame affair if jailed New York Times journalist Judith Miller simply told us what she knew:

1. Judith Miller is linked to "Iraq is to blame for all terrorism" wacko Laurie Mylroie. They wrote a book together!
2. Mylroie is directly linked to Lewis Libby. Libby "blurbed" Mylroie's book.
3. Libby is directly linked to the Bush-Cheney White House. He is Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff
4. The White House is dominated by "Bush's Brain," Karl Rove.

Oh, that didn't take six steps. Should I have added that Michael Ledeen is also on Benador Associates roster? Like Miller and Mylroie, he has often expressed confidence in Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi.

When this story started, Plame's spouse, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, fingered Karl Rove as the leaker.

7/19/05 Correction: Libby didn't blurb Mylroie's book; "Prince of Darkness" Richard Perle did that. Libby was personally thanked for his "generous and timely assistance" by Mylroie. Paul Wolfowitz was also thanked.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Nuclear Fear

Friday at 1 pm ET, I'll be live on WFPL (89.3 FM) public radio. The one hour program is "State of Affairs" and tomorrow's topic is "Nuclear Fear." You can listen live on the web or find the entire program archive.

One guest is a scientist, so I've spent much of this evening thinking about how nuclear technology is depicted in politics and popular culture. The latter is more fun: from "Godzilla" and "Dr. Strangelove" to "The Day After" and "The Sum of All Fears," nuclear bombs have inspired filmmakers.

In 1979, "The China Syndrome" opened just days before the Three Mile Island accident; the US has not ordered a nuclear reactor since 1978. Chernobyl in 1986 did not help the industry very much either.

Note: the host encourages listeners to call in to ask questions or comment.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Keeping up with a former student

This morning, I discovered that one of my former graduate students, Stan Scott, has recently started writing for Phillip Carter's excellent blog Intel Dump. Reservist Carter is shipping off to Iraq soon (he's apparently in Kentucky right now for training and preparation). Stan and other writers have been recruited to help out in his time away from the blogosphere.

Disclosure: Stan and I coauthored a textbook chapter on the domestic and international politics of the Kyoto Protocol. I have a very high regard for Stan's intelligence and work ethic.

Stan retired after 20 years in the Army as a Sergeant First Class and is currently a PhD student at George Washington University in DC. He is investigating (and will be blogging about) the role of Private Military Companies. Specifically, Stan wonders whether the growth of PMCs makes it easier for the US to go to war. In his first substantive post on PMCs, Stan discusses his initial military encounter with Brown and Root, then a subsidiary of Dick Cheney's old firm, Halliburton. More importantly, he also notes a number of interesting research questions:
I started looking at the domestic political implications of using civilian contractors to support military forces, during training, peacekeeping operations, and on the battlefield. Does it make the decision to deploy more difficult, or less? What effects does it have on force structure and retention? Does dependence on PMCs strenghten military forces by increasing the ratio of combat to support troops, or weaken armies by encouraging too much specialization?
For answers, I'll be checking Intel Dump frequently.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Open University of Jihad"

Over the past decade, I've written a couple of book chapters about the use of the internet by transnational political activists. Environment, human rights, and peace organizations, for example, utilize the internet to communicate instantly with thousands of like-minded people around the world. Technology helps overcome resource mobilization costs for social movements.

This use of the web generally helps progressive organizations promote their causes, typically in the face of well-funded corporate and national political opponents.

Of course, the technology has a dark side as well -- and this has been apparent, literally, since 9/11.

Indeed, terrorist use of the internet seems to be booming. Today's Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article by reporter Dan Murphy, "Iraq, Internet fuel growth of global jihad."
"The world is just starting to understand the real influence of the Internet as an open university of jihad,'' says Reuven Paz, the head of the Project for the Research of Islamic Movements in Israel. "Like the attacks in Madrid, the bombings in London should be viewed as an export of the war in Iraq to Europe, based on local adherents of global jihad rather than on volunteers from the heart of the Arab world."
I've already discussed the role of the Iraq war in dispersing global terror; this time, I'm interested in the additional role of the 'net and other mass media communications:
the confluence of America's decision to invade Iraq and new communication technologies that has created the most powerful machine for recruiting new terrorists in history, says Evan Kohlmann, an American terrorism consultant who has tracked jihadi websites since the late 1990s.
Terror expert Peter Bergen wrote last year that the web emerged as the main terror home base before the Iraq war began:
To the extent that Al Qaeda -- "the base" in Arabic -- has a new base, it is, to a surprising degree, on the web. According to a U.S. government contractor who specializes in analyzing jihadist chat rooms and websites, web traffic was "tremendously energized" in the period before the Iraq war.
The security experts discussing this issue recognize the virtues of the internet: speed, wide distribution and low cost. Back to Murphy's story:
Insurgent[s] in "martyrdom operations" appear on websites within days of attacks in Iraq, and the latest calls to carry jihad to Western capitals from the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's No. 2 and Al Qaeda's chief ideologue, spread around the globe within minutes.

"Whatever framework we use to talk about Iraq - take Afghanistan for instance - it's whatever happened there, but on steroids,'' says Toby Craig Jones, a political scientist and analyst of events in Saudi Arabia for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank. "It seems to be proceeding much more quickly this time."
The Bush administration often worries publicly about the effect of Aljazeera TV broadcasts on "the Arab street," and I'm confident that the CIA is watching back-alley jihadist blogs and websites, but it's not clear to me that even close scrutiny of the communication outlets can do much to stop future attacks.

In the case of the London bombs, intelligence and government officials were apparently taken by surprise because they did not detect an increase in terror "chatter" prior to the attacks.

Unfortunately, the web may be so vast that jihadists will remain at least a step ahead of those trying to monitor their activities.

be skippy's millionth visitor

Though he doesn't link to me on his blogroll (yet?), I'm nonetheless grateful to skippy the bush kangaroo for occasionally sending readers my way.

Plenty of other bloggers are sending traffic to skippy's blog, so I'm a little concerned that skippy, already one of the most influential bloggers, will be overexposed.

Nonetheless, I'm willing to risk this: go over to that part of blogtopia (skippy's term) and help him reach a million hits in three years.

Happy anniversary skippy!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Schools of crime

Prisons are schools of crime. Put a lot of socially deviant people together and they teach each other new tricks. Social scientists studying prisons have been making this argument for decades. I state this from memory: the high school debate topic in 1976-77 (the year I began debating) was on "penal reform."

It is widely accepted by both supporters and opponents of the war that Iraq has served as something of a magnet for jihadists (even if many allied Iraqis are also nationalist insurgents). Conservative "flypaper theory" embraces this idea. Supporters argue that it is better to confront "the terrorists" (as if there was a finite supply) in a distant land like Iraq rather than in the streets of New York...or London.

Of course, the streets of Iraq provide a training ground for highly motivated potential terrorists. From the LA Times July 8 (via a comment at Democracy Arsenal):
Muslims flocking to Iraq from other countries are getting firsthand exposure to "a broad range of terrorist activity, everything from assassinations, kidnappings, bombings to attacks with conventional weapons," said a U.S. intelligence official who described the contents of the classified report on condition of anonymity.

In contrast to the rustic training camps of Afghanistan, Iraq insurgents learn to operate and evade detection in an urban environment, the official said.

Iraq is breeding "a generation of people who have the potential to be the leadership of Islamic extremism for some time to come," the intelligence official said.
These paragraphs refer to a National Intelligence Council report released earlier this year.

The British Ambassador to Italy, Sir Ivor Roberts, said in 2004 that "Bush is al Qaeda's best recruiting sergeant." Egypt's President Hosni Mubarek famously predicted that Iraq would launch the careers of "100 Osama bin Ladens." Asked to confirm that figure, former Anonymous terror expert Michael Scheuer said "more than that."

I imagine you see where I'm going with this. Many prisoners eventually get out of prison and have new opportunities to test their advanced skills. What if highly motivated and newly enabled jihadists leave Iraq?

According to various sources, that seems to be what's happening and may explain Thursday's bombing in London. Back to the excellent LA Times story:
Over the last year, authorities have detected an increasing presence of insurgents back from the fighting in Iraq. The Dutch alone have identified "dozens" of such former combatants, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Iraq could replace Russia's Chechnya republic, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan as the breeding ground for terrorists who could unleash their new experience, skills and fervor on the West, European officials say. The CIA issued a classified report in May warning that Iraq had become a more effective training ground than Afghanistan for terrorists, and that the threat would spread as foreign fighters left Iraq and returned to their home countries or migrated elsewhere.
It is still too early to identify the perpetrators of yesterday's attack in London, but after 26 months of insurgency in Iraq, it may be too late to discredit the flypaper hypothesis.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London bombs

A number of people have arrived here in the past 24 hours looking for information about the latest attacks in London.

Unfortunately, I don't have much to add to any ongoing discussion. And I don't think anyone knows enough yet to provide deep analysis. As Jack Straw (and others) declared in the past 24 hours, the attacks had "hallmarks of an al Qaeda related attack," but we just don't know yet:
"This is clearly an al Qaeda style attack. It was well-coordinated, it was timed for a political event, and it was a multiple attack on a transportation system at rush hour," said Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at King's College in London.
Other countries who have supported the Iraq war at one time or another have been victimized by terror attacks in the past two years. That's a possible connection.

I'll blog more when I know more -- and when I return from traveling.

PS: My wife got a text message from her sister in London. She is safe.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Poll: War Popular

I'm blogging from a secure location, though you wouldn't know it from my surroundings today. First, it is July 4th, after dark, and it sounds a bit like a war zone outside. Second, I saw "War of the Worlds" a few hours ago. In the excellent first 75 minutes or so of the film, the viewer feels more than a little insecure.

Oklahoma, where my parents have lived since 1977, is a bright red state. The Sunday Tulsa World (I'd link to it, but their material is behind a subscriber wall) ran a poll from the state finding that 57% of residents do not think that "in view of recent developments...the US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq." Only 38% said that it was a mistake.

According to a CNN/Gallup poll from last week, 53% of the country thinks the war was a mistake, so Oklahoma is fairly different from the rest of the nation. The Oklahoma poll was taken June 23-27 of 750 registered voters statewide, which means that the sample wasn't influenced by the Commander in Chief's June 28 speech.

Speaking of the President, Bush's approval rating in Oklahoma is 60% (versus 35% disapproval). Nationwide, the same CNN/Gallup poll found only 45% approval, versus 53% disapproval.

In some ways, I feel like I'm traveling in a foreign land, though I too live in a red state.

Gotta run, the explosions outside are tapering off...the kids can finally get some sleep.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Justice Coulter?

No, I don't really think George W. Bush will attempt to appoint talking head Ann Coulter to the Supreme Court, even though she has about as much legal experience as Clarence Thomas did when Bush's father nominated him, but I do think the President will try to find a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Conner.

And Bush will probably try to find a woman nearly as conservative as Coulter.

O'Conner was the first woman ever appointed to the court and if she is replaced by a man, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be outnumbered by men, 8-1. It would also mean that the only woman on the court was tapped by a Democrat.

For a President that has had two African American Secretaries of State, one a woman, this will not stand.

One name already circulating: 56 year old Edith Hollan Jones, of the 5th circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. From the Chicago Sun-Times story:
"The federal judiciary has an important but ultimately limited role in society," she said in an interview with Douglas K. Moll in the November/December 2001 issue of the Houston Lawyer. "I favor legislative authority over judicial authority. We have an obligation to make law as clear as possible. It is law to guide all of the people."

...In a speech sponsored by the Federalist Society in January 2003, Jones said the Supreme Court's decisions since the 1960s have been at odds with American values...The Warren Court "extravagantly assumed the power to dictate new 'rights' not expressly stated in the Constitution and in so doing foisted its philosophical vision on the United States with consequences far beyond the Court's imagining," Jones said.
I'll pick her in the pool. On the bright side, she was a former debater.

Will Democratic Senators move to filibuster? Stay tuned.