Both the Washington Post and the New York Sun are reporting on a major snafu involving Osama bin Laden’s last videotape.
It seems that the SITE Intelligence Group—a private firm that tracks terrorist activities online and is headed by Ritz Katz, an Israeli citizen born in Iraq and now living in the U.S.—managed to get an advance copy of bin Laden’s rantings from an al Qaeda server. SITE shared its haul with the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center with the proviso that it was meant to be kept strictly confidential to protect SITE’s sources. Within hours the video leaked to the press, however, and apparently al Qaeda webmasters were able to shut down the anomaly that SITE had exploited to keep tabs on the terrorists.
This story is disturbing on several levels: first, for the lack of security within the U.S. government (which makes other governments wary of sharing confidential information) and second, for the apparent lack of capacity within the U.S. intelligence community. With all the billions we spend on surveiling al Qaeda, is it really the case that a small, non-governmental organization can get its hands on a major al Qaeda video before the government can? It’s hard to know for sure because the government is never going to come clean about what it does and does not know, but the high-level officials quoted in these news articles certainly did not dispute the notion that SITE can find out things the government can’t.
#more-7656" class="more-link">Read More
News of military unrest has come this past week from Chinese-occupied East Turkestan, the 636,000-square-mile territory on the northwest frontier of the People’s Republic, officially called Xinjiang. According to the Associated Press:
Cotton farmers in China’s far west clashed with police and paramilitary guards over alleged price-fixing by local authorities, leaving 40 people injured, witnesses and Hong Kong media said Friday.
The protesters, however, were no ordinary “farmers.” To begin with, they were not indigenous Turks. Nor were they civilians. They were members of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is to say, Chinese soldiers and their families, descended from the original occupation troops sent to colonize the territory in 1954, today numbering over two million, and still having military organization. According to reports, the units involved were the 127 and 123 brigades of the Seventh Division of the corps.
Since at least the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese rulers have settled soldiers on frontiers and in occupied territories in tuntian or “agricultural military colonies.” The idea has always been that the men and families so settled would support themselves by farming, while being available to fight attackers or local inhabitants, if required. The Seventh Division’s farms extend over a politically-charged area near what used to be the border with the USSR, now with Kazakhstan, where the Ili river flows out of the People’s Republic though mountains to Lake Balkhash.
#more-7648" class="more-link">Read More
Broadly speaking, the political mood of the public can be gauged in terms of its shifting calculation of risk and reward. If, as in the period from about 1980 to 2004, the promise of new rewards outweighs the fears of accompanying risk, the market-oriented Republicans will be the beneficiaries. But if, as in the period from 1932 to 1966, the fear of risk is more salient than the hope of enhanced rewards, the result will be movement away from free-market policies and towards the presumed protections of government regulation.
For all its benefits, globalization (and the accompanying issues of massive illegal immigration) has brought to an end the period that privileged risk over reward. The Republican Party seems unable to face up to this shift. Some of my GOP friends blame it all on Bush. They rail at the failings of the Bush administration with the kind of vitriol usually reserved for leftists. Others, taken aback by the plunge in Republican party identification, trot out consoling ploys along the lines of “You should have seen the other guy!” Take, for example, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. While he acknowledges the unpopularity of the GOP, after a wave of scandals, the setbacks in Iraq, etc., he also emphasizes the misfortunes of the Democrat-controlled Congress.
Cole sees the 2008 election as shaping up like the one in 1992, when incumbents of both parties had a hard time. It’s true that Congress as a whole has only a 29 percent approval rating, lower than that of President Bush. But the problem for the GOP is that, as Washington Post columnist David Broder notes, half of the voters blame Bush and the Republicans; only 25 percent place the onus on the Democrats.
Another excuse Republicans are likely to make is that America is still, largely, a center-Right country. That’s true—but the center has shifted towards the Left. On a range of key issues, from trade to health care to economic inequality, the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen, notes the Wall Street Journal. A recent Pew poll found that “Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality. Pew also showed that two-thirds of those polled favor government-funded health care for all.” At the same time, Pew reports that “Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987.”
#more-7645" class="more-link">Read More
“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are,” said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in Washington to mark the organization’s October 1 anniversary. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”
In 2004, President Bush set 2020 as the goal for returning to the moon. His sixteen-year schedule is twice as long as it took after President Kennedy proposed the challenge in 1961. Although optimistic projections indicate we might return by 2019, the Chinese will still be there to greet us. Beijing has detailed and well-funded plans to reach the moon by 2017. The Chinese have a schedule of preparatory moon landings, while America appears to be going through the motions.
“The U.S. has to get over this feeling that it has to be a competition,” says John Marburger, the White House science adviser. If there is anything we have to get over, it is a sentiment like Marburger’s. China has plans, announced in August, to map every inch of the moon. As far back as 2005, Beijing discussed its intentions to mine it for minerals. By the time we get there, it may really be just a sliver.
Americans once dreamed big. Now, evidently, we’re too mature to do that. At this moment, we’re the leading spacefaring nation; it looks like we will soon be living under the light of a Chinese moon.
Is Jimmy Carter a saint? As James Kirchick has argued, the former President does deserve applause for the courage he displayed last week in the Sudan. He may be our worst ex-President ever, as Joshua Muravchik has irrefutably demonstrated, but it does not follow that every single thing he does today is bad.
The same thing can be said of his presidency. Reviewing Carter’s book, Living Faith, in the Wall Street Journal in 1996, I made the case that he was one of the worst Presidents of the 20th century. Carter read my review and took umbrage. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted him saying about me: “The guy, and I don’t know him, was vituperative about everything. He even condemned the poem I wrote about Rosalynn, which is one of the most popular parts of the book.”
Carter did, and does, have many appalling defects–the least of them his execrable poetry. But let’s give him his due. Even a terrible leader sometimes does some good things. Let me recall a tiny and ancient sliver of the past.
In June 1978, Carter appointed the former Representative Bella Abzug, then at the nadir of her own political career, to head his 40-member National Advisory Committee for Women. He and his staff probably had no idea of her Stalinist past–and if they did have an idea, given Carter’s stated desire to rid Americans of their “inordinate fear of Communism,” they probably would not have cared.
But if Carter was indifferent to Abzug’s lifetime membership in the Vladimir Ilich Lenin wing of the Democratic party, he still might have paid attention, if only out of self-interest, to the fact that she was a loud-mouth and a bully. Almost immediately on her appointment as “chairperson,” Abzug characteristically displayed her gratitude to her patron and rescuer by biting the hand that fed her.
#more-7652" class="more-link">Read More
John Burns, the distinguished New York Times foreign correspondent who just recently left his posting in Baghdad (where he had been stationed since before the Iraq war), granted an interview with the British Independent last week. Burns is an honest reporter who never lets ideology get in the way of his work, and his Iraq coverage is widely admired by both those who oppose and support the war.
A man perhaps more well-traveled than anyone, a member of “a new tribe that lives on 747′s,” Burns, who is British, offers his views of the United States:
He is a “tremendous admirer” of the U.S. and thinks anti-Americanism is fool-headed. “People need to make a clear distinction in their mind between a war at present that they judge ill and a country that is a very great nation of which we are all—not just we Brits but all of us everywhere—beneficiaries. What kind of world would this be without America, its power, its culture, its generosity, its enterprise, its invention, and what it has taught us all about liberty? I’m sorry if that sounds jingoistic—I believe it.”
Perhaps Naomi Klein’s husband, Canadian television host Avi Lewis, will invite Burns onto his talk show. As Lewis did with previous guest Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he can inform Burns that his “faith in American democracy is just delightful,” and ask the distinguished Englishman, “Is there a school where they teach you these American clichés?” No doubt Burns’s credibility would underscore the foolishness of Lewis’s ruminations.