Commentary Magazine


Topic: bin Laden

On a Letter from London

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down. Read More

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down.

My own reaction to Dyer’s piece is twofold. First, I do think he’s onto something when he writes that Americans have better manners and are more freespoken because “deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else.” Of course, traditional American openness isn’t based just on this: the fact that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and relatively classless, has a lot to do with it. But it is easier to be civil when you’re optimistic about your nation and inclined -– partially because of religious faith -– to think well of your fellow man than it is if you think poorly of everyone.

But it’s just not true that “everyone is agreed” on the premise that the U.S. is best. The President’s oft-quoted remark that “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” implies that, at best, he has a distinctly posmodern approach to this belief. If everyone thinks they’re special, then presumably no one really is. The poorly hidden declinism of his administration, which implies that the greatest service the U.S. can do the world is to plan a graceful exit from its role as the hegemon, also clashes with Dyer’s assessment. For my part, I think Dyer’s got a better grasp of the American people, and of reality, than Obama does, and that Obama’s unexceptional approach will be what trips him up.

Second, in the British context, Dyer is a bit glib when he argues that, because Britain’s Muslims are among the most unsatisfied in Europe, this proves that they’ve assimilated very well — in that they’re just as unhappy as everyone else. But again, he’s not totally wrong. The traditional American approach to assimilation was to be proud of the United States, to invite immigrants to restrict their Old World customs to their private lives, and to expect them to conform publicly to existing American norms and beliefs. As bin Laden might have expected, that “strong horse” approach was quite attractive: being invited to join a self-confident, assertive, and successful community is a great compliment because it implies that you, yourself, possess those qualities and will be welcomed as an equal.

Britain has done the opposite: it has tried the “weak horse” approach, consisting of lots of multiculturalism and plenty of welfare payments. Again, not surprising, this hasn’t worked terribly well: there are few reasons to want to join a community that beats itself up so relentlessly. Where Dyer is totally wrong is when he writes that “the qualities that make us indubitably British . . . are no longer conducive to Greatness.” According to Dyer, those qualities consist mostly of a mustn’t-grumble spirit that allows the British public to put up with poor quality service and to accept apologies as a substitute for actual improvements.

But this has nothing to do with the qualities the British actually displayed in the formative era of British identity, the late-Hanoverian to mid-Victorian era. Britons in those days were relentless improvers -– in the quality of government, in public services, in industry, and through charity. Not for nothing did Asa Briggs title his great history of the era “The Age of Improvement.

One of those improvements, of course, was in British manners, where Dyer now celebrates the U.S. and gripes about the U.K. But English manners before the Victorian era were nothing special: only in the nineteenth century did the idea take hold that Britain was a nation of line-formers, of forthright “manly” speakers, and of courteous, “evenin’ all” bobbies. Maybe what made Britain British above all in that era was its political pride: in the Commons, in its freedom of the press and of trade, in its religious toleration, in its limited and liberal government, and in its contributions to the spread of civilization. Those are all still great qualities. The problem is that, since the 1960s, too many Britons have forgotten about them, or even cooperated in slandering or traducing them, which in turn has made the problem of assimilation -– or simply maintaining social order -– a lot more formidable.

What Dyer is basically and accurately complaining about is the collapse of the Victorian model in Britain; he is basically praising its partial survival in the U.S. He’s not wrong to dismiss the febrile leftism that has taken its place. But in one sense, his complaints are part of the problem because the model is so far gone that even a sympathetic and obviously careful observer like Dyer no longer recognizes that it ever existed in the first place.

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Atran’s Silly Thesis

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

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Lieberman on Obama

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

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No More Jihadists

The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. government is moving to kill off jihadists, Islamo-fascists, and mujahedeen. Not the people: the words. Reports from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center recommend discontinuing the use of such terms, because, as the AP report says, “Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.”

When we are locked in a struggle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, there is legitimate cause to be concerned about terminology that may backfire. Some of the verboten terms (e.g., mujahedeen) are surely too laudatory; others (such as “Islamo-fascists”) too offensive to ordinary Muslims who are otherwise unsympathetic to Al Qaeda. But the question is: If we eschew these words, what how are we supposed to refer to our enemies?

The British government, which led the move in this direction, has adopted the phrase “anti-Islamic activity” to refer to what Al Qaeda and its ilk are up to. That doesn’t seem much of an improvement to me: Isn’t it a little presumptuous of non-Muslim governments to decide what activities are “anti-Islamic”?

The U.S. government reports, which are being adopted by the State Department and other agencies, counsel using more anodyne phrases such as “violent extremist” or “terrorist.” But while less likely to give offense, those terms are also so vague as not to be helpful in many contexts. As many critics of the phrase “global war on terror” have pointed out, we are not fighting all terrorists–i.e., we are not mobilizing the resources of the U.S. government to destroy the ETA or the Tamil Tigers. Another possible suggestion is to use “religious extremists” or something similar. But that doesn’t help much either, because it suggests that bin Laden et al. are genuinely religious, and it also doesn’t distinguish them from, say, abortion-clinic bombers.

The term takfiri is both more accurate and less likely to give offense to normal Muslims, insofar as it refers to the practice of bin Laden & Co. of declaring Muslims who disagree with their extreme teachings as apostates. Unfortunately, almost no one in the Western world knows what takfiri means, so it’s not a word likely to come tripping off the tongues of our leaders.

A related quandary is what to call the offensive against these whatchamacallits. The use of “war” may well go the way of “jihadist” on the grounds that it inflames Muslims into thinking we are waging a war against all of them and that it actually elevates people who are simply criminals into semi-legitimate combatants. In 2005, the Rumsfeld Pentagon tried to move away from “war” by coming up with GSAVE–the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism–as its preferred term. That was roundly hooted down and mercifully disappeared when President Bush got wind of it.

I am quite ready to concede that existing terminology–the Long War, the Global Struggle Against Terrorism, Islamic (or Islamist) terrorists, jihadists, and the like–is inadequate. But it’s hard to beat something with nothing. And so far I have not heard any terribly compelling alternatives to replace the terms that, for better or worse, have gained widespread currency since 2001.

The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. government is moving to kill off jihadists, Islamo-fascists, and mujahedeen. Not the people: the words. Reports from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center recommend discontinuing the use of such terms, because, as the AP report says, “Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.”

When we are locked in a struggle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, there is legitimate cause to be concerned about terminology that may backfire. Some of the verboten terms (e.g., mujahedeen) are surely too laudatory; others (such as “Islamo-fascists”) too offensive to ordinary Muslims who are otherwise unsympathetic to Al Qaeda. But the question is: If we eschew these words, what how are we supposed to refer to our enemies?

The British government, which led the move in this direction, has adopted the phrase “anti-Islamic activity” to refer to what Al Qaeda and its ilk are up to. That doesn’t seem much of an improvement to me: Isn’t it a little presumptuous of non-Muslim governments to decide what activities are “anti-Islamic”?

The U.S. government reports, which are being adopted by the State Department and other agencies, counsel using more anodyne phrases such as “violent extremist” or “terrorist.” But while less likely to give offense, those terms are also so vague as not to be helpful in many contexts. As many critics of the phrase “global war on terror” have pointed out, we are not fighting all terrorists–i.e., we are not mobilizing the resources of the U.S. government to destroy the ETA or the Tamil Tigers. Another possible suggestion is to use “religious extremists” or something similar. But that doesn’t help much either, because it suggests that bin Laden et al. are genuinely religious, and it also doesn’t distinguish them from, say, abortion-clinic bombers.

The term takfiri is both more accurate and less likely to give offense to normal Muslims, insofar as it refers to the practice of bin Laden & Co. of declaring Muslims who disagree with their extreme teachings as apostates. Unfortunately, almost no one in the Western world knows what takfiri means, so it’s not a word likely to come tripping off the tongues of our leaders.

A related quandary is what to call the offensive against these whatchamacallits. The use of “war” may well go the way of “jihadist” on the grounds that it inflames Muslims into thinking we are waging a war against all of them and that it actually elevates people who are simply criminals into semi-legitimate combatants. In 2005, the Rumsfeld Pentagon tried to move away from “war” by coming up with GSAVE–the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism–as its preferred term. That was roundly hooted down and mercifully disappeared when President Bush got wind of it.

I am quite ready to concede that existing terminology–the Long War, the Global Struggle Against Terrorism, Islamic (or Islamist) terrorists, jihadists, and the like–is inadequate. But it’s hard to beat something with nothing. And so far I have not heard any terribly compelling alternatives to replace the terms that, for better or worse, have gained widespread currency since 2001.

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The Gap Widens . . .

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.

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“______” Terrorism

Yesterday, Muneer Fareed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, called for John McCain to cease using the terms Muslim or Islamic in describing–Mohammedan?–terrorism. Here’s Fareed, as quoted in the Washington Times:

You want to call them terrorist criminals, fine. But adding the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ certainly doesn’t help our cause as Americans . . . It paints an entire community of believers, 1.2 billion in total, in a very negative way.

In fact, it does no such thing. The modifiers “Islamic” and “Muslim” are critical in helping to identify the methodology, motivation, and personnel working against us. What does paint the moderate Muslim community “in a very negative way” is Fareed’s evident refusal to face up to a blunt fact: people calling themselves Muslims have waged a war against people they’ve labeled infidels.

The argument goes, of course, that terrorists who kill innocents in the name of Islam are not observant Muslims. Islam forbids such indiscriminate carnage. This is an argument that’s owed a great deal of respect, particularly if we’re looking for moderate Muslims to practice a version of Islam compatible with modern ideas of pluralism and human rights.

However, for a Western government to toe that line without reservation is an error. Which is precisely what England started doing about three months ago. The British government has now officially re-labeled Islamic terrorism “anti-Islamic activity”–so as not to upset people like Fareed.

The funny part of all this is that Bin Laden and company object to the “terrorist” part of the description: they consider themselves good Muslims! So, if you really want to be part of the even-handed multi-culti crowd, you can’t talk about either Islam or terrorism. Which, come to think of it, makes it easier to forget about this whole, distracting war thing and focus on the gun-toting zealots in our own society.

Yesterday, Muneer Fareed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, called for John McCain to cease using the terms Muslim or Islamic in describing–Mohammedan?–terrorism. Here’s Fareed, as quoted in the Washington Times:

You want to call them terrorist criminals, fine. But adding the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ certainly doesn’t help our cause as Americans . . . It paints an entire community of believers, 1.2 billion in total, in a very negative way.

In fact, it does no such thing. The modifiers “Islamic” and “Muslim” are critical in helping to identify the methodology, motivation, and personnel working against us. What does paint the moderate Muslim community “in a very negative way” is Fareed’s evident refusal to face up to a blunt fact: people calling themselves Muslims have waged a war against people they’ve labeled infidels.

The argument goes, of course, that terrorists who kill innocents in the name of Islam are not observant Muslims. Islam forbids such indiscriminate carnage. This is an argument that’s owed a great deal of respect, particularly if we’re looking for moderate Muslims to practice a version of Islam compatible with modern ideas of pluralism and human rights.

However, for a Western government to toe that line without reservation is an error. Which is precisely what England started doing about three months ago. The British government has now officially re-labeled Islamic terrorism “anti-Islamic activity”–so as not to upset people like Fareed.

The funny part of all this is that Bin Laden and company object to the “terrorist” part of the description: they consider themselves good Muslims! So, if you really want to be part of the even-handed multi-culti crowd, you can’t talk about either Islam or terrorism. Which, come to think of it, makes it easier to forget about this whole, distracting war thing and focus on the gun-toting zealots in our own society.

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Trouble In the Cave

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990′s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990′s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.

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Spurious Spurlock

“Super Size Me” creator Morgan Spurlock begins his new documentary by comparing the supposed trauma of learning he was about to become a father with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden,” a supposed comedy in which Spurlock tours various places in the Arab world and Israel (Morocco, Egypt, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and finally Afghanistan and Pakistan) begins with soaring-through-the-clouds airplane footage meant to evoke the point of view of the 9/11 attackers as they began their descent over New York City. In Spurlock’s narration, he speaks of how wonderful it is to experience the joy of waking up to realize it’s a beautiful day, only to be shocked when the whole thing is wiped out in a sudden unexpected moment. Cut to Spurlock’s wife announcing (in a moment obviously staged for the cameras) that she is pregnant.

Such bad taste is characteristic of the film, which is intended to downplay fears of terrorism and consequently is sure to delight the liberal press that praised every distortion in “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock’s vision is the squishy liberal view, the standard Westchester County wine-sipper’s wisdom, about the post-9/11 world. It isn’t that America is to blame for the attacks, exactly. But if only we were a little more sensitive to the suffering of the Arab world–if only we built them more schools and hospitals and resolved the Israeli/Palestinian issue and maybe sent them a card on Mother’s Day–they probably wouldn’t hate us.

In each country, Spurlock finds a couple of scholars and journalists to deliver that view. When he gets tired of listening to them he simply tells us in voice-over that we should think this, as we regard a cringe-inducing series of animated sequences in which Bin Laden and other terrorists are portrayed as dancin’ rappers or pictured on mock baseball cards (wearing caps with the AQ logo). This film is literally a cartoon version of the Islamist threat.

“Super Size Me” creator Morgan Spurlock begins his new documentary by comparing the supposed trauma of learning he was about to become a father with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden,” a supposed comedy in which Spurlock tours various places in the Arab world and Israel (Morocco, Egypt, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and finally Afghanistan and Pakistan) begins with soaring-through-the-clouds airplane footage meant to evoke the point of view of the 9/11 attackers as they began their descent over New York City. In Spurlock’s narration, he speaks of how wonderful it is to experience the joy of waking up to realize it’s a beautiful day, only to be shocked when the whole thing is wiped out in a sudden unexpected moment. Cut to Spurlock’s wife announcing (in a moment obviously staged for the cameras) that she is pregnant.

Such bad taste is characteristic of the film, which is intended to downplay fears of terrorism and consequently is sure to delight the liberal press that praised every distortion in “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock’s vision is the squishy liberal view, the standard Westchester County wine-sipper’s wisdom, about the post-9/11 world. It isn’t that America is to blame for the attacks, exactly. But if only we were a little more sensitive to the suffering of the Arab world–if only we built them more schools and hospitals and resolved the Israeli/Palestinian issue and maybe sent them a card on Mother’s Day–they probably wouldn’t hate us.

In each country, Spurlock finds a couple of scholars and journalists to deliver that view. When he gets tired of listening to them he simply tells us in voice-over that we should think this, as we regard a cringe-inducing series of animated sequences in which Bin Laden and other terrorists are portrayed as dancin’ rappers or pictured on mock baseball cards (wearing caps with the AQ logo). This film is literally a cartoon version of the Islamist threat.

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Soft Power and Secular Schools

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The McCain Kickoff Tour

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

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How Many CIA Agents Does It Take To Produce a Telephone Directory?

One of the most important functions carried out by U.S. intelligence is analysis of the vast quantities of data collected by the sixteen agencies of the intelligence community (IC). To do this job, the IC needs a lot of analysts. Who and where are they?

That has long proved to be a remarkably difficult question for senior officials to answer.

Ten years ago, one such official came up with the seemingly simple idea of creating a database that would record the names, locations, and specialties of all the analysts working in the IC.  The computers were duly programmed, but the data were never entered. What went wrong?

Thomas Fingar, the director of national intelligence for analysis, and the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, has offered a fascinating explanation in a recent talk at the Council on Foreign Relations. The database, he explained, had been

billed as a “This is where we’ll go if we need to build a task force. We needed a Serbo-Croat speaker to send out to East Armpit.” And people didn’t put that data in. Others — managers —  saw it as a free-agent list. “If I advertise what talent I’ve got, somebody . . . will try and steal it.”

The lesson here is that, try as one might to persuade people working in large organizations to cooperate for the common good, nitty-gritty career incentives will always and forever trump everything else.

Now, in the aftermath of 9/11 and other intelligence fiascos, the intelligence community is once again trying to create a telephone book. Fingar, who is running the initiative, has put out the word that being in the telephone directory is important: “If you’re not in it, it means one of two things: You don’t know anything, or your boss thinks you don’t know anything.” On top of that, a more draconian signal was sent out: “If you’re not in Fingar’s database, you’re not in a funded position.”

The results have been nothing short of astonishing. Reports Fingar:

I suddenly discovered I had 1,200 more analysts than I knew I had, even by estimating. But we can now reproduce phone book, e-mail directories. If you need to find an expert on economics in the Andean region, you can find out where they are, how to contact them. And people are using it.

Hearty congratulations are due the intelligence community. After ten years, it now has a telephone book. But where in the world is Osama bin Laden?

One of the most important functions carried out by U.S. intelligence is analysis of the vast quantities of data collected by the sixteen agencies of the intelligence community (IC). To do this job, the IC needs a lot of analysts. Who and where are they?

That has long proved to be a remarkably difficult question for senior officials to answer.

Ten years ago, one such official came up with the seemingly simple idea of creating a database that would record the names, locations, and specialties of all the analysts working in the IC.  The computers were duly programmed, but the data were never entered. What went wrong?

Thomas Fingar, the director of national intelligence for analysis, and the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, has offered a fascinating explanation in a recent talk at the Council on Foreign Relations. The database, he explained, had been

billed as a “This is where we’ll go if we need to build a task force. We needed a Serbo-Croat speaker to send out to East Armpit.” And people didn’t put that data in. Others — managers —  saw it as a free-agent list. “If I advertise what talent I’ve got, somebody . . . will try and steal it.”

The lesson here is that, try as one might to persuade people working in large organizations to cooperate for the common good, nitty-gritty career incentives will always and forever trump everything else.

Now, in the aftermath of 9/11 and other intelligence fiascos, the intelligence community is once again trying to create a telephone book. Fingar, who is running the initiative, has put out the word that being in the telephone directory is important: “If you’re not in it, it means one of two things: You don’t know anything, or your boss thinks you don’t know anything.” On top of that, a more draconian signal was sent out: “If you’re not in Fingar’s database, you’re not in a funded position.”

The results have been nothing short of astonishing. Reports Fingar:

I suddenly discovered I had 1,200 more analysts than I knew I had, even by estimating. But we can now reproduce phone book, e-mail directories. If you need to find an expert on economics in the Andean region, you can find out where they are, how to contact them. And people are using it.

Hearty congratulations are due the intelligence community. After ten years, it now has a telephone book. But where in the world is Osama bin Laden?

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The Pride After The Fall

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

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The (Terror-)Friendly Skies

In his book, Bush at War, Bob Woodward describes former CIA Director George Tenet’s initial reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001 thusly:

“This has bin Laden all over it,” Tenet told Boren. “I’ve got to go.” He also had another reaction, one that raised the real possibility that the CIA and the FBI had not done all that could have been done to prevent the terrorist attack. “I wonder,” Tenet said, “if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training.”

Six months after the “guy’s” acquired skills enabled him and eighteen accomplices to kill some 3000 Americans, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) contacted their flight school to say that the late terrorists had been approved for Visas. At PJM, Annie Jacobson has an unsettling assessment of the developments in U.S. flight school security since 9/11:

The INS unit was disbanded and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took its place in regard to monitoring foreign nationals for flight school eligibility. In September 2004 the Alien Flight Student Program went into effect, with TSA in charge.

Last week, in one of the most damaging reports on the TSA to date, ABC News revealed that in the program’s first year under TSA control, there were “some 8,000 foreign students in the FAA database who got their pilot licenses without ever being approved by the TSA.”

Citing official documents, Ms. Jacobson details the mixture of indecision and interdepartmental red tape that’s kept American skies open to the same American-trained terror that brought down the World Trade Center and blew a hole in the Pentagon over six years ago:

“[Acting General Manager for General Aviation Robert] Rottman made the TSA’s do-nothing policy painfully clear:

Currently DOS and ICE appear to have conflicting views on the appropriateness of B visas for flight training. Department of State, which has the responsibility for development of visa policy, contends that a B visa is appropriate for flight training. However, ICE, which enforces visa requirements, has asserted that B visas are not appropriate for flight training.”

Rottman’s conclusion: “Based on the forgoing, TSA representatives having security inspection responsibility and oversight authority . . . will abstain from making visa appropriate or validity determinations until further notice, as appropriate.”

Is it too great a breach of cordiality to halt all U.S. flight lessons for all visa holders? At least until coming up with a decisive long-term policy? I was just told of a coast-to-coast commercial flight on which all passengers were deprived of peanuts because one passenger was allergic. You’d think the threat of a 9/11 repeat demands as thorough and decisive an approach as the one enabling the safe distribution of in-flight snacks.

In his book, Bush at War, Bob Woodward describes former CIA Director George Tenet’s initial reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001 thusly:

“This has bin Laden all over it,” Tenet told Boren. “I’ve got to go.” He also had another reaction, one that raised the real possibility that the CIA and the FBI had not done all that could have been done to prevent the terrorist attack. “I wonder,” Tenet said, “if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training.”

Six months after the “guy’s” acquired skills enabled him and eighteen accomplices to kill some 3000 Americans, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) contacted their flight school to say that the late terrorists had been approved for Visas. At PJM, Annie Jacobson has an unsettling assessment of the developments in U.S. flight school security since 9/11:

The INS unit was disbanded and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took its place in regard to monitoring foreign nationals for flight school eligibility. In September 2004 the Alien Flight Student Program went into effect, with TSA in charge.

Last week, in one of the most damaging reports on the TSA to date, ABC News revealed that in the program’s first year under TSA control, there were “some 8,000 foreign students in the FAA database who got their pilot licenses without ever being approved by the TSA.”

Citing official documents, Ms. Jacobson details the mixture of indecision and interdepartmental red tape that’s kept American skies open to the same American-trained terror that brought down the World Trade Center and blew a hole in the Pentagon over six years ago:

“[Acting General Manager for General Aviation Robert] Rottman made the TSA’s do-nothing policy painfully clear:

Currently DOS and ICE appear to have conflicting views on the appropriateness of B visas for flight training. Department of State, which has the responsibility for development of visa policy, contends that a B visa is appropriate for flight training. However, ICE, which enforces visa requirements, has asserted that B visas are not appropriate for flight training.”

Rottman’s conclusion: “Based on the forgoing, TSA representatives having security inspection responsibility and oversight authority . . . will abstain from making visa appropriate or validity determinations until further notice, as appropriate.”

Is it too great a breach of cordiality to halt all U.S. flight lessons for all visa holders? At least until coming up with a decisive long-term policy? I was just told of a coast-to-coast commercial flight on which all passengers were deprived of peanuts because one passenger was allergic. You’d think the threat of a 9/11 repeat demands as thorough and decisive an approach as the one enabling the safe distribution of in-flight snacks.

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More on Mugniyeh

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

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Vox Pakistan

Two new surveys of public opinion in Pakistan deliver generally good news about the future of that country—and bad news for the future of administration policy, which has been tied so closely to President Pervez Musharraf. That policy seems increasingly untenable, with a new poll sponsored by the International Republican Institute finding that 75 percent favor his resignation and only 16 percent are opposed.

His approval ratings were positive not long ago; now they are about as low as you can go, and falling fast. That message is reinforced in another survey from Terror Free Tomorrow which found that 70 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately.

But while turning against Washington’s favorite, Pakistanis are also increasing disenchanted with Islamist extremists. Terror Free Tomorrow reports that Al Qaeda and associated groups have lost half of their support in the past six months:

In August, 46 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s down to 24 percent now, while Al Qaeda has dropped from 33 to 18 percent, the Taliban from 38 percent to 19 percent, and other related radical Islamist groups from nearly half of the Pakistani public with a favorable view to less than a quarter today. Significantly, if Al Qaeda were on the ballot as a political party in the February 18th election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would vote for them. (The Taliban would draw just 3 percent of the vote.)

The survey reveals that support for the extremists has even dropped in the North-West Frontier Province where they had been previously been making gains: “Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have dropped to single digits. And while in TFT’s last survey, 70 percent in the NWFP expressed a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s now plunged to only 4 percent.

Far from flocking to the extremists, the surveys reveal, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis support one of two relatively moderate opposition parties—the Pakistan People’s Party that was led by the late Benazir Bhutto and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, with the former enjoying more than twice the support of the latter.

The bad news is that most Pakistanis still oppose taking an active role in the War on Terror. According to the IRI poll: “only 33 percent of Pakistanis supported the Army fighting extremists in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas and just nine percent felt that Pakistan should cooperate with the United States in its war on terror.” (The results appeared to be inadvertently flipped in a chart published in the Washington Post.)

It is results like that which have led the Bush administration to not push very hard for democracy in Pakistan. Yet our supposedly close ally, Musharraf, has failed to stop the terrorists from making major gains; indeed there is considerable evidence that members of his own intelligence service conspire with the Taliban and other extremists. Notwithstanding the opposition to close cooperation with the United States, the overall picture painted in this surveys should make us more sanguine about the return to democracy. The more that extremists have carried out attacks within Pakistan itself, the more they have lost support. A government with more popular legitimacy than Musharraf now enjoys could potentially also have more success in harnessing popular sentiment to take action against the fanatics.

That’s far from a certainty. What is certain is that it will not be possible to stick with Musharrar too much longer given his continuing loss of support, which may accelerate if he is seen to tamper with the results of an election that will be held next Monday.

Two new surveys of public opinion in Pakistan deliver generally good news about the future of that country—and bad news for the future of administration policy, which has been tied so closely to President Pervez Musharraf. That policy seems increasingly untenable, with a new poll sponsored by the International Republican Institute finding that 75 percent favor his resignation and only 16 percent are opposed.

His approval ratings were positive not long ago; now they are about as low as you can go, and falling fast. That message is reinforced in another survey from Terror Free Tomorrow which found that 70 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately.

But while turning against Washington’s favorite, Pakistanis are also increasing disenchanted with Islamist extremists. Terror Free Tomorrow reports that Al Qaeda and associated groups have lost half of their support in the past six months:

In August, 46 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s down to 24 percent now, while Al Qaeda has dropped from 33 to 18 percent, the Taliban from 38 percent to 19 percent, and other related radical Islamist groups from nearly half of the Pakistani public with a favorable view to less than a quarter today. Significantly, if Al Qaeda were on the ballot as a political party in the February 18th election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would vote for them. (The Taliban would draw just 3 percent of the vote.)

The survey reveals that support for the extremists has even dropped in the North-West Frontier Province where they had been previously been making gains: “Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have dropped to single digits. And while in TFT’s last survey, 70 percent in the NWFP expressed a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s now plunged to only 4 percent.

Far from flocking to the extremists, the surveys reveal, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis support one of two relatively moderate opposition parties—the Pakistan People’s Party that was led by the late Benazir Bhutto and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, with the former enjoying more than twice the support of the latter.

The bad news is that most Pakistanis still oppose taking an active role in the War on Terror. According to the IRI poll: “only 33 percent of Pakistanis supported the Army fighting extremists in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas and just nine percent felt that Pakistan should cooperate with the United States in its war on terror.” (The results appeared to be inadvertently flipped in a chart published in the Washington Post.)

It is results like that which have led the Bush administration to not push very hard for democracy in Pakistan. Yet our supposedly close ally, Musharraf, has failed to stop the terrorists from making major gains; indeed there is considerable evidence that members of his own intelligence service conspire with the Taliban and other extremists. Notwithstanding the opposition to close cooperation with the United States, the overall picture painted in this surveys should make us more sanguine about the return to democracy. The more that extremists have carried out attacks within Pakistan itself, the more they have lost support. A government with more popular legitimacy than Musharraf now enjoys could potentially also have more success in harnessing popular sentiment to take action against the fanatics.

That’s far from a certainty. What is certain is that it will not be possible to stick with Musharrar too much longer given his continuing loss of support, which may accelerate if he is seen to tamper with the results of an election that will be held next Monday.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Hillary the Hawk, Kind Of

Hillary Clinton just said the United States did not “aggressively go after” Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and that we need to do so now. How should we do it? With “NATO troops.”

Hillary Clinton just said the United States did not “aggressively go after” Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and that we need to do so now. How should we do it? With “NATO troops.”

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A New Direction?

From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

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From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

Earlier this week, for example, we learned from Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, that American forces have routed al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) from every neighborhood of Baghdad and that violence had declined since a spike in June. Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak, and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said. General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significantly, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

We’re seeing early reports (it’s still far too early to call it a trend) of refugees and displaced persons returning to their homes, which, if it continues, will be among the most compelling indicators of progress. People vote with their feet.

We have also seen substantial progress in the “war of ideas,” with Sunnis forcefully rejecting bin Ladenism. Earlier this week Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, told Hugh Hewitt about this development that took place in September:

Sheik Salman al-Awdah is a very prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself lionized this man. But on two occasions, most recently at the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that just concluded, Sheik Awdah condemned, personally condemned bin Laden. You know, my son, Osama, how long will this go on? You know, this stain on Islam. I mean, it was a direct repudiation of everything that bin Laden stood for.

Sheik Awdah’s “open letter to Osama bin Laden” asked:

Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al Qaeda? The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy. Who benefits from turning countries like Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia into places where fear spreads and no one can feel safe?

This is a stunning and important, if largely ignored, development.

In Iraq we’re also seeing some encouraging news on the economic front and very encouraging, even dramatic, progress on the local political front; “bottom-up” reconciliation is continuing apace. The main problem in Iraq lies with the central government and its unwillingness, still, to share power. Nevertheless, almost every important trend line in Iraq is positive. And yet to the likes of Speaker Pelosi, it matters not at all. She and her colleagues are ideologues in the truest sense—zealous and doctrinaire people committed to a path regardless of the evidence. And the fact that good news in Iraq seems to agitate her and other leading Democrats is astonishing, as well as unsettling.

Nancy Pelosi’s effort to subvert a manifestly successful (if belatedly implemented) strategy in Iraq is reckless and foolish—and it may succeed in driving down Congressional approval ratings, already at record lows, to single digits. Which is about where they belong.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #8: Please Pass the Truth Serum

As I noted in the previous edition of this series, in a letter that appeared in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, Michael Scheuer claimed that between 1992 and 1999, CIA officers working in the units led by him accomplished a number of important counterterrorism feats, which he then proceeded to enumerate. The final accomplishment on his list was generating “all–repeat, all–of the chances that the United States has ever had to capture or kill bin Laden.” Scheuer continued by saying “that there is no need to take my word for any of this” and “for the last item, read the 9/11 Commission report.”

I have now re-read the report. Scheuer–he is called “Mike” in the report to conceal his then-still-secret identity–figures prominently in the narrative. How does he come out?

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As I noted in the previous edition of this series, in a letter that appeared in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, Michael Scheuer claimed that between 1992 and 1999, CIA officers working in the units led by him accomplished a number of important counterterrorism feats, which he then proceeded to enumerate. The final accomplishment on his list was generating “all–repeat, all–of the chances that the United States has ever had to capture or kill bin Laden.” Scheuer continued by saying “that there is no need to take my word for any of this” and “for the last item, read the 9/11 Commission report.”

I have now re-read the report. Scheuer–he is called “Mike” in the report to conceal his then-still-secret identity–figures prominently in the narrative. How does he come out?

In early 1998, the CIA developed a dramatic plan to capture Osama bin Laden. The operation was considered up and down the rungs of the relevant national-security bureaucracies of the Clinton administration and ultimately shelved as too risky. Here are some relevant excerpts that tell the story in brief:

“Mike” thought the capture plan was “the perfect operation.” It required minimum infrastructure. The plan had now been modified so that the [U.S.-allied Afghan] tribals would keep bin Laden in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him over to the United States–thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S. hand out of sight. “Mike” trusted the information from the Afghan network; it had been corroborated by other means, he told us. . . . Military officers reviewed the capture plan and, according to “Mike,” “found no showstoppers”. . . .

In Washington, [National Security Advisor Sandy] Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the tribals. In his meeting with  [CIA director George] Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with bin Laden if he were actually captured. He worried that the hard evidence against bin Laden was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted.

On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including bin Laden. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of bin Laden out of Afghanistan. A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead.

The principals did not meet. On May 29, “Jeff” informed “Mike” that he had just met with Tenet, [CIA Deputy Director of Operation James] Pavitt, and the chief of the directorate’s Near-Eastern division. The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation. “Mike” cabled the field that he had been directed to “stand down on the operation for the time being.” He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought the risk of civilian casualties–“collateral damage”–was too high.

This version of events is more or less corroborated by Tenet’s recently published memoirs, At the Center of the Storm:

Mike Scheuer, the head of the Alec Station [the name of the CIA’s bin Laden unit] was strongly in favor of going ahead with the operation. I took his recommendation very seriously, but six senior CIA officers stood in the chain of command between Mike and me. Most of them were seasoned operations officers, while Mike was an analyst not trained in conducting paramilitary operations. Every one of the senior operations officers above Mike recommended against undertaking the operation.

Say what you will about Michael Scheuer–and I’ve already said a lot–he comes out looking pretty good in both the 9/11 Commission report and in Tenet’s memoirs. In this and other equally dramatic episodes recounted in the report, the hero of our Watch was pressing for action against bin Laden, and the bureaucracy above him–for reasons that appear preposterous in hindsight and probably appeared preposterous at the time–was pressing back. Surely, a neutral observer might say, this portion of Scheuer’s record counts for something.

Yes, it certainly does. Nonetheless, I have more dots that I have been unable to connect. Before I explain what they are, I have to bring two new characters into this tale.

Jamie S. Gorelick is an attorney at the firm Pickering, Hale & Dorr. Before that, she served as deputy attorney general of the United States and in a variety of other high-level positions in the Clinton administration.

Slade Gorton is an attorney at the firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis. Before that, he spent 18 years as a U.S. Senator (Republican) representing the state of Washington. And before that, he was attorney general in the state of Washingtonl.

Both Gorelick and Gorton served on the 9/11 Commission. Both, unlike me, are pillars of the establishment, and both have earned respect and built careers by choosing their words with care and circumspection. In 2005, they signed a joint letter to COMMENTARY in which they wrote the following carefully chosen and circumspect words:

The 9/11 Commission, on which the two of us served as commissioners, thoroughly and exhaustively interviewed Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris is criticized at length [in the May 2005 May 2005 COMMENTARY] by Mr. Schoenfeld. On a number of factual issues, he was of real value. But much of what he had to say was not borne out by our investigation” (emphasis added).

Several questions arise from this:

1. Is there a transcript of Scheuer’s session with Commission investigators?

2. Is the transcript classified or under seal?

3. If it is classified or under seal, can it be obtained using the Freedom of Information Act?

4. What exactly did Scheuer tell the investigators?

5. If “much of what [Scheuer] had to say was not borne out by [the] investigation,” which parts were of “real value” and which parts were the reverse?

6. What inferences, if any, can we draw from the Gorelick-Gorton statement about Michael Scheuer’s integrity and how do they fit into a larger view of his credibilty?

What we have here is a collection of dots that form only a partial picture. If you can help me connect them, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line.

Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in honoring that guarantee.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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Who is Michael J. Sulick and Does al Qaeda Have a Mole Inside the CIA?

Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

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Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

To Sulick’s credit, as evidenced by the talk he gave last month at the Harvard Seminar on Intelligence, Command, and Control, he has an acute understanding of what he is up against:

Unlike the Soviet Union—one large land mass—the terrorists operate in very small cells. They cross borders easily. They’re very compartmented. They screen their recruits probably better than the U.S. government does. They can work in a bank, in the real-estate industry, or for an Islamic relief organization. Basically they are less vulnerable as targets to all the other means of intelligence collection the United States has at its disposal. In the cold war, the satellites in the sky could see if Russian missiles were moving between silos or if troops were moving. The NSA was even able to intercept conversations between members of the Politburo as they traveled around Moscow in their cars. You can’t do that with terrorists. You don’t know where to point those eyes and ears in the sky unless you have a human agent—a spy—who tells you where to direct those things.

Unfortunately, though, Sulick didn’t offer much in the way of a solution beyond having the CIA and FBI work more closely with local police departments in tracking suspects in places like New York City. That’s a great idea, but it’s not the same thing as working to recruit operatives in Londonistan or Waziristan.

In part, the CIA, and Sulick himself, might be hamstrung, and traumatized, by our cold-war past. Key counterintelligence officials—Aldrich Ames in the CIA, Robert Hanssen in the FBI—were working for the other side. Could this happen again?

Sulick not only believes it’s a possibility, he’s actively troubled by it, and believes that the implications would be far graver than they were in the cold war:

What if you had somebody like Robert Hanssen working for al Qaeda? Try to imagine that! All the stuff that Hanssen and other spies gave away was in the cold war. Nobody was locked in combat. There was time to compensate, take countermeasures, for what those spies gave away. You’re not going to have that time in the war on terrorism. Imagine that you hire somebody, because you need a speaker of Farsi or Arabic, and that person is a spy. That allows the terrorists to launch attacks a lot more easily when they know what the intelligence community’s capabilities are and who their assets are. That’s my big bugaboo: the terrorist spy.

In short, we’re engaged in an intelligence war and we’re on the defensive, worried about an al-Qaeda mole in our ranks even as we are unable to place a mole in theirs.

This is not exactly an encouraging indicator of our progress in the war on terrorism. But it is difficult, for one simple reason, to be harshly critical of Sulick and the CIA: I know that I don’t know what I don’t know.

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Rudy’s Bank Shot

As mayor, Rudy Giuliani endeared himself to conservatives around the country, as much for his enemies as for his accomplishments. When Giuliani attacked big-spending, culturally elitist, Al Sharpton-allied Democrats, he scored big with hordes of GOP primary voters. Now, in defending General David Petraeus, he is using the same tactic against the McCarthy-like attacks of the Moveon.orgers, widely loathed by conservatives and disdained by moderates. But in attacking Senator Clinton—the likely Democratic nominee—for refusing to disavow Moveon.org, Giuliani has also pulled off a two-cushion bank shot for both himself and the leading Democrat.

His criticisms not only allow Giuliani to define himself, once again, by who his enemies are: it does the same for Hillary. The ranters on DailyKos and the Moveon.orgers have, as Matt Bai’s recent book The Argument points out, little in the way of a positive agenda. Like the Islamists they try so hard to ignore, their strongest suit is unyielding hostility. And Clinton has long been one of the objects of their hostility: they despise her for her middle-of-the-road position on Iraq and for the moderate politics of her husband’s presidency.

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As mayor, Rudy Giuliani endeared himself to conservatives around the country, as much for his enemies as for his accomplishments. When Giuliani attacked big-spending, culturally elitist, Al Sharpton-allied Democrats, he scored big with hordes of GOP primary voters. Now, in defending General David Petraeus, he is using the same tactic against the McCarthy-like attacks of the Moveon.orgers, widely loathed by conservatives and disdained by moderates. But in attacking Senator Clinton—the likely Democratic nominee—for refusing to disavow Moveon.org, Giuliani has also pulled off a two-cushion bank shot for both himself and the leading Democrat.

His criticisms not only allow Giuliani to define himself, once again, by who his enemies are: it does the same for Hillary. The ranters on DailyKos and the Moveon.orgers have, as Matt Bai’s recent book The Argument points out, little in the way of a positive agenda. Like the Islamists they try so hard to ignore, their strongest suit is unyielding hostility. And Clinton has long been one of the objects of their hostility: they despise her for her middle-of-the-road position on Iraq and for the moderate politics of her husband’s presidency.

Giuliani has, essentially, recreated the dynamic of the 1990’s, the dynamic that made Hillary a darling of the Left even as she disavowed some of its policies. Then, the Clintons fought Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr and the GOP’s foolish attempts to impeach Bill, forcing left-wing Democrats to come to their defense. Now, Giuliani, by attacking Hillary as anti-military, has given her ammunition against critics and candidates to her left. As Eli Lake points out in the New York Sun:

For a Democratic candidate who not only voted to authorize the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but scolded the earnest protesters at Code Pink when they questioned her vote, what could be better than having a pro-victory Republican say she was too tough on the military?

Lake describes the dynamic set in motion by the two as a process of “Mutually Assured Nomination.”

All of this, it should be noted, eludes New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. For her, Giuliani’s ad against Hillary places him in the same category as Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards in their criticism of the former first lady. She accuses him of ignoring

her attempts to be New Hillary, a senator who loves men in uniform, who is not afraid to use military power, and who is tough enough to deal with bin Laden. He recasts her as Old Hillary, a Code Pink pinko first lady and opportunist from a White House that had a reputation for having a flower-child distaste for the military . . . .

Maybe. But what could be better at the moment for Hillary’s candidacy than having more firepower to fend off challenges coming entirely from her left?

Giuliani and Clinton are leading their respective packs because in the wake of the many failings of the Bush presidency, they are the most competent, most experienced candidates of their respective parties. Each will campaign as the only real alternative to the other—and each will be right. It’s a mutually beneficial antagonism.

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