Commentary Magazine


Topic: Northwest Airlines

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Time to see if the Senate Cash for Cloture deal can survive scrutiny (legal and otherwise): “Republican attorneys general in 13 states say congressional leaders must remove Nebraska’s political deal from the federal health care reform bill or face legal action, according to a letter provided to The Associated Press Wednesday. ‘We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed,’ South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and the 12 other attorneys general wrote in the letter to be sent Wednesday night to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

The Obami don’t like “Islamic terrorism” or “war on terror” but they are a never-ending font of bureaucratic gibberish: “‘Pulsing it.’ ‘Pulsing the system.’ That’s the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House administration official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day.” Yeah, I don’t feel comforted by this either.

Sounds good in theory: “President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.” But then why hasn’t the administration released all the Bush-era interrogation documents requested by Dick Cheney, the information on the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter case, and the data Congress has requested about the domestic-terror attacks on the Obami’s watch?

More people than ever hate ObamaCare — 58 percent, a new high in the Rasmussen poll, oppose it.

Because we haven’t had enough government bailouts? “The federal government said Wednesday it will take a majority ownership stake in the troubled auto lender GMAC, providing another $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to stanch its losses. The new aid package for GMAC, coming as most large banks are repaying the government, underscores both the problems afflicting the company and its importance to the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the auto industry.” Hmm, sounds like we’re never getting our money back.

What’s wrong with a criminal-justice approach to terrorism? “By whatever name, designating Mutallab as an enemy of the United States would have provided interrogators much greater flexibility in questioning him and given him no legal right to resist. The decision to charge Mutallab as a criminal, rather than designate him as an enemy combatant, was a momentous one that in all likelihood guarantees we will gain less intelligence about how the attack was planned, who planned it, and whether others are on the way.”

They have a point: “Members of the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union at American Airlines, said Wednesday that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration didn’t do enough to warn in-air flight crews of the Christmas Day terrorist threat on a Northwest Airlines flight.” But then no one was warned, so it’s not like they were treated any differently than anyone else.

Despite the White House’s best efforts, Fox News doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon.

Time to see if the Senate Cash for Cloture deal can survive scrutiny (legal and otherwise): “Republican attorneys general in 13 states say congressional leaders must remove Nebraska’s political deal from the federal health care reform bill or face legal action, according to a letter provided to The Associated Press Wednesday. ‘We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed,’ South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and the 12 other attorneys general wrote in the letter to be sent Wednesday night to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

The Obami don’t like “Islamic terrorism” or “war on terror” but they are a never-ending font of bureaucratic gibberish: “‘Pulsing it.’ ‘Pulsing the system.’ That’s the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House administration official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day.” Yeah, I don’t feel comforted by this either.

Sounds good in theory: “President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.” But then why hasn’t the administration released all the Bush-era interrogation documents requested by Dick Cheney, the information on the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter case, and the data Congress has requested about the domestic-terror attacks on the Obami’s watch?

More people than ever hate ObamaCare — 58 percent, a new high in the Rasmussen poll, oppose it.

Because we haven’t had enough government bailouts? “The federal government said Wednesday it will take a majority ownership stake in the troubled auto lender GMAC, providing another $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to stanch its losses. The new aid package for GMAC, coming as most large banks are repaying the government, underscores both the problems afflicting the company and its importance to the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the auto industry.” Hmm, sounds like we’re never getting our money back.

What’s wrong with a criminal-justice approach to terrorism? “By whatever name, designating Mutallab as an enemy of the United States would have provided interrogators much greater flexibility in questioning him and given him no legal right to resist. The decision to charge Mutallab as a criminal, rather than designate him as an enemy combatant, was a momentous one that in all likelihood guarantees we will gain less intelligence about how the attack was planned, who planned it, and whether others are on the way.”

They have a point: “Members of the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union at American Airlines, said Wednesday that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration didn’t do enough to warn in-air flight crews of the Christmas Day terrorist threat on a Northwest Airlines flight.” But then no one was warned, so it’s not like they were treated any differently than anyone else.

Despite the White House’s best efforts, Fox News doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon.

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In a Nutshell

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

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Yemen — the New “Good War”?

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Read Less




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