Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Iraqis for McCain

Perhaps no other country in the world sees itself as directly affected by Tuesday’s outcome as much as Iraq.

If any case could be made that non-Americans should be allowed to vote for either Obama or McCain, then Iraqis would get the first go. So it is reassuring that most Iraqis seem to be supporting McCain, according to this AFP report.

Clearly, Iraqis are not that swayed by the Arab/Muslim/internationalist meme that “Obama is one of us.” Talk of Obama’s historic presidency as America’s first black president is not for them, although I was heartened to hear that a group of African-Iraqis in Basra were emboldened enough by the Obama phenomenon to form an anti-racism political advocacy group (…yes, the Middle East is rife with blatant and socially-acceptable racism against black people).

History can be made on someone else’s time, not when there’s a crises afoot; Iraqis need to be vigilant and practical in their choice, and that explains their support for McCain. Who will be a better president for them? Who will help them defeat the terrorists, curb Iran and stabilize the region?

The clear answer is McCain. I’m glad that most of my countrymen can separate facts from rhetoric. It is a sign of a healthy sense of political awareness.

Somebody told me a related story just yesterday: An Iraqi man and his family arrived in the United States as refugees on Wednesday. He’s a doctor (Shia married to a Sunni, I think) who had been abducted by the Mahdi Army, and then ransomed by his family. They had been living for the last two years in Damascus, fearing a return to Iraq. The family has been resettled in a nice, small house with a big yard in a working class American suburb. They found everything ready: furniture, some groceries and one-month’s rent paid up front. So far so good, but the doctor felt that something was missing. Do you know what his first request was? A McCain-Palin lawn sign.

Maybe he’ll get to vote for a ticket featuring Palin in 2016, after he gets his U.S. citizenship.

UPDATE:

Only 8 U.S. soldiers died this past month in combat-related incidents. Compare this number what was going on last year, when the violence began to drop off:

September 2007: 50 U.S. combat deaths (22 others died from non-combat incidents such as vehicle collisions)

October 2007: 32 U.S. combat deaths (8 others died from non-combat incidents)

It should go without saying that any and every unnecessary death, whether American or Iraqi, is deeply painful. But let's take a look at the larger picture here. This same time last year, I was remarking that monthly casualty rates were approaching pre-insurgency levels.

But this month's tally marks the lowest casualty rate on record since the war began in April 2003. Will this be a major headline tomorrow? Shouldn't this little piece of information factor into the decision of America's voters on Tuesday? Who made this piece of good news more possible, Obama or McCain? Or will the media find a way to spin it off as bad news?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Policy Snack: What's Up with SOFA?

Hudson-New York has launched a new website with a novel idea: giving readers a concise, pin-pointed morsel of thought on a contemporary issue. I'll be contributing on Thursdays, and this is my first piece: Which Definition of Iraqi Patriotism?

Hopefully, such pieces would give all you readers a welcome respite from my usual long-windedness on this blog. Correction: the Sunday in question refers to Oct. 19; I had submitted the piece last week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

America: No Longer Unique?

Fouad Ajami delivers the goods, as always: Obama and the Politics of Crowds.

Obama’s Overkill and the ‘F**K You’ Vote

Can I see a show of hands, please: Who among you doesn’t get riled up when a telemarketer calls? Who among you likes spam e-mails?

Have any of you fantasized about calling telemarketers back at this homes numbers, or of scamming Nigerian scams?

Will Obama’s infomercial tonight and the media’s incessant and shameless push to sell him to the public throughout this campaign, get the anti-telemarketer treatment from the American voter?

Towards the end of my psychobabble rant on this election, I had this to say:
I wish that there are enough non-party voters out there who haven’t bought into the hype. I really do pray for something that I’m calling the “Fuck You” vote that the polls may not be picking up on. It would be a vote that rejects Obama not because of race, but because he’s not entitled to winning the race due to his race. It would be a vote that rejects the media’s unfair treatment of the underdog; a reaction against the over-the-top Obama dosage being administered.
Obama’s infomercial will be one long one-sided marketing pitch paid for with millions of dollars. Is it necessary at this stage? Does Obama really want Americans thinking about where he got all this money? It certainly would highlight, more than anything, Obama’s ethical lapse in committing to, then sneaking away from, public financing. Maybe the general public wouldn’t care that much about such twisted scruples anyway, but it could be the case that uncommitted voters—hovering at 5-12 percent of the electorate—are still looking for that one good additional reason not to vote for Obama, and his broken promise, blatantly highlighted by the unfair advantage of buying up long stretches of primetime, may be that one little thing that gets them to come down for the other side, rooting for McCain?

I think that this infomercial is just overkill, and coming on top of the amplified messages of the media and the entertainment industry, it’s too much Obama, too much hype.

The media’s take on the infomercial shall be predictable. Never mind that Obama’s millions to the networks will end up paying for their grocery bills, and the inherent conflict of interest there, but most reporters and journalists are going to push the message that Obama succeeded in finally overcoming his personal opaqueness and in connecting with the ‘Average Joe’. The pro-Obama phalanx of journos will spring forth right after the infomercial with poll fluctuations, ‘expert’ analysis, and Nielsen ratings. Heck, they’re doing it right now even before it runs while writing up, and hyping up, the infomercial to come. But what if these tactics don't work this time around?

Something tells me that this infomercial is a bad idea. It gives the impression of mind control and brain washing, while reinforcing McCain’s status of the underdog, fighting against incredible odds, to the very end.

During these troubled times, will Americans seek the comfort of ‘Obama the Father Figure’ (…even though he’s in his mid-40s, and can’t claim much experience) or the can-do zest of ‘McCain, Mr. No Surrender’?

In one sense, this election gets down to instinctual basics: flight or fight. A flight into the refuge of a nanny ‘socialist’ state, or the fight for a ‘dreams-can-come-true’ parable of Americana?

And allow me to be a little sexist, especially since the media is allowed to be overly sexist in its anti-Palinism: maybe these instinctual basics explain why white women favor Obama, while white men favor McCain. It’s why men went gaga over the movie ‘Fight Club’. Think about it.

My brain keeps crunching the poll mathematics and tells me that it shall be Obama’s, yet my heart still flutters for the McCain rebellion; all the while my gut tells me it’s not over. I’m entrapped within a walking, talking, blogging battleground state of being!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What would an Obama presidency mean for the Middle East?

Obama will pull out all troops from Iraq by 16 months. There, I said it.

If America begins to wallow in a recession, then Barack Obama may have to take the most important domestic decision of his presidency: to pull all troops out of Iraq.

There’ll be very little else that Obama would be able to do to meet the lofty expectations he has set for his era. He can’t bend to the will of a left-leaning congressional Democratic leadership because that may just scare off business and prolong a recession, meaning that he can’t deliver on all the plans he had envisioned. Simply put, there will be fewer rich people to tax, and more poor people with greater wants.

So much for ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’—Obama’s trademarks.

But not all is lost: Obama can deliver on one of the grand promises he’s made and that would be getting the hell out of Iraq. And I’m not talking about the “responsible withdrawal” that Obama’s been suggesting: he needs a dramatic and clean break with Bush’s legacy and no other issue can offer him that except Iraq.

Some may jump in and say that Obama will never sacrifice America’s sacrifices for Iraq. These folks discount Obama’s cynicism: this is not something that he will run by his brain trust of 300 foreign policy experts and other ‘experts’; this will not be Richard Danzig’s call, this is David Axelrod’s to make.

Iraq can be sold as a money saver: no more billions spent there every month. Obama will also reduce the military (Cong. Barney Frank is already talking about a 25 percent cut in military spending) and he’ll cite the new batch of counterinsurgency experts who claim that such expenditures are redundant for 21st century warfare against jihadists.

Iraq will also keep Obama’s fans in Europe abuzz; he can be assured of many more warm welcomes in Berlin. That is, of course, until Berlin gets its own 911. Attitudes may change after that.

Iraq will also be Obama’s peace offering to Iran, with the hope that the Iranians will mellow out in their quest for nuclear armory. Iran could detonate an experimental nuclear weapon as early as next April, and I think it would be safe to say that a nuclear-armed Iran will be Obama’s most predictable early international challenge.

Obama will probably keep 3,000-5,000 troops in Iraqi Kurdistan, which would be tasked with raiding Al-Qaeda strongholds if the latter regain their footing somewhere in Iraq.

And the best thing is, whichever way Iraq goes beyond a full U.S. withdrawal—civil war or stability—Obama can claim prescience. If Iraq slides into civil war, then he can say that he was right all along and the U.S. was just delaying the inevitable. Biden could even chime in at this point and remind everyone of his plan to partition Iraq. If Iraq stabilizes, then he can claim success by forcing Iraq to stand up on its own two feet. He can always accuse the Iraqi leadership of not taking a clear stance on whether troops should stay or not, and he’d be right. Obama will bank on any excuse to justify America’s exit from Iraq. Yes, I do think that Obama is that cynical.

Obama doesn’t owe Iraq anything; he’s not emotionally invested in the place like McCain is. Iraq is somebody else’s mess, and Obama will not hesitate to trade it in for political cover, cover that he will badly need back on the domestic front if a recession sets in.

Some may argue that American policy remains stable throughout transitions from one administration to another. Most of these people are outsiders to how DC works, but on this count they are right. Except that pulling out of Iraq is a reversion to stability according to DC. Iraq was a fluke, and anyone who’d been at the front-lines of this story would know that (…yup, I’m pulling rank here). Getting out of Iraq is getting back to the good ol’ status quo that Washington’s foreign policy and intelligence elite are comfortable with.

And, as many of you may already know, I think Iraq will do fine on its own.

But Obama’s move would spell the end of a potential Iraqi-American alliance.

I also think that that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

Such a rupture would allow Iraq to go its own way. Iraq will become America’s problem child in the Middle East. I envision several parallel Iraqi intelligence shops operating from Baghdad, laden with human and financial resources, and unleashed on Iraq’s unloved neighbors. Sunnis will set up shop to destabilize Iran. Shias will do the same against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The Kurds will continue to chip away at Turkey. Basically, Iraq’s internal tensions will be projected outwards. Instead of every one and their mother meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs as was the mark of the last five years, Iraq will throw its weight around in the region. There doesn’t need to be any coordination between the various sets of ‘rogue’ and conflicting external strategies. If there’s one authentic cultural trait that all Iraqis share it would be their individualism, and love of mischief. Plus, they like to play the neighborhood bully that swaggers around and gets in everybody’s face. The domestic lines have been demarcated, setting apart winners and losers; no one is going to venture into a civil war, especially with politics trending ‘patriotic’. But Iraqis will take out their residual anger on their neighbors.

Iraq’s potential for intelligence gathering and operational networks is staggering, and I’m not just talking about the Saddam-era spooks who were arguably some of the best trained, and most audacious, spies on the world stage (…check out what the Stasi used to think of them). I’m talking about the multitudes of Iraqis everywhere around the region, and in some respects, every single adult Iraqi has been trained in the basics of tradecraft: one needed to be a step ahead in terms of discretion and sizing up situations when hunted down by a totalitarian regime. I’ve also argued in other posts that the Iraqi military will have the best know-how in counterinsurgency available, even better than that of the Americans who’ve been fighting 21st century insurgents in Iraq; the Americans were always squeamish about “going there” whereas the Iraqis don’t suffer from such neuroses—they instinctively know that a culture of political correctness does not belong on the battlefield.

Another intangible, yet absolutely crucial factor in my reasoning is that Iraqis exude cultural and civilizational confidence. Yeah, it may be misplaced, but it is still there. Iraqis see themselves as superior to their neighbors, not in the effete Iranian way, but rather through a macho and brash exuberance. A Lebanese may brag about hoodwinking Qatari royalty through sycophancy, an Iraqi would be embarrassed to stoop so low.

What’s more, Iraqis don’t need to sell out to regional fat-cats when they have bushels of their own money. I’ve personally always been comforted by the notion that I’d never have to be in the pay of some Saudi prince for the simple fact that I come from an oil-rich nation: basically, I can sell-out to my own country! I’d be a mercenary and a patriot at the same time!

Therefore, Iraqis can combine talent, confidence and money in a way that most regional actors can’t.

The net result of Iraqis starting fires around the region is that these neighbors will get weaker. Iraqis have many scores to settle. Does anyone think that a future Iraq can coexist with Wahhabi hegemony? Does anyone think that a future Iraq will tolerate anti-Kurdish chauvinism? Does anyone think that a future Iraq will bend over backwards for Iranian expansionism?

Those who do simply don’t know Iraq. For all the failings of Iraq’s political class, I predict that they will seize upon opportunities for ‘creative mischief’ because such stunts are vote-grabbers, and because they will convince themselves that the entire Middle East needs to be fundamentally re-engineered for the New Iraq to fit in.

And the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA will be powerless to stop it, let alone control it. If troops are out, then there’s no rationale for keeping 1,500 American spooks and diplomats running around Baghdad. Out they go, and good riddance. The net efforts of the bureaucracies at Langley and Foggy Bottom have undermined America’s mission in Iraq, and I certainly don’t want to see them undermine Iraq’s mission in the Middle East.

“Is Nibras arguing for a reign of chaos?” No, I’m simply predicting that chaos is coming anyway: most of these Middle Eastern regimes were barely stable with oil over 60 dollars a barrel, what’s going to happen when a recession drags the price back down to the mid 20s? The jihadists are not done doing their jihad, and they shall spark unrest in several locales. All I want is for Iraq to take advantage of this chaos for its own benefit, and for the chance to redraw the region in its own democratic, federal image.

Going back to Obama’s reasons for getting out of Iraq, a withdrawal would give him a chance to staunch a ‘public diplomacy’ nose-bleed: the increasingly hostile opinion of the much-hallowed Arab and Muslim ‘street’. Amir Taheri offers an interesting compilation of the vocal support Obama now finds in this proverbial street as it stands now. But this good-will, based on Arabs and Muslims seeing Obama as one of their own, shall be short-lived, since it is founded on exaggerated expectations. These Obama fans in the region could care less about America’s political system and equal opportunity, unless they plan to immigrate there (and many do). They view an Obama presidency as America’s apology for the Bush years. And an apology is and will always be interpreted as a mark of weakness. Pretty soon into Obama’s tenure, the rumor mill will crank up; my bet is that the most popular one would have it that America is pushing conversions from Islam to Christianity by marketing Obama as a Muslim turned Christian, and what benefits may accrue from that. People in open societies don’t seem to understand that in closed societies, the craziest conspiracy theory always wins.

So I’d imagine that some of the self-styled ‘experts’ around Obama would argue that getting out of Iraq would resurrect that good-will that Taheri is writing about. And they’d be right, because a withdrawal out of Iraq will also be interpreted as a mark of weakness. Anti-Americanism is a resentment of American power, and the only way to reconcile America’s haters is to humiliate the super-power. All that crap about ‘legitimate grievances’ is just that, crap. America will never reconcile with Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the jihadists, the Asad regime, or Iran’s mullahs, because the other side just don’t want to. These trouble-makers don’t dream about a day when their kids will frolic with Obama’s daughters on the grounds of Camp David. No, their fantasy involves a heavy boot weighing down on America’s neck.

So much for ‘International Good Will,’ yet another of Obama’s selling points.

Again, chaos is inevitable, and Iraq stands to benefit from fanning the flames of that chaos. In terms of oil sales and an edge in intelligence and counterinsurgency expertise, Iraq shall be the primary beneficiary of a free-for-all decade or two of instability in its neighborhood.

I, for one, don’t mind such an eventuality.

It will be a bumpy ride. But the destination may be worthwhile after all.

Of course, an Iraqi-American Alliance could work more harmoniously under President McCain.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Abu Hamza al-Muhajir’s Interview: Very Revealing

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

-The interview was released as an audio file on October 24 by the Al-Furqan Institute for Media Production. The audio runs for a total of 44 minutes. Al-Muhajir answers eighteen hard-hitting questions; his responses appear prepared.

-Abu Hamza al-Muhajir is the Minister of War for the so-called Islamic State of Iraq. Previously, he was the leader of ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ a role he assumed upon the death of Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi (killed in a U.S. airstrike during June 2006).

-Al-Muhajir was appointed Minister of War on April 19, 2007 by the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

-Al-Muhajir pledged allegiance in his name and in the name of Al-Qaeda’s “12,000 strong army” to al-Baghdadi in November 2006.

-There’s a near consensus among intelligence agencies and analysts that al-Muhajir is just another alias for Abu Ayyub al-Masri. I am not fully sold on this idea. Al-Muhajir is definitely not Iraqi, but I can’t place his accent—he speaks in classical Arabic, but pronunciations differ from one region to another—and to my ears it could be Egyptian, but there’s room for speculation (maybe even Libyan). The main reason that I’m still unconvinced is that had al-Muhajir’s cover been blown, then the jihadists would get better propaganda mileage by releasing his speeches as videos where he can speak directly to his followers. I’d say that the voice of this latest audio is the same voice that we’ve heard associated with other audio releases attributed to al-Muhajir.

TRANSLATION, ANALYSIS, OPINION:

Al-Muhajir is remarkably candid in providing answers to these hard-hitting questions—they’re certainly more hard-hitting that what certain U.S. presidential candidates have faced from the American media.

There’s plenty that I find revealing, and not only in the answers: the questions themselves give us an insight as to what the jihadists believe is the most stinging criticism directed against them. I will attempt to cover most of them.

Of course, I have a stake in getting all this out, since I believe it vindicates many of my arguments I’ve made over the years as to how the jihadists think and strategize, and how they perceive the world around them.

The format I’ve decided to follow is to translate the full text of the questions (‘cause they’re short!) and summarize the answers:

Q-“Dear sheikh, can you summarize for us the conditions that preceded your declaration of the Islamic State?”

A: Al-Muhajir argues that the Islamic State of Iraq was always a “dream” for the jihadists, but that it was appropriate at the time because the Kurds and Shias were heading for secession, and the Sunnis needed their own state. Furthermore, the jihadists had reached the point where they were at their military and political best, and the Americans were at their worst, and the opportunity had to be seized.

Q: “Most people [think] that you should have waited until the occupiers left, and then [you should have] agreed on declaring the project of the Islamic State. What is your response?”

A: Al-Muhajir cites “confirmed reports” about a “conspiracy that was being hatched by the Islamic Party with a faction of the resistance” to declare a “Sunni [federal] region within the state of the rafidha [Shia]” and that this conspiracy was pushed for by the Americans, thus a decisive decision had to be taken by the jihadists to thwart it. Al-Muhajir also alludes to a second incident, less dangerous than the one he cited, as further proof that something was afoot, but he doesn’t elaborate.

Al-Muhajir adds that the Afghan experience showed that waiting until the “occupiers” left was the worst timing possible, since there would be “nationalist” forces that had preserved its strengths (“they would fire one missile and [stockpile] another ten”) vying for control against jihadist forces that had been bled dry while fighting the “occupiers.” In the Iraqi case, al-Muhajir includes seculars and Ba’athists as “nationalist” forces that would seek to undermine the Islamic State of Iraq.

Q: “Did you try to contact other resistance factions before declaring the State?”

A: Al-Muhajir claims that they had tried to contact some factions two months prior to the declaration to get their perspective, while some others were contacted four months before the Islamic State came into being in October 2006. However, this timeline shows that Al-Qaeda’s decision to go ahead with this project came after al-Zarqawi was killed (in June). This revelation runs counter to some claims made by the jihadists that the decision to declare the Islamic State of Iraq was taken during the time of al-Zarqawi’s leadership.

On this matter, al-Muhajir cites his experiences with the leader and the deputy leader of the Mujaheddin Army faction as an example: after 18 hours of talks, both pledged to al-Muhajir that they would join the Islamic State of Iraq and fight under its banner, forgoing their titles and the names of their organizations. But three months after this pledge was made, al-Muhajir was surprised to find that the leader of the Mujaheddin Army had turned against him, and had thrown in his lot with the Awakening groups. Al-Muhajir even adds that his new foe would spend the night at the home of the leader of the Awakening Group of the Al-Taji area north of Baghdad.

There’s another interesting revelation here: al-Muhajir clears the higher leadership of the 1920 Revolt Brigades—ostensibly meaning Harith al-Dhari—of giving any specific orders to his fighters to join the Awakening Groups and fight against the Islamic State of Iraq, but for reasons that al-Muhajir would not get into, nobody listened to al-Dhari. Al-Dhari had been in secret talks with U.S. officials since 2005 to reconcile his faction with the political process in Baghdad. He’s still at large, hiding in the Jordanian capital Amman; he’s unable to return to Iraq for fear of arrest.

In response to a follow-up question, al-Muhajir asserts that in the first few weeks after the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq, the rate of insurgents joining it numbered around 1000 per week. Eventually, 80 percent of all insurgents threw in their lot with the Islamic State of Iraq, according to al-Muhajir.

Q: “Did a number of tribal sheikhs pledge allegiance to the State?”

A: Repeating an earlier claim, al-Muhajir claims that 70 percent of the tribal leaders in the Sunni areas pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and that some of these pledges were handwritten or recorded in some other manner. Al-Muhajir cites one meeting whereby forty sheikhs from Baghdad and Anbar Province met with Muharib al-Juburi, spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq (killed during May 2007), and all of them pledges allegiance in a “tear-jerking” ceremony. It is interesting that al-Muhajir qualifies al-Juburi as a former member of the Mujaheddin Army, before joining the Islamic State of Iraq.

However, some sheikhs were swayed by American dollars and those who did went on to rescind their pledges. Al-Muhajir singles out the sheikh of the Jmeilat tribe (he’s mentioned twice in this interview, and I believe he means Mishhin Abbas al-Jumeily, who was killed in a suicide attack in June 2008), and the sheikh of the Albu Fahed tribe. The latter is a confusing case, since it would seem to indicate a reference to Nasr Abdul-Karim (“he was one of the first to pledge allegiance”), but Abdul-Karim was killed during January 2006, almost a year before the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq. I know the Albu Fahed tribe quite well, and I can’t think of anyone of Abdul-Karim’s prominence that had subsequently turned against Al-Qaeda to warrant a mention such as this.

Q: “Did you force people and armed factions to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq?”

A: Al-Muhajir gives an interesting answer here: No, the jihadists knew that the concept of the Islamic State was new to most people, and hence they had to go slow in introducing its tenets. But what the jihadists did was to try to curb the excesses of some of the armed factions, such as banditry and kidnapping for ransom, and that may have set some of the rival factions against them.

Q: “Some people criticize the declaration of a ministerial cabinet by the Islamic State, and they deride such things as the formation of a ministry portfolio for agricultural and fishing resources?”

A: [This cabinet was announced by al-Baghdadi in April 2007] Al-Muhajir responds to such derision by saying that the jihadists had seized almost two hundred villages from the Shias—thousands and thousands of fertile and arable fields—together with about 500 fish farms south of Baghdad and in Diyala Province and in Salahuddin Province. An administrative body was needed to manage these resources, as well as to settle displaced Sunnis in these lands; that was the job of the Islamic State of Iraq’s Agriculture Minister. The ministry was also responsible for paving roads into these rural areas, according to al-Muhajir.

Q: “Some claim that you target the laypersons of the Sunnis and the sheikhs of the tribes, and the clerics of the mosques, and former officers of the Iraqi Army. What’s your response?”

A: Al-Muhajir gives a standard response to this one: Why would the jihadists target their base? But with regards to ex-officers, al-Muhajir reveals that more ex-officers joined Al-Qaeda than any other insurgent faction, and that the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abul-Basha’ir al-Juburi, was himself a former colonel in Saddam’s army. This is the second time that I know of whereby a big deal is made of Abul-Basha’ir, who al-Baghdadi recently cited (in his 12th speech) as one of the Islamic State of Iraq’s top martyrs—al-Muhajir clarifies matter even further by asserting that Abul-Basha’ir was an Iraqi, not a Syrian according to other reports. Little is known about him, and I would appreciate anyone’s help on this topic.

Q: “They say that holding down land is a failed military practice. What’s your response?”

A: Al-Muhajir dismisses such talk as the talking points of the feeble, and cites the experience in Fallouja in 2004, and how all the other insurgent groups took advantage of that safe refuge, which had been secured through the “sacrifices” of al-Zarqawi’s fighters.

Al-Muhajir attributes such talk to one rival insurgent group in particular, the Islamic Army of Iraq, and although he doesn’t mention them by name, the inference is made through an anecdote that al-Muhajir relates regarding two French journalists taken hostage by the Islamic Army and brought to Fallouja for “safe-keeping”. This is a reference to Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot who were abducted in August 2004. Al-Muhajir claims that both French nationals were ransomed for “millions of dollars” that the Islamic Army pocketed without sharing with anyone else.

Two other important points are made in response to this question: the point of jihad is to secure territory in which to enforce God’s law, and the jihadists need not be afraid of being surrounded by enemies, and they should take heart by the precedent set by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. These are two recurring points that the jihadists cite as reasons and justifications behind the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq.

Q: “Some accuse you of being the reason behind the Awakening projects. What’s the validity of that?”

A: Al-Muhajir says that the Awakening Groups were formed as a direct response to the challenge posed by Islamic State of Iraq, since the latter offered Sunnis an alternative political blueprint for the future other than a return to nationalist politics.

Q: “Would you accept the repentance of the Awakening members?”

A: Al-Muhajir cites what al-Baghdadi had said: the door to repentance is open, as long as it follows the rules laid out by the first caliph (Abu Bakr) for the apostates who had turned against Islam following Muhammad’s death. Al-Muhajir adds an interesting caveat to nudge the ex-insurgents back into the ranks of the jihadists by appealing to their sense of social standing and asks, “Who will marry your daughter? …What will your grandchildren say about you? …Be careful not to be [in the situation] whereby your son spits on your grave.”

Q: “You are accused of having a relationship with the Iranian regime, and the case of the Iranian Consul who was released in the days of the Monotheism and Jihad Group is cited as evidence.”

A: [Iran’s consul in Karbala, Freidon Jahani was abducted by the Islamic Army in Iraq in August 2004, and was released in the following month] Al-Muhajir begins by citing all the incidents in which his organization had targeted Iranians: assassinating three Iranian diplomats near the Karkh Hospital, numerous attacks on the Iranian Embassy, and killing Iranian intelligence officers posing as Shia pilgrims.

With regards to the case of the Iranian consul, al-Muhajir serves up many juicy details: First, he asserts that this incident occurred during the days of al-Zarqawi’s Monotheism and Jihad Group, and hence the Islamic State of Iraq cannot be held accountable for it. But al-Muhajir adds that he was personally involved in how this incident unfolded and tells us that he first learnt of the abduction through Abu Abdel-Rahman al-Masri (dead, a.k.a. Abu Islam, involved in the USS Cole attack, according to al-Muhajir) and Abu ‘Abir al-Janabi (dead) one of the leaders of the Islamic Army, both of whom shared the information with al-Muhajir before news of the abduction was leaked to the press. Abu Abdel-Rahman came to Fallouja and suggested that the jihadists should trade the consul for some of their comrades being held by the Iranians. Al-Zarqawi apparently liked the idea and delegated Abdel-Rahman to contact one of the commanders of the Islamic Army, Abu Abdul-Qader (dead) to tell him about these terms to be dictated to the Iranians, which he did. Al-Zarqawi also delegated al-Muhajir to go to Yusufiyah to talk this matter over with the leaders of the Islamic Army, but al-Muhajir was surprised to hear the news that the Islamic Army had told the media that the Iranian consul would be traded for any remaining Iraqi POWs that may still be held by the Iranians from the Iran-Iraq War. Al-Muhajir arrived in Yusufiyeh and met with Abu Ayyub, who he describes as the “Military Commander of the Islamic Army, the emir of the South, and a member of the Shura Council.” Al-Muhajir was also introduced to Abu al-Mu’tassim, who was presented by Abu Ayyub as the “Deputy Leader of the Islamic Army.” Al-Muhajir chided Abu Ayyub for not following al-Zarqawi’s recommendation, but Abu Ayyub feigned ignorance and claimed that Abu Abdul-Qader hadn’t told him about it. But shortly afterwards, Abu Abdul-Qader walked in and confirmed that he had indeed told Abu Ayyub about the terms, which made the latter “go red” with embarrassment.

What seemingly happened next is that the Islamic Army handed over the consul to al-Zarqawi’s fighters in Fallouja, but al-Zarqawi felt that “[the Islamic Army] has embroiled us” in a no-win situation: they couldn’t kill or ransom the prisoner lest the Al-Qaeda leaders or fighters being held by the Iranians meet a similar fate. In the end, the jihadists decided to release the consul to the Iranians.

In response to another question, al-Muhajir seems to take credit for the attack on Glasgow airport, and reveals that an even larger operation in the United Kingdom was foiled due to a tradecraft error committed by one of its organizers.

WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER:

-The jihadists are trying to deflect some of the criticisms that have been leveled at them. The very fact that al-Muhajir felt compelled to take such questions and answer them is a testimony to the fact that the jihadists find themselves in very bleak circumstances.

-Al-Muhajir’s revelations about Harith al-Dhari, and the circumstances behind the abduction of the Iranian consul, fill in many gaps in the narrative.

-There's a hint at the end of another interview to follow.

IN OTHER NEWS:

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi released a brief audio eulogy a couple of days ago for slain Islamic State of Iraq commander for Northern Iraq Abu Qaswarah al-Maghrebi. This would mark the thirteenth time we’ve heard from al-Baghdadi, but I wouldn’t count it as a speech.

FURTHER READING:

Talisman Gate: Al-Muhajir supports the US congressional election results of 2006, declares allegiance to al-Baghdadi

Saturday, October 25, 2008

To all the Palin haters out there...

I was wondering how I would craft a defense of Gov. Sarah Palin, a lady with whom I share very few domestic political ideals, but whose grace and courage I find inspiring. And then, all of a sudden, Victor Davis Hanson crafts a defense worthy of Sparta's 300.

An Instructive Candidacy: What Sarah Palin taught us about ourselves

I'd like to add two things: my own gut feeling tells me that anti-Palinism has jumped the shark, with a popular anti-media backlash to be expected in tow. Another instinct tells me that the news stories about Palin "going rogue" will resonate with certain voters. I know, I know: the polls, the polls! These two trends may not have sufficient time to ripple out in the last ten days.

Yeah, that's probably true, but I know this too: fate can be very cruel. Just ask Darius. And the way that some in the media and in politics have been gleefully celebrating the end of McCain-Palin bears all the marks of a great Greek tragedy, one whose full implications may unfurl on Nov. 5. Yeah, sure, this could be a bad case of wishful thinking on my part. Yet, I can't shake this feeling in my gut that tells me to fight on, and expect victory. There's something about how McCain people find instant camaraderie that tells me that it ain't over just yet.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Gerson Says It Better: McCain, Obama, 'The Surge'

I really liked Michael Gerson's Op-Ed today in the Washington Post. He makes some of the same points that I've been making on this blog, only with greater success and clarity.

Here's the pivotal statement:

This raises the question: If McCain benefited politically from being correct about the surge, why has Barack Obama not been punished for opposing it?

It was, after all, the single most important decision Obama has made as a public official. His judgment? "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse." This initial reluctance is perhaps understandable; many shared it. But Obama persisted in his skepticism after the results became evident. Even in July of this year, he argued, "the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true."
In other news, someone's dug up an old (1996) newsletter from the Chicago-based, socialist leaning 'New Party' that suggests that Barack Obama was either a member of the party, or was officially endorsed by it. Check it out and judge for yourselves. Oh, and one more thing: Ayers-Rezko-Wright, but who's counting, right?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If I were McCain’s speechwriter…

When aided by a teleprompter, Barack Obama is one fancy orator. John McCain isn’t. This hard fact of life is likely to be one of the most important factors in determining the presidential race, especially when the “responsible” media goes out of its way to amplify Obama’s message, and in turn vilifies McCain’s. Setting aside an inherent ideological bias that one finds among reporters when encountered as individuals, the fact that Obama speaks so well makes for good TV, and hence, for good ratings, so that’s another reason the media likes to play him up so much—it’s a fatter paycheck.

There’s nothing I can do about these factors, except to imagine that in my version of a perfect world, such would be McCain’s retorts to Obama’s rhetoric on national security issues:

Obama point: “Saddam was not a threat; secular Ba’athists had no connection with Al-Qaeda.” (Obama retroactively saying that Iraq shouldn’t have been considered a threat)

McCain counterpoint: “Saddam had networks in the US that had even recruited US citizens [e.g. Susan Lindauer-a congressional aide].

“Saddam had infiltrated and corrupted the UN’s oil-for-food program/scam—the scope of this was incredible. The UN headquarters is in Manhattan. The UN oil-for-food scandal went all the way up to the very top of that organization [It even involved Kofi Anan’s son, as well as Kofi Anan’s chief aides].

“Saddam could have put such networks at the service of Al-Qaeda; Al-Qaeda was desperate, it was fleeing Afghanistan in 2001, and they would worked with anyone, as demonstrated by them seeking sanctuary in Iran [Osama Bin Laden’s eldest son, Saad, is in Iran].

“Saddam’s guys and Al-Qaeda’s operatives had each other’s numbers; they were on each other’s rolodexes. This is an undisputed fact that has been thoroughly investigated by congressional oversight into our pre-war intelligence [What was in dispute was the extent of this relationship at that point in time, the evidence suggested that there were no operational partnerships for specific terrorist acts; such a partnership would come later as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was launched—see below].

“Saddam’s network of spies could have enabled Al-Qaeda to re-enter our country. Saddam’s spy rings even extended to your hometown of Chicago, Senator, [e.g. Khaled Abdul-Lateef al-Dumeisi, Sami Latchin] and we didn’t uncover these networks until we went to Baghdad and captured the Iraqi intelligence archives. Who knows what Saddam was capable of? This was a tyrant who used WMDs against his own people and was cunning enough to corrupt top officials at the UN, which I shouldn’t have to remind you is headquartered in Manhattan. We headed him off.

“Forget what the US intelligence community and European intelligence services told us about the positive existence of Iraqi WMD before the Iraq invasion; the fact is that we knew Iraq, at least in the past, had WMD because Saddam used them against his own people …and that is a fact that nobody disputes because if you dispute it then let me take you on a little trip to Halabja to see the effect of Saddam’s WMDs on newborns over there, to this day. Saddam’s WMDs continue to poison the DNA of Iraqi infants.”

Obama point: “Al-Qaeda had no connection to Iraq before the invasion; Secular Baathists wouldn’t work with al-Qaeda”

McCain counterpoint: “But they were invited there by Baathists to fight against us; that was the Sunni insurgency, an alliance of Saddam’s Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda—which disproves the argument that secular terrorists [the Ba’athists] would never join forces with religious terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists, whatever guises they assume.

“If you tell me these two couldn’t have joined, you could never fathom the irrational hatred extremists of all ilks have towards us and towards decency—whether they be Islamo-fascists who crash planes into our buildings or just Baathist-fascists who gas children—and the Iraqi insurgency would prove you wrong. There was an axis of Baathists and Al-Qaeda in action—it was called the insurgency in Iraq.”

Obama point: “I was right because I spoke out against the Iraq War in 2002”

McCain counterpoint: “I don’t care about your speeches in 2002. Maybe you were carried away by the pacifist anti-war movement that would rail and protest against any form of warfare. I’d like a world without war too; I know too much about what war is. But the reality is that we are knee deep in a war that was forced upon us, we didn’t fire the first volley. We are in Iraq and you can’t wish that away.

“We had been at war against Saddam since ’91. We never stopped being at war against Saddam. Since the first Gulf War, our policy was to whack Saddam if he got out of his box [Operation Desert Fox 1998]. The Clinton administration called it a policy of “containment”; one in which the United Nations was supposed to watch America’s back. But how contained was Saddam when he was bribing his way through the United Nations?

“A leader needs a strategy which doesn’t seek to go back in time, there are no do-overs, you have to confront the challenge in the here and now…you can’t just take your ball and go home when you’re done playing.

“Our enemies are always on a look-out for an opportunity to strike back at us. We are at our most vulnerable when we seem weak; when we seem lost in self-doubt; when we seem apologetic and unsure of ourselves. We have nothing to be ashamed of: We are the United States of America, and we are the world’s only leader. They will resent us for our strength and wealth. We will hear all sorts of gripe, and we’ll see all sorts of two-bit thugs trying to faze us, trying to get us to blink and cower.”

Obama point: “Iraq was a breeding ground for terrorists”

McCain counterpoint: “No, it was a graveyard for terrorists. They were drawn there and defeated there. They were defeated by an Iraqi and American alliance. Iraqis, like we did the morning of September 11th, saw the true evil nature of these Islamic fascists. The terrorists that killed almost 3000 innocent Americans the morning of Sept 11 didn’t result from our being in Iraq…the idea that there is a root cause for crashing passenger planes into office buildings attempts to explain and look for a logical justification …beyond the fact that this was murder.

“After 9/11, we needed to send a message and we did, but instead of giving Bin Laden a message, Senator Obama would have given him a massage.

“Islamists attacks are now at a trickle in Iraq. Iraq was only a breeding ground as long as the jihadists thought they could win. Islamists made Iraq the center of their global jihad; they came face to face with American will; exhausted their resources in Iraq; and now their defeat in Iraq is imminent and their will to fight broken.”

Obama point: “Iraq diverted our attention away from Afghanistan”

McCain counterpoint: “We’ve been in Afghanistan since 2001 and we continue to take the fight to the enemy.

“Don’t get panicky, Sen. Obama. During WWII, we did not say let’s not distract ourselves from our fight in the Pacific against Japan by going after Hitler in Europe. You’re not treating this as a war, you’re treating it as if the terrorists have legitimate grievances against us, as if we will get anywhere just by talking to them; grievances that can get sorted out over a friendly game of beach volleyball. If we sit down with the enemy, they will assume that we’re ready to surrender.

“So, if we are losing the battle in Afghanistan as the headlines are screaming, Senator Obama, then who is winning? It certainly ain’t the Taliban, not with those enemy body-counts. When was the last time you saw the Taliban shut down a girls’ school; they are not in charge, they are not in control in Afghanistan. And the extremists are not in control in Iraq; they are no longer publicly beheading hairdressers and barbers for giving young Iraqis western-looking haircuts.

“We must show our resolve in the face of the enemy. Every time al-Qaeda places a bomb in a public square in Afghanistan, we should not get scared, we should not cut and run. That is the very definition of what terrorism seeks to do, spreading terror and panic. When you look at the situation on the ground—not the media headlines—the picture is different.

“Terrorists use bully tactics, America is not going to allow some two bit bully push us around, we’re going to step up and get in their faces. We’re going to stand our ground and push back hard. That’s who we are. That’s always been the American spirit. And that’s the grit and determination that we need our enemies to fear, always.

“America should never cut and run. We did this in Somalia, and failed to respond decisively to the terrorist threat in the 90s…and the people that hit us on September 11 called us a paper tiger and thought that we did not have the will and fortitude to take the fight to the enemy.

“When Senator Obama says that he will end a war that we are winning, these are not the words befitting of the greatness of America and the sacrifice of our people in uniform, he brings us right back to the weak position our enemies thought we on the morning of September 11.

“We sent a message: “Don’t mess with us.” Senator Obama you want to send a fruit basket and a massage gift certificate saying, “please forgive us.””

Obama point: “We took our attention off of Osama”

McCain counterpoint: “Actually, the very fact that Bin Laden is in hiding in a cave somewhere is testament to the fact that we have him on the run.

“Al-Qaeda had to shift its operations to Iraq. Al-Qaeda didn’t try to turn Afghanistan into a Caliphate [The declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq]. They tried to turn Iraq into one.

“The point is not Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda is a nebulous multi-headed Hydra that can attack anywhere on the globe. It’s not about a single guy cowering in a cave who is probably looking forward to being martyred. It about showing those who mean us harm, the ones who were morbidly impressed by 911, that a membership card in Al-Qaeda is a one-way ticket a world of pain in the here and now, not to a heavenly paradise. We must break their will to fight, and we are. I’m not distracted by a bomb here and there, when I know that the enemy has broken ranks and is fleeing ahead of our fighting men and women.

“The US is the world’s only superpower. We can do more than one thing at once. And if our institutions [the Central Intelligence Agency] are not able to keep us safe and take the fight to the enemy on more than one front—which is the nature of 21st century warfare—then major, sweeping reforms should be instituted within our institutions so that they can respond to the shifting threats of the real world we live in.”

Obama point: “the surge didn’t work because there was no Iraqi political result”

McCain counterpoint: “Obama’s point is the reverse surge argument: that Americans are in the way of sectarian reconciliation. I have news for Senator Obama: we already know that the surge has worked. Some knew before it started that it would work because some of us had seen battles before. We didn’t panic, we re-tooled and re-loaded and went out there for another showdown. We learnt from what didn’t work at first, and we adapted and overcame. That’s a very American story. Young soldiers and Marines will have great war stories for the grandkids. The terrorists will remember the same events with a shudder. The Surge is this great generation’s Battle of the Pacific.

“The surge proved that, with increased security, that Iraqis could finally come closer together than ever. We are not in their way, on the contrary, we made way for them to come together.

“For example: Sunnis have rejoined Maliki’s government; and, Maliki took on his one-time allies among the Shi’a militias head-on, and smashed Iranian-sponsored Shi’a dead-squads in Basra and beyond.

“This stability was far more critical to the healing process than anything else, and it brought about bottom to top reconciliation that will be lasting. The insurgents and death squads were dealt with. Senator Obama is focusing on the peels, rather than the core.”

Obama point: “McCain wants to keep troops in Iraq forever”

McCain counterpoint: “What I say is that we need a sufficient amount of troops for the mission. I criticized the mismanagement of the war by the Bush Administration, I advocated the surge, I sought the advice of and supported General Petraeus. As a result, now because of our courage and steadfastness, we are at the point that—instead of cutting and running like Sen Obama continues to advocate—we are at the point that we can start bringing our troops home. From combat operations, we are moving to peacekeeping and rebuilding the Iraq. The mission has changed, so our troop levels can change accordingly.

“Our military is fixing potholes in Baghdad streets instead of dodging IEDs. While that’s a welcome change, fixing potholes is not their job, it is Maliki’s. And we are at the point now, on the verge of victory, when we can tell the Iraqis, “you can go now.” Like parents dropping their children off at college, “You have a stable foundation, now find your own path.” We’re not going to like some of things they may experiment with early on, but we should be proud that we’ve gotten them this far.

“Staying in Iraq was never the goal in and of itself; victory was. Victory was and is our mission. Victory is the goal…and we will stay until we achieve it. This is not about “should I stay or should I go”, it’s about seeing the mission through to the end as the world’s leader; and, as the leader of the US, I will accept nothing short of victory. And what we have in Iraq is starting to look and feel like victory. We will stay to make sure, and then our troops should receive the victory parades that they deserve…not tirades from angry and irrational protestors.

“Our cause, our fight against tyranny, has been the noblest…as in allowing girls in Afghanistan to go to school for the first time, to freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam’s torture chambers and sadistic sons.”

Obama point: “SOFA is stalled-Iraqis want us out”

McCain counterpoint: “If PM Maliki feels so sure of the situation, he should leave our custody and protection in the Green Zone and venture out on his own. If he’s going to talk the talk, he should walk the walk.”

Obama point: “We can just end this war”

McCain counterpoint: “Senator Obama, since Iraq is so important, what is your take on our #1 enemy in Iraq?

“Doesn’t it take two to make a war? You say that you want to end the war, but I don’t think our enemy wants to end it.

“The same Baathist thugs killing for Saddam before the US invasion hired the worst butchers of al-Qaeda like Zarqawi to wage the insurgency. Zarqawi was known as the “Master of the Butchers.” This is the same Zarqawi who beheaded a young idealistic American citizen [Nicholas Berg] in a horrific video. Should we allow the world to think he can get away with doing this to an American? No, just like we hunted Zarqawi down and killed him, we will do this throughout the world to the thugs and butchers who target our citizens and the innocents of the world.

“Have you been following Iraq closely? This is not about Bin Laden any more. Catch up. Keep up.

“Do you know the name Abu Omar al-Baghdadi? Tell us what you think of his last speech? To jihadists across the Middle East, he’s a much bigger deal than Bin Laden. Thousands of jihadists have pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi as the new caliph of an emerging Islamic Empire. He’s our top enemy in Iraq. What does he think of your unilateral plan to “end the war” as you keep saying? Are you going to negotiate with him? He has already laid out surrender terms for America, are you going to accept them?”

Obama point: “the US military says al-Baghdadi is a fictitious character”

McCain counterpoint: “No, you need to update your briefings on Iraq: the U.S. military now concludes that he is a real person.”

Obama point: “Talking to countries like Iran is a strategy”

McCain counterpoint: “Have you heard Ahmadinejad talk? Do you really want to waste your time on this loon? Have you read his 17-page rant to the United States? If you haven’t then I don’t blame you, no one can make sense of what he’s saying. When you talk with people, you should make sure that it is with someone who makes sense, not someone who is foaming at the mouth. It’s common sense: you don’t pet a rabid dog.

“Are you going to get a polite word in edgewise as the Iranians chant “Death to America, death to Israel”? What makes you think they want to talk with you, Senator Obama? They call us the Great Satan.

“Even as the supposed moderate Khatami was calling for a “Dialogue of Civilizations” Iran was working on a clandestine nuclear program. While the well meaning diplomats at the UN and beyond claimed Iran was reaching out—BTW, the same type of people that Saddam was able to corrupt and play for fools in the oil for food scandal—Iran was cheating.

“What are you going to do when you talk with Iran? Take the shrapnel from an IED in Iraq that says ‘made in Iran 2007’ and say to Ahmadinejad, “excuse me, you forgot this in Iraq.””

Obama point: “We need to reach out to Iran and Syria to find a settlement for Iraq”

McCain counterpoint: “In effect you will be reaching out to the forces which contributed to the insurgency and the destruction of Iraq. You don’t solve a murder by tasking the killer with the investigation.”

Obama point: “The Iraq War is adversely impacting the US economy; this is money we should have been spending at home”

McCain counterpoint: “We’re not spending anything on Iraq. The Iraqis have their own budget for reconstructing their country, and they have to worry about their own problems in how to spend it. What we spend on Iraq is actually what we spend on the individual American soldier, Marine or airman. If you want to spend less, then take it up with the Pentagon’s logistic department. If you to want to give poorer standards, and reduce readiness for our fighters, then it is an issue of whether you want to downsize our military forces, not a spending issue. Having the best, recruiting the best, arming our recruits with the best of gear in order to defend our homeland has a price-tag. If keeping us safe is too steep of a price-tag for you, then just come out and say that you will save on expenses by downsizing the military.”

Obama point: “Iraq didn’t keep us safe”

McCain counterpoint: “Well, something seems to be working, since we haven’t been attacked on our home turf since 911. We took the fight to them, instead of them running amok in our neighborhoods and malls and playgrounds, like they did in Baghdad, like they did in Madrid and London.”

Obama point: “you want to be in Iraq for a hundred years”

McCain counterpoint: “Yeah, I want our companies and investors to be in a prosperous and safe Iraq for hundreds of years, getting some of that multi-billion reconstruction money buying U.S. products and services. Sure, why would I lock myself out of such a lucrative market when the Europeans, when the Russians and the Chinese, are setting up permanent shops over there?”

Obama point: “I have a timetable for withdrawal”

McCain counterpoint: “Senator Obama picks a meaningless number—16 months—not from military commanders, but because it sounds certain and catchy.

“That is not how wars should be fought. The first thing that goes out the window in a war is the battle plan. A commander must respond to the facts on the ground.”

Obama point: “We’ve been too easy on the Pakistanis”

McCain counterpoint: “Our heart goes out to the Pakistanis: they are now confronting the same scourge that afflicted Spain and London, and Russia, and Turkey, and the US. Instead of pointing fingers in such a crisis, let’s find ways to help our Pakistani allies fight the scourge of terrorism. Zardari, the new president of Pakistan, lost his wife to a terrorist attack. She was a great woman, the great leader of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, she bravely confronted the terrorists knowing full well that they are out to get her. Her husband is now the president, are you going to accuse him of being soft on terrorism to score a campaign talking point?”

Obama point: “There are serious issues with the Iraqi Sunni Awakening”

McCain counterpoint: “These are like trade union negotiations. It is about jobs and pay checks…and threatening to go on strike. Don’t panic every time someone makes a threat, especially one they cannot deliver on. Don’t panic, Senator. With experience, one gets to recognize what’s really called a bluff.”

Closing remarks: Why national security should matter to the American voter:

McCain: “9/11 was real; the IEDs in Iraq were real. The people that Senator Obama wants to talk to, the Iranian government, do shout ‘Death to America’ on every occasion, and do train militias that kill American men and women in Iraq. We were not imagining all of this. This is not paranoia at play, this is a real threat. We are not imagining that there are enemies out to get us. Those two planes did crash into the twin towers. It wasn’t all just a bad dream.

“And you cannot just close your eyes and wish it all away.”

Kerr: McCain Has the Right Stuff

I find myself in full agreement with this article: McCain Has the Right Stuff, by D. Allan Kerr.

The regulars at this blog should know two things about me by now: I've had a reasonably good track record in spotting trends in the past, and I am very alarmist about the future.

Judging by what we've seen of his leadership style, Barack Obama is ill-suited for what's coming up in the Middle East. Obama is over-cautious, he's the type that goes around the table, listening to all and then backing the most conventional, and least dramatic, approach to an emerging challenge. While this may seem to be the sensible way of doing things, the counter-intuitive reality is that there's no one at Obama's table, or any other table for that matter, that can be considered an authority on the new and previously unwitnessed challenges that I see taking shape in the Middle East.

Y'all know how dismissive I've been about the crop of 'experts' and 'analysts' who are the current go-to authorities on Iraq. I would put up my own track record against anyone's, and I must say I don't see many scholars or thinkers in America who have the capacity to understand the headlines of the next few years. Most will come around to it, but at delayed stage. What few there are who can spot it early on, these folks are taken to be marginal characters, such as myself; our views are too controversial, too alarming.

I sincerely believe that John McCain is the kind of leader than would go around the table and quickly figure out that much of what's being said is bull. McCain would have the confidence to chuck it out of the window and demand deeper, more agile thinking. Dramatic confrontations call for drama and courage, and McCain has that market cornered.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

HINO: Hussein In Name Only

So it took Colin Powell’s “defection” for me to learn a new political term that’s been in wide usage: ‘RINO-Republican In Name Only’. (BTW: Eli Lake takes a revealing and unvarnished look at Powell’s furtive style)

These days, I’m out canvassing for McCain in a neighborhood affectionately called ‘The Democratic Republic of Arlington’ by its Obama-supporting, left-leaning well-to-do residents.

Surprisingly, I’m finding quite a few McCain supporters here and there, but they feel under siege by their neighbors, and by the polls showing Virginia decisively heading Obama’s way.

The general attitude towards me is one of “Why are you even trying? Even at this stage of the race when the polls show it’s over? And especially in this neighborhood of all places?”

My ready response is: “I take my cue from my candidate; if McCain intends to fight to the very end, then so will I.”

Upon hearing this answer, one friend remarked, “Oh, that’s so Shia of you.”

And then it struck me: Obama is a 'Hussein' in name only, whereas McCain embodies the fighting spirit of the original Imam Hussein.

Let me explain: ‘Hussein’ is a popular name in the Muslim world, in both the Sunni and Shia components of it, because it was the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. There are only two male bloodlines that go back to Muhammad, through the brothers Hassan and Hussein, both offspring of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, and his paternal cousin, Ali.

But Hussein is made more unique because he led a desperate rebellion against a dynasty that had usurped the leadership of Islam. Hussein was led to believe that he enjoyed overwhelming support in the battleground state of Kufa, and he barnstormed his way over there only to find that his get-out-the-vote machine was busted, while that of his enemies had managed to raise an army of several thousand.

Hussein was told, of the people of Kufa, “Their hearts are with you, but their swords are against you.” The opposing side had spread the wealth around, buying up the allegiances of many with unprecedented amounts of pieces of silver. Moreover, they ran many negative ads, picturing Hussein as an erratic old man (he was 63 at the time, ancient by the life-expectancy of those times) who’d bring about divisiveness and turmoil among Muslims, just like his predecessor (his father, Imam Ali) had done.

The economy was in a shambles ever since outward Islamic expansion that used to bring home the booty began to slow down; the trajectory of Muslim conquest had gone into a recession. The people were waiting on hand-outs, and no one had any time to listen to distractions such as justice, fairness and honor.

Hussein found himself on the plains of Karbala surrounded by a rebel band of a few dozen kinsmen and womenfolk, the mavericks of Islam. All around them were the fluttering banners and ranks of the enemy, thousands and thousands of them, hemming in the rebels from the riverside of the Euphrates. Hussein pleaded for some water, for the infants and the invalids of his traveling caravan, but was denied succor.

One general in the enemy camp rode out halfway between the opposing camps, right before the battle got under way. Mounted upon his steed, Al-Hurr Al-Rayahi hung his head low and seemed lost in thought. After a few minutes, someone called out, “What are you doing?” Al-Hurr looked up and answered, “I am deciding between the here and now, and the hereafter.” He could have stayed on with the enemy, whose numbers would have clearly carried the day; he’d even probably get a role of sorts in the new administration. But Al-Hurr, once dithering and undecided, finally chose honor: he would fight alongside Hussein, and face certain annihilation.

I will spare you the details of the epic battle, one that still manages, even after 1,300 years, to bring tens of millions of people across the world to tears every year upon its anniversary. The anniversary is called Ashura.

The last man standing was old Hussein. He had just watched his cousins, his brothers, and his sons get cut down one after the other. Even his black manservant, a certain Christian slave called George (...he was actually called 'John'), begged for the honor of carrying a sword and dying in glorious battle. Hussein watched him die too.

The story ends with Hussein making his last stand, and the rest is history. A powerful female figure emerges to shame the enemy for what it has done. This would be Zainab, Hussein’s sister. Once thought to be inexperienced and untested, she magnificently rose to the occasion, vociferously making the case for her slain brother and her martyred family. Even though the enemy controlled the pamphleteers, the historians and the poets, we know of the battle and of Hussein’s cause through her words.

When prepping themselves up for a fight, Shias may recite “Every day is Ashura. Every land is Karbala.”

One of Barack Obama’s ancestors clearly shared such a fondness for Imam Hussein, and hence the name carried from one generation to another. But in the process, it lost its meaning, and became an inherited middle name to be a little embarrassed by—a liability.

John McCain though, fights in the same spirit as Imam Hussein. Faced with incredible odds, he marches on towards battle. There’s honor in his cause, and that keeps him strong, unwavering.

And I guess that’s also where I draw my own strength and commitment in this bleak final stretch.

“Every day is Election Day. Every land is a battleground state.”

Here’s to fighting the good fight!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Al-Baghdadi’s Twelfth Speech: Putting a New, Divine Spin on ‘Victory’

Talisman Gate has been in the habit of translating and analysing al-Baghdadi's speeches ever since he made his debut, so that tradition will not change. However, it is remarkable that after two years of digesting this stuff for reporters and analysts, there is still very little intellectual appetite to draw any lessons from the story of the Islamic State of Iraq. It seems to me like it should have been one of the biggest stories of the Iraq War, yet it remains its most underreported angle.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

-This audio file was released on September 24, 2008, by the Al-Furqan Institute for Media Production—the official propaganda arm of the self-styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq’—under the title ‘Allah’s Promise’. The audio file runs for 37 minutes.

-This would be Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s twelfth speech. Al-Baghdadi, who has been awarded the caliphal title of ‘Prince of the Faithful’ by the jihadists fighting in Iraq, is the head of the Islamic State of Iraq. He released his first speech on December 23, 2006. To the best of my knowledge, this is the exact same voice that we’ve heard throughout all his speeches. There has never been a picture or a video recording released by the jihadists of al-Baghdadi.

-This speech was released to coincide with the second anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq.

-Al-Baghdadi uses the occasion of this speech to argue that ‘victory’ can come in many forms, that it is not limited to traditional measures such as tactical operations and casualties. This speech is one of the clearest acknowledgements made by a jihadist leader of the bleak state of affairs that they face in Iraq.

TRANSLATION, ANALYSIS, OPINION:

Al-Baghdadi begins his speech by addressing “the increasing rate of American lies about success in Iraq, and the approach of the ‘end game’ as they call it.” He adds:

We are Muslims who worship Allah save none. We see you worshippers of the cross [Christians] as nothing more than flies that have landed on our noses, [inconsequential] even though its noise and numbers increase. But that said, you are a nation that rode the vessel of persecution and tyranny, and you came to our country and occupied our land and raped our honor and killed our youth and elderly, and looted our wealth, and you did this while our ummah [Islamic community] was distracted…
Al-Baghdadi then offers an interesting take on the regime of Saddam Hussein and the dictator's relationship with the West:

You were [sitting] safely in your country receiving the riches of Iraq, and you had imposed on us a rabid ruler who stole our money and killed our men and fought our religion, and we were ever so eager to fight you directly so that we can [take our revenge] from you, for we knew that you were the serpent’s head and evil emanates from you. But the tradition of betrayal mandated that you would turn your backs to your agent [Saddam] and suddenly hate him, so you cut off his neck and you sent him to the Avenging and Overpowering King [Allah], and we got what we never expected or contemplated, to see your soldiers in front of us and on our soil in an act of injustice on your part, and in our yearning for your blood.

So the men of Islam in the land of the two rivers [Iraq] arose to defend their religion and creed, and they harvested your heads and roasted your meat…Your might was broken by Allah’s benevolence, and your powers dwindled, and the world saw your tears and blood and the laughter of our heroes as they [stood] atop your carcasses. Your cowardice and weakness was exposed to the point where we surrounded you in your bases that our mortars targeted, and it was at this point that the men of Islam and the knights of jihad and their scholars understood that the opportunity was ripe for the establishment of the State of Islam on its land and to impose its shari’ah [Islamic law], so they proceeded to announce the Islamic State of Iraq, which drove you insane and stirred your demons, for how was it that the [jihadists] had managed to resurrect for Islam a state in the [very heart] of the land of Islam despite the presence of the legions of evil and unbelief from all the nations of the earth [coalition forces], and they could not do that during the reign of your expired Ba’athist agent!
Here, al-Baghdadi reiterates the point that I’ve made before: the jihadists declared the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ at a point when they thought they were winning militarily (autumn 2006). He also explains that the organized hostility from other Sunni insurgents towards the jihadists had its origins in a rejection of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’:

We admit that many of those who fought [the Americans did so] in defense of his land or to seek respectability among his kinsmen or under the banner of a wicked ideology and deformed concepts; the sentiments of the Zionists Crusader occupier found common ground with [those] failed and bitter nationalists to wreck and overthrow the State of Islam.
It is interesting to note at this point that recently al-Baghdadi has been dropping the name Iraq from the title of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ and has been calling his organization the ‘State of Islam’ with greater frequency. This is another indication that the jihadists view this two year enterprise of theirs as the resurrection of the all-encompassing Islamic Caliphate that is not necessarily limited to Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi goes on to warn those turn-coats that “our god, Allah, who we fought for and spilled our blood for his religion, has promised us to ward off your wickedness and to lift your evil from upon us…[Allah] has promised us that we shall subjugate our enemies with the sword and the spear as well as with evidence and [reason], and that this subjugation shall be clear and that the victory will be apparent, unequivocally so.”

Al-Baghdadi defines victory as the case when “Allah’s word is supreme and the word of the infidels is brought low, and [Allah’s] laws will be enacted in His land and His shari’ah—all of it—will [govern] his faithful without excising or expunging any part of it, and this is what we have seen with Allah’s blessing in the State of Islam in the land of the two rivers, but a full and overwhelming victory may get slowed down sometimes.”

Al-Baghdadi adds:

Oh Zionists, we are certain of your imminent defeat and loss because I take those who are fighting the occupier in the Islamic State of Iraq as Allah’s partisans [Note: there are many ways to translate “awliya” and “wali”] on His land, who are performing the duty of the age [jihad]…For if he who is fighting for Allah and blowing himself up in defense of His religion and to champion His shari’ah is not the partisan of Allah on His earth then else can claim to be that?
This is a refrain that one hears aplenty in jihadist propaganda: jihad elevates the Muslim above all others, and even gives one some saintly attributes (…even though strict Wahhabis and Salafists don’t believe in sainthood).

And if the jihadists are “Allah’s partisans” then who in their right minds—this question is seemingly directed by al-Baghdadi at the Americans and his other enemies—would “think [they] are winning when the Lord of the earth and the sky is fighting [them]?”

Yet while al-Baghdadi promises that the jihadist ‘victory’ will become apparent in its own time, he offers some consolation to his fighters by talking up another kind of victory, the moral kind. Things cannot “be judged by their outward appearance” and it isn’t always the case that the success of a just cause is measured by how many supporters it has. Just consider the long line of prophets who only managed to get one or two followers, or whose call was taken up after their deaths, al-Baghdadi reasons, “Would a monotheist say that such a prophet was not successful in his quest?”

“There is another [type] of victory other than that of a crushing defeat [of the enemy]” as was the case with Moses and the drowning of Pharaoh and his armies in the sea. This other type of victory is manifested by the feeling of “tranquility” that a Muslim feels knowing that Allah has promised him victory. And this “tranquility” is nothing compared to that felt by the “real victory” of he who “wins an eternal and ethereal life [in the hereafter] when [some] faces are whitened and others are blackened.”

Addressing the tyrants, al-Baghdadi adds: “Oh tyrants, do you think that we will leave our religion, or ideology, our jihad for fear of a prison? We welcome a prison if necessary, but we will never leave jihad.” Quoting the influential 13th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya to say, “How would my enemies take vengeance on me? My heaven and my garden, I carry in my chest; my murder is martyrdom; my exile is tourism; my imprisonment is meditation.” Al-Baghdadi adds that Ibn Taymiyya wrote his most important books while in prison, and that he even died in jail.

In an attempt to stem declining morale, al-Baghdadi warns against underestimating the effect of demoralizing words, and reminds his followers that even during his bleakest hours, the Prophet Muhammad prophesized about the Muslim capture of the riches of the Sassanian and Roman empires.

The final segment of the speech deals with the second anniversary of the founding of the Islamic State of Iraq, and one oddity about it is al-Baghdadi’s choice of who the top heroes of the Islamic State of Iraq are supposed to be: Abul-Basha’ir al-Juburi (a jihadist leader by the pseudonym of “Abul-Basha’ir” was killed during November 2007, but he was identified as a Syrian national. The Juburi tribal handle makes it more plausible that this particular Abul-Basha’ir is an Iraqi, even though there are some Juburis in Syria), Abu Bakr al-‘Afri (a certain Abu Muhammad al-‘Afri was killed during September 2007 near Mosul; don’t know if this is the same person, the last name suggests an African background), Al-Jarrah al-Shami and Muharib al-Juburi. Al-Baghdadi adds that al-‘Afri, al-Shami and al-Juburi were members of the shura [consultative] council of the Islamic State of Iraq, while Abul-Basha’ir is identified as the Chief of Staff of the Army of the State of Islam.

At the very end, al-Baghdadi re-iterates a point that he has made often before: offering amnesty to those ex-insurgents who had joined the American-funded ‘Awakening Groups’, but threatening certain death if they are caught before repenting.

Fear Allah, oh former and present soldiers of the Political Council, and I specify among them those who deceivingly adhere to salafism; leave the banner that will take you to hell and the worst of fates, do not dare listen to the opportunist leaders and treacherous agents who have profited out of your religion and blood...

And know this well: the malicious rafidha [Shias] and the infidel occupiers will never forget that only yesterday you were their enemies, and they have begun to stab you already, so return to us and we will not forget that yesterday you were our friends…If you refuse to repent before we get a hold of you then, by Allah, to kill an apostate is more preferable to me than a hundred Crusader heads, and you know all about our vigor and our reach, and the mantle of the [Shias] and the wood of the Crusader occupiers will do you no good.
WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER

-I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the Islamic State of Iraq was the most ambitious undertaking ever adopted by world-wide jihadists; bigger than the Afghan jihad, bigger than the Taliban, bigger than 911. This was to be the much-heralded Imperial Caliphate.

-Al-Baghdadi was chosen as the candidate caliph.

-Although al-Baghdadi has sounded worried about the state of affair of the jihadists in some of his earlier speeches, this is the first time where he’s been forced to offer up a new twist on ‘victory’ other than imposing the shari’ah and defeating the Americans: spiritual “tranquility” is supposed to be just as good as victory, for the time being. (Sounds suspiciously like Sufism).

-I seriously doubt that many Awakening members will revert back into the folds of Al-Qaeda. After all, how much of a guarantee of safe conduct can be given to those who had turned apostate when the Islamic State of Iraq was in the habit of beheading hairdressers for giving their customers the latest Western fashions?

WHY IS THIS RELEVANT

It isn’t relevant. But it’s simply fun to listen to the jihadists writhe in agony and humiliation. The Islamic State of Iraq, and jihadism at large, has been defeated in Iraq. What remains are a few cells here and there who seem to pick on Iraq’s Christian community to sow panic and generate headlines of a mass exodus from Mosul: that’s not jihad, that’s grasping at straws. Sure, the jihadists will continue to be a rankling and irksome lot, but they are no longer a threat to Iraq’s stability.

FURTHER READING

Talisman Gate: Marking Second Anniversary, Islamic State of Iraq Cites ‘Accomplishments’

Talisman Gate: Al-Baghdadi’s Eleventh Speech, Al-Baghdadi’s Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Speeches

Talisman Gate: Who is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi? Is he Hamid al-Zawi? Or Khalid al-Mashhadani?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nematt: Why Iraq Hates Biden

Salameh Nematt, writing for the newly-minted Daily Beast, has an interesting and timely piece out today: Why Iraq Hates Joe Biden.

Good stuff. But what's missing from the piece is reference to Biden's speech on May 1, 2006 during which he first introduced his grand 'Biden Plan'. This was Biden's most ambitious foreign policy initiative, ever. This was supposed to be the keystone of his presidential ambitions.

Biden unfurled his speech at the 90th birthday celebration for eminent Middle East historian Bernard Lewis. In fact, Biden was seated next to Judy Miller, formerly of the New York Times, before he took to the stage.

Vice President Dick Cheney gave the keynote address a short while later.

Biden deliberately chose this venue to first publicize his plan: Dr. Lewis was the White House's go-to historian on all matters Middle East, and Biden wanted to be all in Cheney's face.

Biden's plan was to cut up Iraq into three statelets, grant the Sunnis-Kurds-Shias some breathing room apart, and then give the three statelets the option of re-integrating should they choose to do so. I remember it vividly, as I was in the audience.

But as Nematt points out, the Biden Plan was received with wide-ranging hostility and derision. It was the 'Mother of All Gaffes', if you may. Senator McCain dismissed it at the time by saying that Biden wants to "partition bedrooms in Baghdad"; last night in the third debate, McCain again referred to the plan and called it a "cockamamie scheme".

Later, Biden tried to tweak his plan to make it more acceptable, but he inadvertently (or maybe purposely) plagiarized the federalist concept as adopted by the Iraqi National Congress back in the Salahuddin Conference of October 1992. But even then, the revised Biden Plan was a moot point, since the INC's concept had already been codified into the current Iraqi Constitution (ratified by national referendum on October 15, 2005; six months before Biden came up with his "original" idea).

Do you hear that "whoooosh" sound? That's the sound of all this going over the heads of the media...

Media Scrutiny and "Joe the Plumber"

To begin with, I guess the relevance of "Joe the Plumber" to this blog is that he voiced his pride in the job that U.S. soldiers are doing in Iraq. I think this is an attitude out there in America that recognizes the fact that Iraq has turned a corner towards the better for some time now. Thus, the efforts made by some activist reporters at conveying a different, darker image of what's going on in Iraq hasn't fooled everyone. Good.

But what's ridiculous is how much scrutiny "Joe the Plumber" is getting: the media has turned this personal, and they are ever so desperate to cut him down, especially since he seems to be leaning towards McCain. The narrative is downright mean and demeaning; everything goes, with dollops of disdain.

It is a reflex inferred by the notion that anyone who hasn't yet bought into Obama is somehow misguided, even nefarious.

Yet it is odd that when Senator Obama's past is looked at with more scrutiny, some in the media and some of Obama's other surrogates immediately scream "racism" or accuse those asking the questions of distracting 'Joe Public' from the larger issues.

Well, "Joe the Plumber" did ask about one of those "larger issues" but all we seem to be getting is the nitty-gritty of his life-story.

Uncool. Unfair.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Obama’s Saudi Hook-Up (Updated)

So now we know who the Saudis may call in order to get to Barack Obama: an impish lil’ nut called Dr. Khalid al-Mansour. His original name used to be ‘Don Warden’ before converting to Islam. But the crazy thing is that he took a full Muslim name when he converted: Khalid Abdullah Tariq al-Mansour. What’s ridiculous about that is that Arabic Muslim names do not have the concept of middle names, so what Don effectively did was rename his father ‘Abdullah’ and his grandfather ‘Tariq’.

Did I mention that al-Mansour is an impish lil’ nut?

It seems that al-Mansour solicited recommendation letters and contacts to get Obama into Harvard Law School. He may even have raised money to pay for Obama’s tuition.

Now, I know what all of you are thinking: sure, I’d take anyone’s help to get into college, especially if they’re paying for it.

But Dr. al-Mansour isn’t just anyone: he is a radical ideologue with close ties to Saudi royalty. He is also blatantly anti-Jewish.

Sounds crazy that only now, three weeks from the election, we’re hearing about such characters in Obama’s past, right?

Why is this relevant?

Well, when we take al-Mansour and add him to Bill Ayers, and then take that sum total and add names such as Tony Rezko and Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the equation, it would seem that Obama’s early mentors were kooky, to say the least.

Obama has a very meager record by which to judge him, so we are reduced to scrounging around for what his deeply-held, maybe even secretly-held, views could be by studying who his early influences were.

I know something about the role of mentors in shaping one’s politics, and I must tell you—as objectively as possible even for a propagandist like me—this is dangerous ground.

The Rezko angle, for example, is especially compelling: I got to hear a thing or two about Rezko’s political views from a couple of Middle Eastern sources who have wined and dined him. Unfortunately, I can’t share any of it. But what I can say is this: Uh-oh.

How did Rezko even hear about Obama? Who put the two together in the first place when Obama was just about to finish up Law School and Rezko jumped in and offered him a job?

What is even more dangerous is that Obama is almost certainly going to get away with never having to explain these questionable relationships before the election. “Rev. Wright? Oh he’s just a pastor at my church.” “Ayers? Oh he’s just a guy in my neighborhood.” “Michelle? Oh she’s just some woman that I run into around the house.”

“Khalid? Oh he’s just a guy who helped get me into Harvard and paid my way through…”

Not going to happen.

And of course, we can’t check this latest stuff on Dr. al-Mansour out because Obama is keeping his college records sealed, and the ‘responsible’ media will not fetter him with any embarrassing questions at this late stage. The media, drunk on its own power in shaping this race, seems intent on not taking any chances to redeem its professionalism.

This video summarizes the issue well (thanks NG for letting me know about this story):



On the other hand, I think McCain would be a serious pain in the neck for the Saudis.

UPDATE (October 16, 2008):

I've been hearing some interesting follow-ups to my posts here on TG. There are three questions that stand-out:

1-Did Barack Obama accept any money towards tuition at Harvard Law School from Khalid al-Mansour? The implication here is that some of the money could have originated with the Saudis since al-Mansour, at the time, was already a paid advisor working on behalf of a couple of Saudi princes. [To their credit, the left-leaning Talking Points Memo called yesterday on the press to investigate the al-Mansour link, as a means of debunking such questions. I would like to know one way or the other: is it true or not. But more than that I would like the press to do its job and investigate.]

2-Did Obama make the acquaintance of Bill Ayers much earlier than previously reported, when the former was still an undergrad at Columbia University in the early 1980s? This would be another episode where Obama would have not been completely forthright about his past associations. Did al-Mansour and Ayers know each other? Did Ayers or his wife sever their relationship to the Weather Underground prior to the mid-1980s? If they didn't, and it gets revealed that Obama had met them during this period, then it would mean that Obama knew Ayers when the latter was still an active enabler of terrorism.

3-The area in eastern Kenya that Obama visited in 2006 was Wajir, a mostly Somali-speaking enclave. Did he specifically choose to visit this area because it was his ancestral home? And if so does that reveal anything about any ethnically Arab lineage that he may have?

UPDATE (October 17, 2008):

This story in Politico goes a long way towards disputing the Khalid al-Mansour angle, although it does leave some aspects unaddressed. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen this story when I first posted my message. Even so, there's still some unease here: Why hasn't Obama come out on the record to dispute this story? He had a spokesman do it, and even then with the caveat "to the best of our knowledge." I mean, they could easily paint this as a right-wing smear, and it would work to Obama's advantage. Why hasn't anyone been able to contact Sutton? Why didn't al-Mansour clarify some of these issues when Timmerman first contacted him? "Out of respect for Sutton" isn't really that convincing of an excuse to allow something like this hang out there. Is it?

At any rate, I appreciate the fact that the Politico reporter tried to get to the bottom of all of this, but even so, I have this nagging feeling that there's more there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I am clearly a paranoid nutcase

'Body of Lies' is an okay film. I guess I’d agree with 90 percent of its message on jihadism and how this war should be fought. But some stylistic details made the purist in me cringe. For example, when writing-in an Iranian immigrant to Jordan, why would the script writers (I haven’t read the original novel by David Ignatius) call her ‘Aysha’. Having the name Aysha in Iran would not make one popular, even if one were from Iran’s Sunni minority. It would be like a Canadian white supremacist calling his son ‘Hitler’—just isn’t done that often.

Same goes for an Al-Qaeda type minor character called 'Mehdi'. Better, more sect-specific names could have been used. Plus, there isn’t an Alusi family in Jordan.

But maybe I’m nitpicking too much. However, there’s one thing that I couldn’t stand: turning the Jordanian mukhaberat into slick super-spies. I have some experience in this regard. I’ve even defended the GID on this blog. But they are just not that good. No one is. The movie sustains some other silly myths about spycraft (just as many other of Ignatius’ novels, and BTW, Ignatius does in fact think that the Jordanians are “all that”), and of course, the protagonist (Leo DiCaprio, sometimes speaking in disjointed Iraqi Arabic) develops a conscience, goes native and walks away from this difficult and morally challenging life on the battlefront.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We've seen, read and heard these narratives before. But the stuff on jihadist ideology, tactics and the comparison between SIGINT and HUMINT all serve to redeem the movie, just a little bit.

But what really struck me were the pre-movie trailers. Now, I’ve long sensed that Hollywood tries to brainwash audiences with these trailers right ahead of election seasons, but there was one trailer that really crossed the line, in my view.

Will Smith has a new movie coming out called 'Seven Pounds' (you can watch the trailer video at this link). What I can make out from the plot is that he plays a government official who will ‘save’ seven random people from their plight. The music is upbeat and euphoric, sort of like a salvation hymn.

Smith wears the same suits as Barack Obama, and his hair is kinda cut like the candidate’s.

And then, for apparently no reason at all, we see Will Smith emerging from the sea wearing black swimming trunks. I think the editors of this trailer intended the audience to make this association (two screen shots from 'Seven Pounds' trailer, and a famous photo of Obama's):







So an Obama-like character may be out there to save you, is the basic message here.

Again, Hollywood is being a little too creepy in its efforts at mind control. But don’t listen to me, I’m just an alarmist loon struck down with a bad case of paranoia.