al qaeda

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

THE DEEPENING CRISIS gripping Iraq is a clear and present danger to global security. The crisis is fundamentally political in nature, however, not military. It cannot be resolved through the use of force, least of all by external military action from the United States. In the past, U.S. intervention has been the problem in Iraq, not the solution. Indeed many of Iraq’s current problems can be traced to the consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation.

The United States now has a responsibility to help the Iraqi people, having contributed so much to their current travails, but our involvement should be diplomatic and humanitarian, not military. We should work through the United Nations to exert pressure on the violent extremists who are threatening the region and to mobilize international support for political and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts.

A major center of concern today is the extremist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now identifying as the Islamic State. This group led the military takeover of Mosul and other Iraqi cities. It is a direct offshoot of the al Qaeda forces that emerged during the armed resistance to the U.S. invasion, but is now a rival to, and even more extreme than, al Qaeda.

Prior to 2003, al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq. It was only after the U.S. invasion, which shattered the state and sparked widespread violence and insurgency, that Islamist extremist groups were able to gain a foothold in Iraq. American actions fostered staggering levels of corruption and exacerbated growing Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions.

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Drones and Terrorism: Is the U.S. Scapegoating Al Qaeda?

U.S. Drone, Paul Drabot / Shutterstock.com
U.S. Drone, Paul Drabot / Shutterstock.com

Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda? It’s an odd question, I know, but it reared its ugly head as I read about the new reports from Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch on U.S. drone strikes. The scapegoating mechanism is a very precise instrument that accrues enormous benefits to the scapegoater. By accusing their scapegoat of wrongdoing, a scapegoater ingeniously hides from the reality of their own guilt. Now here’s the weird thing: a scapegoat does not have to be innocent to function as a scapegoat. Scapegoats can be evil, nasty, ruthless, amoral sons-of-bitches and still function perfectly well as a scapegoat. Which is why I ask the question: Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda to hide from its own guilt?

With that in mind, I invite you to read these few excerpts that raised the question for me, with key phrases in boldface:

[continued at jump]

Choosing Royal Babies Over Abu Ghraib

WILL OLIVER/AFP/Getty Images
A selection of British newspapers in London showing the new royal baby. WILL OLIVER/AFP/Getty Images

By now most of the world knows the royal family in England is celebrating the birth of little baby George Alexander Louis. The commentators panted as they caught the first glimpses of the magic baby, about everything from the infant's apparent ability to withstand a media onslaught to the ever-so-newsworthy fact that his father drove the family home with his own two hands.

Meanwhile in Iraq, several hundred prisoners of the infamous Abu Ghraib facility escaped, many of whom were known or suspected members of Al Qaeda. Considering the attention given to the few dozen detainees still held in Guantánamo Bay, it seems reasonable to think that such a breakout would arrest the headlines around the globe.

But instead, we stayed focused for the most part on baby George. I remarked about this to my friend, sharing my concern about the apparent distortion of priorities. He suggested that it simply is a sign of cultural fatigue, or even resignation. Sometimes, after all, these stories that have international importance seem so big, so abstract, and so far away that it is hard to wrap our minds around them. It’s easier instead to set our attention on something more hopeful — albeit remarkably more superficial — that won’t keep us awake at night.

Peering in the Dark Corners

JEREMY SCAHILL SPENT years working out his notions of social justice in homeless shelters and conflict zones and among peace activists. In 2007, Scahill’s award-winning investigative reporting made waves when he published Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, a comprehensive exposé on the secret role of private military contractors in the United States’ “war on terror,” which prompted several congressional inquiries. Scahill’s newest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, digs into the obscure underbelly of U.S. covert wars.

“In one of my trips to Yemen, I traveled in the south of the country where most of the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have happened,” Scahill said during a recent visit to Sojourners’ Washington, D.C. office. “I was interviewing a number of tribal leaders. This guy from Shabwa province said to me, ‘[Americans] consider al Qaeda [to be] terrorism. We consider your drones [to be] terrorism.’ I heard that over and over in a variety of countries. ... Many people, in Yemen or in Somalia, would not be predisposed to think of al Qaeda as anything positive. Al Qaeda is a reviled organization in Yemen. ... But there are tribal leaders who are saying, ‘You know, you pushed us into a corner where our people are now sympathetic with al Qaeda.’ After years of traveling in these countries, I really believe that we’re creating more enemies than we’re killing.”

In some respects, drones are simply a new tool of old empire. Scahill’s book title, Dirty Wars (and film of the same name), is partly “a macabre tip-of-the-hat to the dirty wars in Central America, fueled by the United States ... targeting people who are insurgents and claiming they were communists. The new version of this is targeting people who are fighting us and claiming they’re al Qaeda.”

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DRONE WATCH: We Cannot Kill Our Way to Victory

Vietnam vet and author Terry McDermott sees parallels between the B-52 bombings of Cambodia and the drone strikes in Pakistan.

"Simply put: American technology — B-52s then, drones now — makes it far too easy to unleash holy hell on our enemies. We live in an age when American might can overwhelm the defenses of entire countries with barely a drop of American blood spent. It is, in a way, too easy. Because there is so little risk, there is no political cost to be paid for the drone wars."

But he asks:

"We've been trying to attack Al Qaeda with missiles, bombs and drones for 25 years now. Shouldn't we at some time stop and ask ourselves: What's the point? As good as we've become at killing people, the larger problem persists. … That larger problem is that we cannot kill our way to victory in the war on terror."

 

DRONE WATCH: Can Al-Qaeda Survive Drone Strikes?

In the wake of the death of Al Qaeda’s #2 leader Monday, BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner wonders  if the movement can survive the continued attrition of its leaders by targeted drone strikes. He concludes that:

"In the long term, perhaps the most serious threat to al-Qaeda lies not so much in the unseen death from the air through drone strikes but in an eventual evaporation of its cause.

Last year's mass democratic movement, dubbed by some the "Arab Spring" or "Arab Awakening", completely bypassed al-Qaeda, which had always insisted that violent jihad was the best and only path to just government.

With the recent departure of Western forces from Iraq and the imminent withdrawal of international combat forces from Afghanistan, the global jihadist movement will be deprived of a significant recruiting tool.

But it would be foolish to believe that the movement is finished."

New, Improved Terrorists!

EVERYONE CAN USE a fresh start from time to time. When Enco and Esso oil companies combined in 1973, they came up with the name Exxon—a word that at the time had no meaning or connotation—and then moved forward as a completely new company. Now, of course, we know that Exxon means “Lucifer’s Henchperson of the Coming Darkness.” So when Exxon and Mobil combined in 1999 to become the most powerful oil company in the world (Saudi Arabia is a small subsidiary), they wanted to distance themselves from the high negatives of the old name. So they came up with ExxonMobil, leading a confused public to ask, “Gee, I wonder what they sell?”

The point is, sometimes institutions need a makeover, and who better to turn over a new leaf than al Qaeda, an organization that, for at least the last decade, has suffered some really bad press.

As documents from his not-so-secret compound have revealed, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was concerned about the deteriorating reputation of his organization. The brand had become a problem. Too many mistakes in targeting and execution had tarnished all the positives of the proud al Qaeda name, which used to be synonymous with acts of mercy, community building, and the delicious cookies they sold door to door. (Thin Mints were my favorite.)

Shortly before his death, bin Laden had drafted a letter to associates asserting that al Qaeda should get a new name and, since ExxonMobil was already taken, he came up with a few possibilities, such as the following, translated into English (you’re welcome):

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Warrior in Chief

Peter Bergen, a director of the New America Foundation, writes: “The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.”

And he adds up the evidence of the past four years:

"Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden."

These actions, allegedly against the “threat of terrorism,” are reminiscent of the so-called Reagan Doctrine against the “threat of communism” in the early-to-mid 1980s.  We’re still paying the price for the use of covert operations to attack insurgents, while supporting repressive and corrupt governments in that era. The Mujaheddin who were armed and trained to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan are now the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighting the U.S. occupation.  The price of the last four years is yet to be seen, but history suggests it will be substantial.

 

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