July 17, 2005

Blogging: hazardous to your health

An Iraqi blogger has been in prison without charge for a week now. The secret police at his Baghdad university carted him off. (Yes, this is a current entry.) Just thought I'd mention it here since it doesn't seem to be that big a deal yet for Jarvis, et al.

In other Iraq news, the UN says child malnutrition rates in Iraq have doubled since the days of Saddam and sanctions. This could have something to do with it.

UPDATE, July 22: The blogger Khalid was released today, Raed reports.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM

On Naeem Noor Khan

It's rare when I can say I feel Jim Henley's overreaching a bit, but he may just be in this entry.

It's certainly not implausible that this current American government would burn a key intel source solely to discomfit the Democrats, possibly contributing to a failure to catch the London bombers ahead of time. But it's a theory that involves a lot of second-guessing of lower-level U.S. intelligence and security staff, who may have been playing a deeper game. In Slate, Lee Smith argued there may have been other reasons for the exposing of Noor Khan at that specific time.

I have a problem with getting out ahead of the facts on this for the same reason I have a problem with certain right-wing voices in the Nom de Plame affair. At its root, I believe we need to assume baseline competence in the members of the intelligence community charged with protecting us, in the absence of concrete evidence that they're failing at their job. That means journalists shouldn't refer to a CIA WMD expert as "little wifey", (or a "Home Depot clerk") but it also means that in the absence of an actual source within the U.S. intelligence community saying they were betrayed for political reasons here (and I have no doubt if Noor Khan's outing was opposed by the actual case experts at the time, that it eventually will come out, just as it did after 9/11 and the Iraq invasion), we don't yet have enough info to read so much into the timing of that arrest and Tom Ridge security alert just yet.

Posted by BruceR at 04:03 PM

If we learn anything, the terrorists win

Damian Brooks has the head-in-the-sand mentality of the Canadian left just about right:

"We will not live in fear! This is not America, and we won't learn how to provide basic first aid in the event of a disaster!"

Brooks is right that Anne McLellan's London-bombing comments per se were opportunistic and CYA in nature. He is equally right that the underlying issues of poor emergency preparedness in this country are significant.

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM

Reaction to Hillier: predictable

Reaction to the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff's recent bluntness over the nature of his current enemy and the Canadian Afghan mission has been predictable. Letters in the Globe ran seven-to-two opposed to them, although to their credit both the Star and Globe editorial boards, and NDP leader Jack Layton, concluded he was basically saying what needed to be said. The pacifist Polaris Institute and Council of Canadians demanded a retraction... the defence minister and PM both declined to censure their top general.

Probably the worst columnist's take was James Travers in the Star, who evidently doesn't waste his time thinking too deeply about these issues. (Travers is a classic Ottawa press gallery denizen... all that matters about any issue, anywhere, is its effect on the timing or result of the next Canadian federal election).

Travers: "Hillier's messages have a certain appeal. Dehumanizing the enemy is as old as war..."

Yep, the fear of dehumanizing Al Qaeda keeps me up at night. I'd say they'd done that to themselves, kinda.

Big T: "Still, the spectre of a general expanding his commentary from a mission to the underlying politics, foreign policy and core values is at least unusual..."

The Canadian soldier's dilemma: you must internalize Canada's values in everything you do. You must not ever try to explain what you suspect those values are.

Over lunch with reporters, Hillier essentially endorsed two popular but increasingly discredited theories Washington favours and proselytizes. One is that Al Qaeda attacks are a symptom of civilizations clashing, the other is that the best place to meet that threat is over there.

Curiously, Travers doesn't say where he would like Al Qaeda to meet us instead. Pity.

Those notions are easily marketed to audiences shocked by the outrages of 9/11, Madrid and now London. But they suffer when exposed to quantitative analysis and qualitative experience.

In his book Dying to Win, University of Chicago terrorism expert Robert Pape draws on a unique data base to expose popular misconceptions about suicide bombers..."

The Pape thesis is an important one, helpful in understanding bomber behaviour in zones of military occupation like Palestine and Iraq. It should be obvious that it has almost zero value in explaining global terror attacks in Western countries, at least since 2002. Attempting to extend Pape's conclusions to those attacks only serves to twist the insights he has beyond all recognition.

Pape says when the foreign troops withdraw, then the suicide bombings in that region will stop. Leave aside the Madrids of the world, where suicide was not part of the original plan, how does this knowledge equip us to deal with the Balis (where the occupiers are Western tourists) and Londons (homegrown residents of a democracy)? Answer: it doesn't. Unless you believe that all Muslims everywhere from Leeds to Istanbul are united in a common sense of oppression and rebellion against the West, but of course, that would be that "clash of civilizations" thesis again.

To a degree, this is all the Americans' fault. Their Iraq adventure has tangled up all kinds of previously generally understood concepts of retributive strikes, preventative war, etc. Parliament Hill columnists should probably be forgiven for getting mixed up themselves. But saying, as Gen. Hillier did, that the London attacks reaffirm that we must deny global terrorists a safe haven, in Afghanistan or anywhere else, is not the same in any sense with the Iraqi "flypaper thesis", that it's better to create a war in Iraq to suck them into battle over there. Travers can't tell the difference. Saying that the specific characters we're dealing with in Afghanistan (Taliban holdouts, etc.) are implacably committed to certain religious and moral orthodoxies that Westerners find alien and dangerous (or as a Newfie would say, "they're murderers and scumbags") is not to say that we are all of us engaged in some Lewisesque "clash of civilizations," either. Surely they're the ones taking on civilization, not us.

Travers' whole notion that evaluating the intentions of the remnants of the Taliban is somehow in the exclusive domain of foreign affairs, is especially perverse when you think about it. War is diplomacy by other means, of course, but the value Travers feels in being diplomatic with the Talibs at this point is simply lost on me.

Having obviously read Pape just recently, Travers has evidently concluded, rather baselessly, that military occupations are the root cause of all forms of global terror attacks. (We have had troops in Afghanistan ourselves since 2002, but Travers strangely is not arguing for their removal in saying this.) Hillier's argument, by contrast, is that the existence of global terror networks that could threaten Canadians necessitates our continued military presence overseas. Only in Canada would this simple statement of reality constitute speaking truth to power.

More of the deep thoughts of the Canadian left on Hillier's remarks can be found here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM