Sunday, 6 November 2011

Dogs of War

And Caesar's spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war

1. No, we’re not gearing up for war (yet)

I don’t really have time to be writing as much as I used to be but I thought I’d just write a post with an assortment of recent issues. Firstly, The Guardian has yet again managed to exaggerate and misrepresent British foreign policy. They start the article of their front page ‘UK military steps up plans for Iran attack amid fresh nuclear fears’ with

The Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.

There are so many things wrong with the story, its hard to know where to start. Firstly, looking at the quotes of the officials, it is no big change in British government policy nor is it as apocalyptic as the Guardian is making it sound. One quote from the officials state

The British government believes that a dual track strategy of pressure and engagement is the best approach to address the threat from Iran's nuclear programme and avoid regional conflict. We want a negotiated solution – but all options should be kept on the table.

But what about the plans!? The Guardian admits ‘there are no hard and fast blueprints.’ But what about other preparations that Guardian mentions?! Well, here’s another quote:

I think that it is fair to say that the MoD is constantly making plans for all manner of international situations. Some areas are of more concern than others.

And just to really drive the point home, a MoD source told The Telegraph ‘We have contingency plans on everything... It doesn’t mean anything will come of it but at least someone is thinking about this sort of thing.’ And lets assume that there were full blown preparations for a military confrontation with Iran – it simply doesn’t mean anything. David Cameron would still have to lobby for support for the war. This isn’t a dictatorship where the UK can simply go into war without any recourse (people made the same misguided argument about Blair).

2. Neither is the U.S

I’m not denying that war with Iran won’t happen in the future, but the current apocalyptic vision seems to be misleading to me. Firstly, it should be kept in mind that the U.S has tried to downplay any suggestion that its seeking a military confrontation with Iran, ‘saying it would rather exercise and exhaust "tough diplomacy" first.’ Secondly according to various reports in American and Israeli media the ‘U.S. is "absolutely" concerned that Israel is preparing an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.’ Thirdly, it looks like the U.S is going to use the upcoming IAEA report to ‘further isolate Iran’:

Over the longer term, several senior Obama administration officials said in interviews, they are mulling a ban on financial transactions with Iran’s central bank... Also being considered is an expansion of the ban on the purchase of petroleum products sold by companies controlled by the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The recent publicised links between Al Qaeda and Iran are only news to people who haven’t read the 9/11 Commission Report. (This is not to entertain the frankly ridiculous idea that Iran had any foreknowledge of 9/11 – as the commission itself said). So, to repeat, there may be a war but the signals that people are reading into are simply not there.

3. In defence of President Obama

I wanted to talk about this blogpost on a website called ‘British Neo-libertarian.’ I read it a lot and I find myself disagreeing with it all the time. It tries to argue that the U.S withdrawal from Iraq is misguided – and it fails terribly to provide any sound reasoning. The first false assumption is:

In 2006, when troop levels dropped in Iraq, there was an explosion of violence... [Then] President Bush decided to reinforce troops in Iraq to root out al-Qaeda through General Petraeus. It has been a large success (Study the US military troop level, and civilian fatalities). It is a simple fact that more US soldiers works in creating conditions for better results.

This simplistic view of the Surge simply withstand scrutiny. While it certainly played a role, as Douglas Ollivant has written, it was primarily the realisation of defeat for the Sunnis that allowed for a settlement:

By late 2006, it was becoming quickly apparent to the Sunni that they were losing, particularly in Baghdad, as entire sectors of the city, and virtually the entire East side, were systematically cleansed of Sunni residents.. The mounting casualty count fundamentally changed Sunni outlooks and caused them to begin to look for a way to reach a settlement

There are many factors in what led to the drop in violence – form concrete barriers to operations against Al Qaeda. It’s also worth noting that the U.S military found Al Qaeda documents and used them to convince Middle Eastern and North African nations to stop would-be suicide bombing leaving the country. General Petraeus credits this diplomatic initiative as being the primary reason for the 85% drop in suicide bombings. So this simplistic and quite frankly propagandistic account of the Surge quelling violence is wrong.

The rebutting of this assumption goes some way in showing how the remaining presence of U.S soldiers will not necessarily make things better or worse. Iraq’s security woes wont be fixed overnight – but as Ollivant wrote in Foreign Policy, ‘these technical gaps can easily be filled, and the market will respond quickly to Iraqi petrodollars.’ Surely someone with libertarian in their blog name will see the utility in this argument? The argument that Iran’s position should determine U.S presence is similarly misguided.

It’s based on the false notion that Iraq is or is going to be a Iranian client state. This is just nonsense; Iran’s staunchest ally won only 20 seats out of over 300 in the last election. Indeed, this was lower than they achieved in 2008 and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi credits this to the fact that the party was seen as an Iranian client. And, as the New York Times reported in July 2011, ‘Iraqi security forces have unleashed a sweeping crackdown on Iranian-backed Shiite militants responsible for most of the lethal attacks.’ American withdrawal wont stop these operations and wont change Iraqi reluctance toward Iran. If anything, withdrawal will take the rug out from under Iran.

It just seems hard to deny: Iraq is not a puppet state of Iran or the United State. The very fact that a sovereign Iraq has stood by its guns and refused to support even a mild presence also shows, yet again, that this isn’t some pansy puppet government. The security situation may get worse, there may be a series of bombs going off as has happened in the last two months, but they do no justify U.S presence any longer. 

Monday, 19 September 2011


Accused of being ‘irresponsible’ even by a fellow campaigner for transparency in public life, Assange mounts a freewheeling defence in his memoir: ‘It was never my intention to be responsible,’ he says, before proclaiming: ‘We will shine a light into any murky corner…
-          Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography, The Sunday Times
State secrecy is essential for any nation - certain things must be kept secret for the sake of national security, for the sake of lives, for a proper criminal process. Sure, essential information is vital for a functioning democracy but never at the expense of national security or human lives. Wikileaks does not take into account diplomacy let alone national security or people’s lives. It's not done in the name of transparent democracy, but spilling secrets because they are secrets. It doesn’t help that they release files to make a political point, not for the sake of openness or transparency. Julian Assange admitted as such when he went on the Colbert Report in the aftermath of releasing ‘Collateral Murder’:

Colbert: There are armed men in the group, they did find an RPG, the photographers who were regrettably killed, were not identified as photographers. You have edited this tape and given it a title 'collateral murder,' thats not leaking.. thats a pure editorial
Assange: So, the promise we make to our sources is not only that we defend them through every means we have available.. but we will try and get the maximum political impact..
Colbert: So collateral murder is to get political impact?
Assange: Yes, absolutely...
Colbert:  I admire someone who is willing to put collateral murder on the first thing people will see knowing they probably wont look at the rest of it..It's an emotional manipulation. This is "collateral murder" and now watch this objectively
Assange: That’s true, only one in ten watch the whole thing.

Assange has explicitly stated that his aim is to ‘end two wars’ – including the war in Afghanistan which liberated the Afghan people from the Taliban and brought a government that the Afghans want to power. Bill Keller has even written after meeting him that he ‘was openly contemptuous of the American government.’ Aside from leaking things for a political purpose, Wikileaks’ work leads to information being published that potentially and actually harms people. It doesn’t seem to bother Assange, that his information might lead to informants who aid the Afghan-supported American military force being killed. Declan Welsh, one of the Guardian’s writers recalls

We went out to a Moorish restaurant, Moro, with the two German reporters. David Leigh broached the problem [of redactions] again with Julian. The response floored me. 'Well, they're informants,' he said. 'So, if they get killed, they've got it coming to them. They deserve it.' There was, for a moment, silence around the table. I think everyone was struck by what a callous thing that was to say.

This is why Assange’s personal beliefs are important: it means he simply doesn’t care about innocents. The Afghan War Logs were released in coordination with several papers including the New York Times and the Guardian. The New York Times had a clear approach which took into account lives, intelligence and harm to personnel. Bill Keller, the executive editor, wrote

Guided by reporters with extensive experience in the field, we redacted the names of ordinary citizens, local officials, activists, academics and others who had spoken to American soldiers or diplomats. We edited out any details that might reveal ongoing intelligence-gathering operations, military tactics or locations of material that could be used to fashion terrorist weapons

Wikileaks, however, decided to release all the files without redacting people’s names. According to John Burns, another writer for the New York Times ‘several WikiLeaks colleagues say he alone decided to release the Afghan documents without removing the names of Afghan intelligence sources for NATO troops.’  Like normal people, some Wikileaks workers disagreed with what Assange had done. It turned out that they were right to be. They outed hundreds of Afghan informants, including a Taliban defector putting their lives at risk. The Taliban even said they would trawl through the documents, ominously adding ‘we know how to punish them.’

This is a clear example of Assange putting his politics above the lives of individuals (who he says ‘deserve it’). He could have redacted them like the New York Times, The Guardian and Channel 4 – but he didn’t. According to an Afghan official, Assange ‘put in real risk and danger the lives and integrity of many Afghans.’

This chain of events isn’t unique; when it released the U.S diplomatic cables, the BBC noted that they published a document that had ‘long list of key facilities around the world that the US describes as vital to its national security.’ The loss of any of these facilities ‘could critically affect US national security.’ Again, a Jihadist group set up a ‘workshop’ to try to ‘categorize and pinpoint all U.S. interests worldwide.’ Wikileaks even published a map of U.S military bases in Iraq.

And this isn’t limited to the Middle East. In Africa, Wikileaks released a document which showed that Morgan Tsvangirai spoke to U.S officials about the possibility of sanctions against the barbarous Mugabe regime. As a result, Tsvangiri is facing treason charges – a crime for which the punishment is death. More recently, two Zimbabwean generals will also face charges for talking to U.S officials. It’s no surprise that Trevor Ncube, a media mogul, has stated that ‘It hasn’t aided the agenda for democracy or accountability. In fact, it has taken the country back five years.’ In Ethiopia, a reporter has had to flee after a cable revealed that he had spoken to someone from the American embassy there.

In Eastern Europe, Wikileaks’ actions are equally deplorable. Assange passed documents to an anti-semite called Israel Shamir. According to Luke Harding and David Leigh of the Guardian,

Subsequently, Shamir appeared in Moscow. According to a reporter on Russian paper Kommersant, he was offering to sell articles based on the cables for $10,000 (£6,300). He had already passed some to the state-backed publication Russian Reporter. He travelled on to Belarus, ruled by the Soviet-style dictator Alexander Lukashenko, where he met regime officials. The Russian Interfax news agency reported that Shamir was WikiLeaks’ “Russian representative”, and had “confirmed the existence of the Belarus dossier”.

This dossier alleged the Belarus opposition was working with the Americans. According to Jo Glanville of the Index of Censorship, ‘Israel Shamir is using his position to support a dictatorship.’ Shamir then went on to provide the authoritarian regime with cables. Shamir even assisted the autocrat Lukashkeno is setting up his own Wikileaks.  James Ball, a former Wikileaks worker, said in the aftermath of all this, ‘For an organisation supposedly devoted to human rights, the apparent lack of concern when faced with such a grave charge was overwhelming.’

In the name of openness, Wikileaks first denied that Shamir worked for them – a claim that has been proven false by an e-mail obtained by the BBC’s Panorama programme in which not only did Assange say that Shamir would continue working for Wikileaks under a different name but that Assange did not find his writings anti-Semitic but after reading a ‘brief sampling’ of his writings found them to be ‘strong and compassionate.’ This is a man who was convicted by a French court for publishing anti-Semitic material and his writings are clear enough.

And its not just government officials and innocent civilians in war zones who have been affected by Wikileaks’ reckless behaviour. Wikileaks published an investigation in Belgium into a child killer, but because they did not redact any files, they left names of witnesses in the case. The ‘dossier mentions names, telephone numbers, addresses and bank details of witnesses and people involved in the investigations.’ Asked if Wikileaks might remove some of the names of innocents and witnesses, a spokesman said ‘That has not been discussed.’

Nor was this the only case involving child abuse. Time Magazine notes that Wikileaks published a file that listed all the websites that the Australian government planned to block. This would have been okay – had Wikileaks minimised the harm caused and not published links to child abuse. I’m not going to link to the cables (as I haven’t throughout this post), but two documents published. Both documents have links to websites which judging by their URLs contain child abuse. 

Just a final word on Assange’s defences of his actions. The claim that Assange does enough is baloney: Amnesty International approached Wikileaks to redact names, Assange in response said he needed $700,000. Of course, Amnesty doesn’t have that money laying around – so the documents were published. Assange admitted that ‘if we were forced into a position of publishing all of the archives or none of the archives we would publish all of the archives because it's extremely important to the history of the war.’ According the New York Times, he has even ‘prepared a kind of doomsday option’ where ‘if he was arrested, he would disseminate the key to make the information public.’ Information is released for political or for personal reasons, it would seem.

His accusation against the American government being at fault are similarly dubious. When the New York Times released the diplomatic cables, as mentioned before, it redacted key information. In doing this, it gained a lot of help from American officials:

The administration’s concerns generally fell into three categories. First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries. We almost always agreed on those and were grateful to the government for pointing out some we overlooked... the Obama administration’s reaction was...for the most part, sober and professional.

Wikileaks has put people at risk and in some cases has led to their direct persecution. Assange has deliberately not listened to human rights groups who have asked him to redact names. His employees have aided authoritarian regimes – not brought them down. In the name of human rights. I don’t feel there is any other conclusion one can reach apart from that of James Ball – a writer who left Wikileaks because of its recklessness:

WikiLeaks has done the cause of internet freedom – and of whistleblowers – more harm than US government crackdowns ever could... These cables contain details of activists, opposition politicians, bloggers in autocratic regimes and their real identities, victims of crime and political coercion, and others driven by conscience to speak to the US government. They should never have had to fear being exposed by a self-proclaimed human rights organisation.

What is achieved by outing political dissidents working for freedom, witnesses to a child abuse case, publishing lists of child abuse sites, what government 'lie' is exposed by publish details of military bases, what is essential about lists of civilian sites essential to national security or credit card numbers of individuals - what is the use in all this? There isn't one. Wikileaks has made freedom fighters think twice about talking to nations which can help them. What more could you possibly expect from someone who never intended to be responsible?

Update (04/10/2011): I changed the quote and the top and I'm going to be updating whenever I think there is a story worthy of being shared. Here is one from The Globe and Mail
Some of China’s top academics and human rights activists are being attacked as “rats” and “spies” after their names were revealed as U.S. Embassy sources in the unredacted WikiLeaks cables that have now been posted online. The release of the previously protected names has sparked an online witch-hunt by Chinese nationalist groups, with some advocating violence against those now known to have met with U.S. Embassy staff. 
Also named are some of China’s most outspoken intellectuals, including some known for pushing reform of the country’s authoritarian political system. They may now see themselves painted as “American agents,” their arguments for change shoved further to the margins. 
The unredacted cables also give the real names of some prominent Chinese bloggers and Twitter users, who previously were known only by their screen names.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Don't Mention the War

I have never thought it helpful to refer to a "war" on terror, any more than to a war on drugs. For one thing that legitimizes the terrorists as warriors; for another thing terrorism is a technique, not a state. Moreover terrorism will continue in some form whatever the outcome, if there is one, of such a "war".
-          Eliza Manningham-Buller, Former Director General of MI5

I disagree. 9/11 was a criminal and military act which could only be responded to with a military response. There is no contradiction; something can be criminal and it can be a war crime.  After 9/11, given the Taliban’s intransigence and alignment with Al Qaeda, the only way to remove that that threat was war. Afghanistan was and remains a war of self-defence against a group of transnational networked criminal terrorists. (It’s actually noteworthy that despite her insistence that 9/11 was a crime, Baroness Maninghmam-Buller states that ‘we had discussed the near-certainty of a war in Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda bases there and drive out the terrorists and their sponsors, the Taleban. We all saw that war in Afghanistan as necessary.’)

However, one must take issue with the concept of a ‘War on Terror’ – or Global War on Terror (GWOT) - not because it gives them ‘legitimacy’ as some have supposed (when they fought in Afghanistan in the 80s, when they attacked Americans pre-2001 – they thought they were warriors). The criticism that the term is a tactic and therefore cannot be fought against is similarly misguided for reasons that I have blogged before: Al Qaeda’s ends are terror: the use of violence to stop non-combatants from that which they have a right to do. A Talibanised Caliphate is exactly that: persecuting those of other religions, stopping women from going to school, stopping people from having the right to self-determination.

It is misleading in a sense because it is simply not a war in the sense of a twentieth century war. We do not live under a constant state of fear, we are unlikely to be bombed, we are unlikely to have parades when ‘victory’ comes. To label it a war is to underestimate the role of the police, security and intelligence services in countering terrorism. But this is simply part of the evolving role of warfare: technology means that terrorists can no longer handles by just military means. Drone attacks carried out from Langley are part of warfare – it matters not that they are carried out by men in suits who drive home.  And even though our reliance on said services has increased – it does not change the fact that we have a prolonged military confrontation for a political purpose. 

My gripe with the ‘War on Terror’ is that it is simply too decisive and does not give us a clear goal. It is decisive because whether we like it or not, there are different definitions of terrorism. Instead of bringing people and nations together it maintains divisions. A better formulation is the War against Al Qaeda and its allies – simply because it is a call that people can get behind: support for Al Qaeda in the Arab world is low and decreasing. Peter Bergen sums up this approach by taking issue with another one of Bush’s phrases:

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," said Bush. An alternative formulation could have been "If you are against the terrorists, then you are with us," and that formulation would have vastly increased the number of potential allies of the United States.

Most importantly, this also allows for us to have a clear goal: the paralysation of Al Qaeda and its allies. A War on Terror – even though, as I’ve argued, makes sense because for Al Qaeda terror is an end, does not embody that fight.  A ‘War on Terror’ goes beyond on strategic resources: we will not be able, anytime soon, to destroy the nations which use violence to stop the right of self-determination. It goes beyond what Al Qaeda is – to nations like North Korea and Saudi Arabia and organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah. It is so broad as to include an ideology. And that is inaccurate for what we are fighting in those fights with Al Qaeda and its allies. President Obama and his administration have got it right. This is an excerpt from an AFP report:

President Barack Obama is replacing the "global war on terror" with a new US strategy more narrowly focused on Al-Qaeda and relying more on a broader effort to engage the Muslim world... "It plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the US is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world," he said. In a question and answer session, Brennan suggested that the new administration was prepared to reach out to groups like the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah that move away from their "terrorist core."

President Obama in a speech has even used something precisely like the recommended formulation above in a speech he gave in 2009 as part of his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The single greatest threat to that future comes from al Qaeda and their extremist allies, and that is why we must stand together.... So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future... And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.

This is despite the fact that Obama agrees that we are ‘at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.’ Indeed, Obama’s foreign policy in attacking Al Qaeda is better than Bush’s in that it has increased drone attacks, carried out raids and arrests against Al Qaeda and has increased the troop presence in Afghanistan. President Obama is clearly not a man who disagrees there is a war going on. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Enemies of Peace: Thunderous Peanuts?

Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbour-stained steel,--
Will they not hear? What, ho! you men, you beasts,
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground,
And hear the sentence of your moved prince.
-          The Prince, ‘Romeo  and Juliet’, William Shakespeare

Al Qaeda vs. Peanuts

There are several arguments made about terrorism and the threat from terrorism that I’d like to address in the post. But, starting with definitions: terrorism is the deliberate use of violence against non-combatants so that they are stopped from that which they have a right to do, for political ends. In a way, people have the right to life and therefore all terrorist activity that leads to death is self-evidently terrorism – but it also applies to other things: the right to speak freely, the right to vote for one’s own government. It’s not limited to religious people or even non-religious people. It might seem that this is limited to a technique but I think there is a persuasive argument to be made that it is also an end for groups like Al Qaeda.

But I first want to address another argument: those that compare the threat to terrorism and compare it with things like lightning strikes and peanut allergies. What this misses is that terrorism affects our relationship with state and society. The best way to illustrate this is through a hypothetical: there is an administration which supports a controversial war and terrorists target civilian infrastructure inside that country. Three days later, when there are elections, despite what people think about the government’s economic, social and domestic policy, they are more likely to vote against that administration. Despite that person having the right to vote on those grounds, the threat of violence – of terrorism – has meant that the citizen can no longer exercise that right.

This isn’t my argument, Phillip Bobbit made the argument about the Spanish elections after the Madrid bombings in his book ‘Terror and Consent: Wars for the Twentieth Century’ stating

A vast majority of Spaniards opposed the [Iraq] intervention but a clear majority nevertheless supported the party in power... None of the other political issues – the economy, education, health, etc. – could be allowed to be decisive after the bombing. It was a sickening day for democracy...  (p.395)

And the reason I’m not using his example is that there seems to be evidence which shows that voters were driven by ‘their anger at the government's handling of the terrorist attacks.’ Nonetheless, terrorism clearly has the effect of changing the constitutional relationship of consent. Lawrence Wright notes that such withdrawal of consent has been used in the ‘Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua.’ More importantly, in the Middle East and South Asia it is apparent that such tactics are used: attacking girls going to school, killing people as they cast their vote – these not only affect the actions of those who directly suffer them but those who take steps away from doing what they have a right to do.

This is why terror is an end for Al Qaeda as well: they seek, both in Europe and the Middle East a ‘state of terror’ – that is exactly what their dogmatic ideals lead to: stopping girls from going to school, stopping self-determination, killing those who they disagree with – all backed up with the threat of violence.  In Europe, it means crippling not only choices but our decision to act in self-defence or for the good of the people in the Middle East.

Just as a further case study which was suggested by a good friend of mine: Israel. The effects of terrorism can be seen in several respects: firstly, those in the area of terrorism such as those who are affected by the rockets. Schools have had to remain closed because children would be exposed to rocket fire, 20% of citizens have moved, and a medical factory had to be closed because of rocket fire and people lose employment as a result. Peanuts do not have these effects and neither do homicides.

Secondly, in terms of a state response, there is usually a back lash that calls for action. Looking at it from a libertarian or selective left-wing position: these attacks are followed by a curb of consent by governments. Peanut and lightning related deaths do not lead to having to get a petition to protest outside KP or the overarching power to wiretap the clouds. Laws in Britain such as the heinous detention of foreign nationals, while struck down by the House of Lords, show that the threat from the state remains. There is empirical support for this view as well; using data from 111 countries, Dreher et al (2007) find terror 'diminishes governments’ respect for basic humanrights such as absence of extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment, and torture' and 'civil rights are also restricted as a consequence of terrorism.'

It is only with the hard work of our security services and military that such attacks are thwarted at home and abroad. And while we have not suffered such attacks, it is clear that the threat exists and thus must be avoided; to say it again: 12 attacks were thwarted between 2000-2009 on British soil and the threat remains substantial. Peanuts and lighting strikes do not pose such a threat to an open society where we can exercise our rights - and while it is fortunate that we have ‘only’ lost 4,873 people that does not change this fact. Indeed, Bruce Hoffman includes this in his definition of terrorism:

Terrorism is specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victim(s) or object of the terrorist attack. It is meant to instil fear within, and thereby intimidate, a wider “target audience”... Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or an international scale.

Al Qaeda vs. Other Terrorists

There are also misconceptions about the threat of different terrorist groups. Terrorism is by no means limited to one religious, social, political or national group but there is no doubt that for the United Kingdom, the threat comes primarily from Al Qaeda and its allies, i.e., Islamist terrorists.

It is often quoted that the vast majority of terrorist incidents in Europe comes from separatists but for as Andrew Gilligan of The Telegraph notes this is only really true for ‘two small regions of Europe (the Basque country and Corsica).’ And even then, in terms of deaths, 91% of the deaths are caused by Islamist terrorists across Europe. In the UK, there have been 138 convictions of Islamist terrorists, there have been 12 thwarted attacks including a plot to down 10 commercial airlines. According to MI5, ‘over 2,000 people in the UK pose a terrorist threat and in March 2005 it was estimated that there were up to 200 al-Qaeda trained operatives in the UK.’ In 2006, MI5 stated that they knew of 30 UK plots. And in case thats too much for you, just read this tweet from the Foreign Office.

This is not to say that we are all about to die from Islamist terrorism – when we all go out tomorrow, we are unlikely to die from a terrorist attack. But the threat remains and because of the effects of that threat it is something that requires resources and a place as one of the main facets of government.

There is also a further argument to be made – across Europe and United States – that a comparison cannot be made with Al Qaeda and its allies because they represent a new type of terrorism. Phillip Bobbit refers to this as ‘market state terrorism.’ The former foreign secretary David Miliband on Question Time stated that

Its not the IRA. This is a bigger and more different threat... They did not propagate a global vision, they did not have a global reach and the theological that Al Qaeda tried to engage with. Be wary of words like 'hype.' This was different.

There is simply no denying this: Al Qaeda has subsidiaries: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penisula, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al-Shabab – and thats not to mention their allies in Europe. The substance of what Bobbitt says is important: they are global, decentralised and they cause a lot more deaths – and they intend to. As Brian Jenkins notes:

The worst incidents of terrorism in the 1970s caused fatalities in the tens. In the 1980s, fatalities were measured in the 100s. On September 11th, fatalities ascended to the thousands – and the toll could easily be as higher. (Bobbitt, p.49)

Tony Blair was undoubtedly right when he said ‘Over 3,000 were killed, a horrific event. If these people could have killed 30,000, they would have done.’ Its really no surprise that Al Qaeda is actively going after a nuclear dirty bomb. And as crude as it is to suggest, larger or more frequent death tolls and attacks enhance the response to society in terms of consent. This is precisely why Islamist terrorism is such a threat: because of the intended fearful response it seeks. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Why do they hate us?

And all this while I have been shopping, I have
Been let us say free
And do they hate me for it
Do they hate me
-          The Window, at the Moment of the Flame, Alicia Ostriker

I wasn’t intending on publishing this today but I thought today was a better day than any other. This is meant to provide an explanation as to why ‘they’ hate us – by which I mean, Al Qaeda and its allies. And hate encompasses those who actually hate us and those who take action against us; those like the 19 who flew planes into buildings and those who like Bin Laden supported them. Here is a basic overview of what follows:
  1. It is wrong to make a distinction between our foreign policy and our values.
  2. Once you accept this, it is clear that there are things we cannot negotiate on.
  3. Even then, the foreign policy argument does not make sense by itself.
  4. This is not to deny foreign policy as an important factor
  5. The actual significant factor and the empirical support for this position
  6. Conclusion; drawing multiple causes in separate contexts
1. I’ve written before that I don’t like the ‘foreign policy’ vs. ‘freedom’ debate because it presents a false dichotomy between our foreign policy and our values. This is leaving aside the language one uses to ‘explain’ these attacks. Its worth looking at Al Qaeda’s first attack in 1992: they targeted American soldiers in Yemen heading to Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope: an effort to deliver humanitarian aid and food to a humanitarian disaster zone. The United Nations noted as a result of the intervention

UNITAF had deployed approximately 37,000 troops in southern and central Somalia, covering approximately 40 per cent of the country's territory. The presence and operations of UNITAF had a positive impact on the security situation in Somalia and on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance.

2. This is precisely what I mean about the lack of conflation between foreign policies and values: is anyone seriously going to say we should not have intervened in Somalia because of this attack? Incidentally, the Al Qaeda subsidiary Al-Shabab maintains its ban on foreign aid despite the situation there.  In the same way, we have to look at the grievances of Al Qaeda to assess whether we really can adjust our foreign policy.

Al Qaeda’s goals aren’t hidden: they want to implement Talibanised regimes across the Middle East. When we intervene, yes, we do become targets but by not intervening, we merely allow the targets to be civilians in their home regimes. This is not suggest a benevolent intention in our foreign policy in toto, but it is sufficient enough to justify our actions.

3. Even then, talking about the higher echelons of Al Qaeda, the “first generation,” it is no use talking of Iraq or Afghanistan because they obviously happened before. Bin Laden was long committed to the ‘global jihad’ long before the settlement of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia and remained committed even after the withdrawal of American soldiers from Saudi Arabia (soldiers who were there by the way, to enforce a no fly zone so the Kurds would not be further brutalised by Saddam). I have even shown in a previous post that the 7/7 bombers were long militant before the Iraq war and in the case of some of them, before 9/11.

It should be clear that the dogmatic foreign policy explanation does not make sense: it does not explain the chronology of Islamist terrorism, it does not explain the lack of a widespread response, it does not explain why the response comes from those unaffected. It is not necessary or sufficient. It is simply illogical. As Roy poignantly asks, “if the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists?” Even internally, in Iraq, two-thirds of suicide bombers were not Iraqis. Al Qaeda is not even predominantly a response to Western forces, Max Boot points out that for Islamist terrorists in Iraq,

the vast majority of their victims were not Americans, Britons, or other “occupiers” but, rather, Iraqis: either members of the security forces or innocent bystanders. For many of the dead, their only crime was to be of the Shiite faith.

Indeed, it was further Western intervention in the form of the Surge that largely quelled violence in Iraq (see Linda Robinson or Kimberly Kagan – and even if one subscribes to the Douglas Ollivant’s view of the Surge, the argument still holds.).

4. For the second generation, I have previously stated that I believe Iraq to have given momentum to Al Qaeda and this isn’t really a controversial finding. Recently, the former head of MI5, Baroness Maningham-Buller stated in her appearance before the Iraq Inquiry:

Our involvement in Iraq radicalised a generation of young people who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as an attack on Islam. We were... overburdened with intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with in terms of plots, leads to plots and things that we needed to pursue.

She made similar remarks in her recent Reith Lecture. (See also the National Intelligence Estimate from 2006). Whats important here is exactly what she is saying; it radicalised people who saw our involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq) as an attack on Islam. A literal reading would support the view that I take: namely, that it reinforced and increased the people who came to accept this view.

But importantly, Iraq is not the single or necessary or sufficient cause – even in the new generation: it requires something before, another factor. As Shiraz Maher, a former member of Hizb-ut Tahrir notes, ‘there will always be a grievance. And where there’s no grievance, Islamists manufacture a grievance’ to the end of their desired Caliphate.

This is to understate the effect of Iraq. It did lead to a rise in the risk we faced but for those who seek to attack us, it is merely part of their worldview. It is worldview that includes Afghanistan, Somalia, the existence of the state of Israel, the Danish cartoons, womens’ rights, human rights, humanitarian intervention in Libya and so on. None of these are these we can negotiate on. True, for the second generation, Iraq is one of the more significant factors but the key to their actions is that very worldview.

5. And that worldview is triggered by a feeling of domination and exclusion. Oliver Roy states that

they felt excluded from Western society... They find [a cause] in the dream of a virtual, universal ummah, the same way the ultraleftists of the 1970's (the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Brigades) cast their terrorist actions in the name of the "world proletariat"... they are a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, frustrated by a Western society that does not meet their expectations.

It is a globalisation of ideas and human rights that penetrates through to certain alienated individuals. This is view echoed by Phillip Bobbitt, ‘[Al Qaeda’s] vision is a reaction to the globalisation of human rights-democracy, the rule of secular law, the protection of women’s rights.’ It is this that they find averse. Lawrence Wright expresses the point better:

This sense of displacement is also better understood as being marginal the culture... Because if you look at the recent plots in Britain, these were second and third generation British citizens. They were part of that culture but they had a feeling of alienation and marginality. Now, I don't see that as a clash of civilisation but a clash of identities within a civilisation.

Empirical support for this view is cited by Wright in the lecture cited above where he quotes an Egyptian study from the 70s. Further support is quoted below as part of the Prevent strategy. Gartenstein-Ross and Grossman also give support in their study of the process of radicalisation in UK Islamist terrorists provide six manifestation of radicalisation. One of which is the affiliation with a global Ummah at the expense of the West:

As homegrown terrorists radicalize, they often come to perceive an inherent schism between Islam and the West—believing that the two are at odds, and perhaps even incapable of coexistence. This perception can be expressed in a number of ways. In some cases, individuals attempt to isolate themselves from Western society physically. In others, these individuals will explain the perceived schism between Islam and the West to friends, family, or conspirators.

Indeed, five (including the quoted above) out of the six manifestations have nothing to do with the political situation but the social and religious conditions. According to the study it is most likely that religious awakening (the five religious manifestations) occurs before any political radicalisation (which also includes ‘perceived perversity and moral backwardness of the West. The U.S. is seen as forcing values of secularism, feminism, and gay rights’). This is precisely why the British government Prevent strategy overview should be greeted with applause: because it understands that rootlessness is part of the equation of terrorism. As the Prevent Strategy notes:

There is evidence to indicate that support for terrorism is associated with rejection of a cohesive, integrated, multi-faith society and of parliamentary democracy. [Thus we recommend working] to deal with radicalisation will depend on developing a sense of belonging to this country and support for our core values

6. This is of course not say that this will be the case in every single terrorist: but it does form a persuasive significant explanation. This is also not to deny that foreign policy is not a factor when working in culmination with others such as the lack of belonging. Indeed, my whole point is that distinguishing foreign policy from domestic and constitutional policy is wrong. Iraq did allow for an increased recruitment. But to be within the grounds of recruitment requires an aversion (or openness to an aversion) to a free society of consent.

Foreign policy seems comparable to the civil political situation of certain nations; Kruger (2007) finds that a lack of civil liberties is a contribution to Islamist terrorism. However this doesn't explain the  phenomenon of Western homegrown terrorism or, again, the lack of a response from the masses. Indeed, as I’ve pointed out before, the people of the Middle East have rejected the ideology of Al Qaeda. But it does provide one of many factors for the first generation – but a factor which, like Iraq, is not sufficient without alienation, cultural marginality and aversion to the West or their right actions in the Middle East.

On the subject of baseless ‘causes,’ poverty can also be thrown away; poverty has little to do with partaking in terrorism or even supporting terrorism. In fact, the relationship seems to point to the other way. Krueger and Maleckova (2003) give their own results and several previous studies that support this proposition.

It’s not about “hating us for our freedom” or “hating is for our foreign policy.” Its about hating us, in all that we are, which embodies a resistance to the forces which would plunge societies into a Medieval abyss. There’s no use blaming the victims, ‘whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.’ 

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Persian Programmes

The evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapons programme is strong; one of the many peices of evidence against this proposition is the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which said that Iran had stopped its weapons programme. The estimate given in 2007 was talking about Iran’s programme in 2003. Iran did stop its programme in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war – as I’ve previously written about Libya doing the same thing. The Iraq War did change the “regional logic on WMD” as anticipated by MI6.

But this did not last, the mismanagement of the Iraq war and the rise of an insurgency meant that Iran did not feel as threatened. The NIE have since be classified however there are reports which show what the American intelligence community states in the estimates. According to the Washington Post, the 2011 NIE “a significant, if subtle, shift from the main conclusion of a controversial 2007 estimate that Iran had halted its weaponization work” and finds that Iran is conducting “early-stage R&D work on aspects of the manufacturing process for a nuclear weapon.” This was also the assessment of the CIA in 2010.

In any event, the U.S does not have a monopoly on intelligence and assessment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that it is “increasingly concerned” that Iran is working on a nuclear weapons programme.  According to Haaretz, the IAEA has also seen evidence that “seem to point to the existence” of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. Yukiya Amano, the director of the IAEA also makes clear that Iran is not cooperating satisfactorily with the UN watchdog (nor was that the first time, in 2009 Iran deceived the IAEA about an enrichment facility in Qom which led them to say Iran was not being “transparent” with them).

The Sunday Times wrote about a 2011 report compiled for the United Nations Security Council which found that Tehran “sidestepped international sanctions in its programme to build intercontinental ballistic missiles and develop a nuclear weapon.”

Quite damning is the fact that Iranian documents acquired by The Times show that 2007 NIE estimate was now “worthless” because the documents show “Iran’s work in this field has no possible civilian application. It makes sense only for a programme to develop a nuclear weapon.”

In the documents obtained by The Times, Iranian military scientists suggest a way around the problem: by running surrogate tests that substitute titanium deuteride for the uranium compound. They suggest “continuing the work of replacement materials such as TiD2 [titanium deuteride] in order to avoid U [Uranium] pollution in the production of UD3”

UD3, according to The Times, “has only one application — to be the metaphorical match that lights a nuclear bomb.” In 2009, the Wall Street Journal also reported that the German intelligence agency, the BND, "showed comprehensively" that "development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003." This is also the conclusion of French intelligence and British assessments.

According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Iran’s ambition to produce a nuclear weapon is “beyond reasonable doubt.” This of course does not make Iran gaining weapons inevitable, as the IISS says: “If it does decide to build nuclear weapons, this would likely be detected before it assembled a single weapon, much less the small arsenal that would be needed to make the risk worthwhile.”

The conclusion here is that Iran has serious ambitions for a nuclear weapon and that Iran has acted to this end in advancing a programme. The evidence here suggests that Iran is still not close gaining the bomb – but its intentions and scientists are serious enough to suggest its programme is a serious issue which must be countermanded before it does get what it seeks: a weaponised nuclear weapon. The distinction between a programme and a weapons system may seem trivial but its important: Iran does not have the bomb, nor in the assessment of the evidence is its emergence imminent - but its programme exists, is significantly advancing and has a clear goal. The policy recommendation is not military engagement at this point in time. I prefer the method suggested by John Sawers, the current head of MI6. He said in a speech given to the Society of Editors in 2010:

Stopping nuclear proliferation cannot be addressed purely by conventional diplomacy. We need intelligence-led operations to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The longer international efforts delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons technology, the more time we create for a political solution to be found.

I will write another post at some point about why Iran getting nuclear weapons is something to be avoided. But assuming for now that it is something to be avoided, the means by which that is to be done at this moment in time, given the lack of imminence of a programme, is engagement and covert actions. I will provide more meat to these arguments in the aforementioned future post, this is merely just to address the Ron Pauls of the world who believe that 2007 NIE is sacred and there is no evidence for a programme when in fact, British, American, French, German, international and even Iranian evidence exists.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Her Majesty's Spooks: MI6 in the Middle East

This is just going to be a brief overview of a few operations undertaken by MI6 in the Middle East, again with sprinkled justifications and other relevant information. The operations that MI6 has carried out covers a wide area – hence why there is no unifying narrative except the involvement of MI6.

Gaddafi Negotiations (2003): In December 2003, Libya agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. After extensive negotiations with American and British officials, Libya was finally brought ‘out of the dark’, a remnant of the Lockerbie bombing and Gaddafi’s support of terrorism. According to The Telegraph it was MI6 who essentially worked through these negotiations: “there is no doubt that it was a coup for Britain's spies.” MI6 officers built up contacts, back channels and got through to the regime.

Inspections by British officials found that they had “more than ten sites where Libya was developing a fuel cycle to support nuclear weapons development and a uranium enrichment programme aimed at producing the core material for a nuclear weapon.” Libya had also gained a stash of chemical weapons and precursor material for biological weapons.

Of course, it was not only MI6: Gaddafi’s surrender was one of the positive effects of the Iraq war (or, the plans for the Iraq war): the change in the regional logic on WMD (this was anticipated by MI6 in one of its papers explaining the benefits of toppling Saddam). In a recently declassified interview with an MI6 officer (as part of the Iraq Inquiry), this is explicitly acknowledged:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Do you think it came as a direct consequence of the imminent attack on Iraq?
SIS1: I have no doubt about that at all. [...] They [Libya] thought, "Shit, this is real"

There are some who would decry the role of MI6 and Tony Blair in bringing Libya back on to the world stage. But, Britain’s role in the world is no longer confined to shaping it how it wants it.  Meaning that we must make decisions on which course of action is the least worst. The Times rose to Blair defence and rightly stated in an editorial that

Mr Blair makes no apology for his efforts to persuade Gaddafi to give up his nuclear and chemical weapons programmes. Nor should he. Had the Libyan dictator still been armed with these weapons he might well, like Saddam Hussein, have gassed his opponents or threatened his enemies with whatever weapons his scientists developed.

Even without taking recent events into consideration, the dismantlement of Libya’s WMD programmes is good in itself and as crude as it is to have relations with authoritarian regimes, it is even worse to have a regime, backing terrorists, having WMD which we cannot influence.

Palestinian Authority Plan (2004): As part of the ‘Palestine Papers’ series run by Al Jazeera and The Guardian, documents were leaked which showed an MI6 ‘blue print’ for cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank in 2004. The plans was suppose to clamp down on rejectionist, embolden moderates and calm Israeli security fears which would in turn lead to an easier situation for the moderates.

The document was written during the Second Intifada and part of plan was ‘security drive to address Israeli and US preconditions for reengagement.’ The document speficially states that the security drive would be on ‘suicide bombers, illegal arms collection, Qassam rockets, terror finance and closing arms smuggling into Gaza.’ It would be carried out by the PA but it would its success would be independently verified. The part of the plan which The Guardian finds “controversial” is the following:

“Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists – Hamas, PIJ, Al-Aqsa Brigades –through the disruption of their leaderships' communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources.”

In 2011, I cannot see anything controversial about this: Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are terrorist organisations who have all carried out suicide bombings. In 2004, during the Intifada, I can still not see anything wrong with this policy. It would be absolutely mind boggling if nobody had proposed stomping on these groups – even in 2006, when Hamas took part and was successful in election.

In proposing this plan, MI6 tried to shape policy in a way that would drive down attacks (on both sides, in the long term), strike down on terrorist organisations, move toward Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and create an atmosphere where peace could prevail. Controversial indeed. Interestingly, the Guardian states that

The leaked intelligence plan can be seen in retrospect as a blueprint for PA security control of the West Bank... Hundreds of Hamas and other activists have been routinely detained without trial at a time in recent years and subjected to widely documented human rights abuses.

Not quite. The British policy stated that part of its policy was there to make sure that prisoners were “well treated.” Oh, if they had bothered to read the second document, it seems MI6 was weary about mass arrests: their plan assumes that Palestinians “will oppose attack security units that try and arrest suspects. A wide scale arrest campaign is therefore not achievable.” Meaning that mass arrests against “terrorists” would only go ahead with the support of the Palestinian population. The second document speaks only of arresting smugglers (which appears under the section about Qassams), terrorist handlers and financiers (which appears under the section about suicide bombing). The only link between the plan and the future arrest of Hamas members is the word "arrest."

Stuxnet (2010): Stuxnet is a computer worm which was used to “shut down the centrifuges that spin nuclear material at Iran’s enrichment facilities.” French intelligence sources told Le Canard that it was carried with the help of MI6 (along with the CIA and Mossad). The Institute for Science and International Security says that the virus may have shut down 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz – a 30% decrease in operation capacity. The Iranian government also conceded that because of the virus, “turning the Bushehr back ‘on’ could lead to a national electricity blackout.”

‘Operation Cupcake’ (2011): And just a final one which is probably a bit more hilarious than the aforementioned. Inspire magazine is a publication by Al Qaeda which seeks to inspire lone wolves in the West into attacking us. MI6 hacked into the publication so that when the instructions for a bomb were downloaded, they would be replaced by a recipe to make cupcakes.