Tuesday, March 27, 2007

# Posted 10:36 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE LOOMING TOWER: I just saw a wonderful talk by Lawrence Wright who was in Toronto accepting the Gelber Prize for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and The Road to 9/11. It is refreshing to see such a soft spoken yet tremendously authoritative treatment of this topic. An exemplar of the type of analysis fundamentally required if we are going to defeat the scourge of Al-Qaeda.

The lecture can be watched here, it will be an hour well spent.

Some interesting comments made by Wright:

According to internal Al-Qaeda documents, 80% of the organization in Afghanistan were killed or captured in the first major phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. At this point, the War on Terror was won, and it should have continued as a police/intelligence operation. Between December 2001 and 2003, the organization existed in a "zombie state". Since the invasion of Iraq, they have experienced an astonishing rebirth, now having a base of operation and a recruitment tool.

Al-Qaeda has a 6 stage 20 year plan, written before 9/11:

1. 2001-2003 - Hit the US and create a chaotic reaction.
2. 2003-2006 - Recruit and build support based on the US reaction
3. 2006-2013 - Move conflict into Syria, Turkey and Isreal
4. 2013-2015 - Bring down governments in Arab countries
5. 2015-2016 - Israel collapses
6. 2017-2020 - Apocalyptic battle between Islamic Armies and the West
7. 2020 - Victory. "falsehood" ends and Islamic governments rule the world.

Delusion, certainly. But at which stage does it move from the possible to the fantastical? 3, 4, 5?

He argued that there are three critical things that can be done immediately:

1. The most important thing that can be done to defeat Al-Qaeda is to develop real intelligence capacity, something that hasn't yet been done. Only 25 people in the FBI speak Arabic, and most of them not well enough to interrogate. CIA made up of Irish and Italians, good for fighting the mafia and he mob, useless for Al-Qaeda. "We need skilled people on the ground. Until this happens, we are blindfolded."

2. Develop allies, seriously. This fundamentally cannot be done with either a war mentality, or alone.

3. Real engagement with Israel-Palestine, including immediate refutation of the settlements. While Bin Laden doesn't care very much about the conflict, like Iraq, it is a significant recruitment tool.

These are just a few notes, check out the lecture.

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(22) opinions -- Add your opinion

Real engagement with Israel-Palestine,...

Oh I get it: So that the Palestinians will finally agree, by ending hostilities, to thus help the West in the grand WOT?

And this makes sense? (But of course it does---in that perverse kind of way which passes for wisdom these days.)

But wait! What must the Palestinians be given so that they end hostilities---and help the West? (Just wondering.)

...And so, the only way "real engagement" might make sense at all is for the Israel to be forced to capitulate to an unadulterated (there is no other) Saudi plan, which effectively hog-ties Israel and delivers that country on a platter to its Partners in Peace.

(Though even that might not be "sufficient," since the Saudi Plan might be seen as offering Israel too much!)

"Real engagement," indeed. Justice hovers on the horizon. Hope lies eternal, peace is on its way, etc....

But then, Arafat's genius all along was his belief that Palestinian demands---viz. that Israel either agree to dismantle itself, from within, or be dismantled by force, from without---would ultimately, necessarily, become the accepted Solution of a desperate and weary world. A true man of vision.

And so we must embrace real engagement. What else do we have? (Seriously, though; one really ought to be careful what one wishes for...)

More seriously, perhaps, what does one get when one side pushes peace at any price, while the other declares itself willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship" to erase the state of Israel?

(One would like to say, "Been there, done that"; but the prevailing wisdom would appear to dictate otherwise....)
Wright makes a lot of sense, but nothing will happen until Bush is out of office. Ironically, AQ did much better pre-war planning than we did.

1. The most important thing that can be done to defeat Al-Qaeda is to develop real intelligence capacity, something that hasn't yet been done.

Much of this has been politicized for internal consumption. One Arab linguist was fired because she was a lesbian. Smart. I heard an interview about language training during WWII. We just did it.

2. Develop allies, seriously.

This definitely won't happen until Bush is out of office. No one trusts Bush or Blair. Even the Saudis. And a Guliani or McCain would be seen abroad as a third Bush term.

3. Real engagement with Israel-Palestine

Another no brainer and another non-starter until Bush exits the stage. So instead, two more years of disaster.
That's a novel complaint about Bush, troll. He's been derided for years for being stubborn and uncompromising; how does that square with being untrustworthy?

The Palestinians want the death of all the Israelis. Europe sees that as a reasonable position. The Israelis stubbornly refuse to be killed. The obvious compromise is to kill half the Israelis. It would be difficult to get the Arabs to give in that much, but they could be reminded that the deal could be revisited endlessly - no matter how many Jews have been killed, they could still insist on killing half of what's left.

Taylor, who are these allies going to be? Most of NATO are ducking their treaty obligations in Afghanistan (the 'good war') right now.
I'd agree that the three things we can do immediately founder a bit on the rock of reality, but it still looks like a good framework for future planning. A goal or a direction to work towards.
I agree..pretty soon the fanatics will be winning. We can't allow this to happen; however, we are being ruled by fanatics ourselves. Next presidential term we should get someone in the White House who will get our troops out of Iraq. Then we should foster better relations with other countries. One way to do this would be to increase foreign aid. Currently, only .16% of our federal budget is spent on foreign aid, according to the Borgen Project. We need to change this because it may even deter the Al-Qaeda recruitment.
Wright's book 'The Looming Tower' is indeed a fascinating and really memorable book.

But one slight disagreement:

"According to internal Al-Qaeda documents, 80% of the organization in Afghanistan were killed or captured in the first major phase of Operation Enduring Freedom.

At this point, the War on Terror was won, and it should have continued as a police/intelligence operation."

AQ were indeed battered by Operation Enduring Freedom. against the warnings of some pundits that fighting Bin Ladenist forces in Afghanistan would just make them stronger.

But large parts of the Taliban, who had given sanctuary to AQ, fled over the border to build new bases, regroup and prepare new offensives, while finding new recruits amongst the Afghan population.

Their offensives could not easily have been contained just with police and intelligence operations. To the extent that they were aligned with and supported AQ, they too are part of the war on terror, which was declared not just on AQ but on their patrons and sponsors.

Leaving Iraq aside, military operations I suggest would still have been necessary in the volatile parts of Afghanistan.

It would be nice if the war could have been all over in December 2001. But its probably not true.
P - I completely agree.
It was estimated that approximately 20,000 people went through the AQ training camps in the 90s. Most went home and waited.

Except for the many who flocked back to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight the infidels, they are still at home waiting.

The suggestion that solving the Israeli/Palestinian question will slow down the recruits is simplistic at best. There will always be something AQ and others can point to as the reason others need to take up the cause.

Remember, any land that the Muslims owned at one time is considered to be Islamic land.
They want it all back.
untrustworthy - not able to be relied on as honest or truthful

As a tabula rasa in 2001, trust was Bush's strong suit. But in 2007, no one trusts Bush. Not our allies, not the GOP. Well, maybe Laura and Barny.

The Palestinians want the death of all the Israelis.

That's just bigotry on your part.
2. Develop allies, seriously. This fundamentally cannot be done with either a war mentality, or alone.

Completely agree! The Bush administration has completely thrown foreign relations to the wind. Does anyone actually believe that terrorism can be beat when we instill hatred in people all around the world when we wage war against them? My family is a product of the Vietnam War but we didn't turn to terror, we were won over by an American government that gave support to the refugees. Where is that aid today? When groups in the gloabal society become stratified, what can we expect but terror? We should be investing in The UN Millenium Development Goals and working to find a real solution to terror by ending world poverty.

Accoridng to borgenproject.org We have spent $340 billion on the war and nothing has happened except for the empowerment of militant groups. I hope our leaders will support bills such as H.R. 1302 to end poverty.
troll, actually it's bigotry on the Palestinians' part. Palestinians have a guy nicknamed "Hitler", and women who want their children to die in suicide attacks, serving as elected MPs. Has the PA ever even arrested anyone for attacks on civilians in Israel?

As for Bush's trustworthiness, how would his supposed sins transfer over to Giuliani or McCain?

How is a change of administrations going to win more allies? Do any of you really think France or Egypt or any other country is withholding assistance to spite Bush? The nations of the world act in accordance with their own interests, and the world sees an interest in making America weaker.
"The nations of the world act in accordance with their own interests, and the world sees an interest in making America weaker."

ah, so bgates is a realist. I'd always pegged him as a particularly belligerent neocon, but now we can take away the morality as well. clears up some things. David and Patrick, you must be relieved to have one less wingnut in your camp.
Wrong again, troll. I think the world would be enormously improved if every country had the sort of individual freedom that is safeguarded by governments like those found in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada. I think it is worth considerable trouble to help create such governments. But most of the world's governments disagrees with me. I recognize that nations act according to their (often narrowly conceived, and amoral) interests; that doesn't mean I approve.

My problem with the dream of recruiting more allies is that nations tend to act according to their interests, and I am at a loss to see how the US can influence another nation's calculation of its own interests. The Soviets seemed capable in that regard, and I'm sure our troll loved everything they did; but as a neocon, I can't endorse their methods, and I'm sure Taylor doesn't either.

Taylor, how can the US alter Canada's perception of its own interests such that it becomes a more reliable ally in the war on Islamic totalitarianism?
"Develop allies, seriously. This fundamentally cannot be done with either a war mentality, or alone."

?! Doesnt matter.
Iran got 2 allies: China and Russia with an war mentality, bombings in Argentina, Hiz-b-allah. It didnt bothered them at all.

"Real engagement with Israel-Palestine, including immediate refutation of the settlements."

Doesnt matter. The power in Palestine is in Islamists that dont recognize Israel. And Arafat thug group only made it for media proposes in arab language the public discurse was another.

The problem is ideological since the failure of socialism all over world Islam was one of solutions.
"Taylor, how can the US alter Canada's perception of its own interests such that it becomes a more reliable ally in the war on Islamic totalitarianism?"

This is an important question and of course depends on how we define the "war on Islamic totalitarianism", as well as which Canadian government we are seeking to be allies with. Canadians overwhelmingly saw Iraq as separate from this "war", and widely believes that the fight against Al Queda, post Afghan invasion, should be an international policing campaign.

The list of things that could have been done to foster international allies is long. At the core though is self righteousness. Absolutism, particularly involving questionable moral arguments, does not go over well in Canada.

Now, I honestly do not believe that this administration could do very much to change public perception in Canada or the UK. This is the irreparable damage of Bush - that the reaction is at times irrational is irrelevant. When people decried the costs of Abu Ghraib, the dismissal of Geneva conventions, and the overly nuanced debate on torture, this is it. This also makes British claims to Iranian Geneva convention violations far more difficult.

One more thing on Iraq. In the lead up, Canadian believed that if the US was serious about WMD in Iraq and about the importance of a real international coalition, then they would have agreed to the Heinbecker resolution. Had this been passed, and WMD been found, then there is no doubt that Canada, as well as many EU countries, would have joined the coalition. Not inconsequentially, this extra time would have also given some time for post war planning.
Let me also add that I don't accept the premise of your question - that Canada is not a reliable ally in the "WoT". In the area that we belive is central to this fight, Afghanistan, we are making a bigger relative commitment, in cost and deaths, than i believe any other country, save afghanistan of course. We also believe that international law should be central to fighting terrorism, something we have been working for decades to promote and advance.
Thanks for that, Taylor. The notion that Canada dislikes America for our self-righteousness was laugh-out-loud funny. I suppose Canadians equally loathe our fondness for beer drinking and hockey.

I am fascinated by your claim that conditions at Guantanamo Bay would invalidate British claims against Iran under Geneva.

The Administration defense of its detainee policy as I understand it is that those men were not operating under the laws of war (uniformed, carrying arms openly, maintaining a chain of command, refraining from attacks on noncombatants, and applying Geneva to their own prisoners) and were therefore not eligible for the protections Geneva grants to prisoners of war. Opponents of the Administration argued that the detainees should be granted lawful combatant status regardless of their behavior; the manner in which insurgents treated their own captives would have no bearing on our responsibilities to those we captured. Now Iran has taken hostages who would be entitled to protection even under the Administration's strict standard, let alone the standard the "international community" wanted to apply to our detainees, and you claim that Geneva claims have become 'difficult'.

Canada is certainly pulling its weight in Afghanistan, though I am surprised to hear you trumpet its involvement in a military campaign. It's doing more than the NATO allies you assure me would have joined in Iraq if only things had been different somehow. Would Norway and others now refusing to commit combat troops in Afghanistan even now be leading sweeps through Sadr City if the Heinbecker resolution had passed? I suppose nobody joined the coalition because the coalition wasn't international enough.

"Absolutism, particularly involving questionable moral arguments, does not go over well in Canada."
Funny, funny stuff.
always delighted to brighten your day bgates.
What is 'difficult' about Britain's Geneva claims, Taylor? Pardon me for being an absolutist, but don't the Geneva Conventions apply to the uniformed members of the military of a signatory nation? Shouldn't a Canadian defender of international law be insistent on its application in this case? What does Bush have to do with the role of international law in this situation?
In neglecting, mocking, and in many ways disregarding the convention, the administration has weakened the norm. Plain and simple. For many, this makes British arguments using the diluted norm far more difficult to take seriously. Of course they are right to make them, they just aren't going to be as effective, say with Iranians, given US detainee policy.
Taylor, that is preposterous. The 'many' you speak of were adamant that the treatment the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Saddam's Iraq afforded their own captives in no way diminished American obligations towards our captives from those organizations. There was no talk of a norm that might evolve over time, there was only the letter of International Law. Anyone who disregards British claims now was never interested in international law for any purpose besides damaging America and its allies.

As for the effectiveness of their claims, what on earth does that mean? Do you seriously think that Iran would observe the laws of war if only the US did what you wanted? What did international law have to say about the seizure of the US embassy 28 years ago?
This book just got the Pulitzer for non-fiction. Now I've got to read it! :^)
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