Wednesday, December 22, 2010

America and Pakistan and Al Qaeda

After Russia invaded Afghanistan, we sent aid through Pakistan to the Mujahideen to fight the Russians. Obviously, we needed cooperation from Pakistan to carry out this operation. Probably the most important weapons we sent the Mujahideen were the Stinger missiles. Stinger missiles are shoulder mounted, surface to air, heat seeking missiles. The Mujahideen used these weapons to shoot down Russian helicopters and airplanes.

We also sent them fighters we recruited. One of our recruitment centers was called the Al Kifah Refugee Center, which was located inside Masjid Al Farooq, a mosque located in Brooklyn. Though this organization was known as the Al Kifah Refugee Center in America, it was part of a larger organization called Maktab al-Khidmat. Actually, the name of the organization is somewhat longer, but when translated into English, its name is something like the Afghan Office of Services of the Holy Warrior. Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden founded this organization. After the Russians left Afghanistan, someone assassinated Abdullah Azzam and Maktab al-Khidmat morphed into Al Qaeda.

In the early 90s, a group of worshippers who went to Masjid Al Farooq committed several acts of terrorism in New York. These terrorists also went to another mosque in New Jersey called Masjid al-Salam.

One of the members of this group of terrorists was El Sayyid Nosair. On November 5, 1990, Nosair assassinated Meir Kahane, an ultra-nationalist Rabbi. A week after the assassination, the FBI started an investigation into Masjid al-Salam and the people associated with that mosque. The FBI told the New York Times that the assassination of Kahane gave the FBI a window into several radical fundamentalist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and several splinter groups associated with the Brotherhood (see article 1). In that article, the FBI said it worried that those groups might carry out a terrorist act in America. Amazingly, a week later, the New York Times ran another article (see article 2) in which Robert Morgenthau, a district attorney, claimed that the government had no evidence linking Nosair to any terrorist organization in the Middle East. Of course, there was a link. One of the people who preached at Masjid Al Farooq and Masjid al-Salam was Omar Abdel Rahman. He was the spiritual leader of both Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group. Both of these groups were splinter groups of the Muslim Brotherhood. I assume the FBI was referring to these two groups when it said that splinter groups of the Brotherhood had set up shop in New York. By the way, Ayman al-Zawahri was the second emir of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Both of these two terrorist organizations had a notorious record. On October 6, 1981, Egyptian Islamic Jihad assassinated Anwar El Sadat, the former president of Egypt. Omar Abdel Rahman issued a fatwa authorizing the assassination. Amazingly, Egypt put him on trial and found him innocent. The acquittal was especially amazing given the defense put up by his lawyer. His lawyer claimed that Rahman issued the fatwa but the fatwa didn’t mention Sadat by name. Therefore, Rahman wasn’t responsible.

“They asked for a religious stand about a ruler who is ruling against Islamic law,” said Saad Hasaballah, his lawyer. “He did not specify Sadat and the members of the Jihad Organization did not specify Sadat for him.”

On December 16, 1990, the New York Times wrote a story (see article 3) which said that Omar Abdel Rahman was living in Brooklyn, that he was linked to the people who assassinated Anwar El Sadat, that he goes to the same mosque that El Sayyid Nosair went to, and that many Egyptians believe that Rahman is the spiritual leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. In that story, the State Department acknowledged that it should not have allowed Rahman entry into America. By the way, I assume the New York Times found out that Rahman was living in New York due to the investigation into Nosair. Apparently, after reading the story, the government revoked his visa (see article 4). But instead of deporting him, in April of 1991, it granted him permanent residency status.

On February 26, 1993, the group of terrorists connected to Omar Abdel Rahman, Masjid al-Salam, and Masjid Al Farooq bombed the World Trade Center. Given the fact that the government knew about Rahman, and those two mosques due both to the war in Afghanistan and the assassination of Meir Kahane, it seems incredible that the government failed to prevent the same group of people from carrying out another terrorist attack. What’s more, other governments even warned us about that group of terrorists (see article 5). Egypt told America about the group before they bombed the World Trade Center.

“It could have been prevented if you listened to our advice,” said Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt.

By the way, the person who led the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center was Ramzi Yousef. His uncle is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who planned the second attack on the World Trade Centers.

And perhaps most amazingly of all, after the bombing of the World Trade Center, we still didn’t arrest Omar Abdel Rahman. We didn’t indict him until August 25. Interestingly enough, five days prior to his indictment. Israel and the PLO completed the negotiations for the Oslo Accords. I believe America failed to indict Rahman until after the Oslo Accords were completed so that America could put pressure on Egypt. At that time, Egypt was suffering through a string of terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic Group, the organization headed by Omar Abdel Rahman. I’m sure Egypt was very relieved when we finally arrested Rahman.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Tranparency Matters

America is supposed to be a democracy. In a democracy, the people are supposed to have a say in how their government goes about its business. Democracy doesn’t work if the people don’t understand what their government is doing. Democracy doesn’t work if the people don’t understand what is going on in the world.

The American people do not understand what their government is doing. This is because the media is basically subservient to the government. Note how many prominent American journalists were employed by the government before they entered journalism. Diane Sawyer worked for the Nixon administration. Pat Buchanan worked for the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Chris Matthews worked for the Carter administration. George Stephanopoulos worked for the Clinton administration.

An organization like WikiLeaks could present the public with information that they don’t get from the mainstream media. Unfortunately, it really isn’t doing that. In fact, before WikiLeaks made headlines in 2010, its main claim to fame was releasing some records from the Julius Baer Group, a bank in Switzerland. If memory serves, the fact that WikiLeaks released that information led some to believe that the CIA was behind WikiLeaks. After all, for quite some time America has been trying to get Switzerland to cut down on bank secrecy at Swiss banks. I imagine releasing the Julius Baer documents hurt that company and its reputation for keeping its customer information private. It seems reasonable to guess that the person who released those documents wanted to take a stab at Swiss banking privacy.

The other incident that leads me to believe that the CIA, or at least a Western intelligence agency, is behind WikiLeaks is the fact that WikiLeaks didn’t actually release the 92,000 documents on Afghanistan. It only released 77,000 of the documents. It didn’t release the other 15,000 documents. The funny thing was that the U.S. government practically dared WikiLeaks to release those documents. If you look at article 1, you will see that the Obama administration hinted that the remaining 15,000 documents were more explosive than the documents released. WikiLeaks wanted the U.S. government to help it review those documents. Interestingly, the American government hinted that other nations – probably European nations – were mentioned in these documents.

“We have found many instances in which our allies or their forces are mentioned in these documents,” said Geoff Morrell.

It seems reasonable to guess that if European nations are mentioned in these documents and if the content of these documents is more explosive, that these documents contain information about European misconduct in Afghanistan. This implies that a European intelligence agency is actually behind WikiLeaks. Sure, WikiLeaks will release documents damaging to American interests, but it won’t release documents damaging to European interests.

In arguing against the release of these documents, some people have said that the releases damage the trust between America and other countries. Other people have said that WikiLeaks might cause diplomats to refrain from speaking frankly to each other. Both these claims are completely ridiculous.

“The fact is governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they think we can keep secrets,” said Robert Gates.

In fact, leaking information has a very, very long history in diplomacy. If you read the New York Times at all, you will see that our government leaks information quite frequently. In fact, the New York Times has even admitted that our government leaks information on purpose to put pressure on foreign governments (see article 3).

“Saudi Arabia has an immensely complicated relationship with the United States in which both sides quietly do favors for each other, and occasionally put pressure on each other to do more,” said the New York Times. “Sometimes that pressure is exerted privately, sometimes through press disclosures.”

By the way, as that quote suggests, America ain’t the only country that leaks information to put pressure on foreign governments. As far as I can tell, all governments do this.

WikiLeaks will not cause diplomats to stop speaking frankly to each other because they never spoke frankly to each other to begin with. Think about what the word “diplomatic” means. It doesn’t mean frank. In fact, it means just the opposite. To tell the truth, I like to think of diplomats as a bunch of people paid to lie to each other.

WikiLeaks will not damage trust between America and other countries because there was no trust between America and other countries to begin with. Listen to what Tony Blair had to say about the Obama administration (see article 4).

“America won't be loved in this presidency any more than in previous ones,” said Tony Blair.

Given that the previous administration was the Bush administration and given that the Europeans absolutely hated Bush, it doesn’t seem like there’s too much love between America and anyone else. If there’s no love, I assume there isn’t a whole lot of trust.

Having a real discussion about our history would have many benefits. It would show that spending a lot of money on our military is not a good idea. It would show that the worst mistake you can make is to get trapped into a war. It would completely discredit the neocons. It would clarify the relationships between America other nations. That would show that, in fact, America has no true allies and that its so-called allies might better be labeled as enemies. Now, I should hasten to add that America done many, many things which should reasonably make its “allies” consider America as its enemy. It’s definitely a two way street. Most importantly, a real discussion of history would show all the awful things the various nations of the world have done and that would lead the people of the world to demand that their government change their behavior.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Political Theater

Japan has had 61 different prime ministers since 1885. That is an incredible amount when you compare that to the number of presidents America has had. America has only had 44 presidents, and we started electing presidents a century before Japan started electing prime ministers. These days, a Japanese prime minister lasts only about a year. That’s the amount of time it takes for the public to get fed up with them for getting caught up in some sort of a scandal.

I imagine most onlookers who are unfamiliar with Japan are baffled by this. But what you need to know is that the scandals are not real, they are merely theater. Everything is scripted, written for a foreign audience, typically the American government. In a sense, having prime ministers constantly resign is a creative way for Japan to say no to America. If America wants Japan to do something, rather than saying no, a Japanese government can pretend like it wants to do that thing. Japan will go through the motions of trying to enact that policy but at the last minute before it actually enacts that policy, the government will get caught up in a scandal, which results in a change of government and a new policy direction. Of course, Japan can repeat this procedure indefinitely, which it does, and then nothing gets done.

Even before a prime minister resigns, scandals help Japan avoid adopting unwanted policies because, when a government gets ensnared in a scandal, the media and the political class will focus on the scandal, and not the policy that America wants. When wrapped up in a scandal, Japan will inform the rest of the world that it has political constipation at the moment, please come back later if you want something. This whole routine is what’s called political theater.

You may be surprised to find out that political theater doesn’t only occur in Japan. It occurs in Europe as well. The antics of Silvio Berlusconi are the best example of political theater in Europe. But not only does it occur in Europe and Japan, it also occurs in America. The most recent example is the Eric Massa groping scandal which prevented a meaningful debate on the war in Afghanistan. The lack of debate on Afghanistan made some people, such as Patrick Kennedy, quite angry.

“There's one, two press people in this gallery,” screamed Patrick Kennedy. “We're talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV. We're talking about war and peace; $3 billion; 1,000 lives and no press! No press! You want to know why the American public is fit? They're fit because they're not seeing their Congress do the work that they're sent to do. It's because the press, the press of the United States, is not covering the most significant issue of national importance and that's the laying of lives down in the nation for the service of our country. It's despicable, the national press corps right now.”

But the biggest example of political theater in American history had to be Watergate.

During the scandal, on August 22, 1973, Richard Nixon gave a news conference. In that news conference, a reporter asked him the following question.

“How much do you think your capacity to govern has been weakened?” asked the reporter.

“It is true that as far as the capacity to govern is concerned that to be under a constant barrage 12 to 15 minutes a night on each of the three major networks for four months tends to raise some questions in the people's mind with regard to the president and it may raise some questions with regard to the capacity to govern,” said President Nixon. “The point that I make now is that we are proceeding as best we know how to get all those guilty brought to justice in Watergate. But now we must move on from Watergate to the business of the people, and the business of the people is continuing with the initiatives we began in the first administration. We've had 30 minutes of this press conference. I have yet to have, for example, one question on the business of the people, which shows you how we're consumed by this.”

The scandal reached its climax on October 20, when President Nixon ordered the attorney general to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor. Both the attorney general and the deputy attorney general resigned in protest. The media called this event the Saturday Night Massacre. Public opinion turned decisively against President Nixon after this.

Of course, for political theater to be useful, it has to have a target. To see who the target was, you need to know what happened on the day before the Saturday Night Massacre. On October 19, President Nixon asked Congress to provide Israel with $2.2 billion in aid. In response, Libya and other Arab countries imposed an oil embargo that dramatically raised the price of oil. Raising the price of oil would hurt many countries. But Japan would probably suffer the most under an oil embargo. It imports essentially all of its oil and it gets most of it from the Middle East. Once the price of oil went up, I imagine Japan asked America to do something about the price of oil. And I imagine America told Japan that it was busy dealing with the Watergate scandal.

During much of the scandal, President Nixon acted like the whole thing was a joke, which it was. On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to adopt three articles of impeachment. While the House voted, President Nixon swam at the beach in San Clemente.

“I was getting dressed in the beach trailer when the phone rang and Ziegler gave me the news,” said President Nixon. “That was how I learned that I was the first president in 106 years to be recommended for impeachment, standing in the beach trailer, barefoot, wearing old trousers, a Ban-Lon shirt and a blue windbreaker emblazoned with the presidential seal.”

When he finally left the White House, and boarded the presidential helicopter for the last time, right before he went onboard, he smiled and made the V sign with both hands. The V sign has an interesting history in the relationship between America and Japan. Many Americans flashed the V sign after World War II was over. Japan started to use the V sign at about the time America withdrew from Vietnam. I’m sure you can guess what President Nixon had in mind when he flashed the V sign at the end of his term.