The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pattern of Life

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Obama administration continues a Bush administration policy called "pattern of life" surveillance. This approach uses a variety of intelligence sources to track the movement of "militants" to discern whether or not they are active members of a terrorist organization such as the Pakistani Taliban.

Using a combination of video surveillance coupled with sophisticated database technology, the movements of individuals are tracked on a daily basis, their telecommunications are recorded and analyzed, and their associations are carefully watched. If all prevailing evidence indicates that an individual is a terrorist and is involved in activities that might cause harm to the US military, foreign nationals, or U.S. citizens either at home or abroad, that individual may be killed using UAV missile strikes.

Although some in the "human rights” community condemns this approach (quietly, because they are loath to criticize this President), I believe it is a necessary strategy for disrupting and ultimately eliminating terrorist activities in localities where we cannot pursue fanatics using more conventional means. In an otherwise feckless approach to Islamic terrorism, the Obama administration should be commended for continuing this program.

However, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club notes that "pattern of life" approach may be going after terrorists at the wrong level. He suggests that the administration would prefer to pursue the small fry in the terrorist movement, moving down the chain of command rather than up. He argues that moving up the chain of command might lead to people who number among the elite within a given country such as Pakistan. Fernandez writes:
The only conceivable scenario in which the target list can be moved up instead of down is if Pakistan — or whoever — suddenly did something so awful that even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama couldn’t overlook it. Like nuking New York. Maybe not even that. If that happened, then maybe, just maybe, the crosshairs on the UAV will be adjusted up the ladder rather than down. The implications of this dynamic is that the world may be tacitly slipping into a new species of Cold War. The War on Terror isn’t being fought to win, it’s being fought to keep the lid on. The conflict will be managed, not resolved. The War will be kept within bounds, at all costs. An explosion in New York will be met by a flurry of missiles fired from robotic aircraft circling over certain countries. Tit for Tat. Corpse for corpse. Missile for car bomb.

But unlike the Cold War, which was waged between two rational superpowers, a limited war between fanatics and rationally timid West is not necessarily stable. The levels of violence instead of stabilizing will tend to increase. They are already trending upward. If the Times Square bombing is any indicator, then the terrorists are ramping up their campaign. And so will the American drones ramp up the response. Smaller missiles, more drones, more surveillance. But there is no natural ceiling to the escalation. That is the specter which must haunt Washington. There’s no reason why, having reached N that you shouldn’t go to N + 1.

But there’s a remedy for strategic dilemmas like that. Don’t face it: kick the can down the road. What is likely to happen is that Washington will expand the targeting list downward until it watching every hut, every Internet cafe, every prepaid cellphone, every madrassa it can. We have Open Source Warfare and Swarming to the limit. But the core targets will may never be taken out. Why? Because that’s too dangerous. Will the target list ever expand it upward? Not unless it is forced to. Going upward is destabilizing because that’s where the elites are.

“Kicking the can down the road” is what Washington elites do when they face unpleasant choices. It’s only when a terrible event occurs, that they’re forced to pick up the can and make a decision. The problem here is that a “terrible event” can cost hundreds or thousands of lives.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hearts and Minds

Richard Clarke, a national security advisor under the Clinton Administration, suggests that when (not if) a terrorist bombing or other event succeeds, we should proceed cautiously and not “overreact.” I agree. But he then goes on the state:
In the raw aftermath of a successful attack, it will be very hard for an American president to shift the debate in a more productive and honest direction. Imagine if, after a fatal attack, President Obama responded by proposing greater outreach to Muslim communities domestically and around the world, in an effort to undercut radicalization. That is precisely what we and other nations should be doing, but it would undoubtedly be decried as a weak, starry-eyed reaction by our commander in chief, especially after an attack that revealed deficiencies in our counterterrorism system.

I would submit that our Islamist adversaries are ramping up their pin-prick attacks precisely because they believe that President Obama will follow Clarke’s counsel to the letter. If a bomb blast leads to nothing more that the arrest of expendible operatives and even further hand-wringing and attempts to understand “why they hate us,” there is little to be lost on the part of global terror organizations.

Faoud Ajami suggests a more realistic view:
This is a long twilight war, the struggle against radical Islamism. We can't wish it away. No strategy of winning "hearts and minds," no great outreach, will bring this struggle to an end. America can't conciliate these furies. These men of nowhere—Faisal Shahzad, Nidal Malik Hasan, the American-born renegade cleric Anwar Awlaki now holed up in Yemen and their likes—are a deadly breed of combatants in this new kind of war. Modernity both attracts and unsettles them. America is at once the object of their dreams and the scapegoat onto which they project their deepest malignancies.

Indeed, the continuing liberal meme that “winning hearts and minds” will somehow eradicate Islamists or more rationally, will cause their Moslem brethren to reject them, is incredibly naïve. It flies in the face of history (both recent and ancient) and assumes that we can reason people out of positions they never reasoned themselves into in the first place. It is, to put it bluntly, a dangerous strategy. Why? Because in the warped world view of Islamic fanatics, any attempt at winning hearts and minds will be viewed as weakness, and for fanatics, weakness is an invitation for further aggression.

President Obama has tried mightily to win Moslem hearts and minds and has been rewarded with exactly … nothing. His Middle Eastern strategy is a shambles, he verbally attacks and pressures our only ally in the region, and refuses to directly condemn acts of repression and aggression in countries as diverse as Syria and Iran.

President Obama is an ideologue, who like the Islamists he is trying to mollify, is unsettled by the world he is encountering. He cannot seem to process the shear depravity of a group he perceives to have legitimate grievances. He and his administration seem more concerned with ensuring their “rights” (both domestic and international) that acting forcefully through words and deeds to limit their reach.

The President is attempting a dangerous strategy—one that is more likely to lead to war that to peace.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Distant Mirror

Although the MSM is happy to show us Greek citizens by the tens of thousands rioting in the streets, our media does little to provide Americans with the necessary context to understand what’s happening and why it matters to us. When you look at Greek union members protesting cuts in excessive pay rates the government sanctioned pensions, or Greek citizens protesting cradle-to-grave entitlements that include a broad array of state welfare programs, health care and other profligate government spending, what you’re really watching is the United States in a distant mirror.

The Obama administration and the congressional majority continues to push for big-government, instantiate massive new entitlements, and implement “reform” measures that reform nothing and at the same time increase both costs and taxes. They play class warfare in the futile and delusional hope that somehow the “rich” will pay for it all. And as a result, following in the tradition of both Democrat and Republican administrations before them, they rapidly expand our already backbreaking debt.

If we don’t change their approach now, in the not too far distant future, we will become Greece—with all of its financial problems, and far scarier, with all of its recent strife.

Robert Samuelson comments:
… With aging societies, advanced countries have promised more benefits than their tax bases can support. Hence, high government debt. Greece is merely the canary in the coal mine. But politicians resist cutting popular benefits except under extreme pressure. It takes a crisis …

President Obama seems to use the word “crisis” on a daily basis—heath crisis, energy crisis, education crisis, Wall Street crisis, and yes, economic crisis. But he doesn’t seem to realize that his own ideology and the programs it spawns are the primary driver behind a Greek-like debt crisis to come.

What’s really scary is the social upheaval that will assuredly occur if we let our debt grow too large and are then forced to make massive cuts in entitlements. The resultant events will make historical riots in Watts and Liberty City look like a Sunday Picnic. And if it does come to pass, a then ex-President Obama will plead for calm and wonder rhetorically about the cause. All he needs to do is look in a mirror.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A One-Off Event

The recent attempt to detonate a car bomb in mid-town New York City is deadly serious, but the media’s coverage of the event is almost comical (maybe “sad” is a more appropriate description). Immediately after the thwarted attack was reported, left leaning media outlets and government officials scurried in front of the cameras to suggest (with no information) that the attack was initiated by a “loner,” a disgruntled, government hating citizen, and that it was (in the words of homeland security director, Janet Napolitano, “a one-off event.”

Even New York Mayor Richard Bloomberg entered the fray suggesting to a very receptive Katy Couric: “If I had to guess 25 cents, this would be exactly that. Homegrown, or maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something. It could be anything.”That has to be one of the most ridiculous statements of his political career.

Roger Simon encapsulated this somewhat facitiously when he writes:
If you were listening to Geraldo on Sunday night (okay, I apologize), you would have thought the would-be Times Square bomber was either the illegitimate son of Timothy McVeigh or an evangelical minister overdosed on steroids looking for an abortion clinic. Geraldo was practically fulminating at the mouth — it’s a white man, it’s a white man — in nostalgia for the good old days when the true enemy was some evil Ku Kluxer waving his hangman’s noose.

And now that Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani and recently naturalized American citizen, was arrested on an airplane heading to Dubai, the meme has to change. This morning a talking head on CNN reported that Faisal lost his home in Shelton, CT to foreclosure in 2009 and then suggested that “the stress and anger” associated with the foreclosure may have driven him to bomb Times Square. Puleeze!

Why is it that the Left-leaning media and the entire Obama administration can’t seem to bring itself use phrases like Jihad or Islamic terrorism when describing possible perpetrators of the attack? Why has Faisal Shahzad’s ideology and religion not been identified?

At some level, it appears that the media and the administration believe that if the true danger and the people behind it are not identified, our response can be more muted, more politically correct, more benign. The fact that Islamists are trying to kill us must be subordinated to the delusion that the real danger is right-wing fringe groups (including Tea party advocates). The meme just feels better for the media and the administration. When facts invade their through-the-looking-glass world, they suffer cognitive dissonance and make fools of themselves. But more importantly, they treat the American people like children, shielding them from harsh realities and at the same time, absolving themselves from taking harsh and necessary actions.

I wonder whether the underwear bomber, major Hassan (the killer of 13 people at Fort Hood), and Faisal Shahzad met at a Tea Party Rally. After all, they were all “loners,” they were all “deranged,” they were all “disgruntled,” and they were all … oops, can’t go there … not politically correct.