Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, June 18, 2010 8:30 pm

Threat assessment

A relatively small number of our foes are very bright, very dedicated, very competent, very well funded and very dangerous.

But the rest? Not so much:

Their leaders and recruiters can be lethally subtle and manipulative, but the quiet truth is that many of the deluded foot soldiers are foolish and untrained, perhaps even untrainable. Acknowledging this fact could help us tailor our counterterrorism priorities—and publicizing it could help us erode the powerful images of strength and piety that terrorists rely on for recruiting and funding.

Nowhere is the gap between sinister stereotype and ridiculous reality more apparent than in Afghanistan, where it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself. And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks. In Afghanistan, as in many cultures, a manly embrace is a time-honored tradition for warriors before they go off to face death. Thus, many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp or safe house, as the pressure from these group hugs triggers the explosives in suicide vests. According to several sources at the United Nations, as many as six would-be suicide bombers died last July after one such embrace in Paktika.

Many Taliban operatives are just as clumsy when suicide is not part of the plan. In November 2009, several Talibs transporting an improvised explosive device were killed when it went off unexpectedly. The blast also took out the insurgents’ shadow governor in the province of Balkh. …

If our terrorist enemies have been successful at cultivating a false notion of expertise, they’ve done an equally convincing job of casting themselves as pious warriors of God. The Taliban and al-Qaeda rely on sympathizers who consider them devoted Muslims fighting immoral Western occupiers. But intelligence picked up by Predator drones and other battlefield cameras challenges that idea—sometimes rather graphically. One video, captured recently by the thermal-imagery technology housed in a sniper rifle, shows two Talibs in southern Afghanistan engaged in intimate relations with a donkey. Similar videos abound, including ground-surveillance footage that records a Talib fighter gratifying himself with a cow.

A number of takeaways from this:

First, to be able to recognize the real threats, we need to be able to acknowledge the “threats” that really aren’t.

Second, while mythologizing an enemy may be essential to uniting an otherwise ambivalent nation, building up your enemy in your mind into something he isn’t will inevitably result in lives needlessly lost, money wasted and security compromised.

Third, it’s important to understand what maroons we’re up against to rebut effectively the claims of the Idiot-Americans that we must scrap the Constitution to save our country.

There are probably more, but those are the biggies.

Friday, December 11, 2009 6:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/11

Memo to BoingBoing.net: Rick Warren has not “done the right thing.” Rick Warren has merely done the only thing that might stave off a PR disaster for himself and what he laughably passes off as a “ministry.” There’s a difference. “Doing the right thing” would have required Ranger Rick to immediately, loudly and repeatedly denounce state-sanctioned murder of gays (and imprisonment of their families/friends for not reporting them). Now study up; this will be on the final.

Why don’t we have a health-care bill yet? Here’s one reason.

Success! Because why in the world would we want to regulate the financial instrument that almost destroyed the global economy?

Aetna’s solution to Robert Steinback’s health-insurance needs: “Die, Mr. Steinback.” As the brother of two guys with Type 1 diabetes, I feel his pain, and I’m still waiting for someone to explain credibly to me why we don’t need at the least a national, robust public option, if not single-payer.

Not exactly giving us what we like: The Senate health-care proposal is less popular than the public option. How much less popular? Seventeen percentage points. That’s huge.

You want death panels? You can’t handle death panels!

And speaking of panels: Digby has a name for the panel Pete Peterson is proposing to figure out a way to balance the budget: the Bipartisan Committee To Destroy Social Security and Medicare So Wealthy People Don’t Ever Have To Pay Higher Taxes. Prolix but accurate.

Facts matter. So take that, Glenn Beck supporters.

The party of responsibility and accountability, which controls the S.C. legislature, has declined to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford.

Another way to get by without health insurance: Yitzhak Ganon just didn’t go see the doctor. For sixty-five years.

We’ve killed al-Qaeda’s No. 3 guy. Again.

The grownups of fact-checking take on “Climategate.” Their findings will surprise no one and enrage denialists.

Shorter Sarah Palin: “Correcting my (many) factual mistakes = making the issue something it’s not.”

Does Fox News want to make us laugh, or is it simply trying to bankrupt Rupert Murdoch?: Even by the rug-burn standards of online polling, this question is so loaded it is leaving big cracks in the digital asphalt.

Green? Shoot!: The number of people shifting to emergency unemployment insurance because their regular coverage had run out topped 379,000 last week, bringing the overall total to a record 4.2 million. At the current rate of increase, the number of people getting emergency payments will top the people getting regular payments (5.5 million) within a month.

Green? Shoot!, the sequel: Independent financial analyst David Rosenberg (via ZeroHedge) says that 1) because of contracting credit and asset deflation, we’re not in a recession, we’re in a depression; 2) the 20% deflation of household assets in the past 18 months — a loss of $12 trillion in value — is “a degree of trauma we have never seen before”, 3) … aw, hell, just go read the whole thing. It’s orders of magnitude more depressing than anything on CNBC, but also appears orders of magnitude more fact-based, unfortunately.

Green? Shoot! Reloaded: Paul Krugman offers some objective criteria by which we might determine exactly what constitutes “good news on the job front.”  Just remember, we’ve got to make up lost ground. A lot of lost ground.

Public pants-wetting: Why do Reps. Trent Franks, Steve King and Sue Myrick hate America?

In news that will surprise exactly zero parents, scientists now say 98% of children under the age of 10 are sociopaths.

And, finally, some good news (h/t: Fred), or, When the Germans say “Prost!”, they mean it: Beer could fight prostate cancer.

Monday, November 16, 2009 12:15 am

Why America shouldn’t worry about Khalid Sheikh Muhammad being tried in civilian court in New York

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 12:15 am
Tags: ,

Spencer Ackerman, FTW:

What’s an actual insult to the victims of 9/11 is the idea that America is not strong enough to withstand the blatherings of a mass murderer. For me, the prospect of KSM grandstanding at his trial falls into I-wish-a-[expletive]-would territory. I want to hear how KSM builds a case against America, because everyone will hear how laughably conspiratorial and clownish it is. Think of what a cathartic moment it will be when America sees the face of the man considered to be [bin Laden's] most efficient henchman and he delivers a pitiful harangue to a bank of cameras. No one will be emboldened to do anything but laugh. The only downside will be his inevitable discussion of how CIA operatives tortured him.

My hope for the KSM trial is that it does more than all this. It should forever shatter the pernicious myth that al-Qaeda is composed of supermen — supermen against whom America has no choice but to alter its character and most precious laws in order to confront. I suspect we’ll have an Eichmann-in-Jerusalem moment — and sorry for the unfortunate Nazi/al-Qaeda analogy; al-Qaeda are not the Nazis but I couldn’t really think of any other parallel — except instead of the banality of evil, we’ll see the lunacy and vanity and self-absorption of it. That’s because al-Qaeda’s weltanshauung depends on a myth that holds America to be implacably determined to snuff out the glory of Islam. In reality, most Americans couldn’t give a [expletive] about Islam and only started to know the first thing about it because of 9/11.

Pretty much. Some people with whom I’ve differed on this issue, here and on Facebook, have wondered why I have suggested that they’re soiling their drawers when they call for KSM to stay in Gitmo. Well, this is why. KSM is far closer to clown than to Bond villain. And whatever you might shred the Constitution for, you don’t shred it for a clown.

 

 

Monday, November 9, 2009 8:50 pm

The Fort Hood killings

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 8:50 pm
Tags: ,

I haven’t said much about the Fort Hood killings up to this point because 1) with respect to sympathy for the victims and their families, and gratitude to the sergeant who, although wounded herself, took the shooter down, I could think of nothing to say that wasn’t already being said, and 2) with respect to the suspect, I knew very little and was loath to speculate.

There are reports now that the suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, was a Muslim extremist who had attempted to contact al-Qaeda. Assuming, at least for the moment, that that’s true, what does it say about U.S. Muslims generally?

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Al-Qaeda is about as mainstream Muslim as the Ku Klux Klan is mainstream Christian.

It says a helluva lot, however, about religious extremists generally, and what it says needs to be repeated and understood: Religious extremists are dangerous. They’re dangerous to less extreme adherents of the same faith, they’re dangerous to everybody else. Whether they are Orthodox Jews killing opponents of Israeli settlements in Palestine or Christian extremists assassinating abortion doctors and fomenting revolution in the American Northwest, they are dangerous.

They must be kept away from weapons of mass destruction … and that includes the levers of government power.

On the occasion of my 20th anniversary in newspapers, I said that one of the two big battles of the 21st century will be medievalism vs. modernism. Five and a half years on, I see no reason to change that view.

Thursday, August 20, 2009 8:47 pm

And it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fightin’ for?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

With al-Qaeda now largely decamped from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the U.S. military there now facing a homegrown insurgency rather than an international terrorist movement and Americans dying in Afghanistan at some of the highest rates since 2001, dday at Hullabaloo observes, “Actually, we have morphed our goals in Afghanistan, from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, without anyone really challenging it.”

Except that, well, someone actually is challenging it:

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

I had no trouble seeing the point of having the U.S. military in Afghanistan to pursue al-Qaeda. That was about as clearly defined and rational a national-security interest involving combat as we’ve had since World War II. But why are we still there? What, exactly, are we attempting to achieve, are we going about it in the right way, and whether we are or not, what is the likelihood of success?

I ask because I honestly do not know.

Monday, March 23, 2009 9:18 pm

Here’s a hint: Predator drones, while impressive, probably won’t do the job

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 9:18 pm
Tags: ,

How best do we end terrorism? Those wild-eyed liberals at the RAND Corporation looked into that, and here’s what they found:

The authors compiled and analyzed a data set of all terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, drawn from a terrorism-incident database that RAND and the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism jointly oversee. …

Of the 648 groups that were active at some point between 1968 and 2006, a total of 268 ended during that period. Another 136 groups splintered, and 244 remained active. … The authors found that most ended for one of two reasons: They were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies (40 percent), or they reached a peaceful political accommodation with their government (43 percent). … In 10 percent of cases, terrorist groups ended because they achieved victory. Military force led to the end of terrorist groups in 7 percent of cases.

Military force hasn’t stopped al-Qaeda, nor, according to this study, is it likely to. So how ’bout we try something else?

(h/t: dday)

Theme: Rubric. Get a free blog at WordPress.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,492 other followers

%d bloggers like this: