North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The US posture on terror ...

This past week, US President Obama outlined his policies for the world's lone superpower approach to tackling "the war on terror." While this blog normally avoids coverage of US politics and events (enough obsessive coverage available everywhere), this issue has worldwide implications for many countries already struggling to deal with terrorism (and its rather common strain of extremist Islamic purity).

US President Obama speaking May 23 on his administration's policies towards terrorism and warfare balanced by American ideals.

The speech by the president (available here as "his remarks as prepared for delivery") covered the past 15-20 years - pre-9/11, the first decade since that event, and now his attempt to begin shifting the nation's posture. In Teatree's estimation, here are his main points regarding applying US force around the world in the fight against terror:

* "Americans are deeply ambivalent about war, but having fought for our independence, we know that a price must be paid for freedom. ... From the Civil War, to our struggle against fascism, and through the long, twilight struggle of the Cold War, battlefields have changed, and technology has evolved. ... on September 11th 2001, we were shaken out of complacency. Thousands were taken from us, as clouds of fire, metal and ash descended upon a sun-filled morning. This was a different kind of war. No armies came to our shores, and our military was not the principal target. Instead, a group of terrorists came to kill as many civilians as they could. And so our nation went to war. We have now been at war for well over a decade."

US troops in Afghanistan

* Today, Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure. Fewer of our troops are in harm’s way, and over the next 19 months they will continue to come home. Our alliances are strong, and so is our standing in the world. In sum, we are safer because of our efforts. Now make no mistake: our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. We must recognize, however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11.

* "... America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend."

* "Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates."

al Qaeda in Yemen remains the most active cell of the terror group - the nation of the US fatal drone strike against an American citizen - self styled Sheikh Awlaki.

* "Unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. Here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we confront state-sponsored networks like Hizbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Others are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based."

* "Finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; a plane flying into a building in Texas; or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. ... Deranged or alienated individuals – often U.S. citizens or legal residents – can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon."

The strange case of Major Nidal Hasan - this administration seems to go to some lengths to minimize his Islamic extremist views and allegiance. Even today, "the U.S. Defense Department confirms Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood massacre suspect, is still drawing his pay while those injured have been denied combat pay. Hasan, a military psychiatrist suspected of going on a shooting rampage at the Texas base that left 13 dead and 32 injured in 2009, has been paid $278,000 since the shooting," KXAS-TV, Dallas/Fort Worth, reported Tuesday.

* "Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11."

* "First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces. In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counter-terrorism force which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe-haven to launch attacks against us or our allies. Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America."

* "It is ... not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. And even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians– where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities that pose no threat to us, or when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis. To put it another way, our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. ... It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones."

Click on image for full picture
Drone strikes by the numbers during the past two administrations

* "Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense. ... by the end of 2014 (after the US reduces its forces in Afghanistan), we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we have made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes. Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces."

* "when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team ..."

Hmmm, a drone strike roughly equivalent to a police swat team - what's your thought?

The US President talked long on other issues of more domestic concern - surveillance laws and policies, legal framework of drone strikes, authority of Congress regarding war and oversight responsibilities, as well as one of his passionate stances that Guantanamo be closed and re-purposed from indefinitely holding enemy combatants.

Guantanamo prisoners - enemy combatants - continue to trouble the US President more it seems than his drone strikes which he has rationalized as the equivalent of domestic swat teams in action. At one time the numbers held peaked between 558 and 579, as of March 2013, 166 detainees remain - most are not wanted by their home government. Dozens of those earlier released turned up in further conflicts.

What President Obama has attempted to do was provide his narrative to issues of national security, personal liberties, the country's ideals, and the nature of war and our limits. Each president to some degree attempts to provide a cohesive narrative for his policies. Just from World War II on, we've seen narratives through the Korean war, the dismantling of many colonies into independent nations in the early 60s, and the machinations through the decades-long Cold War (with many failures of moral consistency from CIA manipulations of various regimes in Africa to the Vietnam War to influences in South and Central America). President Reagan's robust challenge to the Soviet Union and its ultimate collapse in 1989-1991 was consistent with his strongly-worded narrative. Turmoil in the Balkans and the rise of Islamic extremism culminated during the Clinton years was not matched by any particular narrative (can anyone remember a Clinton doctrine?), but with the attack of 9/11, George W Bush did in fact theme his response as a "war on terror."

US President Reagan with his conservative UK ally, Margaret Thatcher. Reagan unequivocally challenged the Soviet Union, calling it an evil empire, and when six months later, after an incident where the Soviet airforce shot down an unarmed Korean civilian passenger jet near Seoul, the narrative was more firmly set.

Now we have seen the last two narratives. President George W Bush pushed a positive component of his war on terror narrative (that the US was prepared to fight terror especially in the form of Islamic extremism wherever and however necessary) during the Iraq war. This positive message was that people around the world longed for freedom, that the march of humanity was always towards freedom, and in spite of not finding weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi people were better off than before, as democracy would work anywhere it was legitimately tried.

President Obama's narrative overall seems to Teatree to be a plausible and sensible one.. At least when it comes to America's armed response, very few will argue against at some point it is time to "stand down." The president lays out the case that it is now - when the conventional military footprint is reduced in Afghanistan next year, drone strikes, intelligence gathering and covert operations will remain wherever threats emerge. The President's narrative says these threats are much more local and regional in scope than harboring international aspirations.

Four musings to the above.

#1 Even plausible sensible narratives will over time either reflect reality well or be exposed as wishful thinking.

#2 When President Obama describes random individual attacks as just that, is he diminishing the overarching presence of Islamic extremism? Certainly his insistence that we always consider the Oklahoma City bombing, or a Wisconsin shooting involving a Sikh temple seems disconnected to his only lightly noting, "Unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries ..." Again and again, as we've seen in four incidents in just the past few days (the UK cleaver attack on a British soldier, the suicide bomber in Dagestan, a broader attack in Niger, and the stabbing of a French soldier on home soil) there is this underlying narrative involving Islamic exrtremist motivation.

The latest display of deranged violence in the name of Islamic purity - two individuals running over a British soldier on leave, then hacking at him with knives and meat cleavers.

Click on image for full picture
Even the "lone wolf" or opportunistic view of the UK killing has been quickly challenged by the emergence that one of the suspects, Michael Adebolajo, had been detained in Kenya in 2010 for his connections to Islamic extremists in neighboring Somalia.

#3 When does the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance tip from its current regional crisis to a full blown geopolitical confrontation? Or has it already? Russia on the one side with these three nations, and the western democracies on the other.

Hezbollah defiantly declaring support for Syria's Assad, death to Israel, and being armed by Iran with Russia's tacit approval. Just a regional issue?

#4 How tightly will he cling to his narrative. The Benghazi attack on the US ambassador there is still being debated whether it was an example of the administration attempting to shape the facts to fit the Obama narrative. One only has to ask whatever happened to that individual who was detained for making up the disrespectful Islamic video that was the initial posture of the administration...

Yes, the familiar Muslim rage, a discredited video story - both difficult to place in a coherent narrative.

And so on we go.

1 comment:

Teatree said...

Teatree must add a further item that does not seem to fit President Obama's narrative that al Qaeda is nearly finished,with just regional groups in play which are not our concern anymore than they were before 9-11.

The rising bloodshed in Iraq seems to be of little interest to news agencies these days. Yes, dry reporting, but no breathlessness. In this month of May alone, more than 500 have died in bombings, the most in five years.

Did the US leave too soon? (Fully recognizing the controversy of occupying to begin with...) Can the US still be meaningfully engaged at all or are we trying? Could the Syrian civil war - many say regional war - suck Iraq back down as well?