Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: Conflict (Page 1 of 5)

What’s the benefit?

I hate to say it, but I’m starting to think the President’s recent actions mostly make sense if you see them as rapid payoffs for previous or future favors before having to step down, either in 2021 or sooner. In just the last few months, we’ve seen:

  • Trying to prove a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election meddling that would give cover to both pardoning Paul Manafort and reducing/removing sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
  • Pointedly pushing a peace accord between Ukraine and Russia that essentially gives Russia what it wants.
  • Removing the US troops serving as a tripwire between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds right when the Turks started their invasion, in the name of stopping “endless war.”
  • Sending 2000 more troops to Saudi Arabia to get mixed up in the war in Yemen two days later.

The only part that fits a normal narrative is trying to dig up dirt on a political opponent for the 2020 race. The last two items happened so rapidly I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but keep an eye out on actions involving Russia/Ukraine, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. (Given current tensions, I didn’t think it was possible to give in to Turkey and Saudi Arabia at the same time.)

President Obama on the death of Osama bin Laden

Full remarks here. This is an important quote:

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Ron Paul’s Questions on Wikileaks

In a speech on the House floor, Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas asked nine questions in regards to the ongoing kerfuffle about Wikileaks:

Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?

Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?

Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?

Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?

Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?

Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Courtesy of Mediaite.

Five myths about torture

An important read.

Actually, it’s surprisingly hard to get anything under torture, true or false. For example, between 1500 and 1750, French prosecutors tried to torture confessions out of 785 individuals. Torture was legal back then, and the records document such practices as the bone-crushing use of splints, pumping stomachs with water until they swelled and pouring boiling oil on the feet. But the number of prisoners who said anything was low, from 3 percent in Paris to 14 percent in Toulouse (an exceptional high). Most of the time, the torturers were unable to get any statement whatsoever.

Link courtesy of

Shiny New Bullets

Here’s the picture, from Yahoo!

Iraqi woman with bullets

Here’s the caption, emphasis mine:

An elderly Iraqi woman shows two bullets which she says hit her house following an early coalition forces raid in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City. At least 175 people were slaughtered on Tuesday and more than 200 wounded when four suicide truck bombs targeted people from an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq, officials said.(AFP/Wissam al-Okaili)

Those bullets look really low-mileage. 🙂

Of course, the scarier part is that she lives in a place where she can get fresh rounds that easily.

Courtesy of and Romenesko.

The Marketing of Uncertainty

The American Prospect reviews two books about the motivations behind suicide bombing as a terror tactic. I haven’t read either, but the review of the more interesting sounding of the two, Mia Bloom’s Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror, has this to say:

Bloom’s insight is that suicide bombing is a tactic used by competing groups trying to appeal to a generally sympathetic population for allegiance in a process she calls “outbidding.” Hence, in both the Middle East and Sri Lanka, suicide bombing is adopted by groups seeking to show that they are more ruthless, determined, and effective than others — and thereby to gain public support. Suicide bombing, in this light, is as much marketing ploy as weapon. Bloom bolsters her analysis by highlighting how Kurdish groups in Turkey used suicide bombing, but found that the cost in support among their own core constituencies was so great that it wasn’t worth the candle. Similarly, in Ireland, nationalist groups concluded they would lose, not gain, support thanks to suicide bombing.

Bloom persuasively shows that the perception of suicide terrorism among a group’s audience matters. But Bloom does not fully account for how such attitudes form or change. As al Qaeda uses suicide terrorism to appeal to a new, global audience, this question takes on increasingly important. [sic]

Actually, when I read that, my first thought was of the Long Tail. It’s not an entirely relevant analogy, but does bring up an interesting point concerning suicide attacks encouraged by an amorphous, globalized organization such as Al Qaeda.

When we think of tactics employed by resistance groups, we tend to think of them as being formulated with a classic strategic goal in mind. This group wants independence and self-determination…this group wants control over land or economy…this group wants this other group to go away. While violence begets violence, and as a result individualized acts might become more and more strategically irrational, the conflicts we’ve seen throughout the last century tend to fit those roles.

But what does Al Qaeda, as an organization, want? Ostensibly Islamic revolution against secular nationalist governments and a withdrawal by the West from influencing and supporting those governments, originally focused on Saudi Arabia. However, the actual efforts don’t fit that very well. There doesn’t seem to be a concentrated effort to overthrow any particular government in the area using coordinated tactics and higher-level organization. (Iraq and Afghanistan are currently special cases, due to our involvement. Before we destablized it, Iraq wasn’t a primary target for Al Qaeda. Afghanistan had the Taliban, which took over without help from Al Qaeda, but there we did see some coordinated action in the assaults on the rebel forces. That ended disastrously for each group, though.)

I’m thinking that Al Qaeda is a truly globalized organization, spread thin and with far too many constituencies to establish real strategic goals. They aren’t The Organization; they are an organization of organizations that are themselves split into factions and groups, many of which don’t agree on or even care about the same things. In other words, the classic conflict of Global and Local.

So what do you do when you’re trying to do something that will work across the board? In Al Qaeda’s case, terror across the world equals destabilization and uncertainty, which puts them closer to having some government fall and scaring the West. That’s the strategy. In that case, without a true constituency with much power over them, Al Qaeda’s tactics don’t have to appeal to the masses they might otherwise need for revolution. They just have to appeal to enough people to keep the uncertainty going. An almost universal media space performs the same function as search; it makes the information available to everyone, and some people will be much more interested than the majority.

Where the analogy breaks down is the fact that suicide bombing is, in general, local. A suicide bomber in Iraq is far more likely to be doing it because of some goal they see involving themselves or their group than they are because suicide-bombing has some sort of Al Qaeda Seal of Approval. However, I wonder if what we’re seeing nowadays isn’t an increasing mixture of global and local strategies and tactics that, in the end, benefits the global aims over the local. In other words, is it about actually achieving any of those classic aims, or is it about continuing to send an abstract message of uncertainty and insecurity? And, if the latter, how much do we in the West, so used to responding to marketing, play into that goal?

Other books on the subject of suicide bombing:

Why not one more?

While I have little doubt Iran is probably arming groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m having trouble seeing these sorts of stories as being anything beyond the Bush Administration building a case for starting a war with yet another country.

Does the administration understand some simple, logical problems with this scenario?

  • Iran will react, and it probably has more capability to do so than Iraq did.
  • Iran is sitting next to two countries we’re having enough trouble occupying. What, do they figure an Iranian invasion will get people to love us?
  • Our military is overstretched and is particularly vulnerable in those two countries.
  • We can’t occupy yet another country. (I know, it would likely be bombing. How long does it stay an air war when the Iranian troops come over the border?)
  • Even if Arab countries don’t necessarily like Iran, they’re not going to support us fighting yet another Islamic country.
  • Finally, Administration, you do realize you’re going away in 1.5 years, right? This would be a bad mess to leave for the next one.

I really wish we hadn’t seen this before, but we have. I supported it with Afghanistan, and thought the administration had gone insane with Iraq. It starts with these statements, goes to the UN, and then we ignore whatever happens there and jump in. I’m wondering how long before we hear about the Al Qaeda/Iran link? Will “Al Qaeda” head to North Korea next? 😐

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