Tag: Isis

The War on [Omitted]

What the actual hell?

In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says that on Monday, the FBI will release edited transcripts of the 911 calls made by the Orlando nightclub shooter to the police during his rampage.

“What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups, and further his propaganda,” Lynch said. “We are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance [to the Islamic State].”

The Obama Administration did indeed release redacted transcripts of the 911 call, with references to ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi replaced with “[omitted]”. After relentless and brutal mockery in both traditional and social media, they reversed course and released the unredacted transcripts last night.

I have no idea what Lynch was thinking. You can see the unredacted transcript at the link and, really, it’s trivial stuff. It’s just the names of people we are effectively at war with. I’ve read what Lynch said. I’ve watched the video. And it still have no idea what she’s on about. Do they really think some terrorist’s decision about whether or not to kill a bunch of people is conditional on him hearing the name ISIS? Is ISIS like Beetlejuice? If we say their name three times, a terrorist get an AR-15?

I don’t think there’s any deep conspiracy here. This is just another case of the Obama Administration trying to look smarter than it is. I’m sure when they discussed this, some Ivy League idiot came up with this notion and they all thought it made them some really smart (since actually being smart about terrorism seems a bit beyond their capabilities). But once it got out, the rest of the country sad, “Huh? What?! That makes no sense.”

Wither the Refugees

One of the biggest issues to emerge after the terror attacks in Paris is what we should be doing about the Syrian refugee crisis. This might seem odd, given that none of the attackers were Syrian nor were any of them refugees. But, as is often the case, a tragedy is serving as a springboard for another issue (see my post on encryption). It may reach a head this week as the House voted overwhelmingly to pause the refugees program despite angry veto threats from the President. And many governors have refused to allow refugees to be settled in their states (it’s not clear that they have such power, however).

There’s a lot to unpack here so pull up a chair.

First, I agree with many of the critics that the fear of refugees is out of proportion to the danger they represent. You can read a number of articles going through the basics. Bottom line:

Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out. That is one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted. To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014. The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.

You should also check out this debunking of various myths about the Syrian refugees including the myth that Middle Eastern countries aren’t taking them in (they’ve taken in about 5 million) and that most of the refugees are military-age men (they aren’t). It also goes a bit into our vetting process, which is a very thorough year-long process that requires refugees to detail and document everything about their lives. You can’t just show up at the border with a torn-up robe and get in.

That having been said, I don’t think the concern about refugees is completely irrational. We have had incidents where potential terrorists have gotten into this country. The Obama Administration itself suspended its Iraqi refugee program for six months due to vetting concerns. I don’t think people are opposing refugees because they are uncaring racists cowering in fear and horror from three-year-old orphans. There’s nothing irrational about not wanting to die at the hands of a terrorist.

Indeed, as pointed out by Megan McArdle, who favors admitting more refugees, the arguments being raised by the pro-refugees side are not only terrible, they’re almost designed to rile up the opposition:

Perfectly reasonable people are worried that a small number of terrorists could pretend to be refugees in order to get into the U.S. for an attack. One response to these reasonable people has been: “How dare you say people fleeing terrorism are terrorists!” This is deeply silly. Obama administration officials have admitted that they can’t be sure of screening terrorists out from asylum seekers.

Obama, to put it mildly, has been acting like a world class shit. Instead of trying to work with his opponents and assuage their entirely reasonable concerns, he’s hectoring them, accusing them of cowardice and bigotry. That’s sure to play well with liberals, who’ve long wanted that sort of tone. It’s sure to rally people to support Clinton. But it is not going to persuade anyone. When was the last time, “you’re a coward and a bigot!” was met with the response of, “Oh, yeah, you’re right.”?

And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being lectured about what we should be afraid of from a man who lives in a big house surrounded by an iron fence and a cadre of heavily armed, if not always sober, Secret Service agents. It’s incredibly condescending. In fact, Obama’s arguments are so bad and so designed to stiffen the opposition, I’m actually wondering if that’s the point. I’m wondering if Obama wants to suspend the refugee program but wants to blame Republican racism for it.

(Probably my least favorite argument in favor of the refugees? That blocking them is “what ISIS wants”. This is an argument I find it both glib and extremely weak. “What ISIS wants”, even presuming we know what they want, is kind of irrelevant. We need to do what’s appropriate, whether they want it or not. Japan wanted a war with us when they bombed Pearl Harbor. It didn’t work out too well for them.)

A few people have proposed a compromise where we only accept Christian refugees. Putting aside other concerns, I find this to be an odd proposition. Do they think that terrorists will fake passports, murder people, blow themselves up … but draw the line at pretending to be Christian?

What do I think? I think, with proper vetting, we should be admitting refugees. Not hundreds of thousands, but a significant number. Stopping the flow of refugees to stop terrorists is like burning down your house because you saw a cockroach. There are millions of Syrian refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom have gone to Europe specifically and we have … so far … no terrorist attacks involving them.

The 9/11 hijackers were not refugees. The undie bomber wasn’t. The Fort Hood shooter wasn’t. The shoe bomber wasn’t. The Tsarnaev brothers were immigrants but were not technically refugees and, in any case, were not sleeper agents but were radicalized right here in the United States.

Refusing refugees because of Paris will cause suffering for thousands and is unlikely to prevent any terrorist attacks. We are much better off focusing our efforts on electronic and human intelligence. We are much better of tracking radicals and attacking ISIS at its source.

The gripping hand is that I am loathe to make rash decisions in the immediate aftermath of a horrible tragedy. That’s how we get things like the Patriot Act. I think it’s entirely appropriate to demand rigorous screening of refugees. I think it’s entirely appropriate to keep an eye on them. I think we may make accepting them conditional on returning once the situation has improved (if it ever does). And I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to suspend refugee admissions until we’re clear that all of the above has been done.

So, for right now, I’m sort with the Republicans on this. But long term, I do think we have something of a moral obligation here. We did, after all, create this problem. By toppling Saddam, then by leaving, then by letting ISIS wax, then by throwing in against Assad. We unleashed this chaos. And I think we have some culpability in cleaning up the mess.

On Islam, ISIS and War

In the aftermath of the attacks on Paris, we are getting the usual chorus of think pieces about how ISIS is not Islamic and does not represent Islam. We are getting ridiculously pedantic parsings of words to argue that we are not in a clash of civilizations. While I think there are points to be made here, I think the writers of these pieces are missing the forest for the trees.

First, it goes without saying that most Muslims are not Islamists and radicals. It goes without saying that you can read through the Koran (which I have) and find many passages that support peace and coexistence. But that’s kind of beside the point.

Here we land at the centre of the problem — a centre we have spent the last decade and a half trying to avoid: Islam is not a peaceful religion. No religion is, but Islam is especially not. Nor is it, as some ill-informed people say, solely a religion of war. There are many peaceful verses in the Quran which — luckily for us — the majority of Muslims live by. But it is, by no means, only a religion of peace.

I say this not because I hate Islam, nor do I have any special animus against Muslims, but simply because this is the verifiable truth based on the texts. Until we accept that we will never defeat the violence, we risk encouraging whole populations to take against all of Islam and abandon all those Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith. And — most importantly — we will give up our own traditions of free speech and historical inquiry and allow one religion to have an unbelievable advantage in the free marketplace of ideas.

Islam, like every other religion on that planet, has many strains. You will find many people — some 80-90% Muslims — who take the tolerant passages of the Koran and build their lives around that. But you will find others, basically everyone we are fighting right now, who take the more war-like passages of the Koran and build their lives around that. To pretend that they “aren’t practicing Islam” is a pedantic word game at best. At worst, it is not only inaccurate but censorious, trying to elide periods of history and Islamic writings that are inconvenient.

I’ve linked this before in my previous discussion of the nature of ISIS. It’s worth reiterating:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

Me:

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

And now they are exporting that violence. And, to head off another talking point, they aren’t exporting their violence because of our “aggression”. France and Russia were not leading the campaign against ISIS. And ISIS did not target politicians or military personnel or defense contractors. They targeted civilians specifically because of Western values. They targeted them, according to their own words, because Paris is “the capital of prostitution and obscenity” (by which they mean consensual sex and any entertainment other than stoning women to death).

This is their stated goal. No one out having a good time … anywhere in the world. No one out at soccer stadiums except to watch executions. No one out drinking, obviously. No one at theaters. Women completely covered and regarded as little more than sex objects for the powerful. And they won’t stop if we leave them alone and stop bombing them. They will simply ramp up their attacks.

Call me crazy but when someone says, “this is why we are attacking you”, I think it behooves us to consider the possibility that this is why they are attacking us.

It seems we are destined to be caught between two groups of idiots. The first insists that all Muslims are this way. This ignores, of course, the hundreds who have tipped off authorities to radicals, the thousands fighting an actual bloody ground war against ISIS and the millions who condemned the Paris attacks and prayed for the dead. But there’s a second group who try to insist this violence has nothing to do with Islam, as though ISIS were just a street gang.

Again: we don’t have to guess at ISIS’s motives. They’ve stated them. They want to establish a caliphate, bring about the apocalypse and establish a worldwide Islamic state built on the most radical principles taken directly from the most extreme passages of Koran and the Hadith. That the vast majority of Muslims disagree with them does not change the nature of their ideology. It does not bring back the dead in Paris and more than “that’s not real Christianity” brings back the dead of the Crusades or “that’s not real Judaism” brings back the victims of the Caves of the Patriarchs massacre.

If a Jewish terrorist murdered a bunch of Arab men, women and children and took their daughters as sex slaves, citing the Midian War as his justification, we wouldn’t pretend it had nothing to do with religion. If a Christian terrorist burned down a bank and cited, as justification, Christ turning out the money-changers, we wouldn’t pretend it had nothing to with religion. Hell, when a radical Christian calls for executing gays or murders an abortion doctor — things completely antithetical to the teachings of Christ — we don’t pretend it has nothing to do with religion. But when Islamists murder people in the street and cite centuries-old writings as their justification, we suddenly pretend religion’s got nothing to do with it?

ISIS is a tough problem to deal with and it’s not exactly clear where we go from here. Can we destroy them sans a massive decades-long occupation of the region? I don’t know. I know we can probably decapitate their leadership and cripple them militarily. But, ultimately, this will come down to that majority of Muslims who oppose ISIS and their evil ideology (and are fighting them right now). They are the ones who must stop this horror. We can support and help. But we don’t support and help by covering our eyes and pretending that at least part of this conflict isn’t a war for the heart and soul of the world’s second largest religion.

Vive La France

Word tonight is that terrorists have struck France in a series of attacks, including a bomb at a football match, multiple shootings and a hostage situation. As of this moment, the French are fighting back. Preliminary news is that this is tied to ISIS.

This is why you stand with Charlie Hebdo. This is why you stand against ISIS. Because these monsters know no mercy and no decency. They will attack and they will kill. Right now, their violence is focused on the Middle East. But as the bombing of the Russian airliner and these attacks show, they will expand the fight until we are all in the crosshairs.

From ISIS to Russia

Uh-oh:

Days after authorities dismissed claims that ISIS brought down a Russian passenger jet, a U.S. intelligence analysis now suggests that the terror group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his government believes there is a “significant possibility” the plane was brought down by an explosive device. And a Middle East source briefed on intelligence matters also said it appears likely a bomb was placed aboard the aircraft.

Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed Saturday in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after breaking apart in midair, killing all 224 people on board. It was en route to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The latest U.S. intelligence suggests that the plane crash was most likely caused by a bomb on the plane planted by ISIS or an affiliate, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

I was a little suspicious of the way the Russians immediately dismissed the possibility of terrorism. It seemed awfully suspicious that this happened immediately after Russia decided to put its foot into the hornet’s nest that is Syria. This is not the first time Islamic terrorists have struck at Russia. Now we’ll see how the Russians respond.

Ramadi Falls

You remember how the Obama were boasting about killing a key ISIS member last week? The exact same way the Bush people used to always boast about killing Al-Qaeda’s #2 leaders over and over again?”

Well, ISIS captured Ramadi this week, which is a much more significant event than killing one of the numerous members of ISIS’s leadership.

And just think … Clinton’s going to be running for President on her experience building this nightmare.

The President and ISIL

With recent pushes into Kurdish territory and the beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, there is a growing fear that ISIL is growing more and more powerful. The President has asked for an authorization for the use of military force (finally). I’ll get to that in a moment. But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

The thing is that ISIL doesn’t agree with him. They are not like Al-Qaeda, which was an amorphous terrorist movement dedicated to bringing about the caliphate but operating within the modern world. ISIL wants to create the caliphate right now and the caliphate they want to create is violent, barbaric, medieval and based heavily on old-school Islam and literal interpretations of the Koran:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

(You really should read that entire article. Think Regress has posted a lame response that basically ignores Wood’s point: that while many Muslims don’t take the Koran’s more violent texts at face value, organizations like ISIL do.)

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

The President has finally asked Congress to recognize the semi-war we’ve been fighting for a while. I think they should do so, but with some limitations. A land war is not necessarily going to solve ISIL (although letting them overrun Baghdad or Kurdistan — as they’ve threatened to — would be a disaster). In fact, it could play right into their apocalyptic prophecies. But I do know that we can not disengage. It’s important that we keep ISIL and AQ from reconciling (which the President’s rescue attempt threatened to do). The longer ISIL survives and the more territory they conquer, the more legitimacy and power they will accumulate in the eyes of radical Muslims. Stopping them might mean air support, training, weapons and/or money to the forces opposing ISIL. If that means what we end up propping up one side in a bloody decades-long struggle for the soul of Islam … well, that’s what it means. We have a national interest in preventing the rise of ISIL to a real caliphate. The only way it will end is when this supposed peaceful majority rises up and ends it.

The Face of Terror

Yesterday, we watched as a homicidal nut took hostages in Sydney. In the ensuing action, two hostages died and the gunman was killed. While the gunman proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS, there were no official ties. Furthermore, he had some serious criminal issues going on. He was complicit in the murder of his wife, who was stabbed 18 times and set on fire. And he was being charged with 50 counts of indecent behavior and sexual assault. Why he was not sitting in a jail cell is a bit of a mystery to me.

There have been some attempts to divorce his actions from his Islamic fundamentalism, to say that this was just about a crazed nut. Well, the Taliban reminded us yesterday that this is what Islamists are like:

Pakistani Taliban gunmen stormed into a military-run school in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing scores of teachers and schoolchildren and fighting an eight-hour gun battle with the security forces, officials said.

At least 145 people were killed, more than 100 of them children, in a siege that lasted more than eight hours before the last of the nine attackers were killed, government and medical officials said.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said his group was responsible for the attack and said it was in retaliation for the military’s offensive against militants in the North Waziristan tribal district.

So, yeah, this guy helped murder his wife and sexually assaulted women. That makes him pretty much your basic Islamist. That’s practically a job application for Al-Qaeda. These radicals murder children, they shoot teenagers in the face, they throw acid on women and girls, they kidnap women and force them into rape marriages. They engage in honor killing and behead innocents. This is what they do. Why are we acting like this guy in Sydney was unusual?

Punting Power

This is pure BS:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told This Week he’d “bring the Congress back” to vote on a new resolution authorizing military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but only if President Barack Obama requested one. Congress has received heaps of criticism for staying out of town during the airstrikes against ISIS, with some suggesting they’re happy to avoid a contentious vote on the issue.

Boehner reprised his line that typically the president initiated the resolution, a position of faux-politesse that the Daily Show already mocked last week. This led George Sephanopoulos [sic] to wonder if Boehner was avoiding the vote because it might split his party ahead of the midterms, something he said was whispered to ABC News political reporter Jeff Zeleny.

Boehner further opines that the existing AUMF is enough for Obama to act on.

One of the reasons Barack Obama has been allowed to usurp so much power is because Congress has allowed him to. Almost all legislative powers reside with Congress, yet they stand around while he rules by executive order, rewrites the laws to his purpose and starts wars on his own. The war-making power lies with Congress. Yet, for the second time, they are allowing the President to start bombing another country. Yes, the President is supposed to ask for their authorization. But they are supposed to assert their authority on this. They should be meeting right now either to give the President the authority to attack Syria or to refuse it. And if he won’t comply, they can exercise the power of the purse to cut the funding.

Stephanopoulos sideswipes the issue by noting this would potentially split the Republican Party. There is a significant fraction that would oppose this but they are still a small minority. The real issue is that the Republicans — like everyone else — have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, ISIS is horrific: a radical Islamist regime that is imposing severe sharia over the regions they control, murdering ethnic and religious minorities and spreading terror over the region. On the other hand, do we really need another boondoggle in the Middle East? Do we really want to spend the treasure and lives needed, even assuming we can destroy ISIS?

It’s a hard debate. I can see why Congress wants to avoid it. But having hard debates is part of their fucking job description. The Civil Rights debate was hard too. So was the Vietnam War. Balancing the budget in the 90’s was hard. But those Congresses argued, debated and eventually voted. They did their job. And they were held responsible for it, a nation that terrifies our current leaders.

This is pure cowardice. It’s the same cowardice the Congress showed in 2003 when, rather than declare war on Iraq, they punted that authority to the President. They didn’t want to oppose it. But they didn’t want to take responsibility if it went wrong. And sure enough, when it went wrong, the Democrats said, “Well, we didn’t declare war on Iraq; we left that decision to Bush!”

Make a decision, guys. Have the debate. We’re dropping bombs on two countries and have over four hundred boots on the ground. If this goes wrong, it’s still on you for failing to stop it. Get your lazy asses back to Washington and do your damned job.

Foley Beheaded, Others May Follow

Yesterday, ISIS released a video showing them cutting journalist James Foley’s head off. I have not watched the video nor do I intend to. It is not surprising coming from the barbarians that are slaughtering men, women and children by the tens of thousands in the pursuit of … something vaguely Islamic. They also claim to have Steven Sotloff prisoner and are threatening to execute him if the US does not abandon airstrikes against ISIS targets.

I don’t know that we can stop ISIS and bring democracy to the Middle East. I do know that people who murder Americans can not do so with impunity. Justice needs to be brought on ISIS. We may not be able to save the world from savagery. But we can make sure that visiting that savagery upon Americans comes at a massive price.