Free Markets, Free People


What is the “value” of bin Laden’s death?

Someone ask me that and it set me to thinking.  I’ve concluded that there is (and was) more value in his death than if we’d taken him alive.

Let me expand on that. 

As we all know, he’d been holed up in that fortress cum “mansion” for 6 years with no land line or internet connection – so he was dependent on trusted couriers for news of the organization he’d founded and had little ability to influence the day to day operations of al Qaeda.  Obviously he would have still been a valuable intelligence asset, but not quite as valuable as one might think.   I get the impression that bin Laden’s real value was that of figurehead – that as long as he lived, his existence continued to demonstrate to his followers how powerless the “great Satan” really was.   Every day he drew breath, he rubbed in the fact that he could take 3,000 lives in a single day and the US couldn’t even take his.

With each video or audio clip he had smuggled out of his lair and posted among jihadi sites, he tweaked the nose of the US and inspired his jihadist followers.  His stature grew with each tweak.  His survival helped him sell the “righteousness” of his cause because he could claim the protection of his god as the reason he was still untouched.

Bin Laden, given his experiences prior to 9/11, honestly believed that the US was too decadent and cowardly to ever take real action against he and his followers.  He’d tried to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993, did bomb Kohbar Towers and two African embassies as well as attacking the USS Cole.  In all case the reaction was pitifully inadequate. He also believed we didn’t have the fortitude or courage to take casualties and stick it out for the long run.  His planning got more ambitious.  He, like many throughout history, badly underestimated his foe.  

His first indication of his future fate came with the capture of Saddam Hussein.  Hussein shared bin Laden’s beliefs about the US and found himself to be horribly wrong.  Not only did we destroy his regime, we were relentless in his pursuit, finally capturing him months after the culmination of combat operations in Iraq.  He went to the gallows a thoroughly defeated man.

Bin Laden didn’t expect to have to live as he’s had too these past 6 years.  He believed at some point soon after we invaded Afghanistan we’d tire of the combat deaths and the commitment and leave.  He felt his beliefs about the US would be vindicated.   But not only did we stay in Afghanistan, we invaded Iraq and stayed there as well.  And when it was clear we were going to be successful there, the first realization that he was dead wrong about the US had to dawn on him.  To quote Admiral Yamamato, he had awakened a sleeping giant with his 9/11 attacks, and that giant wasn’t going to roll over this time and go back to sleep.

The Sunday operation that led to his death was the culmination of years upon years of effort to find the man.  It was a relentless pursuit.  It cost us lives.  It took a lot of money.  It took a lot of time.  But when that Navy SEAL pumped two rounds into bin Laden’s head, he not only killed bin Laden, but he killed forever the narrative bin Laden had built up among his followers for years. 

No longer could his followers take comfort in the belief that the US was a decadent, cowardly paper tiger.  Iraq and 10 years in Afghanistan had blown that myth away.  No longer could his followers believe that his survival demonstrated the righteousness of their cause.  He was now fish food.

More important was the message his death sent to the entire jihadist community – something his capture couldn’t do – it may take years, lives and money to find you, but we will find you.  And when we find you, we will kill you.

That’s an incredibly powerful and important message to send.  Bin Laden’s death was the very best way to send it.  It will reverberate throughout the jihadist community and the hopeful result is a further lessening of al Qaeda’s influence and a peeling away of the less committed among that community.  It is clear that his death was a greater “value” for the US that was his capture.

Hats off to all those who made it happen.  As someone said, “5.1.11 is the day we got even”.  And the jihadist community will remember it, and hopefully its lesson,  just as we remember 9/11.



IED found on Texas bridge

An ominous sign of the times I’m afraid.  A short blurb from a Texas TV station’s website:

Police say a passerby on the southbound side of Highway 77 noticed what looked like a grenade near the FM 1732 overpass and alerted authorities around 5 p.m. Sunday.

The improvised explosive device or I-E-D was disarmed by a bomb squad using a robot. No one was hurt. Parts of Highway 77 were closed for several hours.

Police are continuing to investigate.

IEDs are simply a terrorist’s tool (you can argue they’re a guerilla’s tool as well, identifying the guerilla as something other than a terrorist – but for the most part in the last two decades, the IED has been used by terrorists).  Sure it can be used to attack conventional forces in a war, but it is also a means of spreading terror, intimidating locals and tying up police forces and the like.   Pipe bombs are “IEDs” and have been used by domestic terrorists for decades.

The fact that the IEDs used on roads in Iraq and Afghanistan has migrated, at least in this instance, to US soil – especially in the area of Texas it was found (Mexican border about as far south in the US you can go) and with the ongoing drug war -  shouldn’t come as a particular surprise.  It could indicate that the “art” of IEDs is being passed around among terrorist groups.  Why it was on this overpass is obviously open to speculation.

However, what isn’t open to speculation is the fact that this nation is seen to be a nation in decline, weaker than it once was and therefore more open to attack.  Additionally the border is porous (well, unless you’re trying to bring in Kinder eggs) and moving IED components through it isn’t a particularly difficult task.

So what was this IED all about?  Trail run?  Test to see if it would be spotted (they apparently didn’t try to hide it).  An attempt to ambush law enforcement?  Some sort of terrorist statement?  None of the above?

Unknown at this point.  But it should be disturbing that an IED has been built and apparently successfully installed here.  It could be the first of many.



Is Gitmo really a jihadist recruiting tool?

That’s certainly been one of the major reasons that candidate and then President Obama has cited for closing the facility. But the Weekly Standard did an analysis of some 34 al Qaeda messages and found that Guantanamo was barely mentioned, and when it was, it was at worst a neutral topic.

So why is this important enough to talk about. Because of the emphasis Obama places on that excuse to close the facility in the face of facts that just don’t support the premise. Here’s what he recently said [emphasis added]:

Obviously, we haven’t gotten it closed. And let me just step back and explain that the reason for wanting to close Guantanamo was because my number one priority is keeping the American people safe.

One of the most powerful tools we have to keep the American people safe is not providing al Qaeda and jihadists recruiting tools for fledgling terrorists. And Guantanamo is probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations. And we see it in the websites that they put up. We see it in the messages that they’re delivering.

But when we turn to the actual 34 messages that discuss recruiting, that isn’t at all the case.  Here are the results of key word searches in those messages:

Guantanamo is mentioned a mere 7 times in the 34 messages we reviewed. (Again, all 7 of those references appear in just 3 of the 34 messages.)

By way of comparison, all of the following keywords are mentioned far more frequently: Israel/Israeli/Israelis (98 mentions), Jew/Jews (129), Zionist(s) (94), Palestine/Palestinian (200), Gaza (131), and Crusader(s) (322). (Note: Zionist is often paired with Crusader in al Qaeda’s rhetoric.)

Naturally, al Qaeda’s leaders also focus on the wars in Afghanistan (333 mentions) and Iraq (157). Pakistan (331), which is home to the jihadist hydra, is featured prominently, too. Al Qaeda has designs on each of these three nations and implores willing recruits to fight America and her allies there. Keywords related to other jihadist hotspots also feature more prominently than Gitmo, including Somalia (67 mentions), Yemen (18) and Chechnya (15).  

In fact the Weekly Standard states uncategorically that there is no evidence in those 34 messages that Gitmo is a recruiting tool, much less “probably the number one recruitment tool” used by al Qaeda.

So, what are they about?  The usual stuff:

Instead, al Qaeda’s leaders repeatedly focus on a narrative that has dominated their propaganda for the better part of two decades. According to bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other al Qaeda chieftains, there is a Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against Muslims. Relying on this deeply paranoid and conspiratorial worldview, al Qaeda routinely calls upon Muslims to take up arms against Jews and Christians, as well as any Muslims rulers who refuse to fight this imaginary coalition.

This theme forms the backbone of al Qaeda’s messaging – not Guantanamo.

So what’s going on with Gitmo?  The usual spin designed to make the place seem much worse than it is with an eye on closing it for some less than pragmatic reason (I mention that because Obama is supposed to be such a pragmatist).  The messages reviewed by the WS are all of those which are known to have been delivered since January 2009.  Obviously, Gitmo has a small and barely noticeable effect on anything al Qaeda does.  Touting it as “probably the number one recruitment tool” of al Qaeda is false and misleading.   It implies closing Guantanamo will hurt such recruiting.  Obviously that’s just not the case. 

Nope, this is about a silly campaign promise made with little knowledge or information about the enemy we’re fighting or what is being used to recruit jihadists into the organization.  It would be one thing coming from some blogger out in North Dakota.  It’s another to hear it said by the man who is charged with our national security.  It doesn’t give one much of a warm fuzzy.



Eric Holder acknowledges homegrown threat but can’t bring himself to name it

Seriously, this sort of nonsense has to stop:

"What I am trying to do in this interview is to make people aware of the fact that the threat is real, the threat is different, the threat is constant," he said.

And the threat is from?

What was uppermost on his mind, however, is the alarming rise in the number of Americans who are more than willing to attack and kill their fellow citizens.

Yes?  And who are these Americans? What do they have in common?

"It is one of the things that keeps me up at night," Holder said. "You didn’t worry about this even two years ago — about individuals, about Americans, to the extent that we now do. And — that is of — of great concern."

"The threat has changed from simply worrying about foreigners coming here, to worrying about people in the United States, American citizens — raised here, born here, and who for whatever reason, have decided that they are going to become radicalized and take up arms against the nation in which they were born," he said.

Hello – what else have they in common?  What has “radicalized” them?

In the last 24 months, Holder said, 126 people have been indicted on terrorist-related charges, Fifty of those people are American citizens.

"I think that what is most alarming to me is the totality of what we see, the attorney general said. "Whether it is an attempt to bomb the New York City subway system, an attempt to bring down an airplane over Detroit, an attempt to set off a bomb in Times Square … I think that gives us a sense of the breadth of the challenges that we face, and the kinds of things that our enemy is trying to do."

Holder says many of these converts to al Qaeda have something in common: a link to radical cleric Anwar Al Awlaki, an American citizen himself.

And Al Awlaki and al Qaeda are both driven by what?  Al Awlaki is what sort of cleric?

"He’s an extremely dangerous man. He has shown a desire to harm the United States, a desire to strike the homeland of the United States," Holder said. "He is a person who — as an American citizen — is familiar with this country and he brings a dimension, because of that American familiarity, that others do not."

Holder said that as a threat to the United States, Awlaki ranks right up there with Osama bin Laden.

"He would be on the same list with bin Laden," the attorney general said. "He’s up there. I don’t know whether he’s one, two, three, four — I don’t know. But he’s certainly on the list of the people who worry me the most."

Yes, yes and what is the common thread between Awlaki, bin Laden, al Qaeda and the people who keep Holder up at night?

"I have to have all those tools available to me to try to keep the American people safe, and to do the job that I’m supposed to do as a 21st century attorney general," Holder said.

Holder said the United States has made great strides in improving its ability to detect and block attacks, which is shown by the number of would-be terrorists who have been stopped before they could kill Americans. The intelligence community is working around the clock, he said, with little time off.

Well acknowledging that every single one of the “terrorists” or “radicals” among the 50 or so apprehended this year was Muslim or a convert to Islam might go a long way in identifying the threat.  Osama bin Laden, Al Awlaki and the 50 Americans all have in common their brand of radical Islam.  Al Qaeda didn’t just pop up because it thought it would be fun to target and kill Americans, it exists because its followers believe in a radical brand of Islam that instructs them to make war against infidels.  And America is considered the infidel of infidel nations.  Ergo, it is their primary target.

Without the underlying thread of their radical beliefs, they have no real reason to attack us.  But, acknowledging that all 50 of the “Americans” were Muslim and the fact that all 126 arrested shared that same radical faith would mean acknowledging that Muslims are 100% of the problem.  Can’t do that and search granny at the airport (in the name of fairness)can we?  Can’t do that and risk the charge of “profiling” – something we absolutely ought to be doing until circumstance or evidence lead us to do otherwise.

Why is it we’ll subject our own citizens to degrading, humiliating and intrusive searches of their person at airports and yet we won’t do the logical thing necessary to actually protect our citizenry?  Profiling is done everyday in law enforcement – just ask about how serial killers are identified.  When a description of a perpetrator is circulated, it will have the perp’s gender, race and age.  That is profiling data which helps narrow the search.

To this point we haven’t had a non-Muslim attacker try to blow any of us up.  Why are we so shy about saying that “radical Islam” is the problem, and until they prove otherwise, the larger set of Muslims in the US are a potential threat?   How do you argue otherwise given the evidence?

Does that mean we should go on a witch hunt within the American Muslim community?  Of course not – but, we shouldn’t avoid the fact that the threat has consistently and exclusively come from that community and that until it stops, they’ll be views suspiciously, watched closely and receive the most scrutiny.

But we won’t.  Just as Eric Holder spent an entire interview avoiding the use of the words “Muslim” or “Islam”, we’ll continue to eschew the obvious and doing what is logical for the appearance of being “fair”.  Apparently fairness, not security, is our nation’s highest priority – at least for now.



If radical Islamic bombers ever become competent, the West could have a problem

Some wackado Islamic radical blew himself up in Stockholm Sweden.  He was the only fatality although he injured two others and now has a nation in the grip of fear.

Of course my title is simply a statement of how inept this particular bomber was in this particular case.  And yes, it is a bit sarcastic as well. But as we saw with the NYC bomber, it is indeed amateur hour among the radical recruits.  And that doesn’t count the Portland wannabe bomber and the other joker who was the victim of a sting as he tried to blow up a recruiting station.

For the most part, they’re young, they’re radical and – unfortunately – they already live in the country they target.  In fact, in some cases, they’re citizens of the country they target, although mostly naturalized citizens.

Of course the object of any such bombing is terror.  And the desired tactical outcome is mass casualties.  The desired strategic outcome, however, is fear and over-reaction. A bit of making those attacked dance to the attacker’s tune.  It’s about getting into the minds of those they wish to terrorize and make them more amenable to meeting the demands of the terrorists. 

In the case of Sweden, it turns out the reason for this attack was Sweden’s claimed “silence” about the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad years ago.  Additionally, there was criticism of Swedish participation in NATO’s Afghan mission (500 Swedish troops in the northern part of the country).

So while the tactical outcome wasn’t accomplished, it appears that the strategic aim may end up being achieved.

The Stockholm blasts seemed certain to cause widespread shock in Sweden. The country has long prided itself on having created a stable and peaceful society at home, and on having avoided involvement in the upheavals that have ravaged much of the rest of Europe in modern times, including World War II.

It’ll be interesting how Sweden reacts to this in the coming weeks.  But perhaps every time they think about capitulating to the strategic aim of the terrorists they should review and think about the message they received from compatriots of the bomber:

“Now, your children — daughters and sisters — will die like our brothers and sisters and children die,” it continued. “Our actions will speak for themselves. As long as you do not end your war against Islam and the insult against the prophet and your stupid support for that pig Vilks.”

You can’t vote “present” in this sort of a situation.  As is obvious, people are out to kill Swedes and they don’t much care who it is that’s unlucky enough to be around the next bombing attempt (of course, the probability of being killed in a terror attack in the West is probably akin to the probability of being struck by lightning as it is – but it still scares people excessively.).

So … they can roll over, give up their liberty and freedom and someday see their children grow up in an oppressive culture that doesn’t value anything the Swedes value today.   Or Sweden can take a deep breath, hitch up its courage, declare real war on radical Islam and the killers it creates and sweep them from their country.  By doing so they can also serve notice that the dominant culture – Swedish culture – will remain as such and that those who’ve immigrated from other lands and other cultures can adapt to that culture or leave.  Here’s a basic truth that needs to be heeded: You cannot be tolerant with the intolerant.

When those who would kill you declare war on you as these killers have, you have two choices – fight the war or surrender.  You can’t decide not to participate.  It doesn’t work that way.  Hopefully Sweden will understand that and choose the former over the latter. 



Taliban attack in US imminent?

There’s apparently corroborated intelligence which says there’s a Pakistani Taliban operative within the US preparing to stage an attack similar to the Times Square plot that failed some months ago.

I would assume the newest terrorist has undergone much more intensive bomb construction training than did Faisal Shahzad.

Of course, making bombs isn’t particularly difficult nor does it take exceptional brain power or technical knowledge.  Any fanatic boob can be taught how to do it.

Frankly I’ve been surprised that we haven’t suffered a number of these sorts of attacks.  Perhaps it is because in the past, the terrorists have attempted to send in one of their own from Pakistan or Afghanistan.  In the case of the latter, unless extensive cultural training was done prior to the insertion of such an operative, he’d be like an alien landed on a new planet.  And then there are all the visa and travel difficulties to contend with.

Nope, the way you do this is how the Taliban is proceeding at the moment.  Recruit citizens from the target country to do the dirty work.  Like the 8 “Germans” who were just killed in Pakistan.  Or, Faisal Shahzad for that matter.

That’s probably the biggest hurdle – getting someone in country who can operate without raising suspicion.  They used to tell stories in South Korea about how easy it was for authorities there to identify North Korean agents – because of the culture they came from, they were just obvious.  And they didn’t last long in South Korea (any number of them defecting when they got a quick taste of the “decadent” South).

I don’t believe defecting is a particular concern, but it is a pretty fair surmisal that a rural Afghan would not fit in particularly well in the US culture.   So stage 2, that which is apparently underway now, is to recruit those who can move easily through the culture and society – US citizens of the Muslim faith they can radicalize.

That, of course, significantly narrows the group that authorities most likely have to concern themselves with, but it also smacks of “profiling” – a sin worse than seeing Americans blown up by a terrorist, apparently.  Of course profiling has been used successfully many times in chasing down serial killers and the like, but woe be unto authorities that admit it might be useful in chasing down a terrorist.

Anyway, the other aspect of this is the availability of bomb making substances and the ease by which they can be obtained.  Certainly after the OKC bombing some steps were taken to better account for the obvious substances that can be used, but in reality, so many bomb making substances are in such wide use that unless you had unlimited manpower and unlimited time to follow up every purchase of propane, fertilizer or other bomb making substances, the probability of someone gathering the right stuff in the right quantities is high.  That too is certainly better accomplished by a citizen than by an alien.

Finally, there’s opportunity.  The bad guys want to make a bloody statement.  That means a mass casualty scenario.  The opportunities for that are almost endless in a country of this size in which large crowds gather routinely for any of a number of reasons.  This is where constant intelligence and analysis are necessary to constantly monitor those opportunities as they occur and narrow them down to a small group of “most likely”.  Not an easy job. 

If, for instance, intelligence says that the terrorist is most likely to use a device like the Times Square (failed) Bomber, then he’s going to need an outdoor venue, not an indoor one – so you cross off all the indoor venues in the time frame.  Since it is likely to have to be vehicle mounted, perhaps outdoor venues where the crowds are safely away from the streets can be crossed off as well.  So maybe, for that day, they narrow it down to a couple of political rallies held in parking lots, or similar scenarios. 

That’s all good for that day only.  Next day starts the process all over again – in addition to continually attempting to identify and find the terrorist and his network (he’s most likely going to have some in support and logistics roles as well).  One needle in a multitude of haystacks.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand – if this is an effort by the Taliban, it seems ill timed given the reports of high level talks between the Taliban and Afghan government aimed at stopping the Afghan war.  Perhaps they are of the opinion that a successful attack here (and the promise of more if the US doesn’t get behind the effort) might actually help their cause.

Having watched the American people react to such attacks in the past, I’m not so sure that’s a great read on how to proceed.  Of course they could be aiming this at the leadership here which may be much more influenced by such an attack in the way the Taliban would prefer than the people.

Bottom line: be aware.  Per the intelligence out there somewhere someone is plotting American deaths in the US.  Nothing particularly new there and nothing which should stop you from doing what you want.  But understand as well, that this is the world we live in, keep your eyes and ears open and have a situational awareness about you that is tuned to security.  I’m not trying to scare anyone – heck you risk you life every day when you drive to work.  I’m just saying that this is and will be our on going reality for years to come.   May as well get used to it.



A Mosque Too Far?

This post, in its original form, was previously posted at the Washington Examiner on Wednesday, August 11, 2010. The following post has been updated for today.

Plans to build an Islamic cultural center right next door to the site of the greatest attack on American soil have generated plenty of controversy. And as plans continue to move forward, more is promised still. Questions as to where the money is coming from to build it, and who exactly its leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, really is are likely unresolvable, yet add fuel to the already contentious debate. In fact, today new questions were raised as to the connections of Rauf and his organization (the Cordoba Initiative) to Iran:

Two weeks ago the Cordoba Initiative website featured a photograph of the project’s chairman, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and Iranian Mohammad Javad Larijani at an event that the Initiative sponsored in Malaysia in 2008. This week, the photograph … has disappeared.

Larijani was the Iranian representative who defended Iran’s abysmal human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in February and June of this year. Among other things, Larijani told the Council: “Torture is one thing and punishment is another thing. … This is a conceptual dispute. Some forms of these punishments should not be considered torture according to our law.” By which he meant flogging, amputation, stoning, and the criminalization of homosexuality, which are all part of Iranian legal standards. Larijani added: “Iran [has a] firm commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. … The Islamic Republic of Iran … is a democracy,” which would be news to the pro-democracy activists murdered or confined to Iranian prisons since last year’s fraudulent elections.

There may be nothing to these sorts of queries, and it may be that Mr. Rauf and his organization are earnest peace-seekers. Even so, the plan to place a $100 Million structure dedicated to Islam right next to Ground Zero has understandably caused a lot of questions to be asked, although few have elicited answers. Writing for the Ottawa Citizen, Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah think they can settle one of the burning issues, however: why a mosque at Ground Zero?

When we try to understand the reasoning behind building a mosque at the epicentre of the worst-ever attack on the U.S., we wonder why its proponents don’t build a monument to those who died in the attack?

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran. […]

Let’s not forget that a mosque is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims and not an inviting community centre. Most Americans are wary of mosques due to the hard core rhetoric that is used in pulpits. And rightly so. As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain.

The Koran implores Muslims to speak the truth, even if it hurts the one who utters the truth. Today we speak the truth, knowing very well Muslims have forgotten this crucial injunction from Allah.

The article’s writers are both authors about Islamic politics and culture as well as board members of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Now, I don’t know if Raza and Fatah are correct in their assertions, but I have a good reason to believe they may be. Several in fact, two of which I’ve seen personally.

I was once able to visit Istanbul and Jerusalem where I eagerly toured both the Hagia Sophia and the remains of what is believed to be Solomon’s Temple (typically referred to as the Western Wall). Both of these deeply religious sites have been converted to Muslim uses by the building of mosques.

The original Hagia Sophia was a church built by the Emperor Constantine some time in the fourth century, which was subsequently razed on a few different occasions. The Emperor Justinian I erected the current structure in the 530’s, and it still stands as one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in existence. However, when Constantinople finally became Istanbul for good, the Hagia Sophia saw a dramatic change:

… Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople. He was amazed at the beauty of the Hagia Sophia and immediately converted it into his imperial mosque.

Hagia Sophia served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. It became a model for many of the Ottoman mosques of Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque [ed. – which is within sight of of the Hagia Sophia], the Suleiman Mosque, the Shehzade Mosque and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

No major structural changes were made at first; the addition of a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit) and a wooden minaret made a mosque out of the church. At some early point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. Various additions were made over the centuries by successive sultans.

In short, the conquerors replaced a mighty cultural symbol of the vanquished with one of their own. Fairly standard really, but I still found it a bit odd to walk into one of the oldest Christian churches in the world only to be confronted with giant symbols of Islam everywhere.

Visiting Jerusalem was just as puzzling. I knew that the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) was all that was left of Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount, but I had not realized that atop it sat not one, but two Islamic holy sites: The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. These two religious sites replaced and took over what is considered the holiest of all places on Earth by the Jews, who are forbidden from entering either.

There are, of course, other examples, but it’s not as if this sort of conquering behavior is the sole province of Muslims. Indeed, the al-Aqsa Mosque was itself taken over as a church for a brief time by Crusaders.

Even so, it cannot be denied that erecting mosques and other holy sites upon or near places of great cultural significance to their enemies is something to which Muslims seem historically inclined. And while most Muslims may not consider themselves at war with the West, or Americans as an enemy of Islam, those who took down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 most certainly did, and still do. That is why I think that Raza and Fatah may be right.

To erect a monument in the form of the Ground Zero Mosque to the nihilistic, death-loving 9/11 terrorists is a slap in the face of everyone they murdered on that day, those who gave up their lives to rescue the survivors, and all of their families and friends. It would be allowing a symbol of enemy victory to desecrate hallowed ground.

Bruce made a great argument as to why, despite whatever intentions the mosque’s benefactors may have, it’s an affront to individual property rights and the rule of law to use the government to prevent the Ground Zero Mosque from being built.

Basically, I think he’s right. But I can’t help thinking that if, say, a group of Japanese decided to by some property right next to Pearl Harbor in order to erect a monument or shrine, we as American citizens might find some peaceful and non-coercive way of stopping that from happening.

As for the Ground Zero Mosque, we’ll just have to wait and see.


Guantanamo’s lesson for the Obama administration

The New York Times tells us that closing the Guantanamo facility has "faded as a priority." The once adamant insistence by candidate and later President Obama that the facility must be closed to erase the blight on America’s image has now run smack dab into reality. The New York Times prefers to write it off to “political resistance”, implying political foes on the right are responsible for Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo. In fact the Obama Justice Department has been no more successful in determining what to do with the detainees at “Gitmo” than was the Bush administration. That is the problem area that can’t be resolved.

The reality they face is very simple – those incarcerated are very dangerous people whose sole goal in life is to kill as many Americans as they can by whatever means they have at their disposal. Releasing them back into the world would simply allow them to again engage in achieving their goals.

The Obama administration has fretted and fussed over their inability to close the detention center. They’ve installed commissions to study the problem, they’ve explored various possible solutions and none have provided a resolution to the problem of what to do with these detainees.

If you can’t release the detainees, they obviously have to be kept somewhere.  That is the core of Obama’s problem.  His claim that Gitmo is a stain on the image of the United States and is used by our enemies as a recruiting tool presupposes that closing the facility (and, one assumes, releasing the detainees) would remove that stain and the claimed “recruiting tool” Guantanamo provides.

The final attempt at a solution involved Congressional Democrats putting forward a plan to use a closed prison facility in Illinois to house the Guantanamo detainees and allowing the administration to close the detention center there. This idea was certainly met with political resistance when Americans became aware of the plan. Common sense says you don’t move dangerous detainees in an isolated facility off-shore into the heart of your country and provide violent radicals with an opportunity to bring terrorism to America in an attempt to rescue those being held.

But that plan also shifted the debate in a subtle way that many missed. By considering the plan, the administration tacitly admitted that what they saw as a “stain” on America’s image was, in fact, a necessary “stain.” That image, of course, had to do with holding these detainees without trial in an American facility. Its name happened to be Guantanamo. But moving them to an inland prison doesn’t change the image. It merely changes the name and location of the prison. It was clear, at that point, that the administration had no idea how it could close Gitmo safely and remove that “stain.”  The best it could do was transfer the “stain” to Illinois.

So it has chosen to let the closing of the Guantanamo facility “fade in priority.” Another naive campaign promise squashed by reality. The world is full of dangerous people who wish us ill.  The job of keeping us safe falls to the federal government. For an administration which likes to present teachable moments, this should be one for them.

Guantanamo exists for a very important purpose directly tied to the government’s job of keeping us safe. The administration has now explored that point in seemingly every possible way and the facility remains open and functioning. Perhaps it is time they made peace with that fact and turned their concentration toward keeping the citizens of the US safe instead of worrying about imaginary “stains.”

Has the world fallen out of love with Obama?

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.

Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.

Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.

Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”

Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:

Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.

So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:

The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.

Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.

Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:

In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.

His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.

These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?

Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?

So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.

Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:

America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”

I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.

Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.



Is The No-Fly List Unconstitutional?

I have an article up at The Washington Examiner that explores whether or not the rights of Yahya Wehelie are being violated. Mr. Wehelie has essentially been deported from the U.S. without any charges being brought against him, nor any due process whatsoever:

Yahya Wehelie, 26, said Wednesday that after landing at the airport in Cairo in early May, he was told he would not be able to board his connection to New York and would have to go to the U.S. Embassy for an explanation. Embassy officials later told Wehelie and a younger brother with whom he was traveling that they would have to wait for FBI agents to arrive from Washington.


Wehelie, who was born in the United States to Somali immigrants, said U.S. officials took his old passport and issued him a new one that was good only for a one-way trip to the United States. But, he said, he was also informed by an FBI agent that he cannot board any plane scheduled to enter U.S. or Canadian airspace, leaving him in a kind of limbo.

You can read my take at The Washington Examiner.

As an aside, is there any doubt that if this had happened during the Bush administration that the hue and cry from the MSM would have been deafening?