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Monday, August 1, 2011

New Congressional Report on Homegrown Terrorism: Late and Off-target

Earlier last week the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security issued a report on the subject, “Al-Shabaab: Recruitment and Radicalization within the Muslim American Community and the Threat to the Homeland.”  Four years ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) brought this to the attention of their senior leadership and Congress.  Unfortunately, one excuse after another was raised as obstacles to the two primary weapons against terrorism; information sharing and public awareness.  Congress is just now getting around to issuing a report about this threat that has been on counterterrorists’ radar since 2007; however, while the report is relatively accurate, it is mistaken on quite a few points and fails to put the actual threat in context for use by local and state law enforcement.

According to the report, the US counterterrorism community “underestimated the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Yemen’s capability of launching attacks” in the Homeland and that “we cannot afford to make the same mistake with Shabaab.”  First, our Intelligence Community has always placed a higher priority on terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula, which includes Yemen, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.  For example, the then-Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Michael Leiter, testified before the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) in September 2009 that “al-Qa`ida and its affiliates and allies remain resilient and adaptive enemies intent on attacking US and Western interests,” with specific mention that “al-Qa`ida’s core in Pakistan represent[s] the most dangerous component of the larger al-Qa`ida network.”  And while there has always been the possibility of a threat from Somalia, it has only been in the last 18-months that a real threat has been considered more likely.  This is due to the fact that previously DHS and the FBI considered al-Shabaab too preoccupied with consolidating their control over Somalia and removing foreign troops from their homeland and less concerned with allowing al-Qa`ida East Africa (AQEA) to hijack their training facilities, cadres, and recruits to carry out attacks against the US.       


The Somali Diaspora in America

With this recent report the committee lays bare some of the challenges we face when dealing with Muslim communities in the Homeland.  However, the report does not explain the extenuating factors behind those challenges, specifically with regard to the Somali-American communities here in the US.  For example, unlike other Muslim communities in the US, those from Somalia are recent arrivals.  The great majority of Somali-Americans did not come to the US until the mid- to late-1990s; and then they came en masse.  This presented numerous challenges to both the incoming Somalis and the communities to which they were destined.  Unlike previous migrations of immigrants, there were no large, established Somali communities in the US to welcome the new arrivals.  Therefore, there were no established communities into which they could settle and which could aid them in communicating with the English-speaking welfare workers, school districts, hospitals, or law enforcement.  The Somalis were essentially on a deserted island in the middle of the most developed country in the world.  This obviously led to numerous issues, both within the Somali community and around it.  Within the community, without being able to speak the language, many, if not most, were unable to do the basic things in life such as get good paying jobs, apply for certain immigrant benefits, and go to college.  Other black communities harassed the Somalis for not being American or being able to speak English.  This led to insularity within the Somali community.  Young Somali boys and men banded together to defend themselves and their communities, leading to the creation of Somali-only gangs.  Additionally, Somalis, like many immigrants from underdeveloped, corrupt countries, intensely distrust law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which in their home countries are usually one and the same.  These agencies routinely grab innocent people off the streets or out of their homes either because they slighted the ruling regime in some way or simply to elicit ransom money from the person’s family.  These detentions are almost always accompanied by torture, forcing the detainee to confess, whether they are guilty or not.  Even fleeing their country to neighboring countries with other refugees, they are at the mercy of foreign government officials who detain and torture them to ensure they are not criminals or terrorists or to obtain some sort of outrageous payment to enter the country or refugee camp.  This distrust of foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies did not change when they arrived in the US, thus creating the illusion that Somali communities are not very cooperative with law enforcement. 

This insulation also led to an identity crisis in the Somali communities.  The older Somalis, the ones who made the decision to immigrate to the US, remembered what it was like in war-torn Somalia.  They understood that as bad as it might be in America, at least they did not have to worry about armed militias attacking their villages or kidnapping their children for use in their armies.  However, the younger Somalis, those who were mere babies when they came to America or who were born here shortly after arriving, knew nothing of the hardships their parents faced in their old country.  All they knew was that they were not only not accepted as American, they were not even accepted as African-American by other black communities.  The only thing to which they could cling, and to which they could identify with other communities, was their Islamic religion.


Al-Shabaab and Radicalization of Somalis in America

Then came 9/11.  Now, not only were they disparaged for being recently-arrived African immigrants, but they were hassled and despised for being Muslim.  The younger Somalis, growing up with this harassment and hatred, felt nothing could be as bad as their current situation.  If this is what Western democracies were like, then there was no reason they should not be able to go home, back to Somalia, where they would fit in with other Somalis and other Muslims.  At least this was their initial thinking.  They wanted to make something of themselves and it was promised to them by others in their communities.  Unfortunately, these “others” were the same people the parents of these young people had wanted to leave behind.  Instead, many followed them to America.  These people were former members of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), comprised of multiple radical Muslim groups that consolidated control over most of central and southern Somalia in late 2006.  The ICU was able to do what no other Somali group had done since the civil war began in 1991; they brought peace to the parts of Somalia they controlled.  However, the group had two key elements going against it, first, Christian-led Ethiopia was not about to let a Muslim-led government take control in Somalia, and two, the ICU helped hide two key al-Qa`ida members involved in the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the US wanted them.


As a result, the rule of al-Shabaab lasted only a few weeks when Ethiopia invaded and occupied Somalia, primarily the capitol Mogadishu.  The ICU scattered into the hinterlands of Somalia, where the Ethiopians would not dare follow.  As a result, the ICU, already a fragile alliance of multiple Islamist groups, each with their own leadership, objectives, and end-states, splintered.  Some of the more moderate members wanted to work towards a peaceful assumption of government, compromising with Ethiopia and the US while balancing the wants and needs of the Somali people with respect to their Islamic roots.  Other, more radical elements of the former ICU, particularly those affiliated with the armed wing of the group, Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin, or Mujahidin Youth Movement, joining forces again with other like-minded radical Islamist groups, sought to continue the armed struggle to take over the government and implement strict Islamic law, Shari`a, and oppose any outside interference by Ethiopia or the US.

However, as previously mentioned, al-Shabaab is comprised of at least four major radical Islamist groups who work together when needed, such as fighting against Ethiopian occupation, but, as was seen when Ethiopia withdrew its forces, were equally satisfied with fighting each other for control of lucrative areas in southern Somalia, such as the port of Kismaayao.  It was these reasons, their fight against Ethiopia and their own internal conflicts, that have led most counterterrorism analysts to determine that while al-Shabaab leadership may have the intent to attack the US and its interests, it did not have the capability as their arsenals were already prioritized.

As for American citizens in its ranks, the most serious threat to the Homeland, the report claims, “No Al Qaeda group…has attracted anywhere near as many American and Western recruits as Shabaab has over the past three years.”  This statement, like a good portion of the report, is misleading.  What it fails to mention is that a number of the American-born Muslim converts either wanted to go to places such as Pakistan or Yemen, but were discouraged or, after seeing the abundant media reports about the ease with which Somali-Americans were able to go and join al-Shabaab, opted to go there instead.  There is no mysterious al-Shabaab recruiting network secretly recruiting American-born Muslim converts to join al-Shabaab; it is simply that there is no cohesive government in Somalia, thereby leaving the borders porous, and al-Shabaab leadership has openly allied itself with al-Qa`ida, thus attracting the most radical, and potentially most violent type of recruit, the American-born Muslim convert. 

Al-Shabaab is comprised of two elements, which the House of Representatives’ report erroneously combines under a single terrorist umbrella; Somali-Americans, the great majority of whom were convinced to return to Somalia either for nationalist reasons or who were tricked into returning for other reasons and then convinced or coerced to stay and fight, and American-born, Muslim converts who went to Somalia specifically in an effort to join the global jihadi insurgency inspired by the al-Qa`ida movement.  In the world of counterterrorism, a person’s intent is just as critical as their capability to carry out a terrorist attack.  While the majority of Somalis, both in the US and in Somalia, sympathize with al-Shabaab’s efforts to rid their homeland of interlopers, they do not agree with al-Qa`ida’s wider, global goals of jihad against the West.  The majority of the rank-and-file al-Shabaab fighters are concerned with securing Somalia and ridding it of foreign influences.  The same cannot be said for American-born, Muslim converts who went to Somalia in an effort to join al-Qa`ida or an al-Qa`ida affiliate.

These two groups of US citizens, Somali-Americans and US-born Muslim converts, cannot easily be lumped into the same category as al-Qa`ida-inspired terrorists.  The House report would have everyone believe all Somali-Americans are being secretly radicalized in their local mosques and are fully aware that they are traveling to Somalia to train in terrorist operations, particularly suicide bombing, and will then be sent back to the US to carry out suicide attacks.  The report states that the first-ever suicide attack carried out by an American, Shirwa Ahmed, an American-Somali, in Somalia in 2008, “immediately raised serious fears among homeland security-focused officials that if an American Muslim could be radicalized to be a suicide bomber overseas, he could be convinced to do it back home.”  While theoretically true, any person, with the proper indoctrination, can be radicalized to carry out suicide attacks, the intent must come from the person themselves.  There must be a reason for this person to want to carry out a suicide attack.  An individual like Shirwa Ahmed, who probably firmly believed in his mind he was giving his life for the greater good of his country, will more than likely not seek to undertake a suicide mission for any other reason.  If that were the case, if al-Qa`ida, using al-Shabaab as a proxy training and operational cell, wanted to use Somali-Americans to carry out attacks against and within the US, why would they take the chance on having them travel overseas, where the risks of being picked up on the Intelligence Community’s radar are much greater, just to receive training that can be just as easily conducted here in the US without raising as much suspicion?  Since 9/11 al-Qa`ida and al-Qa`ida-inspired operatives have continually sought ways to enter the US without arousing suspicion; why not leave their potential operatives where they are in the US and risk sending just the master bombmaker or trainer here?

Similarly, the report claims “Shabaab recruiters have used mosques as cover and as safe places…to recruit and raise money to support Shabaab.”  What the report fails to highlight is that for every one person they attempt to be truthful with, there are dozens more who are told that they are raising money and other types of donations to support the widows and orphans back in Somalia, when in reality it is all going to support al-Shabaab.


The Solution

So how do we address the problem?  First and foremost the US government must employ a holistic approach to the problem.  Why are these young men willing to return to Somalia?  We should address those problems, both internally with local support groups, and internationally, by supporting a government in Somalia that the people, not Ethiopia, will accept.  Additionally, if Somalia is such as haven for terrorist threats to the US, why does President Obama not go there and give a speech like he did in Cairo?  The only messages the al-Shabaab fighters get are those from their radical leadership and the attacks the US has carried out in the country; reassure the common al-Shabaab soldier he is not the target and that we only want peace for Somalia.

What about those Somali-Americans already there fighting with al-Shabaab?  One possible solution is to use the carrot-stick approach.  The majority of Somali-Americans who went to Somalia and joined al-Shabaab did so out of nationalistic fervor, at a time when Ethiopian troops, Somalia’s main antagonist in the region, were deployed in Somalia to ensure a radical Islamist government could not come to power.  The only difference between these individuals and those of Jewish extraction who go to Israel to join its military to fight Palestinians is that the US happens to support Israel and there is no US politician willing to stand against Israel; whereas, in the case of Somalia, the US backs Christian-dominated Ethiopia and therefore considers any Somali who fights against the foreign incursion into their country by Ethiopia a personal affront to America and its ally in the region.  As a result, any Somali-American who returns to Somalia to fight foreign troops is automatically considered a terrorist and is hesitant to return to the US where they will most likely face criminal or terrorist charges.  Instead of lumping all Somali-Americans who fight with al-Shabaab as terrorists, each one should be determined on a case-by-case basis.  They should be given an ultimatum; return to the US and renounce violence and work within the confines of the international legal community to help bring peace to their homeland or lose their American citizenship and remain in Somalia, possibly being labeled as a terrorist and suffer the consequences of that label.  This can also be applied to those here in the US intent on supporting al-Shabaab; either they cease and desist or face the possibility of losing their resident status and being returned to Somalia to the current government.

Obviously there will be those who refuse to return or stop their support, especially the American Muslim-converts, such as Omar Hammami and others of his ilk, who went to Somalia specifically to get closer to al-Qa`ida.  There is no excuse for these individuals and as a result they should be hunted as al-Qa`ida operatives by the US military and Intelligence Community.  These individuals are the real threat to the Homeland, something not made very clear in the House’s latest report.


Conclusion

Radicalization is at the heart of terrorism, whether it is al-Qa`ida’s brand of global jihadist terrorism, Christian-identity terror, black separatist terror, or right-wing Neo-Nazi or KKK terror.  Everyone has a breaking point and any person, under the right circumstances and conditions, with the appropriate level of hatred and radical beliefs, can be swayed to commit acts of terrorism or support terrorist groups.  To accuse anyone who has received any level of military training, whether it was provided by a group such as al-Shabaab or from the US military, of being a potential terrorist is simply asinine and idiotic.  We must identify the intent behind the individuals as well as the groups with which they associate in order to better identify the threats of homegrown terrorists.  This can only be done at the grass-roots level; local and state law enforcement and the communities in which these individuals live and associate.  For the FBI and DHS to try and gauge the level of radicalization at their level is like trying to ascertain the license plate of a car on a road from an airplane 30,000-ft in the air.

Congress needs to investigate and issue a report on the intelligence gaps and failure to share information between the federal and state / local level.  A key example is the case of Omar Hammami.  Initially, in 2007, the FBI’s reasoning for keeping this intelligence under wraps, to include keeping some of the more critical information from state and local law enforcement, was to allow the bad guys to continue to operate normally and lead law enforcement to others in their group; it made sense, from a law enforcement and counterterrorism perspective.  However, DHS soon found out how limited the FBI’s information sharing was with state and local law enforcement, with the release of a propaganda video in March 2009 starring Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, a US-born Muslim convert, not even of Somali descent.  At the time, though DHS knew he was an American, we only knew him by his nom de guerre.  Once some simple research and comparisons were done, DHS published an Unclassified // For Official Use Only (U//FOUO) document for dissemination to state and local law enforcement agencies, especially those in Alabama since that is where we found, on the Internet, information about Hammami and the Muslim Student Association at the University of South Alabama.  When law enforcement agencies from Alabama thanked DHS for the information and queried the FBI on why it did not come from them, especially when it was discovered the FBI knew his true identity since at least 2007, it was then that we found out the extent, or the lack thereof, of the FBI’s information sharing with state and local counterparts.

The state and local law enforcement officials working at the ground-level, in and with the Somali communities, will be among the first to sense a change of attitude or notice missing individuals; therefore, unless potential threats are shared in a timely and forthcoming manner our counterterrorism community as a whole will always play the reactive vice proactive role and Congress will continue to hold hearings and investigations into threats that are years old.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are collapsing financial markets and immigration ushering in a new era of terrorism?

For terrorism to be successful, for terrorist movements to gain funds and recruits, and, most importantly, for terrorists to gain sympathy, they must get and hold the public’s attention. This is usually done through the over exaggeration of social problems, both real and imaginary.

Students of terrorism understand that each era of a specific brand of terrorism never really ends; they simply fizzle out and lie dormant until something or someone draws new attention and support to the cause. The recent attacks in Oslo, Norway by the Christian Fundamentalist, Anders Behring Breivik, may be the beginning of the reemergence of radical right-wing terrorism in Europe. There are currently two world events that can be used to garner the attention needed by right-wing terrorist movements: first, the continuing downward spiral of the worlds’ financial markets and second, the continued immigration of Muslims to Western countries.

Immigration is usually instigated by one of two reasons, one, deplorable conditions in the immigrants’ home country, such as lack of security or jobs, force people to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and two, the prospect of better conditions in the target country where immigrants can expect to raise their families in relative security and with the hope of securing employment. Europe, with its more liberal attitudes and rapid growth post-World War II, has been the traditional destination for Muslims, particularly those from French-speaking North Africa and Turkey. Additionally, for immigrants with little or no money, Europe is a better option due simply to its proximity to the Middle East.

The recent attacks in Norway by Breivik were an attempt to incite an anti-Muslim crusade across Europe. In a manifesto allegedly authored and posted on the Internet by Breivik, he raged about Muslim immigration to Europe and swore to take revenge on native Europeans whom he accused of fostering, or at least ignoring, the Muslim immigration. There would be only one of two reasons why Breivik thought he could get away with such a heinous act: first, he thought he could make it seem the attacks were carried out by a violent Islamist terrorist group, also known as a “false-flag” operation, or second, he felt there was enough anti-Muslim sentiment in Norway specifically, and probably Europe in general, that he would be seen as a hero. Based on the available information, the fact that he allowed himself to be arrested, it would seem the latter was what he had planned. And, if right-wing terrorism is on the rise, specifically targeting Muslim communities, will violent Islamists retaliate in an attempt at one-upmanship and in an effort to gain more of the media’s attention and thus more support for their cause?

Breivik did not believe he could simply incite additional violence against Muslims without reason. In 2008 the Pew Research Center issued a report, “Unfavorable Views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe,” which outlined the sharp increase in anti-Muslim views in Europe since 2005. Combining a rise in anti-Muslim feelings, failing financial markets, and continued immigration by Muslims to European countries, one can see how the stage is set for violent right-wingers like Breivik to execute violent attacks for their cause with the idea that they would have widespread support. This type of activity and expectation of sympathy is reminiscent of the overt attacks carried out by the Ku Klux Klan in the South during the 1960s who felt confident they could not be prosecuted for their attacks against blacks due to the widespread support they had in their communities at the time.

After his arrest, Breivik claimed there were other right-wing cells preparing to carry out additional attacks. He may have said this simply to reassure himself that he is not alone, or, he could be telling the truth. If his claim is true, and if additional attacks come to fruition, will they incite, instead of more anti-Muslim attacks, new attacks by radical Islamist terrorists?

Norway, and Europe in general, is not the only Western nation experiencing a rise in anti-Muslim attitudes. The group ACT! For America, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, claims all Muslims are in reality jihadists bent on usurping our Constitution and instituting Islamic law, Shari`ah. The group, comprised of Christian and Jewish Fundamentalists from all socio-economic levels, believe Islam and Muslims are enemies of America and that any Muslim adhering to Shari`ah should be considered a terrorist and traitor. The effect of this group, and others like it, will first, convince the less educated Americans that all Muslims are bad, and two, force Muslims to unite into tighter conclaves, thus making them wary of legitimate law enforcement inquiries into the workings and activities of the real radical Islamists and it will foster an “us against them” mentality in the radical Islamist community, potentially creating violent Islamists where none existed before.

As the world’s financial markets decline more and more every day, more and more young people are put out of work. High unemployment and disenfranchisement are two of the key root causes behind terrorism in Muslim countries; these two critical factors can also be root causes behind right-wing and radical Islamist terrorism in places such as Europe and even the U.S. Add to those two crucial root causes the rise in right-wing, anti-Muslim rhetoric and possibly attacks on Muslim communities and one can see how a new era of terrorism can evolve.

Friday, June 25, 2010

UPDATE: Obama relieves McChrystal, but smoke means fire

*This is an update to my recent post on the firing by President Obama of U.S. General Stanley McChrystal.

Terrorists are now using Obama’s actions this week as propaganda. Obama relieved General Stanley McChrystal who had been recalled to Washington this week for allegedly criticizing colleagues and administration officials in comments he made to Michael Hastings, the author of a recently published Rolling Stone article.

Now, websites of radical Islamist groups, such as the Taliban, are promoting the firing as evidence the United States has lost the war in Afghanistan and Gen. McChrystal is being used as a scapegoat by the Obama administration. Another website, owned by a group calling itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, claims Petraeus will fare no better because he is “mentally worn out” and points to his fainting spell last week during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Obama relieves McChrystal, but smoke means fire

According to this week’s headlines Obama relieved General Stanley McChrystal who had been recalled to Washington this week for allegedly criticizing colleagues and administration officials in comments he made to Michael Hastings, the author of a recently published Rolling Stone article.

Obama has been waiting for an excuse to fire McChrystal since shortly after appointing him to head the war in Afghanistan and then realizing McChrystal has forgotten more about warfare and insurgencies than Obama’s advisers Biden and Holbrooke could ever hope to know in a lifetime. There has always been a disconnect between McChrystal and Obama, which was made even wider when McChrystal submitted his request for additional troops in order to properly execute the counterinsurgency effort initiated by Petraeus when he was appointed commander of Central Command (CENTCOM). Both Biden and Holbrooke opposed the strategy outlined by McChrystal and Petraeus; Biden even composed his own counterinsurgency strategy, which was a clumsy and amateur effort at playing army by the vice president.

The reason given for his firing, according to a CNN article, is that “McChrystal’s remarks…undermined the civilian control of the military ‘at the core of our democratic system’.” However, none of the individuals at the butt of the mockery are legally part of the military’s chain of command; therefore, they have no constitutional authority or control over the military. The individuals named in the article, Gen. (Ret.) James Jones, Obama’s National Security Advisor; Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry; and Richard Holbrooke, the senior State Department official assigned to Afghanistan and Pakistan, are all advisers to Obama, but do not control any part of the military. The chain of command goes from the commander on the ground, in this case Gen. McChrystal, through the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to the President. Nowhere in that list does the name of Biden, Jones, Eikenberry, or Holbrooke fall. This may simply be a case of semantics, but if the president is going to relieve a commanding general during a time of war, he should at least do so based on facts and not simply on emotion.

The fact that Obama’s key advisers were derided by senior military leaders potentially reflects the low regard in which his decision-making abilities are held, and is the reason the General was relieved. Supposedly, Gen. McChrystal and his staff ridiculed Obama’s “national security team with locker-room bravado.” But there must be a reason the General and his staff made these comments. Usually, where there is smoke there is fire. In other words, the top military commanders who interact on a regular basis with the Commander-in-Chief must know something that the rest of us do not. Additionally, if these comments reflect the low regard in which these individuals are held by the senior military leadership in Afghanistan, as a former Soldier, I can guarantee that that regard is even lower the further one travels down the chain of command, which does not bode well for how the military writ large perceives Obama’s leadership abilities, the control he has over the military, his strategic decisions, or his ability to manage our current wars.

As I wrote the other day,

[aside from Gen. (Ret.) Jones, none of Obama’s National Security team has military, much less combat, experience. Obama has surrounded himself with theoreticians, academicians, and wishful thinkers as opposed to experienced doers, which explains his dithering on the decision of whether or not to send additional troops as requested last year by General Petraeus. It is no wonder Holbrooke has yet to “lay out clear goals for the region,” especially since he assigns critical positions to kids such as Ronan Farrow, who was only 21-years old when appointed as a Special Adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I do not care how book smart a person is, or if that person was considered a child prodigy and entered college as soon as emerging from the womb, unless a person has the field experience, the real world familiarity with such a critical issue, book smarts do not cut it.]

Obama set the stage for how the wars would be managed, or not managed, and forecasted his relationship with the military leadership shortly after taking office. He procrastinated on the “strategic review” and the decision to meet the personnel requirements of his commanders on the ground, McChrystal and Petraeus, thus calling in to question their experience and motives. The General tapped to fill the void in the wake of McChrystal’s firing, David Petraeus, was the one who submitted the request for additional personnel to accomplish the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan back in 2009—a strategy based on lessons learned from his successful effort in Iraq. Obviously Obama has more regard for the advice of his civilian advisers, Holbrooke, Eikenberry, and Biden and Gen. Petraeus should tread cautiously into McChrystal’s role. Petraeus would be wise to remember his strategy in Iraq was implemented under Bush. If he fails to toe the line and agree with the doctrine outlined by the inexperienced, civilian advisers content to play army with other peoples’ lives, he also may find himself on the front page of liberal newspapers with headlines proclaiming Obama’s superior decision-making ability. If immediately firing someone is the epitome of great decision-making, then every Burger King manager who has fired someone during the lunch rush should be similarly heralded in the media.
Though the military is not supposed to be political or have politically-biased views of the administration in charge does not mean they do not harbor these views and feelings behind the office doors or in the barracks rooms on a Friday night. The majority of the military is contemptuous of the control Obama has over the military and is wary of his leadership abilities. It is for this reason that Obama’s backers and most of the liberal media are painting his firing of McChrystal as “a prime example of strong and decisive leadership.” They need to divert attention away from the real problem, Obama’s lack of command presence and general strategic knowledge, which are both a result of not having enough military experience in his inner circle. The New York Times, writing “[Obama] appears deliberative and open to debate, but in the end, is coldly decisive,” made his decision seem equivalent to Kennedy’s decision to blockade Cuba or Reagan’s decision to replace the air traffic controllers. Yet it took Obama almost half a year, during a critical period in the war, to make the decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan. Firing a general does not an Alexander the Great, or Kennedy or Reagan, make.

Why are these media outlets not digging deeper for the reasons why McChrystal and his aides made these comments? Usually where there is smoke there is fire. There is obviously a problem between the Obama administration and the military. Many lessons have been written of the White House’s involvement in the Vietnam War—particularly the lessons about too much civilian involvement in war decisions. Even more recent, there are crucial lessons to be learned from the Bush administration and the meddling by Rumsfeld and his lackeys at the Department of Defense. Evidently those lessons have not been learned by those occupying similar positions today. Is it right that an inexperienced president and his “yes men” advisers are allowed to continue to force their will on our military, even if they are legally allowed to do so, without having their decisions or experience called into question by those who are ultimately responsible for carrying them out? Should the military sit idly by while civilian leadership allows the nine-years we have invested in Afghanistan with blood, sweat, and tears to amount to nothing? At the end of the day, like we saw in Iraq, even if civilian leadership or advisers in DC are the ones calling the shots, it will be the generals who pay with their career and the Grunts and Leathernecks on the ground who pay with their lives.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McChrystal’s comments not far off the mark

According to today’s headlines U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal has been recalled to Washington this week for allegedly criticizing colleagues and administration leadership in comments he made to an author of a Rolling Stone article. Gen. McChrystal, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was originally scheduled to attend the monthly Afghanistan-Pakistan conference with senior administration officials via Secure Video Teleconference (SVTC) later this week.

According to CBS News, the “Rolling Stone profile…paints him [Gen. McChrystal] as deeply disconnected and displeased with the Obama administration.” Supposedly, Gen. McChrystal and his staff ridiculed Obama’s “national security team with locker-room bravado.” Some of the believed targets of the General’s and his staff’s derision included Gen. (Ret.) James Jones, Obama’s National Security Advisor; Vice President Joe Biden; and Richard Holbrooke, the senior State Department official assigned to Afghanistan and Pakistan. No one has claimed that Obama was part of the mockery.

For those familiar with the Obama administration’s history with regards to the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan the General’s alleged comments will not come as a shock. Aside from Gen. (Ret.) Jones, none of Obama’s National Security team has military, much less combat, experience. Obama has surrounded himself with theoreticians, academicians, and wishful thinkers as opposed to experienced doers, which explains his dithering on the decision of whether or not to send additional troops as requested last year by General Petraeus. It is no wonder Holbrooke has yet to “lay out clear goals for the region,” especially since he assigns critical positions to kids such as Ronan Farrow, who was only 21-years old when appointed as a Special Adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I do not care how book smart a person is, or if that person was considered a child prodigy and entered college as soon as emerging from the womb, unless a person has the field experience, the real world familiarity with such a critical issue, book smarts do not cut it. But instead of Holbrooke being held accountable for not taking his job seriously and recruiting at the local elementary school, our Generals, faced daily with tests of courage and conviction, are called away from the battlefield for making a few jokes about people who are everyday just begging to be made fun of.

Mr. Obama, you need to take a long, hard look at your own war council, possibly even card them to ensure they are of age, and write Gen. McChrystal’s remarks off as a joke. Until you fix the personnel situation within your own circle, no one will ever take them seriously. This is not a time and Afghanistan is not the place to teach these kids about war or to allow amateurs to play at army or diplomacy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Illegal Immigration: Obama Administration v. America

The issue

Can anyone name the last time the United States Government (USG) sued a state because that state was enforcing a federal law? Usually the USG is complaining because a state refuses to enforce federal law, such as with California and medical marijuana. Earlier last week Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during a television interview in Ecuador, informed the world that the Obama administration, without personally informing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, made its decision to file a lawsuit against the State of Arizona in order to force Gov. Brewer to repeal the state’s new law against illegal immigration, Senate Bill 1070, set to take effect next month.

We foolishly vote our politicians into office with the idea that they are going to represent the will of the American people and to abide by our wishes to the best of their ability, not to represent only a small segment of society, namely the big campaign donors of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Political Action Committees (PACs), and definitely not to kow-tow to the wishes of foreign governments or non-citizens. According to a recent CBS poll, the majority of Americans (56%) feel illegal immigration is a “serious problem.” This is not new. CBS reports this number has remained “steady over the past four years.” The Obama administration has been quick to remind us naïve voters that America is a republic, not a democracy, subject to the whims of the elitist politicians, first with the passage of his healthcare bill and now with the challenge to Arizona’s law. Evidently, Obama and his supporters know best and everyone else is just racist. But if Obama continues forward with this challenge to Arizona's law, it will not just be him against Gov. Brewer, it will be him against the majority of the country.

The most interesting thing about Obama’s challenge to Arizona’s law is that back in May, shortly after Gov. Brewer signed the bill into law, it was revealed that neither Obama’s chief law enforcement officer and lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, nor his Secretary of Homeland Security, and the former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, had read the law even though both were taking tough public stances against it. It is a good bet that if neither of the cabinet members with the ultimate responsibility for border security and immigration had read the law before publicly condemning it Obama also had probably not read it before coming out against it. How can someone openly criticize something before reading and understanding it? The simple answer is Special Interest Groups, in this case the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Casa de Maryland. If they do not like a law, they make absolutely sure every politician on their campaign donation list (i.e. in their pocket) knows they do not like it. A good example of how this works can be seen in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War when Congressman Wilson (Tom Hanks) goes to vote and asks his assistant Bonnie Bach (Amy Adams) which way he is supposed to vote.*

The arguments

Illegal immigrants are needed to fill jobs most Americans will not take. This is a myth, based simply on the amount of money paid to the illegal aliens not the job itself. Illegal aliens are paid a much lower wage than if they were legal workers and were protected by our labor laws. If, on the other hand, illegal aliens did not provide American companies with this option those companies would be forced to increase the wages in order to attract legal workers. And in this economy, if the price is right, someone will do the job. Of course, this increase would trickle down to the consumer, thus raising costs in stores, but it would also increase the quality of life for our own citizens who would then contribute to the tax base resulting in an increase in the amount of money the various levels of government are able to collect and use to pay for public services.

Arizona’s law will force many illegal aliens to go deeper underground, negatively impacting their cooperation with law enforcement. Another myth. According to various sources, instead of going underground illegal aliens are leaving Arizona before the law is set to go into effect 29 July. In other words, the law is already having the expected effect. Unfortunately, the illegal aliens are not returning to their homelands, instead most are opting to find a place to live and work in states and cities more accommodating to them. Places such as San Francisco and Maryland immediately come to mind.

In the counterterrorism world there is an expression, “terrorists will not attack a hardened target when there are so many soft targets to be had.” Places such as Arizona and certain counties in Virginia are “hardening” their defenses and as a result the illegals are finding “soft” targets to exploit, which does not bode well for those of us living in those areas.

The answer

If you believe illegal immigration should be stemmed, especially if that means more, stricter laws on the books, you are obviously a racist. It does not matter that you may actually be concerned with securing our borders, ensuring Americans, of every color, have the opportunity to earn a decent wage and not be undercut by illegals, or making sure our limited public services, which are becoming even more scarce during this tough economy, are available to the legal citizens who pay the taxes that support them. No. If those are your concerns, you are still racist. Why? Because the various pro-illegal immigration SIGs and PACs and the elitist politicians that owe their office to them find it easier to label these Americans as racist than to actually debate the issue with facts.

There have been many reports of terrorists taking advantage of the same smugglers, documents forgers, and routes used by the illegal aliens. There have also been reports of Middle Easterners with ties to terrorism obtaining fake documents with Latin sounding names in order to disguise their true identities in order to cross our borders and infiltrate our security. According to media reporting earlier this year, Virginia resident Anthony Joseph Tracy was arrested for allegedly helping to smuggle 270 illegal Somalis into the United States. Both Tracy and some of the Somalis he helped to smuggle allegedly had ties to the al-Qa`ida-inspired Somali terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahidin, aka al-Shabaab.

At the end of the day Arizona’s law is completely consistent with federal laws already in place. Everyone entering the United States is required to produce legal documents supporting their right to be in the country; Arizona is simply extending that requirement to the interior. In my line of work it is known as a “layered defense” or “defense-in-depth.” By challenging Arizona’s law, the Obama administration, along with the pro-illegal SIGs and PACs, are claiming they do not care about current federal laws, which is obvious since they support illegal immigration, banning illegal immigration and are willing to ensure no states officially support the laws by enacting their own laws, thus effectively taking the first step in dismantling any and all laws prohibiting illegal immigration so that more illegal aliens are able to become citizens. Of course, they will not forget the political party that paved their way.

A nation cannot claim sovereignty if it cannot, or will not, enforce the laws of the people and secure its borders. DHS freely admits hundreds of thousands of illegals enter our country every year and that they do not possess the resources necessary to stop all of them. Why should they complain if a state is willing to help them? Without the enforcement of laws or secure borders the United States is no longer “united.” It is simply a plot of land with some rules between Canada and Mexico. I am sure it is not lost on Obama and the Democratic Party that by most estimates Hispanics will comprise the largest ethnic group in the United States by 2042; that is only 32-years, or nine elections, away. Talk about looking to the future. It probably would not matter if everyone in America considered themselves “American.” Unfortunately, so much emphasis is put on ethnicity and culture that there are very few people remaining who consider themselves just American; most people in America prefer to be referred to as “hyphenated Americans.” Take for example the pro-illegal immigrant rallies over the past few years where protestors waved flags of their home countries, protested in their native language, and essentially slapped the face of our legal system. I have the option of listing myself as Native American, but I do not. Regardless of where my ancestors lived, I am an American and will remain so even when I am buried under the Stars & Stripes.



*I am not claiming Congressman Wilson was being paid by any group, only demonstrating that members of Congress do not always know for what they are voting or how they are voting and rely on aides and assistants to keep track of this information for them. This is only a problem if that Congress person opts to publicly support or condemn the issue without knowing the particulars behind it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Afghanistan’s next phase

With the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 came an awesome responsibility; that of ensuring the emergence of a vibrant, democratic, Afghan-directed economy and government with the ability to provide much needed security throughout the country in order to prevent a re-incursion of al-Qa`ida-sponsored terrorists supported by a violent Taliban-led regime. That was a tall order. And now, with the recent discovery of vast deposits of rare minerals in Afghanistan, the mission in Afghanistan will enter a new phase and the United States’ commitment becomes even more paramount.

Unfortunately, today’s instant gratification society does not have the patience or discipline to see something of this magnitude through like we did with Europe post-World War II. Most people feel that our mission in Afghanistan should end with the destruction of al-Qa`ida and the elimination of its leadership, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, which will never happen. But that requires another post altogether. The war in Afghanistan is more like the war in Germany in WWII than most people will admit. Like Germany under Nazism, Afghanistan under the Taliban committed atrocities against and in the name of its own people. In 1945 the Allies opted to remain in Germany for a couple of reasons, to ensure Germany did not return to a war-like posture like it did under Hitler after WWI and to defend Western Europe against the Communists. These should be the same reasons we keep troops in Afghanistan; ensure a violent Islamist regime does not regain control of the government in Kabul and to defend against the various violent Islamist factions living and training along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Fortunately, the mineral discovery absolves us of having to implement a long-term Marshal Plan like we did with Europe at the end of WWII. These deposits, while still years away from yielding significant income for Afghanistan, will more than ensure the country can develop and enter the 21st century international arena.

Nevertheless, as history has demonstrated in places such as Sierra Leone and Angola, the discovery of such a wealth of sought after resources in a country without an effective government or security force can lead to civil war and possibly even genocide. There are few if any examples of underdeveloped, heterogeneously ethnic countries with such vast resources that were able to peacefully develop and stabilize. Usually one ethnic group seizes control of the government and the resources and oppresses all other ethnic groups or one group controls the government while the other takes over the resources and they end up waging a bloody and brutal conflict over who has the authority to rule or control the country’s resources. It is imperative the United States and our allies ensure 1) these resources are kept in Afghan hands and used to benefit the whole of the country and not just one of the many ethnic groups and 2) these resources are not exploited by outsiders for the benefit and wealth of big corporations or other nations while leaving Afghanistan and its people in the Stone Age. We, the United States, must not abandon the Afghan people to the wolves that will almost certainly be at the door, if they are not already in the house, seeking to rape the Afghan people of their new found wealth.

This discovery presents Afghanistan with an incredible opportunity to build their future and become a respectable contributor to the rest of the world. Instead of being known as an exporter of terrorism they will be known as an exporter of rare minerals. Likewise, they will present the rest of the world, particularly their allies, with an opportunity to help them develop their mining technology, bringing the country into the 21st century and introducing other cultures to the Afghan people, some of whom, until at least 2001, were not too far removed from their ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries as far as technology and quality of life were concerned.

The United States should take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past. While we are in no way similar to the European colonial masters of Africa in the 19th century, there are lessons that we can learn from the mistakes they made, chiefly that we should not allow interlopers to come into Afghanistan to take advantage of the people by taking over and controlling the mines or mining operations, which are sure to be needed as the country grows, or that we simply do not abandon the Afghan people to the warlords who are sure to begin struggling for control of this new industry if the United States and its allies leave Afghanistan without a unified central government able to project power and security throughout the country as needed.

A safe, secure, stable Afghanistan is the best thing for everyone concerned and in three to four decades we should not be preparing to insert a Marine Expeditionary Force into the country to separate warring factions being financed by foreign high-tech companies and fighting and committing genocide over the control of lithium mines.