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“There’s No Terrorist Shaolin Temple”: Why Are We Afraid Of The Returning Expat Terrorist?

One of the common refrains we hear in the reporting on ISIL is that officials are worried that Americans will go to Syria or Iraq, fight with ISIL, and then return here to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. As a discrete category of terrorist threat, this is something very odd to be afraid of.

It isn’t that such people might not have the motivation to carry out a terrorist attack. But if they went to fight with ISIL, they probably already had the motivation. Ah, but what about the things they learned there? This morning, I heard a reporter on NPR refer to such returnees employing their “newfound terrorist skills” against the United States. But what skills are we talking about? If you want to learn how to make a bomb, you don’t have to go to Syria to acquire the knowledge. There’s this thing called “the internet” where it can be found much easier.

The way these potential attackers are talked about, you might think that launching a terrorist attack is something you can only achieve after years of intensive training in an arcane discipline, the secrets of which are closely held by wise old masters who deign to impart them only to carefully chosen initiates. But there’s no terrorist Shaolin temple. If all you want to do is kill some Americans and sow chaos, it’s actually not that hard. A couple of knuckleheads like the Tsarnaev brothers could do it.

This is an entirely separate question from whether ISIL as an organization wants to carry out an attack within the United States, because if they do, they don’t need someone with an American passport to execute it. Anyone here on a tourist visa could do it (in 2013, just under 70 million international visitors came to the U.S.).

The point is that there are any number of reasons a person might decide to launch a terrorist attack against the United States. While it’s entirely possible that an American could fight with ISIL and then get sent back to plant a bomb somewhere, that eventuality is no more likely than an American who has never left his home town becoming angry over U.S. foreign policy and deciding to lash out in the same manner. There are no “terrorist skills” you can’t get here at home. So as a matter of policy, the returning expat terrorist is pretty far down the list of things we need to worry about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 24, 2014

September 25, 2014 Posted by | ISIS, Terrorism, Terrorists | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The President Decides”: The Difference Between Military Commanders And The Commander In Chief

The Washington Post reported overnight that when it comes to U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State terrorists, President Obama and military leaders aren’t necessarily on the same page.

Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.

Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.

It’s hard to say with confidence just how widespread the disagreements really are. For that matter, even among those military leaders voicing disagreement, there’s a variety of opinions.

For his part, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that Pentagon leaders are in “full alignment” and in “complete agreement with every component of the president’s strategy.”

And that’s fine, but let’s not forget that it’s not really their call. Pentagon leaders don’t actually have to be in “complete agreement with every component of the president’s strategy.”

NBC’s First Read noted yesterday, “Remember the battle cry of some Democrats during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war – that Bush and Cheney were not listening to the commanders? Well, given where all the military leadership is on this strategy, it is now Obama, the Democrat, who is open to criticism that he is not listening to his commanders.”

But there’s no reason to necessarily see that as “criticism.”

I understand the political dynamic. In theory, many may like the idea of military decisions being made by military leaders with military expertise.

But the American system is designed a specific way for a reason. As NBC’s First Read went on to say, “Of course, again, it is Obama that is commander-in-chief. Not anyone at the Pentagon.”

That’s exactly right. The fact that the president and some military leaders disagree is fine. The fact that elements of this debate are unfolding in public is healthy in a democracy. The fact that Congress has heard different positions from various officials within the executive branch is valuable as part of a broader debate.

All of this should be seen as a feature, not a bug, of a nation exploring the possibility of war. Military leaders can bring the president options, and in response, the president will give those leaders orders. When our system is working well and as intended, the scope of those orders will be shaped in part by Congress, which is supposed to be directly involved in authorizing the use of military force.

The fact that some military leaders may disagree with Obama is not a sign that Obama is wrong – or right. The president in this case may not be listening to his commanders, but in our system, they’re required to listen to him.

As Rachel explained on Tuesday’s show, “The military makes military recommendations to the president and the president decides whether to accept them or not. That is not a scandal. If they recommend something to him and he says no to that, that’s not a scandal. That’s actually a America. That is our system of government. It’s one of the best things about it. That’s sort of a whole civilian-control-of-the-military thing and how that works…. This is like first day of What’s America Class.”

It’s a fair point to say Democrats were critical of the Bush/Cheney White House for failing to listen to commanders during the height of the crises in Iraq, but it seems to me those criticisms were based on (a) the fact that some of these military were giving the White House good advice that wasn’t being followed; and (b) the fact that Bush said he was listening to his commanders, even when he wasn’t.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2014

September 20, 2014 Posted by | Commander In Chief, Pentagon | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“de-Baathification Program”: Bush/Cheney Created Conditions That Led Directly To ISIL

It takes a lot of gall for people like Dick Cheney to utter even one critical word about President Obama’s strategy to eliminate the threat of ISIL in the Middle East.

In fact, it was the unnecessary Bush/Cheney Iraq War that created the conditions that led directly to the rise of the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL).

Former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said as much on this week’s edition of “Meet the Press.” He noted that after the first President Bush had ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. had refrained from marching on Baghdad precisely to avoid kicking over the sectarian hornet’s nest that was subsequently unleashed by the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq in 2003.

But it wasn’t just the War in Iraq itself that set the stage for the subsequent 12 years of renewed, high-intensity sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shiites in the Middle East. It was also what came after.

Bush’s “de-Baathification program” eliminated all vestiges of Sunni power in Iraqi society and set the stage for the Sunni insurrection against American occupation and the new Shiite-led government. Bush disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and bureaucracy. He didn’t change it. He didn’t make it more inclusive of Shiites and Kurds. He just disbanded it. It is no accident that two of the top commanders of today’s ISIL are former commanders in the Saddam-era Iraqi military.

General Petraeus took steps to reverse these policies with his “Sunni Awakening” programs that engaged the Sunni tribes against what was then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the progress he made ultimately collapsed because the Bush/Cheney regime helped install Nouri Al-Maliki as Prime Minister who systematically disenfranchised Sunnis throughout Iraq.

And that’s not all. The War in Iraq — which had nothing whatsoever to do with “terrorism” when it was launched — created massive numbers of terrorists that otherwise would not have dreamed of joining extremist organizations. It did so by killing massive numbers of Iraqis, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees, imprisoning thousands, and convincing many residents of the Middle East that the terrorist narrative was correct: that the U.S. and the West were really about taking Muslim lands.

And after all, contrary to Dick Cheney’s absurd assertion that U.S. forces would be greeted in Iraq as “liberators,” no one likes a foreign nation to occupy their country.

The War did more than any propagandist could possibly do to radicalize vulnerable young people. And by setting off wave after wave of sectarian slaughter it created blood feuds that will never be forgiven.

The Iraq War — and the Sunni power vacuum caused first by U.S. policies and then Al Maliki — created the perfect conditions that allowed a vicious band of extremists to take huge swaths of territory.

And now many of the same people who caused this foreign policy disaster have the audacity to criticize President Obama’s measured efforts to clean up the mess they created. And they do so often without ever saying what they themselves would do to solve the horrific problems that they created.

It reminds you of a bunch of arsonists standing at the scene of a fire criticizing the techniques used by the firefighters who are trying to extinguish the blaze they themselves have set.

Oh, they say: “If you had just left a residual force after the withdrawal of U.S. troops everything would be hunky dory.”

Do they really think that several thousand U.S. troops would have solved Iraq’s problems when hundreds of thousands failed to do so?

And of course they conveniently forget to mention that neither the Iraqi’s nor the U.S. voters wanted a “residual” force to remain in Iraq. And they forget that the Iraqi government would not agree to conditions that would allow a “residual” force to be stationed in Iraq.

Or perhaps they wish U.S. troops were now going door to door in Iraq cities rooting out adherents to ISIL? Only a few neo-con die-hards want more U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East.

Or then there is the refrain that President Obama should have helped “arm” the moderate Syrian opposition earlier. Let’s remember that had he acted at an earlier point it is entirely likely that many of those arms would now be in ISIL hands — and we must be extremely careful even now to avoid precisely that problem in the days ahead.

The president’s response to ISIL is supported by almost two-thirds of Americans because it seems to be the only reasonable response where the cure is not worse than the disease.

It recognizes that the problem posed by ISIL must first and foremost be dealt with by other Sunni’s in the region. It is aimed at building an international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the ability of this vicious organization to threaten people in the Middle East or elsewhere. And it relies on American airpower to bolster the abilities of other Sunni forces to accomplish this goal.

But most Americans also realize this will not be easy — and they’re right. It won’t be easy to clean up the horrific mess created by the Bush/Cheney policies in the Middle East.

Frankly, I don’t think that any of the architects of the Iraq War should ever be invited on TV to say one word about foreign policy — and especially the Middle East. They have zero credibility to comment. They have been wrong over and over again and created the conditions that spawned the problems we face today.

But if they are invited to act as “talking heads,” interviewers must at least have the common decency to point out their failed track record — and to demand that they do more than criticize the president’s efforts to clean up their mistakes. They must also be required to tell us exactly what they would do to fix it.

And if any of them actually do propose a course of action, you can pretty much be sure that based on their past track records, that course of action is wrong.

 

By: Robert Creamer, Partner, Democracy Partners; The Huffington Post Blog, September 15, 2014

 

 

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Victim Of The True Intent Of Terror”: How Lindsey Graham Succumbed To The Tactics Of Terror And Embarrassed His Nation

If the objective of  terrorism is to create fear in the minds and hearts of those who once walked the earth secure in the belief that their government will protect them from evil, Senator Lindsey Graham must now be presented as Exhibit A in the case to be made that the terrorists have, at least in the matter of Senator Graham, won.

Appearing on Fox in June of this year, Graham made the argument that America’s willingness to take on the ISIL challenge with a military response wld help head off another 9/11 style attack—not an irrational point of view at a time when we were coming to grips with the arrival of this new, well-funded and well-organized enemy.

A short time later, Graham was back on TV raising the ante.

As Simon Maloy points out over at Salon.com, “In August, Graham was invited to Fox News Sunday to talk terrorism, and upped the Islamic State’s fantasy body count to an entire city’s worth. “

Said Graham, “When I look at the map that Gen. Keane described, I think of the United States. I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorists’ ability to operate in Syria and Iraq.”

Somehow, in just a matter of weeks, Graham’s fears had escalated from concern over a 9/11 style attack to an entire American city going up in smoke at the hands of the ISIL forces. A bit much, in my opinion, but at least one could make a somewhat credible argument that terrorists seeking to destroy an American city might have the means to accomplish such an objective.

But that was nothing when compared to what was to come.

This past Sunday, Graham was making another of his seemingly never-ending appearances on Sunday morning TV when he looked at the camera, eyes ablaze in a fashion that brought to mind the frantic visage of Howard Beale, and exposed for all to see the terror that had come to grip his soul—

“This is a war we’re fighting! It is not a counterterrorism operation. This is not Somalia. This is not Yemen. This is a turning point in the war on terror. Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

I can agree with the Senator on his assertion that the battle to be fought in Northern Iraq and Syria is not akin to our experiences in either Somalia or Yemen. Like Graham, I thought the President was off-base when he sought to use our experiences in Yemen and Somalia as a point of comparison when describing what we might expect in the battles to be waged against the Islamic State.

I can also agree that this is, indeed, a war that we are now fighting, despite the huge amount of wasted ink and airtime that has been dedicated to useless discussions over those in the administration willing to use the word ‘war’ versus those who chose, initially, not to do so.

Sadly, I would also have to agree that Graham may be right about one more thing—this may indeed be a turning point in the war against terror, but certainly not the turning point Graham has in mind.

When a United States Senator appears before the world and reveals that he has grown positively unhinged and fully terrified at the prospects of our entire American population being wiped out by an organization infused and infected with a poisonous and murderous ideology, the terrorists have most assuredly succeeded in their efforts to terrorize Senator Lindsey Graham.

It is that fact that I now fear could be the turning point in the war against terror as it is now a United States Senator who seeks to put terror into the hearts of his countrymen where those committed to using that particular weapon of war have largely failed in their efforts.

One can only imagine the satisfaction terrorists around the world must have experienced at that moment when Lindsey Graham displayed how the latest example of a vicious terror campaign had, indeed, succeeded in infecting the mind and heart of someone who sits at the very highest levels of the United States government.

That feeling of inevitable satisfaction on the part of those who wish the world pain and evil comes at the expense of my own profound embarrassment that one of our nation’s leaders—and I could not care less which party that leader represents— would get in front of a camera and expose himself as a victim of the true intent of terror.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 16, 2014

September 17, 2014 Posted by | ISIS, Lindsey Graham, Terrorism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Executive Orders To Undo Executive Orders”: Does Rand Paul Want To Repeal All Executive Orders? Depends When You Ask

Does Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation? It depends on when you ask him.

Senator Paul raised the subject during a Thursday night appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire. During a question-and-answer session with Republican activists, a young man reportedly asked Paul, “If you were to receive the presidency, would you repeal previous executive orders and actually restrain the power of the presidency?”

“I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders,” Paul replied, as quoted by Real Clear Politics.

This would be problematic for a number of reasons. Although Republicans would presumably love to do away with President Obama’s executive order protecting some young immigrants from deportation, for example, repealing others would be a tougher sell. Would Paul really want to reverse President Lincoln’s order freeing the slaves, President Truman’s order desegregating the armed forces, or President Kennedy’s order barring discrimination in the federal government?

Well, not when you put it that way.

“Well, I mean, I think those are good points, and it was an offhand comment, so obviously, I don’t want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation and things like that,” Paul told Real Clear Politics when questioned on the broader impact of his plan. “Technically, you’d have to look and see exactly what that would mean, but the bottom line is it’s a generalized statement that I think too much is done by executive order, particularly under this president. Too much power has gravitated to the executive.”

In reality, President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But still, Paul’s point is clear: He was speaking extemporaneously, and doesn’t actually want to repeal all executive orders.

That excuse would be easier to swallow if Paul hadn’t made the same promise to the Louisville Chamber of Commerce in August:

Asked directly if he would issue executive orders as president, Paul said the only circumstance would be to overturn the ones made by his predecessors.

“Only to undo executive orders. There’s thousands of them that can be undone,” said Paul. “And I would use executive orders to undo executive orders that have encroached on our jurisprudence, our ability to defend ourselves, the right to a trial, all of those I would undo through executive order.”

Paul later backed away from that comment in much the same way, telling reporters that “It wasn’t sort of a response of exactness.”

In fairness to Senator Paul, it seems highly unlikely that he really wants to resegregate the military in an effort to roll back executive overreach. But his clunky attempt to get on both sides of the issue has become a theme for him, which has repeated itself on Medicare, immigration, foreign aid, and a multitude of other topics.

His Democratic rivals have taken notice.

“Rand Paul’s problem isn’t that he changes positions — it’s that he insists that he can simultaneously hold multiple, contradictory positions on a litany of key issues,” Democratic National Committee press secretary Michael Czin said in a statement. “As Paul gears up for a presidential run, he changes positions to suit the moment or to match the views of the group in front of him. From confronting ISIL to ending aid to Israel to whether he supports the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, Rand Paul disingenuously tries to have it every way.”

Paul may be able to get away with clunky flip-flopping in the Senate, but it will become a major liability for him if he pursues the presidency in 2016. Clearly, Democrats are ready and eager to attack his lack of consistency. If Paul isn’t careful, they could set the narrative for him long before the first votes are cast.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, September 15, 2014

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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