The Mosque debate heats up, the precedent for the case is still ignored, Conservatives continue to have our party highjacked, and a poll

August 16, 2010

Note: haven’t had chance to proofread/edit yet. Will update later.

Since President Obama defended the “Ground Zero” Islamic Community Center, the debate has heated up considerably, mostly thanks to the GOP. My sister got married this weekend so I’ve been busy and only found time to read second hand accounts of this development. Still, a few comments are in order.

First, according to Ben Smith at Politico, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the recruitment chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee said, “It’s [the election] going to be about jobs. But this is just another example: Why isn’t the president spending the time debating about jobs instead of moving into New York?” This seems like an odd talking point considering that most of the Politicians who have been hyping this issue have been from the GOP, i.e. Rep. Peter King, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich, while the Democrats have avoided it because of low public support for the Mosque. In fact, both of the possible GOP candidates for Governor in my home state of NY, Carl Palidino and Rick Lazio, have (from what I can tell) decided to ignore the endless problems facing the state and decide to run solely on this issue (whereas Andrew Cuomo released a whole policy book). True, they’re at least from NYS, but NYS has a tremendous amount of problems facing it, all of which deserve far more discussion than this debate; and, as the GOP themselves have pointed out since Obama’s comments, this is a local (not state or federal) issue.

Next, according to Maggie Haberman also at Politico http://tiny.cc/10r04, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) appearing on Fox News Sunday argued that, “This [the building of the Mosque and the debate around it] is not about the freedom of religion.” Simply put, this argument is absurd. Even those disagreeing have to argue (mistakenly, in my opinion) that the Freedom of Religion clause of the Constitution doesn’t extend to protecting the rights of Muslims near an area that deranged Terrorists who really have nothing to do with actual Islam staged an attack upon. You can’t attempt to repress the free practice of a religion and then say it has nothing to do with religion.

Next, if the opposition is to be accepted we would presumably have to do something about the thirty churches within a mile from the site of the bombing of a Federal building in Oklahoma City by Christian Identity adherent Timothy Mcveigh and his accomplice. As scholars such as Mark Juergensmeyer and countless others have pointed out, the Global Jihadists and the Christian Identity / Reconstruct movements have countless things in common, including: the Orthodox view of their respective religions, and extreme hostility towards moderate and tolerant forms of their religions; their hatred of liberalism, secularism, and western ideas, which they believe are bent on obliterating their religion; their hope that their terrorist attacks will cause their co-religionists to, in large numbers, realize that their religion is under attack by Western values and rise up in mass revolt; and their ultimate objective to force their midevil and erratic beliefs upon large sways of the world’s population in the form of societies being governed by their crazy religious interpretations; to name but a few. Of course, despite this whole debate garnishing way more attention than deserved, nowhere have I seen this precedent brought up…. Nor do I believe that many of the opponents of the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero would have similar concerns about the Churches.

Third, although I am a moderate that is far more Conservative than Liberal (more on this in a future post), I must say that whatever criticisms I and others may have against President Obama, we certainly can’t fault him for lack of leadership. In direct contrast to the last Democrat President, Obama has often gone against public opinion when he felt it missed the larger picture. The GOP likes to paint this as evidence that Prez O is out of touch with the American people, which is true but also (usually) a necessary component of leadership. Being a leader is not giving into every whim of public opinion but rather understanding the larger picture and steering the people in that direction b/c its in their interest even if its politically unwise. Certainly this was demonstrated by FDR first in dealing with the Depression and then with WWII. The same can be said of many other professions. For example, a doctor isn’t going to not telling you your dying or not insist on having surgery you desperately need because he fears it will upset you and you’ll change practices. As a conservative its sad to see that the mainstream Republican party seems incapable of mustering any of this courage.

Fourth, this issue is part of a larger fiasco within the higher levels of the GOP party. (Unfortunately for us Conservatives) What they have seemed to take away from getting clobbered at the polls in 2006 and 2008, is not that they had become too homogeneous and far right to be a successful party nationwide, but rather that they hadn’t drifted far enough to the right during the Bush administration (Newt Gingrich, a man who I have tremendous respect for, took this the farthest when he seemed to conclude that since we failed to bring democracy to the Middle East we should instead adopt the domestic policies of the Middle East Autocrats at least in regards to religious tolerance). The party continues to lack viable leadership, instead being represented by entertainers like Glen Beck and Rush, or Sarah Palin. This would be like the Democrats being portrayed by the views of Rachel Madow and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt). Undoubtedly, the GOP’s radicalization is only likely to increase after the November elections where the Democrats will lose some seats due to their failure to revive the plagued economy fast enough but most Republicans will mistakenly conclude they had won them on their own merits. The only hope for most sensible conservatives is that after the Primary in 2012 our party can gain some sense of normalcy.

To end, I would just like to offer up a poll question (I actually got a couple views I noticed). What is more of a threat to the Constitution: the handful of crazy fringe element American-Muslims (that might exist) who want to institute Shar’ia Law in a Judeo-Christian Nation with a strong tradition in Secularism; or those who have decided that it is necessary to preempt Shar’ia Law by usurping our Constitution in order to safeguard it from Shar’ia Law?

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Good Article on Mosque debate

August 8, 2010

NYT’s has an article today about efforts across the country to stop the construction of Mosques. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/us/08mosque.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=us

The paradox of all this, as I indicated in my article about Islamofacism and Global Jihadists a couple days ago, is it plays into the hands of the Terrorists. You can bet that Al-Qaeda is almost as happy about this as they were about Iraq. They have been talking about this Clash of Civilizations between the West and Islam for appx. two decades. Not many people listened. It’s hard to claim a country hates Islam, or wants to rid the world of Islam, when they have so many citizens practicing Islam in a more free manner than the countries in the Middle East.

The other paradox of this is that many of the most active people protesting against these mosques are from the Tea Party or are just far right wingers who claim that they loveeeeeee America. In fact, as a lady in the Time article says, she fears the Mosque because she thinks Muslims are trying to replace the Constitution with Sharia Law. Apparently, at the same time, she either hasn’t read the Constitution, or she is waging war on it. (Of course, as a side note, some on the right wing are also trying to amend the 14th amendment so that immigrants babies won’t be citizens) Anyways, as I also said in that other post, you must really have no faith in the Constitution or this country if you think it can’t withstand an attack by this small group of Radical Islamists, most of whom don’t live in this country.

Finally, the NYT’s article mentions research done at Duke that found that Mosques play a positive role in anti-Radicalization efforts. It didn’t provide a link or anything so I went and found it. It can be located here…http://www.sanford.duke.edu/centers/tcths/documents/Anti-TerrorLessonsfinal.pdf.


Lynch addresses poll on Arab public Opinion

August 6, 2010

Yesterday I blogged about the new poll released showing that Arab public opinion has been turning quickly against the U.S. and its interests following the surge that accompanied Obama’s election and his Cairo speech. In that post I referenced the CNAS report that Marc Lynch and Kristine Lord had co-authored. Today Lynch actually addresses the poll results on his own blog http://tiny.cc/9q1rn. The post is worth reading.

One of the interesting things that Lynch addresses in the poll is the increasing prominence of Turkey and its Prime Minister Erdogan, who the poll found to be the most popular individual in the Middle East. Stephen Kinzer recently published a book titled “Reset: Iran. Turkey, and U.S. Foreign Policy” which I haven’t read but have heard good things about and plan on reading in the near future. From what I’ve heard, Kinzer argues that the Turkey and Iran are inevitably going to play a larger and more predominant role in the region and the United States should accept this and act accordingly. I think there’s some wisdom to this but I’d like to make a few points.

First, I’m certainly no expert on Turkey (anyone know any good books for someone who hasn’t studied Turkey much), but from I understand about them I think they can play a positive role in the Middle East. The U.S. should certainly welcome Turkey’s presence in the region, and pass on some of the burden of maintaining an acceptable order in the region to Turkey. And, although I encourage the Obama administration to try actual diplomacy Iran, I don’t think I can say the same things for Iran. In certain cases, such as Afghanistan (SE Asia not ME) and Salafist Jihad, our interests do align with Iran. Yet the regime in the power in Iran can’t afford much reapproachment with the United States or the West in general. Their grip on power relies, at least on part, on having this Great Satan to blame for their problems. Moreover, I don’t think that can or intend to play a positive role in the region, at least from a U.S. interest. Ultimately we are going to have to accept that Iran is one of the strongest powers in the region but we don’t have to encourage it.

Ultimately, the worse scenario is a full-fledge alliance between Iran and Turkey in the region, especially if hostile to the U.S. and our interests.d This is not unthinkable, given that these are two non-Arab nations in an Arab region, and after a history of an Iran-Turkey-Israel alliance that the U.S. backed in the early Cold War years. What the U.S should hope to accomplish is having Turkey become a balancing force against Iran in the region, since we destroyed the previous Iran balancer when we toppled Saddam’s Iraq. That Turkey and its leader are popular among the Arabs is then a good thing, if used correctly. They have the oppourtnity then to moderate against Radical idelogies within the Arab Middle East, as well as balance against the Persian-Shitte growing power. Arab leaders that can’t publically ally too much with the U.S., could find Turkey an acceptable alternative.

I foresee two potential threats to the U.S. embracing this opportunity, both of which we create ourselves. First, the U.S. seems increasingly uncomfortable in buck passing any responsibility for global order and stability even when states have the same interests we do and despite our huge deficit. Want evidence of this? How about that were still deeply engaged in Europe as a “balancing force” even though these nations refuse to fight any wars and we’ve spent the past (almost) twenty years trying to create a purpose for NATO. (Side note: the answer to the question that all the FM’s of NATO get together each year to figure out, What is the strategic purpose of NATO in the new international world is there is none. The purpose of NATO-U.S. on the other hand, is to maintain order in Europe which shouldn’t be too difficult.)

The second threat is obviously that Turkey doesn’t bend over and kiss Israel’s ass. As a Jewish American I strongly believe in Israel (though, as with my own government, I don’t ALWAYS agree with it), but that doesn’t change the fact that Turkey doesn’t pose much of a threat to Israel, and the small disputes they get into which don’t actually matter only strengthens Turkey’s appeal in the Arab Middle East; which ultimately works in both the United States’ and Israeli’s favor, as described above.


Islamo fascist American right wingnuts and Global Jihadist alliance

August 6, 2010

Today, at the Atlantic, they are hosting a game where they give you four or five quotes and you try to guess which ones Osama Bin Laden said and which ones Newt Gingrich said. This reminded me of something. A couple of weeks ago I was at a Public Library and came across a book entitled “They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It” by one of the Islamo-fascism right wing crazies named Brigette Gabriel. What I mean by Islamo Fascist right wing crazies are those people like Robert Spencer (and probably Sarah Palin to a lesser extent) who only refer to the Global Jihadists as Islamo Fascists and are determined to paint Islam and anyone who follows it as blood thirsty demons who pose an existential threat to the United States, which I believe is why they use the term Islamo-Fascism, to summon up thoughts of Hitler. (quick note I’m not putting Gingrich in this group, although I was appalled and puzzled by his speech I’ve always respected him even if I’ve not agreed with him on issues. This proved a rare exception but we all make mistakes.)

In any case, I was looking through this book and it occurred to me that Gabriel’s arguments, and from what I’ve read of her peers, have some important similarities with Bin Laden’s (UBL), Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Global Jihadists’ own logic, worldview and reasoning.

1. Both seem to lack a concept of time. As has been often noted by those who study the Global Jihadists, they seem to be unable to differienate between things that happened centuries ago and those that are happening today. UBL often seems to be just as mad at the West for the Crusades as he is for say, the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. To him, its all one big grand conflict the West has been waging on Islam since around the 7th century. So too with Gabriel. In making the case that Islam (and anyone who follows it) was an evil religion bent on world domination, she spent some pages outlining the conquests of Islam under the Prophet Muhammad and how he made Jews and Christians pay tributes (although they could still practice there religion in peace) before fast forwarding 13th centuries to the Iranian Revolution.

Using this logic, Christanity and Catholism are evil religions too. Let’s just outline uh lets see the Middle ages where the Church violently suppressed art and sciences and ruled over an entire continent of people who, if they weren’t engaged in the endless warfare, then they were enslaved on a small farm plot to which they were tied to for life. Even if we give them a pass on those couple hundred years where they colonialized the converted most of the world and come to modern times, using Gabriel’s formula we get to a Church Hierarchy that has rather systematically molested boys for decades, a religion who uses children to fight for ideological wars in places like Uganda, and has waged a terrorist campaign against the U.S. including blowing up a Federal Gov’t building in Okalahoma City. See the fallacy in this?

2. Inherent in this, is that both refuse to acknowledge the evolution Islam has gone through since its founding, or the diversity of its different sects. Both pervert the concept of short Jihad, which really has minimal importance in Islam, and place it at the top of Islamic values. In this sense these Americans seems to vindicate the twisted ideas of Islam that the Global Jihadists harbor.

As noted about UBL above, and obvious from the title of Gabriel’s book, both of these groups are religiously adhere to the late Samuel Huntington’s concept of a Clash of Civilizations. As expanded upon at length below, for Gabriel and her peers, UBL and the greater movement pose nothing short of an existential threat to the character of American society. Just as UBL refuses to acknowledge that Westerners can co-exist alongside Muslims in Muslim lands, the Islamo-Fascist camp seems to believe that Democracy and Liberalism must engulf most of Islam.

Finally, and in some ways most importantly, both sides vastly exaggerate the power of the Global Jihadists, as well as their threat to the Western world. UBL and the Global Jihadists have always liked to think their more important than they are (don’t we all). In the 1980’s-early 1990’s, for example, they sat in air conditioned houses in Pakistan occasionally firing weapons at the sky and during the decade they spent there, holding their ground in one of the a handful of battles in which they actually fought the Soviet forces. Nevertheless, when the Soviet Union collapsed UBL and the Afghan Arabs, as they were called, graciously proclaimed nothing short of having single-handedly taken down the Soviet superpower. Similarly, in UBL’s final speech to his followers before abandoning them for Pakistan in order to escape U.S. and Northern Alliance forces in late 2001, UBL claimed that America was nearing collapse, presumably thanks to the 9/11 attacks. For most people, this is just more evidence (of which there is a lot of) of how out of touch these people are with reality. Take the Saudi Intelligence forces and parts of the regime, for example. They basically laughed in UBL’s face when he confidently predicted he and the Arab Afghans could protect the Kingdom from Saddam’s military who had just invaded Kuwait. Instead, they called up the American and Western forces. But despite admiring the Kingdom’s policies on religious freedom, the Islamo-Fascist Right Wingnuts are inclined to agree with UBL’s predictions of his own power, not the Saudis.

No to these people the small fringe element that makes up the Global Jihadist movement poses a threat comparable to Nazi Fascist Hitler, who came as close as anyone to conquering Europe (save perhaps Napolean) while slaughtering around 10 million of his own people. Or Stalin and his Communist Fascists, who possessed something like 3-6 million soldiers in the army alone during the entire Cold War, armed with sophisticated technology (at least until the 1980’s) and enough nuclear weapons to blow up the entire world many times over and slaughtered tens of millions of their own people simply because Stalin was paranoid. In the past this supposed extestinal threat that the Global Jihadists pose is due to the fact that if they acquired a nuclear weapon, they couldn’t be deterred since they have no home address. While a very very scary scenario it is very very very very unlikely to occur, and despite the tragedy that would entail, it isn’t an existential threat. Yet for those like Gingrich, the threat to our society is not purely of a military nature. Comparing it with Westerners adopting Communism during cold war, it is the salafist ideology itself that also constitutes a threat to the American system. In his words,

“Let us be clear. This is not a war on terrorism. Terrorism is an activity. This is a struggle with radical Islamists in both their militant and their stealth form. The militant form believes in using military power in one form or another. The stealth form believes in using cultural, intellectual and political but their end goal is exactly the same”

Let’s us be clearrrrrrrrr. What Gingrich is proposing is that the United States, which as he himself has written books on, has its roots in a Judio-Christan culture, with a strong tradition of separation of church and state, and a thirst for material gain that is unmatched in human history, but whose masses are potential converts to a political system based on Pre-medieval religious principles, from a religion that only a very small majority actually practice. Suddenly, the Birthers don’t sound as crazy.

Not only do I find this more ridiculous than the idea of a zombie war, I find it offensive. Although I know Gingrich is a respectable man, an admirable Patriot and a commendable public servant; this view, however unconsciously it may have been to Gingrich himself, puts so little faith in the American system. And yet, as the debate over the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero shows, faith in the American system and its liberal identity may be in short supply recently.


Some worthwhile reads this morning

August 5, 2010

http://tiny.cc/qdo5d This link takes you to the RCW blog article about the new Brookings Report today, the latter of which is already creating a sort of buzz around the web today. The report looks at public opinion in six Middle East (ME) countries for two areas: views of the U.S. policy in the ME and views on Iran becoming a nuclear power. From the report via RCW blog:

Early in the Obama Administration, in April and May 2009, 51% of the respondents in the six countries expressed optimism about American policy in the Middle East. In the 2010 poll, only 16% were hopeful, while a majority – 63% – was discouraged.

On Iran’s potential nuclear weapons status, results show another dramatic shift in public opinion. While the results vary from country to country, the weighted average across the six countries is telling: in 2009, only 29% of those polled said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be “positive” for the Middle East; in 2010, 57% of those polled indicate that such an outcome would be “positive” for the Middle East.

My only two initial reactions are: 1) I can’t imagine what these numbers would be if the U.S. or Israeli does attack Iran (on this topic see my first post of the morning) and 2) I think Marc Lynch and Kristine M. Lord at CNAS understated the case in their recent report located here http://tiny.cc/ko1w1.

Speaking of Lynch (which I seem to keep doing today), he recently had a blog post disputing his fellow FP.com blogger’s, Harvard professor Steven Walt, assessment of Prez Obama’s FP so far. Walt then followed up on Lynch’s post the next day. This morning, their fellow blogger at FP.com, Fletcher Professor Dan Drezner, weighed in with his own assessment after returning from a trip to Israel. That post (which has links to Walt and Lynch’s posts) can be found here http://tiny.cc/c8gfp.


You (wanna) break it, You buy it.

August 5, 2010

As some may have seen, Andrew J. Bacevich wrote an article http://tiny.cc/vt983 in The New Republic yesterday, calling for an Afghanistan War tax. For those who don’t know, Dr. Bacevich served in the military during Vietnam, is now a Professor at Boston University, and a common and thoughtful critic of what he would call the U.S. empire. He’s written a bunch of books, including one that just came out called Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. His son also died fighting for our country in Iraq, and the Center for New American Security has named a Fellowship after him, which Brian Burton currently holds (and Shawn Brimley who is now in the DoD used to hold)

Why I bring this up however is because I had been contemplating submitting a piece to one of the few online publications that allow Undergraduates to submit too on a similar topic. As noted in my last post, there has been an increasing fervor calling for attacking Iran. Although most of this has been limited to air strikes, I think that any invasion of Iran must be accompanied by raising taxes to pay as you go, and instituting a military draft (even though I’d be in the age group drafted). There is no way that our treasury or our military can can handle another war without it. Conveniently, this would also make it unlikely that we would invade Iran, which is the point Bacevich is making with Afghanistan. I also think this idea might be worthwhile because I get the feeling that Prez Obama and most of his team isn’t in favor of attacking Iran. I think the recent contradictory evidence has been related to the election, but I could be completely wrong. However, if I am right, there are still many who are going to rally up support for the wand this proclamation would be good political cover for the President to use to avoid making that costly mistake. So if Rahm or Gibbs or any of the others read this, you have my permission to use this just hit me up with a job when I graduate next year in return.


The Iranian-Israeli-U.S. hardliners’ conseneus

August 5, 2010

I’m up early today so, although I’d have preferred my first post to be something more thoughtful, I’m just going to go ahead with it.  As people with only a minimal amount of understanding of terrorism or guerrilla warfare know, often the attacks are strategically aimed at provoking a overreaction from the enemy.  Indeed, the FLN in Algeria once brutally murdered an entire village of Europeans in the country in hopes of getting the French to respond with indiscriminate violence on the Algerian population, which they did.  No doubt ONE of Al-Qaeda’s goals with the 9/11 attack was to plunge the United States into the Middle East indefinitely.  The logic in this is that the enemies response will  win over new recruits to the guerrilla/terror movements, by alienating their target population (native Algerians for FLN and the Arab and wider Muslim world for AQ).  The FLN was extremely successful at doing this during the French occupation; many disparate groups allied together around hatred of the French mainly because of these indiscriminate attacks.  Once the French left, they returned to fighting each other.  AQ was less successful in Afghanistan at least initially, presumably because most Muslims could see our initial response was justified, but once we went into Iraq this certainly was the case.

Which brings me to Iran, unlike the two examples above, a state actor.  As has been adequately covered elsewhere (don’t know how to link look at Jim Lobe, March Lynch, Steve Walt, and other blogs along with original pieces), the chorus calling for military action against Iran.  As with Iraq (h/t Walt, Lobe), parts of the moderate  FP establishment, such as CFR via Haass, Takeyh, and Simon, have begun calling for action.  Around two weeks ago, reports started coming out from news sources such as Newsweek that cited annoymous Obama Administration sources saying military action was back on the table.  JCS Mike Mullen then confirmed this last Sunday on Meet the Press.

This got me thinking that the Iranian regime, especially certain influential parts of it, would (privately) welcome, perhaps even try to provoke, surgical air strikes by the U.S. or Israel.    Note, they certainly do not want a U.S. invasion as this would certainly result in the end of their regime.  Air strikes, on the other hand, by even the rosiest estimates, wouldn’t have disastrous effects for them.  At most they’d set the nuclear program back a few years.

At the same time, as many including the U.S. Secs. of State and Defense have both noted, Iran has increasingly become a military dictatorship, a product of the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war who know hold much sway in the regime.  An attack on Iran would enable them to accelerate this process.  It would also silence the growing domestic opposition from all corners of the country.  In fact, everyone would rally around the regime (as almost all nations do after they’ve been attacked think of people still mad about 2000 election and then 9/11 happened), and allow the regime to blame all their shortcomings on the “great Satan,” the regimes favorite pastime.

Moreover, it would make it harder for the leaders of the Arab States to balance the growing Iranian power because their domestic audiences would be even more sympathetic to Iran and even more anti-Israeli and/or U.S..  Support for enforcing the U.N. sanctions or even stronger unilateral ones, as some notable states have signed on to do in the past few days, would disappear.  Numerous states that had agreed or might have otherwise agreed to enforce them would surely refuse to do so.  Finally, as noted elsewhere (don’t know how to link stuff yet any help would be great), Iran would surely want to acquire nuclear weapons after they’d been attacked.  Furthermore, it would be impossible to try and convince the international community (or Iran for that matter) that they were acquiring them for aggressive reasons.  Surely they’d seem justified in the eyes of most if they had recently been attacked.

So, in final analysis, it seems that it would work in Tehran’s favor if Israeli or the U.S. attacked its nuclear program.  Paradoxically, this may the only issue where the hardliners in all three countries are in agreement on.