Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Choose your battlefields

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Here’s a thought: we continually hear that we must stay in Iraq in order to wage the War on Terror, and that al-Qaeda in Iraq has materialized as a deadly foe. Hence retreating from Iraq would be synonymous with being handed a major defeat by al-Qaeda.

But since when do astute wagers of war allow the enemy to dictate the terms of battle? Sure, perhaps al-Qaeda would like to use Iraq as a battleground against the United States. But why should the United States want to use Iraq as a battleground against al-Qaeda? It hardly seems obvious that just because it makes sense for your enemy to favor a particular location for use as a battlefield it likewise makes sense for you.

America clearly has good reasons for wanting to fight the enemy called al-Qaeda. But likewise there pretty clearly exist some major disadvantages for America in wanting to do that fighting in the country known as Iraq

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September 13, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Osama’s latest

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I’ve been looking for the text all over. Many thanks to the fellow WordPress blog “Wolf Pangloss” for taking the time to type it in:

All praise is due to Allah, who built the heavens and earth in justice, and created man as a favor and grace from Him. And from His ways is that the days rotate between the people, and from His Law is retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed. And all praise is due to Allah, who awakened His slaves’ desire for the Garden, and all of them will enter it except those who refuse. And whoever obeys Him alone in all of his affairs will enter the Garden, and whoever disobeys Him will have refused.As for what comes after: Peace be upon he who follows the Guidance. People of America: I shall be speaking to you on important topics which concern you, so lend me your ears. I begin by discussing the war which is between us and some of its repercussions for us and you.

To preface, I say: despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able – by the grace of Allah, the Most High – to change the direction of its compass. And in fact, the subject of the Mujahideen has become an inseparable part of the speech of your leader, and the effects and signs of that are not hidden.

Since the 11th, many of America’s policies have come under the influence of the Mujahideen, and that is by the grace of Allah, the Most High. And as a result, the people discovered the truth about it, its reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally and it was bled dry economically, even if our interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives, despite the differing intentions.

And for your information media, during the first years of the war, lost its credibility and manifested itself as a tool of the colonialist empires, and its condition has often been worse than the condition of the media of the dictatorial regimes which march in the caravan of the single leader.

Then Bush talks about his working with al-Maliki and his government to spread freedom in Iraq but he is in fact is working with the leaders of one sect against another sect, in the belief that this will quickly decide the war in his favor.

And thus, what is called the civil war came into being and matters worsened at his hands before getting out of his control and him becoming like the one who plows and sows the sea: he harvests nothing but failure.

So these are some of the results of the freedom about whose spreading he is talking to you. And then the backtracking of Bush on his insistence on not giving the United Nations expanded jurisdiction in Iraq is an implicit admission of his loss and defeat there. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 9, 2007 at 11:11 am

A Gothamite woos Iowa pig farmers

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Matt Yglesias writes:

Given what happened to John McCain, I can’t help but think that as the Republican electorate learns more and more about what Rudy Giuliani really thinks about immigration, he’s going to be in big trouble. He managed to somehow pass himself off as an opponent of the comprehensive immigration measure, but the reality is that as mayor he turned New York City into a giant “sanctuary city” and sought vigorously through the courts to preserve that status. This was all unremarkable in what’s probably the most pro-immigration jurisdiction in the country, but it’s really, really, really not where the GOP base is.

I’m not so sure Matt is right that Rudy is going to be called to account for his past ideological, er, peculiarities. GOP primary voters are more hawkish than the electorate in general (duh!) and Giuliani has a story that can be readily adapted to tap into hawkish sentiment. This is a big advantage, and to a considerable degree can overcome past transgressions like friendliness to gay people and lack of immigrant bashing.

But I’ve come to the conclusion Rudy’s single biggest advantage may be his media savvy: the guy’s smooth and articulate in front of a camera, and I think in large part that’s simply the result of where he happened to cut his political teeth. You can’t thrive in the hothouse environment of the world’s media capital without developing a pretty keen sense of how to spin, how to bullshit, how to make answers sound plausible in middle class living rooms, and how to perform in front of a camera.

It has been said that hailing from New York City is a big disadvantage in American politics. Maybe we’re all about to learn how false this notion is.

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September 8, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Public relations and perfect storms

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Kevin Drum is impressed by the efforts of General Petraeus to market America’s surge strategy in Iraq:

Five months ago Petraeus was guaranteeing to wavering Republicans that they’d see progress in August, precisely the month when the PR campaign was scheduled to go into high gear. Today he’s issuing dire warnings about al-Qaeda hegemony and nine-dollar gas if we leave, circulating bio pages that let his staff know whether they’re dealing with friend or foe among visiting congress members, and insisting repeatedly that violence is down in classified briefings where he doesn’t have to publicly defend his figures. If these don’t sound like the actions of an honest broker to you, they don’t to me either. They sound like elements of a campaign with one overriding purpose: to convince politicians and opinion makers that we’re making progress in Iraq regardless of whether we are or not. We’re only seeing the results of Petraeus’s PR blitzkrieg now, but it’s obviously been in the works for months and it’s been a smashing success. The general has profoundly outplayed the amateurs on their home turf. Bravo, general. Well played.

To which Jasper replies: if Kevin’s correct then surely Petraeus must be working for the Democrats.

For some time now I’ve thought the GOP’s only hope at avoiding a blowout in November of ’08 was to have the military at least begin a substantial withdrawal by, say, the spring of ’08. Voters could then go to the polls in November, and, even if they mostly held the Republicans responsible for the Iraq debacle, they could nonetheless be legitimately hopeful that the light at the tunnel’s end was finally shining. Petraeus’s PR success makes this scenario much less likely. You can only avoid paying the piper so long, and for the Republicans, the bill is going to come due uncomfortably close to election day. A similar dynamic tends to be observable with economic bad news: recessions tend to be very unkind to incumbent parties. The Republicans would be better off having one in ’07 than ’08.

It’s looking more and more like the GOP is facing a perfect storm of political misery in 2008.

Written by Jasper

September 1, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Election 08, Iraq, Terrorism

In support of open borders

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I know I’m spitting in the wind here, but, can we all please dispense with the term “open borders?” It’s really one of my pet peeves. Who of us doesn’t want to be able to leave the country for a Caribbean vacation? Who of us doesn’t want a nice family from Ontario to be able to drive down to New York to see the sights? Who of us doesn’t want goods and services to be able to flow back and forth across our frontiers? Don’t these things require that our borders be open? Would y’all prefer the borders to be closed as Stalinist Russia?

Now, I realize a lot of people use the term to refer to an insecure border, but all I’m asking for is a little precision in language. Because the thing is, absolutely NOBODY wants the fucking border to be insecure. I strongly suspect even the most whackily post-modern, leftist, downtown Manhattan dwelling, moonbat crazy America hating intellectual doesn’t want, say, an al-Qaeda operative smuggling in a nuclear weapon that might well vaporize his very own apartment building in Tribeca. I repeat: exactly nobody wants insecure borders.

What there is a debate about is how to go about best securing the border and what role, if any, immigration policy plays in this process. There’s also what should be the utterly unrelated debate about immigration itself (how much, what kind, etc.), and how to go about stopping or reducing the illegal variety.

Strangely, the further 9/11/01 recedes into the past, the less we seem to worry about the national security aspects of border control, and the more we seem to worry about, er, overcrowded Northern Virginia boarding houses. Funny, that.

Stopping a nuclear terrorist ought to generate a lot more national heat and fury (and absorb a lot more intellectual and financial resources) than stopping construction workers and dishwashers. This, perhaps more than anything else, is why I’ve come to loathe the new restrictionists: their quest for a chimerical cultural and racial purity is endangering the country, and I resent the hell out of them because of it.

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June 1, 2007 at 11:51 pm

The immigration proposal

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Lots of blog comment debate the last few days on the proposal. Here, in no particular order, are some of my contributions:

From Political Animal:

I think the guest worker proposal as outlined by the media is overly rigid, insufficiently generous, and places little or no emphasis on assimilation (guest workers, for instance, will not be eligible to apply for green cards). Still, it at least begins to chip away at the unworkable policy — the de facto prohibition of non-familial Latino immigration — that fuels the growth in the country’s illegal population.

For what it’s worth, I think the guest worker program and the movement toward a merit-based points system is where the real action is on this bill. The amnesty part — while something I favor for humanitarian reasons — really won’t have that much of an impact either way. I mean, those 12-20 million people are already residents of the United States. They’re already in the workforce. They’re already paying taxes. They’re already parenting American kids who go to American schools. Amnesty will make their lives easier, but the country won’t change very much as a result. But it would be a major change to get control of our borders and sharply reduce the annual inflow of illegal aliens, and to accomplish this I’m utterly convinced that some legal means of permitting Latinos to immigrate will be required.

With respect to the issue of enforcement, all I can say is if we can substantially reduce the number of Mexicans and other Latin Americans trying to sneak into the US — by no longer forcing them to do so because of the existence of a legal method of immigrating — we’re only going to reduce the size of the task facing our border control forces. An army whose enemy has been greatly reduced in size is a stronger, more effective army.

From Matthew Yglesias:

A standard “restrictionist” view is that the “crackdown” should yield results (a 60% drop in illegal immigration? 80%? 99%?) and then we’ll get around to doing constructive things like amnesty, or increases in legal immigration.

Their stance is akin to somebody saying in 1928: “Ok, let’s see if the crackdown by the booze police results in closing all the speakeasies and a 90% drop in alcohol consumption, and then we’ll get around to ending prohibition.”

Sorry, ain’t gonna work. Prohibition — in those days alcohol and in current times non-familial Latino immigration — is the problem. And the solution — a regulated legalization — is the same in both cases. This country — and its economy — are huge. We could easily absorb, say, 800,000 Latin American economic migrants a year. Just hand out some freakin’ green cards, and make the penalties for going outside the system severe. End of problem.

Off the top of my head I suspect we’re spending three or four times in real terms what we were twenty years ago on immigration enforcement. Well-publicized, widely reported workplace raids are a common enough feature in the headlines. We’ve doubled or trebled the number of people working our southern border, and beefed up security and screening resources at airports. Should we do a lot more? Maybe so. But the resources we do spend would yield much more satisfactory results if we reduced the size of the problem by coming at once to the conclusion we are inevitably going someday to reach: an open, free, capitalist democracy sharing a two thousand mile border with a poor country can only manage, not prohibit, immmigration-induced demographic change.

The reality is we can handle a certain amount of economic migration from south of the border. In fact we’re doing so currently, to the tune of 400k-500k annually. And know what? Streets still manage to get swept. And taxes get collected. And the mail gets delivered. And the dry cleaner doesn’t lose my shirts. And people get married, and divorced, and the sun comes up in the morning and sets in the evening. I just don’t perceive the crisis others seem to. I’m certainly not arguing for unlimited economic migration from Latin America. I’m just arguing that our current policy — which basically prohibits it outright — isn’t, well, practical. Nor is it moral.

On population growth and its relationship to immigration, again from Matthew Yglesias’s blog:

Birthrates are tumbling all over the developing world, and the growth of the planet’s human population is slowing dramatically. I’ve seen projections pointing to a shrinking population for Mexico starting about the year 2025. Indeed, although the raw numbers look huge to the uneducated eye, America’s own net rate of immigration — and that includes the inflow of illegals — is barely a third of what it was circa 1900. And this, of course, is set against the backdrop of a country whose birthrate is a fraction of what it was a century ago. The big picture story here is that the rate of population growth in the Untied States — even given the boost created by immigration — continues its long decline. I think that’s largely beneficial, but I don’t think it’s necessary to ratchet it down even further by a “crackdown” on a phenomenon that has helped make the United States the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

In 2006 the US likely received (if illegals are counted) something like 1.5 million immigrants, net, out of a population of 300 million, yielding an immigration rate of .5 %. In 1900 the United States received about 1 million immigrants, net, with a population of 74 million. That’s an immigration rate of about 1.4% — or a rate very nearly three times that of our current era. While it is true that the foreign born population of the United States has increased substantially in recent years as a percentage of the population, this is because America’s natural population growth is slowing down. It is certainly not the result of a sharply higher rate of immigration than that earlier era; as I have just shown, our immigration rate today is much lower than during the Ellis Island era. I would argue that the slowdown in natural population growth helps, not hinders, the ability of the United States to absorb immigration, because it tamps down overall population growth. Indeed, it this slowdown in the country’s natural rate of increase (and the slowdown in the natural growth of the labor force) that makes a steady supply of immigrants all the more desirable, and needed. Were American families as large now as they were in 1900, I might well join the ranks of the restrictionists. They’re not, so I haven’t

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May 20, 2007 at 10:10 pm

Defining down the war

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Matt Yglesisas on John McCain’s take on the situation in Iraq:

“Any rational observer would say that if the war’s lost, then someone won the war,” according to John McCain, “Al Qaeda will win that war.” This is very insightful if you’re dumb. By the same token, if buying my MacBook was a smart idea for me, I must have been ripping Apple off. Similarly, again, if Japan got rich by exporing goods to the West, the United States and Europe must have gotten poorer during Japan’s great expansion.

In the real world, interactions between human beings are often other than zero sum (see Bob Wright’s book). The Iraq War is, at this point, far beyond matters of “winning” and “losing.” Saddam Hussein certainly lost the war, so does that mean we won? No, it means that both Saddam’s regime and the American people are worse off than we might have otherwise been.

Quite So. Thing is, much of the pain being suffered by all parties right now is a result of overambitious war aims, and indeed, war defining.

I tend to see the conflict with totalitarian Islam as being eerily similar to the Cold War. It will undoubtedly take a long time. And undoubtedly much of the “fighting” will be accomplished via non-military means (i.e., economic development, diplomacy, propaganda, intelligence, etc.). Occasionally military intervention by the West may be called for (as in Afghanistan).

With respect to Iraq, I find myself belonging to the (no doubt dwindling) camp of persons who still believe the impetus for the original action — ending the regime of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein — was both morally justifiable and consistent with long term US geopolitical interests — but that the whole project was mismanaged with a shocking and genuinely tragic degree of incompetence. We should have, in other words, gotten in and gotten out, quickly.

Anyway — getting back to the Cold War analogy — I’ve always thought it very much an overstatement to say that the United States “lost the Vietnam War.” I state this not out of some warped sense of jingoistic American gunghoism. Rather, I state this because it’s simply insufficiently accurate to say the US lost “the war.” The right way to describe what happened to the US is that she suffered a series of bloody, tactical defeats in a single large-scale campaign (The Southeast Asian) in an ultimately successful war (The Cold).

So, I think, needless to say, Senator McCain has gotten his geopolitical sums wrong by forgetting his history lessons. The War itself is winnable, and indeed must be won. But the campaign has now become a deadly albatross, and needs to be disengaged from.

Written by Jasper

May 6, 2007 at 10:28 am