Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pakistan's Swat Valley: Civilians, Soldiers, and the Taliban

A unilateral military offensive is endangering innocent civilians. Except that it isn't the American military: so the tone is a bit different.

To be fair, there have been some of the conventional headlines, like "Army offensive in Pakistan's Swat spurs fears of humanitarian crisis." (CBC (May 7, 2009))

Pakistani troops are re-taking Pakistan's SWAT valley, after the Pakistani government turned over control (for practical purposes) of the valley to the Taliban, earlier this year. To be fair again, there may have been good reason to temporarily cede control to the Taliban.

What's happening now is unpleasant, to say the least. One article describes a city in Swat as a "ghost town." (AFP)

'If You Can't Kill a Soldier, Kill a Civilian'

A Pakistani English-language news article gave this perspective on what was happening in the Swat valley:
"Northwest expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said the Taliban were increasingly focused on civilian targets as widespread public opinion turns — for the first time — in favour of Pakistan's military operation.

"The offensive already has the firm backing of Washington, which says Al-Qaeda and Taliban have carved out safe havens in the northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan to plot terror attacks on the West.

" 'The Taliban have jacked up attacks targeting civilians as they have failed to target security forces,' Yusufzai said...."
Sounds like the Taliban is taking a page from Al Qaeda's playbook: harassing people living around them, in order to gain support. In Iraq, that strategy resulted in the Anbar Awakening. Iraqis, faced with Muslims who beheaded other Muslims and non-Muslim foreigners who protected Muslims while rebuilding roads and machinery, chose to help the non-Muslims.

Something like that could happen in Pakistan: provided that the Pakistani military follow America's example of being careful (Churchill and Code Pink notwithstanding) about collateral damage.

Related posts: In the news:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Iran, Islam, "Arrogant Powers" and "Certain Expansionist Superpowers;" and Common Sense

The headline pretty much says it all: "Iran hangs 3 over mosque bombing."

Somebody set off a bomb at a mosque in southeastern Iran Thursday. Quite a few people were killed. The explosion caught worshipers commemorating the death of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Mohammed.

Turns out, the three hanged men were arrested before the explosion. They're charged with providing explosives to the actual bomber. They may have actually had something to do with the bombing. And, perhaps more to the point from their perspective, they're now dead.

Unlike American courts, Iranian justice is swift: arrested Thursday, hanged Saturday. With a trial in between.

Sunnis Killing Shiites Killing Sunnis

Jundallah or God's Brigade, said they did the bombing. The Associated Press called them "a Sunni militant group believed to have links with al-Qaida". An outsider might think it's odd that Muslims calling themselves "God's Brigade" would kill other Muslims, damaging a mosque in the process.

It makes perfect sense, though. Iran is a predominantly Shiite country. "God's Brigade" is Sunni. And, they're part of an ethnic minority in Iran: Baluchi.

Makes perfect sense: from their point of view.

As I've said before, Islam is far from a united, monolithic, bunch. The Shiite-Sunni feud was going strong when the Hatfields and the McCoys started killing each other - and from the looks of things, will be going on as long as there are Sunnis and Shiites.

- - - And it's the Fault of America

Iran's judiciary system gave names to the dead men:
  • Haji Nouti Zehi
  • Gholam Rasoul Shahoo Zehi
  • Zabihollah Naroui
Seems they were involved in several other bombings: which may be true.

The hanging gave someone named Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Hamidi a chance to say a few words:
"...Before the executions, Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Hamidi said: 'These three traitors, who smuggled in the explosives and put them at the disposal of a terrorist played a major role in the murders,' IRNA said.

"The three were hanged in public just before the funerals of the people killed in the mosque Thursday.

" 'The three were charged with waging war (against God), corruption on earth and activities against the state. They were convicted and they had confessed to their crimes, and their role in smuggling explosives into the country had been proven,' Hamidi told IRNA...." (CNN)

"...Hamidi said: 'The enemy is now trying to sow dissension among the various tribes and sects and are trying to flame the fires through terrorist acts. While the country is preparing for the 10th presidential elections, the hand of world's arrogant powers is coming out through the sleeves of a bunch of traitors who ignore even the sanctity of mosques.'..." (CNN)
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, had a few words to say on the subject:
"...'In his statement, he condemned the involvement of certain expansionist superpowers and their spying organizations in the plots against Muslim nations and between the followers of Islam's different sects and causing bloodshed among Muslim brothers in Iran and other regional countries,'..." IRNA reported. (CNN)

When in Doubt, Blame America

Looks like "certain expansionist" may have replaced "imperialist warmonger," but it's the same tired old line I've heard for about a half century now: Whatever the problem is, it's the fault of America.

Blaming America has a certain attraction. The odds are good that there's an American company, or at least an American embassy, within stone-throwing distance of trouble anywhere in the world. America's a big, powerful country: but, as North Korea has been demonstrating, remarkably slow to react violently to threats - Professor Churchill and Code Pink notwithstanding.

With Friends Like These, Does Islam Need Enemies?

As I've written before, I don't see Islam as being behind the mess in the Middle East. I think that what's happened is that a culture which was ancient when Abraham moved out of Ur added an Islamic paint job to its customs and assumptions.

For more than a thousand years, that worked just fine. For Middle Eastern men, anyway. That part of the world was isolated. If you wanted to cut off your wife's head because you were feeling out of sorts, there weren't any human rights groups around to make a fuss.

Only a few generations ago, that changed. Men who had, from time immemorial, been living in a world of burqas and beheadings were faced with Barbies, Budweiser, and civil rights. It must have been a terrible shock - and apparently still is.

I think what we're seeing is in part a culture being pulled - kicking and screaming - over several thousand years' worth of social and legal change: in a few generations.

Interestingly, Islam as practiced in places outside the Middle East doesn't seem to be quite as crazy as what we see in places like Saudi Arabia.

Related posts: In the news:

Friday, May 29, 2009

'U. S. Bombed Mosque:' Iran Official - 'When in Doubt, Blame the Americans'

A bomb damaged a mosque and killed quite a few people in a southeastern province of Iran. Muslims worshiping at the mosque are of the Shia variety.

Although each report seems to have a different death toll, it looks like well upwards of a dozen people were killed. Whoever set the bomb off had the loud taste to do so during Thursday evening prayers. Worshipers were commemorating the seventh-century death of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Mohammed.

'Obviously,' it's the fault of (the great Satan) America and the Jews.
"'The bomb tragedy that occurred yesterday in the city of Zahedan is awash with Israeli and US fingerprints,' said Tehran's Interim Friday Prayers Leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami.

" 'Without a doubt, it was a scheme to drive a wedge between the Shia population and the Sunni minority in Iran,' he added.

"Ayatollah Khatami said that the perpetrators of the bomb attack have been identified and will be brought to justice...." (PRESS TV)

"Round up the Usual Suspects"

That "perpetrators ... have been identified..." reminded me of the familiar "Round up the usual suspects. (Captain Renault, Casablanca, 1942)

There's little doubt that Iran's intelligence and law enforcement agencies work quickly. In this case, it seems that the dust had just settled when they arrested someone. It helps, I suppose, when you've got a short list of enemies of the state available for emergencies.

One problem with having a list of "the usual suspects" is that they're not always the guilty parties.

I think some elements in Iran's leadership may be doing a little preemptive damage control, in case the parties arrested turn out to be the wrong ones.
"Several suspects have been arrested and were being questioned Friday in the bombing of a Shia mosque in southeastern Iran, according to the provincial governor....

"...No group publicly accepted responsibility for the attack, but [governor of Sistan and Balochistan province, Ali-Mohammad] Azad blamed a terrorist group, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He said intelligence forces were quick to identify and arrest those behind the incident, who were trying to leave the country after the attack...." (CNN)
The score so far:
  • "...The city of Zahedan is awash with Israeli and US fingerprints..."
    • Tehran's Interim Friday Prayers Leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami
  • "...a terrorist group..."
    • Provincial governor Ali-Mohammad Azad
The CNN report didn't give much detail, so the provincial governor and Tehran's Interim Friday Prayers Leader may be on the same page.

The BBC gave a bit more detail.
"..Jalal Sayah, deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchestan province, said three people had been arrested following the attack.

" 'According to the information we obtained they were hired by America and the agents of arrogance,' he said...."

"...However, Jalal Sayah, in comments to the semi-official Fars news agency, accused the attackers of being mercenaries hired by the US.

"It is a common accusation from the Iranians, the BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says, and the facts of this case may never be known.

"But it is an open secret that former US President George W Bush directed large amounts of money to try to destabilise Iran and there is no sign the policy is any different under President Barack Obama, our correspondent adds." (BBC) [emphasis mine]

The Great Satan America, Diabolical George Bush, and - - - Oh, Say it Ain't So, President Obama!

Judging from the way BBC 'clarified' the Iranian accusations, I'd say that President Barack Obama's honeymoon is over, for at least part of the traditional news media.

Again, the usual disclaimer: this blog isn't political, but Western leaders get chosen by political means. And, since they're the ones making the decisions, the war on terror (which no longer officially exists) gets mixed up in politics now and again.

I doubt that Barack Obama will inspire the blind hate that the "diabolical" George W. Bush stirred up in 'sophisticated' Americans: but I'm quite sure that he'll be a serious disappointment to many of his supporters.

As I've said before: It's different, when you're in charge. President Obama's first hundred days in office have shown, I think, that he's not a fool. And, that he wants America to be around for his second term.

But I'm getting off topic.

Assumptions, the Great Satan America, Commie Plots, and Right Wing Extremists

One of the drawbacks, I think, of dominating a country's government, news media, educational institutions, and other information gatekeepers, is the tendency to start believing one's own propaganda.

In today's Iran, the Great Satan America and Israel are - if you believe the country's leaders - to blame for many if not most of their problems.

They're not the first, by far, to use 'those people over there' as scapegoats.

When I was growing up, there were still quite a few Americans who earnestly believed that commie plots were behind their troubles. The Soviet Block was a serious threat to American security at the time, assuming that living on collectives isn't a good idea. But 'real Americans' took that reality and ran with it: screaming right off the ragged edge of sanity.

Frank Burns, of M*A*S*H, is a caricature: But there were people with similar views.
'It Can't Happen Here'?
Today's America will not see an exact replay of the McCarthy era. Commie hunting has been discredited to an extent that I think ensures that it will not come back.

Human nature, however, hasn't changed in my lifetime.

It's very easy to assume that people you don't like, or whose ideas are not the same as yours, are to blame when bad things happen. That doesn't make it true.

I think we're seeing a sort of commie hunting - in reverse - emerging in America. And I don't like it.

"Right wing extremists," Ron Paul supporters, people with pro-life views, and American veterans have been identified - by government entities - as people who might be terrorists.

So were people in the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

On the surface, it looks like people with extreme liberal and conservative views were identified. Take a slightly closer look, though, and you'll notice that on the liberal side, it's discrete groups - which have been involved or implicated in domestic terrorism - on the extreme fringe of the liberal spectrum which are identified.

On the other hand, it seems that anyone who is distinctly to the right of center, or an American veteran, is - in the eyes of MIAC and the DHS - a potential terrorist. (April 15, 2009)

I saw the mess left by America's McCarthy era. I'd just as soon not see another period when people with views which deviate from officially approved beliefs are targeted as enemies of the state.

Related posts: In the news:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Holy Land Foundation Sentencing: It's About Terrorism, Not Islam

The Holy Land Foundation used to be America's largest Muslim charity. They had a good thing going, asking Muslims for money to help Palestinian Muslims who were being oppressed something fierce by the Jews.

Then, the federal government started looking at who was getting the money. Hamas was on the list. Hamas is on the American government's list of terrorist organizations - and it's illegal to knowingly give financial support to terrorist organizations.

What Didn't Happen - For Which I'm Thankful

The first trial of Holy Land Foundation leaders ended in 2007 with a mistrial. The Board Chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had his own version of what was going on:
"...'After 19 days of deliberation, the jurors did not return even a single guilty verdict on any of the almost 200 charges against these men, whose only "crime" was providing food, clothing and shelter to Palestinian women and children. It seems clear that the majority of the jury agreed with many observers of the trial who believe the charges were built on fear, not facts. This is a stunning defeat for prosecutors and a victory for America's legal system.'..." (October 22, 2007)
I haven't read anything about CAIR in the rather low-key news coverage of the Holy Land Foundation verdict and sentencing.

In a way, I miss CAIR's colorful, energetic, and imaginative responses to what they considered islamophobia.

A couple years ago, CAIR quickly changed a page on their website: one calling people "bigots," when they didn't properly appreciate New York City's "Muslim Day" being celebrated a few days before the anniversary of 9/11.

That sort of goofy chauvinism reminds me of the 'good old days' when some 'real Americans' felt that anything they didn't like or understand was a commie plot.

On the other hand, I'm just as glad that we're not hearing so much about "islamophobia" - as perceived by groups like CAIR. There's enough real bigotry toward Muslims and Islam, without calling people "bigots" when they don't appreciate the timing of New York City's "Muslim Day."

I mean to say: insisting that people cheer Muslims, right before the anniversary of an attack by Muslims that killed around 3,000 New Yorkers?!

Holy Land Foundation Sentencing: Texophobia??

I'm sure that alternative realities will be presented for years - probably decades - to come, about what 'really' happened. However, it looks like a 15 year investigation and two trials have stopped a fairly lucrative source of cash for Hamas.

The five defendants were convicted of giving financial support to a terrorist organization. Particularly since 9/11, that sort of thing doesn't go over too well in America. Their sentences seem to reflect this:
  • Shukri Abu Baker (Garland, Texas)
    65 years
  • Ghassan Elashi (Richardson, Texas)
    65 years
  • Mufid Abdulqader (Richardson, Texas)
    20 years
  • Mohammad El-Mezain (San Diego, California)
    15 years
  • Abdulrahman Odeh (Patterson, New Jersey)
    15 years
Baker and Elashi were convicted on tax fraud charges, too.

With three of the five defendants being Texans, I suppose one could argue that the trial and sentencing reflected texophobia: but that would be silly, wouldn't it?

The Defunct Holy Land Foundation Isn't Islam

I've written this before, and probably will again: not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims.

Every group has its crazies and its charlatans. Christians in America had an opportunity to re-evaluate how they decided who and what to support years ago, in the televangelist meltdown.

I think Muslims in America have an opportunity now, to consider being a trifle more careful about who - and what - they support.

Related posts: In the news:

North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, Brinksmanship, and Miscalculation

North Korea's celebration of a second nuclear bomb test has already produced results. Not, though, what North Korea probably wanted.

South Korea has held back from joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI. The PSI is an America-led collection of nations that wants to keep ships from transporting materials used in making nuclear bombs.

Then, North Korea set off a whacking great explosion and announced a successful test of a nuclear bomb.

South Korea is now joining the Proliferation Security Initiative.

This is a declaration of war, North Korea says.

That's not as worrisome as it sounds: "...Since its April rocket launch, Pyongyang has considered almost any opposition a "declaration of war," including U.N. Security Council sanctions and participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative...." (CNN)

Free Trade, Open Borders, and North Korea

As a rule, I think that free trade is a good idea. I think that a market economy, where people are allowed to pay what they think is reasonable for goods and services, works rather well. Generally.

I'm well aware of problems created by monopolies and daft directors. That's why we've got regulations on trade today: and why, in my opinion, there will be a sort of dynamic stability in economies, as people who want no regulation and people who want total regulation gain and lose ground.
North Korea Exporting Nuke Technology: Occam's Razor Says 'Yes'
I don't know whether the PSI agreement is good sense or not: I don't know enough about it.

I do think I see why North Korea is so upset about limits on its export of nuclear weapons materials. North Korea is a small, self-isolated, impoverished country. Cash for bomb-making materials and know-how would be a boon to the North Korean government.

It looks like North Korea has been in the nuke export business for some time already.

Back in 2007, Syria complained about Israel blowing up a reactor1 it had been building. The Syrian reactor was almost exactly the same size and shape as a North Korean reactor. (October 29, 2007) There's evidence, including a photo of a North Korean nuclear scientist talking to his Syrian counterpart, that North Korea was deeply involved in building Syria's reactor. (April 26, 2008)
Syria's Reactor, Radioactive Kimchi, White House Conspiracies, and Occam's Razor
A couple years ago, I came up with a wild explanation (involving radioactive kimchi) for North Korea's presence at the reactor, and outrage at its destruction. The Syrian ambassador, playing (I think) to 'sophisticated' Americans, said the affair was a Bush plot: just like Iraq.

Applying Occam's razor2, it's much more likely that a reactor built along North Korean lines, with a North Korean nuclear physicist on site, was being built with North Korean help.

I don't have a problem with countries like India, France, or America, using and selling nuclear technology. Those countries have a track record for having moderately rational foreign policies: and whose leaders appear, in general, to have a relatively firm grasp on reality.

As I wrote earlier, in a somewhat different context, "I don't mind people owning dangerous technology, as long as they're not crazy. It's part of living in a free society." (March 4, 2009) I think the same principle can be applied to nations.

North Korea Threatens South Korea, America: What is Dear Leader Thinking?

An op-ed in The New York Times opines that North Korea's announcement of a successful nuclear weapons test and missile launches "...all point to a newly emboldened military influencing decision-making...." (NYT) That's likely enough. I was interested in the paragraph that came before that:

"...While brinksmanship is nothing new for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and previous outbursts have often brought increased attention — and rewards — this time international reaction is likely to be swift and unforgiving. North Korea has miscalculated the global ire its provocation has raised...." (NYT)

When even China - one of the very few friends Dear Leader's regime has - denounces North Korea's actions, you know that the country is running seriously short of goodwill. And, possibly, bargaining chips.

I think it's quite possible that North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling is, in part, an effort by some of North Korea's military to strengthen their position in the country's leadership. Or, maybe Kim Jong Il is trying to make one of his sons look good: with an eye on the third generation of his dynasty.
You Don't Suppose North Korea's Leaders Believe Their Own Propaganda?
North Korea covered familiar ground, reacting to South Korea's acceptance of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

"...'Now that the South Korean puppets were so ridiculous as to join in the said racket and dare declare a war against compatriots,' North Korea is 'compelled to take a decisive measure,' the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by state media...." (AP)

North Korea's leadership says it isn't concerned about American sanctions.

"...'It is a laughable delusion for the United States to think that it can get us to kneel with sanctions,' it said in an editorial. 'We've been living under U.S. sanctions for decades, but have firmly safeguarded our ideology and system while moving our achievements forward. The U.S. sanctions policy toward North Korea is like striking a rock with a rotten egg.'..." (AP)

Taking what North Korea says at face value, they believe that the United Nations Security Council is part of the American government.

I prefer to think that North Korea's leaders, Kim Jong Il, generals, and all, have a somewhat firmer grasp on reality.

A Full Nuclear Exchange Could be Unpleasant

At this point, North Korea very likely has, or will soon have, nuclear weapons with yields approaching that of the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Something like that going off over Beijing, Vladivostok, Anchorage, or Honolulu would be unpleasant: to say the least.

I think there's a very remote chance that bombing an American city would be met with nothing more serious than stern rebukes, and calls for action in the next meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Or, America could respond like the warmonger imperialists North Korea believes we are. In which case, I wonder what North Korea's leaders think would be the result of a full nuclear exchange between the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Remember: Their missiles will reach Alaska and Hawaii, but not the contiguous 48 states. (

I think an American response would be somewhere between those extremes.

What other countries would do, I don't know.

Russia made it clear, since 2000, that it would use nuclear weapons if it believed its sovereignty or territorial integrity were threatened. (January 19, 2008) One of the few ports the Russian Federation has is Vladivostok: well inside North Korean missiles' range.

In the days of the Soviet Union, Russia was quite willing to react to real or imagined threats: like Korean Air's Flight 902 in 1978 and Flight 007 in 1983. I wouldn't bet that things have changed all that much.

North Korea's Nuclear Fist-Waving: My Take

I think there's a very good chance that Kim Jong Il, or whoever is calling the shots in North Korea, took a calculated risk with the latest nuclear test announcement and missile launches.

America is a very influential country: arguably the only superpower remaining. (At this moment - China and India, at least, are rising fast.) And, America has gone through a regime change.

At least, I think that is how America's elections may be perceived by people in places like North Korea and Burma/Myanmar/whatever.

North Korea's leaders may have assumed that they were dealing with a leader who was not only relatively inexperienced, but eager to secure his position against remaining internal threats.

I'll grant, this is speculation.

President Barack Obama has been establishing a reputation for 'reaching out' to unfriendly people, like supporters of the Taliban. And, his administration has abolished the official use of "war on terror." (March 30, 2009)

I can see how leaders of an alternatively-peaceful, impoverished, and somewhat desperate country might see President Obama as a pushover. Just a hard shove, they might think, and he'll start spewing foreign aid and concessions like a slot machine with triple sevens.

That didn't happen.

"...'North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action,' the president said in a statement in the White House Rose Garden. 'North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons.'

" 'We will work with our friends and allies to stand up to this behavior,' the president said and pledged to 'never waver' from the commitment to protect the American people...." (ABC)

This isn't what a red-white-and-blue-blooded 'all American' flag-waver might hope for: but it's very far from capitulation to a threat.

I've written this before: Things are different, when you're in charge. I think President Obama is learning that. And, responding fairly well to reality.

Related posts: News and views: Background:
1 It looked like a reactor, and Syria eventually called the installation a reactor. Before that, the reactor had been, according to Syrian authorities, an unused military building, an agricultural research station, and nothing but sand. (October 17, 2007)

2Occam's razor is a Franciscan friar's idea, that when you've got two ways of explaining something, and one is simpler, the simpler one is true. William of Occam said it more eloquently, of course.

Monday, May 25, 2009

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Memorial Day Message - Video

General Casey is primarily concerned with the United States Army, naturally enough.

"Gen. Casey's Memorial Day Message"

From Army Media Player (May 14, 2009)
video 0:55

"Army Newswatch 09-11: Chief of Staff Gen. Casey takes a few moments to offer words of support and encouragement for Soldiers, Civilians, contractors and their families around the world as we look toward Memorial Day."

I'll take the general's words, and extend them to everyone connected with the American armed forces:

"...So, on this memorial Day, I'd really like to thank them for their sacrifices, and because it's their sacrifices that make this country what it is today: the greatest country on Earth."

The same video is on YouTube:

"Gen. Casey's Memorial Day Message"
soldiersmediacenter, YouTube (May 19, 2009)
video 0:55

North Korea's City-Busting Nuke, a New Missile, and Diplomacy

North Korea is an impoverished, mountainous country with a possibly-crazy dictator, missiles that could reach several other countries, and - most likely - nuclear bombs. If North Korea doesn't have atomic warheads now, there's every reason to believe that the country's leaders will soon.

'Obviously,' it's the fault of America.

"As the international community condemned North Korea's nuclear test and missile launch on Monday, analysts said the tests signaled Pyongyang's growing disillusionment over the U.S. refusal to conduct bilateral talks...." (LAT)

"...disillusionment over the U.S. refusal to conduct bilateral talks...." Not "disappointment," note: "disillusionment." Perhaps the Los Angeles Times writer intended only the literal meaning of "disillusionment:" "freeing from false belief or illusions." (Princeton's WordNet) I think it's at least as likely that the emotional connotations of "disillusionment" were intended, as well: as in chagrin or letdown. (

Particularly 'letdown,' since that can imply that North Korea has been let down, betrayed, by America.

Which, from one point of view, is accurate. North Korea's leadership wants to be treated just like the big countries: China, India, France, places like that. Just one problem. North Korea isn't just like China, India, or France.

The Los Angeles Times article's "bilateral talks" refers to Kim Jong Il's preference to avoid six-way talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons program. These talks involved:
  • The People's Republic of China
  • The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)
  • Japan
  • The Republic of Korea (South Korea)
  • The Russian Federation
  • The United States of America
I think I understand why Kim Jong Il and company would prefer "bilateral talks" with just the United States. That would give North Korea status, as a country that can demand one-on-one negotiation with America.

Then, when Kim Jong Il's government decided it was tired of following whatever agreement was reached, it would be the fault of America - the only other party to the agreement.

A big plus that I see to the six-way talks is that it involves countries which are at least as concerned about a nuclear North Korea as America is: Much of Japan and China's population is within range of North Korean nukes, for example, and the Russian Federation has a valuable port city, Vladivostok, that's at risk.

I hope that North Korea is using its nuclear bombs as diplomatic bargaining chips. Because their chips are getting bigger. North Korea's first nuclear bomb had a modest one kiloton yield. The latest one seems to have been a ten kiloton bomb. By comparison, the one used over Hiroshima was a 22 kiloton bomb.

What the current administration will do is anybody's guess, but at least President Barack "Obama called Pyongyang's actions 'a matter of grave concern to all nations.' " (CNN)

And, keeping things interesting, North Korea seems to have tested a new missile today. It's called the Musudan-Ri missile, and could carry a nuclear weapon. It's got a range of up to 2,500 miles. Among other places, it could hit Guam. (FOXNews)

Related posts: News and views: Background:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

North Korea Nuke Test: The Genie's Out of the Bottle

Odds are, North Korea tested a nuclear bomb today. The test is being reported as happening 'tomorrow,' but that seems to be an International Dateline thing: It's getting close to midnight, here in central North America.

North Korea also experienced a significant earthquake 'tomorrow.' (CNN)

It's possible that North Korea's leaders have claimed a naturally-occurring earthquake (the center seems to have been 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles, down) as a nuclear test. If so, the earthquake came at a very convenient time for North Korea.

My guess is that, since North Korea seems to have all the materials necessary to build a nuclear bomb, and a variety of reasons for building and testing one, it's likely that there really was a nuclear explosion under North Korea.

The BBC put together an interesting timeline of North Korea's nuclear efforts. Some of them, anyway:
  • Oct 2006 - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test
  • Feb 2007 - North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid
  • June 2007 - North Korea shuts its main Yongbyon reactor
  • June 2008 - North Korea makes its long-awaited declaration of nuclear assets
  • Oct 2008 - The US removes North Korea from its list of countries which sponsor terrorism
  • Dec 2008 - Pyongyang slows work to dismantle its nuclear programme after a US decision to suspend energy aid
  • Jan 2009 - The North says it is scrapping all military and political deals with the South, accusing it of "hostile intent"
  • April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
  • 25 May 2009 - North Korea conducts a second nuclear test

Self-Defense? Kim Jong Il Might Really Believe That

North Korea's explanation for its nuclear program is that it's protecting itself from America and other mean countries. Kim Jong Il may really believe that.

On the other hand, North Korea's 'Dear Leader' has a history of stepping up weapons programs until he gets concessions from other countries. It's arguable that he isn't all that concerned about foreign threats: but knows that self-defensive over-reaction makes foreigners give him things. Assuming that's what 'Dear Leader' is up to, he's quite good at that sort of negotiation.

I'm not at all sure how sane and sensible Kim Jong Il is: and even less sure how securely fastened to reality his successor will be.

Reuters raised the possibility that Kim Jong Il is acting tough to help make sure one of his sons will succeed him as North Korea's leader. I gather that Kim Jong Il is dealing with a "hardline military" (Reuters), and that defying world leaders will impress them.

That could be so.

A concern I have is that whoever steps into 'Dear Leader's' shoes will believe the propaganda about foreign threats.

Ban the Bomb? Won't Happen

I can't remember a time when 'Ban the Bomb' wasn't either an actively-used slogan, or the idea behind some earnest and (I presume) well-intentioned movement.

I'll agree that nuclear weapons are scary. And, there's an emotional appeal to demonstrating against some technology.

But, nuclear weapons exist. That's the way the world is: and we have to deal with it. It's like the old stories about a genie and a bottle: The genie comes out of the bottle just fine. Getting it back generally doesn't happen.

Banning new technologies has been tried. The crossbow was high-tech weaponry, 870 years ago. The Second Lateran Council had a shot at banning crossbows. It didn't work.

We don't worry about crossbows today, because weapons technology has changed.

But: wouldn't it be nice if nobody needed weapons? I'll get back to that thought.

'North Korea's Just Protecting Itself' - What's the Harm in That?

Reuter's lead paragraph summed up quite well what North Korea claims to be doing: "North Korea said it successfully conducted a nuclear test on Monday, a move certain to further isolate the impoverished state which argues it has no choice but to build an atomic arsenal to protect itself in a hostile world...."

So: Kim Jong Il and North Korea's "hardline military" say they're making nuclear bombs to protect themselves. The North Korean official news reported that " '(North Korea) successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way,'..."

Weapons systems as deterrents, self-defense. That all sounds fairly sensible.

I'd like to live in a world where everybody was nice, and all countries were run by people who were nice, and that all the world's leaders wanted nothing but nice things for everybody.

That's not the way it is.

Like it or not, there are people who are quite distinctly not nice. Some of them wind up leading nations. That can be trouble.

Even 'self defense' can be a threat. Let's take a hypothetical case: one relying on some common stereotypes from American culture.
Bubba and the Revenuers
'Bubba,' a stereotype redneck, lives at the edge of the swamp. He insists, loudly, that he's real peaceable. All he wants is to be left alone.

Bubba inherited a sincere loathing and fear of revenuers. Unhappily, he regards mail carriers, large dogs, and (after about the second six-pack) traffic on the highway as "revenuers."

Since his policy is to shoot revenuers on sight, he's a homicide waiting to happen.
Back to North Korea
I've been over this idea before: "...Nations are Not All Identical" (April 5, 2009). Some nations safe neighbors. Some are more like the hypothetical 'Bubba.'

I hope that North Korea's 'Dear Leader' is really a crafty negotiator with eccentric personal habits. And, that the next North Korean leader doesn't believe the government's propaganda.

Unilateral Disarmament?!

I didn't notice this in today's news, but someone's almost certain to raise the tired old 'give peace a chance' idea: disarm; unilaterally; stop frightening North Korea, and then Kim Jong Il and company will be nice.

Nice as that sounds, I don't think it would be a good idea. Given the probable range of North Korea's missiles - which are presumably for launching communications satellites - I'm safely out of range. Even so, I'd hate to see Tokyo, Beijing, or Anchorage disappear in a bright flash.

It's hard to say just how likely it is that North Korea - or any other country - will launch a nuclear 'communications satellite' at a 'hostile' country. But, I think it's a very real possibility. And so, I rather hope that America and other countries continue to develop anti-missile systems.

Not that ICBMs are the only threat.

But, that's getting into another topic.

Related posts: In the news:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New York City Terrorism the Old-Fashioned Way: With Bombs

Two synagogues in New York City were not blown up this week: but not for lack of effort.

Four men, American citizens, 'allegedly' thought they were planting real explosives at the Riverdale Jewish Center and another synagogue in New York City. Happily, the devices were duds, given them by an informant.

I have no idea how the trial will go, but it seems clear that these four were determined to launch their own terror attack on New York City. Aside from the two synagogues, they planned to shoot at American military aircraft, using antiaircraft missiles they got from the informant.

Details about the wannabe terrorists are still sketchy, but they said that they were on a jihad.

"...'They stated that they wanted to commit jihad,' he [Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly] said. 'More information about their motives I'm sure will be developed as the case progresses, but right now, they stated they wanted to make jihad. They were disturbed about what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims were being killed. They were making statements that Jews were killed in this attack and that would be all right — that sort of thing.'..." (City Room, The New York Times)

Nothing new here.

America: 'What a Country!'

While the four home-grown terrorists were going through preparations, New York City's Muslim and Jewish leaders were very active. Not throwing epithets at each other, or worse. Doing what happens rather often in America: getting together to deal with a common problem.

"...A group of Jewish and Muslim leaders have scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, one of the city's largest mosques, to condemn violence.

"Imam Muhammad Shamsi Ali, the spiritual leader of the mosque, on East 96th Street near Third Avenue, and Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and founding rabbi of The New York Synagogue, are to attend. 'We call upon Muslim leaders to stand firm against the forces of evil,' Imam Ali said...."

As Yakov Smirnoff says, "what a country!"

"America Sucks," "Little Eichmanns," and Cherished Beliefs

I think that, when a number of people die from gunshot wounds, whoever was holding the gun is responsible. In this case, I think that the people planting what they though were real bombs are responsible: as well as their lookout.

However, I think it is prudent to look at why people shoot other people, and on occasion try to blow up buildings.

Last month, I wrote: "...I think a step in the right direction would be for institutions of higher education and news media to re-evaluate some of their cultural values. Particularly the cherished belief that there is no problem that cannot be blamed on America and/or American Big [whatever]...." (April 4, 2009)

I'm not making excuses for these four would-be killers. And I do not think that America is perfect.

But, this is a country that people are trying to break into: and I think there are a number of good reasons for that. America is a country where a college professor can write that the people killed in New York City's World Trade Center had it coming because they were "little Eichmanns," and have the country's courts force a university to re-hire him.

Related posts: News and views:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Waging an Overseas Contingency Operation Against Alternatively-Peaceful Ideologues??

I suppose that "overseas contingency operation" does sound nicer that "war on terror."

The phrase, "war on terror," sounds so, well warlike.

I think I understand why President Obama was so eager to end the war - or at least the word - as quickly and quietly as possible. Code Pink isn't entirely representative of his party's views, but quite a few of his supporters seemed to be peaceniks.

Pleasing Supporters and Staying Alive: No Easy Task

President Obama seems to be in the unenviable position of wanting to demonstrate that he is utterly unlike the 'diabolical' President Bush: while acting to ensure that America is around for his re-election.

So far, he's stepping up his 'unilateral' attack on Afghanistan. (Notice how America isn't acting 'unilaterally' any more?) What he'll do about prisoners at Guantanamo is still up in the air: but at least he didn't immediately released them.

There's a good chance that President Obama will remember that the prisoners at the Guantanamo facility are there because they were (almost certainly) trying to kill Americans and other people who weren't on their imam's 'preferred' list.

Aside from a few unscripted gaffes, like Obama's remarks about the natives of inner Pennsylvania, Barack Obama has struck me as charming, charismatic, and smart. There's no reason to believe that he would intentionally destroy the nation that's given him his current position.

I think that President Obama is aware that leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Ayatollahs of Iran, and other people who are responsible for "man-caused disasters," are not nice. I also think he's sharp enough to realize that saying nice things doesn't always make nice things happen.

At least, I hope so.

Related posts: News and views:

Excerpt from "The End of the U.S. War On Terror" (Journal of the Turkish Weekly (May 8, 2009))

"Do you remember where you were the day the 'global war on terror' ended?

"Like most people, you probably didn't even notice that it had. And that may be because the 'war' didn't end the way the man who started it -- former U.S. President George W. Bush -- often predicted it would: with 'complete victory' in the 'great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror.'

"It ended with an e-mail, sent under a new administration led by President Barack Obama.

"Sometime during the week of March 25, the government agency that reviews the public statements of administration officials before they're disseminated sent an e-mail to employees of the U.S. Defense Department. The e-mail read: 'This administration prefers to avoid using the term "long war" or "global war on terror." Please use "Overseas Contingency Operation." '

"It added, 'Please pass this on to your speechwriters.'

"At first the White House denied that an across-the-board decision had been made to banish the old language and introduce the new phrase, but a few days later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed to reporters that 'war on terror' is not how anyone who works for President Obama will be describing U.S. policy, either at home or abroad.

"Clinton said, 'The administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself.'

"Obama himself hasn't said anything about the change, but while he was still a candidate for president, he made it clear that in an Obama White House, the language of diplomacy would replace the language of force.

" 'After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time, I believe, to pursue direct diplomacy with friend and foe alike without preconditions,' Obama said in May 2008...."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Roxana Saberi Out of Iran, in Vienna: Islamic Mercy Followed Through

Roxana Saberi, the journalist who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, has dual citizenship, and went through several months of prison and trials in Iran, is in Vienna. She's spending some time with a friend.

That's good news.

I'm glad to see that she was allowed to actually leave Iran, after the Ayatollahs showed "Islamic mercy."

"...A judiciary spokesman says the appeals court reduced Roxanna's jail term to a two-year suspended sentence as a gesture of 'Islamic mercy' because she had cooperated with authorities and expressed regret...." (WDAY)

I'm impressed, if not favorably, with "Islamic mercy," as demonstrated by the Ayatollahs and their followers.

I still think there's reason to believe that the bizarre antics of Saudi courts, Sudan's reaction to a teddy bear, beheadings by Al Qaeda, and the Taliban's 'death to men who wear trousers' policy, aren't entirely representative of Islam.

But, Islam's loudest defenders seem determined to portray the religion as something that was over the top thirteen centuries ago, and has no place in the civilized world.

An ironic twist to the story of this Iranian-Japanese-American journalist and her treatment by Iran's rulers gets mentioned at the end of this video:

"She was working on a book about the Iranian culture when she was arrested." (AP)

"Freed Journalist Leaves Iran"

AssociatedPress, YouTube (May 15, 2009)
video (1:17)

Related posts: In the news:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Department of Homeland Security No Longer Fears American Veterans?

It may be that something of monumental importance has happened at the Department of Homeland Security.

It is possible that the new DHS, under the current administration, now realizes that people who fought to protect America's freedom are not all potential terrorists.

I wrote a little more, with links to my sources, in another blog:

"DHS Report Identifying Veterans and Pro-Lifers as Potential Terrorists (Quietly) Withdrawn"
A Catholic Citizen in America (May 14, 2009)

As I said in that post, "...Maybe they'd never actually seen an American veteran, and had only read about what Code Pink had to say about America's military...."

Other explanations, which gives a little more credit to the intelligence and knowledge of Department of Homeland Security staff, are more disturbing. I think it is possible, however unlikely, that key DHS people really believe that Timothy McVeigh is a typical American veteran, and that people who object to killing babies are prone to violence.

Related posts:

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Islamic Mercy:" Roxana Saberi Free, Returning to Fargo, North Dakota

Roxana Saberi is free, but not exonerated.

"...Her sentence was changed to a two-year jail term suspended for five years, Iran's state-run news agency IRNA reported.

"State-run Press TV, citing 'officials close to the case,' reported that the suspended sentence 'will be automatically abolished if Saberi shows no unlawful conduct in the next five years.'..." (CNN)

I'll take her release, and regard it as good news.

As for the Ayatollahs, They're doing a fine job of showing the world their notion of Islamic justice at work. We're obviously supposed to be impressed.

"...A judiciary spokesman says the appeals court reduced Roxanna's jail term to a two-year suspended sentence as a gesture of 'Islamic mercy' because she had cooperated with authorities and expressed regret. Roxana's supporters are eager to welcome her home...." (WDAY)

Me? I'm impressed with this "Islamic mercy." Arrest a journalist, say she's a spy, threaten her with a long imprisonment, and then brag about being merciful when she's released.

I certainly am impressed with this "Islamic mercy." As I've said before, I don't assume that all Muslims follow the 'behead people your Imam doesn't like' flavor of Islam: so I won't claim that all Muslims are like the Ayatollahs and their band of followers.

Still, I certainly am impressed with this "Islamic mercy."

Last month, America's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said: "...'Ms. Saberi was born and raised in the United States, yet chose to travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to her desire to learn more about her cultural heritage....' " (CNN)

I'd say that she's learned more about her cultural heritage than she wanted to. My own experience with Iranians has been quite positive, and I'm inclined to believe what her father said about the disconnect between the people of Iran and the little exercise in "Islamic mercy" that his daughter experienced.

"...The whole experience has been 'very depressing' for her, and she has gone through a great deal of frustration, Saberi's father said Monday. 'It will take some time before she can overcome it.'

"He added, 'It's not the [Iranian] people; they are very friendly. We don't understand why it happened.'..." (CNN)

Roxana's in good shape, according to her parents, considering that she's spent the last four months in an Iranian prison. According to WDAY-TV, the family will be back in Fargo in a few days.

I hope they are allowed to do so.

Related posts: In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.