Al-Qaeda's Saudi Origins
by Uriya Shavit
Middle East Quarterly
From where did Al-Qaeda come? While its actions are well known, its intellectual origins are not. Many scholars and analysts depict the group as a new phenomenon. They cite its international recruitment, its message of global jihad, its lack of a clear chain-of-command, and its use of the Internet as both an operational and informative tool. While the group's amorphousness makes it threatening and unpredictable, neither Osama bin Laden's operative modes nor his ideology are cloaked in mystery. Rather, they are a synthesis of two interlinked and equally important sources of influence: first, the teachings of ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam, the leader of the Afghan mujahideen during the 1980s; and second, the Saudi opposition movement which arose in the early 1990s and sought to Islamize Saudi society in response to a perceived Western "cultural attack" on the Muslim world.
The Saudi Debate on the Western Cultural Attack
Both influences arose out of a struggle within Saudi Arabian society. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the House of Saud managed to unite much of the Arabian Peninsula under its leadership. The Saudi kingdom preserved a temporal-religious balance of power: Saudi kings and princes took charge of political and financial decisions, while the ulema, the Muslim clergy, governed religious and judicial affairs including the issuance of fatwas, religious edicts that judged the compatibility of temporal decisions with Islamic law.
However, this balance of power was superficial. While the House of Saud derived legitimacy from the ulema, it also appointed or dismissed them and set the boundaries of their authority. Whenever the ulema disagreed with a Saudi king, the last word was almost always his. The clergy could debate political decisions, but they could not impose amendments.
The king and clergy often disagreed over the compatibility of modernization with Wahhabi puritanism. During the 1920s, for example, the ulema protested King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ibn Saud's decision to use wireless communication, claiming it was devilish. During the 1960s, the ulema contested King Faisal Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz's decision to introduce television broadcasting because, they claimed, it contradicted the Qur'an and could corrupt society. In both cases, clerical objections did not prevent implementation of the king's decision.
The 1970s oil boom changed Saudi society. Two distinct social groups emerged. The first, composed of young, often Western-educated technocrats sought to develop Saudi infrastructure and adapt Saudi administrative, educational, and financial systems to Western standards. The second were ulema, who graduated from newly-established religious schools and universities. They, too, enjoyed the economic boom but feared that rapid modernization could endanger Saudi Arabia's Muslim identity. These young clerics did not oppose modernization per se like their predecessors but demanded that new technologies be harnessed to promote Islam. They did not oppose television broadcasts, for example, but demanded that any programming be Islamic in nature and free of Western influence. Their approach to modernization was, in fact, more Salafi in nature than Wahhabi. While these two strains of Islamism are often conflated, there are subtle differences. Salafism refers to a school of thought developed in Egypt in the late nineteenth century that called for a return to the origins of Islam yet aimed to harmonize Islam with the scientific and technological aspects of modernity. Wahhabism is a Saudi puritan school which, in its idealization of the time of Muhammad, also rejects scientific and technical aspects of modernity.
As modernization progressed, these young ulema became increasingly discontented with the path of the Saudi kingdom. They opposed the growing number of girls attending school, the mushrooming number of television sets, temporal courts, and a banking system that did not adhere to the Islamic legal prohibition against charging interest. The personal extravagance of some young Saudi princes added insult to injury. The authoritarian nature of the Saudi system allowed little outlet for their discontent. When, on November 20, 1979, a young Saudi former national guardsman named Juhaiman al-‘Utaibi and a small band of followers took control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca to demand the overthrow of the House of Saud and the severing of all relations with the West, most ulema stood alongside the king.
However, their unease did not dissipate, but rather than coalesce into a formal opposition movement, they preached the dangers of poorly supervised modernization. They cautioned that the kingdom and the broader Muslim world were subject to a sophisticated Western "cultural attack" (al-ghazw ath-thaqafi) or "intellectual attack" (al-ghazw al-fikri), which sought first to weaken Muslim faith and morals and then conquer again Muslim territories and convert Muslims to Christianity. Its tools were Western textbooks, Western television programs, Western sports, Western cafés, and Western banking systems. Influenced by the teachings of Egyptian Islamists who found refuge in Saudi Arabia, the proponents of such a conspiracy theory did not differentiate between the capitalist West and the communist bloc; both were variations of the same enemy.
The ulema had a two-pronged plan to thwart this Western conspiracy: first they sought to purge Saudi Arabia of any Western influences and Islamize all aspects of Saudi life, including its judiciary, media, financial institutions, and educational systems. They would then launch a counterattack in which they would attempt to influence the Western world, mainly via Muslims living in Europe and the United States.
The Means of Combating the Intellectual Attack on the Muslim World, a book published in Mecca by the Saudi-controlled, pan-Islamist Muslim World League, is a typical manifestation of this conception. The author, Hassan Muhammad Hassan, describes the Western intellectual attack as a tumor whose timely detection is critical to the body's recovery. He argued that the West planned a three-stage offensive: first, the West would seek to convince Muslims that Islam is not a complete way of life but merely folklore; then Muslims would doubt their faith, before lastly, abandoning it. According to Hassan, the Western plot had already borne fruit because of Muslims' ignorance of the ideological underpinnings of Western society. For example, many Muslims failed to understand the destructive implications of teenagers imitating the West by directing their admiration toward soccer teams instead of ulema. He concluded that the only way to counter the Western onslaught would be to restore the hegemony of Islam in all aspects of life: Muslim states should annul any laws which contradict Shari‘a (Islamic law); Muslims should harness the press to further the Islamic cause; Muslims residing in the West must be recruited for the Muslim cause; and all Muslims must understand that any foreign presence on Muslim soil, even when disguised as academic or scientific, is part of a plot to shatter Islamic identity.
The ulema who cautioned against the "cultural attack" regarded the House of Saud, at least rhetorically, as a potential leader, not an enemy, of the struggle against Western penetration. The House of Saud did not oppose this conception. The Saudis were even ready to accept some of the ulema's minor demands, such as increased allocations for proselytizing overseas, so long as the ulema did not violate certain red lines, such as challenging the Saudi kingdom's military alliance with the United States. The war against the "cultural attack" was fine, so long as its prosecution did not threaten regime stability.
The War in Afghanistan and the Legacy of the Armed Jihad
The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was, in the eyes of those cautioning against a Western cultural attack, affirmation of their assumptions. The struggle for Afghanistan gave young, religious Saudis—graduates of the kingdom's new religious universities—an opportunity to defend Islam. A few hundred traveled to Afghanistan to join Muslim guerilla fighters, the mujahideen. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan assisted them financially and logistically. For the Saudi regime, their activity was a blessing: not only did it portray Saudi Arabia as a leading force in the liberation of Afghanistan without the kingdom having to directly intervene in the conflict, but it also kept the most radical and adventurous young Saudis far from Saudi Arabia. Instead of fighting the U.S. presence on Saudi soil, the kingdom's young radicals fought Soviet penetration of Afghan soil.
There, many Saudis—including Osama bin Laden—became followers of ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam. A Palestinian who fled to Jordan after the Six-Day war, ‘Azzam joined the Muslim Brotherhood and obtained a doctorate in Islamic law from Cairo's Al-Azhar University in 1973 before settling down to teach Islamic law at the University of Jordan. He was fired for involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and moved to Saudi Arabia where, in 1981, he joined the faculty of King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz University in Jeddah. He did not stay long and traveled to Islamabad and then to the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier to organize the anti-Soviet jihad. Bin Laden became ‘Azzam's close ally, assisting him with finance and logistics.
‘Azzam argued that it was the personal obligation (fard al-‘ayn) of every Muslim to defend Islamic lands against the penetration of the infidels. This duty was no different than the responsibility to fast or pray. A son neither would need his father's approval nor a wife her husband's approval to fulfill it. Primary responsibility for the fight against occupation of the infidels rested upon the victimized residents but, if they did not possess force enough to resist, every Muslim should join them in battle. Waging war against Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and Israel were the highest priorities because these two states represented beachheads from which the infidels would expand. However, ‘Azzam argued Afghanistan was more urgent because the battles at the time were at their peak and because in Afghanistan the resistance was purely Muslim; there were no Christian populations, as there are on the West Bank.
Several Saudi ulema endorsed ‘Azzam's ideas. He also claimed to have the endorsement of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, head of the Council for Senior Ulema, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, though he offered no proof for this claim. However, he went beyond the concerns articulated by the Saudi ulema: he made the struggle an individual one, giving up on the idea that Muslim states are able to defend Muslim soil. He also shifted the struggle from the sociocultural to military dimension. While his colleagues in Saudi Arabia preached about the dangers of Western penetration into the Muslim world, ‘Azzam transformed his ideas into a successful armed struggle for which he eventually sacrificed his life, dying with two of his sons in a November 1989 explosion in Peshawar, apparently the work of Soviet agents. It was this legacy of an active, armed, and nongovernmental struggle against Western penetration that he bequeathed to bin Laden when the war in Afghanistan ended in a Soviet defeat.
Radicalizing the Defense against Cultural Attack
On August 2, 1990, shortly after bin Laden's return from Afghanistan, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Riyadh's subsequent decision to invite the U.S. military to protect the kingdom radically transformed the Saudi debate about the Western "cultural attack." Deployment of Western troops to Saudi soil fit the narrative of those ulema who said that Western cultural penetration of the kingdom was just a precursor to a Western military reconquest of the Middle East. To these young Saudis, the House of Saud was at best duped by the West and, at worst, complicit.
Aware of the risk, King Fahd urged the Council of Senior Ulema to issue an edict legitimizing the presence of U.S. troops. But rather than appease many of the young ulema, their edict convinced them that the clerics of the senior religious establishment were pawns in the hands of the Sauds and had eschewed their sacred obligation to defend Islam. A movement against U.S. military presence grew rapidly at mosques and in religious universities. Its leaders were Salman al-‘Awda, a professor of Islamic law at Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh, and Safar al-Hawali, a charismatic lecturer who headed the department of theology at Umm al-Qurra University in Mecca. Hawali's sermons were widely distributed on audiotape and became popular during the buildup to Operation Desert Storm.
Hawali described the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait as part of a Western conspiracy to conquer the Muslim world. This conspiracy was, in Hawali's opinion, the result of a Western understanding that in the post-Soviet era, only the Muslim world could challenge Western hegemony, and therefore, the West must subordinate all Muslims to its rule. According to Hawali, Washington encouraged Kuwait to increase its oil exports to harm Iraq's economy. The U.S. government then not only gave the Iraqi leader the green light to invade Kuwait but later discouraged Saddam from compromise. Finally, Washington pressured the Persian Gulf states to agree to war against Iraq. His sermons reflected frustration with the Saudi blindness to U.S. plots and Washington's alleged goal to reshape the Middle East in accordance with U.S. strategic interests and ideals. They were imbued with a belief that given the opportunity, the average Saudi subject would fight the Western danger.
Other developments in the run-up to Operation Desert Storm deepened the suspicions of young ulema that the conflict was part of a cultural attack. On November 6, 1990, a few dozen Saudi women in Riyadh sent their drivers away and, stating that nothing in Islam prohibits women from driving, drove their cars in a protest-rally against the social ban against women driving. Riyadh ulema were certain that Kuwaiti and Western women had inspired their Saudi counterparts. In response to ulema demands, the government issued a ban on women driving.
A month later, forty-three businessmen and intellectuals signed a petition to the king, demanding diminished authority for the ulema in Saudi society. This "Liberal Petition," argued that Qur'anic interpretations are, unlike the Qur'an itself, human and amendable. In addition, they demanded a new press law to parallel progressive legislation in other countries and called for women to have a greater role in Saudi society. Then, as the war began, Saudi Channel 2 offered its viewers live CNN feed. To the ulema, this was an insult: not only was their country part of a Western-led coalition against another Muslim country, but Saudi television was also helping broadcast images demonstrating Western military and technological superiority to the Saudi public through Western eyes.
When the war ended, many younger ulema sought a complete U.S. withdrawal from Saudi soil. When the king turned down this demand, they concluded that if the House of Saud could no longer protect Saudi Arabia from the Western cultural attack, then the ulema, not the House of Saud, should run the country.
In March 1991, a group of ulema secretly drafted a "letter of demands" (khitab al-matalib) to demand the establishment of an independent consultative (shura) council to consist of ulema that would rule in all internal and external matters. They also demanded that special committees adapt all laws and regulations to Islamic law, that state organs be purged of corruption, that the collection of interest by financial institutions be banned, that the state build a strong and sophisticated military, and that Saudi Arabia relinquish any alliance—such as the Riyadh-Washington partnership—which in their view contradicted the Shari‘a.
Signed first in Riyadh, the letter of demands circulated throughout the kingdom and gained approximately 400 signatures of preachers, heads of Islamic organizations, judges, and scholars, who represented the relatively younger religious establishment. Even bin Baz supported the petition. Encouraged by this dramatic step, four of the petitioners traveled to Jeddah and submitted the petition to the king's chief of staff. Sympathizers distributed thousands of underground copies around the country.
The letter of demands represented a clear, albeit rhetorical, rebellion against the House of Saud. But the king's hands were tied. Nothing in the petition contradicted Saudi law or official Saudi statements; in fact, King Fahd and his predecessors had often promised creation of a consultative council, albeit one without any structure or powers specified.
While the government rejected the ulema's specific demands, it sought to diminish their challenge and popularity with incorporation of notions of cultural attack in some of its actions and rhetoric. The king sharply increased allocations for religious activities. Even during the economic crisis of 1992, the government increased the number of religious establishment employees from 54,000 to 60,300. The Saudi government also launched a number of initiatives to strengthen the Islamic identity of Muslim diasporas. The king himself described the establishment of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) as outreach to Muslims living in Europe.
Rhetorically, too, the regime co-opted some ideas of Hawali and other dissidents. Since the end of 1991, the king's speeches have promoted the idea of a clash of civilizations between an aggressive, materialistic, hegemony-seeking Western civilization and a spiritual Muslim civilization led by Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi newspaper opinion columns—all subject to state censorship if not representing endorsed views—suggested that Saudi Arabia must launch a counterattack against the Western civilization. For example, one column in the Al-Riyadh daily contended that, because taking the struggle into the enemy's territory is the key to victory, the Saudi regime should exploit ties to Muslim diasporas in the West to transform the Christian crusade against Muslims into a crusade to Islamize the Christian world.
Still, the Saudi royal family did not adhere to demands to abandon its U.S. military alliance or expel foreign troops, nor were the kingdom's laws purged of all non-Muslim influences. The king's March 1992 decision to decree a Basic Law of government and a Law of the Consultative Council ridiculed the ulemas' most radical demand by creating a council devoid of any real power for religious authorities. In so doing, King Fahd drew a boundary between legitimate and illegitimate dissent. The petitioners of the letter of demands could no longer call for the establishment of a meaningful consultative council and still claim to operate within the boundaries of state legitimacy.
Faced with the dilemma of further challenging the king or retreating, most oppositionists retreated. The number of declared supporters of the ulemas' demands diminished after 1992, and even many of those who remained relinquished the demand for the establishment of a powerful consultative council although they did continue to advocate for greater Islamization of Saudi society and foreign policy. While some scholars argue that a further petition, the Mudhakarat an-Nasiha (the memorandum of advice), circulated in March 1992, represents radicalization of the Saudi opposition, this view misinterprets the evolution of the movement and its relations with the House of Saud. While the memorandum of advice was more elaborate in its demands for Islamization of the Saudi society, it relinquished the more radical demand to transfer political power from the House of Saud to the ulema and so reflected the regime's success in marking the boundaries of legitimacy for the opposition. It was signed by far fewer than had signed the letter of demands. Not only was bin Baz not among them, but the memorandum of advice drew condemnation from the Council for Senior Ulema.
The regime's attitude toward those who persisted in criticism became harsher. In the summer of 1993, the police searched Hawali's offices and froze ‘Awda's bank accounts. Teachers at King Saud university in Riyadh, who in May established a human rights committee (Lajnat ad-Dif‘a ‘an al-Huquq ash-Shar'iya, often translated as the Committee for the Defense of the Legitimate Rights, CDLR, but may also be translated as "Committee for the Defense of the Shari‘a Rights") were fired; a few fled to exile in London where they launched a campaign to overthrow the House of Saud. The regime reestablished control of the debate and over its religious opposition without either serious concession or a shot being fired.
Bin Laden and ‘Azzam: Synthesizing Ideology and Practice
What role Osama bin Laden had in those stormy events is not known; yet, he must have played some role because in the fall of 1991, he fled to exile in Sudan. Bin Laden likely identified with Hawali and ‘Awda's ideas objecting to the deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.
During his first years of exile in Sudan, bin Laden was a prominent Saudi opposition figure, known mostly for his antipathy to the Saudi alliance with the United States. In April 1994, after he identified with the CDLR, the Saudi Interior Ministry stripped him of his citizenship. In May 1996, the Sudanese government at Riyadh's urging expelled him. He found shelter in Afghanistan, protected by the Taliban.
From his Afghan exile, he issued "a declaration of war" and, in several press interviews, called for an armed struggle against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. He also claimed responsibility for the June 1996 explosions in Dhahran, which killed nineteen U.S. servicemen, saying they were a warning and a response to the collusion between the Saudi regime and the "Zionist-Crusade" alliance. While he drifted apart from the mainstream Saudi opposition of the early 1990s, his emphasis on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and his consistent criticism of the House of Saud reflected the concerns of Hawali and ‘Awda and made him merely a Saudi opposition figure.
In the late 1990s, bin Laden altered his political profile and embarked on an effort to become the leader of a global jihad against the United States and its allies. Using his fortune and his operational skills, he recruited radical Islamists willing to attack Western targets and trained several hundred in camps in Afghanistan. On February 23, 1998, bin Laden announced the establishment of "The World Islamic Front for the Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders" (Al-Jabha al-Islamiya al-‘Alamiya li-Jihad al-Yahud w'as-Salabiyin) in the Arabic daily Al-Quds al-‘Arabi and positioned himself to head its supreme council. Joining him were jihadist leaders from Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, but their alliance was weak, and they did not agree upon the front's hierarchy and goals. Six months later, bin Laden proved his organization's lethality when it simultaneously attacked the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam, killing more than 220, injuring five thousand, and gaining publicity for his organization and ideas.
Both the declaration of the World Islamic Front for the Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders and bin Laden's audiotape aired on Al-Jazeera on December 26, 2001, explaining his reasons for the 9-11 attacks, demonstrate the synthesizing origins of his thought and operation. While the first signifies his claim to leadership of the global jihad, the second signifies the manifestation of this claim. Unlike a few other well-known documents attributed to bin Laden, there is no doubt as to the authenticity of either of these two documents. Still, bin Laden's ideology and modes of operation remain rooted in the legacies of ‘Azzam and the Saudi opposition and reflect a dynamic synthesis of the two.
The founding declaration of the World Islamic Front offered an analysis of the crisis the Muslim world faced. While the front claimed to speak for all Muslims, its analysis concentrated on the concerns of the Saudi opposition, resembling arguments articulated by Hawali less than a decade earlier. It suggested "three truths" to be evident: the first was that "for more than seven years [since 1991], America has been conquering the most sacred of all Muslim soil, that of the Arab peninsula, plundering its resources, dictating to its rulers how to act, humiliating its inhabitants, threatening its neighbors, and turning military bases on its soil into the spearhead of its war against the neighboring Muslim peoples." The second was that a "Crusading-Jewish alliance" would not settle for the immense devastation it brought down on millions of Iraqis (with U.N. sanctions) but now sought to kill the surviving Iraqi people and their Muslim neighbors. The third truth was that while U.S. goals were religious and financial, Washington's goal was also to serve the Jewish state and divert attention from Israel's occupation of the Al-Aqsa mosque and its killing of the Muslims residing in its territories.
The declaration leaned heavily on the Saudi debate on the "cultural attack": the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was the original sin and the primary reason for the hardships faced by the Muslim world. The Palestinian problem, which ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam also emphasized, is of lesser importance and is addressed only in relation to U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.
However, bin Laden's suggested remedy is a far cry from that suggested by Hawali and other dissidents. It relinquishes all hopes that the Saudi regime or any other Muslim regime would challenge Western plots and also neglects the intellectual and cultural aspects of the struggle. According to the declaration, the struggle against the West is not to be a struggle of words, nor is it to be a struggle of state-armies; rather, it is to be a struggle of devoted Muslim individuals fighting against sporadic Western targets. Here the influence of ‘Azzam is clear: following in his footsteps, bin Laden's declaration ended with an edict, ruling that it is the personal duty (fard al-‘ayn) of any Muslim to kill Americans and their allies, citizens and servicemen, whenever and wherever possible.
In his audio statement three years later, bin Laden reversed the list of grievances, yet a synthesis remained. In the audio declaration, bin Laden explained the logic of the attacks and called for a continuation of the struggle. While the geographical context of the armed struggle against the West resembled that of ‘Azzam, the modes of operation designed by bin Laden echoed many of the ideas articulated in the Saudi-oriented debate on the Western "cultural attack." He described the United States as engaged in a crusade against Muslims around the world. While he concentrated on the post-9-11 war to oust the Taliban, he also commented on what he regarded as U.S. complicity in what he perceived as atrocities committed against children in the West Bank and Gaza. He then contended that 9-11 was retaliation against the continuing deprivation (zulm) of the sons of Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese, and Kashmiris and called on the Muslim nation to awaken and end Washington's global campaign, not only against Muslims but also the whole of humanity.
The military presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil was no longer the focus of bin Laden's counterattack; indeed, it was not mentioned in the declaration. Having been in exile for a decade and claiming the helm of a global jihad against the West, the geographical context he addressed went beyond his origins and concentrated, like that which ‘Azzam presented, on Afghanistan and Palestine.
Nevertheless, the modes of operation bin Laden recommended remained rooted in the Saudi opposition. He viewed the counterattack against U.S. influence as a combined effort, not narrowly restricted to an armed dimension. He showed pride at the immense economic damage inflicted on the United States by 9-11 and emphasized that damaging the U.S. economy was as important as damaging its military, explaining that should the U.S. economy collapse, then the U.S. government could not subordinate other peoples. Bin Laden's roots also showed in his pride that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis. He reminded his audience that he had warned previously that should the United States be involved in a conflict with the sons of the two holy places (Saudi Arabia), it would long for its days in Vietnam. He also contended that the reason for the Saudi dominance in the attack was that its citizens were the most devoted in belief. Like Hawali and other Saudi dissenters, bin Laden clearly envisioned a Saudi leadership in the struggle against the West.
Perhaps most remarkably, the influence that the debate on the "cultural attack" had on bin Laden's mode of operation was evident in his attempt to launch the counterattack from the enemy's soil, using the enemy's technology and members of the enemy's Muslim diaspora. In the Saudi debate on the "cultural attack," it was often argued that the Muslim world should harm the West in the same way the West harms the Muslim world—that is, by penetrating its cultural and social identity and forcing its inhabitants to question their values and beliefs to the point that they would collapse. Bin Laden adopted this conception and extended it, recruiting Muslims residing for months in the United States to execute a grand terror operation. In the audio declaration, he boasted that the young men involved in the attacks "used the enemy's planes and studied at the enemy's schools."
Indeed, bin Laden's success in terrorizing the United States is largely the result of the materialization of the conception of the "counterattack": while the 9-11 attacks had little direct strategic importance for the U.S. economy and society, the emerging threat of a few Muslim Americans or Muslim Europeans becoming a fifth column and of sophisticated technologies becoming self-destructive weapons not only struck fear and suspicion in many Western societies but also forced them to rethink long-held convictions on such issues as freedom of speech, immigration, due process, and multiculturalism.
Bin Laden's synthesis of ‘Azzam's and the Saudi dissidents' ideas as well as the manifestation of this synthesis were unique. No other leader of the Saudi opposition followed in his footsteps. By claiming the helm of the leadership of a global, violent jihad against the West, bin Laden distanced himself from the mainstream Saudi opposition. Shortly after 9-11, Hawali and ‘Awda denounced bin Laden and urged Saudi youngsters not to follow in his footsteps. Hawali was even involved in the voluntary extradition of a young Saudi, whom the Saudi authorities sought to arrest in connection with his ties to Al-Qaeda, raising speculation about both his co-option by the religious establishment and whether he had the resolve to practice what he preached. 
Uriya Shavit teaches Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University and is author of A Dawn of an Old Era: The Imaginary Revolution in the Middle East (Keter, 2003). He thanks Joseph Kostiner and Eyal Zisser for their assistance.
 Douglas A. Boyd, "Saudi Arabia Broadcasting: Radio and Television in a Wealthy Islamic State," Middle East Review, Summer and Fall 1980, p. 20.
 Ibid, pp. 22-3; Robert Lacey, The Kingdom (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1979), pp. 369-70.
 On Saudi Arabia's quick path to modernization, see Helen Lackner, A House Built on Sand: A Political Economy of Saudi Arabia (London: Ithaca Press, 1978), pp. 172-212.
 On ‘Utaibi's movement, see Joseph A. Kechician, "Islamic Revivalism and Change in Saudi Arabia," The Muslim World, Jan. 1990, p. 12; Lacey, The Kingdom, pp. 478-89.
 Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Alim Marsi, Ath-Thakafa …Wal-Ghazu ath-Thakafi fi Duwal al-Khalij al-‘Arabia (Riyadh: Maktabat al-‘Abikan, 1995), pp. 129-72; "Min Sayhkim as-Saudiya: Al-Mal am as-Salafiya," Al-Bilad (Beirut), June 15, 1991.
 Hassan Muhammad Hassan, Wassa'il Muqawamat al-Ghazu al-Fikri lil-‘Alam al-Islami (Mecca: Rabitat al-‘Alam al-Islami, 1981), pp. 7-63, 149.
 Ibid., pp. 56-5.
 Ibid., pp. 79-176.
 Mariam Abu Zahab and Olivier Roy, Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection (London: Hurst & Company, 2004), pp. 12-8; ‘Atef S‘adawa, "Mustaqbal al-Afghan al-Arab," Al-Dimuqratiya (Cairo), Jan. 2002, pp. 203-13.
‘Abdallah ‘Azzam, ‘Ad-Dif'a ‘an Aradi al-Muslimin Ahamu Furudh al-‘Ayn (Amman: Maktabat ar-Risala al-Haditha, 1987), pp. 19-32, 42-9.
 Ibid., p. 33.
 Ibid., pp. 34-8.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Jacob Goldberg, "Saudi Arabia," Middle East Contemporary Survey, XIV (1990): 607.
 Mamun Fandi, Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001), p. 90; Mahmud al-Rif‘ai, Al-Mashru al-Islakhi fi as-Saudia: Kissat al-Hawali wal-‘Awda (Washington: n.p., 1995), p. 18.
 Fandi, Saudi Arabia, pp. 62-3; Rif‘ai, Al-Mashru al-Islakhi fi as-Saudia al-Islahi fi as-Saudiya, pp. 16-7, 30-1.
 S‘ad Rashid al-Fakih, Zalzal as-Saud (London: Al-Haraka al-Islamiya lil-Islah, n.d), pp. 31-2.
 See also, Safar al-Hawali, Haqa'iq hawl Azmat al-Khalij (Cairo: Dar Mecca al-Mukarama, 1991), pp. 110-5, 126-35.
 Fandi, Saudi Arabia, pp. 49-50; Goldberg, "Saudi Arabia," pp. 21-622.
 Rif‘ai, Al-Mashru al-Islakhi fi as-Saudia al-Islahi fi as-Saudiya, pp. 20-1; Fakih, Zalzal as-Saud, pp. 38-44.
 Al-Bilad, June 15, 1991.
 Fakih, Zalzal as-Saud, p. 49.
 Ash-Sh'ab (Cairo), May 21, 1991; Rif‘ai, Al-Mashru al-Islakhi fi as-Saudia al-Islahi fi as-Saudiya, pp 107-8.
 Rif‘ai, Al-Mashru al-Islakhi fi as-Saudia al-Islahi fi as-Saudiya, pp. 110-1.
 Fakih, Zalzal as-Saud, pp. 63-70.
Joshua Teitelbaum, Holier than Thou: Saudi Arabia's Islamic Opposition (Washington: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2000), p. 101.
 King Fahd, interview on MBC, Foreign Broadcasting Information Service (FBIS), NES-223-91, Nov. 19, 1991; ‘Adnan Kamil, "At-Telefision al-Fadaa'i Keif wa Limadha," ‘Ukaz (Jedda), July 9, 1992.
 King Fahd, speech to the Muslim World League, ‘Ukaz, Jan. 26, 1992.
 Salih Muhammad al-Namla, "Hata la Yakun A'adaa'," Al-Riyadh, May 28, 1992.
 For the text of the Basic Law and the Law of the Consultative Council, see ‘Ukaz, Mar. 2, 1992.
 For a description of the events leading to the drafting of the memorandum and a summary of its contents, see Fakih, Zalzal as-Saud, pp. 88-106.
 R. Hrair Dekmejian, "The Rise of Political Islamism in Saudi Arabia," Middle East Journal, Autumn 1994, p. 636.
 For the text of the Council for Senior Ulema's condemnation, see Al-Riyadh, Sept. 18, 1992.
 Fakih, Zalzal as-Saud, pp. 106-35; Ann Elizabeth Mayer, "The Human Rights Debate," in Martin Kramer, ed., The Islamism Debate (Tel Aviv: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, 1997), pp. 123-4; Teitelbaum, Holier than Thou, pp. 49-51.
 Teitelbaum, Holier than Thou, pp. 77-9.
 Esther Webman, "The Polarization and Radicalization of Political Islam," Middle East Contemporary Survey, XXII (1998): 129-30.
 The Washington Post, Jan. 8, 1999.
 "Nas Bayan al-Jabha al-Islamia al-‘Alamia lil-Jihad al-Yahud wal-Salbiyin," Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), Feb. 23, 1998.
 "An-Nas al-Kamil li-Kalimat bin Ladin," Al-Quds al-Arabi, Dec. 28, 2001.
 Joshua Teitelbaum, "Ha-dor ha-Hadash Shel ha-Ulama: Mish‘enet Hadasha la-Mishtar," in Esther Webman, ed., Ha-Mizrah ha-Tichon 2005: Be'siman Khilofei Be-siman Hilofei Dorot (Tel Aviv: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African studies, 2005), pp. 113-5.
This item is available on the Middle East Forum website, at http://www.meforum.org/article/999
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Airline security needs to be based on common sense, not policies that will turn citizens into inmates of their own countries
Airline security needs to be based on common sense, not policies that will turn citizens into inmates of their own countries
By Christopher Dickey
Aug. 29, 2006 - Flying used to be about freedom. No matter where you intended to land, there was something magical about escaping to the heavens. Now, as we know, flying is more like going to prison, if not, indeed, to hell.
As it happens, I once spent a week interviewing inmates and staff at what was then the main “super-max” federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. It was the successor to Alcatraz, and the predecessor of the facility that opened in Florence, Colorado, in 1994. “Security” was its aim, its ethos, its excuse for everything. Life in Marion had so many grim limitations and restrictions that the worst of the worst criminals convicted in federal courts—spies, drug lords, racist murderers, gang leaders—actually would try to behave themselves in hopes they might someday get out of its peculiar purgatory, even though the greatest escape they could achieve was transfer to another federal pen.
The operative principle for prison security was that anything one inmate managed to make into a weapon would be taken away from everyone. Saran Wrap was a case in point. Sandwiches had come in it. But one of the inmates discovered a way to burn an aspirin tablet, generating enough heat to melt the wrap, harden it, and make a dagger, so no more cellophane on the sandwiches. Ditto bed springs. They could be cut, twisted and sharpened into weapons, so the beds were concrete slabs.
The cardboard backing on every legal pad at Marion was torn off because one prisoner managed to fashion it into a crude bomb filled with match heads, using bits of metal zipper as shrapnel. The most benign objects were, in the imagination of the inmates and the guards, potential deadly weapons. One by one, they were taken away until each convict’s life was made as barren as it could possibly be made.
"Big Brother is always watching," the warden at Marion told me. The basic goal was to keep prisoners safe from each other and alive: “pure security,” he called it. "Every day that goes by and no inmate or staff member is seriously hurt, we've accomplished our mission."
Doubtless those responsible for airline safety have a similarly fatalist, minimalist view, and not without cause. It’s been five years since September 11, 2001, when 19 men using box cutters on commercial flights changed the world forever. No one would ever want to see that again. But the draconian security measures taken after an alleged airline terror plot was revealed in Britain earlier this month have exposed the reductio ad absurdum of current thinking about what makes us safe, or not.
The last few days have seen a stunning series of exaggerated reactions to minor incidents. On Friday alone, half a dozen little security breaches or anonymous threats suddenly escalated into significant aircraft diversions or delays around the United States. Earlier last week, a United Airlines flight from London to Washington D.C. landed in Boston—accompanied by fighter jets—when a 59-year-old American woman named Catherine Mayo acted like a nut. She reportedly urinated outside the plane’s galley and allegedly mumbled something about Al Qaeda.
(Afterwards, it turned out Mayo has spent a lot of time traveling in Pakistan, ostensibly as a journalist. She wrote an article in 2003 for the English-language Daily Times there that blamed American psychiatrists for what she called the “manic depression” of the United States after 9/11. “This is a woman with very serious mental health issues,” Mayo’s public defender told the court in Boston during her initial hearing on Friday.)
And then there was Northwest Flight 042. When a dozen young Indian businessmen returning from a wedding boarded it in Amsterdam for the last leg of their flight home to Mumbai last week, they were in a decidedly rambunctious mood. (Although all were Muslim, it’s not clear how observant or abstemious they were.) They were trading seats, playing with their cell phones, allegedly refusing to turn them off, and some reportedly taunted the cabin crew by tossing the phones to each other.
American sky marshals on board got involved. About 10 minutes out from Amsterdam, the pilot wheeled around, escorted back to the ground by fighter jets (which seems to be standard operating procedure). The alleged troublemakers were hauled off, but Dutch officials then cleared them to fly home the next day.
The Indian press quickly declared the real “crime” of the businessmen was the color of their skin. "If brown equals terrorist, doesn't white equal racist?" suggested an editorial in the Hindustan Times. And knee-jerk prejudice might have played a role, but the essence of the problem lies in the fact that so much has come to seem sinister that overwhelmed security staff and paranoid passengers see threats everywhere they look: in a beard or a prayer, a cell phone or a soft drink.
By coincidence, a NEWSWEEK reporter was on the previous leg of Northwest Flight 042, which went from Minneapolis to Amsterdam that same day. Barbie Nadeau was returning home to Rome from vacation in the States with her husband and two little boys, ages 6 and 4. In Minnesota, the security obsession was less with skin tones and Motorolas than with run-of-the-mill liquids. Parents of little kids were watched especially closely, it seemed, because the screeners suspected they might be smuggling boxes of juice on board.
As Nadeau points out in an e-mail, her family’s two carry-on bags had enough electronics in them to wire a missile: “a laptop, a portable DVD player, a sound-blaster adapter and headphones, two cell phones, four MP3 players with headphones, a BlackBerry, a brick of AA batteries and two hand-held video games.” The security woman paid them no attention. “She dug around the electronics, searching for juice. About three other moms nearby were going through the same harassment…”
Nadeau concedes that the screeners and airline staff were just doing their job, “but it struck me that the security was so focused on finding and confiscating any liquid item, they were actually not focusing on any other potentially suspicious things anyone might be carrying. Case in point: nail clippers. I didn't realize they were in my bag, but they got by in Minneapolis, only to be confiscated in Amsterdam.”
Ah, yes, nail clippers. I have searched in vain for the example of nail clippers being used to hijack an airplane—on the face of it a pretty ludicrous proposition—but I guess someone could imagine they might be. Just as Saran Wrap can become a dagger. Or the cardboard back of a legal pad can be made into a bomb with zipper shrapnel.
We are walking in our socks through security checks, you realize, not because anybody ever succeeded in blowing up a plane with explosive shoes, but because one man tried and failed. Moms are surreptitiously smuggling juice boxes for their kids because the alleged plotters in Britain reportedly wanted to mix up explosives on board planes using different liquid components. But recent reporting on that case suggests they may not have known what they were doing, or how to do it.
Should we be concerned and careful? Yes. And we shouldn’t think there are easy answers. The much-vaunted Israeli model for airline security works at one single airport, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion, and with one small airline overseas, El Al, using highly educated screeners, many of whom are performing their national military service. Can the U.S. use the same psychological profiling techniques at hundreds of airports with screeners paid a little over the minimum wage and, perhaps, a high school diploma? Doubtful. Is better physical screening the answer? Bernard E. Harcourt, a professor at the University of Chicago who has written extensively on these issues suggested in an International Herald Tribune op-ed last week that the best approach would be “to eliminate most carry-ons and emulate high-security prisons…”
In fact, security systems will continue evolving, as will terrorist efforts to get around them. But the policies that develop in that process have to be based on a cool, common sense assessment of the real threats, not sensationalism and cover-your-ass bureaucracy. The failed dreams of would-be terrorists cannot be the measure of the threat against us. To achieve “pure security,” in the end, Americans would have to become inmates of their own country.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:17 AM
Friday, September 01, 2006
Steven G. Brant
Republicans Admit bin Laden Controls Our Wartime Strategy
Like it or not, George W. Bush is our Commander in Chief. And Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, et al love to argue that Republicans must maintain control of our government so that our Commander in Chief can continue to do the masterful job he is doing fighting the War on Terrorism.
Right? No arguement so far?
Well, what if George Bush really isn't our Commander in Chief?
What if Osama bin Laden really is?
What? Sounds crazy? Well, I've got proof...straight from a Republican's mouth on a major national news show.
But first, let's get our definitions straight. If you are the "commander", that means you direct the strategic planning that determins what those you are commanding do. Right?
You obviously have help from the strategy development team that "serves at your pleasure" (as Don Rumsfeld says whenever he's asked why he is still Secretary of Defense). But ultimately it's you who are giving directions to your troops. Right?
Well, tonight we have conclusive proof that our Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush, is taking his direction from someone other that hand-picked team.
Tonight we have proof that President Bush is actually taking his direction from Osama bin Laden. And not just bin Laden alone, but from his lieutenants too. In other words, Osama bin Laden is effectively the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States.
This fascinating admission comes from Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the Republican chosen by her party to debate the issue of the global war on terrorism on the PBS Newshour. According to Rep. Blackburn, the reason we are in Iraq now is because Osama bin Laden has told us we must be there.
When you watch the video below, at about the 50 second mark you will hear her say, "When you have Osama bin Laden and his lieutenents saying the centerpiece of the War on Terror is in Iraq...then we know it would be foolish of us to leave and to let them take that battlefront. It would be a foolish move for us to do that."
Here's the video...
Before making this astounding admission - which I think you'll agree she says with a kind of directness that lets you know this is a clear policy position she and her party have thought about, not just some off-the-cuff remark - Rep. Blackburn gives a new twist to the Republcan's "Nazi sympathizers" talking point by saying "There are people who are always going to be against fighting for freedom." But what really blew me away was her claim that we must continue to see the war in Iraq as the battlefront of the war on terrorism because bin Laden says we should...and that it would be "foolish" to do otherwise.
Well, the word "fool" is what came to my mind, not "foolish".
Since the Republicans are using World War II analogies these days, can anyone imagine what would have happened during that war if an American politician had said "We're going to keep fighting in such and such a place because that's where Hitler and his lieutenants say the battlefront of the war is."???
Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA) was debating Rep. Blackburn and failed to pick up on her statement. I think he did a great job of putting forward the Democrat's talking points, but for some reason he didn't recognize the gift Rep. Blackburn was handing to him when it happened.
But that's okay. We still can.
On a major national news program, the Republicans have admitted that George W. Bush is reacting to what and where our enemies tell him the global war on terror is. Our enemies say "It's in Iraq." and he says "Okay. Well then, we'll fight you there." He is the Responder in Chief, not the Commander in Chief.
I wish I knew enough to tell if George W. Bush...and Rep. Blackburn...and the whole team controlling our wartime strategy...can now be declared "Enemy Combatants". I'm guessing they can't. That would just be too weird...like "Twilight Zone" weird.
But then what can we declare them to be?
How about this?...
"Incompetent"..."Toast."..."Done"..."You're out of here."...or an old expression from my college days that just popped into my mind" "Sh*t for brains".
Or my two favorite declarations of the moment: "Soon to be checked by a Democrat-controlled Congress" and "Completely out of power after the 2008 elections."
1. When you're trained in the science of organizational strategy as I am, you learn that reactive strategic thinking of the kind the Bush Administration constantly uses (always fighting "yesterday's battles") is the least effective strategic planning methodology there is. Sure, you need to put out fires when they happen. But the optimal approach to creating a safe and prosperous future is to be proactive, not reactive. And proactive thinking does NOT mean "reacting really fast to something you see is happening." Proactive means "preventing fires from happening in the first place by steering future events into healthier, non-lethal behavioral dynamics patterns." And this requres the ability to think creatively and systemically, the way designers and inventors think. I regret that the Bush Administration does not appear to have a creative bone in its entire body. They are pretty much all-reactive, all-the-time. They really aren't working to design the better world we are capable of having. They do get creative when it comes to their use of language to justify their actions. I'll give them that. Although some might just call what they are doing then "lying". But just watch. If we wind up going to war with Iran in 2007 or 2008, the Bush Administration will have said "We had no choice but to respond with the use of force to what Iran did." They will be in complete "reactive mode", having failed to use one iota of creative thinking in what they claim today is an effort designed to "make war the choice of last resort" when dealing with Iran. Just watch.
2. Truth be told, I don't know how Rep. Blackburn was chosen to appear on the Newshour. But given the well-coordinated nature of the Republican Party, I'm sure she didn't just volunteer to do so all by herself. So I think it's safe to say she was her party's choice to be on the Newshour.
3. Also, when I think about Bush taking direction from bin Laden, I can't help but think about the financial connection through the Carlyle Group between the Bush and bin Laden families. I'm just not sure what to make of it, but there it is all the same.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:14 AM
Thousands of anti-war protesters demand: "Give us the truth"
By Christopher Smart and Jeremiah Stettler
Salt Lake Tribune
They came bearing banners, singing ballads and barking demands from the U.S. commander in chief.
Some 4,000 protesters streamed into Washington Square surrounding The Salt Lake City/County Building downtown to protest the war in Iraq and President George W. Bush, who was scheduled to arrive this evening for an appearance before the national convention of the American Legion.
A few blocks south, uniformed military veterans and civilians spoke in support of the U.S. troops at a 300-strong Freedom Rally in Liberty Park.
They clasped hands and sang out ''God Bless the U.S.A.'' Yellow ribbons printed with the phrase ''Support our Troops,'' hung from shirt pockets, baseball caps and American flags.
''We must continue to support our troops,'' said Paul Holton, president of Operation Give, which organized the rally. ''We want them to be victorious. We want them to accomplish their mission safely.''
Apparently referring to Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, he said: ''The world needs to know we will not sit idly by and let someone speak for us who we disagree with.''
Anderson -- who has taken heat from Republicans for his support of the anti-war demonstration -- was greeted with a huge cheer and the crowd at Washington Square began chanting, ''Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.''
Placards waved with slogans like: ''Impeach Bush,'' ''Regime change begins at home'' and ''Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.''
Big-headed papier mache likenesses of Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added to the carnival atmosphere.
But the gathering turned serious when Anderson called the Bush administration to task for inserting the United States in what he called ''an unnecessary war based on false justifications.''
''Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism,'' he said. ''We are here today to insist that those who were elected to be our leaders tell us the truth. If we had the truth, we wouldn't be in Iraq today.''
The crowd chanted: ''Give us the truth. Give us the truth.''
The mayor said it was ''chilling'' that Bush and his administration could continue to lie to the American people with impunity.
''These imperious, arrogant, dishonest people think we should just fall in line with them and continue to take them at their word.''
Anderson said coming generations will pay the price for the Bush administration's ''lies, violence, cruelty, incompetence and inhumanity.''
The mayor called for ''a new day,'' saying citizens ''must be cognizant of our moral responsibility to speak up in the face of wrongdoing.''
''We must pursue peace as vigorously as the Bush administration has pursued war,'' he said.
A former member of the Green Berets, Gil Iker, also addressed the lively gathering, saying that the president misrepresented himself when he said he was a ''uniter, not a divider.'' ''Tragically, the president has squandered our biggest asset, our country's unity.'' After the invasion of Afghanistan, Iker said, the Bush administration lost track of the original mission: to hunt down al Qaeda.
''Iraq is not Afghanistan, any more than Vietnam was World War II,'' he said. ''Bush and Cheney have done enough to our beloved country; they should cut and run.''
Between protest songs and banner waving, the Rev. Tom Goldsmith told the crowd that the president is in denial of the growing civil war in Iraq.
''Bush leads this nation with eyes wide shut,'' he said. ''The war in Iraq is a fiasco.''
Goldsmith invited protestors to sign a petition to indict Bush and his administration, as well as Congress for abuse of power and failure to uphold the Constitution.
As the rally ended, a group of veterans led a march from City Hall to the federal building.
Back at the Freedom Rally, Virginia Foster Eisler, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary from Butler County, Pa., stood amid the crowd, her father's World War II dog tags around her neck and a Japanese flag stained with his blood at her side. She said she supports the soldiers and the country her father gave his life for.
''The troops need to know that we are behind them, like the Rosies in World War II, to show them that they are appreciated and that freedom isn't free,'' Foster Eisler said.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff addressed the crowd.
''I have to support the right of Rocky to be stupid,'' he said. ''But I will not support his right to hurt people. What he is doing is hurting those people whose loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice.''
A sign nearby echoed his sentiments, in less political terms: ''The fruits, flakes and peacenik nuts don't speak for heartland America.''
A senior vice commander for the American Legion from Douglasville, Ga., Dale Barnett said the veterans organization must stand up against the anti-war crowd that turned public sentiment against the troops during the Vietnam era.
''People look at America. Our enemies look at us. The American people look at us. We as the American Legion believe we should be setting an example about what's positive in America,'' he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:13 AM
Some Soldiers Opting Out Of The War
Conscientous Objectors Accept Consequences
By Willie Monroe
Protests against the war within the ranks are gaining attention. Soldiers are being asked to return to the war in Iraq. Some are saying they won't go.
Twenty-four-year-old Pablo Paredes spent several years in the Navy before he decided he could not support the war in Iraq.
Pablo Paredes, conscientious objector: "I said, 'This war is illegal. This is immoral more so.' And I'm not going to provide any assistance to that."
In November 2004, he refused to work on a ship sending marines to Iraq. The result was a court martial, and three months of confinement and hard labor.
Now he counsels others at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors where more than a third of the calls this year are from soldiers considering going AWOL.
Steve Morse, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors: "There's increasing numbers of people who have been to Iraq more than once. They're coming back with post traumatic stress disorder. Some of them refuse to go back, will not go back. Many of them are AWOL."
The Pentagon says desertions are down from about 5,000 in 2001 to 2,500 last year. The military doesn't make it easy to obtain conscientious objector status.
Steve Morse: "Many people just give up and go AWOL."
Today, Army Specialist Mark Wilkerson turned himself in at Fort Hood in Texas after going AWOL a year-and-a-half ago.
Spec. Mark Wilkerson, conscientious objector: "I am not willing to kill or be killed or do anything else I consider morally wrong for reasons I don't believe in."
Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, possibly the only commisioned officer who refused to go to Iraq, saids he'd fight in Afghanistan, but would choose prison over Iraq.
Lt. Ehren Watada, conscientious objector: "There was a deception and a manipulation of intelligence by the highest levels of my chain of command in order to orchestrate and undertake this war."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the fight will continue.
Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense: "Today we will not tell 50 million Afghans and Iraqis that because the going is tough, and it is tough, let there be no doubt, that we will abandon them to the beheaders, the terrorists."
These conscientious objectors say they're prepared to accept the consequences of their decision.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:11 AM
The Netherlands is expert at keeping itself dry. So why aren't U.S. bureaucrats seeking more of its help rebuilding the levees?
It's Cheaper to Go Dutch
The Netherlands is expert at keeping itself dry. So why aren't U.S. bureaucrats seeking more of its help rebuilding the levees?
By Mark Hosenball
Sept. 4, 2006 issue - The Dutch know a thing or two about staying dry. Most people in the Netherlands live below sea level, and the country's major cities are in continual danger of being washed away. Or they would be, if Dutch engineers weren't so good at designing levees and floodgates to keep storms at bay. The Netherlands hasn't suffered a catastrophic storm-driven flood since the 1950s, when it began building the current system. Over the decades, North Sea storms have battered the country, and the dikes have held. The Dutch are, no argument, the world's experts. Which raises a question as U.S. politicians and bureaucrats dicker over whether and how to fortify New Orleans against future storms: why not hire the Dutch?
They may yet do just that. U.S. engineers are impressed by the Dutch system, but so far, bureaucratic sluggishness has slowed reconstruction. Much of the contentious debate over rebuilding the city has centered on what to do about the lowest-lying areas, including the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward. Early cost estimates made it seem that whole sections of the city would have to be abandoned. But Hans Vrijling, a renowned authority on flood control who designed part of the Dutch system, says it should be possible to protect New Orleans—even low-lying sections—from storm surges more than 10 times Katrina's. The price tag: less than $10 billion.
Instead, Congress has so far allocated $5.7 billion to repair and rebuild the existing levees to pre-Katrina standards. Those levees, if they had worked, were supposed to have protected the city from a 100-year storm. In other words, the walls would guard against a storm surge so severe it is likely to happen only once every century. If that sounds impressive, consider this: critical flood barriers in the Netherlands are designed to withstand a 10,000-year surge. That may seem like overkill. But storm scientists estimate a Katrina-strength hurricane is likely to wallop the Gulf Coast again at least once in the next 70 years.
Congress has given the Army Corps of Engineers $20 million to come up with a comprehensive design to protect the city permanently. American engineers have been in consultation with Dutch designers, and in the meantime the Corps has asked a Dutch firm to design a 100- to 200-year floodgate system for the western end of Lake Borgne. Dan Hitchings, the Army Corps official in charge of Gulf Coast protection, says it may ultimately bring in more Dutch help. But it likely won't know for sure for more than a year. The Corps has until the end of 2007 to complete its study, and it shows no signs of speeding things along. Hitchings says the Corps has to give Congress a range of options and price tags, to "make sure the nation wants to do what the Netherlands did."
Vrijling, for one, can't understand what the Corps is going to study for so long. The technology already exists and has been tested over decades in the Netherlands. He says Dutch and American engineers, working together, would need only "a couple of months" to draw up a detailed plan. "If we had the will and one month's money from Iraq, we could do all the levees and restore the coast," says Ivor Van Heerden, a Louisiana State University hurricane scientist who warned for years about a Katrina-like disaster. "We can save Louisiana. It is very doable."
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:10 AM
Going For Broke
Elizabeth Warren discusses how ordinary families wind up bankrupt and why new legislation could be hurting those at risk.
By Karen Springen
Aug. 31, 2006 - Last year, the number of personal bankruptcies ballooned to two million as people rushed to beat last deadline for a new law that made it harder and more expensive for consumers to declare themselves broke. The increase was followed by a slump, with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reporting this week that personal bankruptcies for the year ending June 30 fell to 1.45 million—the lowest level in five years.
Does that mean Americans are in better financial shape? Not quite, according to bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, a professor of law at Harvard University and co-author (with her daughter) of "The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke" (Basic Books; September 2003) and "All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan" (Free Press; March 2005.) NEWSWEEK's Karen Springen spoke with Warren about why she thinks the current legislation helps lenders at the expense of ordinary Americans and how the nation can get out of a debilitating cycle of debt. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: In 2005, you testified in Congress against the new bankruptcy law. Why do you think it passed anyway?
Elizabeth Warren: This is one of those times when the imbalance in lobbying [power] could not have been more grotesque. I had people in Congress tell me that they had two and three and four [credit industry] lobbyists come by to see them every single day for months on end. There was no one to lobby for families in financial trouble ... It's just not fair.
Many indebted Americans get stuck in a bottomless pit of late fees and increased interest rates. What happens now that their bankruptcy options are reduced and it costs so much more [about $299, plus a $50 mandatory financial counseling fee as well as legal fees] to file?
Many will go bankrupt anyway. This bill was about driving up the costs of filing for bankruptcy and delaying that filing, so that people would make payments for another three to six months before they went to see a lawyer. Many of them will still apply for bankruptcy. The only people who will be denied access to bankruptcy will be the very poorest, who can't pay the increased filing fees or hire a lawyer. For the overwhelming majority of families who file for bankruptcy, there is no other option. They owe on average more than two years' income. They can't make interest payments on what they owe. The only options other than bankruptcy are going into the underground economy or knocking over [a] 7-11 [store].
How does the new bill change the filing process?
No one can file for bankruptcy without seeing a credit counselor, which delays the process. The paperwork has been increased, which drives up the attorneys' fees. Attorneys are required to make certain certifications, which increase the likelihood of litigation, and further push up the costs. More debt survives bankruptcy. And the list goes on. The bottom line is that the bankruptcy courthouse is still open, but the steps to the front door are steeper.
Some in the credit industry have blamed bankruptcies on overconsumption.
I wish they were right. If that were the problem, then the solution would be obvious: don't buy so many Game Boys and $200 sneakers. The problem is that's not what's wrong with families. Ninety percent of the families who file for bankruptcy do so following a job loss, a medical problem or a family torn apart by death or divorce.
So is the stereotype of debtors with too many big-screen TVs false?
It's right up there with the welfare mom who drives a Cadillac. A great story but not true.
It's commonly thought that people simply don't pay most medical debt, that they default and the hospital covers it.
The data show that more than half of the families who file for bankruptcy do so in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. And three quarters of those people have health insurance at the onset of the illness or accident that ultimately landed them in bankruptcy. Sometimes it's hospital bills, but more often, it's about co-pay, deductibles, uncovered treatments, drugs, rehab, supplies, all the things that aren't covered by insurance. So part of the answer is that the financial impact of a serious medical problem goes beyond hospital bills. Lost jobs, drugs, physicians, rehab, health supplies. It's expensive to get sick in America today—too expensive for the average family.
Health insurance companies say your figure—that medical bankruptcies contribute to more than half of all bankruptcies—is too high.
The insurance companies want us to believe that the private health insurance industry works and that everyone who is paying huge premiums monthly is safe. Our data shows that it's simply not true.
According to your research, three quarters of the people whose medical debt contributed to their bankruptcies had health insurance. What are the implications of that finding?
If our finding had been that every person in bankruptcy following a medical problem had no health insurance, then the industry would have had a very different response—we need to help more people get health insurance. Let's get the state to subsidize health insurance. Let's use this study to frighten families into paying even more for insurance. When the study showed that even those with health insurance were at terrible risk for financial collapse, the health insurance industry went crazy.
Medical bankruptcies are a modern phenomenon, right? Why didn't we see them at the turn of the century, let alone very often a generation ago?
At the turn of the century, people didn't live as long. And when they got sick, medicine couldn't do much for them. The bad news was that they died. The good financial news was that they didn't go broke. Today we've just reversed it. A person may recover physically from a serious illness, but her family may never recover financially. I have a friend whose child was hit on the head in a soccer game and lost consciousness for a few seconds. They took the little boy to the emergency room, where he spent the day and released him at the end of the day with the diagnosis that he had a bump on his head. The bill was $20,000 ... What would they have done if they hadn't had health insurance? It's not simply people with leukemia and heart transplants who run up large medical bills. It's appendectomies and blown-out knees that can leave a family financially devastated.
What's the solution to the medical bankruptcy problem?
The problem of medical bankruptcies is a symptom of a much larger problem in how we pay for healthcare in America. The solution is to reform healthcare financing. We must reform our healthcare payment system. If we don't, millions more families, hardworking, play-by-the-rules people, will end up in complete financial collapse.
Bankruptcy is meant to give people a fresh start. Is that possible for people such as the elderly with huge, ongoing medical debts and little opportunity to get a good job?
No. Bankruptcy only deals with the past. So it works particularly well for people who have bright job prospects in the future and whose problems are far behind them. For the elderly, who face ongoing difficulties paying for medical treatment, bankruptcy is some help to deal with past debts, but it won't give any future services. And they'll be limited in how often they can file. Many are living in such an economically fragile state that it takes very little to tip the financial boat over. One of the women in our study explained that she had to quit her job in a fast-food restaurant because her high blood pressure was making her feet swell, and her doctor said she couldn't stand up for the two-hour stretches required at the register. Once she quit her job, she couldn't afford her blood pressure medicine. She was caught in the classic Catch 22.
Today most college students take out loans. What will be the long-term effects of so much student debt?
Today's young people are graduating from college with debts that they will work for 10 to 20 years to pay off. Dead-flat broke looks like a real step up that they may never accomplish because they already owe so much. They have forfeited any financial security before they have even begun their financial lives.
What about mortgage debt?
Tapping into your home equity or taking risky variable-rate mortgages is borrowing more money and telling your lender they can come and get your house. When these creative lending [deals] come due, more than a million Americans will lose their homes, and millions more will be stretched to the breaking point. Never before in America have we had so many homes built so near the financial cliff. The home used to be a financial steadying point. When all else [failed], at least you had the security that your mortgage payment didn't go up and you built up financial equity in your house.
What can Americans do to stay out of debt?
It's about learning about the new rules of money. Debt is something that happens when the rest of your spending is not in balance. Any debt other than mortgage debt is a symptom that something's wrong with a family's budget. People don't realize how heavy debt is, how much it weighs. It is 50 pounds on your back.
Do you have any credit cards?
I'm what the credit industry refers to as a "deadbeat." I use my credit card and pay it off each month. They hate folks like me. I smile every time I use that credit card.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:09 AM
Democrats Target Rumsfeld
Lawmakers to Seek a Vote of No Confidence in Defense Secretary
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Under assault from Republicans on issues of national security, congressional Democrats are planning to push for a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this month as part of a broad effort to stay on the offensive ahead of the November midterm elections.
In Rumsfeld, Democrats believe they have found both a useful antagonist and a stand-in for President Bush and what they see as his blunders in Iraq. This week, Democrats interpreted a speech of his as equating critics of the war in Iraq to appeasers of Adolf Hitler, an interpretation that Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff disputed. But Democrats said the hyperbolic attack would backfire.
But even before that, Democrats and some Republicans had maintained that Bush has never held anyone in his administration accountable for decisions in the Iraq war that many military analysts say went disastrously wrong. The decisions include not mobilizing enough troops to keep the peace, disbanding the entire Iraqi army and purging all members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party -- including teachers and low-level technocrats -- from the Iraqi government.
"Secretary Rumsfeld's stewardship of this effort is a failure, and he has let down our armed forces," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who is pushing for the no-confidence move.
By demanding accountability, Democrats hope to blunt what has been an all-out assault on their positions on national security. The Republican National Committee yesterday blasted Democrats again as "Defeatocrats," and the attacks will continue when Congress returns next week from its month-long recess. Republican leaders plan to consider a full slate of security-related legislation before leaving on Sept. 29 for the campaigns.
The legislative calendars in the House and Senate include defense spending bills, the annual defense policy bill, legislation to authorize the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program and a measure to bring Bush's military tribunals into compliance with a Supreme Court ruling that declared the initial tribunals unconstitutional.
"Now is not the time for a weak and indecisive approach that has been offered by Capitol Hill Democrats, and that's why Republicans are working to keep America safe through policies based on strength and purpose, rather than confusion and defeat," House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday, as he laid out the final legislative push before the campaigns.
Rather than change the subject to domestic issues, as they have tried in past years, Democrats are hoping to confront Republicans head-on.
"We will not be Swift-boated on this issue," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview, alluding to the assault by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the Vietnam war record of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. "We will fight them on national security."
Front and center of that campaign may be the attack on Rumsfeld. Some Democratic House candidates, such as Diane Farrell in Connecticut's 4th District, have been encouraging Democratic leaders to move formally for a vote of no confidence. And party leadership aides said they are canvassing Democratic members of Congress and exploring the parliamentary mechanism to do so. Before the move is set, the aides said, they want to hear from Democrats in tough races who may feel that the move would leave them vulnerable to Republican attacks.
But Emanuel said the move is set. And he hopes to stage the resolution with as many as 12 retired generals and other military officers who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.
"We're going to go for a no-confidence vote on Rumsfeld," Emanuel said.
Senate Democrats are considering a similar move. Next week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) will offer a sense-of-the-Senate resolution demanding Rumsfeld's resignation.
Bush has stood strongly behind his defense secretary, and Republicans appear to relish the debate. Just 68 days before the election, many of their incumbent candidates continue to trail Democratic challengers, but GOP leadership aides say they feel more confident they can close the gap by Nov. 7 as long as terrorism and defense stay front and center.
To mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, House leaders plan a resolution both commemorating the event and putting Democrats on the spot, possibly by praising legislative efforts in the aftermath of the attacks, such as the USA Patriot Act.
A bill to clarify the legality of the NSA's wiretapping without court warrants will also force Democrats to choose between a liberal base that believes the program is an unconstitutional breach of civil rights and a majority of Americans who back the effort.
As for the resolution on Rumsfeld, Republicans will charge that Democrats are playing politics while they are trying to legislate.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said such a resolution will signal to swing voters and conservative Democrats that the party has become captive to a liberal wing they would not want to entrust with control of Congress.
But Democrats -- and some Republicans -- say a debate on Rumsfeld's tenure at the Pentagon will present a quandary to embattled GOP incumbents in districts that have turned solidly against the war.
"We are approaching 2,700 dead Americans, 20,000 wounded, many of them missing eyes, missing limbs, facing paralysis," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.). "They want to debate that; we're happy to debate that."
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:07 AM
Poll: Harris Leads Fla. GOP Senate Race
Katherine Harris Holds Lead in Poll Heading Into Final Week Before Fla. Republican Primary
By BRENT KALLESTAD
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Congresswoman Katherine Harris holds a double-digit lead in the race for Florida's Republican U.S. Senate nomination less than a week before the primary, according to a poll released Thursday.
However, the poll also indicates that a large number of Republicans haven't settled on a candidate, and about a third of those supporting Harris said they still might change their minds.
"If Rep. Harris had only one opponent she might be in deep trouble," said Peter Brown, assistant polling director for the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which conducted the poll last week. "But having three candidates splitting the anti-Harris vote is a major plus for her."
Harris was favored by 38 percent of 317 likely Republican voters.
William McBride, a 34-year-old attorney, was supported by 22 percent; retired Navy admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. of Tampa was backed by 11 percent; and Peter Monroe, a real estate developer from Safety Harbor, received 3 percent.
The winner of the Sept. 5 primary faces incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the November general election.
Harris, the former Florida secretary of state, gained notoriety for her role in certifying Florida's votes in the disputed 2000 presidential election.
"We believe that Katherine Harris is the only Republican candidate with a proven record of success and accomplishment to beat Bill Nelson," campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Marks said Thursday.
Some Republicans, including Gov. Jeb Bush, don't believe she can beat Nelson, though and have asked her to withdraw.
Recent polls have shown Nelson more than 30 points ahead of Harris in a general election matchup, and her campaign has been rocky. Fundraising has lagged, campaign workers have defected and she has been dogged by news of dealings with a corrupt defense contractor who gave her $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
The telephone poll, conducted between Aug. 23-28, had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.
About 25 percent of the likely Republican voters questioned said they were still undecided and 45 percent said they might change their minds by election day including a third of those who said they presently favored Harris.
On the Net: http://www.quinnipiac.edu
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:05 AM
The New York Times
Education Dept. Shared Student Data With F.B.I.
By JONATHAN D. GLATER
The Federal Education Department shared personal information on hundreds of student loan applicants with the Federal Bureau of Investigation across a five-year period that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the agencies said yesterday.
Under the program, called Project Strikeback, the Education Department received names from the F.B.I. and checked them against its student aid database, forwarding information. Each year, the Education Department collects information from 14 million applications for federal student aid.
Neither agency would say whether any investigations resulted. The agencies said the program had been closed. The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.
In a statement, Mary Mitchelson, counsel to the inspector general of the Education Department, said, “Using names provided by the bureau, we examined the Department of Education’s student financial aid databases to determine if the individuals received or applied for federal student financial assistance.”
Information collected on federal financial aid applications includes names, addresses, Social Security numbers, incomes and, for some students, information on parents’ incomes and educational backgrounds.
Generally, only United States citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for federal student financial aid.
An assistant director of the F.B.I., John Miller, said in a statement: “During the 9/11 investigation and continually since, much of the intelligence has indicated terrorists have exploited programs involving student visas and financial aid. In some student loan frauds, identity theft has been a factor.’’
Mr. Miller said the Education Department was asked to “run names of subjects already material to counterterrorism investigations” to look for evidence of student loan fraud or identity theft.
“No records of people other than those already under investigation were called for,” he said. “This was not a sweeping program, in that it involved only a few hundred names. This is part of our mission, which is to take the leads we have and investigate them.”
Mr. Miller said that the effort was not concealed and that it was referred to publicly in briefings to Congress and the Government Accountability Office.
A spokeswoman for the bureau, Cathy Milhoan, said the Education Department had provided financial aid information on fewer than 1,000 names in connection with terrorism investigations.
The information sharing was disclosed as the Education Department examines a proposal by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, established last year by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, to create a national student database that would follow individual students’ progress as a way of holding colleges accountable for students’ success.
“This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. “The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation would not discuss the specific criteria it used in seeking information on students but said the program was narrowly focused.
“People are trying to turn this into something that it wasn’t,” Ms. Milhoan said. “We are not out there arbitrarily running student records for the sake of running them.”
Ms. Mitchelson of the Education Department said a review of the files of the people named by the F.B.I. had not led to any cases that charged student loan fraud.
Ms. Mitchelson said the information sharing was possible under a law that permits a federal agency to release personal information to another agency “for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity.”
She said the department had spent fewer than 600 hours on the program, including 50 hours over the last four years.
Ms. McGann, the journalism student who reported on the program, said she saw data sharing mentioned, but not described, in a report by the Government Accountability Office that she reviewed in the spring as part of a research project after a seminar on investigative reporting.
“I thought that was pretty unexpected for the Department of Education,” said Ms. McGann, 24, who graduated this year from Medill. “So I decided I would try to look into that a little more.”
She said she found another mention of the program in a report from the inspector general’s office in the department.
In June, Ms. McGann went directly to the Education Department.
“Eventually, I did an on-camera interview with a deputy inspector general there who did comment on the program,” she said.
She said his name was Michael Deshields.
“After that,’’ Ms. McGann added, “I decided I should file a Freedom of Information Act request.”
Last month, she received documents in response to her request that were heavily redacted, she said. Among them were Education Department memorandums describing F.B.I. requests for information on specific people whose names were blocked out and an internal memorandum dated June 16, 10 days after her interview, stating that the data sharing program had terminated. The name of the author of that memorandum was also redacted, she added.
“I learned that getting information from a federal agency you need to be persistent,” Ms. McGann said. “And I learned that public documents are really a wealth of stories.”
She said she had accepted a position at Dow Jones Newswires in Washington.
Eric Lichtblau contributed reporting from Washington for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:04 AM
Japan conducts huge quake drill
Elementary school children crouch under their desks as part of a nationwide earthquake drill at a Tokyo elementary school, 01 September 2006.
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the drill
More than 800,000 people across Japan have taken part in an annual drill to prepare for a major earthquake.
Police, firefighters and volunteers practiced their response to a magnitude 7.3 quake directly under Tokyo.
These drills are held every year on the anniversary of the Great Kanto earthquake, which killed more than 140,000 people in 1923.
This year's exercise included personnel from the US and South Korea for the first time.
In a mock news conference on Friday morning, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that massive damage had been caused by an earthquake, and urged people not to panic.
Then emergency procedures got underway, with helicopters picking up "evacuees" and firefighters helping people from buildings.
Japan is in an area prone to regular and in some cases serious earthquakes.
Tokyo, which has a population of 12 million, sits on three major seismic fault-lines.
A large-scale earthquake is thought to be several years overdue, and despite all their efforts to prepare the public and reinforce buildings, officials still predict that a large tremor could kill more than 10,000 of the city's inhabitants.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:01 AM
Court backs right to wear anti-Bush shirt
Oliver Burkeman in New York
Zachary Guiles knew he was being provocative when he showed up for school two years ago in a T-shirt that accused George Bush of being a war-mongering draft-dodger, a drunkard and a drug addict. What the 13-year-old may not have realised was that he would provoke a major free-speech battle that culminated this week in a court victory.
An appeals court in New York found that Zachary's constitutional rights were violated when officials at his Vermont school made him stick duct tape over parts of the T-shirt. The shirt also said the president was undertaking a "world domination tour" and showed a picture of his head superimposed on a chicken's body, along with cocaine, a razor blade and a martini glass. Zachary was suspended for a day, but continued to wear the T-shirt to school, complete with duct tape.
Lawyers for Williamstown middle high school argued the images contravened the school's ban on clothes promoting drink and drugs, but the court rejected the idea on the grounds that the T-shirt expressed "an anti-drug view". Mr Bush has spoken of his battles with alcohol earlier in his life.
The T-shirt "uses harsh rhetoric and imagery to express disagreement with the president's policies and to impugn his character", the court ruled, but the images "are not plainly offensive as a matter of law".
"The standard that the court set was that a kid has free-speech rights as long as the expression of those rights doesn't upset the normal workings of a school," said Allen Gilbert, of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case.
Zachary said: "I think this is a very good sign that even with the current administration ... there can still be a justice that allows free speech."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:59 AM
The New York Times
In Latest Push, Bush Cites Risk in Quitting Iraq
By ANNE E. KORNBLUT and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
SALT LAKE CITY, Aug. 31 — President Bush said Thursday that withdrawing now from Iraq would leave Americans at risk of terrorist attacks “in the streets of our own cities,” and he cast the struggle against Islamic extremists as the costly but necessary successor to the battles of the last century against Nazism and Communism.
“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict,’’ Mr. Bush said in a speech to veterans at an American Legion convention here. “It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.’’
The speech, the first of five addresses on national security Mr. Bush plans to deliver between now and Sept. 19, was part of an orchestrated White House offensive to buttress public support for the Iraq war and portray Democrats as less capable of protecting the country, a theme that has proved effective for Republicans in the past two elections.
Even as Mr. Bush spoke, a series of explosions ripped through Baghdad, providing more images of a sort that he acknowledged have been “sometimes unsettling” to the public.
The latest White House offensive — the third major public relations effort in the past year to offset a decline in public support for the Iraq war and place it in the context of a broader cause — began unfolding this week, with combative speeches to veterans groups by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Both invoked variations of the word “appease’’ to characterize critics of the president’s policies, with Mr. Rumsfeld saying they had not “learned history’s lessons.’’
That language drew an immediate backlash from Democrats on Wednesday, and Mr. Bush did not adopt it. But he did echo the allusions to the failed strategy of trying to appease Nazi Germany. He called today’s terrorists ‘’successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century,’’ and cautioned Americans against concluding that five years after the Sept. 11 attacks the threat had receded.
“That feeling,’’ he said, “is natural and comforting — and wrong.’’
It was an aggressive opening salvo to the midterm election season, timed to coincide with the days preceding the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In forceful language, the president painted the war on terror as an epic struggle between good and evil.
While he predicted victory, resurrecting a word he had dropped months ago and using it 12 times in a 44-minute speech, Mr. Bush also cautioned that the road ahead would be fraught with obstacles.
But he put particular emphasis on what he said would be the consequences of a failure to ensure Iraq’s stability, saying, “If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.”
Telling his audience that the path to a stable and peaceful Middle East would be “uphill and uneven,” he invoked Thomas Jefferson, who said nations cannot move “from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.”
Wiping a tear from his eye, Mr. Bush told the story of Cpl. Adam Galvez of Salt Lake City, a marine who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq and was buried Wednesday.
Corporal Galvez’s parents attended the speech, which coupled familiar phrases about fighting terrorists “overseas so we do not have to face them here at home” with a fresh effort to lump various strains of Islamic extremism into what the president called “a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology.’’
Democrats said Mr. Bush’s strategy of painting them as weak on national security would not work this year and accused him of trying to divert attention from his record.
“After six years,’’ said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “they’ve got only fear to sell.’’
Another Democrat, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, called the Bush speech “a long repetition of old messages and rhetoric to scare the American people’’ and said she would push for a Senate vote calling on the president to replace Mr. Rumsfeld.
“This latest Rumsfeld rampage cannot stand,’’ Ms. Boxer said.With Congressional Republicans fighting to hold on to their majorities in the House and the Senate, the speech came at a delicate time. Many of those lawmakers view the war as a political liability and have spent the past month at home getting an earful from voters.
“Members of Congress are going to be returning next week, and they will be quite anxious because they will have been briefed by their pollsters, have spent the last three weeks with their constituents and most of them will be worried,’’ said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist. “So the administration is trying to set the terms of the debate to really make this a clear choice between moving forward and the cut-and-run crowd.’’
Indeed, Mr. Bush’s speech made clear that he would make the issue central to his campaign on his fellow Republicans’ behalf. It reflected a belief at the White House that there is no option for the administration but to convince the nation that the struggle in Iraq is necessary and worth the cost in the service of a broader goal: eradicating the threat from Islamic extremists by bringing democracy to the Middle East.
It also reflected a belief inside the White House that Republicans can once again convince voters that they can do a better job of protecting them than can Democrats.
“Between ’04 and now, the Democrats have not only not provided a more united front, they are backsliding into a very irresponsible position of premature withdrawal from the fight in Iraq,’’ said Dan Bartlett, counselor to Mr. Bush. “Most Americans, I think, understand the consequences of that action, and I think that will prove to be difficult for the Democrats.’’
Yet even some Republicans, granted anonymity to speak freely about their criticism of the White House strategy, were skeptical, saying the public was tired not only of the war but also of politically divisive speeches on national security.
“The hard-core conservatives are already behind his Iraq policy,’’ said a senior Republican Senate aide. “For him to move the numbers in a way that benefits Congressional Republicans, he needs to reach out to moderates, and it’s difficult to do that when his surrogates are contradicting him and calling opponents of his policy appeasers.’’
But Mr. Bartlett said the White House did not expect public opinion to change quickly.
“The goal is not to see an immediate spike in poll numbers,’’ he said. “We’ve clearly understood that public sentiment doesn’t develop overnight. It’s been over a period of time, and it doesn’t change overnight.’’
In making the case that the war in Iraq is “the central front in our fight against terrorism,’’ the president linked Iraq, the summer battles between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the growing nuclear threat in Iran under the general rubric of his freedom agenda.
At the same time, he placed various factions of terrorists — Sunnis who swear allegiance to Al Qaeda, Shiite radicals who join groups like Hezbollah and so-called homegrown terrorists — under one umbrella.
Experts said that might be overstating the facts.
“ ‘Network of radicals’ suggests they are actually connected in some practical fashion, and that’s obviously not the case,’’ said Steven Simon, a State Department official in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush’s father.
But the comparison is central to Mr. Bush’s message, said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the National Republican Committee, who has played an integral role in developing Republican strategy for the midterm elections.
“I thought linking together the different elements of this ideological movement was important to do, and was effective,’’ Mr. Mehlman said.
Anne E. Kornblut reported from Salt Lake City for this article, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:56 AM