Saturday :: Sep 11, 2004

What Would A Real World Leader Do?

by pessimist

One of the things George Warmonger Bu$h brags about most is his leadership in protecting the country. Some, including this man who lost his son in the World Trade Center, don't think he deserves to brag.

September 11, 2001: The day my son didn't come home

"Men are idiots when it comes to grieving." Bob McIlvaine, 59, has a right to make such an assertion. Today marks the third anniversary of the day two jetliners dropped from a blue Manhattan sky and rammed the twin towers, sending them tumbling to the ground. Left in the dust were the mangled and charred bodies of almost 3,000 people. Among them was his son, Bobby.

On the Sunday before the Republican Convention he joined the mega-march through New York City to protest against the Iraq war and George Bush. "What hurts me so much is that he is taking credit for being a war president," he says. "People need to see that he failed this country miserably."

And now we'll take a look at how George has failed all of us: Bu$h, Bushehr, Bush Mountains.

Bu$hCo likes to point at Iraq as an example of how well they are doing, and the American media would slavishly agree. But the world's media - who haven't forgotten about the duties of media like their American cousins - take a look at what is really happening in Iraq.

Rebels extend control in Iraq

BAGHDAD - Armed groups and foreign terrorists have established new camps in central Iraq as government forces attack rebels in the north and south, officials say. The reports follow an admission by US Central Command chief General John Abizaid that more areas in Iraq are under rebel control today than there were last year. The revelations could be damning for the government of US-appointed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who has promised to uproot armed opposition to the nascent government.

New camps have been reported in the Sunni triangle zone that includes Fallujah and Ramadi. Iraqi and Western sources say the camps have been established recently and fortified in the past couple of months. Reports are coming in of new armed groups organizing themselves in parts of the country earlier thought safe, as fighting escalates in other parts of Iraq. Over the past few days fighting has erupted again in many parts of the country, including Fallujah and Mosul in the north and Sadr City in Baghdad.

"The government is in a tight position," the Western diplomat said. "On one hand it knows that it needs to act on the situation even as it continues to
develop intelligence about what exactly it is dealing with. On the other, it simply does not have the resources or the political will to go carpet-bombing the area, so to speak."

That didn't paly too well in Peoria. How about if we start into Iran?

Iran's push for regional power

Tensions between Iran and the United States have recently heated up to the point that some analysts, particularly in the Arab world, surmise that the struggle between the Iraqi transitional government and the Shi'ite resistance led by Muqtada al-Sadr is essentially a proxy war between the two countries. The rhetoric is an indicator of Iran's push for power and America's attempts to resist that push.

Iran has been the instigator of the present surge in tensions, taking advantage of the military and diplomatic vulnerabilities of the United States that
were revealed by Washington's campaign for regime change in Iraq. Tehran's bid to alter the regional balance of power in its favor is evidenced by its increasing defiance of international controls over its nuclear program and its financial and probably military support of a wide spectrum of Shi'ite movements and factions in southern Iraq.

Iran's strategic scenarios

That Iran is the protagonist and the US the antagonist in the current tensions means that the Iranian regime senses the opportunity to enhance its power position. Several strategic scenarios dominate Iranian thinking, reflecting the possibilities that policymakers perceive in the current situation.

The best-case scenario for Iran is that the US military is forced to withdraw from Iraq, leaving Iran with a dominant sphere of influence over a Shi'ite-dominated Iraq, or a breakaway Shi'ite mini-state in the south, and that Iran is able to achieve nuclear weapons capability. Were this outcome to occur, Iran would be the dominant power in the Persian Gulf, displacing the United States.

The worst-case scenario is that the US or Israel launches a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear complex, possibly associated with American military efforts at regime change.

In between the two extreme cases is a gamut of more realistic scenarios. On the favorable side, Iran would exhaust the US in southern Iraq through its support of resistance and would drag out negotiations on its nuclear program by exploiting divisions among external powers working through international agencies. On the unfavorable side, Iran would be excluded from influence in Iraq by an American-oriented regime, would suffer economic sanctions for failing to submit its nuclear program to international supervision, or would feel constrained to give up that program and would be diplomatically isolated.

The recent assertive behavior of Iran suggests that it is determined to resist any concessions on its perceived vital interests, risking the worst-case
and other unfavorable scenarios in order to realize as many of its ambitions as possible.

The most important obstacle to Iran's drive for regional power is the presence of US ground forces in its eastern neighbor Afghanistan and its western neighbor Iraq, and US naval and air forces in the Persian Gulf. Iran is partially encircled by the US, whose explicit best-case scenario is Iranian regime change. The immediate proximity of American military forces results in a bias among policymakers toward building up military security above any other priority. Yet, Iran still would be no match for a full-scale American attack - its only effective deterrent would be nuclear weapons.

Iranian ambitions to create a sphere of influence in Iraq are not only checked by the American military presence, but also by divisions in Iraq's Shi'ite population and leadership, a large proportion of which are nursing the prospect of Shi'ite dominance over Iraq following scheduled elections in
January 2005. At present they are not seeking Iranian protection, although they are willing to accept Iranian aid.

Iran also faces a military threat from Israel, which might launch a preemptive strike against Iran's Bushehr reactor and is reportedly working with Iraqi Kurds to destabilize the Iranian regime. Iran has recently threatened to bomb Israel's nuclear complex at Dimona if Israel attacks Bushehr. As the country that feels most threatened by Iran, Israel has a vital interest in eliminating Iran's nuclear program or at least seriously setting it back.
Iranian policymakers can do very little about the Israeli threat and have begun a program to install technologies and procedures to minimize the effects of the release of radiation that would follow a successful strike on Bushehr.

Counterbalancing the negatives in Iran's strategic environment are a number of assets that give it the necessary room for maneuvers to pursue its ambitions. Most importantly, the US military is overextended from its Iraq and Afghanistan missions and its continuing needs and commitments to maintain an Asian and European presence. It is unlikely at present that the United States is militarily ready or politically capable of mounting an operation against Iran similar to the one that it undertook in Iraq.

Iran is also a much more formidable adversary than was Ba'athist Iraq. Its population of 70 million dwarfs Iraq's 26 million and, unlike Iraq, Iran is not a construction of colonial rule combining diverse ethnic and religious groups without a common history, but an ethnically and religiously homogeneous society with a long history of independence and a strong sense of nationalism. Iran's military is also more capable than Iraq's was, and it is a center of post-revolutionary nationalism. In its war with Iraq in the 1980s, Iran absorbed heavy losses and eventually repelled an aggressor that had the backing of the United States.

Iran's trump card is the geopolitical fact that it is a major oil producer bordering other major oil producers. A large-scale war undertaken by the United States would almost surely lead to a disruption of world oil supplies and the danger that Iran would use its missiles to attack Saudi or Gulf state oil complexes.

Finally, it is possible that Iran can turn the presence of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to its advantage. Historically, Iran has had close contact with, and political and cultural influence in, the regions on its eastern and western borders. Longstanding economic and cultural interchange gives Iran footholds in the west of Afghanistan and the southeast of Iraq, which it is presently using to back political forces that favor its strategic interests. In a wide-ranging interview with alJazeera television on August 19, Iranian Defense Minister Shamkhari observed that the American military presence in its neighbors "is not power for the United States because this power may under certain circumstances become a hostage in our hands".

When the positives and negatives of Iran's strategic situation are weighed, it becomes clear that the complex balance of opportunities and threats
provides the opportunity for Iran to try to expand its regional power at considerable risk. The reasoning of the hardliners, who are gaining increasing control over Iranian foreign and security policy, is that Iran has little choice but to attempt to strengthen itself by militarizing and pressing for spheres of influence, since the alternative is acceptance of American hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Their posture is primarily defensive, but they believe that the best defense at the present time is an assertive one. They will act with the best-case scenario in mind as they maneuver to avoid the
worst case, resorting to brinkmanship and tactical retreats.

Iran also has a strategic ally in Syria, which shares with it the same security interests and borders Iraq on the west. The Iranian and Syrian regimes have been conferring closely since the American occupation of Iraq and have a common line that the United States should withdraw from the region. Russia is a benevolent neutral, perhaps ally, providing help with Iran's nuclear program and interested in diminishing American power in the region.

The European powers are ambivalent, subject to American pressure to bring the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council, where sanctions could be imposed, and desirous of pursuing economic interests in Iran. Thus far, Iran's policy of "commercializing" relations with
Europe has been a relative success, leading to reluctance by the Europeans to follow the American hard line. Instead, they have followed an independent diplomatic path to resolve the nuclear question. Recently, as Iran has taken a harder line toward the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Europeans have begun to tilt toward the United States, but it is still not certain that they will back a sanctions regime.

Diminishing regional power? Ambivalent allies? What can this mean???

Why al-Qaeda is winning

Three years after September 11, President George W Bush's crusade is a failure. "War on terror" is a meaningless myth: you can't combat a supple attack machine like al-Qaeda with shock and awe. What should have been a long, meticulous police operation was turned by Bush - instigated by his foreign policy adviser, God - into an illegal, preemptive attack on a nation that had nothing to do with terror.

This policy has actually increased terror attacks around the world. Last year in Cairo, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Sheikh Yamani, a man who knows one or two things about Arabs, violence and oil, said the invasion would produce "one hundred bin Ladens". They are here, and they have no one else but Bush to thank.

Two related facts are undisputable: more Americans are facing death and destruction in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was captured than before; and now there are increasingly more global terrorist attacks than when Bush proclaimed his "crusade", or "war on terror". The Bush administration always sold the war on Iraq as part of the "war on terror". Reminding Americans about it is to fully certify Bush's overall failure.

At the Republican convention, while the Republicans were harping on September 11, Bush said the Iraq war was "his" war, part of a mission from God to bring freedom to the repressed. "Terrorists hate America because they hate freedom." Wrong: "terrorists" (in fact national resistance movements) hate America because America's imperial policies are the antithesis of freedom.

In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in New York, Bush said that "the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror; Pakistan is capturing terrorist leaders; Saudi Arabia is making raids and arrests; Libya is dismantling its weapons programs; the army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom; and more than three-quarters of al-Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed".

But consider this: Osama bin Laden, his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar have not been "smoked out" or captured - "dead or alive", or otherwise - and most likely are still very much active in Afghanistan. And now al-Qaeda, in its delocalized mutation, is thriving around the world.

There's nothing "free" about Afghanistan: the Taliban are back, controlling vast areas of the country, in the south and southeast, and the rest is controlled by warlords. In the Afghan presidential election next month, Hamid Karzai will be certified, at most, as the mayor of Kabul.

In Pakistan, President General Pervez Musharraf - known as "Busharraf" - barely survives multiple assassination attempts as dictator-in-charge.

And there's nothing "free" about Iraq. Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - who wants direct elections - and the militant Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr - who wants the end of the occupation now - are the most popular figures in the country. Former US asset turned American-imposed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi barely controls a few Baghdad neighborhoods. The 1,000th dead American soldier pales in comparison with the Bush administration losing the whole Sunni triangle to the Iraqi nationalist resistance. This loss is proof that the war is unwinnable. It also reduces the January 2005
Iraqi elections - if they ever happen - to a joke.

The bottom line: since Bush proclaimed his "crusade" or mission from God against terror, the United States, the Middle East and the world are immensely less safe. Al-Qaeda subscribes to no political strategy, other than the strategy of total opportunism: as any kind of attack can happen any time, anywhere, it rules by fear - while at the same time demonstrating it is immune to any large-scale US war, from Afghanistan to Iraq. The rule-by-fear tactic also serves the Bush administration well, as fear is constantly used as a powerful political argument to justify the administration's policies ("Be afraid, be very much afraid, but you can count on us to protect you").

Bush-Cheney '04 are afraid US voters will start making these connections as the November elections draw closer. For the apocalyptic Cheney - as on the
campaign trail in Iowa - there's nothing left but the language of fear: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again." So this is how it works: If you vote Bush, al-Qaeda won't strike. If you vote Kerry, al-Qaeda will strike. Kerry, therefore, is a threat to the US.

The problem is, bin Laden votes Bush. Here's why.

For a long time Western intelligence was prone to propagate the myth of al-Qaeda as a pre-September 11 organization with many heads, with sleeping cells
occasionally galvanized into action. This is false. Al-Qaeda as a rule waits for no one - unless technical glitches occur, and these usually involve delays in recruitment, research, team-assembling and elaborate counter-security measures. The delays also prove that al-Qaeda is much less of a well-oiled organization than the Bush administration would like the world to believe. Al-Qaeda is more of a multi-headed hydra than ever: the "global" head plus the "local" heads.

"Global" al-Qaeda includes groups of multinational operatives striking in the US (as in September 11) or in Western Europe (Madrid's train blasts). These are above all Arab-Afghans, remnants of the jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Unlike the Bush administration's spin, European intelligence experts in Brussels assured Asia Times Online that the Madrid bombing was only accidentally tied to Spain's national elections. It was not the case that "Spaniards had bowed to terror" (Washington's version), but that Bush ally Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government was mendacious enough to lie to the country, blaming Basque separatists when it already had evidence to the contrary.

None of the new breed of Arab-Afghans is close to bin Laden. But they definitely inherited a legendary al-Qaeda esprit de corps. The best and the brightest were trained to come back to Western Europe, wait and then raise hell. But the majority stayed behind fighting alongside the Taliban: among these were the hundreds captured by the forces of commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, the Lion of the Panjshir, before he was assassinated exactly three years ago, on September 9 - al-Qaeda's "signal" for September 11.

"Local" al-Qaeda on the other hand strike in their native countries against Western targets (for example in Casablanca, Bali and Istanbul): these are all part of the big al-Qaeda franchising. Local al-Qaeda alliances now include everybody and his neighbor: Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia (the Bali bombing) and Southeast Asia; warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyr's jihadis in southeastern Afghanistan; the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (responsible for the Tashkent bombings in July); and perhaps even the mysterious, one-legged jack-of-all-trades, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, configured by the Bush administration as the new bin Laden in the Iraqi Sunni triangle.

Old-style al-Qaeda might well be pulverized by the Pentagon any time. But "al-Qaeda", the brand, lives, whatever the Bush administration spin. As more people in more countries - and the Bush administration - started blaming al-Qaeda for any attack, the desired cumulative effect was the same: al-Qaeda is everywhere. For President Vladimir Putin in Russia, Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Philippines, "al-Qaeda" is the ideal excuse for any repressive or inept regime presenting its credentials as a full-fledged member of the "war on terror".

"Al-Qaeda" the brand has now embarked on an inexorable logic of expansion - in flagrant contradiction to Bush's assertion that the world is safer. To survive and prosper, it needed more converts, and it needed to strike an array of strategic alliances. Al-Qaeda will keep deepening its alliances with ethnic and nationalist movements - with Shamil Basayev, the emir of the mujahideen in Chechnya and trainer of the Black Widow squadrons of female suicide bombers, or with sectors of the Iraqi resistance in the Sunni triangle.

As nihilistic as it may be, al-Qaeda, from a business point of view, is a major success: three years after September 11, it is a global brand and a global movement. The Middle East, in this scenario, is just a regional base station. This global brand does not have much to do with Islam. But it has everything to do with the globalization of anti-imperialism. And the empire, whatever its definition, has its center in Washington. Bin Laden is laughing: Bush's crusade has legitimized an obscure sect as a worldwide symbol of political revolt.

How could bin Laden not vote for Bush?

But we're winning the 'War on Terra'! Aren't we?

Not if one really looks at Afghanistan!

Osama adds weight to Afghan resistance

Since the disintegration of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001, the Afghan resistance has endured, managing, if nothing else, to keep US-led occupying forces and the Afghan National Army engaged in small pockets. The Taliban are commanded from within Afghanistan by the likes of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Dadullah and Saifullah Mansoor. And significantly, according to Asia Times Online research, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, along with other senior al-Qaeda figures, are no longer in Pakistan but orchestrating the Afghan resistance from within Afghanistan, remote from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It was not exactly "politicking" when Pakistani officials claimed recently that they were close to finding "high-value targets" in the country. Under US
pressure, efforts have intensified over the past few months to reel in such people. The most recent operation took place near Shawal, in an area called the Bush Mountains. (This is technically Pakistani territory, although the border is fluid at best. And "Bush" has no US connotations, the mountains have been named so for many years.) Contingents of the Pakistani military and paramilitary troops combed the areas of Mangaroti, Darey Nishtar and the Bush Mountains, on land and from the air. After 11 hours, though, they could not find a single foreign militant. According to sources in the Taliban who spoke to Asia Times Online
, the operation came too late - foreign militants and high-value targets had already left for Afghanistan.

Enter one Mullah Mehmood Haq Yar. He was sent by Mullah Omar to northern Iraq to train Ansarul Islam fighters before the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Ansarul Islam is a Pakistani militant group.

This, ironically, partially verifies one of George Warmonger Bu$h'$ main points - that Al Qaeda was in Iraq. It does not, however, verify the part of the claim that they were there with Saddam's complicity.

Mehmood returned to Afghanistan only a few months ago and was inducted into a special council of commanders formed by Mullah Omar and assigned the task of shepherding all foreign fighters and high-value targets from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. The Taliban sources obviously would not disclose where Mehmood's charges have been taken, but reading between the lines they could be in Paktia province in the care of legendary mujahideen commanders Mansoor and Haqqani.

Mansoor is the son of Nasrullah Mansoor, one of the most respected Afghan guerrilla leaders from the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, who terrorized Soviet troops around Gardez. Saifullah Mansoor's reputation as a chip off the old block was cemented when in April 2002 he led a raid in which 18 US soldiers were killed in a guerrilla attack at Shahi Kot in the Zarmat area.

Haqqani also earned his reputation fighting the Soviets, and defeated Afghan communist forces in 1991 in Khost, the first Afghan city to fall to the mujahideen after the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989.

Neither Mansoor nor Haqqani left Afghanistan - unlike other commanders who sought exile in the chaotic period leading up to and after the Taliban takeover in 1996 - and maintained their field forces. Haqqani's "playground" is Khost and Paktia, but Mullah Omar has empowered him to help devise a military strategy for the whole of Afghanistan.

The latest strategy

Since his return from Iraq, Mehmood has convinced the Taliban leaders that they need to adapt their strategy to take into account limited human and material resources. At present, the Taliban face manifold problems. In particular, they cannot conduct a widespread, coordinated guerrilla movement as their communications have been crippled - all telecommunications are closely monitored by the US.

Mehmood's blueprint includes:

Recruit highly trained Arab fighters and give them a lead role, as in the jihad against the Soviets. Arab fighters are particularly adept at developing improvised weapons. During the US invasion, for example, Arab fighters were able to turn unexploded cluster bombs into effective improvised weapons. Such tactics will be adopted to the full.

Arab fighters, especially those fluent in Pashtu, will be spread in key Afghan cities, such as Jalalabad, Khost, Kunar, Logar, Herat and Kabul, where they will infiltrate the population and administrations and spread the Taliban word.

Once these few hundred Arab fighters, along with Afghan counterparts, establish themselves, they will target US forces in their region. The movement of US forces is already restricted because of their commitment to providing security for the October 9 presidential elections. But if they do conduct operations, two things will happen: the election process will become vulnerable as resources will be stretched, and the militants will carry out limited retaliation against US-led forces that venture out against them.

In addition to this, Haqqani and Dadullah will keep up the heat from the outskirts of major cities.

Mehmood's strategy is aimed specifically at destroying administrative systems in key cities and disrupting routine life. As this tactic takes hold, the Taliban will step into the vacuum and expand the war front.

At present, Afghan and Arab fighters fully committed to the resistance number only a few thousand. It is believed, though, that once the spade work is completed, the vast silent majority of the Taliban will rise up, especially from the madrassas (seminaries) of Quetta and Chaman in Pakistan, to join hands with the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they have done in the past.

"The situation is going from bad to worse," says Malik Nabi, district president, Chaman, of the anti-Taliban Pashtunkho Mili Awami Party. "The numbers of Taliban and their supporters are increasing with every passing day. You take a ride to Chaman and you will find black and white turbans everywhere, a sort of propaganda tactic to show their strength. Just go to a football stadium in the evening and you will find hundreds of black turbans, a hallmark of the Taliban," Malik Nabi adds.

That doesn't sound like we're in control, and that Afghanistan is a free democracy. Are we going to be hearing about how hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans died after 'Mission Accomplished!' was sounded?

Ah, never mind! It's all in a Good Cause - the Crusade for Making the World Safe for Corporatization!

The clash of fundamentalists

Fundamentalism is defined here as a feeling of self-righteousness, and of the correctness of one's cause and one's objective, which also convinces, with an equal fervor, the believer that others and their causes are wrong, and they should be defeated, and, in some instance, eradicated. A fundamentalist belief system has little use for a contrary point of view. Perhaps the strong feeling of righteousness - or even righteous indignation - overpowers the inherent human curiosity and the need for inquiry. Eric Hoffer labels these fundamentalists "true believers", in his seminal work of the same title. His description of this personality type states, "It is the true believer's ability to shut his eyes to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and consistency."

The level of transnational violence is on the rise, while the level of tolerance for different beliefs, different perspectives and different outlooks is going down.

The most brutal and bloody phase of this clash of fundamentals started with terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, by Islamists affiliated with al-Qaeda. They were self-appointed warriors of God, doing his bidding by inflicting damage on their "super-infidel" arch rival, the US. In the process they killed thousands of human beings of various nationalities and practitioners of various faiths, including Islam. The sole fault of
those victims was that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In response, President George W Bush declared a global "war on terrorism". The perpetrators of violence on the US were described as "evil-doers", a phrase that was rightly imbued with moral outrage. Ironically, however, al-Qaeda's attack on the US was also driven by a similar intense emotional expression of outrage.

For Osama bin Laden, the US was the chief tormentor of Muslims all over the world and supporter of Israel, which was occupying the Palestinian homeland and butchering Palestinians. Bin Laden has another special reason to fight with the US: it was then "defiling" the birthplace of Islam by keeping its forces of "occupation" there. That was his reference to the fact that the US troops had been stationed in Saudi Arabia since the Gulf War of 1991. (Those troops were finally withdrawn in April 2003.)

The rationale underlying Bush's use of the phrases "evil one" or "evil-doers" was to unite everyone to condemn bin Laden and his methods in much the same way bin Laden was using similar phraseology to unite Muslims. Bush's explanation of the reason al-Qaeda chose to strike at the US was that they "hate us for our freedom". Al-Qaeda's explanation was that the United States was the force of evil, an anti-Islamic force, which should be confronted and harmed everywhere in the world.

Iraq has proved that the neo-con calculation about the minimal cost to the US was dead wrong. Stabilizing Iraq has already cost billions of dollars and more than 1,000 American lives. But there is no indication that the US will pull out of Iraq. Now the neo-con rhetoric, which Bush is reiterating during his stump speeches, states that the cost of getting out of Iraq at the present time would be too horrible to envisage. By being engaged in Iraq, according to this argument, the US is keeping the terrorists away from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Walla Walla, Washington. Needless to say, this type of rhetoric maintains the high fear level among the US populace.

Aside from America's global "war on terrorism", another major development of global implications of the post-September 11 era is the al-Aqsa Intifada (uprising) that erupted after the highly charged September 2001 visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon, then an opposition leader and an aspirant to the prime ministership. Even though Sharon's action is described as the event triggering the outbreak of violence, the failure of the Camp David summit between Yasser Arafat and the then Israeli prime minister Yehud Barak was the main underlying reason for the escalating frustrations of the Palestinians.

In 2004, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is dead. Prime Minister Sharon is convinced that he does not need to negotiate with the Palestinians, unless they change their leader to his liking. Bush very much supports Sharon on this point. Arafat has remained a prisoner in his residence for over two years, epitomizing the humiliation of the Palestinian nation, to which the US is also a party. The Palestinians are expressing their rage through suicide attacks, and Israelis through waging war on the Palestinian nation. Moderates in the Jewish and Palestinian nations are nowhere to be seen. The search for common ground has ended. In fact, in the churlish environment of clashing fundamentalists, even the common ground is soaked with the blood of innocent Palestinians and Israelis.

In the meantime, the Republican fear-mongering related to September 11 is numbing the US electorate. The conscience of the world seems to have gone numb. The continuing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya seems to have created a collective (or even universal) frame of mind that cannot express outrage loud and clear enough for all the holy-rollers - religious as well as secular - to stop berating, humiliating or even killing each in the name of God or democracy.

Every time Bu$hCo turns around, they are either declaring victory or insisting that 'You WILL Be Assimilated! Resistance IS Futile!' The targets of such comments believe this, right?

Jakarta blast a sign of what's to come

Terrorism thrives on symbolism, and investigators did not need to look hard for signposts after Thursday's bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. It was almost three years to the day since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon near Washington; about two years since car bombs ripped through several nightclubs at Kuta Beach in Bali; and a mere 12 months after Jakarta's JW Marriott Hotel was blasted, probably by the same extended network of extremists.

Then there is the political imagery. Indonesia and Australia, shared targets of the latest outrage, are both preparing for national elections that have been overshadowed by the security debate, including their own hesitant efforts to cooperate in the hunt for Asia's bombers. Canberra is under pressure from a reluctant electorate to pull its remaining 850 troops out of the US-led coalition in Iraq. Jakarta has infuriated Islamic hardliners by turning the screws on fundamentalist cells in Sulawesi and western Java.

It should be pointed out that Jakarta's partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have probably been much quicker to recognize that confronting terrorists with brute force merely invites more of the same.

Most specific intelligence input comes not from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur but Washington and Canberra. Significantly, the US State Department issued a
high-level warning just last week, on September 3, that an attack might be imminent in Jakarta, though the target was believed to be "identifiably Western hotels" rather than an embassy. Security experts in Jakarta had been convinced since June that Jemaah Islamiya (JI) terrorists, who were blamed for the subsequent bombing as well as the earlier Bali and Marriott Hotel incidents, were preparing to strike again in Indonesia. Australian security analysts said the JI warnings were based on intelligence reports that the organization still had part of a stockpile of explosives that was acquired shortly before the Bali bombings. Some of that stockpile was later used in the Marriott attack.

The United States has also been upgrading its assessment of JI's resources, amid concern in the security fraternity that some of the ASEAN states may have become complacent following an impressive, but probably deceptive, rate of success in hunting down its operatives. While more than 200 JI suspects have been rounded up in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines since the 2001 attacks in the US, the grouping is believed to operate with a compartmentalized system of dispersed cells that provides a buffer against isolated setbacks.

"The information emerging from the interrogation of JI suspects indicates that this is a bigger organization than previously thought, with a depth of
leadership that gives it a regenerative capacity," the International Crisis Group (ICG), a research agency, concluded after the Marriott bombing. "It has communication with and has received funding from al-Qaeda, but it is very much independent and takes most if not all operational decisions locally."

Much of the uncertainty in intelligence circles is due to the paucity of detail on JI's relationship with al-Qaeda, which originally fulfilled a training function for the Asians but is now undoubtedly more deeply involved. One assessment, by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS), contends that despite the US offensive in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda may still have two-thirds of its core leadership and most of the estimated 20,000 activists who have been trained in its Afghan camps since 1996. Another, from British-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, calculated in 2002 that 20% of al-Qaeda's organizational strength was in Asia, including volunteers from Central Asia, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

A Dearth Of Leadership

One of the most telling statistics is that despite their generally ambivalent stance on US counter-terrorism policies, most Southeast Asian states often have a closer security relationship with Washington than with one another. This reflects long-standing territorial conflicts, diplomatic suspicions and a belief that some security services, notably in Indonesia and northern Malaysian provinces, have probably been infiltrated by fundamentalists sympathetic to extremist aims.

ASEAN cooperation "is typically characterized by bilateral efforts, mostly with the United States", analyst Dana Robert Dillon wrote in a 2003 study for the US-based Heritage Foundation. "Participation in anti-terrorist coalitions is frequently circumscribed by an individual country's commitment to America as an alliance partner and that country's individual perception of terrorism as a threat to its national security."

The ICG believes that JI's biggest threat may not be from the region's disjointed security offensive but its own internal cohesion, which has been
severely put to the test since the Marriott bombing. Some of the JI leadership is known to be unhappy with the most recent choices of targets, which have generally killed Indonesian workers. All of the victims of Thursday's attack were Indonesians. Australian diplomatic personnel, the presumed targets, were shielded by their fortified embassy perimeter. "There is disagreement about the appropriate focus for jihad and over the practice [of using] non-Muslims to support Islamic struggle. Internal dissent has destroyed more than one radical group, but in the short term, we are likely to see more JI attacks," the researchers concluded.

So, as I hope I have demonstrated, the world media isn't seeing the Potempkin World Safety that Bu$hCo promotes like there is no tomorrow. For too many Americans, I fear that statement is all too literal.

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pessimist :: 8:03 AM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!