Thursday is the day for the weekly photo shoot for the weekend edition of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this daily web log. But Thursday, January 19th was a day of far too much news, and news that deserves some comment. There will be time later to process the one hundred and thirty shots, to choose the best and edit those for web posting (some are really good and, as usual, many not so good).
The 19th was the day al-Jazeera broadcast an audio tape purporting to be by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, and after analysis, it turned out to be him. He said he and his people are making preparations for attacks in the United States, but he is offering a possible truce to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan - if we leave. We should save a lot of money and lives if we just went home. This was the first time in more than a year he's said anything at all (the last time was December 2004), and this new tape was released just after our airstrike in Pakistan - targeting his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and killing a good number of civilians (including women and children). Well, the word now is we did get four leading al Qaeda figures and maybe one of them was al-Zawahri's son-in-law. Close enough. But the word is this new tape was made in early December, so he's not commenting on that.
Curiously Osama Bin Laden did an Oprah Winfrey thing. He recommended a book - "if you are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book The Rogue State."
That's by William Blum. He said the introduction of the book has this: "If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended." Unfortunately, the Associated Press here reports that's actually from another book by Blum, Freeing The World To Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004). Close enough.
BBC provides a full text of the message here, translated of course, including what this truce business is about, a "long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to. ... Both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war. There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America."
The AP tapped Jeremy Bennie, a terrorism analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly, who sad bin Laden appeared to be "playing the peacemaker, the more statesmanlike character" with his offer of a truce - "They want to promote the image that they can launch attacks if and when it suits them. They want us to believe they are in control." They got a comment too from Richard Clarke, the former White House anti-terrorism chief who ruffled so many feathers - "the initial significance of this (tape) is that he's still alive" but "the only new element in his statement is that they are planning an attack soon on the United States." He adds, not helpfully, "Would he say that and risk being proved wrong, if he can't pull it off in a month or so?"
Oh great. And this is only part of the message. Al Jazeera only released the "newsworthy" part of what they say is a much longer message.
What prompted this from Osama Bin Laden now? -
He doesn't like logical fallacies? He also mentions he doesn't think much of the plan to bomb the head office of al Jazeera in Qatar, after we bombed the offices in Kabul and Baghdad. He doesn't like our taking wives and children hostage to get his guys to talk, and didn't think much of our use of white phosphorous and all the rest. He's not happy. He suggests we agree to this truce or some really bad things will happen here. But he gets his answer here - "Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Osama bin Laden's offer of a truce today - calling it 'some kind of a ploy' - and said it is not possible to sit down and negotiate a settlement with al Qaeda." Cheney is the final word. Bush was riding his bicycle.
... what prompted me to speak are the repeated fallacies of your President Bush in his comment on the outcome of the US opinion polls, which indicated that the overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of the forces from Iraq, but he objected to this desire and said that the withdrawal of troops would send a wrong message to the enemy.
Bush said: It is better to fight them on their ground than they fighting us on our ground.
In my response to these fallacies, I say: The war in Iraq is raging, and the operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favor...
What to make of this new statement from Osama Bin Laden?
This is good for the administration. The Evil One says "BOO!" and the Patriot Act gets made permanent and the whole wiretapping thing is forgiven, and the Republicans sweep the mid-term elections. If nothing happens the administration claims what they do keeps us safe, and if something happens, they claim we need them more than ever. Ah well.
Over at Time Magazine we get this, it's just an internal turf war over there -
So it's jealousy. Here's it's just blithering fear, the kind that drives out measured discourse and makes us all beg the administration to do anything to keep us from dying.
Despite directly addressing Americans, its primary purpose may nonetheless be to remind Arab and Muslim audiences of his existence, and to reiterate his claim to primacy among the Jihadists....
[I]n the year of Bin Laden's silence, he has begun to be supplanted as the media face of global jihad by Musab al-Zarqawi, whose grisly exploits in Iraq grab headlines week after week. Not only that, Zarqawi may even be running operations abroad.... Although Zarqawi two years ago swore an oath of loyalty to Bin Laden, he is believed previously to have had something of a competitive relationship with the al-Qaeda leadership. And the public statements attributed to Zarqawi and those of Ayman al-Zawahiri have been noticeably at odds over questions of beheading kidnap victims and of wanton violence against Shiite Muslims. Zarqawi may have embraced the Qaeda brand with Bin Laden as its figurehead, but his essentially autonomous field operation in Iraq has become the movement's center of gravity.
That essay from Paris? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, elsewhere in these pages (see Perspective: Perhaps When You Are In The United States It Is Difficult To Have A Notion Of What Really Is Going On There) had some things to say about where others in this world see us headed with all this, and how they really want us to be the land of freedom and democracy, even as we're intent on throwing those away here at home, to be "safe."
This, from Paris -
PARIS - Thursday, January 19, 2006 - Since 9/11 I have been astonished at the seeming ease with which fundamental elements of the constitution have been trashed and overturned in the name of a 'war' against an enemy of ideas.
For what is behind Islamic-based terrorism directed against western targets other than a 'war' of ideas, of ideals?
The defense against ideas does not require laws for dealing with your own citizens as if they were potential terrorists. After all your own citizens are supposed to be on your side.
So it seems, in this 'war,' that the United States has gone about it in the wrongest ways possible. This was something the government decided to do - not the people - and the government decided it needed extraordinary powers for - for the 'defense of the west.'
As we have seen the government's policies and actions, instead of 'defending the west,' have produced an opposite result. Afghanistan invaded for scant purpose. Iraq invaded for even less purpose. Civil liberties reduced at home, based on a fictitious 'war.' Fictitious because it has no plan, no purpose, and is conducted against the wrong people - that is, mostly ordinary people who are not engaged in a 'war' with the west.
As a reminder, this is how the 'battle with world communism' was fought. It was assumed that communism was a danger to the west because - what? It was dangerous? It was stronger? It was a better idea? Its ideals were attractive?
Some people would say that communism collapsed as a result of the onslaught of Coca-Cola. In reality communism fell down because of its own internal contradictions. While attractive socially as an ideal, communism doesn't work because people aren't ideal. There is no way to achieve 100 percent full-time idealism by everybody. So that all-powerful enemy bit the dust, not thanks to being surrounded by iron, but by history.
Here it is useful to also recall that communists were not considered to be stupid or uneducated. They had a wishful ideal that didn't work, and turned out to be indefensible. The west 'won' by default.
It was not a sure thing, according to the politicians. There was a constant fear that communism would prove so irresistible that Americans would forsake Disneyland for the considerable charms of the Black Sea. More wishful thinking that didn't happen.
Today's situation is radically different. There is a small group of people in the world who have declared 'war' on western ideals. This is not based on the notion of economic unfairness or envy, but on a moral stance that has decided that the west is rotten and corrupt from top to bottom - that the west is in moral error.
For all anyone knows it may be true. But that it is proposed by people who are religious fundamentalists, that it proposes that all of mankind adopt the same religious attitude - that of the 15th century - one of ignorance and intolerance. It is not one that is likely to find many takers unless they are still, already in the 15th century.
As such it hardly seems that its message could be compelling. How do you convert folks back to the past? Wilder versions of the Christian right seem to have this as a goal too. But look at it. If it worked in the 15th century we nevertheless grew out of it and we are wherever we are today. We aren't going back.
So, then, there still is this 'war.' Does anyone think it will be won with guns? Bombs, smart bombs, missiles, atomic submarines, bombers, laser, radar, satellite positioning, bam, bam, bam, rata-tat-tat?
The bad news is that the west is going to have to think. This is a 'war' that will be won with ideas. If the west is all so superior, ideally and morally, it is not only going to have to defend itself with ideas, it is going to have to have ideas that are better than theirs in order to prevail.
Don't tell me this is impossible. Don't tell me the only way to do it is to junk the constitution. Don't tell me you have to suspect all Americans of being on the enemy's side. Don't tell me to fear - stop telling me bullshit.
Most of all, stop telling me that GW Bush is the supremo in this war. Tonight's TV-news reported the story of a new audio taped message by Bin Laden. In the middle of the news another story was interrupted to say that the CIA had confirmed the authenticity of the tape. Audio tape is yesterday's technology. Bin Laden just tossed a 50-cent bomb at the west and hit a media bull's-eye. The guy isn't even afraid to think.
It may be late, but it's never too soon to wake up. Light the fucking lightbulb!
Many of us are tired of being told to be afraid. And we want our country back - the one based on some pretty good ideas. We think those ideas can win this thing.
Ric's essay will be published as a stand-alone page in this weekend's issue of Just Above Sunset.
Other news buried by the Osama Bin Laden statement?
There's this (Reuters), from the land of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys - "France said on Thursday it would be ready to use nuclear weapons against any state that carried out a terrorist attack against it, reaffirming the need for its nuclear deterrent." Heads are exploding on the conservative right in America. Now what do we call those Freedom Fries?
In Baghdad, two coordinated suicide bombings - in a crowded street and in a café - killed fifteen more people (see CNN here). But things are going well.
After not much of this recently, a suicide bomber messes up a whole lot of people in the middle of Tel-Aviv, and as Knight-Ridder puts it dryly, Suicide Bombing Poses Challenge To Acting Israeli Prime Minister. No kidding. Ariel Sharon has not come out of his coma. He won't. Everyone knows that. Israel is "on hold" at the moment. Who knows what to do?
Then there's this from Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times -
Short form? He's allowed to break the law. That's his job.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - The Bush administration today offered its fullest defense of the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying that congressional authorization to defeat Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the NSA activities."
From Ric in Paris -
Short answer? Thirty-nine percent.
From his zenith the only way is downhill. Yeah, it means he has gotten as high as he's ever going to get.
Notice that it was quite some time ago. Where is he now?
And there's this from Ezra Klein -
As Ric says, we're losing something here. And here, ace attorney and legal analyst, Dahlia Lithwick, explains what to expect when Judge Alito ascends to the Supreme Court - an analysis of his rulings, his writings, his answers in the nomination hearings. Short form? The president's allowed to break the law. That's his job.
I do like this new policy of honest arguments from the White House. Used to be that they'd do bad things and lie, distort, and spin their way out. Now they just suggest their critics are traitors helping the other side, respond to allegations of domestic spying by saying, essentially, "damn right we're spying on you," open McCarthyesque investigations into whoever leaks their illegal secrets, and justify their actions on the theory that the president can do as he damn well pleases. It's refreshing. And so's the paper, which simply reprises arguments the Congressional Research Service report demolished weeks ago. Such a Focaultian willingness to deny the authority of legal experts is a welcome display of postmodern thinking from an administration all too often trapped in absolutes. As I said, refreshing.
And a new wrinkle here - "The Bush administration, seeking to revive an online pornography law struck down by the US Supreme Court, has subpoenaed Google Inc. for details on what its users have been looking for through its popular search engine."
Then there's just odd news, like this - "VATICAN CITY, Vatican City (UPI) -- The official Vatican newspaper has published an article praising as 'correct' a recent U.S. court decision that intelligent design is not science."
What? The judge in the Dover Pennsylvania case issues a long, reasoned, clear, and even elegant ruling that you cannot teach "intelligent design" in science classes in public schools, as it's not science. And the Vatican agrees? Darwin is just fine with them? That's is exactly what the full article reports. Heads are exploding on the conservative right in America. The Catholic Church hates abortion, and they thought they could convince this new pope to give up on his opposition to the death penalty and his opposition to wars. He's German, after all. Now this? It's amusing.
And in the background the issue with Iran and its nuclear ambitions is still there. Note Fred Kaplan here -
He goes on to say there's just no good solution to the problem, and cites why, and asks his readers if they can think of anything. If you have any ideas click on the link and write him.
What to do about Iran? The mullahs seem intent on acquiring a nuclear arsenal. Everything they've been doing lately - enriching uranium, spinning centrifuges, really just about anything they could do short of actual bomb production - is legally permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a serious problem with the NPT these days). The Bush administration is pushing the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions. But Russia and China would likely veto the motion, owing to the former's massive investment in Iranian reactors and the latter's heavy dependence on Iranian oil. The entire industrialized world is leery of economic confrontation for this same reason; Western Europe and Japan get 10 percent to 15 percent of their oil imports from Iran. As for a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, two objections stand out, among several others: It would be very difficult (the facilities are scattered, some buried deep underground), and it would be widely regarded as premature at best (even the most pessimistic intelligence estimates don't foresee an Iranian bomb for at least a few years).
Still, it's too risky simply to shrug and to hope for the best. Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has openly expansive ambitions across the Middle East, not least to "wipe Israel off the face of the map." Some political scientists have argued that the spread of nuclear weapons is a good thing, that it makes countries more responsible. Could anyone still argue that the theory, dubious enough in general, applies to Iran? Maybe a nuclear Iran could be "deterred" or "contained," but even that's a gamble.
Thursday, January 19, 2006, was quite a news day.