Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

2008: Two Americas at War

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 9, 2007

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Should Clinton and Giuliani face off in the coming 2008 presidential elections, American politics would take an interesting turn of events.  It would be the confrontation between two visions, two histories and two futures for America: Clinton‘s is the story of prosperous America of the 1990’s, those Roaring 90’s.  Giuliani‘s would be the story of heroism in the wake of terror and fear.  The former mayor of New York summed up the choice – his own way, of course – in an interview to the Wall Street Journal a few days ago:

“I think that the president we elect in 2008 will determine how long it takes to prevail against the terrorists,” Mr. Giuliani says. “If you select somebody that is going to go back on defense, it’s going to take a much longer time and there are going to be more casualties. If you select a president that’s going to remain on offense, and even improve on it, it isn’t going to be easy, but it’s going to mean less casualties, faster.” It’s not an easy or comforting message, but Mr. Giuliani is not in the comforting business. Whether it’s a message the country wants to hear is something the voters will let us know.

What do Americans want?  One can be sure that the first vision is more attractive, but the second more realistic.  Current polls indicate that the Republicans are trailing in most configurations, including the one that would oppose Clinton to Giuliani

If both Clinton and Giuliani get the nomination, America’s 2008 choice will be all the more so revealing that Giuliani is actually a very moderate Republican on most other issues, most notably on abortion and gay rights.  Polls will or won’t confirm this, but it seems that such election would be a solid test of America’s willingness to go forward with its war on terror. 

Most commentators are saying today that a withdrawal from Iraq is now more than plausible, as even Republicans are not willing to risk their own elections – especially for an issue that is not a defining aspect of party lines or loyal voter support.  It will be interesting to hear what alternatives are offered, and how these will be received by the American public, which will not be able to ignore, though, the history between these two names.

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Posted in 2008 Elections | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Resilience, the British Way

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 6, 2007

Business as usual, in Britain, says the International Herald Tribune, here and here, after last week’s failed terror attempts. In a three year span, the British will have faced three consecutive summers of violence and threats, with the 2005 London Bombings, the 2006 major terrorist plot to blow up twelve planes over the Atlantic, and now, this new series of attacks.

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Contrary to 2005, it seems though that this plot was not homegrown, or was at least not led by British nationals. This does not mean in any way that one should be reassured – should one prefer a homegrown plot, right in the middle of modernity, or terror plot emanating from an external and nihilist group?

Be as it may, the British composure we celebrated in the wake of the 2005 bombings remains relevant today, as the British people has proven once more. This is not an empty victory by any means. It is an example of how Western societies can partially win, at the individual level, the fight against terror. Everybody has it its own way with resilience.

Posted in Global War on Terror, Resilience | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The War on Giuliani has already started

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 25, 2007

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It took quite some time for Democrats to figure out who their worse nightmare was.  Although they are ahead according to the pollsGiuliani is the candidate they dread, and they should.  But regrettably, we’re not in for a fair fight…

Matt Taibbi’s op-ed” in Rolling Stone is a good instance of how “below the belt” this fight is going to be.  Taibbi tries to trash Giuliani for the former mayor’s snappy answer to Congressman Ron Paul during the last Republican Debate – the latter made a dubious argument in favor of isolationism, linking the 9-11 attacks to America’s involvement in the Middle East:

Though a controversial statement for a Republican politician to make, it was hardly refutable from a factual standpoint — after all, Osama bin Laden himself cited America’s treatment of Iraq in his 1996 declaration of war.

Hardly refutable?  Does this mean that because Ben Laden does not appreciate American involvement in the Middle East, the U.S. should consider disengaging from the region?  The propensity to advocate isolationism when every honest observer knows that American isolationist periods corresponds to the darkest hours of World history is, in fact, dubious to say the least.

Fred Kaplan‘s attack is more surprising, given the fact that the Slate journalist is usually more inspired.  Kaplan asserts that the only reason Giuliani left the Iraq Study Group was not politics, but a financial one.  According to Kaplan, the former mayor missed two meetings before being given by James Baker, the head of the ISG, an ultimatum:

On April 12, 2006, he was giving a keynote address at an economics conference in South Korea for a fee of $200,000. On May 18, he was giving a speech on leadership in Atlanta for $100,000.

So it’s only about the money?  How about accepting the fact that beyond the “bi-partisan” marketing statement the Group used to its advantage, both chairmen, Baker and Hamilton, shared a very similar view of international relations, leading to a report as biased as the ideological arguments that led to war in the first place…  But anyone pleading for a fairer debate, emphasizing that the reasons for intervening in Iraq in the first place should be taken into considerations beyond the very poor planning on the part of the Bush Administration, does not seem to be given fair attention, it seems, these days.

So… Where does that leave us?  Why this war, now, when the Democrats are leading?  Here’s a two-fold answer: 1) Polls don’t matter this early in the race; 2) Every reason explaining why one – from mainstream America – might hate Republicans (abortion and religion being on top of the list) are not applicable to Giuliani.  Here’s an interesting point of view about the abortion issue:  Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats.  I very much disagree with the statement in favor of a pro-choice candidate, but this op-ed just tells me that should Giuliani win the Republican nomination, the Democrats are in big trouble.  

Giuliani might just win by a landslide in 2008 if Democrats continue to deny reality about the significance of U.S. involvement in the world.  A need for redefinition of this involvement is obvious.  But without a clear alternative, the Democrats won’t be able to fool anyone.

Posted in 2008 Elections | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

War in Gaza

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 19, 2007

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Two schools of thoughts compete to explain Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip last week. On the one hand, many commentators and militants of the Palestinian cause indicate that the recent events were inevitable, given the state of the asphixiation – the recurrent “Gaza is an open-sky prison” argument. On the other, many more commentators in the West point out that given the nature of terrorist movement Hamas, it’s almost surprising that this military coup did not occur earlier.

Beyond this – yet again – classic split, there are two observations that must be made. 

Fouad Ajami sums up best the first observations:

The political maxim that people get the leaders they deserve must be reckoned too cruel to apply to the Palestinians. Before Hamas, for four decades, the vainglorious Yasir Arafat refused to tell his people the basic truths of their political life. Amid the debacles, he remained eerily joyous; he circled the globe, offering his people the false sense that they could be spared the consequences of terrible decisions.

In fact, there is a disturbing gap with regards to the way the Palestinian élite has been treated by the international community and the effective benefits the Palestinian population has drawn from international support.  The outbreak of violence between Fatah and Hamas last week was the result of a decade-long practice of corruption and disregard for fellow citizens on the part of the Palestinian Authority.  As resentment grew stronger, it became increasingly harder for the Palestinian authority to check the discontent.  The longer one prevents an abscess from bursting, the more painful it is when this actually occurs.  Hamas‘ victory in the January 2006 elections was just a first step.

The second lesson is fairly obvious one, but seems to be systematically forgotten throughout the Middle East and in Europe: Violent groups are a threat to everyone in the long run, even to those who harbor them.  Like Lebanon with Hezbollah, Palestine is paying the hard price for composing with Hamas and following the oldest – yet faulty – maxim in the book that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”.  Leaving such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas develop just weakened the states that habored them, as well as the neighboring countries that allowed for this to happen – Egypt being first in line. 

By the way, from this perspective, the  “Gaza is an open-sky prison” argument is a fairly interesting one: Doesn’t it entail an equal responsability for both Israel and Egypt?  Such a reality has been poorly relayed recently, as no emphasis has been put on the very low level of help provided in general by Arab states to the Palestinians.  It is really hard in this context to believe that the Palestinian people has what it deserves.

Posted in Israel, Palestine, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Benefits of the Global War on Terror

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 4, 2007

The latest terror plot recently uncovered could have been twice as worse as 9-11, according to some reports.  It also goes to show that, beyond the chronic instability in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror is an ungrateful task: Failure leads to dreadful consequences whereas success allows for business as usual.

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This explains why a general assessment of the current Administration efforts to curb the terror threat on American soil is necessary, in order to evaluate the efficiency of security spending since 9-11

In the working paper available for download below, I offer a first crack at such an assessment, relying on a cost-benefit analysis and testimonies from the U.S. Intelligence Community in front of the Senate Select Committee on IntelligenceI find that if, between 2001 and 2006, the U.S. avoided at least one terror attack that would have caused 20% more damage than 9-11, then security expenditures pass the usual cost-benefit tests. 

The reasoning is still a little sketchy, and there is significant room for approval, especially in assessing the nature of the terror threat the U.S. has faced since 9-11.  That’s why I’m looking forward to any comments readers may have, and ideas or previous work to improve such an assessment.

Download Working Paper (.doc)

Posted in cost-benefit analysis, Global War on Terror | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Al Qaeda: Knocking on Lebanon’s door

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on May 27, 2007

Recent violence in Lebanon seems to confirm a very ugly truth: After wondering why terror movement Al-Qaida had not been more involved in the Near East – although answers were brought in the weeks following 9 11– and after fearing that it wouldn’t be long before it would actually get involved soon, we now know that thru a group unknown a year ago, Fatah al-Islam, Al-Qaida is present in Lebanon and threatening the country.

While it is correct that the whole truth has not been shed yet on the nature of this group and of the violence, especially as Syrian implication is not to be excluded in the wake of growing pressure for an international tribunal to investigate the Hariri assassination, this opposition between the Lebanese army and the terrorist group is pushing Lebanon a little bit more towards complete chaos.  In this context, international involvment, especially US military aid and French efforts thru the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, to re-affirm the international community’s solidarity with the current Siniora administration, are perfectly laudable, but fall short of being what Lebanon really needs.

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Current events are just a new element confirming a structural trend: Lebanon is not on anybody’s priority list.  The 2006 war triggered by Hezbollah‘s kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers on the Southern frontier of the country was disastrous for Lebanon, but even more, in the long run, for the international community.  As a matter of fact, it proved the extent to which the latter had completely abandoned Lebanon, after feeling good about itself for having voted two useless UN Resolutions – 1559 and 1701.  The international community celebrated Syria‘s “departure” of Lebanon, pretending to believe that this withdrawal actually occurred.  It also failed to do anything about the disarmement of Hezbollah, one of Lebanon‘s core problems.

The fact of the matter is that Lebanon is being abandoned at a time the West feels it has other regional issues to deal with – namely Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Nevertheless, the more the West remains inactive on the issue and leaves a weak Lebanon state deal with terror groups alone, the more it will suffer the consequences.  We are not talking about a group of limited individuals in Madrid or London – that were still able to inflict mass casualties in the middle of two European capitals – but a fully funded group, with a strategic base, right at the frontier with Europe.  Inactivity is not a strategy.

Posted in Middle East, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »