Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poisoning at Fort Jackson, SC

Catherine Herridge of Fox News reports that a number of US soldiers have been detained at Fort Jackson in South Carolina for attempting to intentionally poison the food supply at the Army base. Reports indicate that the soldiers may be members of an Arabic translator team.  CBN News reports that the soliders were actually detained in December.  According to Fox News:
The ongoing probe began two months ago, Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, told Fox News.
The Army is taking the allegations “extremely seriously,” Grey said, but so far, "there is no credible information to support the allegations."
The suspects were part of a Arabic translation program called "09 Lima" and use Arabic as their first language, two sources told Fox News. Another military source said they were Muslim.
Grey would not confirm or deny the sources’ information.
 This appears to be a growing trend of infiltration of the US military by Muslim extremists.

Updates will follow as they become available.

Assassination and Intrigue in Dubai

The recent assassination of Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, has all the hallmarks of a Jason Bourne movie – except it was real. Last month, the Hamas arms-dealer was found dead in his Dubai hotel. The alleged story depicts eleven assassins slipping into the country using fake passports, trailing the target in an assortment of costumes, and finally killing the man via electrocution and suffocation. All of this has supposedly been documented by video clips from an assortment of closed-circuit televisions. In a stunning display of police legwork, the authorities in Dubai have also released the names and pictures of all eleven alleged assassins.

Hamas has been quick to blame the elite Israeli spy agency, Mossad, for the assassination. The Israelis, who take no responsibility, certainly do have motive. Al-Mabhouh was a well known terrorist who helped channel Iranian arms to Hamas and Hezbollah fighters. He already spent time in Israeli jails for a variety of transgressions. However, as the story unfolds, questions about Mossad’s involvement are becoming significant.

Mossad, which has successfully executed assassination plots before, is world renowned for its skill. The fact that it could be behind such a bungled operation, although possible, is dubious. Some Israelis, such as Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad official and government minister, completely deny that Israel could have had a role in such a sloppy plot.

First, the numerous gaffes made do not appear to be the work of an elite assassin team. Current reports indicate that the passports used were forgeries. The six British nationals, as of now, seem to be victims of identity theft. However, it is ironic that all six Brits have immigrated to Israel in the past few years. Why would the Israeli government, in an attempt to disguise its operatives, use the identities of individuals living within Israel? Likewise, the alleged assassin allowed themselves to be readily filmed by security cameras, something that helps move a movie plot along, but seems unlikely to be allowed by an elite team. Additionally, it is astounding to think that Dubai’s authorities could put together the entire web of the plot in such a short amount of time. Such incredible police-work could only be the product of a extremely sloppy execution, uncharacteristic of Mossad.

Second, while Israel certainly had motive there were indubitably other parties who would desire to see al-Mabhouh dead. As an arms dealer he undoubtedly had unsavory friends, any of which who could have been responsible. Alternatively, insiders within Hamas or other anti-Israeli groups or governments have motive to frame Israel. While ANR has not seen any evidence to point to any group, it is prudent to be aware of other possibilities before Israel gets blamed.

Unfortunately, that seems to be what is already happening. Hamas has vowed revenge. While Hamas’s power to bring severe harm to Israel is limited, this nevertheless could end the current truce and slide the region backwards into fighting. This may, regrettably, be the intentions of some.

It may be a long time before the truth is revealed, if ever. The story seems too staged, too made-for-TV, for it not to be deeper than what meets the eye. Governments throughout the world should be careful to avoid hastily pointing fingers and sparking renewed conflict in the Middle East.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Assault on Free Speech Redux: UC Irvine

Here is a video clip of a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech at the University of California - Irvine.  Like the incident where General Petraeus was shouted down at Georgetown, the Israeli Ambassador received hateful and angry interruptions from a rowdy pro-Palestinian crowd.  The University's handling of the situation should be commended.  The representatives of the University not only severely castigated the interrupters, but threatened them with punishment including arrest.  Additionally, Ambassador Oren deserves praise for his response.  He was measured and forgiving.  He refused to be bullied and continued to insist that the disrupters should listen to ideas and engage in discussion.  The protesters insistence on shouting him down shows their own failure to live up to any principles they pretend to support.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Case of the American Sheeple

On the corner of 53rd and 3rd Ave in New York City, a posted flyer read “Learn How to Blog!” The advertisement, like so many on New York City streets, is easily dismissed, but if one stops to really consider the message, it offers a profound insight into the American psyche. Blogging is by its nature an informal form of individual expression. There are no rules, only a means for individuals all over the world to churn out their personal ideas. Sure there are ways one can create a more reader friendly blog or learn strategies to successfully publicize their writing, but does anyone really need to “Learn How to Blog!?

Blogging is inherently democratic. It is something that every individual can do, if they only have the ideas to opine on. However, the advertisement was not offering an opportunity to learn how to promote a blog, but a class to learn how to blog. In other words, it was targeted at people who liked the concept of blogging, but did not necessarily know what they wanted to write about. But more importantly, it reveals a conceptual inability for many Americans to truly think for themselves. The targeted consumers of the course are not joining the blogger bandwagon because they have ideas they wish to present, but because they are drawn to the concept of blogging. To them blogging is not a public version of their journal, but a thing to do. Because of this blogging is not natural; they need to be told how to blog.

Now, it was not clear from the flyer what the precise curriculum of this course was or how successful it has been; that is beside the point. What this minor episode offers is a window into the American condition and in particular the recent resurgence of populism. Over the past few years, populist movements have been growing in force on both the left and the right. This is a worrying trend that could have disastrous effects on American policy.

Obama became President, in part, due to a groundswell of populist support. His campaign, which was brilliantly executed, appealed to the everyman without offering (or possibly hiding) any real political ideology. His troubles of the past year are largely because many Americans saw through his populist veneer to what lies beneath. The campaign promises were either bogus or simply infeasible (Guantanamo). Many of his former supporters on the center-left and in the middle are disappointed with their choice, but are now unfortunately stuck with a President who does not represent their wishes or values.

In response, a very similar movement – the Tea Party – has been rising on the right. The Tea Party is steeped in many sound principles and ideas: opposition to big government, excessive taxes, and socialist programs. However, it is based more on emotion than on ideas. Politicians, such as Sarah Palin, have been brilliant is cultivating and stoking this sentiment. This is all too evident in Palin’s recent speech before the Tea Party.

The cultivation of populist movements is often very beneficial for a politician. It has skyrocketed both Obama and Palin to national preeminence. However, it is questionable what benefits such movements have for the governance of America. First, by being devoid of any concrete intellectual basis the movements can do little to change the deep flaws that may exist within the American system. Palin’s speech did not offer ideas to change America, but preyed upon emotion to support an amorphous cause.

Second, the movement can quickly and unexpectedly change tack, directing politicians down dangerous policy trajectories. The routine attacks on Wall Street from both sides of the aisle are evidence of this possibility. While finance or the so-called Big Business is certainly responsible in part for the current economic crisis, a complete attack on the system will hurt all Americans. In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Donald Luskin outlines the risks of a rightwing populist attack on business.

Populism is a movement of passion.  While there are very often real concerns, real ideas, and real issues imbedded in a populist movement, they are generally secondary to the emotion.  Emotion should not be dismissed, but it cannot be the primary factor in the American political system.  Instead, the emotions of populism must be analyzed and understood.  New ideas must be developed and considered to address the political issues of the polity.  In his discussion of the American Revolution, Irving Kristol wrote:
All revolutions unleash tides of passion, and the American Revolution was no exception. But it was exceptional in the degree to which it was able to subordinate these passions to serious and nuanced thinking about fundamental problems of political philosophy. The pamphlets, sermons, and newspaper essays of the revolutionary period… were extraordinarily “academic,” in the best sense of that term. Which is to say, they were learned and thoughtful and generally sober in tone. This was a revolution infused by mind to a degree never approximated since, and perhaps never approximated before. By mind, not by dogma.
Populism runs counter to this notion because it is innately anti-intellectual. To be sure the passions of the masses are necessary and proper, and all democratically elected leaders need to be in tune with what the people want. But stoking raw emotion for political gain is dangerous and against the very foundations of the American Republic. All men may not be independent thinkers, but all statesmen should govern based on ideas.

Monday, February 1, 2010

An Assault on Petraeus and Free-Speech

Recently at Georgetown University, General David Petraeus, current CENTCOM Commander, was shouted down by student protestors when attempting to give a lecture. This is relatively unsurprising as it is all too common at elite American universities for students to attempt to prevent those they disagree with from talking. A New Republican discussed a similar incident that occurred at UNC last April. Predictably, many rushed to defend the protestors in the name of free-speech. In an editorial in The Hoya, Georgetown’s school newspaper, one of the senior deans in the School of Foreign Service, James Reardon-Anderson, called the incident “one of those learning moments that makes campus life more interesting.” Such defenses trash the concept of free-speech and make a mockery of everything America and these universities are supposed to stand for.

Reardon-Anderson’s argument is simple. Freedom of speech means minority groups have the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want. He states, “Freedom of speech must allow for a minority to annoy and discomfort the majority….” But freedom of speech does not work this way. Freedom of speech prevents encroachment on the individual’s (or group’s) ability to speak its mind. The concept exists to prevent the quashing of dissent, to facilitate the free flow of ideas, and to promote discourse that will better the lives of all. This is the liberal principle which our nation is built upon.

The Georgetown protestors are decidedly illiberal in their approach. Their actions are not about promoting free-speech, but about silencing a perspective with which they do not agree. Reardon-Anderson tacitly acknowledges this by refusing to condemn the students’ removal. In fact, he applauds the success of the system:
Happily for those who found these interruptions improper, the system worked: The offending parties were warned to stop and — when they failed to heed the warning — they were removed from the hall or they left of their own accord. There was no threat to the health and safety of anyone. The event proceeded without further disruption.
The fact that he acknowledges that their removal was appropriate signifies that the protestors were not behaving in accordance with the concept of free-speech. If they were, any attempt to silence them should be castigated. The error that Reardon-Anderson and so many like-minded supporters make is that they confuse speech with noise. Free-speech prevents restrictions on the contribution of ideas to the community; it does not allow individuals to create noise to drown out others speech. Silencing Petraeus by talking over him is tantamount to duct-taping his mouth closed.

While it is the opinion of ANR that the constitutional right to free-speech is (or should be) only applicable to the government’s ability to limit speech and is not necessarily a restriction on private institutions ability to limit speech, we do support the voluntary commitment to this principle that institutions such as Georgetown profess. It is important to note that tyranny need not just come from the majority (if Petraeus is even part of the majority) or the government. Tyranny comes from anyone who unjustly abrogates the rights of another. Free-speech, as a principle, protects against this injustice. In this instance, the protestors are committing the highest form of tyranny by silencing another. They should have every right to present and discuss their perspectives, but only if they allow others to dialogue as well. The irony is that they are defended in the name of the very principles they cease to respect.