Friday, 30 September 2011

BBC News: Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

BBC News publishes a report regarding the 'targeted killing' (yesterday?) of prominent al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen by an American drone:
US-born radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a key al-Qaeda leader, has been killed in Yemen, the country's defence ministry said.

US President Barack Obama said his death was a major blow to al-Qaeda.

Awlaki, of Yemeni descent, has been on the run in Yemen since December 2007.

The US said that as a key figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), he had played a "significant role" in plots to blow up US airliners and had sought use poison to kill US citizens.

Mr Obama is said to have personally ordered his killing last year.

Yemen's defence ministry statement said only that Awlaki had died in Khashef in Jawf province, about 140km (87 miles) east of the capital, Sanaa, "along with some of his companions".

US and Yemeni officials later named one of those as Samir Khan, also a US citizen but of Pakistani origin, who produced an online magazine promoting al-Qaeda's ideology.

Local tribal leaders told the AFP news agency that Awlaki had been moving around within Yemen in recent weeks to evade capture. Local people told AP he had been travelling between Jawf and Marib provinces when he died.

US officials said Awlaki's convoy was hit by a US drone and jet strike.

Mr Obama said that as the leader of external operations for AQAP, Awlaki, born in 1971, had taken "a lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans" and was also "directly responsible for the death of many Yemeni citizens".

He said the death marked another "milestone in the broader efforts to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates", and paid tribute to US intelligence and the Yemeni security forces for their co-operation.

"This is further proof that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world, " he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Awlaki had "demonstrated his intent and ability to cause mass terror".

One US official told the American network ABC that US intelligence had had "a very intense focus" on Awlaki for some time, waiting for a chance to strike.

The unnamed official said there had been "a good opportunity to hit him" on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this year, but that "it never materialised".
That's an extract: there's more, so take a look!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

FP: The South China Sea Is the Future of Conflict

Robert Kaplan has published an article in the Special Report section of the current edition of Foreign Policy magazine, exploring the potential for conflict within the South China Sea...

A far-reaching, determinedly Realist overview of the developing situation.

This issue of Foreign Policy also includes a link to an evocative photo-essay entitled "Tour the South China Sea". Take a look!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Think Again: War

Foreign Policy magazine this month features a thought-provoking article that asks us to "Think Again" regarding war... Suggesting that "World peace could be closer than you think". Author Joshua S. Goldstein aids the process by repeating commonly-held beliefs regarding war in the modern world, before calling each immediately into question by holding up contradictory facts (excerpt follows):
"The World Is a More Violent Place Than It Used to Be."
No way. The early 21st century seems awash in wars: the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, street battles in Somalia, Islamist insurgencies in Pakistan, massacres in the Congo, genocidal campaigns in Sudan. All in all, regular fighting is taking place in 18 wars around the globe today. Public opinion reflects this sense of an ever more dangerous world: One survey a few years ago found that 60 percent of Americans considered a third world war likely. Expectations for the new century were bleak even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their bloody aftermath: Political scientist James G. Blight and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested earlier that year that we could look forward to an average of 3 million war deaths per year worldwide in the 21st century.
So far they haven't even been close. In fact, the last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data compiled by researchers Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just over half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War ended have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.

Armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction. Today's asymmetrical guerrilla wars may be intractable and nasty, but they will never produce anything like the siege of Leningrad. The last conflict between two great powers, the Korean War, effectively ended nearly 60 years ago. The last sustained territorial war between two regular armies, Ethiopia and Eritrea, ended a decade ago. Even civil wars, though a persistent evil, are less common than in the past; there were about a quarter fewer in 2007 than in 1990

If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that's because there's more information about wars -- not more wars themselves. Once-remote battles and war crimes now regularly make it onto our TV and computer screens, and in more or less real time. Cell-phone cameras have turned citizens into reporters in many war zones. Societal norms about what to make of this information have also changed. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker has noted, "The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence," so that we see today's atrocities -- though mild by historical standards -- as "signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen."
The lengthy article proceeds to question the following assertions:
  • "America Is Fighting More Wars Than Ever." (Yes and no).
  • "War Has Gotten More Brutal for Civilians." (Hardly).
  • "Wars Will Get Worse in the Future." (Probably not).
  • "A More Democratic World Will Be a More Peaceful One." (Not necessarily).
  • "Peacekeeping Doesn't Work." (It does now).
  • "Some Conflicts Will Never End." (Never say never).
Definitely worth a read and a ponder - an opportunity to develop fresh perspective on this important topic.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Wired: US Establishes New Drone Bases for African Shadow Wars

Wired magazine's Danger Room reports on American preparations for the next predicted phase of "the drone wars", extending the practical reach of the US as a superpower:
Washington is quietly setting up at least two new East African drone bases, plus one on the Arabian Peninsula, to support the expanding U.S. shadow war against Islamic militants in Somalia and Yemen. An apparently new facility has been built in Ethiopia. In the island nation of Seychelles, a defunct airfield is being reactivated. A third base is being set up in or near Yemen.
The news, first reported by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, should come as no surprise to close observers of America’s shadow war on the borders of the Indian Ocean. But the base expansion could be met with outrage by the people most directly affected, especially Africans themselves. For years, Washington has insisted that it wouldn’t build new bases in Africa.
The new drone facilities are a small step for a Pentagon and CIA already heavily invested in the Indian Ocean region. While mercenaries and U.S. allies“proxies” — do most of the fighting in Somalia and Yemen, American warships, aircraft and special operations forces also play an important role. U.S. Reaper or Predator drones have struck militants in Yemen at least six times total in 2010 and 2011. In Somalia, drones have attacked at least twice since 2007. U.S. forces have also hit Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic group a total of six times, that we know of, using cruise missiles and Special Forces helicopters.
The American base in the tiny country of Djibouti, north of Somalia, provides food and fuel to the warships and serves as a launching pad for the unmanned vehicles and choppers. The Djibouti base has been around since 2001. U.S. Special Forces operated from a small base in Kenya beginning “a few years” prior to 2007, according to military consultant Tom Barnett. American commandos also launched attacks from an unspecified Ethiopian location in early 2007. The Seychelles drone base was open for business in 2009 and 2010 before temporarily shutting down.
Amid all this activity, Washington insisted it had no plans for new African bases. “I want to dispel the notion that all of a sudden America is, you know, bringing all kinds of military to Africa. It’s just simply not true,” then-President George W. Bush told reporters in Ghana in 2008. Bush was trying to reassure African audiences that the new U.S. Africa Command would not mean an expanded U.S. military presence in Africa. Africa Command kept its headquarters in Germany, but the U.S. presence expanded anyways — though many of the forces operate outside of Africa Command’s purview.

For Washington, the rationale for new bases is clear. “We do not know enough about the leaders of the Al Qaeda affiliates in Africa,” a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal. “Is there a guy out there saying, ‘I am the future of Al Qaeda’? Who is the next Osama bin Laden?” If finding and killing the next bin Laden means breaking a promise over African bases, the U.S. seems content with going back on its word.

Monday, 19 September 2011

What happens if the population forecasts are wrong?

Carl Haub for Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network poses a powerful question, as syndicated in today's Guardian newspaper (full article follows, check original site for reader comments):
In a mere half-century, the number of people on the planet has soared from 3 billion to 7 billion, placing us squarely in the midst of the most rapid expansion of world population in our 50,000-year history — and placing ever-growing pressure on the Earth and its resources.
But that is the past. What of the future? Leading demographers, including those at the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau, are projecting that world population will peak at 9.5 billion to 10 billion later this century and then gradually decline as poorer countries develop. But what if those projections are too optimistic? What if population continues to soar, as it has in recent decades, and the world becomes home to 12 billion or even 16 billion people by 2100, as a high-end UN estimate has projected? Such an outcome would clearly have enormous social and environmental implications, including placing enormous stress on the world's food and water resources, spurring further loss of wild lands and biodiversity, and hastening the degradation of the natural systems that support life on Earth.
It is customary in the popular media and in many journal articles to cite a projected population figure as if it were a given, a figure so certain that it could virtually be used for long-range planning purposes. But we must carefully examine the assumptions behind such projections. And forecasts that population is going to level off or decline this century have been based on the assumption that the developing world will necessarily follow the path of the industrialized world. That is far from a sure bet.
Eyeing the future, conservationists have clung to the notion that population will peak and then start to decline later this century. Renowned evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson has propounded what he terms the bottleneck theory: that maximum pressure on the natural world will occur this century as human population peaks, after which a declining human population will supposedly ease that pressure. The goal of conservation is therefore to help as much of nature as possible squeeze through this population bottleneck. But what if there is no bottleneck, but rather a long tunnel where the human species continues to multiply?
Population projections most often use a pattern of demographic change called the demographic transition. This model is based on the way in which high birth and death rates changed over the centuries in Europe, declining to the low birth and death rates of today. Thus, projections assume that the European experience will be replicated in developing countries. These projections take for granted three key things about fertility in developing countries. First, that it will continue to decline where it has begun to decline, and will begin to decline where it has not. Second, that the decline will be smooth and uninterrupted. And, finally, that it will decline to two children or less per woman.
These are levels now found in Europe and North America. But will such low levels find favor in the Nigerias, Pakistans, and Zambias of this world? The desire for more than two children — often many more than two — will remain an obstacle and will challenge assumptions that world population will level off or decline.
In quite a few developing countries, birth rates are declining significantly. But in others they are not. In Jordan, for example, the fertility rate still hovers around 4 children per woman. Indonesia was a country that was widely acknowledged for its innovative and steadfastly pursued family planning program in the 1980s, when its total fertility rate fell to 3 children per woman. It has been hovering for some time around 2.5. In a recent survey, about 30 percent of women with 2 living children said that they wanted another child. That figure was 35 percent for their husbands.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is the region that now causes the most worry. It remains in a virtual pre-industrial condition, demographically speaking, with high fertility and rather high mortality. The UN projects that fertility will decline from a high level of 6 children per woman around 1990 and reach about 3 children per woman by 2050. Many sub-Saharan African countries have seen some decline, and today the average fertility rate is 5.2 children per woman. Should the UN's assumptions prove correct, sub-Saharan Africa's population would still rise from 880 million today to 2 billion in 2050.
Countries such as Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, and Rwanda have identified rapid population growth as a problem and committed sufficient resources to address it. Yet their fertility rates remain at 4.6 to 4.7 children per woman, and a future halt in fertility decline in those countries would surprise no one. But most future population projections assume a continuing decline.
Often fertility rates might decline from a higher level and then "stall" for a time, not continuing their downward trajectories to the two-child family, resulting in a higher-than-projected population. In sub-Saharan Africa, this has happened in Nigeria, where the fertility rate has stalled at about 5.7, and in Ghana, where the fertility rate is 4.1 and apparently resuming a slow decline. Very recent surveys have shown that fertility decline in Senegal has likely stalled at 5.0 children and has risen somewhat to 4.1 in Zimbabwe. Clearly, not all countries will see a continuous decline in fertility rates, and some have barely begun to drop, meaning that projected population sizes will turn out to be too low.
Fertility rates are lowest among educated, urban women who account for much of the initial decrease. What will it take to reach large, often inaccessible rural populations, whose desire to limit family size is frequently quite limited and whose "ideal" number of children is quite high? Challenges include: the logistical task of providing reproductive health services to women; informing them of their ability to limit their number of children and to space births over at least two years; low levels of literacy; the value husbands place on large families; and securing funding for family planning programs.
India provides another cautionary tale. The country is often hailed as an emerging economic power, yet 930 million people — three-quarters of India's population — live on less than $2 per day. Some advanced Indian states, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have excellent family planning programs and fertility rates of 1.8 children per woman, which will lead to declining populations in those states. But some of India's poorest and most populous states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh — have total fertility rates ranging from 3.3 to 3.9. The Indian example illustrates an important trend: that the challenge of soaring populations will increasingly be concentrated in the poorest countries, and in the poorest regions of nations such as India.
The real possibility of fertility decline stopping before the two-children level is reached requires demographers, policy makers, and environmentalists to seriously consider that population growth in the coming century will come in at the high end of demographic projections. The UN's middle-of-the-road assumption for sub-Saharan Africa — that fertility rates will drop to 3.0 and population reach 2 billion by 2050 — seem unrealistically low to me. More likely is the UN's high-end projection that sub-Saharan Africa's population will climb to 2.2 billion by 2050 and then continue to 4.8 billion by 2100. The dire consequences of such an increase are difficult to ponder. If sub-Saharan Africa is having trouble feeding and providing water to 880 million people today, what will the region be like in 90 years if the population increases five-fold — particularly if, as projected, temperatures rise by 2 to 3 degrees C, worsening droughts?
Many factors may arise to cause fertility rates to drop in countries where the decline has lagged. A rising age at marriage, perhaps resulting from increased education of females and from their increased autonomy; rising expectations among parents that their children can have a better life; decreasing availability of land, forcing migration to cities to seek some source of income; real commitment from governments to provide family planning services and the funds to do so. The list goes on.
But we must facts. The assumption that all developing countries will see their birth rates decline to the low levels now prevalent in Europe is very far from certain. We can also expect the large majority of population growth to be in countries and areas with the highest poverty and lowest levels of education. Today, the challenge to improve living conditions is often not being met, even as the numbers in need continue to grow.
As populations continue to rise rapidly in these areas, the ability to supply clean water for drinking and sustainable water for agriculture, to provide the most basic health services, and to avoid deforestation and profound environmental consequences, lies in the balance.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Al-Qaida: spent force or spark for future generations of Islamic militants?

Jason Burke, Guardian correspondent whose book The 9/11 Wars comes out this month, writes in today's edition about the dangers of complacency vis à vis al-Qaida:
It is the biggest terrorism trial ever staged in Saudi Arabia. In the dock are nearly 100 men and women accused of attacks in the country. The testimony describes bloody assaults on compounds full of expatriates and bombings of government buildings. The accused will almost certainly be found guilty and many will be executed.

But in many respects this feels like a court case from another era. The current trial relates to episodes from 2003 and 2004, which might just turn out to be the heyday of the Islamist terrorism phenomenon known as al-Qaida.

"In the last two or three years al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia is dying," said Dr Abdul Rahman al-Hadlaq, senior adviser to the ministry of the interior in Riyadh. The most recent terrorist incident in the kingdom was several months ago: a checkpoint shooting involving a militant returned from Guantánamo Bay.
Osama bin Laden's death impacted on al-Qaida's power and influence around the world, but it was already waning, say security experts.

Around the world, the assessments of most counter-terrorist officials about the health of violent Islamic extremism in the areas they watch are close to that of al-Hadlaq. So far, this year has seen less terrorist violence associated with al-Qaida than any other since the millennium, arguably the late 1990s. Despite the obvious significance of the date, "there have been no credible … threats against the United States yet ahead of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks," the US homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, recently told reporters.

In Afghanistan, US and other western intelligence officials told the Guardian there were only around 100 al-Qaida fighters and of those only "a handful" posed an international threat. There is a residual presence in parts of north Africa but not one that menaces Europe, according to France's top counter-terrorist judge.

In Iraq, al-Qaida is a shadow of its former self and resurgent groups in Yemen and Somalia, only tenuously linked to the senior leadership based in Pakistan, cannot make up for the organisation's loss of capacity elsewhere, analysts say. "The CT [counter terrorist] specialists are worried but neither Yemen nor east Africa are a strategic threat," said one western security official. Islamic extremists have been marginal to the events of the Arab spring, many point out. And of course Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaida and its leader, is now dead, killed in an American special forces raid on a compound in Pakistan in May.

"Al-Qaida has been hollowed out," said a British security source. "Of the 10 top people we were most interested in a few years ago, only one is still alive. Maybe we will look back at the first decade of this century as an aberration when a small number of people threatened a superpower."

Yet after many years of officials and politicians stressing the threats posed by al-Qaida – often represented as a global terror network with the ability to launch devastating strikes almost at will – this declaration of victory seems rather sudden. So what is the true picture?

Life for militants

In late June last year a German jihadi volunteer called Rami Makanesi was detained by Pakistani intelligence services at a checkpoint on the edge of the semi-autonomous tribal zones near the border with Afghanistan. Under interrogation Makanesi, from Frankfurt, was to provide the most detailed recent account of life for al-Qaida militants in their Pakistani stronghold. Analysts have long spoken of al-Qaida as divided into three parts: central or senior leadership, affiliates or networked groups and the ideology. What was clear from Makanesi's testimony, obtained by the Guardian, is that "al-Qaida central" has been under pressure for some time.

The overweight former heavy drug user described a world of splintered factions in constant fear of their communications being intercepted by spies. Training was rushed, carried out indoors or in villages for fear of attacks by the unmanned drones which killed around 25 of his associates. Makanesi's own freelance attempts to travel to Afghanistan to fight were unsuccessful. He had to buy his own gun and pay his own rent, confirming reports that al-Qaida is short of funds.

Makanesi's description, intelligence officials said, matched their understanding of al-Qaida's existence in the tribal zones. A small number of key leaders – around a dozen are believed by analysts to have attended a meeting to ratify the succession of Ayman al-Zawahiri as head of the group – spend as much time avoiding missile strikes and betrayal as plotting operations.

According to US officials, material seized from the compound where Bin Laden was killed in May suggests that the attacks in London in 2005 and the thwarted "airlines plot" of 2006 were the last over which he had close control of operational details. From that date on, apparently, his role was restricted to broad strategic direction. In the second half of the last decade al-Qaida turned into an umbrella term for a range of militant groups. This network of affiliates has also suffered in recent years.

By 2006, when their leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq was in deep trouble. In recent years, al-Qaida offshoots from Morocco to the Philippines, some formally linked to the group, others simply inspired by it, have been eliminated or put under enormous pressure.

That pressure is continuing, says Philip Mudd, a senior intelligence adviser at the FBI until 2010. "The Europeans are still pretty serious, the Saudis have done well," he said. "The Indonesians have done better than many thought they would." One of the newest affiliates – al-Qaida in the Maghreb – has proved incapable of confronting even local security forces in Algeria let alone projecting a broader threat. According to Mudd, the "operational and ideological momentum" which lay with the militants in the middle years of the last decade now lies with those fighting them.

Falling support for al-Qaida

Peter Bergen, the American author and al-Qaida expert, points to the series of polls showing the degree to which support for Bin Laden, the group and their methodology, always far from unanimous, was falling rapidly in key countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia and elsewhere even before the events of this year in the Arab world. "Al-Qaida's leaders, footsoldiers, ideas were all totally absent from the Arab spring," he said. "When al-Zawahiri issued a statement on what was going on, it was totally ignored." Bergen said.

In Bin Laden's native Saudi Arabia, officials pointed out that support fell away rapidly after the first wave of terrorist attacks in the kingdom in 2003. In Afghanistan, relations between the Taliban, committed largely to local goals, and international militants with a global agenda remain tense and complex.

In Europe too militants have become increasingly marginalised. Once there were scores of young Britons seeking training or combat experience alongside the Taliban each year. Now there are no more than a dozen or so, UK security sources claim. Officials at MI5 say their new tactic of early "interdiction" of any threat works well enough for things to look "boring".

"We will have al-Qaida and al-Qaida-related violence for some time to come," said Nigel Inkster, former deputy director of MI6. "But the tide has turned. Bin Laden's ideas of setting the Muslim world ablaze and sparking a global insurgency have been and gone."

However, some warn against the new confidence of security officials and politicians. "There is a narrative of victory that does not make for good analysis," said Leah Jewell, who tracked Islamic militancy for the Australian police. Mudd, meanwhile, is concerned that overly optimistic assessments could lead to a lack of focus. "The guy is on the floor and we need to kick him in the face," he said. "This is a long campaign."

Others suggest there is a risk of the same analytic failure that has crippled attempts to deal with the problem of Islamic militancy since 2001: the reduction of a broad phenomenon with roots in political, religious, social and cultural factors in the Islamic world to the activity of a person or group.

Bin Laden's project was to unite and focus the disparate strands of radical Islamic militancy. In this he was partially and temporarily successful. But the last decade has seen a steady move away from the highly organised, carefully planned strikes involving dozens of attackers towards chaotic, fragmented and diverse violent activism. The European Union's criminal intelligence agency estimates that less than a third of those arrested for Islamist terrorism in 2010 in Europe were linked to a specific group.

Michael Leiter, director of the US National Counter-terrorism Centre, described the numerous plots in America last year as "unrelated operationally but … indicative of a collective subculture and a common cause that rallies independent extremists to want to attack the homeland". In India, recent attacks are believed to be the work of "homegrown" militants without external links. One incident earlier this year – the bombing of a cafe in Marrakech, Morocco – was disowned by al-Qaida itself. An autonomous group of militants claiming allegiance to the organisation appears responsible.

Counter-terrorism strategies now largely reflect this new reality, even if the language used by officials and politicians in public sometimes does not. These days western intelligence services favour analysis of networks over building pictures of traditional hierarchies, while "profiling" based on generalisations has been replaced by a "granular" approach. One element emerging from research by several services has been the importance of family ties in the process of radicalisation around the world.

Concern about jihadi families

Evidence of the ease with which groups of close relatives appear to have been drawn into violent militancy from the ongoing trials in Saudi Arabia has shocked local officials. Such ties have also been identified by US intelligence analysts in Iraq. In the UK, security officials are concerned about "jihadi families", particularly the potential of the children of militants to turn to violence. In Algeria last month, the 23-year-old son of a former senior Islamist was killed by security forces as he drove a car laden with explosives. Suspects arrested in Britain in the last year have been in their late teens. For them the 9/11 attacks are little more than a childhood memory.

There are concerns too about the threat from militants imprisoned after 2001 and now due for release. "Very few appear very repentant," said Inkster.

More than 20 years after the foundation of al-Qaida it appears the group is fading from the world scene. "With hindsight 9/11 looks like the climax of something, not the beginning," said Bergen. But much of the destructive energy harnessed by the group remains, experts say, simply without the focus that Bin Laden and his associates provided. There are too many variables to make any certain predictions but over coming years a new focus could emerge. This could be the result of anarchy in a particular region, state support, the rise of a new charismatic leader or as a consequence of overreaction by western powers to a successful terrorist strike that many officials say is "inevitable".

Noman Benotman, an analyst and former senior Libyan militant who knew Bin Laden, is concerned that expectations raised by the Arab spring will not be met, creating a fertile ground for extremism. What happens in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan will also be important. So will be the evolution of groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan.

The radicalisation and polarisation that came from the wars of the last decade are further factors, along with the complicated roots of contemporary Islamic militancy. "I hope I am wrong but I don't think all of this is finished," Benotman said.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Slate Magazine: The 9/11 Report - A Graphic Adaptation

Slate magazine has issued reminders this week of its 2006 publication of a graphic adaptation of the wide-ranging 9/11 Report conducted by the US National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States—a useful resource as we approach the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Worst Mistake America Made After 9/11

Anne Appelbaum in a thought-provoking article in Slate magazine today believes that "focusing too much on the war on terror undermined our (the American) economy and global power" (some excerpts):
In the wake of al-Qaida's attack on New York and Washington, an organizing principle suddenly presented itself. Like the Cold War, the new "war on terror," as it instantly became known, clearly defined America's friends, enemies, and priorities. Like the Cold War, the war on terror appealed both to American idealism and to American realism. We were fighting genuine bad guys, but the destruction of al-Qaida also lay clearly within the sphere of our national interests. The speed with which we all adopted this new paradigm was impressive, if somewhat alarming. At the time, I marveled at the neatness and cleanliness of this New New World Order and observed "how like an academic article everything suddenly appears to be."

The events of 9/11 reverberated through many spheres of American life but nowhere more profoundly than in American policy toward the outside world. Slowly, the supertanker that is the American foreign and defense establishment turned itself around, creaking and groaning, as Americans prepared to face new enemies. During the subsequent decade, we created a vast new security bureaucracy, encompassing some 1,200 government organizations, 1,900 companies, and 854,000 people with security clearances, according to a Washington Post investigation carried out last year. We launched two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. We organized counterterrorism operations in far-flung places such as the Philippines and Yemen, changed the culture of our military and reoriented our foreign policy. We sharpened our focus on al-Qaida and its imitators. And we spent, according to one estimate, $3 trillion.

And we were, in the terms defined by the war on terror, successful: Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaida is in profound disarray. Osama bin Laden is dead. Fanatical Islam is on the decline. Our military remains the most sophisticated and experienced in the world. And yet, 10 years after 9/11, it's also clear that the war on terror was far too narrow a prism through which to see the entire planet. And the price we paid to fight it was far too high.

In our single-minded focus on Islamic fanaticism, we missed, for example, the transformation of China from a commercial power into an ambitious political power. We failed to appreciate the significance of economic growth in China's neighborhood, too. When President George W. Bush traveled in Asia in the wake of 9/11, he spoke to his Malaysian and Indonesia interlocutors about their resident terrorist cells. His Chinese colleagues, meanwhile, talked business and trade.
China is not the only area on which American lost focus, according to Appelbaum—she also cites problems with Russia, with Mexican immigration, with domestic investment, that might not have been the problems they currently are with decreased focus on a war against terror. An interesting perspective vis à vis America's position as still the sole superpower... Do take a look!

Intervention, Libya, and the Future of Sovereignty

Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, writes today in The Atlantic regarding the significance of NATO's current intervention. Professor Slaughter (great name!) believes that "International law -- and the governments that bring it into being -- are (in) the process of redefining the definition of sovereignty"....

BBC News: 9/11 Timeline - the Story of the Day

BBC News this morning has placed a useful timeline summary of the events—almost 10 years ago now—of September 11th, 2001.

There's maps showing the tracks of the hijacked aircraft, as well as convenient links to short snippets of video footage from the day. Overall, a great resource that may aid understanding of the most audacious terrorist attack in recent history.