Saturday, February 08, 2003

My e-mail address is arjunbamzai@yahoo.com. Please write to me, especially if you want to point out the flaws in my arguments. I'll be happy to post your letter on the weblog, followed by either a rebuttal or a mea culpa from me.

On Thursday, when Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate's foreign relations committee, ranking Democratic committee member Joseph Biden accidently said something very important and very true. (I am not here disputing the importance, or the truth, of any of Senator Biden's other statements.)

Senator Biden stated that al Qaeda terrorists have taken refuge, and are able to operate freely, in "northeast Pakistan".

I think he probably meant northwest Pakistan -- the Northwest Frontier province, which borders Afghanistan. This area is rugged, Pashto, underdeveloped, and largely lawless. Many of the people living in the Northwest Frontier have strong Taliban / al Qaeda sympathies, as evidenced by last November's election results (an ultraconservative Islamist party with open sympathy for the Taliban won a majority of seats in the provincial assembly). Many of the al Qaeda terrorists who escaped from Tora Bora may now be hiding in this area of Pakistan.

As it happens, however, "northeast Pakistan" is also an extremely important stronghold for radical fundamentalist terrorists directly allied to al Qaeda. In specific, as this excellent Washington Post article reveals, the part of Kashmir on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (a former ceasefire line which is now a de facto border) continues to serve as a safe haven for terrorist groups organizing attacks on innocent civilians in the part of Kashmir on the Indian side of the Line of Control.

Media reports in the United States frequently refer to these terrorists as "militants". For example, one may read that "militants" have attacked a particular Kashmiri village and killed X number of children. The term "militants" is employed to preserve the appearance of neutrality, but neutrality between murderers and the murdered is simply not warranted. This issue is not as complicated as it may seem. Attacks directed against civilians, with the aim of intimidating a civilian population, are terrorist acts, and are always wrong. The perpetrators of such attacks are properly known as "terrorists".



On December 13, 2001, a small band of terrorists armed with machine guns and grenades launched a deadly attack on India's Parliament. The terrorists killed some security guards but were taken down before they could kill any lawmakers. This story did not get much play in the United States, perhaps because it came on the same day that the videotape of Osama bin Laden bragging about the September 11 attacks was released to the public. However, the attack on Parliament was highly newsworthy, because the terrorists had the potential of decimating the legislative and executive branches of government in the world's largest democracy.

Suicide notes attached to the bodies of the thwarted terrorists confirmed that the terrorists were members of two groups based in Pakistan and operating in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Muhammed and Lakshar-e-Taiba. The Indian government accused the Pakistani government of complicity in the attack on Parliament and in an earlier terrorist attack on the Kashmir state assembly in Jammu. India sent troops to the border with Pakistan, and threatened war.

The Pakistani government condemned the attack, denied complicity, and sent troops to the border with India.

The U.S. Administration was rightly alarmed by these developments. The U.S. feared that a war between India and Pakistan might lead to a nuclear exchange with millions of deaths. (Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and Pakistan has pointedly refused to join India's pledge of "no first use".) The U.S. government adopted a policy of firm opposition to cross-border terrorism, and pressured Pakistan's General Musharraf to defuse tensions with India.

On the 12th of January, 2002, General Musharraf apparently obliged. He gave a landmark speech in which he announced that Pakistan would take steps to eliminate infiltration of terrorists from Pakistani Kashmir into Indian Kashmir. The level of infiltration was observed to decline after this pronouncement.

As the Washington Post article makes clear, however, the level of infiltration is once again on the rise.

Here is the situation, then. The U.S. warns Pakistan against allowing terrorists to use Pakistani territory as a base for attacks on India. General Musharraf publicly agrees -- but the terrorist infiltration continues.

Pakistan has been an important U.S. ally in the global war on al Qaeda terrorism. But the U.S. should pressure Pakistan into taking strong action against Pakistan-based terrorists. Otherwise, American credibility will suffer.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

This posting owes its existence to Joshua Micah Marshall's admirable weblog Talking Points Memo.

Last week, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation about risks to homeland security, U.S. Representative Sue Myrick, a Republican from North Carolina, apparently said the following:

You know, and this can be misconstrued, but honest to goodness Ed and I for years, for 20 years, have been saying, "You know, look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country. Every little town you go in, you know."

I tried to find the entire speech for proper "context", but I haven't found it yet. I will keep looking for it, since I may well have "misconstrued" Mrs. Myrick's remarks.

Mrs. Myrick makes repeated reference to knowledge she shares with her audience, if "you know" what I mean. Mrs. Myrick knows "who runs all the convenience stores across the country", in "every little town". (Her husband Ed knows it too. Honest to goodness.) Mrs. Myrick also knows why the ownership of convenience stores in little towns is a homeland security risk.

I wish that I, too, could know these things. But I don't know.
I keep returning to today's New York Times editorial entitled "The Case Against Iraq", because it is incredible to me. I find it incredible that after acknowledging the strength of the evidence presented in Secretary Powell's stunning presentation to the U.N. Security Council yesterday, the editorial offers essentially NO OPINION on the proper course of action.

The editorial states that "[i]n response to Mr. Powell's presentation, the foreign ministers of France, China, and Russia called for extending and strengthening the inspection program in Iraq." That is true, except for the part about "strengthening". But was the recommendation for continued inspections appropriate? The New York Times editorial board has no opinion. The editorial asks the U.S. to consider "the views of other nations". But which other nations' views are right, and which are wrong, and why? The New York Times editorial board has no opinion. The editorial advises President Bush to "let the [United Nations Security Council] take the lead." But what should the Security Council do? The New York Times editorial board has no opinion. The editorial warns against going to war absent "broad international support". But under which circumstances and for which actions would the U.S. deserve such support? The New York Times editorial board has no opinion.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Perhaps it is too early, but I have not yet seen any commentary on former British MP Tony Benn's recent interview of Saddam Hussein. (See here for a transcript.)

The New York Times reports that Mr. Benn was "deferential" to Saddam Hussein. That's an understatement. Surely Mr. Benn's childlike credulity and servile solicitude give his cause -- the cause of peace with Saddam Hussein at any cost -- a bad name.

I think Mr. Benn sincerely believes in peace. The trouble is, Saddam Hussein does not. Mr. Hussein's regime has initiated external wars, against Iran and against Kuwait, and internal wars, against the Kurds and against the Shia's. Given this record of waging war after war, Mr. Hussein's praise for the "peace movement" is hard to stomach.

Monday, February 03, 2003

ABC News' The Note mentions that Congressman Dennis Kucinich plans a 5-day trip to Iowa beginning on the 15th of this month. I think this might be very interesting to watch because I believe Mr. Kucinich might run for president (which this website is urging him to do) and I think he would be a surprisingly strong candidate in the Iowa caucuses, although he probably couldn't go on to win the nomination. Howard Dean hopes to be the favorite candidate among the progressive, activist, peacenik wing of the Democratic Party, but Congressman Kucinich is far to Dr. Dean's left and has a much better natural ability to win support from left-wing Democratic Party activists. Mr. Kucinich's website actually brags about his belief in "the interconnectedness of all living things", his spiritually enlightened vegan diet, his tireless advocacy of the creation of a cabinet-level "Department of Peace", and his participation in the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle that gave way to anarchist rioting. Mr. Kucinich seems to me to be just a little to the left of of Ralph Nader, who publicly supports a run by Mr. Kucinich, and won over 29000 votes in Iowa as the Green Party candidate in the 2000 presidential election. Dr. Dean has been saying that among the declared candidates for the Democratic nomination, he is the only elected official who WOULD HAVE opposed last October's vote authorizing war to disarm Iraq. But Mr. Kucinich could say something far simpler (assuming Senator Bob Graham doesn't run): that he is the only candidate who actually DID vote against the war resolution. Dr. Dean has said that if it can be proven that Iraq has "weapons of mass destruction" then he would support a deadline for disarmament and then maybe even an invasion. But Mr. Kucinich could say that he would not support an invasion of Iraq under ANY circumstances.

The vegan vote is up for grabs right now -- but if Mr. Kucinich runs, the vegan vote goes to him.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

The Times of India, which has the largest circulation of any English-language daily broadsheet newspaper in the world, has a photograph of Kalpana Chawla on its home page today.

Dr. Chawla and her 6 comrades on the space shuttle Columbia were pioneers, because they travelled into space in 2003 -- probably several decades before such travel will even begin to become routine. But Dr. Chawla was a pioneer for other reasons. She grew up in India with dreams of space flight, studied aerospace engineering in Punjab, and emigrated to the United States to continue her studies, ultimately obtaining a doctorate from the University of Colorado. In 1997, she became the first Indian-born astronaut to ride in a NASA Space Shuttle, and the first Indian woman in space. Like so many other immigrants from India, she ultimately achieved her goals, by working hard, embracing risks, and pursuing opportunities only available in the United States of America.

I am an American of Indian ethnicity. Seeing Dr. Chawla's photograph -- that of an Indian woman happy to wear an astronaut's uniform emblazoned with the American flag -- fills me with pride. Openness to the contributions of immigrants is an essential American tradition. Without immigrants like Dr. Chawla, America would not be America.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

This posting is inspired by a tough, accurate, and well-argued editorial in Friday's Washington Post.

American credibility is a necessary precondition for American security. The world must believe that President Bush means what we says, or else American influence, on which depends therefore America's ability to help make the world safer from al Qaeda and its affiliates, will diminish. Backing down now on the issue of disarmament of Iraq, after all that the Bush administration has said and done, would hurt American credibility -- but the U.S. is not going to back down on this issue. What worries me greatly, however, is that the Bush administration may hurt American credibility if it backs down on two other important issues. I will discuss the first of these issues today, and the second on a later date.

The first issue involves our ally Israel. Prime Minister Sharon's policy of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is immoral. (The expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories does not justify terrorism -- but terrorism does not justify expanding the settlements.) Mr. Sharon's settlement policy detracts from Israeli security (by tying down the Israeli Defense Forces and by preventing the formation of secure borders), adds to the suffering of the Palestinian people, reduces the prospects for a two-state solution, hinders America's progress in the war on al Qaeda by promoting hostility toward the United States among Arabs and Muslims, and (most importantly for this discussion) HAS CONTINUED DESPITE CLEAR U.S. OPPOSITION. The Bush administration has hurt American credibility by refusing to impose any penalty on Mr. Sharon for his relentless expansion of settlements in defiance of American demands. The aftermath of a unexpectedly successful U.S. campaign in Iraq may well provide the right conditions for American diplomacy on behalf of peace between "a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine" (to quote the President's State of the Union address). Progress towards such a peace will require reforms in the Palestinian Authority, but it will also require complete cessation of Israeli settlement activity, and the Bush administration ought to lean hard on Mr. Sharon until he gets that message.