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November 19, 2008

Comments

Good post, Eric: but I think your lead excerpt from Martin Fletcher's piece kinda/sorta overstates American culpability in the situation in the Horn of Africa; viz.:

"...the Bush Administration's intervention in Somalia in the name of the War on Terror."

What exactly is/was the nature of this "intervention"? I know that the Administration blindly cheerled the Ethiopian invasion/occupation in 2006, and has backed the pathetic TGF "government", along with everybody else. ISTM, though, that this was more of an opportunistic move to make PR hay on someone else's move than a conscious policy decision. It's possible the Ethiopians might have held back in the face of firm US opposition to their move into Somalia; but is US "intervention" the right term here?

Anyway, what's also interesting is that while Iraq, strangely enough, seems to be coming up generally negative on Brimley and Flournoy's "Three Noes" scale (regional war, AQ haven, genocide), The Horn of Africa in general, and Somalia in particular - seems to be at risk - serious risk - for at least two out of three. And the (low) chances of "genocide", or something near to it, are probably just a matter of luck, and could possibly change, given a few more years/decades of conflict.

Heckuva job, somebody....

Nothing like some old-school Radiohead to kick off the afternoon. Nice.

What exactly is/was the nature of this "intervention"?

Generally speaking, Ethiopia is the largest recipient of US military and economic aid in Africa - save Egypt.

In connection with the invasion, the US provided overt public support, air support, intelligence and raw materials for Ethiopia during the invasion. In addition, US special forces were on the ground in some areas.

The timing of the Zawahiri tape strikes me as odd. Why not release something three weeks ago to meddle in the election? Is it because AQ was indifferent as between Obama and McCain? Or was the bulletin board chatter supposed to serve as this year's October surprise?

I guess this just goes to your larger point: what can they gain by doing this now?

I think they wanted McCain, but probably figured they couldn't change the tide, so trying to and failing would reveal weakness.

Not that this tape conveys strength.

Why now? I think they're nervous at the fact that Obama could turn the tide of public opinion further against al-Qaeda, and are trying to pigeon hole him as just another typical American leader.

Though he is black, he's just a house negro like Powell and Condi.

For the love of God: Martin Fletcher is an idiot. Aside from eliding the issues with respect to Somalia; grossly overstating any possible US role (much less the actual US role); and cherry picking a quote from an (unnamed) European diplomat whose views did not and do not represent the views of the actual European government involved .... in other words, aside from writing an utterly useless piece of claptrap .... he manages this beauty bit of doublespeak in his longing for a return to rulership by the Islamic Courts:

There are several insurgent forces, but one of the most powerful is the Shabab - a group of virulently anti-Western jihadists that has now eclipsed the Islamic Courts movement of which it was once part.

In fact, the Shabab weren't just a "part of" the Islamic Courts; they are the armed wing of the Islamic Courts. The Shabab were the reason that the Islamic Courts were so problematic. The Shabab were the large part of reason why, between a choice of less bad and very bad, the Bush Administration chose the less bad of offering (limited) support to the Ethiopian government when it moved against the Shabab/Islamic Courts.

Did the Islamic Courts also contain moderates? Yup, it did -- but those moderates were utterly unable to restrain the Shabab when they were part of the IC.* Fletcher's discovery that the Shabab still exists and is still not restrained by moderates with the IC is not a new development -- and certainly not the result of Ethiopia's intervention.

*See, for instance, here: http://www.janes.com/news/security/countryrisk/jtsm/jtsm080212_2_n.shtml. Backed by Eritrea, the Shabab declared war on Ethiopia in the name of the IC, thereby prompting Ethiopia's response.

In fact, the Shabab weren't just a "part of" the Islamic Courts; they are the armed wing of the Islamic Courts.

That is not true. There were other armed factions in the Islamic Courts and are, now, other armed factions in the insurgency.

http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?issue_id=4086

That is not true. There were other armed factions in the Islamic Courts and are, now, other armed factions in the insurgency.

From the article you link: "Shabaab (Youth) once served as an ICU-controlled elite militia."

The Shabab were the armed wing of the Islamic Courts -- the dirty deeds done dirt cheap folks, the enforcers, the front-line troops, the terrorists, the killers. Yes, there were many clans and many other folks with guns who made up the ICU. So perhaps I was guilty of overexcitement in calling the Shabab "the" armed wing of the ICU, since pretty much the entire ICU was armed in some fashion. But Martin Fletcher's claims regarding the Shabab and the ICU are so breathtakingly idiotic that it's hard to maintain composure. Even if you think that the Bush administration erred in its approach to Somalia -- and, as I've said elsewhere, there are reasons to hold that view -- you don't want to be within 500 miles of an idea that originated with Fletcher.

the dirty deeds done dirt cheap folks

OK, props for that.

Even if you think that the Bush administration erred in its approach to Somalia -- and, as I've said elsewhere, there are reasons to hold that view -- you don't want to be within 500 miles of an idea that originated with Fletcher.

Taken under advisement. I usually prefer Andrew McGregor, who is the Jamestown bloke at the link provided.

You neglect to note that there are deep strands of racism within Middle East moslems. I witnessed that in the late 70s while in school abroad and hanging out with a bunch of Lebanese students attending the University of Brussels. They were outspoken among themselves in their denunciation of African classmates as clearly inferior both intellectually and morally.

True moe. Still, that seems like a weak card to play, and one that is losing ground - as it is in the US and elsewhere.

Further: there are a large number of African Muslims that this would alienate.

The Bush administration famously scored on itself with the invasion of Iraq

I beg to differ. The invasion of Iraq was a disaster for the United States (and an even bigger one for many, many Iraqis, natch). For the Bush administration, though? I still cling to the opinion that it was a positive boon. A lot of people have done very, very well for themselves as a result, thank you very much.

"...the gratuitous injection of race into his critique of US policy will not serve al-Qaeda well in terms of PR. Consider: the world at large has reacted with a remarkable level of excitement at the election of Barack Obama"


WTF do you think this is supposed to count for?
Are you suggesting that this was the same "most of the world" that supported killing Sadat for being an Arab Muslim who sold out to the Jews, or is that "most of the world" you are citing not in any way the intended audience?

I'm struggling to come up with an analogy that would be so stupidly wrong as to compete with this one. Citing the people who rejoiced around the world at the election of a new US president in suggesting this represented something for those you can watch using Clinton's head for target practice.

Either you think that was because he was white, or the exact same policies that Clinton, Bush and Obama all support may trump his skin tone when it comes to those who want to kill all US blacks who aren't fundamentalist muslims, Obama included.

Further: there are a large number of African Muslims that this would alienate.
Posted by: Eric Martin | November 19, 2008 at 03:41 PM

To a lesser or greater degree than US policy in Africa over the next 8 years?
I dunno, we might be expecting Obama to address all manner of shit in Somalia using airdrops of chocolate.

we might be expecting Obama to address all manner of shit in Somalia using airdrops of chocolate.

The Ex-Lax bombing plan!

To a lesser or greater degree than US policy in Africa over the next 8 years?

Funny thing is, Bush is actually relatively popular in Africa for his AIDS relief policies.

So, yeah, there is room to be made up on that continent.

Are you suggesting that this was the same "most of the world" that supported killing Sadat for being an Arab Muslim who sold out to the Jews, or is that "most of the world" you are citing not in any way the intended audience?

This, to me (and the rest of your comment), represents a particular kind of blinkered thinking that has done us much harm in terms of combatting terrorism.

You seem to be suggesting that the only important target audience are hardened members of al-Qaeda, and the rest is some sort of "other" that is already "with us" or at least, vehemently against al-Qaeda.

If you would consider the possibility that a world exists in which various populations can be swayed to different ends of a spectrum of opposition to al-Qaeda, then I think you would better understand my argument.

To think that levels of support and revulsion in underlying populations has no effect on the ability of a trans-national terrorist organization to operate is to fail to grasp the nature of trans-national terrorism.

That would be WTF this counts for.

You seem to be suggesting that the only important target audience are hardened members of al-Qaeda, and the rest is some sort of "other" that is already "with us" or at least, vehemently against al-Qaeda.

No. I'm suggesting that the last al Qaeda tape contained an al Qaeda leader making statements intended for a jihadist audience and this tape isn't the one where he sells kitchen knives in just 4 easy instalments.

How do you think the majority of the world viewed his previous tape that didn't contain reference to Obama?
Differently than they do this one?

If you would consider the possibility that a world exists in which various populations can be swayed to different ends of a spectrum of opposition to al-Qaeda, then I think you would better understand my argument.

No, I don't think I will.
When you suggest that people who were previously receptive to the message of most prominent mass murder terrorist group of this decade may be turned off by them crossing the line into racial slurs about the same people they say should be put to death, this isn't something that makes any sense.

For suggesting this, you and everyone like you should be killed, you white crack-.... woops, nearly went too far there didn't I.

Came very close to alienating those who agree you should be put to death under one form of bigotry with my slightly different flavour of bigotry than the first.

That's what got me kicked out of the white supremacists, when I suggested we hate on blacks and not just try to kill them. They were all like, hey what are you an arsehole?

How do you think the majority of the world viewed his previous tape that didn't contain reference to Obama?
Differently than they do this one?

Yes.

Came very close to alienating those who agree you should be put to death under one form of bigotry with my slightly different flavour of bigotry than the first.

See, that's not actually al-Qaeda's mission, message or intention. And yes, they aspire to an ostensible moral struggle that has at least a putative basis in real world events and policies, and, thus, can and does suffer by the tarnishing of their supposed righteous image.

People sympathize with al-Qaeda, largely, because they are seen to stand up to America against anti-Muslim bigotry. But AQ loses sympathy through their brutal tactics, and to a much lesser extent (as I mentioned in the post btw), statements that cast them in a negative light.

So your point, based on an overly simplistic view of al-Qaeda and attitudes in the Muslim world, is kind of lacking.

And yes, be careful. You are very close to violating posting rules here. I don't personally mind if you have to resort to such language, but if you can't control your impulses in this space, take it off the site and email me.

I'm more than willing to engage in that medium.

Yes.

Really.
I guess we'll just be taking your word on that rather than referring to any quotations, just as we have to for your assurances on how the African Muslim demographic will take this.

Personally I can get hold of a whole bunch of quotes from the French on world events and I don't even pretend to know what the French community thinks. Odd.

So your point, based on an overly simplistic view of al-Qaeda and attitudes in the Muslim world, is kind of lacking.

What, as opposed to your view of the muslim world where insulting the leader of the US in the US version of the release none of them are watching is a problem. Right.

And yes, be careful. You are very close to violating posting rules here. I don't personally mind if you have to resort to such language, but if you can't control your impulses in this space, take it off the site and email me.

Such language as what?
Google does know how many occurrances of "WTF" are here which weren't a problem when not disagreeing with the author.
Butch up pal.

"Spencer calls Zawahiri a racist. Which he is. But alas, the term "abed" (lit. "slave") to describe black Africans and blacks is all too common in the Arabic-speaking world."

"Well, what else are we supposed to call them?"

Read your Abu Muqawama. Then maybe contrast his first hand observations of the muslim world with your own.

attriti0n, you know a little bit and not enough. I can read Arabic, I can understand if it's spoken like you speak to a baby. I don't need to find a blog to tell me things I want to understand from a certain perspective.

AQ has an audience, that audience doesn't have to accept the whole narrative. The people who do accept the entire narrative are actually a problem. They actually remind me of republicans. They rail on about Palestine and Aceh and Kashmir and there is where people nod their heads.

Once you get off in the weeds where the hardcore want to expand the fight into Iran, the south of Spain or whatever, that's when normal people lose their taste for it. You can ignore them the way you can ignore, well...you probably. Some Christian freak agitating about places you need to STFU about and mind your business.

attriti0n, you know a little bit and not enough. I can read Arabic, I can understand if it's spoken like you speak to a baby. I don't need to find a blog to tell me things I want to understand from a certain perspective.

Well no, that'd make you the guy who can tell the non-Arabic speaking blogger the news.
So go for it. Tell him whether Zawahiri said something remarkable here.

All I'm finding is people saying it's a word that means both "black" and "slave" and is widely used in the Arabic world. This, along with the actual slavery of blacks, would make someone's use of this rather unremarkable, no?

Some Christian freak agitating about places you need to STFU about and mind your business.

You've written this at the end of a post which you opened up with a claim to be a native arabic speaker.
I'm an atheist. Whatever religion you are you still need to put up or shut up.

What, as opposed to your view of the muslim world where insulting the leader of the US in the US version of the release none of them are watching is a problem. Right.

Really? Care to wager about whether or not any in the Muslim world are listening or will listen to that tape?

Name your stakes, and I'm in.

Butch up pal.

Read your Abu Muqawama. Then maybe contrast his first hand observations of the muslim world with your own.

Wait, I thought the Muslim world wasn't listening to this tape, so why would there be first hand observations?

Interesting.

Either way, I don't need to read Abu Mook to know that your conception of al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda's message and intentions, is cartoonish at best.

Go read your Sageman, Roy, Kepel, Bergen and Coll. Then maybe contrast their observations with your simplistic view.

One last point, the Muslim world is not the only audience. And even if it doesn't have any effect in the Muslim world (I would disagree, as I have said in the post it will have a small effect), it will help the US in non-Muslim regions which is extremely important.

One of al-Qaeda's goals is to isolate the US from the rest of the world community. To the extent that Zawahiri's words work against that effort, then I say to the good.

Also from the Abu Mook thread:

"Unfortunately many Lebanese use the term Abeed for blacks."

Really? They just use it casually like that?

I'm asking because here in Egypt we use the word "Asmar" or if their really black "Iswed". The term "Abeed" is widely understood to be an insult (usually reserved for Sudanese immigrants/refugees).

And I'm not just saying this to clear Egypt's name.

(To those interested, in Saudi Arabia they use the term "Zinjy" to refer to black people. But "Abeed" is considered an insult.)

I guess we'll just be taking your word on that rather than referring to any quotations, just as we have to for your assurances on how the African Muslim demographic will take this.

You asked what I think will happen, and I offered a prediction. Being that I am predicting something occurring in the future, I don't have quotes from the past to support my presumption. That's how this whole space/time continuum thingy works.

I might be right, I might be wrong (it happens) but I won't be able to offer evidence until a bit of time elapses and people are given time to react/comment.

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