September 29, 2012

Politico-Military Battle For Kismayo Begins

Under the guise of night and the surveillance of Western intelligence, Kenyan forces seized the beaches of Kismayo on Friday in pursuit of Operation Linda Nchi's primary objective. The assault culminates an 11-month grind over some 120 miles and was supposedly planned at a level "never before seen" in African military history. What exactly is taking place in Kismayo depends on who's talking, but Kenya's government is clearly flanking al-Shabaab on Somalia's propaganda lines.

"Mission Accomplished," reads the front page of Kenya's Daily Nation.

Speaking from Kismayo rather than his usual podium in Nairobi, army spokesman Cyrus Oguna offered his version of the unfolding Operation Sledge Hammer and its run-up. He claims that Kenyan airstrikes and AU ground troops deceived al-Shabaab in preparation for a sea landing, an undertaking that required three days of clandestine mobilization up Somalia's coast. Four transport ships (including Nairobi's newly-restored flagship, KNS Jasiri) dropped their ground units five miles north of the city, to give Kenyan troops first dibs on Kismayo, with helicopter gunships and Northrop F-5 warplanes applying their own superiority on the ground. Oguna told reporters that the bulk of al-Shabaab's new casualties are attributed to Kenya's aerial and naval power. Aside from these forces, a contingent of Special Forces landed at Kismayo Airport (located south of the city) and is fighting to secure the area.

"Kenyan military planners duped Al-Shabaab into believing that a land invasion of their last remaining bastion of Kismayu was imminent before making an amphibious landing from the sea," the Daily Nation writes.

While the insurgency may have been unable to predict the final point of Kenya's assault, independent accounts from within the city paint a more fluid situation. Witnesses initially told the BBC, Associated Press and Reuters that Kenyan, AU and Somali troops have yet to enter the city, contrary to Oguna's claim that "we are controlling three quarters of the city." Al-Shabaab has responded with light resistance in Kismayo's northern sector and will likely employ mobile tactics from the surrounding forests. They cannot afford to skip a counterattack entirely. More disturbingly, Kenyan air-strikes have reportedly killed and wounded an undisclosed number of civilians; capturing Kismayo first entails protecting the population.

However there is no reason to doubt the majority of Oguna's information: “We have sufficient ground and naval forces in Kismayu as we speak." AMISOM has brought such a high level of force into the port that al-Shabaab cannot be expected to wage conventional warfare. Even unconventional warfare will present a challenge against AMISOM's superior force, which coordinates with several local militias and Kismayo's clan leadership. Among them, the Ras Kamboni Movement led by Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, a major player that held Kismayo's governorship for the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) before Ethiopian troops invaded the country in 2007. This loose end is one of many lingering uncertainties in the overall equation of Kismayo's post-Shabaab governance.

Days, weeks or months may pass before the city is truly cleared and, it should be noted, al-Shabaab has lost the port several times before. The latest reports have now cleared the city of militants, according to residents and a statement from al-Shabaab commander Sheikh Mohamed Abu-Fatma. He tells the AFP, "We got orders from our superiors to withdraw from the city... this is part of a broader military tactic we have set for the enemy."

Forfeiting the city will land another blow against the insurgency, especially when considering the relative organization of AMISOM's resources and political strategy, but al-Shabaab's nationalist core is more likely to reintegrate than disintegrate into Somalia's environment.

September 28, 2012

Al-Shabaab Division On The Horizon

A mound of speculation finally appears to have sprouted genuine truth. Following months of divisive rumors between al-Shabaab's nationalist and transnationalist factions, Hizbul Islam chief Hassan Aweys has officially removed his group from al-Shabaab's umbrella after previously merging in December 2010. Spokesman Mohamed Moallim issued the announcement to BBC Somali Service on Monday, explaining that Hizbul Islam "is no longer al-Shabaab's partner as there are political and ideological differences with the group."

Aweys's decision has been interpreted as a near-deathblow to al-Shabaab amid the loss of territory and fighters to the African Union's national offensive, but one can argue that Hizbul Islam never joined al-Shabaab in practice. Moallim specifically told the media that his group "joined forces by mouth only, and now we have decided to withdraw our support." The nationalistic Aweys made his first move under the simultaneous pressure of al-Shabaab and AMISOM assaults, essentially forced into survival mode until a new political strategy could be developed. Later reports indicated that al-Shabaab's transnationalist boss, Moktar Ali Zubeyr "Godane," had directly threatened Aweys with assassination if he didn't join the group. Aweys's opposition to Zubeyr's alliance with al-Qaeda resulted in continuous personal friction between over the last three years, and Zubeyr further insulted Aweys by denying him the position of spiritual leadership.

Political analyst Ali Omar Mohamed told Sabahi Online, "The two groups, al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, were already divided from the beginning because al-Shabaab did not appoint any of the Hizbul Islam leaders to senior positions after the merger and al-Shabaab has also not put them on equal footing."

Aweys now feels confident enough to drop his front as al-Shabaab weakens under a prolonged AMISOM campaign, and he may take some of the insurgency's leadership with him. Previous reports claimed that al-Shabaab's nationalist leadership - namely Sheikh Mukhtar Robow "Abu Mansur" and Fuad Mohamed Qalaf "Shangole" - were coordinating a name change with Aweys's faction. Now their plan is being reported in a simpler form; al-Shabaab's clan-based members will "re-brand" themselves as Hizbul Islam. Moallim clarified that his group is "open to negotiations with all groups for the interest of Somalia."

"Hizbul Islam would enter into negotiations with the Somali government with the ultimate outcome of a peace deal that would pave the way for Al Shabaab fighters to join and indeed infiltrate the national security forces, which have been trained over recent years with considerable Western funding and technical assistance, through the AMISOM mission in Mogadishu," says one source involved in the back-channel negotiations.

This plan is allegedly being facilitated by Qatari and Turkish diplomats against the expressed interests of Washington and the Ethiopian government. According to Garowe Online, the same group that helped raise Qatari funds for new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is advancing a political settlement with al-Shabaab's rank-and-file. Damul Jadid ("new blood" in Arabic) has positioned itself as a breakaway faction of Al Islah, Somalia's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and counts Mohamud and other leaders in his Hawiye clan as associates. Garowe describes Mohamud as operating independently from these Islamist groups while enjoying a wide circle of "friends" within their community.

Aweys has declared war on the new president but challenging his authority won't be easy; political negotiations are the likeliest course of action.

Al-Shabaab has yet to refute Hizbul Islam's decision in public, except for ambiguous Tweets declaring that the "Mujahideen remain united and indivisible." Whether its nationalist core had decided to ditch Zubeyr or merely rebrand itself for another cycle of warfare with the government remains to be seen.

September 27, 2012

Vintage Obama Whitewash At The UN

Although remixed around the patriotic beat of Ambassador Chris Stevens, President Barack Obama's latest foreign policy address provides no reason to edit a review of his Democratic nomination speech. Speaking to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama instead resorts to many of the fallacies and blatant lies that mark his overall foreign policy, especially his administration's duplicitous reaction to the Arab revolutions:
"It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what became known as the Arab Spring.  And since then, the world has been captivated by the transformation that’s taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change.

We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to the streets.

We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people.

We supported a transition of leadership in Yemen, because the interests of the people were no longer being served by a corrupt status quo.

We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant.

And as we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin."
The first claims involving Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen demonstrate, without need of further proof, that Obama entered the UN chamber with the intention of rewriting history rather than making it. Tunisia's events occurred so quickly that Washington never had a chance to fully react, but the administration hesitated from ditching a U.S.-Saudi ally in Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The administration was slightly more prepared when the first embers of revolution engulfed Egypt, resulting in an attempt to install the country's intelligence chief as Vice President. While the experiment predictably failed to prevent the collapse of Hosni Mubarak's regime, Washington's more viable contingency soon kicked in and supported the Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) until its dissolution in June 2012. 

During this time the SCAF waged a systemic harassment campaign against Egypt's revolution in order to disrupt their political organization and slander their credibility.

As for U.S. policy in Yemen, Washington had few problems with Ali Abdullah Saleh before the revolution started to threaten spheres of power. Despite his fair-weather friendship, the Obama administration decided that Saleh's corrupt regime needed to be fed if he was to cooperate against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In fact a drones base was approved prior to January 2011 and accelerated after the revolution broke out across the country (a billion dollar aid package was put on hold). Had none of these revolutions occurred, the U.S. government would have stuck behind the exploitive and repressive governments that counted themselves as allies of America. Obama naturally presents an alternative version of this reality.

"Now, let me be clear: Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not and will not seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad."

On February 21th, 2012, Washington and Riyadh watched the conclusion of their single-candidate referendum promote Saleh's compliant vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi. Obama recently "dropped by" Hadi's UN side-meeting with counterterrorism czar John Brennan to reinforce America's hegemony in Yemen.

The relationship between Libya and Syria forms the second half of U.S. policy - the half that explicitly desires total regime change. U.S. officials argue that these two warzones far exceed the response of those governments intwined with Western capitals, a truism that obstructs a debate over America's notion of "selective democracy." When paired with the governments that Washington has attempted to preserve, U.S. policy in Libya and Syria appears less concerned with freedom than hegemony. Russia's behavior in Syria is particularly influenced by Libya's events and the general belief that Washington is manipulating revolutionary outcomes in its favor.

"These are not simply American values or Western values - they are universal values," Obama tries to convince his audience. "And even as there will be huge challenges to come with a transition to democracy, I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world."

By frequently invoking Stevens' death as he counters an inflammatory film and its aftershocks, Obama spins the ambassador into another instrument of U.S. propaganda. Couched within his message of unity and tolerance is an unflinching counterrevolutionary message. Obama claims that, "the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab world that is moving towards democracy." This tension is a product of the status quo that Washington is still pushing on the Middle East. After promoting his own administration's counterrevolution and "diplomatically" targeting Iran's nuclear program, Obama ignores the island of Bahrain entirely and puts in a hallow word of support for the Palestinians (who were dropped in favor of Israel during his nomination speech).

"Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard, but the destination is clear -- a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine. (Applause.)  Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey."

Obama has spent the majority of his term ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and appeared to give up until his next potential term after George Mitchell resigned from his mediation role. Nor has he been dissuaded by Iraq's ongoing violence when declaring, "The war in Iraq is over. American troops have come home." Obama claims that "America and our allies will end our war in Afghanistan on schedule in 2014," seemingly ruling out the possibility of a long-term military presence. However the Taliban will continue fighting regardless of the presence of a residual force, meaning this war will also fail to end neatly in December 2014. Given that Obama is willing to lie about the end of war and Washington's involvement in democratic transitions, he's liable to distort the conditions in any area ofU.S. foreign policy.

"The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows. That is what Chris Stevens worked for throughout his life."

This isn't what recent history shows - only a history that is deep in the process of subjective revision.

September 23, 2012

Implications of Mali's Brutal Massacre

The chain reaction within a chain reaction began innocently at a bridge before descending into lawlessness. En route to a religious conference in Mali's capital of Bamako, a bus of Mauritanian preachers stopped at a military checkpoint on the night of September 8th. Mali soldiers would search the bus after becoming suspicious of a young bearded man, only to find common items in place of weapons and extremist paraphernalia. The soldiers then packed the men into a truck and took them to their camp in Diabaly, sprayed the vehicle with bullets, buried the bodies and launched a search for witnesses.

An investigative account of Mali's religious killings is as horrific as one can reasonably expect, if the imagination is forced to recreate the visceral experience of escaping a death camp for five days - only to be caught and detained again. That is the story of Mohamed, the lone surviver of Diabaly's cold-blooded massacre. Collapsing behind his friends' lifeless bodies and scaling a wall bought him five days of misery in the wild, and a weeks-long detention just ended after the Mauritanian government pressured for his release. A large section of the Associated Press's report is based on his testimony, underscoring how easily Diabaly's events could have disappeared into the night.

Mohamed's account, when pieced with information from other witnesses and government officials, reveals a common fear emanating from the capital. Already mired in the remnants of a coup and unable to organize a counterattack against non-state actors in the north, Mali's army is suffering from a lack of disciple, morale and civilian oversight. The accused soldiers themselves are suspected of acting under their own volition, however the government bears responsibility for several key errors that affect Mali's overall situation. In attempting to explain the soldiers' actions, a memo was leaked to provide evidence that they had been ordered to monitor visiting members of the Dawa Tablighi sect and "limit their entry into the country."

This appeal to discrimination will die a swift death with northern Muslims, gift-wrap propaganda for a network of Islamic militias and reinforce the mistrust of Mali's southern population all at once.

Rather than cooperate with the army, local police and gendarmes live in fear of doing their job and appear to receive limited support from the capital. Two gendarmes radioed in the situation to their superior and were ordered to send a policeman to follow the military convoy on his scooter. The massacre was committed as they argued their case in the commander's office, leading the senior gendarmerie commander to remark that soldiers regularly act without the consent of their superiors. All government witnesses in question spoke anonymously "out of fear for their safety."

This fear is justified by the Malian government's disregard for accountability and transparency; several civilian witnesses were lucky to escape the military's harassment. Still refusing to take full responsibility, the government has tried its best to bury as much of the story as possible. Its initial response denied that the preachers were peaceful and linked them to Islamic extremists. After Mauritania's outrage forced Bamako to recant, blame was laid onto a "lone soldier" to cover up a camp's worth of abuses. Even now the government continues to excuse its soldiers' behavior in public and manipulate the night of September 8th. Colonel Idrissa Traore, director of the military's public relations, admitted that the soldiers violated "command structure" before repeating the link between Dawa and Ansar Dine chief Iyad al Ghani.

He claims that the military held Mohamed for a week due to his "bad psychological state," a narrative that Mohamed rejects.

This general disarray partly explains the urgent concern of Western and African powers as they draft contingencies to retake Mali's northern territory. While the government has been tentatively assigned a military role in conjunction the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), foreign governments reluctantly accept the fact that Mali is incapable of fighting for and, more importantly, governing the north. The government's civilian and military command structure is too disrupted to pursue a successful counterinsurgency over a periodic years. These conditions (plus U.S. and European political factors) indicate that any type of foreign intervention is months away from deploying into a complex asymmetric environment.

September 22, 2012

Bahrain Monarchy Openly Defies the UN

Bahraini Foreign Minister Al-Khalifa convenes with Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant State Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Last Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations Human Rights Council opened its doors for a day of comedy and political theater. Among the orders of business at the UNHRC's 21st Session: a list of 176 recommendations to help Bahrain's monarchy "improve the treatment of political activists, offer fair trials and ensure religious freedom." Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa was on hand to play his part, gladly accepting the majority of recommendations as though he was being handed a trophy for model governance.

“Our actions, more than our words, should dispel any doubts regarding my government’s commitment to upholding human rights through the rule of law,” he said. “Let us follow the path of dialogue, not propaganda.”

Accordingly, Bahrainis shouldn't follow their Foreign Minister's trail of disinformation. In terms of strategy and tactics, however, one must give credit where credit is due. One of many pawns deployed by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's Foreign Minister would participate in a full-scale information attack simultaneously coordinated with and directed against the international community. The King led his own assault on the UNHRC's Universal Periodic Review (UPR), "hailing the approval of the Periodic Review Report as a landmark national achievement for Bahraini people and evidence reflecting the international community’s vote of confidence for the Kingdom’s reform steps and commitment to its international obligations." Numerous ministers (and ally Saudi Arabia) rallied behind him to exploit Bahrain's guinea pig status, lauding the country's commitment to human rights amid the open wound of a suppressive counterrevolution. Foreign Minister Al-Khalifa, for example, placed UNHRC Commissioner Navy Pillay in his pocket when "affirming Bahrain’s keenness on continuing the reform process."

Also entering the fray: the hawkish uncle of King Hamad and Prime Minister of 41 years, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

A leading critic of Bahrain's democratic uprising, the Premier, "described the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)'s approval of the kingdom's Universal Periodic Review report as an honorable international legal achievement and a new proof of the government's success in every field, especially regarding the protection of human rights and dignity, stressing that it is a positive and explicit response to the attempts to distort Bahrain's rich legal record."

Given these statements and the accumulation of repression since February 2011, Bahrain's monarchy is demonstrably committed to human rights - abuses. The regime's pushback against abolishment of the death penalty illustrates the absurd focus of its public defense. This amplified debate conveniently ignores the fact that fair trials and political freedom remain scarce commodities within Bahrain's opposition, especially when many opposition leaders and their supporters reside in prison cells. Weeks ago a Bahrain High Court struck down a group of activists' appeals and charged them with plotting an Iranian-sponsored coup. Only one defendant had the latter charge dropped; he was suspected of organizing "40 warships Iran was planning to send to Bahrain to support an attempted coup."

Meanwhile Nabeel Rajab, possibly the country's foremost democratic activist, has been jailed for three years (for instigating protests) and abused in prison as he awaits a hollow appeals process. Zainab Al-Khawaja joins her father, opposition leader Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, in prison after being arrested for staging a solitary protest in Manama. She has been jailed at least six times since February 2011 and physically beaten on more than one occasion. Since these efforts to decapitate the opposition's leadership have failed to stop the streets from mobilizing, the oppositional Al Wefaq has also been banned from holding large-scale protests in the capital and is now being threatened with a government lawsuit. Many of its ranking members, including Secretary-General Ali Salman, have already been assaulted on the streets and at their homes.

All those who protest against Hamad's rule continue to labor under a gassy, black-clad curtain of security repression. Maryam Al Khawaja, Zainab's sister and acting president of Rajab's Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), warned from the UNHRC's sidelines: "Use of excessive force is still a tool for suppressing daily protests, with unprecedented use of tear gas during protests and inside residential areas."

"The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) released their report on the 23rd of November, 2011 which was unwavering in its criticism of the regime’s conduct, and highlights the systematic torture, human rights violations, and a culture of impunity which characterized the government’s handling of the protests," reads the BCHR's latest account of human rights violations. "King Hamad vowed to address and correct these violations, but to date these promises have proven to be empty. Almost one year has passed since the publication of the BICI report, and the people of Bahrain have seen no progress, and no peace."

The inability of Bahrain's monarchy to join its words with actions forced a slightly sharper tone from Washington during Wednesday's session. Addressing the UNHCR on behalf of America was Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and de facto ambassador during Bahrain's uprising. Posner welcomed the government's initial steps to reform and pursue accountability before saying that "much more needs to be done," even criticizing police for overreacting to protesters and "using excessive force." This cycle drives peaceful and military resistance alike, and must be ended in order for Bahrain to stabilize.

"The government showed great courage last year in commissioning and accepting the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, implementation of which 13 states recommended during the review," Posner told the UNHRC. "Ten months after the release of the report, however, we are concerned that the government is losing momentum on implementation."

Yet Washington as a whole has no intention of altering relations with Bahrain, and Posner's own statement is riddled with disinformation. While "encouraged to see the diverse representation from Bahraini civil society," he probably didn't speak with Al-Khawaja or other activists in attendance; Al Wefaq reacted by calling Bahrain the "graveyard of human rights." Nor does Posner, who is accustomed to issuing double-sided statements in favor of the government, mention the imprisonment of Rajab, Zainab, her father or any other activist. In the short-term, the Obama administration continues to appeal for "an environment where the society can engage in a meaningful dialogue or negotiation over its political future." Problematically, the conditions for dialogue simply do not exist.

"We're going to need a little more time to convince the UK government that they actually need to do more about stopping the human rights violations," Maryam said after meeting with Britain's Foreign Office. "They believe in using the diplomatic methods, of putting pressure on the Bahraini government, but it's been obvious after one year and a half of continuing violations that the diplomatic method is not working so we have to start looking at what does work."

This warning is more applicable to Washington than London - except who will listen when she expresses personal support for King Hamad's trial?

Longer term, regional developments will continue to trump Bahrain's democratic actors until they can directly alter the island's political situation and demand more accountability from the U.S. Posner would add afterward, "A stable, democratic healthy Bahrain, one where human rights issues are dealt with appropriately, is a country that's going to be a strong ally and we need that." Translation: Washington needs Manama to placate the opposition's desire for equal representation without ceding political power. The U.S. "values the strong security relationship" with Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, "particularly in light of things going on in the Gulf now." It's no coincidence that King Hamad met with CENTCOM commander James Mattis following the UNHRC's session.

If anyone is fooled by these statements, the monarchy and its allies have pulled more wool over their own eyes than Bahrain's opposition.

September 19, 2012

Propaganda Battle For Kismayo Intensifies

The massive information battle for Somalia's southern port of Kismayo continues to blaze as new reports pour into local and global media.

Pressing forward on rumors that al-Shabaab's local commanders have fled the city, Somali General Ismail Sahareed told the BBC Somali Service, "In the last battles [on Saturday and Monday] we defeated al-Shabab's defense forces and they ran away and we are chasing their remnants." He was referring to the security sweeps between Biibi and Jana Cabdalla, located roughly 20 miles from Kismayo, where AMISOM remains locked in asymmetric warfare with al-Shabaab. The looming threat of this "final offensive" reportedly dislodged some of the insurgency's presence in Kismayo, spawning cautiously optimistic rhetoric from Somali and AU sources.

“We are very, very near Kismayu,” Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna told Reuters on Wednesday. "It is not a tarmac road that we are walking on. We have to be cautious, the way is littered with explosives. Nevertheless, it will happen. Kismayu will fall."

However Kenyan and other AMISOM forces have encountered relatively stiff resistance on their way to the port. Seeking to refute AMISOM and Mogadishu's account of battle, al-Shabaab spokesman Muhammad Usman Arus told the BBC that "around 100 Kenyan and Somali troops" had been killed on the way to Kismayo. He also denied existing reports of a withdrawal: "We are in Kismayo - this is a propaganda war." That much of his statement, at least, remains true for the moment. Judging the degree of this resistance is a riddle to AMISOM's strategic planners and civilian observers alike; al-Shabaab has vacated most of its cities over the last year under the banner of guerrilla warfare. In the near-term, though, insurgents are reportedly flooding back into the port just as quickly as they left.

While Kenyan forces have inflicted a greater human toll on al-Shabaab throughout their year-long campaign, the insurgency has yet to abandon Kismayo and appears to have decided on organizing a resistance. Local residents now speak of al-Shabaab technicals patrolling the streets, in coordination with hundreds of gunmen, as they stage a show of force for AMISOM and Somalia's government. According to several eyewitnesses, the insurgency "drafted in fighters from the nearby Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions," a triangle that marks al-Shabaab's territorial stronghold. Anti-aircraft guns have also been trucked into Kismayo under the alleged supervision of several "high-ranking" commanders, who may have "fled" in order to a conduct recruitment drive. 

Radio Andalus has returned to the airwaves after a two-day break.

Al-Shabaab's efforts to mobilize Kismayo's population on their side aren't as likely to pay off. Unlike Ethiopia's occupation, Kenyan troops have been welcomed by locals and operate with a greater sense of political awareness in backyard territory - factors that have kept Operation Linda Nchi from degenerating into a quagmire. Conversely, Kenya's shelling and aerial patrolling of Kismayo has disturbed its residents and Western financial backers, and the rising anticipation of battle could force an increase in Kenya's tempo. Witnesses in Kismayo's outlying villages claim that AMISOM troops are firing on "anything that moves in front of them."

AMISOM has already waited months to storm the city, thus patience must be exercised over visions of a swift and decisive victory. Protecting the city and its people is the surest path to lasting political, economic and social gains.

September 18, 2012

The Pre-Battle for Kismayo

Rumored for several days on Twitter and local media, dozens of news organizations are now proliferating local accounts of al-Shabaab's retreat from the Somali port of Kismayo. These reports, in the words of Kenyan army spokesman Col. Cyrus Oguna, hover between “partly true” and true. African Union and Somali troops are currently engaged in their "final military offensive on al-Shabaab's positions in the Kismayo corridor," with AMISOM'S main force prepared to advance from Birta-dher (24 miles west of Kismayo) at any moment.

Oguna wouldn't give reporters a "specific date for marching on Kismayo," only that "it will be soon and the assault will comprise of ground, air, and naval forces."

Due to these developments and the gradual encroachment of Kenya's air and naval forces, both civilians and al-Shabaab's officers have fled the city to other areas of southern Somalia. Eye-witnesses claim that al-Shabaab's younger recruits patrol Kismayo's streets under the distant guidance of leaders who are "fleeing toward various locations, some are going north, some are going into the forests." Commanders allegedly disappeared from their tea shops and took their radio transmitter with them. As a result, Oguna says that AMISOM is cautiously expecting minimal resistance from a leaderless force. al-Shabaab's overall leadership is also too divided to organize a spirited defense in the face of overwhelming numerical and technological forces. Snipers, boobytraps, and ambushes could mark the extent of a relatively short urban battle.

“We do not anticipate stiff resistance as we get into the city because the main commanders are leaving," Oguna told reporters. "We do not expect the junior forces to fight without their commanders.  So we expect minimal resistance as we get to Kismayo.”

For their part, al-Shabaab's Twitter feed denied all thoughts of retreat while a local commander told The Christian Science Monitor by telephone, “these are all fabrications that we are leaving.”

Whether or not al-Shabaab manages to hold out longer than expected, the battle for Kismayo's governance will exceed the military battle as local clan interests compete with regional influence (Kenya and Ethiopia). The inability to negotiate a quick resolution of Kismayo's authority would contributed to the delays in Kenya and AMISOM's schedule, and Somalia's new government must cooperate with or fend off external interests. As for al-Shabaab, Oguna theorizes that Kismayo's commanders are headed for Jilib, located across the Jubba river some 90 miles to the northeast. From here they will have to consult with the insurgency's leadership, which allegedly resides around Baraawe, and make a strategic decision on their future tactics and political position. The group can only operate freely in roughly 1/8th of the territory it possessed at the beginning of 2010 (a triangle between Jilib, Baardheere and Baraawe), nor should they attempt to earnestly hold the rest.

This situation is both similar to and diverging from Ethiopia's occupation between 2007 and 2009. al-Shabaab has far less credibility now than 2006, when it rallied a generation of jihadists around the promise of an Islamic state, or after Ethiopia's disastrous exit. The insurgency may not be able to recover in its present form, and a rebranding campaign and internal shuffle may precede a looser phase of guerrilla warfare. The most practical plan would likely attempt to exhaust AMISOM's financial and military capacities before Somalia's new government can restore national order.

Further observations of Kismayo's battle and its aftermath will be posted as more information becomes available.

September 17, 2012

Hezbollah's Nasrallah Sharpens Muslim Outrage

As government officials and international news organizations race to examine the plots of extremist splinters, reactions of involved governments and their relation to the U.S. Embassy protests, Washington finds itself confronting a parallel threat to the safety of its diplomatic assets. America's opponents have grown adept at capitalizing on anti-Muslim propaganda made by rightwing personalities, using the opportunity to challenge Washington's foreign policy and advance their own local interests. The friction generated by this dog-pile effect represents the holistic threat posed by inflammatory anti-Muslim films.

In Yemen, a large body of protesters rallied not to protest Nakoula Basseley Nakoula but Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, whose cooperation with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the new government has earned him widespread disapproval. They have every right and ample motivation to "take advantage of the situation." The Taliban slapped Nakoula's film onto their raid of Camp Bastion even though the assault was planned weeks (or longer) ahead of time, and intend to milk its propaganda for as long as possible. Now another bad nightmare has manifested in reality and jumped on the pile. Speaking to an estimated 500,000 Shia Lebanese on Monday, Hebzollah chief Hassan Nasrallah urged protesters to organize peaceful and sustained demonstrations against the film, the U.S. and Israel.

"The world should know that our anger is not a passing thing... This is the start of a serious campaign that must continue all over the Muslim world in defense of the prophet of God. As long as there's blood in us, we will not remain silent over insults against our prophet."

A credible voice in at least parts of the Arab world, including many anti-Western havens, Nasrallah's words could force the Obama administration into some form of direct response. Hezbollah's face and brains has conclusively lost Muslim support over the last five years, particularly in Egypt and Jordan, and risks a significant amount of popularity by standing behind Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Nasrallah would boldly call for more urgent action from the Arab League, a demand that provokes more ridicule than agreement. At the same time, Hezbollah is still viewed favorably in comparison to other Islamic militant groups and considered a legitimate resistance movement by millions of Arabs. While the group is suffering from a general trend against extremism, active social work and military restraint has kept the group from drifting into al-Qaeda territory.

Anti-Israeli opinion also remains a useful supplier of popularity.

Nasrallah's strategic mindset and flare for the dramatic further demonstrate why his charisma draws supporters from outside Shia Lebanon. Appearing in public for the first time since December 2011, an animated Nasrallah spent the majority of his 15 minutes painting lavish religious overtones and history lessons. He believes that the film is “more serious than burning Al-Aqsa Mosque," which was set aflame by Denis Michael Rohan in 1969 with the intention of spawning the return of Jesus Christ. Yet Nasrallah wisely appeals to peace rather than war, stressing peaceful rallies and unity with other religions in an apparent attempt to modernize Hezbollah's image.

“We should bear the historical responsibility of the whole Islamic Ummah (Nation) and of every honorable Christian believing in coexistence to work to issue an international resolution criminalizing the defamation of heavenly religions, and the prophets at least, especially Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad.“

In conjunction with his religious call to action, Nasrallah also sees an opportunity to lead the political counterattack against the U.S., Israeli and Arab governments - an offensive that has no central command. Holding Washington responsible for the film's availability, Nastallah called on the Obama administration to intervene and censor the film's release online. This unrealistic but seemingly reasonable demand casts Washington and allied Arab governments as accomplices to the film, “which offers another witness to its hypocrisy, deception and double standards in dealing with issues.”

"The ones who should be held accountable and boycotted are those who support and protect the producers, namely the U.S. administration," Nasrallah said. "We should not only express our anger at an American embassy here or there. We should tell our rulers in the Arab and Muslim world that it is 'your responsibility in the first place' and since you officially represent the governments and states of the Muslim world you should impose on the United States, Europe and the whole world that our prophet, our Quran and our holy places and honor of our Prophet be respected."

In effect, Nasrallah has designed an interdependent politico-religious narrative that, at times, neutralizes the religious in favor of the political. He would get nowhere by portraying the battle as Muslims versus Christians - especially in his own country - and instead posits another conflict between America, Israel and the Arab world. Announcing that, "Muslims released their anger on the U.S. and Israel, and not on Christians," highlights this shift from his perspective. He also dares to transfer blame onto Israel as a means of diffusing tensions with Christians: "Those who made the movie knew that the Muslims would be enraged by it, and attributed it to Christians to cause strife between Muslims and Christians. Israel wants to watch Muslims killing Christians and burning their Churches.”

Protests could wane over time as they tend to do; if not, Nasrallah might only play a limited role in mobilizing sustained demonstrations. Yet the Obama administration cannot afford to ignore the principle of his warning or underestimate his regional influence. Although Hezbollah's strongman will be unable to escape the title of propagandist and extremist, his speech currently represents the highest level of articulation from America's asymmetric opponents in the Middle East.

September 16, 2012

Prince Harry Fuels Taliban's Propaganda Superstorm

Last Monday the Taliban announced its latest assassination plot to the world via Twitter. Equal parts PSYOPS, info-warfare and military strategy, the Taliban's feed greeted Britain's Prince Harry with a death sentence in order to exploit a golden propaganda opportunity at Helmand Province's massive Camp Bastion. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid would also announce through Reuters, "We have informed our commanders in Helmand to do whatever they can to eliminate him," leaving NATO and British officials to respond with a mixture of concern and defiance (the two groups are now engaged in total Twitter warfare in addition to organized media).

UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond assured his country that Harry's second deployment was carefully planned and "the threat to all British troops is continually assessed and all measures taken to mitigate it."

Considering the Prince's maximum security level on the ground, he's likely to mimic the fortune of his first trip to Afghanistan and make it out alive. He could even see limited flight time in his Apache if the Taliban score a near-miss, and NATO guards will be looking for the slightest abnormal behavior from all Afghans. However London doesn't need to be told that it can't sleep for a moment. Taliban strategists are too cunning and resourceful to safely rule out the possibility of Prince Harry's assassination, while Afghanistan's government remains penetrated to a high level. Its leadership should be taken at their word when ordering an APB on a "high value target," language intended to mock the CIA and Mi-5. Since Taliban commanders and foot soldiers must continue to await the later stages of NATO's withdrawal, especially from the southeastern heartland, they now have nothing better to do than scheme against a Prince.

A reward is likely being offered to the victor.

The Taliban repeatedly demonstrate the ability to conduct precision operations on well-defended targets, and wasted no time delivering the opening salvo of the "Harry Operations." Camouflaged in U.S. military uniforms, 19 attackers cut into the perimeter fencing of Camp Bastion and stormed the base with small arms. Most gunmen and suicide bombers were killed after inflicting a substantial amount of damage for a small guerrilla attack - including two U.S. Marine casualties - but Harry was reportedly stationed a mile away from the targeted area. Nevertheless, the Taliban got everything that they came for except the Prince himself.

The Associated Press remarks, "It was unclear what the insurgents hoped to accomplish in attacking Camp Bastion, one of the largest and most heavily defended military facilities in Afghanistan." In fact most reasons are evident, and only unclear due to the combination of factors at work. The Taliban has cooked up a propaganda firestorm to build momentum heading into 2013, adding every ingredient it can find to attract followers and dissuade NATO populaces from supporting the war. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, informed the press: "We attacked that base because Prince Harry was also on it and so they can know our anger.”

”Thousands more suicide attackers are ready to give up their lives for the sake of the Prophet."

Beyond the easy score of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula's inflammatory film, the Taliban is attempting to stir up trouble within America's foremost NATO ally. London would conceivably respond to Harry's assassination by appealing to national unity and refuse to make any changes to its plans, but Britain's domestic reaction is the only possible means of accelerating the country's withdrawal. The Taliban hasn't threatened to attack English soil and Harry's death is unlikely to galvanize the public into renewing their commitment. Judging from the thousands upon thousands of comments flooding UK media, and a recent poll from Transatlantic Trends, a majority believe that he and every other British soldier should no longer be patrolling Afghanistan.

The Taliban is targeting British voters, pollsters and decision-makers more than soldiers;  London is critical to maintaining what's left of NATO's alliance until 2015. Were Britain to pull out early for any reason, such as reoccurring "Green on Blue" attacks, the rest of Europe's alliance could start to slip and threaten to isolate America as the war lurches onward. Germany's disproval polled an 81%.

Attacking the seemingly "impregnable" Camp Bastion also demonstrates resolve and intelligence to their own followers and potential recruits. British sources told The Sunday Telegraph that the Taliban initiated their attack after posing as farmers in a nearby maize plantation, before switching to U.S. uniforms. This tactic supposedly allowed them to evade the bases advanced detention system, which scans everything within 20 miles. NATO also suspects that the Taliban received inside information from a member of the Afghan National Army or a one of the several thousand “locally employed civilians." The overall scope of this mission remains minor in comparison to the war, yet The Sunday Telegraph reported "shocked senior officers" in its aftermath.

“This was a determined attack which achieve its aim of getting global press coverage," said one senior Army officer. "They are masters of propaganda. But they are deluded if they really think they can storm Camp Bastion and kill or seriously injured Prince Harry. The attack was never going to succeed but in reality that was never really its aim.”

September 15, 2012

Obama's Hope Is the Middle East's Lesser Evil

In the days following President Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention, administration officials and U.S. media seesawed over a post-convention "bump" that reportedly elevated his values above Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Numerous polls, including a recent Fox News survey, have marked down a widening gap across the board: education (+14), Medicare (+11), terrorism (+8 points) and foreign policy, where Obama rated 15 points higher than Romney. Many Americans and the Middle East's populaces do share something in common after all.

They are stuck with the Obama administration's foreign policy by default.

Judging from the overall actions of his first term, Obama himself received no bump in the Middle East after delivering a one-sided and misleading acceptance speech in Charlotte, North Carolina. Four years removed from promising a new era of engagement between the U.S. government and Muslim world, both sides refuse to stray far from the negative perceptions that have accumulated over decades of war, intervention, exploitation and continual strife. Obama isn't personally responsible for this status quo, only for over-promising and under-delivering in order to cast a favorable political glow upon himself. Stagecraft would trump statecraft as the U.S. economy came first and now U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf's sphere of influence is, as Romney warns, lacking "American leadership." Unfortunately his proposals are both vaguer than Obama's and more hostile to the region's stability, and his circle is staffed by pollsters that apparently aren't "going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."

"The worst part of this election is there are so many valid grounds to criticize Obama," The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald Tweeted the day after Obama's speech, "and the Right voices almost none of them."

Shades of War

Although Romney's policies in the Arab world are masked by ambiguity, scarecrows, red herrings and other distractions, his potential administration runs on traditional GOP diesel and factors into account a widespread anti-Muslim trend in the mainstream Republican party. Blaming Obama for "diminishing American leadership" is standard fare, and a valid point in the Middle East if not for his own hawkish and insensitive tendencies. Inside his October 2011 white paper, titled "American Century Strategy: secure America's enduring interests and values," Romney meets Obama at numerous points of mutual interest while exposing the toxicity brewing beneath his sweet rhetoric. His circle of GOP veterans believes that the "unfinished" project for an "American Century" is something to be completed, and the Arab revolutions something to be manipulated under the banner of democracy.

"To protect our enduring national interests and to promote our ideals, a Romney administration will pursue a strategy of supporting groups and governments across the Middle East to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and opposing any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence. The Romney administration will strive to ensure that the Arab Spring is not followed by an Arab winter."

In a "dangerous, destructive, chaotic" world, Romney plans to "lead the free world" as the "free world leads the entire world." This policy includes joining Israel's crusade against Iran's nuclear sites, a potential war that an estimated 60-70% of Americans disapprove of, as a means of projecting America's strength. Obama, on the other hand, has fashioned himself into an arbitrator of war and peace, wielding a Nobel in one fist and Osama bin Laden's head in the other. The race for bin Laden offered a trophy to the winning administration and Obama will personally reap the benefits as long as he lives. The glorified kill, along with the advance in drone warfare and strategic rise in U.S. Special Forces, also allows him to continue his foreign policy of "less force" with minimal domestic resistance.

Obama's case for non-military action against Iran, withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, and promising to "disrupt terror plots wherever they form" became more convincing after May 2nd, 2011. Well-meaning critics of America's newest version of war find difficulty in attacking a policy that costs less American lives and taxpayer dollars.

War Obama still brings, though, and leaves unfinished. The President has grown fond of bragging that he "ended the war in Iraq," and refuses to unspin Romney's own policy because ongoing Iraqi casualties make for dangerous political ground. Romney claims that "a democratic Iraq allied to the United States is within our reach," but Obama is "threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory." After promising to use a "broad array of foreign policy tools - diplomatic, economic, military," Romney then zeroes on Obama's "failure" to install a residual military force and ignores the political void that the administration has encouraged by supporting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He fails to understand (at least in public) that Washington's problems in Iraq stem from political inequalities, not military shortages. Prolonging the deployment of U.S. troops would give the divisive al-Maliki more leverage over his opponents, not less, while an extension could generate as many security problems as it solves.

Obama, Romney and Tehran have all ended up in al-Maliki's leaky boat, a circumstance that neither candidate likes to talk about.

The incumbent and challenger find similar common ground in Afghanistan, where Romney seems to agree with the bulk of Obama's strategy despite their public feuding. He may keep a lower profile for this reason: Romney's white paper approves of the 2014 transition to Afghan security forces, demands greater accountability from Afghanistan and Pakistan's governments, and expects a residual force to be discussed in the future. The Obama administration also hopes to maintain a long-term security presence after 2014, contrary to his DNC announcement that "in 2014, our longest war will be over."

Nor does the absence of U.S. troops end an asymmetric war. Here the candidates share something else in common, because Romney opposes negotiating with the Taliban and plans to "rid" the group from Afghanistan - and extend the war in this unrealistic quest. He's also more likely to send ground troops across Pakistan's border in search of the elusive Haqqani network, another move that is liable to prolong the conflict.

At a wider strategic level, Romney would surely get the hang of drone warfare as fast as Obama.

A Pattern of Division and Unity

The greatest regional divergence between candidates centers around U.S. policy towards Israel and Iran, where Romney believes he can score fast points by portraying himself as the anti-Obama. For his part Obama has tread cautiously around Tehran at the direction of America's military leadership and public resistance to a "big" war in the Gulf, awaiting the final results of global isolation. Romney concedes the need for economic and diplomatic isolation before clarifying that a real threat of war offers the only possibility of defusing Iran's nuclear ambitions, a plan that includes "repairing relations with Israel." Unlike Obama, he would "never refuse a meeting" with Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu (a story that the White House denies), reject Israel's insistence on a "red-line" for stopping Iran's enrichment program, or throw Israel "under the bus."

Casting Obama as "pro-Palestinian" reinforces the twisted state of U.S. policy under either candidate. In reality he has abandoned the Palestinians to Israel's terms for a two-state solution - requesting a settlement pause distorted this policy in America and Israel alike - and spent far more energy confronting the Iranians. Upon taking office, Obama announced that he would break ranks from the Bush administration's 11th-hour drive for peace and pursue an equitable two-state solution "from day one." Sadly he has fallen into the same trap of bias and inaction, even excluding the Palestinians from his second acceptance speech, which harms Israelis in the process. If peace is harder to make than war, it stands to reason that greater energy must be applied.

Romney claims that Iran, not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, serves as the region's central issue, and Tehran's external policies do run on a variety of unrelated interests. Yet one cannot help observing that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never known a world with a sovereign Palestinian state.

Aside from this divide Romney finds a good amount of common ground in the region, and Washington's transition-oriented counterrevolution to the Arab revolutions is no exception. Obama's absence on the Palestinian sideline has done its own local damage, but this conflict falls into an established struggle between the modern world's haves and have-nots. Romney is right one on account: Obama has failed to deliver the leadership that he promised in the Middle East. However the GOP's new face would offer no respite from Obama's pseudo friendship with the Palestinians and other democratic actors. In Egypt, Romney has consistently and falsely accused the administration of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, finding no fault in supporting the authoritarian Supreme Council of Arms Forces (SCAF) or thwarting Egypt's popular revolutionary forces.

Obama recently countered this charge by urging the Brotherhood to maintain Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

Elsewhere in Yemen, Obama has deployed his trusted counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as his lord of war and, on important occasions, as Washington's senior "diplomat" in the country. Both he and Ambassador Gerald Feierstein are extremely unpopular figures due to the administration's handling of an ongoing revolution, and Feierstein is currently being denounced at the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a. Romney would surely appreciate the same luxuries afforded by drones, Special Forces, CIA agents and a dominate geopolitical relationship with Saudi Arabia, and thus operate no differently in Yemen. Bahrain's policy would also experience a smooth transition between Obama and Romney's administrations, just not the Bahraini protesters who labor under state-sponsored oppression. Counterrevolutionary actions in select states have reinforced a hypocritical pall over U.S. foreign policy in the region, especially Libya's mission and Syria's intervention, but neither acknowledges this burden.

Instead, Romney accuses Obama of encouraging an "Islamic winter" while portraying himself as tougher on Iran and Islamists. He presumably sees nothing wrong with supporting authoritarian governments, opposing Islamic political groups or aiding an Israeli military operation in the name of America's "enduring interests," even if this policy damages them. Before becoming trapped in another battle over apologies, Obama enjoyed his time in Charlotte by ripping Romney for "taking us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly."

Marooned On Hope Island

Given his own statements and positions, Romney is clearly incapable of fostering lasting stability and peace in the Gulf region. Improving the trajectory of U.S. policy in the Middle East requires the type of personality that Obama promised and never delivered, making his disappointment historically significant. Poll after poll concludes that he fell into an enormous trust gap left by previous administrations. Too many Muslims still perceive America as a unilateralist actor in the region - whether cooperating with its allies or not  - and an outright threat to their national interests. 

Accordingly, Obama's popularity remains anchored near Bush's in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories and other areas entangled in U.S. foreign policy.

The dilemma of lesser evil may be an inherent problem of democracy, but rating America's presidential candidates cannot be jaded by the previous failures of George W. Bush's administration and past presidents. Finding a truly excellent candidate, rather than once again settling for the lesser of two negatives, is an ideal worth pursuing throughout history. As for the diverse peoples of the Middle East, nothing has changed since Obama entered the Oval Office: they must free themselves of foreign interference on the way to determining their future.

September 13, 2012

The Lethal Bureaucrat: Who is John Brennan?

Micah Zenko, writing for Foreign Policy, raises an equally important question: who courted who?
No politically appointed official in U.S. history has played such a prominent role in killing so many people outside of a war zone as John Brennan. He has been a "close advisor" to President Barack Obama since November 2008, was a Team Lead for the president-elect's review of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), and has served as homeland security advisor and deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism, with the rank of assistant to the president, since the first day Obama entered office. Brennan does not merely fill a White House position, but also meets with the president several times a day and -- according to administration officials -- serves as "a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Obama."
Brennan plays the essential role in shaping and implementing  Obama's vision for protecting the United States, its allies, and its interests from politically motivated violence. The predominant counterterrorism tool under Obama has been targeted killings in non-battlefield settings, and Brennan reportedly oversees and manages the 100-person inter-agency process that nominates and vets suspected militants and terrorists for the United States' various kill lists -- implemented by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command. Obama's has been a "lethal presidency," and  Brennan is the Lethal Bureaucrat. Despite his close relationship to Obama and preeminent duty in coordinating the kill lists, he flies largely under the mainstream media's radar.

First, it is important to understand the scope of what Obama has authorized in comparison with his predecessor. Since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been an estimated 393 targeted killings -- in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and the Philippines. (President George W. Bush also authorized an October 2008 raid six miles inside Syria to kill Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi-born senior operative of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as several of his bodyguards and several civilians.) Under Bush, there were roughly 50 targeted killings; under Obama there have been 343 in less than half the time -- 95 percent of them by Predator or Reaper drones. At least 2,000 people have been killed by U.S. targeted killings since Obama entered office.

Brennan is especially well-suited for his position at the intersection of lethal covert operations and bureaucratic management. He spent a quarter-century in the IC, serving in wide-range of distinguished roles, including as Middle East chief of station, daily intelligence briefer for President Bill Clinton, and -- from 1999 through 2005 -- chief of staff to CIA Director George Tenet, deputy executive director of the CIA, and head of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, later named the National Counterterrorism Center. It was during these years that Bush authorized the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques (i.e., torture) by its agents, and transferred hundreds of people into the extraordinary rendition program where many were tortured by foreign intelligence agencies.

In 2005, Brennan retired -- as he claimed -- "to lead and shape the future direction of The Analysis Corp (TAC)," an intelligence consulting firm where he was president and CEO. While running TAC, according to a corporate press release: "Brennan leveraged his knowledge of intelligence matters and his expertise on terrorism and security issues to guide the company's rapid corporate growth and innovative business strategy." During this time Brennan also appeared on TV to discuss the Bush administration's controversial counterterrorism policies. In 2005, on PBS' Newshour he described extraordinary rendition as "an absolutely vital tool," which "without a doubt has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives." In 2007, he told CBS News that waterboarding was "the classic definition of torture," which is "inconsistent with American values and it's something that should be prohibited."

In 2007, Brennan also became a foreign-policy adviser to the Obama presidential campaign, though he never met Obama until the president-elect summoned him to Chicago just after the election in November 2008. Upon meeting, as Daniel Klaidman writes: "Their views were so complementary that Obama found himself finishing Brennan's sentences." In this campaign role, Brennan gave interviews to tout Obama's IC priorities, noting that Obama believed that covert action "cannot be done by a single branch of government," with oversight by both Congress and the courts a must for such activities. Brennan's rumored nomination to become CIA Director was resisted by progressives and psychologists, who sought a clean break from Bush's global war on terror approach. Brennan withdrew from consideration for the position in a Nov. 25, 2008, letter to Obama, complaining that, "The fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored."

September 11, 2012

CNN's Tireless Propaganda Machine

A brief blog by a powerful media personality, employed by one of the world's largest news corporations, on 9/11, offers an simple example of information warfare in the modern world.

In a post titled "Al-Qaeda diminished, but not gone," Fareed Zakaria claims that the network began its downward trajectory soon after America and its allies' organized a global reaction, and now functions as a "shadow of its former self." The overall conclusion is reasonably argued: a combination of government actions and social factors depleted al-Qaeda's core of trained jihadists and stained its ideology. The Arab revolutions in particular have undercut al-Qaeda's "defense" of the Muslim Umma and further alienated the group from the Arab world's marginalized populations.

However the presence of overt propaganda reveals a wider agenda at work, one that thrives on Zakaria's personality and CNN's information warfare. None of his questionable statements can be conclusively proven or disproven, making them ideal fodder for propaganda. Although al-Qaeda's brand appears to be diminishing over time, an alternative scenario can be plausibly reasoned between the extremes of triumph and defeat. Al-Qaeda is no longer its former self, not just a shadow, and its branched structure has diversified in the decade after 9/11. Some states have been lost while others have been gained. Osama bin Laden never managed to bring down the American economy (his strategy only enriched the powerful) or secure an Islamic caliphate of his own, but northern Mali is starting to resemble his vision.

al-Qaeda is still fighting in Iraq and infecting Syria in the process.

As for U.S. policy in the Gulf, its Saudi-coordinated counterrevolution is feeding al-Qaeda's ideology rather than starving it; genuine support for self-determination in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria would have dealt a more severe blow. Instead the Obama administration plans to destroy the group by facilitating a pro-US government in Yemen, creating an impression that will nourish AQAP through the government's U.S.-supported campaign. The Obama administration is also sluggish to respond to Libya's aftermath, which is partly responsible for Mali's situation, and bases its policy in the Sahel on the support of an totalitarian Algerian government.

The Trench is simply pointing out the difficulty of judging al-Qaeda's long-term objectives and lifespan. Zakaria does clarify that "these signs of life from al-Qaeda do not change the central reality of its diminished potency," only to concede "the danger of al-Qaeda was always about more than scattered violence in far off places across the globe."

Another questionable statement is admittedly subject to opinion, but a prime example of Washington's insular connectivity. Having concluded that al-Qaeda poses less of a threat to America's national security than ever before, he speculates "that there may now be a danger of complacency." No such complacency appears to exist, though, as U.S. drones and commandos hunt al-Qaeda behind a tuned chorus of political rhetoric. Zakaria then cites former CIA analyst and current Obama adviser Bruce Riedel as his "serious expert" when acknowledging the above observations: "al-Qaeda has been able to reconstitute itself in places like Yemen, Somalia, and even Mali. The Pakistani connection remains strong. And the growing chaos in Syria has presented the group with an opportunity to make inroads there as well."

Riedel is one the administration's louder al-Qaeda watch dogs, providing shallow commentary on Mali for The National Interest and supporting Washington's counterrevolution in Yemen. One insider appealing to another turns the gears of propaganda.

A final discrepancy, however, centers on a factual lie. With Yemen, Mali and other "worrying signs" in mind, Zakaria "naturally hopes that the U.S. government is battling al-Qaeda wherever it can." He sees hope in reports "that the second-in-command of al-Qaeda in Yemen was killed by government forces," when a U.S. drone strike is the more likely culprit. This information has yet to be verified but Zakaria makes no attempt to examine the situation, nor does he refer to the previous strike in Yemen that killed 14 civilians. al-Qaeda cannot be defeated so long as it trades injustices with America.

The aura of 9/11 isn't needed to cover these propaganda tracks from the majority of Americans. Any day will do.