2013/04/26

Nikita: Black Badge


Hmm, very interesting. A few intriguing similarities to the movie “Fair Game,” a movie I've referenced a few times, with the episode “Black Badge,” from the TV series Nikita. The show introduces an athletic, in-shape CIA agent with long blond hair who goes by the name of Naomi. Naomi Watts played an athletic, in-shape CIA agent with long blond hair, Valerie Plame Wilson, in “Fair Game.” Naomi Ceaver (Played by Amanda Schull) is a conspiracy theorist who can't quite locate the proof necessary to prove her cases in a satisfactory manner. Wilson's husband uncovered a dastardly plot by President G.W. Bush to blame Iraq for something it didn't do and the Wilsons were never able to follow up his whistle-blowing to get to the proper conclusion.

2013/04/23

Astonishing Chechnya

Guest post by Deena Stryker.

RT is airing an incredible documentary on the Republic of Chechnya, known to the outside world for having been practically destroyed by repeated separatist wars with Russia.

According to Wikipedia, the Caucasus mini-state  is returning to sharia law and all its accoutrements, with some resistance to Russian rule still remaining in the mountains.

The RT documentary  presents a very different picture which does not necessarily contradict this information. It describes a Muslim society deter-mined to appear ‘modern’.  With the help of Qatar, which is the most visible of the Gulf monarchies (think Al-Jazeera), the capital Grozny, has been rebuilt to resemble Doha, with illuminated skyscrapers, shopping malls, fancy restaurants, glitzy spectacles and fireworks – Putin’s version of war benefitting construction investments. But the skaking rinks are sexually segregated.

A new fashion industry is dedicated to luxury wear for the head-scarfed woman and eager to attract wealthy clients from other Muslim countries with strict female dress codes. The models parading gracefully down the catwalk will soon marry, after which they will be expected to remain at home, according to Islamic custom.  Unmarried women cannot travel abroad.

If this all sounds terrible, note that the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the Caucasus is Sufism, which is accompanied by much rhythmic singing and dancing.

However some families are still sending their sons to madrassas where they are taught the Koran, wrestling and boxing (sports in which it is prohibited to attach the adversary’s head under Islamic law), and Dubai made an exception by sending some of the Prophets personal items to the Russian Islamic republic that boasts the world’s largest mosque.

Putting these pieces together, what emerges is a picture entirely in keeping with what I described in a previous blog as Putin’s cultural policy.  (“March 18th: …the Russian leader appears to also hanker after an era when ‘fun’ was ‘clean’ and families were intact.  The Pussy Riot trial is less a defense of religion than the belief that all freedoms have limits, in contradiction to Washing-ton’s unqualified commitment to the First Amendment.”)

Putin’s cultural policy as practiced in the Russian Republic of Chechnya seems intended to assure Muslim populations that a) their religion is entirely respectful; b) while practicing it they can be part of the modern world; and c) that ‘clean’ modernity is better than vulgar modernity.

In centuries past, Chechen Sufi leaders were already dreaming of a vast califate. With the Kremlin’s help, their modern descendants are busy creating a ‘modern’ Islamic society. Putin is shrewdly betting that if the larger mainly Islamic states on its periphery (the ‘Stans’) bring ‘modernity’ to their masses, they will be less of a threat than if they maintain them in a feudal time warp. It will be interesting to see whether the young women of Chechnya and other Islamic societies will long be willing to sacrifice their independence for the sake of Western glitz.  In any case if Putin’s policies can displace dour Wahab-bism from Saudi Arabia, that will be a good thing.

2013/04/17

Gun bill “fails” with 54 in favor and 46 against


There are two methods of fixing the Senate rules, there's the “Constitutional Option,” where the rules are changed at the beginning of the two-year session and then there's the “Nuclear Option,” where the rules are changed mid-session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), opted for a really mild, watered-down Constitutional Option this last January in order to deal with the filibuster (Note: the filibuster is not in the Constitution and the first filibuster didn't occur until 1837). We saw today with a vote on an already weakened and watered-down gun safety bill that the Constitutional Option produced an insufficient safeguard against an out-of-control overuse of the filibuster, where a minority of the Senate opposes a measure supported by around 90% of the American people.
Wonkette replies to a disgruntled conservative with a scathing, NSFW (Not Safe For Work) commentary (The conservative whined and moaned about former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords “bullying” people), which expresses my mood about Harry Reid and the filibuster quite well.

Update: Excellent reaction by President Obama. Hear! Hear!

2013/04/16

The CIA “Hollowed Out”


Bill Keller writes about the CIA and covert ops people versus intel people and the following passage jumped out at me:

"The C.I.A., having been hollowed out in the ’90s after the end of the cold war, failed to see the signs of what would be 9/11. Then the C.I.A. got the ostensible Iraqi weapons threat terribly wrong, drowning out more skeptical voices..."

There are three charges here: 1. That Bill Clinton permitted the CIA to be so underfunded and understaffed that it couldn't do its job while under George W. Bush, 2. that the CIA missed the signs that 9/11 was about to occur and 3. that the CIA thought there were WMD in Iraq when there weren't. The first charge is proven or disproven by the second and third charges. If those other two charges stand up, then we may presume that the first charge is true and vice-versa, if the two charges are not true, then the first is not true, either.

So how do the two charges stack up against the evidence? Not very well. Ron Suskind relates in his book “The One Percent Doctrine” that “Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: 'All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.'” And from The National Interest:

Kurt Eichenwald, former New York Times reporter and Vanity Fair contributing editor...”the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.”

As to the third charge, that the CIA failed to see that there were no WMD in Iraq, the movie “Fair Game” tells the story of Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson, drawing heavily on the book by Valerie Wilson and shows that, yes indeed, the CIA did do its assigned job by presenting the President with all of the information that was available to them and that, in fact, there was significant doubt that Iraq had WMDs. The CIA and their buddies across the pond, MI6, were both informed that Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, who was Iraq's head of intelligence, told them that Iraq had no WMD. Naji Sabri, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, is also said to have claimed this, although Sabri has denied saying so.

Now these claims of Bill Keller's really bother me as Keller joined the NY Times in 1984 and was the Executive Editor from 2003 to 2011, so this is no amateur, wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-outta-J-school, eager beaver cub reporter. This guy's been around and knows full well what he's saying.

To be fair, there were indeed people in both MI6 and the CIA who credited claims of WMD “even after they were exposed as fabricated including claims, notably about alleged mobile biological warfare containers, made by Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, a German source codenamed Curveball,” so it's incorrect to say that the CIA was united in casting doubt upon the Bush Administration's justifications for going to war, but there's certainly no justification for claiming that the CIA as an agency failed either before 9/11 or before the Iraq War.

By the way, neither former President George W. Bush nor former Vice President Dick Cheney have any regrets or second thoughts about having plunged the nation into an unnecessary war.

[Bush] reflected on the “realities of the situation 10 years ago”: that the Iraq invasion had bipartisan support and that seeking regime change in Iraq had also been the policy under Clinton.
“It’s easy to forget what life was like when the decision was made,” Bush said.
Yes, the invasion had bipartisan support, but that was because Bush was manipulating the intel. And as I pointed out here, Clinton did indeed send Madelaine Albright to get a read on how motivated Americans were to fight a war against Iraq, but found that there simply wasn't anywhere near enough enthusiasm to even attempt to launch such a war.

As to Cheney, his old company Halliburton made $39.5 billion from the war, so he obviously has no regrets.

As to Keller's larger thesis, that the “cowboys” of the CIA were an undue influence on the “eggheads” (i.e., that the covert ops people had too much influence on the gathering-of-intel people), I doubt that. I read a few books on the CIA during the 1980s and got the impression that, despite the CIA being a single agency with a single Director, that the intel and ops people perform different tasks in different places and don't interact much.

2013/04/13

Oz, the Great and Powerful


Saw the original 1939 Wizard of Oz many times as a youth as an annual event on TV. In the early 1990s, I read a really neat piece in the paper (Believe it was the Washington Post) about Glinda the Good Witch being the manipulative mastermind behind the events in Oz. Consider the ending. At the end, Glinda's rivals, the two evil witches and the Wizard, have all been dispatched or have left town due to that young woman who has that elusive x-factor, good luck combined with youthful initiative. Glinda is the “Last magician standing,” so she makes the Scarecrow into her Prime Minister, gives positions to the Tin Man and Lion and then proceeds to rule Oz as a benevolent monarch, with of course an iron fist, with her devious, manipulative cleverness being hidden behind a deceptively nice, well-mannered exterior.
Read the book “Wicked” a few years later. Pretty good, but the author clearly got all sentimental about his character halfway through and Elphaba (His name for the Wicked Witch of the West) ends up being just misunderstood as opposed to really evil.
Saw the original film during a cruise in 2002. Really cool to see it all in one sitting and without interruption so that I was able to fit it all together in my mind.
So saw “Oz, the Great and Powerful” last night. I explained to a store clerk that the story takes place before the 1939 film, so it's a prequel as opposed to a sequel. It introduces all three witches, Evanora, the one who dies very early on in the 1939 film (Played by the only actor in the 2013 film that I recognized, Rachel Weisz), Elphaba and Glinda. Elphaba again has a rationality behind her actions that makes her more misunderstood than evil and Glinda and the Wizard both have a bit of a harder edge than in the original film. There's a bit of Mark Twain's “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court” to the film as the Wizard has to make do with what he has and must battle a truly evil army of trained warriors and flying monkeys with farmers and shopkeepers.

2013/04/01

AQ & AQI

Excellent piece from FireDogLake on a WaPo columnist who makes several serious errors in history right off the bat. Jackson Diehl claims that the "United States faced down al-Qaeda and eventually dealt it a decisive defeat” Uh, no, it didn't Al Qaeda proper (AQ) was not al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI started as a separate organization under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who populated it with members of his old group and with jihadists who started migrating to Iraq in mid-2003 to join the fight against the American invaders of that country. Right-wingers in the US claimed that the US was following the "Flypaper" strategy, the idea of attracting jihadists from all over the Mideast and then successfully killing them in Iraq.


Problem was, most of the jihadists who went to Iraq would most likely have just remained in their home countries and most probably would not have done much of anything had the US not presented them with such an inviting target. There was simply never any evidence that anybody, neither already-active jihadists, nor members of AQ proper, were drawn into the "flypaper." Did AQ suffer any sort of defeat in Iraq? No, because AQ stayed out of Iraq. Sure, okay, AQI was defeated, but had the Iraq War never occurred, AQI would never have existed to begin with.

Diehl mentions that the Balkans under Clinton and Libya under Obama were successful interventions. True, but in both cases, there was a strong consensus as to the need for action and the US had many allies going in. Neither condition exists in Syria today, so I would be very considerably warier than Diehl is about going into Syria.