Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Lucid Lang: Al Qaeda

English is often hi-jacked. The language is manipulated, overlooked — and frankly — ignored. That’s why there’s a need for Lucid Lang, a skeptical look at how propaganda, politicians and profiteers exploit the language to fit meet their needs. This is the start of the Tank’s periodic attempts to keep lang somewhat lucid.

In a Sesame Street-like tone: Today’s words are “Al Qaeda” or “Al Qaida”

The words means “training base” in Arabic. The words are used to describe the U.S. enemy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and now Yemen. The words are used loosely as an umbrella for these different organizations that are not centrally directed.

If these organizations are all called “Al Qaeda” they could be construed into a guilt-by-association conclusion. The enemy in Yemen is different than the enemy in Afghanistan. And their actions should be dealt with individually because, if all are pooled together, the perceived threat could be exacerbated.

Sure, there are genuine ties to be made, but they must be addressed judiciously.

Take Yemen for example. The attempted Christmas Day airline bomber originated in Yemen, the same site of the U.S. Cole bombing in 2000. The Cole bombing killed 17 sailors and wounded 39 others, and the 9/11 Commission Report said the bombing was “supervised directly by Bin Laden.”

But Ali H. Soufan, a former special FBI agent who oversaw the attempt to prosecute those responsible for the Cole bombing, doesn’t believe the threat of an estimated 200 outlaws is worth the time of U.S. soldiers. The issue should be addressed by Yemen, Soufan wrote in Sunday’s New York Times.

The larger issue isn’t the network of “Al Qaeda,” but the proper prosecution of individual suspects once they are arrested in varying countries. Some of the leadership of the outlaw cell in Yemen was released from Guantanamo Bay after detention, while others weren’t properly prosecuted in Yemen for the Cole bombing.

Before associating all the “terrorist” cells into one, consider that they are more individual factions, not a global network. They should be watched closely and assessed on their independent tenets. 

The Tank is far from an intelligence expert, but we believe it’s a delicate balance between two things: 1. Al Qaeda using a centralized goal of global jihad and a decentralized attack and 2. simply using jihad under the label of “al Qaeda.”

Please read “Al Qaeda” closely.



Noxious Numbers: ‘Merica!

Last Wednesday’s message was awful enough — 30,000 more U.S. troops destined for a quagmire in Afghanistan, but somehow, another number struck deeper.


The tally of times President Obama said “America,” “American” or “Americans.” 

Searching for that number probably seems strange because that word is one of the country’s proper names, but the Tank couldn’t help but think about how that name must be perceived in both Kabul and Kansas.

To people in Kabul, a troop surge probably comes with feelings of trepidation and fear after what America has done in the last eight years there.

To people in Kansas, a troop surge probably comes with feelings of pride and conceit with what ‘Merica can do in the next eight years there.

Everytime, Obama said “America” with conviction, but the Tank couldn’t get past the underlying concept. Using America, somehow, seems like marketing ploy and a coy use of persuasive speech. (Get the public behind the surge.) 

One of my English business professors in London asked my class this question, “How can you call yourself ‘America?’ ”

His meaning: It’s egotistical to use “America” when many countries in two continents can lay claim to the place that word represents. In essence, he was saying, “What does this imply to Mexico, Honduras, Chile and others?”

I thought of the professor’s message from five years ago as I listened to Obama’s oration to West Point cadets Wednesday. After the speech, I then thought of my friend’s distant reply to the professor’s message.

“How does [the professor] get off?” said my friend from Konnecticut. “He’s from a country that calls itself ‘The United Kingdom’ and ‘Great Britain.’ We’ll stop calling ourselves ‘America’ when he stops calling himself ‘Great.’ ”


‘Presence in perpetuity’

Answering the wrong question can be worse than getting the wrong answer to the right question.

When it comes to Afghanistan, the question isn’t  a matter of how many U.S. troops are necessary to “win,” which has been the current debate in Washington.

It isn’t a matter of 10,000, 20,00o or 40,000 more.  The question is focus; the answer is more acute than simply  counterinsurgency.

As one of Frontline’s many commentators said, Afghanistan is currently a “presence in perpetuity.”

Instead of battles against the mildly terrorist threat in the Taliban, a corrupt Afghan government and a complicate Pakistani government, the focus needs to be small highly-skilled American units seeking out al Qaeda. (The current focus saw both a Northeastern Minnesota soldier and marine killed last week.)

As this war quickly becomes the longest the U.S. has ever fought, it’s increasingly obvious that the current blanket approach that momentarily displaces the relatively benign Taliban has not worked.

The U.S. military and government must realize that the majority of Taliban forces are not going to bring terrorism to U.S. Once that happens, the U.S. can answer the right question: What must be done to quell the most radical Taliban, the ones with terroristic intents and means, and — most importantly — al Qaeda?

Change is not what Obama calles the “necessary war” in Afghanistan. Change is an approach that brings the majority of our soldiers home and focuses on the worst perpetrators in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Gates into his own head

Robert Gates’  article in Foreign Affairs acknowledged divergent views, but in the end, only paid them lip service.

The U.S. Defense Secretary began his piece with, ” The United States cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.”   


He called for balance, but only in relation to meeting the myriad wants of defense, not it’s scope in relation to other national interests. He wrote about preserving Cold War-esque arms and mentalities, while asking for increased attention on counterinsurgency tactics and technology.

After referencing perceived threats posed by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, Gates wrote, “The United States cannot take its current dominance for granted and needs to invest in programs, platforms and personnel that will ensure that dominance’s persistence.”

 He then surprisingly relented on U.S. military exuberance, the U.S. naval “battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined — and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies.”

Just showing how obtrusive the U.S. military is doesn’t mean the secretary is willing to call for a diminished force. Quite the contrary. He spins it into retaining a “credible strategic deterrent.”

On the military’s technological advancements, Gates wrote, “A button can be pushed in Nevada, and seconds later a pickup truck will explode in Mosul [Iraq]. A bomb dropped from the sky can destroy a targeted house while leaving the one next to it intact.

“But no one should ever neglect the psychological, cultural and political, and human dimensions of warfare. War is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain, and it is important to be skeptical of systems analyses, computer modes, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. We should askance at idealistic, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflicts that aspire to transcend the immutable principles and ugly realities of war, that imagine it is possible to cow, shock, awe an enemy into submission, instead of tracking enemies down hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said, ‘Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.’ “

That “block by bloody block” strategy, as showed in Wednesday’s  New York Times, isn’t the “patient accumulation of quiet successes over a long time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and ideologies” that Gates foresees.

Again, quite the contrary. Actions of the special forces in Afghanistan were recently stopped supposedly because of extensive civilian casualties. The death of innocents only credits and enthuses the movements Gates wants to defeat.

In conclusion, Gates calls for a “balanced approach,” meaning all the military’s needs are met equally, not in the larger scope of the nation’s — much less the world’s — collective interests.

I understand it’s not in Gates’ interest to call for fewer resources, but trying to pat anti-war advocates on the head, and masking it in “balance,” isn’t the same as trying to refrain from conflict.


Window dressing

Like applying lipstick to a pig, the U.S. military is throwing a fresh coat of paint and a new banal name to the Abu Ghraib prison, where detainees were tortured by U.S. soldiers and the image of the occupier was plagued in 2004.



 The newly-minted Baghdad Central Prison (What? Baghdad Central Park was taken?) already holds about 400 inmates.

A skeptic can’t  help but wonder how many of those detainees are being held without charges — a la Guantanamo. The Iraqi detainees might now be able to workout, shoot hoops or visit the prison’s greenhouses, but they are still overseen by Americans in their country after five long years.

Despite some possible showy flower boxes in front, the windows still have bars on them.



Hey I’m-a-dinner-jacket, wanna ball?

The president-elect’s affinity for hoops is well known. If  Barack Obama laced ’em up, I’d peg him as a versatile (read: centrist), smooth-shooting (articulate orator) point guard (soon-to-be commander in chief).

If Obama were playing one-on-one with leaders of rogue nations on the White House’s court on the south lawn, here is how they would stack up:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a trash-talking backup, snipes two steals to offset six turnovers. (Obama 11, I’m-a-dinner-jacket 7)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a backup power forward, will throw elbows in the paint and dive on the floor for  loose balls.  (O 11, guy with a socialist-green headband 5) 

Russian Prime Minister Vladamir Putin plays stingy defense and is willing to take a charge. (O 11, steel stomach 9)


Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, a menacing big man, will hack on breakaway layups. (O 11, warlord 1)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki air balls free throws. (O 11, puppet leader 0, but that game is like facing the JV)

Whose got next?