Archive for January, 2012

NORWEGIAN COURT CONVICTS TWO IN TERROR PLOT AGAINST DANISH NEWSPAPER JYLLANDS-POSTEN

January 31, 2012

Wall Street Journal on January 30, 2012, reported on two men convicted in a Norwegian court on the 30th for planning terrorism against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Excerpts below:

The men are the first to be convicted under Norway’s antiterror laws.

Chinese-born Uighur Mikael Davud, 40 years old, was sentenced to seven years in prison, while Iraqi Kurd Sawad Sadek Saeed Bujak, 39, was sentenced to prison for three years and six months.

A third man accused, Uzbek-born David Jakobsen, 33, was acquitted of terror conspiracy but sentenced to four months in prison for cooperating with the others. Mr. Jakobsen has already completed this time in custody.

Between November 2008 and July 2010, the court said, Mr. Davud and Mr.Bujak conspired to blow up the offices of Jyllands-Posten and shoot Mr. Westergaard.

Mr. Davud masterminded the plans and would have placed the bomb, the court said, adding that he had received six weeks of explosives training from al Qaeda in Waziristan.

The terror plans were at an early stage, according to the court. The ruling said it wasn’t clear whether Mr. Davud would have gone through with the attack, adding “it is quite possible that he had given up the plans” when he was arrested on July 8, 2010. The court said it had reduced his punishment by about 10%.

According to the ruling, the Norwegian Police Security Service found several manuals on Mr. Davud’s MP3 player after he received training by al Qaeda, including one titled “Methods For Explosives Preparations.”

REPUBLICAN HOPEFULS IN FLORIDA TARGET THE CASTRO BROTHERS

January 30, 2012

Washington Times on January 29, 2012, in an article commented the view of Cuba by contenders in the Florida primary. Excerpts below:

Mitt Romney says if he’s elected, he expects Fidel Castro will be “taken off this planet.” Newt Gingrich vows he “won’t tolerate another four years of a Cuban dictatorship” and Rick Santorum argues the 50-year-embargo shouldn’t be lifted until the “Castros are dead.”

The tough talk on Castro comes fast and furious here in Florida, where Cuban-Americans — 32 percent of all Hispanic voters in the state and a sizable chunk of the Republican electorate — hope the next American president will do something his predecessors couldn’t or wouldn’t: Topple Castro and return democracy to a nation they argue was stolen when Fulgencio Batista, the U.S.-backed dictator, was overthrown in 1959.

“It is an extremely, extremely important, heartfelt, issue that Cuba becomes free again,” Jack Delaster said after the Romney rally at Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on January 25, where thousands of Cuban exiles were treated and processed when they first came to the United States. The 80-year-old told The Washington Times he hasn’t been back to Cuba since he left in 1960 and, like others hurt by the Castro revolution, “you have to show me what you are going to do for Cuba” to earn his vote.

“If I’m fortunate to become the next president of the United States, it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet,” Mr. Romney told the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC last week. “I doubt he’ll take any time in the sky. He’ll find a nether region to be more to his comfort.”

Mr. Gingrich, meanwhile, said “the policy of the United States should be aggressively to overthrow the regime” and predicted before a debate audience last week in Tampa that when Fidel Castro dies he will not “meet his maker.”

“I think he’s going to go to the other place,” he said, sparking some laughter from the crowd.

At the Cuban Historic Political Prisoner Organization, a meeting opened with a recording of the national anthems of the United States and then Cuba, with roughly 60 members singing along in unison.

Luis Gonzales-Infante, the group’s president held up a framed photo of Mr. Villar, saying he is the 13th person to die of a hunger strike in Cuba’s prisons since 1959.

Mr. Infante told The Times after the meeting that he’s also frustrated with what he views as a softening U.S. stance on Cuba. And he’s dispirited by the levels of deficit spending from both parties in Washington — dispirited enough that he now registers as an independent.

Still, philosophically, he said he and the other Cubans in the group are more in tune with the Republican Party — especially when it comes to the GOP’s approach to Cuba, which, he argued, is a more accurate reflection of their status here. Unlike those who chose to come to the United States, they did not — and, in many cases, they want to return home.

“Really, we are not immigrants, we are refugees,” he explained. “You see, many people coming from Latin America think different from us. We have a different reason to be here. They come because they have a very hard situation in their country, but they don’t care about the Cuban case.

SYRIAN UPRISING INTENSIFIES WITH CLASHES OUTSIDE CAPITAL

January 30, 2012

Wall Street Journal on January 30, 2012, reported that Syria’s government moved to defend Damascus as its military fought rebel troops outside the capital for a third day on January 29, as the battle moved ever closer to President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power. Excerpts below:

Rounds of fighting rocked at least four suburbs for most of the 29th, residents and activists said. They described a government offensive to regain control of restive towns around Damascus that have become the latest concentration of armed resistance against Mr. Assad’s regime.

The sustained fighting appears to suggest the government is struggling to maintain control of some areas around the capital, 11 months into a conflict in which military and security forces had repeatedly crushed protests—and a gradually militarized opposition movement—across the country. Analysts said it likely also suggests the regime’s loyal units were becoming severely overstretched, risking the government’s defense of the capital itself as it increasingly deploys troops to the suburbs.

The fighting around Damascus, which has killed dozens of people in recent days, has come amid a surge in confidence by opposition fighters, just as Arab diplomacy on Syria’s crisis appeared to reach another dead-end and Syria’s political opposition made a new push at the United Nations Security Council for action against the regime.

At least 16 people were killed in areas around the capital Sunday, according to Local Coordination Committees, an activist network.

Activists said at least 50 tanks moved into al-Ghouta, the city’s eastern agricultural belt, on the 29th, firing artillery and rockets while snipers shot from rooftops. Communications, electricity and water were cut off from a handful of towns, several activist groups said. Some activists said bodies lay in the street.

Closer to the capital, opposition fighters loosely organized under the dissident Free Syrian Army claimed some successes.

As often in Syria’s crisis, the conflict on the ground outpaced the diplomacy. “We can finally say the military balance is starting to shift in our favor,” said a senior commander with the dissident army near Syria’s border with Lebanon. In another show of force, dissident troops said they were positioned in a suburb no more than five miles from the presidential palace in Damascus.

On Saturday, the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission, saying a spike in violence hampered the mission’s work, criticizing the government for not holding up its end of a deal to stop the violence.

US NAVY CONVERTING SHIP INTO FLOATING COMMANDO BASE IN MIDDLE EAST

January 29, 2012

Fox News on January 27, 2012, reported that the U.S. Navy is working to place a ‘mothership’ for Special Operations Forces in the Middle East. Excerpts below:

The USS Ponce, which was most recently being used as a dock in the Mediterranean Sea for the Libyan operation, was scheduled to be decommissioned in December. Navy officials now tell Fox News that the ship will be transformed into a flotilla to be used by Navy SEALs.

The move comes in response to a standing request from the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, to the Pentagon for the base. The commando teams will be able to use it for high speed boats and helicopters.

Sea mines are a concern in the Strait of Hormuz should Iran make good on its threats to close the vital oil passage way, an official told Fox News.

The ship could be ready in four to five months time, officials said.

The ‘mothership’ would reportedly help expand the range of commando squads operating from small speedboats in remote coastal areas, The Washington Post reports.

IS AMERICA IN DECLINE? IF OBAMA SUCEEDS IN CUTTING THE EXCEPTIONALIST ROOTS THE ANSWER IS YES.

January 26, 2012

Washington Times on January 25, 2012, published an article on efforts to cut the roots of American exceptionalism. Excerpts below:

The debate is restricted so far to the small but influential magazines read by the chattering class. When New Criterion magazine called for a symposium on the subject last spring, the editors were surprised to find they had tapped into the “pulse of the Zeitgeist.” A headline in Foreign Affairs magazine asks bluntly, “Is America Over?” Both liberals and conservatives argue over how to stop what they perceive as the national slide.

But the recognition of decline can enable a comeback. Ronald Reagan entered stage right, proclaiming that it was “morning in America.” The sobered Iranians returned the hostages the minute the new president took the oath of office, and soon Americans saw themselves as residents once more of the shining city on the hill.

It’s a cliche that President Obama is happiest when he’s apologizing for America being what it is, but he does more than apologize for the nation’s flaws. He continues on a course to fundamentally transform the United States from a nation of limited government to a welfare society dependent on government whim. It’s a recipe for decline.

Entrepreneurial enterprise and ingenuity remain as the source of American vitality. A president who understands America and how it works could silence the talk of decline. Mitt Romney, who says he is that man, is specific about identifying the economic regulations and taxes that make businesses reluctant to expand. He quotes Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, in the Republican rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address, struck a rebuttal as well to the faint-hearted disciples of decline. “There is nothing wrong with the state of our Union that the American people, addressed as free-born, mature citizens, cannot set right.”

GOP CANDIDATES ADDRESS CUBA POLICY

January 26, 2012

Fox News on January 26, 2012, reported that as the Republican candidates focus on Florida and its primary on January 31, the issue of Cuba is taking center stage. Excerpts from article below:

Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have scheduled major events specifically to talk about the communist dictatorship 90 miles south of Key West. They plan to discuss what they would do with the Castros as president, among other topics.

In doing so, they hope to court the substantial number of Cuban-Americans who are now U.S. citizens, 70 percent of whom vote Republican.

“The people of Cuba deserve freedom,” said Newt Gingrich to an auditorium of applause at an event this week.

Gingrich came to the Florida International University campus on Wednesday to deliver a policy speech on Latin America. He and the other candidates know very well that the 600,000 Cuban Americans in Florida make up 12 percent of the electorate.

Gingrich promises as president he would “isolate, destabilize and terminate the Castro dictatorship.”

Of the four candidates, Romney, Gingrich and Rick Santorum all favor keeping the U.S. embargo on Cuba in place, as Santorum said, “until the Castros are dead.”

A FORWARD STRATEGY FOR FREEDOM

January 24, 2012

On January 23, 2012, Elliot Abrams wrote on the Foreign Policy magazine website on the importance of a forward strategy for freedom. Below a few excerpts:

The failures of the Arab world’s rulers were manifest and explicitly described well before 2011, and it was no secret that these deficiencies threatened their hold on power. In 2002, the U.N. Development Program’s Arab Human Development Report noted that the spread of democracy in recent decades from Latin America to Eastern Europe “has barely reached the Arab States.” It was precisely this lack of freedom, the report argued, that “undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development.”

U.S. President George W. Bush recognized this stark reality. “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism?” he asked at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”

Bush and the U.N. Development Program’s analysis were right, and those who judged that the old regimes could survive forever were wrong.

The neocons, democrats, and others who applauded the Arab uprisings were right, for what was the alternative? To applaud continued oppression? To instruct the rulers on better tactics, the way Iran is presumably lecturing (and arming) Syria’s Bashar al-Assad?

Of course, the best answer is that we should have been pushing harder for reform all along, but that is after all the Bush/neocon/democracy activist line. Take U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s 2005 speech at the American University in Cairo or Bush’s second inaugural address — both reviled by “realists.” It would be nice if some of the critics now admitted that such speeches were prophetic, even if the United States was far too tentative in adopting, as Bush put it at the National Endowment for Democracy, “a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”

Bush, after all, was not urging instant remedies; he said democratization was “the concentrated work of generations.” He was urging reform, in part because it is usually far safer than revolution. Those who thought “durable authoritarianism” could persist forever have far more to apologize for than Bush, democracy activists, or neocons do.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy in U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration.

US AIRCRAFT CARRIER SAILS THROUGH CHOKEPOINT STRAIT OF HORMUZ

January 24, 2012

Fox News/NewsCore on January 22, 2012 reported that the USS Abraham Lincoln that day passed through the Strait of Hormuz — the first time a US aircraft carrier has been through the strategic waterway since Iran threatened to close it earlier this month. Excerpts below:

The US Navy said the passage of the vessel was “routine” and had been completed without incident.

“USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) completed a regular and routine transit of the Strait of Hormuz, Jan. 22, to conduct maritime security operations as scheduled and in support of requirements set by the combatant commander,” a statement from Naval Forces Central Command said.

“The transit was completed as previously scheduled and without incident.”

The carrier was escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George and two destroyers.

A British Royal Navy frigate and a French vessel also joined the carrier group in what was being seen as a show of strength directed at Tehran about the West’s resolve to keep open the route into the Persian Gulf, which lies between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran has repeatedly warned that it could close the strait — which the US Energy Information Administration calls the “most important chokepoint” for the world’s oil tankers — if increased Western sanctions halt Iranian oil exports.

THE ONGOING WORLD WAR

January 23, 2012

Michael Ledeen on January 22, 2012, wrote on his blog that America is facing a global war:

“In short, we face a global war waged by a well-established alliance of Iranian and Syrian Islamists, Russian and Chinese crony plutocrats, and Latin American radical leftists who share a love of totalitarian control of their own people and a hatred of America. We have failed to design a strategy to win this war, and indeed it often seems as if our leaders share the world view of our enemies. Obama thought he could make deals with all of them, apparently believing this would come about when they realized he shared their conviction that most of the world’s problems are America’s fault. Indeed, when push comes to shove in their own countries, his instinctive response, as Fouad Ajami recently wrote regarding Syria, is to favor the success of the anti-American tyrants.”

President Obama is trying to convince the American people that “the tide of war is receding” (January 5, 2012). He is making cuts in the American defense budget at a time when strong defense and a grand strategy to face China, Islamist terrorists worldwide, the Iranian Islamist regime and various left wing South American radicals.

“Ahmadinejad and his cohorts have worked very energetically to forge a global network that includes Russia, China, (sometimes) Turkey, Syria, and the Western hemisphere gang. In part, the network helps Iran bust the sanctions that have recently catalyzed a spectacular drop in the value of Iran’s currency. Money, weapons, refined petroleum products, and even crude oil get laundered through foreign banks, shell companies, and ports.”

Yes, indeed, it is time combine hard power and soft power in a grand strategy and face realities:

1. demographics with 95% of global population increase occurring in developing countries by 2030;
2. globalization and increasing variations in wealth distribution;
3. national debt and budget crises affecting Europe which will limit ability to respond to some international security crises;
4. growing global demand for fossil energy sources coupled with declining known reserves of these sources which could produce armed conflict.
5. the possibility of food shortages due to population increases and natural disasters;
6. climate change;
7. water shortages;
8. pandemics;
9. cyber warfare against economic and military targets;
10. growing international interest in controlling space by China and other countries;
11. weapons of mass destruction proliferation;
12. political and security challenges the U.S. will face to its interests from trends and developments in countries and regions such as China, Europe, India, Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, and Africa and from failing states and radical ideologies such as militant Islam.

SPACE ARMS CONTROL PACT COULD UNDERMINE AMERICAN SECURITY

January 23, 2012

On January 20, 2012, Washington Times published a comment by Rebeccah Heinrichs on the US administration’s dealings with the new European draft space arms control pact. Excerpts below:

On Jan. 17, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a press release announcing the administration’s decision to work with the European Union on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The possible consequences are great and include creating a destabilizing strategic environment, surrendering American dominance of the ultimate high ground and violating the Constitution. The administration is right to be concerned about activities in space. China’s successful anti-satellite test in 2007 spewed tens of thousands of pieces of debris into space that every country now has to work to avoid. (This caused an international outcry, even in the absence of an international code of conduct.) Then, in 2010, there was a collision between American and Russian satellites. Technical guidelines between individual countries would be useful.

However, in agreeing to work on the EU international code, the administration is walking down a dangerous path and could cause major and far-reaching problems worse than those we already face.

The first is that although its expressed purpose is to inspire responsible activity in space, it likely would force the U.S. military and intelligence community to behave in ways contrary to U.S. interests, which is the height of irresponsibility. The administration’s Joint Staff wrote in the public iteration of its assessment of the draft EU code: “if the United States were to make a good-faith effort at implementing the requirements of the draft code, there could be operations impacts on U.S. military space operations in several areas.”

Adding to national security concerns, the code is broad and does not provide specific ways to implement its goals.

According to Jeff Keuter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute, “A code of conduct or norms without practical insight into how to behave consistent with said code or norms is meaningless, at best, and, at worst, open to misinterpretation and misperception, which is exactly the kind of destabilizing outcome the U.S. wishes to avoid in space.”

What if the United States deems an action for example, intercepting a rogue satellite using our missile-defense system, as we did in 2008, to be in our interest but other signatories to the code think it violates the code? U.S. missile-defense systems intercept outside the Earth’s atmosphere, meaning space, putting them squarely in the “space military weapons” category. Few would argue that intercepting a missile headed toward the United States would be anything but self-defense. But what about the U.S. intercepting a missile headed toward an ally or an overseas American base? Some countries might not approve.

Moreover, although compliance might not be officially binding for the United States, once the U.S. government agrees to the code, the military, intelligence community and even private companies would be forced to comply.

Another problem is that the administration intends to sign up the United States for these new restrictions with-out the approval of Congress.

Understandably, this has Republican members of Congress concerned. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio and Rep. Joseph J. Heck of Nevada sent a letter to the president Jan. 17 outlining their objections.

The letter says the code of conduct “could establish the foundation for a future arms-control regime that binds the United States without the approval of Congress, which would bypass the established constitutional processes by which the United States becomes bound by inter-national law.” Should this or a future administration determine the United States should agree to yet another arms-control agreement this one control-ling U.S. action in space Congress must be consulted and approve it if it is to take effect.

A broad arms-control initiative based on the EU code of conduct and implemented without the consent of Congress will trade big problems for devastating ones.

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies