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A Check for Osama

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is right this time (via: Andrew Sullivan):

None of us would write a check to Osama bin Laden, slip it in a Hallmark card and send it off to him. But that's what we're doing every time we pull into a gas station.

The same is true for Europe, which is even more dependent on oil from the Middle East than the United States. Related posts in the Atlantic Review: The US-Saudi Relationship: Oil Supply at the Expense of US Security and Moral Values and Chicago Tribune: "Germany says 9/11 hijackers called Syria, Saudi Arabia"

SuperFrenchie presents the picture that says all about President Bush's latest Middle East tour. I am not aware of any European head of government having kissed Saudi princes. Bush does not just kiss the Saudis in their own country as a gesture to cultural customs, but even kisses the Saudis, when they visit him in the US. He also holds hands with them. And yet, Europeans are supposed to be the softy weasels from Venus that do anything to get cheap oil.

"Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America"

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates calls for the US government to commit more money and effort to "soft power" tools, including communications, because the military alone cannot defend America's interests around the world. The NY Times quotes Gates as saying:

"We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals," he said. "It is just plain embarrassing that Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America."

Fred Kaplan asked his readers for ideas on how to improve America's image in the world. He received 120 responses, "nearly all of them from foreigners or from Americans living abroad." Kaplan summarizes them in an interesting article in Slate Magazine:

A few common themes emerge from these suggestions: Government-sponsored PR has its limits, mainly because people see it for what it is; the important thing is to change policy, and part of that involves aligning America's approach to the world with the most attractive aspects of our culture (in the broadest sense of that word). One of those aspects is what the Bush administration constantly boasts about -- our openness and our freedom. But those boasts ring hollow when the rest of the world sees us as closed down and locked shut. The first step, then, is to reopen the doors to the world.

Kaplan describes several suggestions from readers. Very popular are calls for expansion in the Peace Corps, in Fulbright fellowships, and, in student-exchange programs.

One readers also pointed out that "globalization has stripped pop culture of nationality." Beyoncé, for instance, is very popular among young people, but they don't associate her with America." I found that interesting.

I wonder how much of the US image problem is bad policy and cannot be fixed with better public diplomacy. And how much could be fixed with better communication?

As a Fulbrighter, I instantly agree with Kaplan's readers about the importance of personal exchanges. This is not controversial. Let's focus on the internet instead. Secretary Gates said that Al Qaeda is more successful on the internet than the United States. Does that mean beheading videos are more popular with the target audience than Chocolate Rain and Evolution of Dance?  Or are the West's internet videos the problem? Perhaps it's all Germany's fault: Do Heidi Klum videos cause terrorism?

I wish the hugely popular Where the Hell is Matt? video would improve the image of the American tourist.

US bloggers are more authentic than PR firms. They could counter Al Qaeada's internet propaganda. Why have blogs so far failed to change the minds of Al Qaeda sympathizers? What could bloggers do better? In addition to writing in Arabic. And what could the Atlantic Review do? Any ideas on how to reach out and win hearts and minds?

Imminent Threat Against German Airport and Nearby US Base

"German authorities have arrested three suspected Islamic terrorists for allegedly plotting attacks on Frankfurt airport and the nearby US military base in Ramstein," writes the Sydney Morning Herald:

Prosecutors said they had arrested three suspected members of "an Islamic-motivated terrorist organisation,'' but gave no further details. German Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung told ARD broadcaster the three men were suspected of targeting the airport and base. "There was an imminent threat,'' Jung said, but declined to elaborate.

And more arrests in Denmark, reports The Associated Press:

Danish intelligence agents early Tuesday arrested eight alleged Islamic militants with links to leading al-Qaida figures, and said the suspects were plotting an attack involving explosives.

U.S. Citizen Indicted for Training Al Qaeda Operatives in Germany

The Washington Post:
An Ohio man is being held without bond on charges that he provided explosives training to al-Qaeda operatives in Germany and once plotted to bomb European resorts and U.S. government offices overseas. Federal grand jurors in Columbus, Ohio, contend Christopher Paul studied terrorist tactics in Afghanistan in the early 1990s as al-Qaeda was getting its start. He allegedly recruited others in Germany and trained U.S. colleagues to "fight violent jihad outside the United States."
Full text of indictment is at FindLaw, but Ben Perry is skeptical.
Law professor Glenn Reynolds comments in Instapundit on the tools and gadgets found in Mr. Paul's appartment: "What red-blooded American doesn't have at least most of this stuff?"

The West's Problems in Afghanistan and Underestimating Al Qaeda

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times is surprisingly supportive of Germany's position on Afghanistan:
The old saw that there are no military solutions to political conflicts was never more true than in Afghanistan. Yet, in the five years since U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government with a "light footprint," the Bush administration has never spent enough on reconstruction, opium-crop substitution payments for farmers, road building, education, healthcare or jobs programs — or enough on security to make sure the rebuilding succeeds.
Bush will not get the full support and cooperation of NATO allies until he demonstrates that reconstruction is not a second priority to fighting Al Qaeda. There are serious differences with Germany, which has sent thousands of troops and spent millions in Afghanistan, commanded NATO forces and been responsible for security in the country's north, where Berlin believes its style of nation-building has been notably successful. The government of Angela Merkel has signaled it believes that Washington is relying too heavily on military solutions.
The war effort cannot be allowed to falter over an "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" cultural divide on whether to emphasize military commitment or nation-building. Both approaches are necessary. NATO needs to bear its share of the burden, contributing troops to the fight in the south and continuing to lift conditions on their deployment. And Washington, however distracted by its Iraqi adventure, cannot shortchange the effort to rebuild the nation whose failure led directly to 9/11. The possibility that democracy could fail in Afghanistan is awful to contemplate.
Personal comments: The last two sentences in the editorial indicate a simplistic and unrealistic view of Afghanistan and international terrorism. This view seems to be very common and at the heart of the West's problems in Afghanistan:
(1) Afghanistan has not been a "nation" which NATO can "rebuild" now. Such statements are considered arrogant in many parts of the world and indicate a lack of understanding and delusions of grandeur. This Western megalomania is hurting the West's interests. We should be more realistic and beware of quagmires.

(2) Blaming 9/11 on the "failure" of this "nation" is a rather simplistic reading of history. Al Qaeda is a global movement and does not depend on Afghanistan as a safe haven to plan and train for terrorist attacks. The 9/11 hijackers did not receive their pilot training in Afghanistan.
Planning and training for the next 9/11 attack is likely to take place in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Domestic law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies need more money and better equipment and have to continue to improve cooperation with their international partners.

(3) President Bush's mantra "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don't have to face them here at home." is not entirely wrong, but it is largely wishful thinking and creates a false sense of security. Killing Taliban in Afghanistan does not significantly reduce the terrorist threat and does not make Europe or the United States significantly safer. In fact, accidentally killing civilians is likely to increase support for the Taliban and increase the risk of terrorism. So, what is the cost-benefit analysis of the war on southern Afghanistan?
Besides, Al Qaeda is on the march, reorganizing and regrouping in Pakistan (
"with passive connivance of Pakistani authorities") and elsewhere. Even if Afghanistan would turn into a model democracy, Europe and the US will obviously continue to be at risk of terrorist attacks.

(4) Considering it "awful to contemplate" the failure of democracy in Afghanistan indicates an unwillingness to face the tough reality. It would be wiser, if the LA Times were more realistic of what can be achieved in Afghanistan and where the other Al Qaeda threats are coming from.

Moreover, the LA Times editorial fails to point out that Germany has not provided sufficient resources for reconstruction, as explained in the Atlantic Review post: Germany and the United States Failed to Train Afghanistan's Police.
Besides, the Bush administration apparently plans to provide more resources to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this effort is not matched by similar commitments from Germany and the EU: Fixing the Afghanistan mission: The U.S. wants to try, but what about Europe?

Responding to "Al-Qaeda's Revival"

• "Intelligence agencies see worrying signs of al-Qaeda's revival," writes The Economist:
In his annual threat assessment on January 11th, John Negroponte, America's outgoing intelligence chief, changed his tone. Al-Qaeda's core leadership was "resilient". Its hiding places in Pakistan were "secure" and it was "cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships" with affiliated groups across the Middle East, north Africa and Europe.
That sombre view matches the alarm of British intelligence chiefs in recent months. In November, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the security agency, MI5, said her overstretched spooks were contending with some 200 terrorist networks involving about 1,600 suspects, and investigating up to 30 high-priority plots. Home-grown radicals were "foot-soldiers" trained and guided by al-Qaeda on an "extensive and growing scale".(...)
The same Western officials also worry about what they call "blowback" from Iraq: instead of sucking in would-be suicide bombers on one-way tickets, it could pump out battle-hardened fighters to wage violent campaigns elsewhere in the world. Mr Negroponte said an American pull-out would allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as an al-Qaeda sanctuary.
Germany's domestic intelligence unit (Verfassungsschutz) is searching for home-grown terrorists. Of course, they do. That's part of their job, but it contradicts the frequent claim that Europe is spineless and in denial about terrorism. Heinz Fromm, the head of the agency, defended the use of information that may have been obtained under torture, wrote DW World in December:
"All information we receive on threats will be looked into," he had told German tabloid Bild am Sonntag a day earlier, adding that there was still "considerable" risk of a terror attack in Germany. "The possibility that it may not have been obtained in accordance with our principles on the rule of law may not allow us to ignore it," he said, adding that he was only talking about using the material for intelligence purposes and not legal prosecution.
Germany Info reports briefly that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff and Interior Minister Schaeuble met in Berlin on January 26, 2007.

DW World writes about a new German program for civil security research:
Germany plans to earmark 123 million euros ($160 million) in the next four years for training and research in civil security. Currently, Germany is one of the most secure countries in the world, Research Minister Annette Schavan noted. Further development of security technology aims to help it stay that way.
I wonder what indicators Minister Schavan uses to claim that Germany is "one of the most secure countries." How can anybody know which countries are the most secure?  The Third Risk Report by the Advisory Board for Civil Protection ("Dritter Gefahrenbericht der Schutzkommission") presented to the German Interior Minister on 26 March 2006 outlined many shortcomings: Summary in English. Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch.

While Al Qaeda seems to be on the march rather than on the run, as the Economist points out, the US might not have enough resources to deal with it, worries Senator Rockefeller according to the Washington Post:
The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he fears the government will not have enough money for homeland security and other domestic priorities because of President Bush's "Iraq adventure." In an interview on Monday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., criticized almost every major facet of the Bush administration's national security course since Sept. 11, 2001. "The president has in a sense walked away from the war on terror," Rockefeller said. Because of what he termed a misplaced fascination with Iraq based on faulty intelligence, Rockefeller said al-Qaida and Afghanistan have been neglected. He said he worries that U.S. intelligence on Iran is lacking, and what the nation knows about North Korea is even worse.
While Senator Rockefeller just started calling the Iraq war an "adventure," Chancellor Schroeder used this term already in 2002, when he was heavily criticized for being Anti-American and not taking the threat of WMD seriously.
USA Erklaert pointed to this article and the often underestimated influence of the intelligence committee chairman.

Coming Anarchy writes about trouble in the former USSR: "Sausage trader caught with weapons grade uranium."

David A. Bell, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University,  asks in the Los Angeles Times: "Was 9/11 really that bad?" His answer: "The attacks were a horrible act of mass murder, but history says we're overreacting:"
Imagine that on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism. It also raises several questions. Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction?
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Terrorism News from Germany and Iraq War Made the Global Terror Problem Worse. Also check out the transatlantic survey for European and American perceptions of the threat of terrorism.

Terrorism News from Germany

Headlines from DW World:
Moroccan Found Guilty of Accessory to 9/11 Murders, also see German Press Review (in English).
The Christian Science Monitor writes about lack of US cooperation in this trial.

Security Officials Promote Integration as Crime Prevention: "Due to its prominent profile in foreign and security policy, Germany is becoming more and more a target of terrorist attacks," said Ernst Uhrlau, president of the German Intelligence Service (BND) on Thursday in Wiesbaden."

Germans Warned to be Vigilant Against Terror Threat: "In her weekly video podcast, the German Chancellor has urged Germans to help police combat terrorism. But she warned that measures such as video surveillance weren't enough."

Politicians and Police Union Disagree on National Security Report

NATO's Increasing Involvement in Afghanistan

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) have separate mandates and missions. Although ISAF took over the command of Afghanistan's South from OEF, ISAF will continue to focus on its stabilisation and security mission whilst OEF will continue to carry out its counter-terrorism mission. However, the South is still (or again) a dangerous Taliban stronghold...

According to ABC News: The alliance's 8,000-strong NATO deployment in the South includes some U.S. troops and will be under the command of British Lt. Gen. David Richards. Officials said Richards effectively becomes the first non-U.S. general to command American forces in combat operations. (NATO does not yet have all of the planned 8,000 troops in the South.) Australia, Britain, Canada, Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Romania are also contributing troops to the ISAF's Southern Command.

The Bundeswehr is not in the South, but Germany contributes by far the most troops to ISAF in general. The Associated Press graphic on the right is based on NATO sources and counts a total of 10,500 troops as of July 22nd. NATO, however, states: "From 31 July, NATO-ISAF is leading some 18,500 troops from 37 countries in Kabul, the north, west and south of the country and running 13 Provincial Reconstruction Teams. This is NATO’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe."

The US-led OEF coalition retains responsibility for Afghanistan's East. Afghan and coalition forces there conduct regular combat patrols to defeat the Taliban and related movements, and the coalition will also retain its counter-terrorist mission throughout Afghanistan.
According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer (HT: Joe):
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that a combat brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., will deploy to Afghanistan late this year as part of the next rotation of forces. The deployment, to include the 82nd Airborne headquarters staff and various unidentified support units, will total about 11,000 soldiers, the Pentagon said. The announcement gave no indication that this would represent either an increase or a decrease in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, which currently stand at about 22,000. At a Pentagon news conference, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that based on his visit last week to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan he is optimistic about progress in Afghanistan. Regarding troops levels, Pace said, "The U.S. contribution has stayed stable and will remain stable." Late last year the Pentagon said U.S. troop levels would be reduced by 3,000 this year, but that has not happened, mainly because the Taliban armed resistance has stepped up its attacks, particularly in the volatile southern areas.
Those southern areas, however, are now mainly NATO's problem.