Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.

Al Qaeda in Yemen may be linked to bomber

The Nigerian radical who yesterday attempted to bring down a transatlantic flight over Michigan has claimed to authorities that he received support and training for his mission from radical groups or individuals in Yemen. So far, this Yemen claim is a heavy focus of the Federal investigation into his background, though they have ruled out a link to the radical American cleric connected to the Fort Hood attack (who now lives in Yemen). British authorities are investigating his ties to London, while the American Embassy in Nigeria has been looking into the man’s father’s warnings that his son might be involved with radical Islamist organizations, and the US has ruled out a link to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (i.e. Al Qaeda North Africa).

The Yemen connection, however, is most interesting to me because of how much news there has been regarding terrorist and rebel activities in Yemen over the past few months. (According to Google News graph data, this year has had more articles about Yemen than even right after either the USS Cole bombing there in 2000 or 9/11). The country is fairly unstable, as it has been for decades, due to ongoing off/on civil war – with Cold War involvement – and rebellions and an extremely difficult terrain over which to exercise central authority. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have both taken recent action against Yemeni militant groups, most likely with US assistance. A recent airstrike killed at least 30 people and failed to take out the targeted American cleric. The Yemeni army also attacked an alleged al Qaeda training camp within the last week or so. Saudi Arabia (or the US, according to Iran’s state media) conducted an air strike on Houthi rebels in the somewhat undefined border regions, and some reports indicate Saudi troops may have seized several rebel positions. The Saudi government fears the creation of an al Qaeda base of operations in Yemen because of the central leadership’s stated target of the Saudi royal family itself.

Al Qaeda members earlier this week addressed an anti-government rally in Yemen, seeking common cause with various rebel factions. Al Qaeda’s Yemeni operations are known to be connected to al-Shabab in Somalia, the radical Islamist rebel alliance across the Red Sea. This is not to be confused with al-Shabab al-Muminin, the Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen. Last year Yemen-based terrorists attacked the US embassy there, killing 16, following up attacks on Spanish tourists and oil fields.

Throughout most of these articles, the common thread is that Yemen has returned as a dangerous safe haven for al Qaeda or is rapidly approaching that point. The would-be airline bomber’s claims of ties to Yemen will fuel that fire further.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

House Dem switches parties

Maybe’s it’s not surprising, but it’s still interesting that Rep. Parker Griffith (AL-05) switched to the Republican Party today from the Democrats. It’s interesting because he was only elected in 2008, so he’s no long-timer who’s been abandoned by the party. What is most annoying is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent over $1 million in the 2008 cycle to elect this traitor who didn’t deliver much of anything in his first year in office for Democrats and will now deliver even less before probably going down in defeat in the Republican primary this year. They have formally requested that he repay the money, though obviously the time and energy spent there in 2008 is lost.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Have we accomplished anything in Afghanistan?

Proponents of the second escalation of US troops in Afghanistan still insist there’s something tangible we’re fighting there for and that we’re protecting. With every passing day, I find this harder and harder to believe. Recently, for example, I argued that with no viable state funding source, the US could be underwriting the Afghan Army for years and years with no end in sight — unless we just stop. This raises the question of why we should keep doing it right now.

Some surge supporters have specifically cited women’s rights as a reason for the US not to leave Afghanistan now. Well, welcome to 2009 because that argument stopped being legitimate a few years back since the US-backed Afghan government has been doing its damnedest to roll back any ephemeral gains that women made after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. Most blatantly has been the approval of a bill legalizing marital rape, but it’s just been one drop in the bucket. From Meteor Blades for DailyKos last week:

After the fall of the Taliban everyone wanted to come and work for women’s rights, they were proud to say they were here to help Afghan women. Slowly, slowly this disappeared. Maybe the international community saw that we had two or three women in the cabinet, and thought, it’s ok, now they have their rights. But we have lost everything, from those cabinet positions to the donor attention. Women are not a priority for our own government or the international community. We’ve been forgotten.

   —Shinkai Karokhail, member of parliament, Kabul, June 4, 2009

 
The international Human Rights Watch has published a devastating 96-page report on the situation for women in Afghanistan. “We Have the Promises of the World”: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan explores the reality of everyday life for Afghan women, somewhat improved since the Taliban was forced out of the government, but still rife with intimidation, forced marriage of young girls, rape, including gang rape, and murder, including assassination of high-level women activists. Police and courts and other government machinery is still quite hostile to women, and not just in back-country areas or those where the Taliban has made a resurgence.

 
There’s a lot more in his piece on the HRW report and none of it looks good. Yes, it will almost certainly worsen if we leave, but this is a no-win situation. I don’t advocate simply abandoning the women of Afghanistan, but we’re not doing much to help them as it is right now. And the folks at Human Rights Watch don’t expect the US to focus enough attention on women under the new strategy. That means we’re betraying the women even without leaving, as we’ve been doing to the Afghan people at large ever since the invasion. But I don’t think anyone can legitimately make the argument anymore that we shouldn’t leave because we would be abandoning the women of Afghanistan. No, it’s too late to say that. We’ve already abandoned them.

So, have we accomplished anything positive and enduring in Afghanistan since 2001? Because we can cross women’s rights off the list.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Afghan Army recruitment jumps, US underwrites

In this supposedly positive story, “Recruits pour in after Afghan Army offers pay raise,” there was no discussion of a funding source. The Taliban had been paying much more to fighters than the Afghan Army was paying its troops, so recruitment was down for the military until this past week. But the Taliban has an extremely large funding base right now because it has taken control of the poppy/opium supply for the world market – and Afghanistan is the biggest source. Afghanistan’s government, unlike Iraq’s, doesn’t have oil revenues to support a strong central military. The CIA World Factbook mentions very little in the way of non-poppy or foreign aid-related economic sources for Afghanistan, and notes that the poppy trade provides about $3 billion to the country’s (black market) economy.

So, when I was reading this article, I kept trying to think where the money was coming from for this big pay raise. It’s just so convenient that the week after President Obama announces an escalation, which many criticized because the Afghan Army is totally inadequate, that suddenly recruitment over the past week exceeds the whole September recruitment figure and is about 60% of the November figure!

Then, I remembered yesterday’s headline: “Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024,” referring to monetary support. Both articles are New York Times, but no mention in today’s article on pay raises. Well, connecting the dots, I made an educated guess that the US just underwrote a big pay raise for the Afghan Army, with very convenient timing. You might think this is good because now the Army will compete with the Taliban in recruiting people and thus security will improve. There’s the big problem, however. We can’t keep underwriting these pay raises forever. The United States is not going to keep fully financing the Afghan Army for fourteen years. We probably can’t afford to. The Taliban, however, has a cash crop that they can keep converting to payroll for their fighters, virtually infinitely unless something dramatic changes with the opium production or markets. The Afghan state has no such resource available.

I don’t know what the solution here is, since I don’t foresee either an immediate end to the US War on Drugs (which some believe would curtail Taliban revenue) or the Afghan government nationalizing poppies as if they were oil or minerals, but it’s unsustainable to keep throwing money at the Afghan Army. What makes 2024 the magic number anyway? There’s still no big revenue source available to the Afghan government in 2024, and so the Army would still run out of money. And then we’re back at square one.

 
This piece was originally published at Starboard Broadside.

We endorse Mike Capuano for US Senate

This is the official endorsement by the Editors-in-Chief of Starboard Broadside for the US Senate special Democratic primary election to be held on December 8th, 2009. The final special election will be in late January.

For us, this was a pretty simple choice: former Somerville mayor and current US Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA-08) should be the next US Senator from Massachusetts. We made this decision based on several factors… First, Capuano has an impressive, unabashedly progressive voting record in the US House of Representatives. Second, on the big issues of today, he is not only already engaged in working on them and ready to hit the ground running in the upper chamber, but he has the right campaign positions. Finally, he is the best candidate to take up the banner of Ted Kennedy’s vision for America.

In office since 1999, with a lifetime progressive score of 95.42%, Rep. Capuano has been voting the right way on all the major issues that matter to progressive and liberal Democrats. Of particular importance are his votes against the 2001 USA PATRIOT ACT, the 2008 FISA domestic surveillance amendments, and the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002, which shows he has his head on straight. While it is a bit troubling that he has supported some of Israel’s more aggressive actions, such as the 2006 campaign in Lebanon, he also believes that a comprehensive two-state-based plan for peace in Israel and Palestine will help Israel in the long run more than endless war with terrorist groups. Capuano has also created a coalition of US representatives to take action on Sudan and the genocide in Darfur, and he has worked to end illegal torture and rendition of terrorism suspects, which we feel demonstrates a clear commitment to a humanitarian foreign policy that lives up to America’s ideals. He has a record of voting against nuclear weapons buildups and missile defense boondoggles. We conclude that as one of one hundred senators, his sensible foreign policy votes and stances will have even more impact. On the current health care reform, Capuano has voted against the dangerous Stupak abortion restriction amendment but for the overall reform plan. On the environment, he has a solid record heading into the ongoing climate change legislative process early next year. On education, he has voted to mitigate the negative effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation and has supported increased funding for public education in general. His record is virtually impeccable, he defends his liberal credentials vociferously and without apology, and there’s no mystery as to how he’ll vote in the Senate, which unfortunately cannot be said for any of his Democratic rivals, none of whom have any legislative record.

Whoever is elected to the Senate in January must have the right campaign positions on four pressing issues: the economy, the environment, and the War in Afghanistan, and health care reform. Capuano does have the right positions (given in those links) on these issues…

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Capuano is working right now on reforms that we hope will prevent a similar economic catastrophe in future. We believe that while the TARP financial bailout program was problematic and poorly executed, we still think it was necessary, and therefore we commend his vote in favor of it and his recognition that we need to keep fixing the problems of the bailout. In another area, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has introduced aggressive consumer protection legislation, and Mike Capuano has been an advocate for consumers in the House, so we know he’ll support tough legislation such as Dodd’s.

On the environment, Capuano has pledged to continue strengthening climate change (cap-and-trade) legislation, which will still be on the table in January. Critically, he supports green jobs programs and renewable energy projects such as Cape Wind (off Cape Cod) that benefit Massachusetts and help fight global warming. He will also support tougher emissions standards for vehicles, which is always a good thing. From recycling programs in Somerville to legislative work in Washington, Capuano understands the need for strong environmental legislation.

On the campaign trail over the past couple months, he has called for the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan; while we have debated whether or not it is the right time to draw down, we are agreed that we should not escalate further and that we need to prepare a clear exit plan. Capuano has consistently voted against indefinite timelines and military proposals that do not include an end plan.

Finally, on health care, the current legislation may have passed Congress by the time the next Senator takes office in January, but we don’t know what form it will take and we know that it will be far from a complete piece of legislation. For this reason, especially since the next person elected to the Massachusetts Senate seat could well hold the spot for decades, it is critical to have a Senator in place who will continue to push for more and better health care reform legislation. Thus far, he has voted the right way, and he maintains that he has been a strong, longtime supporter of increasing coverage for Americans, which we believe he will continue to be.

The third reason we have decided to endorse Rep. Mike Capuano for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat is that he is best suited to continue Senator Kennedy’s vision for the country. Kennedy served Massachusetts in the United States Senate from 1962 to 2009, and throughout it he fought for access to health care by all Americans and for quality education for all American children, and he worked to improve the lives of middle income and poor Americans. Whether serving in Somerville MA or on Capitol Hill in DC, Mike Capuano has demonstrated a commitment to these same ideals, as a liberal, as a Democrat, and as an American citizen. Although the Kennedy family or their loyal friends have held that Senate seat from 1953 to the present (with interim Sen. Paul Kirk Jr.), for the past three decades Ted Kennedy used that seat for fulfilling his ideals, not simply for fulfilling family or personal ambition. Thus, we feel that it is important to elect the candidate best suited to continue pursuing these aims. We don’t want a carbon copy, but we believe Ted Kennedy was one of the greatest Senators in US history, and so it’s important to fill his shoes as best we can. With a proven legislative record living up to Ted Kennedy’s vision, and the experience and Washington connections needed to continue the Dream, it’s clear Capuano will keep up the work that the Kennedy family started long ago with that seat.

Although we looked at the other candidates, we were not as impressed as with Rep. Capuano. State Attorney General Martha Coakley does not have a legislative record at any level, and she has had a fairly low-profile in her current office, which concerns us because we don’t want a wildcard, but rather a reliable liberal vote. Many of her supporters have argued that we need more women in office and that this is a sufficient reason to elect her. While we appreciate that we certainly do need more female leaders, we also believe that we should elect the candidate with the best positions and the best record, regardless of gender, and we feel that Capuano is better on both counts. We believe that Alan Khazei, a co-founder of City Year and a friend of Ted Kennedy, is an earnest candidate who is probably quite liberal, if untested, but he lacks the relevant experience we’d like to see in such an important office at this critical time. He would be new to government, and he would not be able to hit the ground running if elected. Furthermore, because he is so unknown, if Khazei won the primary he would be the most likely to put the seat at risk for a Republican capture — an unlikely scenario for the others. Mike Capuano is a much safer bet on all counts. Steve Pagliuca is the candidate we definitely cannot support in this primary because he is a former Republican and seems like a rich opportunist whom we can’t trust to represent the liberal Massachusetts constituency. He supported the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, despite abandoning the Republican Party before that. We have trouble supporting anyone who did that. Pagliuca’s positions are also questionable, including when he confuses people by issuing and backtracking from position statements, such as supporting a military draft. He has also showed insufficient concern for women’s rights, suggesting that the Stupak abortion restriction in the House health care bill was largely irrelevant or unimportant. Mike Capuano, on the other hand, raises none of these doubts in our minds.

In conclusion, we enthusiastically join the impressive list of those who have already endorsed Representative Mike Capuano for United States Senate for the Massachusetts Democratic primary on 12/8/09, and we will be casting our absentee ballots for Newton MA to help him win. We hope those of you who are registered to vote in Massachusetts will do the same.

Learn more about Mike Capuano and his positions at MikeCapuano.com

Democratic candidates and Choice

There’s been a lot of controversy within the Democratic base over the Stupak Amendment, which we’ll be covering more later. Essentially, it’s an amendment by the so-called “pro-life Democrats” in the House and would place de facto restrictions on abortion accessibility if it passes both chambers of Congress. Without going into the amendment itself much, I wanted to look at a point this raises on the role of the Choice issue in the Democratic Party and how it relates to Democratic candidacies.

I obviously can’t speak for all base Democrats, but I think many of us made the critical mistake of underestimating the potential influence of the anti-choice/pro-life caucus within our party in Congress. For example, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA, elected 2006) has been a pretty good Senator so far, but everyone knew he ran as a “pro-life Democrat,” but most of us especially outside Pennsylvania probably thought very little on that point. Of course, some liberal pro-choice activists were rightly worried because Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the major 1992 Supreme Court revision of Roe v. Wade, refers to Bob Casey Sr. who was then the Governor of Pennsylvania and supported a fairly strict abortion restriction law — and it was reasonable to wonder if the father’s views were shared by the junior Senator from Pennsylvania.

As it turns out, yes that appears to be the case:

Now some Senate Democrats, including Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are pushing to incorporate the same [Stupak] restrictions in their own bill. Senior Senate Democratic aides said the outcome was too close to call.

 
I sincerely hope that the Senate does not pass the Casey-Nelson version of Stupak into the Senate health care reform bill (and the signs suggest that it won’t succeed). But that’s not even what I’m looking at here.

The problem as I see it is that I and many others assumed that at the federal legislative level, abortion law was largely a settled matter for the most part. I know many activists who are dedicated in particular to this issue didn’t share that view, but I’m willing to admit they were right and I was wrong on this. I figured that if the Republicans had used nearly uninterrupted control of the whole Congress for twelve years and the White House and the House for six years, but had failed to outlaw abortion, then it was pretty much secure. There were restrictions such as the misleadingly named “partial-birth abortion ban,” but the Republicans were upfront about their hope of banning abortion and they failed. I assumed that pro-Choice Democrats, who do form a majority of the caucus, would be able to keep the “pro-Life” Democrats in check.

So for Casey and other candidates, I figured there was probably very little chance for them to put their views to a vote, and if it did come up I forgot that pro-life Republicans and Democrats would be able to vote in unison to form a majority as they did on the Stupak House amendment. It almost seemed like some Democratic candidates who took pro-life pledges might just have been pandering with no intention of casting damaging votes. And I think I was wrong.

That leads us to a question on how to view pro-life candidates in future. Obviously there are a lot of Democrats who have more conservative opinions on abortion, and that means there’s a role for pro-life candidates. On the other hand, and more importantly, I think a majority of the Democratic base supports the right to choose and women are certainly a majority of the Democratic Party’s membership nationally. The Stupak Amendment is a political problem for the party because it makes it look like the party is “throwing women under the bus,” as many have said in the past few days.

I think we may have reached a day of reckoning on this issue. The Democratic Party is going to face severe electoral difficulties if it doesn’t quickly resolve its position on abortion rights. In future election cycles, I think that activists, the ones who donate their time and money to elect Democrats, are going to be extremely wary of engaging with candidates who oppose the right to choose. We’ve now seen that they’re a real threat to the right to choose, not just a stated or theoretical threat. This is an intra-party policy contradiction that the party leaders have kicked down the road for years. That doesn’t look like an option anymore. Unfortunately, this has never been an issue that party leaders like to discuss openly, even though it needs to be discussed.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Iraqi Kurds protest Iranian bombardment

The Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) issued a press release on Friday protesting Iran’s bombardment of the border regions in their fight against Iranian Kurdish rebels in PJAK. According to the October 2nd press release, two sub-districts in the Kurdish Region of Iraq were subjected to heavy bombardment from Iran, most likely by shelling and Katyusha rockets, based on past strikes.

The KRG maintains some distance from groups like the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party, in Turkey) and PJAK because they are concerned about these such military actions, which they consider a violation of sovereignty. But the regional government also hasn’t taken particularly strong action against the rebels using their territory as a base of operations.

However, the statement doesn’t quite read as an accurate representation of the situation:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has severely bombarded the border areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq without any justification in clear violation of the sovereignty of Iraq and of the territory of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

 
If an armed terrorist organizations is attempting to bring down your government, you probably do feel like you have justification, whether or not it’s a violation of sovereignty.

The KRG still does have a legitimate complaint, and they’re in an awkward position of not wanting to antagonize either the neighboring countries or the other ethnic Kurdish groups, with whom they feel some solidarity, by rooting them out. But it’s probably unlikely that their request will be met:

Continued bombardment of such border areas is not in the interest of good neighbourly relations. Therefore, we urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately cease the unjustified bombardment of the border area and respect the sovereignty of Iraq, international law, and the peaceful will of the people of the Kurdistan Region.

 
This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.