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.

US ignoring Saudi link again

Serious news about the “trust-fund terrorist” and the attempted Christmas Day bombing (NYT):

[…] the Saudi arm of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attempted attack and said it was in retaliation for recent American-backed attacks on its members in Yemen, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant Islamist Web sites.

In a statement issued on jihadist forums, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasts the success of the “Nigerian brother” in breaking through security barriers and of its own explosives technology, SITE reported, blaming a technical fault for the low-power detonation. The group has mounted attacks within Yemen and Saudi Arabia and in 2004, captured and beheaded a 49-year-old American engineer working in Riyadh, Paul M. Johnson Jr.

Government terror experts said the Qaeda claim was apparently legitimate.

 
This announcement comes on the heels of rising rhetoric and news attention to terrorists based in Yemen. President Obama himself today implied that the US would be increasing military action in Yemen in response to this attack:

We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

 
We already have the CIA and special forces involved there. We conducted cruise missile strikes there ourselves, and we helped the Yemeni army’s attacks on terrorists. So this new bombing attempt looks like it will set in motion even more involvement.

However, this raises a more serious question about our priorities. Obama lists Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. But what about Saudi Arabia? Osama bin Laden and many of the leaders in and financiers of al Qaeda hail from Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian. These connections have long been known. Now the Saudi Arabian branch of al Qaeda (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) is claiming responsibility for planning and nearly executing a large bombing in the US. Another attack plan, another Saudi link. At what point do we stop trying to solve everything with airstrikes on disorganized countries with much lower oil exports, which the group claims was the motivation here specifically, and face the facts that our oil-rich “ally” is a serious threat to our security?

Yes, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (a merger of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia) includes Yemen in its sphere of operations, but they’re primarily aimed at bringing down the Saudi monarchy, so that’s their big target and Yemen is just a base of operations. However, we’ve entangled ourselves by aiding Yemen and the Saudi regime, and thus we’ve drawn the terrorists’ attention back onto the United States. I can see how there’s an argument that we don’t want Salafist radicals to seize control of the Arabian Peninsula… but it still seems like we’re just in it for the oil, which is why we continue to prop up an unjust, undemocratic, unpopular regime in Saudi Arabia, rather than pressuring the government to make reforms that would undercut the radicals. Basically, we’re taking the most expensive and most dangerous route on dealing with radicalism in the Middle East by ignoring the Saudi problem. Bombing more of Yemen will just make things worse and won’t get to the root of the problem.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

flag-of-saudi-arabia

Lieberman wants US into Yemen

Yesterday I did a post on Yemen and terrorism, and I filled it with many links to recent news stories about that topic, which had been heating up even before the failed Christmas Day airline bomber (nicknamed the “trust fund bomber” because of his affluent background) was connected to Yemen. What I wrote yesterday was

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.

 
What I was thinking, but decided not to write, was that this connection and all the news about Yemeni terrorists really interested me because I wondered how soon some hawk in the US government would start demanding war with Yemen. I chose not to write it because it sounded like a conspiracy theory to me. Well, it didn’t take even a day for me to realize I wasn’t being unreasonable, even if the people making that case are being unreasonable.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), chair of the Homeland Security committee in the United States Senate, and always a super-hawk who wants to bomb anything that moves, has announced his support for direct, pre-emptive action in Yemen. Somehow, he is under the impression that this would prevent us being bogged down in a war there like we are in Afghanistan… I beg to differ, but that’s actually almost beside the point when you consider that the US is already providing logistical support to the Yemeni government against terrorists and has admitted to launching two recent cruise missile strikes in Yemen.

Lieberman also seems not to have noticed the longstanding Yemeni connection to terrorism until the past few weeks because he cited this attempted bombing and the Fort Hood attacks as justification enough for pre-emptive US action now. I wonder if he remembers that the USS Cole was bombed in the Port of Aden in Yemen in 2000? Incidentally, he also cited his position as deriving from a comment by someone in the administration, which is really odd since that person should have been able to tell him about the cruise missile strikes. However, as usual, Lieberman wants to take things that much farther and get the US more openly involved on the ground. I’m not sure how he thinks that will prevent war, since that’s kind of the definition of it.

Military force and enmeshing the US in foreign conflict zones are not the solutions to everything, no matter how excited and powerful they make Joe feel. I’m tempted to label the senator “Joe the Bomber,” but the reference is almost fading out of the political landscape fortunately.

UPDATE @ 10:30 PM: Actually, it sounds like he was even later to this parade than I’d realized myself:

In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.

A year ago, the Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country, according a former top agency official. At the same time, some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics, senior military officers said.

The Pentagon is spending more than $70 million over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels.

 
However, he does seem to have been paying attention to the covert operations there, according to the article. So this makes it sound more like he’s just warmongering as usual and seizing on the new incidents to expand US operations in Yemen.

Unfortunately, I am now thinking that the writing is on the wall for serious US involvement there. Which is what I was really worrying about with yesterday’s post.

UPDATE II @ 5:40 PM on 12/28:
See also my new post, “US ignoring Saudi link again,” now that Saudi-based al Qaeda operatives have claimed responsibility for this attempted bombing.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

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