Friday, September 30, 2011

Iran to Syria: Save regime and preserve alliance

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Two weeks after Egypt's uprising swept aside Hosni Mubarak, the presidents of Iran and Syria stood side by side in Damascus in a blunt message to the Arab Spring: The Syrian regime can count on its allies in Tehran.

Seven months later - and after at least 2,700 deaths in Syria - Iran is tweaking its big brother role for Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Iranian leaders are now urging him to consider talks with protesters or risk heading down a path with few escape routes.

It's Tehran's version of tough love: Pressing Assad to do what it takes to stay in power and preserve one of Iran's most important relationship in the Middle East.

"You have a decades-old strategic alliance on the ropes," said David Schenker, a Syrian affairs analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "No doubt Iran is very concerned."

But Assad appears to be following his own rules in trying to ride out a mass revolt that has now spread into the security forces. Government troops have waged relentless crackdowns on opposition protesters, as well as police and soldiers who have turned against the crackdown.

Iran is in the unfamiliar role of nervous bystander in Syria - a foothold on Israel's border and a critical conduit to Tehran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Syria also adds to Iran's worry about inspiration for its own internal opposition, which has been mostly dormant since the Arab revolts began in Tunisia.

There is little chance Iran would risk the international fallout and send large-scale military forces to aid Assad, although it's likely that Iran has boosted its cadre of security advisers and other envoys in Damascus. Instead, Iran seeks to coax Assad to offer some kind of tension-easing dialogue or at least pull back on the attacks.

Any concessions by Assad could open the way for eventual deep reforms in his authoritarian rule. But Iran would gladly take a weakened Assad over the uncertainties under a new Syrian leadership, which would likely put Assad's Iranian-oriented Alawite minority into a political deep freeze.

"There's currently no change in Iran's support for the Syrian government," said Ahmad Bakhshayesh, a political science professor at Tehran's Azad University. "However, Iran is trying to convey the message ... that Assad is capable of carrying out reforms."

That could be a tough sell under the current crackdowns and international backlash.

On Thursday, Syrian troops continued their offensive in the opposition hotbed of Rastan in central Syria. At the United Nations, a European-backed proposal in the Security Council is pressing for expanded sanctions on Syria.

Neighboring Turkey, meanwhile, has imposed an arms embargo on Syria and has hosted anti-Assad opposition figures.

Assad still has powerful friends such as Russia and China in his corner. Yet there could be a limit to how much they would jeopardize their political credibility - and deep business interests - among the rest of the Arab world that has largely abandoned him, said Osman Bahadir Dincer, an analyst at the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, Turkey.

In the end, Iran's voice could resonate the loudest. And it is telling Assad that he can't rely only on force and intimidation - ironically the formula used by Iran to dismantle protesters after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad said "there should be talks" between Assad and the opposition. "A military solution is never the right solution," he told Portuguese broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa in an interview in Tehran.

He later offered to host a regional meeting of Islamic nations to seek resolutions to the Syrian crisis.

An Iranian newspaper, Shargh, reported earlier this week that about 200 prominent Iranian doctors, including a former health minister, sent a letter to Assad to end the "regretful" violence. Assad is a British-trained eye doctor.

Efforts to break Iran's influence in Syria has been a Western policy goal for more than a decade. Assad had been viewed as more reform-minded than his father, Hafez, who ruled for nearly three decades and died in 2000.

In 2007, then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden said Washington should press hard to end Syria's "marriage of convenience with Iran." Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the appointment of an American ambassador to Syria - after a five-year absence - was part of efforts to "hopefully influence behavior" in Assad's regime.

On Thursday, Assad loyalists pelted the U.S. ambassador, Robert Ford, with tomatoes and then tried to storm an office where he held a meeting with an opposition leader, Hassan Abdul-Azim.

The Arab Spring uprising could accomplish what diplomats had tried to nudge along: a new leadership that's redirected toward the West and moderate Arab states. The new, fast-moving realities of the region were once applauded by Iran, which relished the fall of pro-U.S. governments in Tunisia and Egypt and have shed no tears with the mercurial Moammar Gadhafi on the run in Libya.

"Syria changes all this for Iran," said the Washington-based analyst Schenker. "It would be a staggering blow to lose Assad."

It also would potentially shrink Iran's Arab world sphere to places such as Iraq, where it has close ties with Shiite political factions and militant groups, but is limited by rival Sunni groups and Baghdad's links with America.

A former senior State Department official, Nicholas Burns, portrayed Iran's calls for peace efforts in Syria "as cynical attempts to somehow convince Arabs that Tehran is on the right side of reform."

"If Assad falls, it might even lead the reform movement in Iran to conclude that its government was vulnerable, too," said Burns, a professor of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "In general, Iran is more isolated now than it was a few years ago and is a potential regional loser as a result of the Arab awakening."


Obama, Uzbek leader discuss Afghan supply route

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov discussed expanding US use of the central Asian country as a route to supply troops in Afghanistan, a US official said on Thursday, amid growing concern about the viability of Pakistan as a transit route.

The White House said Obama called Karimov on Wednesday to congratulate the former Soviet republic on its 20th anniversary of independence and that the leaders talked about shared interests in a "secure and prosperous" Afghanistan.

New Boom Reshapes Oil World, Rocks North Dakota

A couple months ago, Jake Featheringill and his wife got robbed.

It wasn't serious. No one was home at the time, and no one got hurt. But for Featheringill, it was just the latest in a string of bad luck.

"We made a decision," he says. "We decided to pick up and move in about three days. Packed all our stuff up in storage. Drove 24 straight hours on I-29, and made it to Williston with no place to live."

That's Williston, ND. Population — until just a few years ago — 12,000. Jake was born there, but moved away when he was a kid. He hadn't been back since.

"We came in right through the stretch of where the Badlands is," he remembers. "And then you come into the town. So many trucks. Semi trucks and four-wheel-drive pickups — for a mile straight. You've never seen so many trucks in your life."

Those trucks were in North Dakota for one reason — the same reason Featheringill had decided to move his wife and three kids to a remote section of western North Dakota.


A $1,200 Parking Space

Two years ago, America was importing about two thirds of its oil. Today, according to the Energy Information Administration, it imports less than half. And by 2017, investment bank Goldman Sachs predicts the US could be poised to pass Saudi Arabia and overtake Russia as the world's largest oil producer.

Places like Williston are the reason why.

"For many years, they knew that there was oil in that area, but the technology wasn't available to get it out," the town's mayor, Ward Koeser, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

But in the last few years, advances in such technologies as "fracking" and horizontal drilling have made, by some estimates, as much as 11 billion barrels of oil available in the Bakken formation under North Dakota and Montana.

"There's oil companies coming from all over the country now." Koeser says.

Williston has skipped the recession entirely. Unemployment there is less than 2 percent. The population, the mayor estimates, has grown from 12,000 to 20,000 in the last four years.

"We actually have probably between 2,000 and 3,000 job openings in Williston right now," Koeser says.

Oil workers like Jake Featheringill are fueling Williston's population growth. He's working as a shophand for Baker Hughes, making enough to support his wife and three children. But with such a sudden population increase, Williston's infrastructure can't keep up.

"When we came up here, we were told housing was tough but not impossible," Featheringill says. He and his wife got lucky and borrowed an RV from a family friend. "We got lucky again and got to park the RV in a place where we were rent-free. Most of the RV spots around here run $1,000 to $1,200."

That's $1,000 a month, just for a parking space. "Is that not amazing?" Featheringill says. "And that's in a 70-mile radius. Just to park your RV."

'Boom-Town Syndrome'

"It's the old boom-town syndrome," says Charles Groat says, professor of energy and mineral resources at the University of Texas in Austin.

A small town like Williston, he says, can be burdened by a sudden oil boom.

"All the workers. And then you have roads and trucks and pipelines. And then you have all the community services that have to be provided — law enforcement, education. So it turns into a real bonanza in terms of income, but it becomes an environmental effect that people aren't used to experiencing."

In Williston, many workers forgo prices as high as $2,000 a month to rent a small apartment and instead live in "man camps," massive group-housing provided by their companies.

"Just a little room with a bed and a TV," Mayor Ward Koeser explains. "And then they have recreation areas."

The boom in Williston, Charles Groat says, is happening in spots across America. New drilling technology is also fueling boom towns in Texas, Louisiana, and Colorado. New drilling technologies mean companies can extract oil and natural gas from shale rock that was previously thought unreachable.

"Horizontal drilling — accessing a huge area of reservoir — and then the fracking process, which props opens those cracks, and allows the liquid or gas to flow to the well," Groat says. "That's what's made shale gas and shale oil such a viable resource."

But those techniques also raise environmental concerns that Groat is studying.

"There is a danger, here – the fact that we drill so many wells," he says. "If you look at the numbers of wells that have been drilled in North Dakota, just in recent times, the numbers of wells are huge, which increases the opportunity for bad things to happen environmentally or procedurally in developing the resource. We also are not dealing, of course, with the question of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide as we continue our hydrocarbon dependence."

Global Implications

Amy Myers Jaffe of Rice University says in the next decade, new oil in the US, Canada and South America could change the center of gravity of the entire global energy supply.

"Some are now saying, in five or 10 years' time, we're a major oil-producing region, where our production is going up," she says.

The US, Jaffe says, could have 2 trillion barrels of oil waiting to be drilled. South America could hold another 2 trillion. And Canada? 2.4 trillion. That's compared to just 1.2 trillion in the Middle East and north Africa.

Jaffe says those new oil reserves, combined with growing turmoil in the Middle East, will "absolutely propel more and more investment into the energy resources in the Americas."

Russia is already feeling the growth of American energy, Jaffe says. As the U.S. produces more of its own natural gas, Europe is free to purchase liquefied natural gas the US is no longer buying.

"They're buying less natural gas from Russia," Jaffe says. "So Russia would only supply 10 percent of European natural gas demand by 2030. That means the Russians are no longer powerful."

The American energy boom, Jaffe says, could endanger many green-energy initiatives that have gained popularity in recent years. But royalties and revenue from U.S. production of oil and natural gas, she adds, could be used to invest in improving green technology.

"We don't have the commercial technology now," she says, noting the recent bankruptcy of American solar companies like Solyndra.

"The point is you can't force a technology that's not commercial. Rather than subsidize things that are not going to be competitive, we need to actually use that money to do R&D to create technologies — the same way that the industries created these technologies to produce natural gas and it turned out so commercially successful."


Anwar al-Aulaqi, U.S.-born cleric linked to al-Qaeda, killed in Yemen

SANAA, Yemen — Anwar al-Aulaqi, a radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric and one of the most influential al-Qaeda leaders wanted by the United States, was killed Friday in a CIA drone strike in northern Yemen, U.S. and Yemeni authorities said, eliminating a prominent terrorist recruiter who inspired attacks on U.S. soil.

The strike also killed a second U.S. citizen — Samir Khan, the co-editor of an al-Qaeda magazine — and two other unidentified al-Qaeda operatives, the Yemeni government said. But tribal leaders in the area said at least seven people were killed. They identified one of the others as al-Qaeda militant named Salem bin Arfaaj.

In Washington, senior Obama administration officials confirmed that Aulaqi, 40, a dual national of the United States and Yemen, and Khan were killed in a drone strike on their convoy.

The strike was carried out by a CIA drone operating from a new agency base on the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. officials said. It marks the first time that the CIA has launched a drone strike in Yemen since 2002, and the first indication that the new base is operational. The Post is withholding details on the specific location of the base at the request of the Obama administration.

President Obama called Aulaqi’s death “a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate” and described him as “the leader of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” a group known as AQAP.

“In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans,” Obama said at a ceremony honoring the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Fort Myer.

Khan, a member of AQAP, co-edited the group’s slick English-language Internet magazine, Inspire, which was intended to recruit Westerners to al-Qaeda’s fold. Aulaqi was also believed to have played a role in creating the online-only magazine, whose first issue in July 2010 included an article titled “Making a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.” Khan, a Saudi-born U.S. citizen raised in Queens, N.Y., and Charlotte, traveled to Yemen to join AQAP and probably operated under Aulaqi’s direction, terrorism experts have said.

Mohammed al-Basha, a Yemeni government spokesman, said in an e-mail that Yemeni intelligence had pinpointed Aulaqi’s hideout and monitored his movements before the airstrike.

The first word of the strike came from the Yemeni Defense Ministry, which sent a text message sent to journalists announcing that “the terrorist Anwar al-Aulaqi has been killed along with some of his companions.” It did not provide further details. Aulaqi had been falsely reported killed before. He had been the target of previous U.S. strikes and was quoted as laughing off an attempt to kill him in May.

In a separate e-mailed statement, the Yemeni government said Aulaqi was “targeted and killed” five miles from the town of Khashef in Yemen’s northern Jawf province, 87 miles east of the capital, Sanaa. The attack, the statement said, was launched at 9:55 a.m. Friday local time.

The Obama administration in recent months has escalated the use of drones to target al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen and Somalia.

In a telephone interview, a tribal leader in Jawf province, near the site of the attack, said American drones had been flying over the region for days. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared repercussions from both Aulaqi’s tribe and the government, the tribal leader said Aulaqi had been moving in the provinces Marib and Jawf for the past three weeks because he was concerned he could be targeted in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, where he had long sought shelter under the protection of his powerful tribe.

Yemen’s official Saba news agency quoted an unnamed al-Qaeda operative arrested by Yemeni security forces as saying that Aulaqi lived in Khashef with bin Arfaaj, one of the al-Qaeda militants who was killed, and his brother, Khamis.

A second tribal leader in Jawf, who also requested anonymity, said by telephone that Khamis bin Arfaaj told him that a total of seven people were killed in the airstrike, which involved two separate missile attacks, moments apart.

According to this account, Aulaqi and his crew had eaten breakfast and had just left the house toward their cars, parked about 700 yards from the house. They heard the drone, and then first missile struck, killing some of the operatives. Aulaqi was apparently killed in the second strike as he and others ran toward a pickup truck to escape, the tribal leader said, quoting Khamis. After the attack, which tore the bodies to pieces, Khamis and other men buried Aulaqi and his comrades nearby and left, the tribal leader said.

Aulaqi’s relatives declined requests for interviews Friday. In a text message, his brother Amar wrote, “Let us grieve please,” and his father, Nasser, was not reachable. He is believed to have traveled to Jawf to identify his son’s remains. Another relative reached at the family’s house in Sanaa appeared very upset and hung up the phone. Members of his tribe in Shabwa expressed anger at the Yemeni government for cooperating with the United States in hunting down Aulaqi. None agreed to give their names.

Yemen’s deputy information minister, Abdu al-Janadi, declared the attack a success in Yemen’s campaign against al-Qaeda. He quoted President Ali Abdullah Saleh as saying Aulaqi’s death showed that “the state is capable of reaching any terrorist.”

Said Obaid, a Yemeni political analyst who wrote a book about al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, said he found it difficult to believe that Saleh’s regime played a significant role in killing Aulaqi, given its focus on containing the uprising and remaining in power.

“The Yemeni government’s role was opening the door and giving the Americans the green light to conduct attacks,” said Obaid. “The Yemeni government does not have the capabilities.”

Obaid said Aulaqi played a major role in spreading propaganda and recruitment for the branch while boosting its terrorist ambitions beyond Yemen’s borders. But he predicted that his death would be unlikely to weaken AQAP, because Aulaqi will be depicted as a martyr.

“Al-Qaeda is going to use his death to perform many more operations, especially since he was killed by an American airstrike,” he said Obaid. “Al-Qaeda is known for using such incidents to its advantage.”

Obama said Aulaqi had “directed” failed attempts to blow up U.S. planes and had “repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.” He said Aulaqi and his organization also were “directly responsible for the deaths of many Yemeni citizens.”

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula “remains a dangerous but weakened terrorist organization,” Obama said. “But make no mistake: This is further proof that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.” He vowed that “we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans.”

At the Pentagon, a senior defense official confirmed that “for some time, the Yemenis have played a key role in the hunt for Aulaqi.”

The official said: “Aulaqi’s demise deals a decisive blow to al-Qaeda in Yemen. This was a terrorist who wasn’t simply a propagandist, but over the years had become an operational figure who was increasingly focused on planning and carrying out attacks against the United States and our allies. A very bad man just had a very bad day. It’s a good day, though, for American counterterrorism efforts — and for counterterrorism cooperation with the government of Yemen.”

Opposition leaders in Yemen expressed concern Friday that Aulaqi’s death could boost American support for Saleh, allowing him to remain in power longer. They noted that senior American counter terrorism officials have in recent weeks lauded Saleh’s security forces and intelligence apparatus for their cooperation.

“There is fear that the Americans will give priority for coordinating with this regime rather than with the revolution and for the support of democracy,” said Mohammed Qahtan, a top opposition official. “There is a group within the American administration that is moving in this direction.”

Saleh, he added, will try “very hard to use Aulaqi’s death to blackmail the Americans” into giving him more support.

Senior Yemeni officials said on Friday that they hoped Aulaqi’s killing would alter the U.S. stance on seeking a swift transfer of power and that they were already making their case.

“The Americans are now going to reach an understanding that Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime is serious about fighting terrorism,” said Abdu Al-Janadi, the deputy information minister. The Obama administration, he added, should support elections rather than demand that Saleh step down immediately. “If Ali Abdullah Saleh resigns, this will leave a power vacuum that will result in civil war.”

Janadi said he was disappointed by comments by the State Department on Friday that Aulaqi’s death would not change U.S. demands for Saleh to transfer power.

“This does not help their strategy, because Ali Abdullah Saleh is their ally, and they should take into consideration that what happened to Aulaqi will have negative consequences on the government,” said Janadi, suggesting there could be a backlash for cooperating with the United States. Most Yemenis are against any military intervention, especially by a Western power.

The opposition, Janadi alleged, is already portraying Saleh as a stooge of the United States, who “has opened the border to allow Americans to come in and to attack and kill Yemenis.”

Aulaqi’s death comes less than five months after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda network, in a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Aulaqi, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, has been implicated in helping to motivate several attacks on U.S. soil. He is said to have inspired an Army officer who allegedly killed 13 people in a November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Tex., as well as a Ni­ger­ian student accused of attempting to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner the following month and a Pakistani American man who tried to set off a car bomb in New York City in May 2010. Aulaqi has also been linked to an attempt in 2010 to send parcel bombs on cargo plans bound for the United States.

In April 2010, the Obama administration authorized his targeted killing. U.S. officials alleged that he was a top leader in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni wing, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Aulaqi, who lived in Virginia and was the imam of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, left the United States in 2002. He was detained in Yemen in 2006 at the request of the United States but was released later that year. His lectures in English on Islamic scripture have drawn in countless followers online.

This year, Michael Leiter, the U.S. official in charge of analyzing terrorism threats, told a congressional committee that Aulaqi and AQAP probably posed “the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.”

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the killing of Aulaqi “a great success in our fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” as well as a “tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community.”

In a statement Friday, King added: “For the past several years, [Aulaqi] has been more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden had been. ... Despite this vital development today, we must remain as vigilant as ever, knowing that there are more Islamic terrorists who will gladly step forward to backfill this dangerous killer.”

Speaking to reporters in Annapolis, Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (Md.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said: “This is a great day for America. This is probably the second-biggest blow to al-Qaeda since the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Ruppersberger, who was briefed by the CIA after the airstrike, characterized the killing of Khan as “collateral damage,” because he said U.S. forces were not initially aware that the second U.S. citizen would be traveling with Aulaqi. However, Ruppersberger added that the death was “a plus” for the United States because the purpose of Khan’s Internet magazine was to “recruit individuals who wished to attack America.”

But Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, called the killing of Aulaqi an “assassination” of an American citizen without trial.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, also expressed reservations.

“As we have stated repeatedly in the past, the American Muslim community firmly repudiated Anwar al-Awlaki’s incitement to violence, which occurred after he left the United States,” it said in a statement. “While a voice of hate has been eliminated, we urge our nation’s leaders to address the constitutional issues raised by the assassination of American citizens without due process of law.”

After a short sermon at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque Friday, Imam Shaker Elsayed informed worshipers of Aulaqi’s death and said, “May Allah give him mercy.” He added: “When anyone leaves this life . . . their judgment is reserved by Allah. Aulaqi is in between the hands of his creator.” Speaking about those who killed Aulaqi, Elsayed said, “They need to equally prepare for that moment” when they also will be judged by Allah.

Earlier, Dar al-Hijrah worshiper Tariq Nelson said the news of Aulaqi’s death rips open a wound that congregants wish would heal. “When you feel like you’ve been continuously embarrassed, it’s painful and humiliating,” he said.

Nelson said Aulaqi is a “confusing” figure at Dar al-Hijrah, because his sermons and views were moderate and promoted interfaith and nonviolence when he was the imam there. Nelson said he disagreed with the anti-American statements later attributed to Aulaqi, but added that Dar al-Hijrah members will likely be concerned about the U.S. government targeting an American citizen.

As a fluent speaker of both English and Arabic and a savvy user of Web sites, Aulaqi was able to gather a following online and radicalize Muslims he had never met, earning him a reputation as “the bin Laden of the Internet,” U.S. officials said.

Among those who attended his sermons were three of the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young Ni­ger­ian who allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight en route to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underwear, reportedly told interrogators that he had met with Aulaqi in Yemen that year and that the cleric helped plan the attack and provide religious justification for it.

Faisal Shahzad, who pleaded guilty to the attempted May 2010 car bombing in Times Square, never met Aulaqi but contacted him over the Internet and told interrogators the cleric had inspired him, officials have said.

A group of Islamist militants who conspired to attack U.S. military personnel at Fort Dix, N.J., in 2007 also drew inspiration from Aulaqi’s sermons, according to evidence presented at their trial.

Aulaqi was hired in 2001 to be the imam at Dar al-Hijrah, the Falls Church mosque that would later come under scrutiny by U.S. investigators looking into connections to terrorism cases.

“Before he came to Dar al-Hijrah, I didn’t know anything about him,” said Bassam Estwani, one of the early founders of the mosque and former chairman of its board. “Brothers from California recommended him as a good scholar.”

Estwani said he was stunned by Aulaqi’s transformation into a radical Islamist, adding that he “never saw any sign of extremist thinking” in the young cleric. Aulaqi was “very nice, very disciplined, polite, helpful to everyone,” Estwani said in an interview. “He was a scholar, spoke both languages, Arabic and English, very well. I wondered to myself afterward is he the same person who spoke here?”

Right after the Sept. 11 attacks, Aulaqi was in demand as an articulate spokesman for American Islam and interfaith understanding. He did a chat about Ramadan on and allowed a Post videographer to chronicle a day in the life of an American imam.

Eventually, however, federal investigators learned that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers — Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi — had briefly worshiped at Dar al-Hijrah when Aulaqi was the imam there. The FBI and the federal 9/11 Commission were unable to determine whether Aulaqi met with the hijackers then. But they noted that he and some of the hijackers had met the year before at his former mosque in San Diego.

The commission’s report said the two hijackers’ appearance at Dar al-Hijrah in 2001 “may not have been coincidental.”

In 2002, after Aulaqi had already left the mosque and gone abroad, he returned one last time to Northern Virginia. Hossein Goal, a former member of Dar al-Hijrah’s executive committee, and newly hired Imam Johari Abdul-Malik met with Aulaqi at a Northern Virginia cafe to try to persuade him to return to the mosque, Abdul-Malik said.

He turned them down, saying the atmosphere for Muslims after Sept. 11 was just too toxic. He said he could find an even bigger platform in the Arab states, and described a few of the options he was pursuing. He was seriously considering running for parliament in Yemen, he told told Goal and Abdul-Malik. He also was mulling hosting a television show in one of the Persian Gulf states or landing a teaching job at an Islamic university.

Later, media reports surfaced that during his time leading a mosque in San Diego, Aulaqi had been arrested on allegations of soliciting prostitutes and was once spotted in Washington with escorts.

Aulaqi’s death comes one week after Saleh, the Yemeni president, returned from Saudi Arabia, following treatment for severe injuries from a June attack on his presidential compound. It was not immediately clear how Aulaqi’s death could affect the fortunes of Saleh, who is considered by the United States to be a close counterterrorism ally.

Yet the Obama administration has also been urging a speedy transfer of power, which Saleh has defiantly resisted. He has often proclaimed that Yemen would plunge into chaos and al-Qaeda would reign if he were to step down abruptly.

Since the Fort Hood shootings, the United States has pressured Yemeni authorities to capture Aulaqi. But those efforts largely failed because of the government’s limited resources and lack of authority in Yemen’s south, where Aulaqi’s influential tribe protected him.

As Yemen’s populist uprising gathered momentum, weakening Saleh’s grip and ushering in a widening political crisis, Yemeni officials said this year that finding Aulaqi had become even less of a priority. Al-Qaeda-linked militants had taken over parts of southern Abyan province, including its provincial capital of Zinjibar, and Yemen’s military and security forces have been battling the Islamic militants to regain control.

The Obama administration has long been concerned that AQAP and Aulaqi could exploit Yemen’s growing lawlessness and power vacuum and expand their foothold in the south, allowing them to plan more attacks against the United States and its allies.

Under heavy U.S. pressure, a Yemeni judge last November ordered Aulaqi’s capture, dead or alive, for his failure to appear in court to respond to allegations that he had persuaded a Yemeni man to kill a French citizen who worked at an oil company. Two days later, Aulaqi, in a video, called for his followers to kill Americans. In January, a Yemeni court sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison for his role in inciting followers to kill foreigners.

Still, Aulaqi remained free. In interviews this year, Aulaqi’s relatives, tribesmen and neighbors said they had spotted him on several occasions in public, walking on streets and attending public gatherings. There was apparently little effort by local authorities to take him into custody.

Even top ruling party officials conceded earlier this year that it was the responsibility of the United States to find Aulaqi because it had the technology to track him down and kill him — while the Yemenis, they said, had no idea of his whereabouts.

It was not clear whether Aulaqi had moved from southern Yemen to the north, or whether he was simply visiting the area when he was targeted. He had sympathizers in both Marib and Jawf provinces, where there is a significant al-Qaeda presence.

“Sheik Anwar is an intelligent man. He knows how to apply pressure on America,” Abdullah al-Juaili, a tribal leader in Jawf, said in an interview earlier this year. “I don’t believe he is al-Qaeda. If he comes to al-Jawf, no one will touch him.”

Still, Aulaqi had good reasons to leave the south or move to and from different parts of the country. In May, a missile strike from U.S. drone was aimed at killing him; other militants in southern Yemen have been targeted by the United States.

Staff writers William Branigin, Greg Miller, Karen DeYoung, William Wan, Michelle Boorstein, Greg Jaffe, Aaron C. Davis and Kafia Hosh in Washington and special correspondent Mohammed al-Qadhi in Sanaa contributed to this report.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Course Instructs Journalists to Take Note That Jihad 'Not a Leading Cause of Death'

A new online journalism course on Islam appears to downplay the threat posed by global jihad groups, suggesting reporters keep the death toll from Islamic terrorism in "context" by comparing that toll to the number of people killed every year by malaria, HIV/AIDS and other factors.

"Jihad is not a leading cause of death in the world," the online course cautions studying journalists.

While that is technically true, researchers at the Culture and Media Institute who examined the online program took exception to that and numerous other claims made in the Poynter News University course.

Dan Gainor, vice president at the institute, said the course is sweeping these threats "under the rug," while watering down the section on jihad with inappropriate comparisons.

"Infectious disease, we have government structures to prevent that, and that's great ... in radical Islam we have not even one organization but several organizations that are constantly seeking to kill Americans and others too," he said. "It seems like journalists should not be involved in trying to downplay that."

Gainor's group released a report Thursday morning on the course.

The Islam reporting program is supported in part by a group, the Social Science Research Council, which has received funding from organizations backed by billionaire George Soros.

In the section on jihad, the course informs readers that the word merely means "struggle" in Arabic -- this is something White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has sought to remind the public of in the past. The course notes that terrorism in the name of jihad has "failed to mobilize Muslims outside of a few territories."

But to illustrate this point, the course references the number of people killed by various causes, implicitly suggesting journalists change the way they report on jihad-related deaths.

"Of the hundreds of murders that occur each day, journalists are far more likely to report on jihad-related incidents than other violence. As a result, news consumers have developed a skewed impression of the prevalence of jihad, relative to other forms of conflict. Context is essential in covering this global story in a way that does not amplify fears of jihad," the course says.

The Poynter course estimates jihad groups have killed about 165,000 people over the past four decades, mostly in Iraq. It notes the biggest toll in the United States was the approximately 3,000 killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

"To give those numbers some context, the FBI reports that approximately 15,000 people in the U.S. are murdered each year. All around the world, more than half a million people are murdered annually, according to the World Health Organization," the course says. "At its peak, jihad organizations have accounted for less than 2 percent of this toll -- in most years, they account for well under 1 percent. (A half-million individuals die each year from nutritional deficiencies, more than 800,000 from malaria, and 2 million from HIV/AIDS.)"

Gainor noted that murder victims mostly are killed in separate incidents, whereas victims of Islamic terrorism often are killed in larger-scale attacks. Also, murder victims typically are not killed in the name of an ideological war against a country.

The online course, which is broken into several sections, also discusses "right-wing activists" bent on linking American Muslims to terrorism. The section includes the good-journalism tip that reporters should check to see if experts they're interviewing "have a bias or a stake in the story you are covering." But then it only cites examples of anti-Muslim groups.

The course also addresses Shariah law without including information of instances where the law is interpreted with harsh consequences.

"In countries governed by strict adherence to Islam, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, Shariah is the law of the land. But in many other Muslim countries, such as Egypt, there are separate civil and Shariah law courts, with the latter governing issues such as marriage and family law, while civil courts decide the rest," the course says.

But the Culture and Media Institute, part of the conservative Media Research Center, noted that in strict countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, people can be stoned to death or flogged for non-violent crimes. In Iran, a pastor who refused to renounce his Christian faith was facing execution after his sentence was recently upheld by an Iranian court -- though an attorney now says he is likely to be acquitted.

The Poynter Institute said in an email to that it created the course "as a tool for journalists who want to be accurate in educating their audience about the religion and culture of Islam, Muslim communities in the U.S., and the distinctions between Islam as a political movement and the radical philosophies that inspire militant Islamists."

"We believe there is a need to better understand the complexities of Muslim societies and the online course offered by Poynter and Washington State University is a vital resource toward that end," the Poynter Institute said.

"The values underpinning the course are truth, accuracy, independence, fairness, minimizing harm and context -- the core journalistic values on which we build all our teaching here at Poynter."


So it's more like a deadly virus

Al-Qaida rejects Iran's 9/11 conspiracy theories

CAIRO (AP) - Al-Qaida has sharply criticized Iran's president over his suggestions that the United States government was behind the Sept. 11 attacks and not al-Qaida, dismissing the comments as "ridiculous."

During his trip to New York last week for the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad claimed in an interview with The Associated Press that explosive material and not planes brought down the World Trade Center. He stopped short of saying the United States staged the disaster, but said that as an engineer, he's sure New York's twin towers were not brought down by jetliners.

"A few airplanes without previous coordination known to the security forces and the intelligence community in the United States cannot become missiles and target the heart of the United States," Ahmadinejad said.

In an article posted online Wednesday in the terror network's English-language Internet magazine "Inspire," al-Qaida rejected the Iranian leader's suggestions.

"Why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?" asked the article's author, Abu Suhail. He said Iran wanted to portray itself as a country that stands up to the U.S.

"For Iran, anti-Americanism is merely a game of politics. It is anti-American when its suits it and it is a collaborator with the U.S. when it suits it," Abu Suhail said.

He cited a number of examples of when Iran allegedly cooperated with the U.S., including in the invasion of Afghanistan. He also said the Shiites in Iraq, who are supported by Iran, "brought the American forces to the country and welcome them with open arms."

Abu Suhail said Iran is jealous of al-Qaida's "success" in the Sept. 11 attacks, saying that because Tehran couldn't strike at the U.S. itself, the Iranians want to "to discredit Sept. 11 and what better way to do so than conspiracy theories."

He said Iran and the Shiites opposed giving al-Qaida credit for the 9/11 attacks "because this would expose their lip-service to jihad (holy war) against the Great Satan," a term Iranian officials have used to describe the U.S.

Al-Qaida mainly embraces Sunni militants, and is bitterly hostile toward Shiites, who make up the vast majority of Iran.

Late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in his many audio and video messages praised the attacks several times and in 2004 he publicly acknowledged al-Qaida's involvement and two years later asserted his responsibility for the attacks in an audio message defending Zacarias Moussaoui, who was undergoing a trial for his participation in the attacks.

In the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology conducted a probe that took six years to complete of the tower collapses; the last report found that fire caused the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, a skyscraper north of the twin towers.

In the collapses of the twin towers, the agency found that extreme heat from the jetliner crashes caused some steel beams to lose strength, causing further failures in the building until the entire structure succumbed.


This guy is such a nutjob, that even the nutjobs think he's crazy

A French Infantryman's View of American Soldiers

"Subject: [warrior$] French view
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2008 08:28:44 -0600

A friend sent this out

Military21 Sep 2008 at 13:56 by Jean-Marc Liotier

American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT infantryman

The US often hears echoes of worldwide hostility against the application of its foreign policy, but seldom are they reached by the voices of those who experience first hand how close we are to the USA. In spite of contextual political differences and conflicting interests that generate friction, we do share the same fundamental values - and when push comes to shove that is what really counts. Through the eyes of that French OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams) infantryman you can see how strong the bond is on the ground. In contrast with the Americans, the French soldiers don't seem to write much online - or maybe the proportion is the same but we just have less people deployed. Whatever the reason, this is a rare and moving testimony which is why I decided to translate it into English, so that American people can catch a glimpse of the way European soldiers see them. Not much high philosophy here, just the first hand impressions of a soldier in contact - but that only makes it more authentic.

Here is the original French article,

and here is my translation :

"We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while - they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army - one that the movies brought to the public as series showing "ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events". Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day ? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.

They have a terribly strong American accent - from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.
Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine (Heh. More like Waffle House and McDonalds) - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.

Here we discover America as it is often depicted : their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland - everything here reminds of that : the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions : the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.

And they are impressive warriors ! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered - everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.

And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all - always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks : they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the enemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting : they just charge ! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later - which cuts any pussyfooting short.

(This is the main area where I'd like to comment. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Kipling knows the lines from Chant Pagan: 'If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white/remember it's ruin to run from a fight./So take open order, lie down, sit tight/And wait for supports like a soldier./ This, in fact, is the basic philosophy of both British and Continental soldiers. 'In the absence of orders, take a defensive position.' Indeed, virtually every army in the world. The American soldier and Marine, however, are imbued from early in their training with the ethos: In the Absence of Orders: Attack! Where other forces, for good or ill, will wait for precise orders and plans to respond to an attack or any other 'incident', the American force will simply go, counting on firepower and SOP to carry the day.

This is one of the great strengths of the American force in combat and it is something that even our closest allies, such as the Brits and Aussies (that latter being closer by the way) find repeatedly surprising. No wonder is surprises the hell out of our enemies.)

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is - from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.

To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America's army's deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers".

Much of this the various veterans reading will go 'Well, duh. Of course we do our 'camp chores' and stand our posts in good order. There's a reason for them and if we didn't we'd get our heads handed to us eventually. And, yeah, we're in shape. Makes battle easier. The more you sweat, the less you bleed.'

What is hard for most people to comprehend is that that attitude represented only the most elite units of the past. Current everyday conventional boring 'leg infantry' units exceed the PT levels and training levels of most Special Forces during the Vietnam War. They exceed both of those as well as IQ and educational levels of: Waffen SS, WWII Rangers, WWII Airborne and British 'Commando' units during WWII. Their per-unit combat-functionality is essentially unmeasurable because it has to be compared to something and there's nothing comparable in industrial period combat history.

This group is so much better than 'The Greatest Generation' at war that WWII vets who really get a close look at how good these kids are stand in absolute awe.

So much of 'The scum of the earth, enlisted for drink.'

Everyone complains about the quality of 'the new guys.' Don't. The screw-ups of this modern generation are head and shoulders above the 'high-medium' of any past group. Including mine.

This is 'The Greatest Generation' of soldiers.

They may never be equalled.

I wish to hell this would actually get reprinted in the NYT.


John Ringo

Syria:14 Dead, Nuclear Scientist Assassinated

Syrian forces killed fourteen civilians and unidentified attackers assassinated the nuclear engineer Aws Abdel Karim Khalil in the Syrian city of Homs, 160 kilometers north of Damascus on Wednesday.

The “2011 Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad” Facebook page disclosed 12 of the civilians’ names. The names are: Al-Mounjid Bachir Mansour, a person from Al Rozz, Lieutenant Ahmad Khalaf, the recruit Mohammad Hasyan, Abdul Menhem Bahbuh, Moussa al-Zuluk, Zuheir Traboulsi, Jamal Sifo, Mahmud Hilal, Moussa Abdul Hadi al-Danaf, Sharif Moussa, and Fayez Salam.

Earlier Wednesday, unidentified attackers killed a nuclear engineer in the Syrian city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Nuclear engineer Aws Abdel Karim Khalil was killed this morning by unknown attackers," the Britain-based rights group said in a statement.

On Tuesday in the same city, unidentified attackers killed Mohamed Ali Aqil, deputy rector the architecture faculty at al-Baath University, and Nael Dakhil, director of the military petrochemical school.

Rights activists in the city accuse Syrian authorities of carrying out the killings.

Rights activists, who set up an alliance under the name al-Ghad on September 18, accuse the authorities of having "killed scientific personalities in Homs, trying to repeat the scenario of assassinations" perpetrated in Syria in the 1980s.

Syria for some six months has been in the throes of a peoples' uprising in which the U.N. says some 2,700 people have been killed by an army crackdown. The authorities in Damascus accuse the West and "armed gangs" of trying to sow chaos in the country.

On Monday, security forces killed nine civilians during a sweep against militants in the northwest, south and center of the country, activists said.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Step Aside BBC "Trader": Head Of UniCredit Securities Predicts Imminent End Of The Eurozone And A Global Financial Apocalypse

"Either the YesMen have infiltrated Italy's biggest, and most undercapitalied, bank, or the stress of constant, repeated lying and prevarication has finally gotten to the very people who know their livelihoods hang by a thread, and the second the great ponzi is unwound their jobs, careers, and entire way of life will be gone. Such as the head of UniCredit global securities Attila Szalay-Berzeviczy, and former Chairman of the Hungarian stock exchange, who has written an unbelievable oped in the Hungarian portal which, frankly, make Alessio "BBC Trader" Rastani's provocative speech seem like a bedtime story. Only this time one can't scapegoat Szalay-Berzeviczy "naivete" on inexperience or the desire to gain public prominence. If someone knows the truth, it is the guy at the top of UniCredit, which we expect to promptly trade limit down once we hit print. Among the stunning allegations (stunning in that an actual banker dares to tell the truth) are the following: "the euro is “practically dead” and Europe faces a financial earthquake from a Greek default"... “The euro is beyond rescue”... “The only remaining question is how many days the hopeless rearguard action of European governments and the European Central Bank can keep up Greece’s spirits.”...."A Greek default will trigger an immediate “magnitude 10” earthquake across Europe."..."Holders of Greek government bonds will have to write off their entire investment, the southern European nation will stop paying salaries and pensions and automated teller machines in the country will empty “within minutes.” In other words: welcome to the Apocalypse...

But wait, there's more. From Bloomberg:"

Zero Hedge

Engagements with Turkish F-16s in the Aegean

Three engagements between Greek intercepting aircraft and Turkish F-16 fighter jets occurred over the Aegean Sea on Wednesday, for the first time in the last months.
Today, Turkish pilots did not change their course after being intercepted and identified by Greek pilots, leading to engagements. One of them took place west of Lesbos while two more took place between Lesbos and Chios.

A total of 12 Turkish military aircraft entered the Athens FIR without having previously submitted flight plans. Eight of them were armed. Besides the three engagements, three violations of Greek airspace by an equal number of Turkish aircraft formations were also recorded.

Defence Greece

US missile strike kills three in South Waziristan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Pakistani intelligence officials say an American missile strike has killed at least three people in a militant stronghold near the Afghan border.

The two officials say a pair of missiles struck a house near the town of Wana in South Waziristan on Tuesday.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with reporters.

Washington has fired scores of missiles into northwest Pakistan since 2008 to target Taliban and al-Qaida operatives.

The latest strike comes at a time when tension are already high between Washington and Islamabad following a recent claim by a top US military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, that Pakistan’s main spy agency backed those militants who carried out attacks against American targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied the allegation.


Somali militants in key port 'attacked by US drones'

The United States has launched a series of attacks by unmanned drones on the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, local residents say.

At least three targets were hit around Kismayo, the southern port which is under the control of the militants.

One reconnaissance drone is reported to have crashed.

Meanwhile, there have been clashes between Somali government troops and the militants in the Gedo region, further north.

Residents of Kismayo say there were explosions around the city, with at least three targets being hit.

It is reported that al-Shabab are patrolling the streets, preventing locals from using the hospital, which is treating their wounded.

Kismayo is a key asset for the militants, allowing supplies to reach areas under their control and providing taxes for their operations.

In the Gedo region, there has been fighting around the town of Garbahare between al-Shabaab and government troops backed by local militia.

A local MP, Mahmood Sayid, told the BBC that 120,000 people had fled to the town to escape the famine, but that there was nothing to give them.

Deaths are being recorded every day, he said.


I think there is a drone flying circles over my house right now, been up there for hours. Wonder if it's armed?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NGO report: 93,000 Copts left Egypt since March

Nearly 93,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt since 19 March, a report by an Egypt-based Coptic NGO has said.

The number may increase to 250,000 by the end of 2011, according to Naguib Gabriel, the head of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights, which released the report.

The current trend of Coptic immigration endangers the structure of Egypt's population, Gabriel told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Sunday. He urged the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Egyptian cabinet to work on curbing the phenomenon.

Gabriel based the data stated in the report on information from Coptic churches and communities abroad.

"Nearly 16,000 migrated to California, while 10,000 moved to New Jersey, 8000 to New York, and 8000 to other American states," according to Gabriel. "Around 14,000 left to Australia, 17,000 to Canada, and 20,000 settled in the Netherlands, Italy, England, Austria, Germany and France."

Gabriel attributed the Coptic emigration to hardline Salafi groups seeking to apply Islamic law, deny Copts senior government posts, and reduce incoming tourism. He also blamed attacks on Coptic churches and the government's failure to bring attackers to justice.

Coptic author Kamal Zakher said the numbers in the report were exaggerated, but that concern over Coptic immigration is justifiable.

Migration procedures take up to a year to complete, so it is illogical to say the January revolution caused the Copts to leave the country, Zakher said.

The head of the Evangelical denomination in Egypt, Safwat al-Bayadi, also voiced his anxiety about Coptic immigration, noting that the continuation of the trend depends on the political forces ruling the country in the future.

Christians form nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February, concerns have been growing among Christians over the mounting political influence of Islamist groups, some of which view Copts as infidels and deny them the right to assume top government posts.

However, Egypt’s biggest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, had stressed Christians' right to the presidency and accepted them as members in its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.


'Egypt seizes Gaza-bound anti-aircraft missiles in Sinai'

Officials say missiles, launchers were smuggled through Sudan or Libya; seizure comes amid Sinai crackdown against militants, smuggling.

Officials say missiles, launchers were smuggled through Sudan or Libya; seizure comes amid Sinai crackdown against militants, smuggling.

Late last month, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Egyptian officials were finalizing plans to combat smuggling from the Sinai Peninsula into the Gaza Strip.

Israel Radio reported the same week that Egypt’s army is planning to destroy all tunnels within 14 km. of the border.

High-level Egyptian security sources said that the country was considering establishing a 5-kilometer buffer zone along its border with the Gaza Strip, and that heavy excavation equipment had been moved to the border in order to destroy smuggling tunnels, according to the Al-Masry Al-Youm report.

Egypt has been in pursuit of elements believed to be connected with acts of sabotage in Sinai, notably, repeated attempts to blow up the pipeline which carries natural gas to both Jordan and Israel. In efforts to restrict the movement of these elements, Egypt has coordinated with Hamas to prevent infiltration across the border in either direction, according to a report in Al-Shorouk last month.

The report added that Egypt has made it clear to Hamas that any Palestinians caught infiltrating into Sinai will be handed over to Egyptian security authorities.

The Egyptian military has reinforced its security along the border with Israel in the aftermath of last month's multi-stage terror attack, emanating from Sinai, in which eight Israelis were killed.


Germany slams 'stupid' US plans to boost EU rescue fund

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said it would be a folly to boost the EU's bail-out machinery (EFSF) beyond its €440bn lending limit by deploying leverage to up to €2 trillion, perhaps by raising funds from the European Central Bank.

"I don't understand how anyone in the European Commission can have such a stupid idea. The result would be to endanger the AAA sovereign debt ratings of other member states. It makes no sense," he said.

Mr Schauble told Washington to mind its own businesss after President Barack Obama rebuked EU leaders for failing to recapitalise banks and allowing the debt crisis to escalate to the point where it is "scaring the world".

"It's always much easier to give advice to others than to decide for yourself. I am well prepared to give advice to the US government," he said.

The comments risk irritating the White House. US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been a key driver of plans to give the EFSF enough firepower to shore up Italy and Spain, fearing a drift into "cascading default, bank runs and catastrophic risk" without dramatic action.


Monday, September 26, 2011

U.S. Government Used Taxpayer Funds to Buy, Sell Weapons During 'Fast and Furious,' Documents Show

Not only did U.S. officials approve, allow and assist in the sale of more than 2,000 guns to the Sinaloa cartel -- the federal government used taxpayer money to buy semi-automatic weapons, sold them to criminals and then watched as the guns disappeared.

This disclosure, revealed in documents obtained by Fox News, could undermine the Department of Justice's previous defense that Operation Fast and Furious was a "botched" operation where agents simply "lost track" of weapons as they were transferred from one illegal buyer to another. Instead, it heightens the culpability of the federal government as Mexico, according to sources, has opened two criminal investigations into the operation that flooded their country with illegal weapons.

Operation Fast and Furious began in October 2009. In it, federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives encouraged gun stores to sell weapons to an arms smuggling gang, then watched as the guns crossed the border and were used in crimes. Each month, the agency allowed hundreds of guns to go South, despite opposition from some agents.

All told, the gang spent more than $1.25 million for the illegal guns.

In June 2010, however, the ATF dramatically upped the ante, making the U.S. government the actual "seller" of guns.

According to documents obtained by Fox News, Agent John Dodson was ordered to buy six semi-automatic Draco pistols -- two of those were purchased at the Lone Wolf gun store in Peoria, Ariz. An unusual sale, Dodson was sent to the store with a letter of approval from David Voth, an ATF group supervisor.

Dodson then sold the weapons to known illegal buyers, while fellow agents watched from their cars nearby.

This was not a "buy-bust" or a sting operation, where police sell to a buyer and then arrest them immediately afterward. In this case, agents were "ordered" to let the sale go through and follow the weapons to a stash house.

According to sources directly involved in the case, Dodson felt strongly that the weapons should not be abandoned and the stash house should remain under 24-hour surveillance. However, Voth disagreed and ordered the surveillance team to return to the office. Dodson refused, and for six days in the desert heat kept the house under watch, defying direct orders from Voth.

A week later, a second vehicle showed up to transfer the weapons. Dodson called for an interdiction team to move in, make the arrest and seize the weapons. Voth refused and the guns disappeared with no surveillance.

According to a story posted Sunday on a website dedicated to covering Fast and Furious, Voth gave Dodson the assignment to "dirty him up," since Dodson had become the most vocal critic of the operation.

"I think Dodson demanded the letter from Voth to cover both himself and the FFL (Federal Firearm Licensee). He didn't want to be hung out to dry by Voth," a source told the website "Sipsey Street Irregulars."

Subsequent to this undercover operation, sources told Sipsey, "Dodson just about came apart all over them (his supervisors). In a 'screaming match' that was heard throughout the Phoenix office by many employees, Dodson yelled at Voth and Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillett, 'Why not just go direct and empty out the (ATF) arms room?" (to the cartels), or words to that effect.'

After the confrontation, ATF managers transferred Dodson to a more menial job. Months later, after the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Dodson blew the whistle and went public about the federal government's gunrunning operation.


'Hizbullah Commander' Arrested in Iraq Could Get Military Tribunal in U.S.

The Obama administration is considering a military trial in the United States for a Hizbullah commander now detained in Iraq, U.S. counterterrorism officials said, previewing a potential prosecution strategy that has failed before but may offer a solution to a difficult legal problem for the government.

While the U.S. hasn't made a decision, officials said a tribunal at a U.S. military base may be the best way to deal with Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was captured in Iraq in 2007. He has been linked to the Iranian government and a brazen raid in which four American soldiers were abducted and killed in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala in 2007.

No military commission has been held on U.S. soil since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President George Bush tried holding a few suspected terrorists at military bases inside the U.S., but each detainee ultimately was released or transferred to civilian courts.

President Barack Obama has said that, because of changes to the military commissions that give prisoners more rights, he supports them as an option in the fight against terrorism.

But a tribunal for Daqduq probably would draw criticism from both liberals, who say a civilian court should be used, and conservatives, who don't want suspected terrorists brought to the U.S. regardless of the venue.

The Bush administration had planned to prosecute Daqduq in an American civilian court. To prepare for that, intelligence officials questioned Daqduq, then had the FBI restart the interrogation from scratch so his answers would be admissible in court.

In a twist of political irony, however, that plan has been effectively scuttled because of opposition from Bush's own Republican Party.

A decision must be made soon. Daqduq is among a few of the remaining U.S. prisoners who, under a 2008 agreement between Washington and Baghdad, must be transferred to Iraqi custody by the end of 2011. U.S. officials fear that if he is turned over to Iraq, he will simply walk free.


Huge Yemen protest demands Saleh trial

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Sanaa on Sunday demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's trial for crimes committed during his decades-long rule, hours before he is expected to make a speech.

The protesters, who set off on from Change Square, the epicentre of the pro-democracy movement in the capital, chanted "Freedom! Freedom! The people want the butcher tried!"

Their demand comes after the bloodiest week Sanaa has seen since mass anti-government protests calling for Saleh's resignation erupted in January, prompting fears of renewed clashes.

In all, more than 170 people, mostly unarmed protesters, have been killed in the capital since last Sunday.

Most of the casualties were anti-government protesters killed when security forces used artillery and gunfire and to disperse demonstrating crowds.

In Yemen's second largest city of Taez, three people were killed and three others were wounded in clashes early on Sunday.

The overnight fighting erupted between armed tribesmen who have thrown their support behind anti-government protesters and security forces loyal to Saleh.

Two tribesmen were killed and three others were wounded, a tribal source told AFP, requesting anonymity.

A medical official in Taez said a third man was shot early on Sunday by government troops.

The clashes came a day after Yemeni security forces in Taez, including the elite Republican Guard troops commanded by Saleh's son Ahmed, bolstered their deployment throughout the city and on its outskirts.

The beefed up military deployment came after Saleh's return to Yemen on Friday after a near four-month absence.

He flew in from Saudi Arabia where he received treatment for wounds sustained in a June explosion at his presidential compound.

Taez has been the scene of intense clashes between government troops and anti-government protesters since calls for Saleh's resignation first began.

In June, influential tribal leaders deployed armed men to protect the pro-democracy protesters in Taez, leading to regular firefights and bloody clashes between the two sides.

At least eight people have been killed there in the past week, six of them civilians, according to medical officials.

The latest protests came amid renewed calls by the United Nations, the United Stares and Gulf leaders for Saleh to step down and transfer power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, the sponsors of the Gulf initiative that provides a road map for a peaceful transition of power in Yemen, have been rebuffed by Saleh, who has repeatedly delayed signing the initiative.

On Saturday, GCC ministers condemned the violence in Yemen and echoed US and UN calls urging Saleh to "immediately" sign the initiative.

They also called for "self-restraint, a complete and immediate ceasefire, and for forming a commission of inquiry in the latest events that have cost the lives of innocent Yemenis."

A UN Security Council statement on Saturday called on all sides to "reject violence, including against peaceful and unarmed civilians, and show maximum restraint."

"They called on all parties to move forward urgently in an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition," it said.

Meanwhile, government forces, dissident troops and armed tribesmen, both pro- and anti-Saleh, remained heavily deployed throughout Sanaa, an AFP correspondent said, raising fears of renewed clashes ahead of Saleh's anticipated speech.

The official Yemeni news agency has said he would make "an important speech to mark the 49th anniversary" of the September 26, 1962 revolution that saw Yemen proclaimed a republic, although no appearance has been officially announced.

Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, traditionally makes his speech on the eve of the anniversary.


Afghanistan: 'Two killed at Kabul CIA station'

An Afghan employee has killed one US citizen and wounded another before being shot dead at a compound believed to house a CIA station, officials say.

The incident in Kabul took place on Sunday night at the facility, previously known as the Ariana hotel.

It comes two weeks after militants attacked the US embassy and government buildings in Kabul, leaving 25 dead.

The motives for the shooting are as yet unclear. Afghan CIA employees usually undergo rigorous security screening.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Kabul says that it is unclear if the gunman was a Taliban recruit or if the shooting happened as a result of a personal dispute which escalated into serious bloodshed because of the presence of weapons.

According to one source, when the gunman opened fire he was shooting in all directions, our correspondent reports.

Afghan counter-intelligence sources told the BBC that their personnel in the area heard an explosion and gunfire which lasted nearly 10 minutes.

The compound is located in the most secure part of Kabul - near the US embassy and Nato military bases.

Meanwhile, a source in the nearby Afghan presidential palace told the BBC: "After the explosion was heard, an Afghan National Army (ANA) vehicle was passing. CIA-employed guards opened fire on the vehicle, thinking it had attacked them."

The sources said that two ANA soldiers, one CIA guard and one presidential guard were injured.

Earlier this week, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the chief of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, was killed in a suicide bomb attack in the Afghan capital.


In Syria, defectors form dissident army in sign uprising may be entering new phase

WADI KHALED, Lebanon — A group of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army is attempting the first effort to organize an armed challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, signaling what some hope and others fear may be a new phase in what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful Syrian protest movement.

For now, the shadowy entity seems mostly to consist of some big ambitions, a Facebook page and a relatively small number of defected soldiers and officers who have taken refuge on the borderlands of Turkey and Lebanon or among civilians in Syria’s cities.

Many of its claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, such as its boasts to have shot down a helicopter near Damascus this month and to have mustered a force of 10,000 to take on the Syrian military.

But it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas where the defections have occurred.

“It is the beginning of armed rebellion,” said Gen. Riad Asaad, the dissident army’s leader, who defected from the air force in July and took refuge in Turkey.

“You cannot remove this regime except by force and bloodshed,” he said, speaking by telephone from the Syria-Turkey border. “But our losses will not be worse than we have right now, with the killings, the torture and the dumping of bodies.”

His goals are to carve out a slice of territory in northern Syria, secure international protection in the form of a no-fly zone, procure weapons from friendly countries and then launch a full-scale attack to topple the Assad government, echoing the trajectory of the Libyan revolution.

In the meantime, the defected soldiers are focusing their attention on defending civilians in neighborhoods where protests occur, while seeking to promote further defections, he said.

If the group achieves even a fraction of those aims, it would mark a dramatic turning point in the six-month standoff between a government that has resorted to maximum force to suppress dissent and a protest movement that has remained largely peaceful.

There is still scant evidence that the defectors are anywhere close to presenting a serious threat to Assad. Diplomats and activists say it is clear that the Free Syrian Army does have a presence in several locations, including the central city of Homs, the remote northern area of Jabal Zawiya near the Turkish border, and the eastern town of Deir al-Zour.

There have been frequent reports of firefights between defected soldiers and the regular army in these areas, but the numbers involved do not appear to be as large as the Free Syrian Army claims.

“I don’t think the numbers are big enough to have an impact one way or another on the government or on the contest between the protesters and the government,” said U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, speaking by telephone from Damascus. “The vast majority of protests are still unarmed, and the vast majority of protesters are unarmed.”

There are nonetheless signs that the Free Syrian Army is expanding and organizing as reports of violent encounters increase. The group has announced the formation of 12 battalions around the country that regularly post claims on the group’s Facebook page, including bombings against military buses and ambushes at checkpoints.

One of the most active units is the Khalid Bin Walid Brigade in Homs, where the presence of hundreds and perhaps as many as 2,000 defected soldiers is believed to be responsible for an intensified government offensive over the past two weeks in which neighborhoods have been shelled and dozens of civilians have died.

According to defected soldiers and local activists, soldiers there are abandoning their units on a near-daily basis, encouraged in part by a tactic that involves ambushing patrols, shooting their commanders then convincing the rank and file to switch sides.

The brigade also serves as a defense force in neighborhoods opposed to the government, guarding streets while protests take place and attacking the militias, known as shabiha, that are an integral part of the government’s efforts to suppress dissent.

“We only kill them in self-defense,” said a captain in the brigade, interviewed via Skype, who requested that his name not be used, to protect his family from retribution.

He and other defected soldiers say they have Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and antiaircraft guns and can count on a steady supply of ammunition secured from sympathetic soldiers within the military. News reports of arms seizures on both the Lebanese and Iraqi borders suggest weapons are also being smuggled from neighboring countries.

Though several activists and defected soldiers offered similar accounts of the Free Syrian Army’s activities, verifying them is impossible, because the Syrian government refuses to allow foreign journalists access to the country.

The Free Syrian Army has an interest in amplifying its activities to encourage defections. Activists committed to preserving the revolt’s pacifism have a stake in playing down its relevance.

The only admission by the government that defections are taking place has come in the form of a televised “confession” by one of the most prominent defectors, Lt. Col. Hussein Harmoush, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Turkey in late August then surfaced two weeks later on Syrian state television denouncing the opposition.

Defections are not new, but until now most have consisted of small groups of disgruntled soldiers fleeing orders to shoot civilians, then taking refuge in local homes, where they are hunted down and captured or killed, often along with those who sheltered them.

The phenomenon was causing so many civilian casualties that protest organizers this summer appealed to soldiers to not defect until they could count on sufficient numbers to make a difference, said Wissam Tarif, an activist with the human rights group Avaaz.

Soldiers with the Free Syrian Army say they are hoping that point has now been reached. Large-scale or high-ranking defections are still unlikely, because the overwhelming majority of the officer corps belongs to Assad’s minority Alawite sect, said a defected first lieutenant who has taken refuge in the Lebanese border town of Wadi Khaled and makes frequent clandestine visits to Homs to support the Free Syrian Army’s activities.

But among ordinary Sunni conscripts, frustration is building after six months of battling protesters. Many thousands of soldiers are deserting their units and going home simply because they want to see their families, said the officer, who uses the pseudonym Ahmad al-Araby to protect his family.

Asaad, the dissident general, predicted that the sectarian imbalance within the army will ultimately tilt the battle in the defectors’ favor.

“Ninety percent of the soldiers are Sunni, and their morale is bad,” he said. “Every day they are defecting, and the regime is in a panic because they know they are being destroyed from within.”


Sunday, September 25, 2011

US drone kills five Somali civilians

At least five civilians have been killed and more than 22 others injured as a US drone fires missiles on areas in southern Somalia, Press TV reports.

The deadly attack took place on Saturday morning near the town of Dhobley.

Somali army spokesman Mahamed Faraah Dirie said the drone strikes are part of operations the country's military is involved in to target al-Shabab fighters.

The spokesman added that dozens of helicopters are carrying out operations against the militant group in various parts of southern Somalia.

The offensive comes as the Somali government has pledged to flush out the militants using whatever means it can get, the spokesman said.

Dirie did not confirm any civilian casualties in Saturday's strike.

Thousands of people are fleeing their homes in fear of further attacks.

A similar strike left 11 dead and wounded 27 others on Friday.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The Horn of African country has been paralyzed by violence between al-Shabab fighters and government troops that are backed by African Union forces.


Without the euro, would Europe have turned to war?

For the fathers of the euro, the end of the Cold War in 1990 was a time for worry as well as celebration. As they looked to the future, they were also obsessed with the continent’s bloody past. Would a new Europe, and especially a reunified Germany, reawaken old nationalist sentiments and lead again to the danger of war?

Germany’s Helmut Kohl and France’s Francois Mitterrand — and just about every European leader since — saw a common currency as essentially a political project, meant to cement European unity and remove that danger. For them, a world without the euro would have been a world increasingly threatened by conflict and perhaps even war.

Because of these fears, the euro project was rushed through without key agreement on the common political institutions that would have turned Europe into a truly unified economic zone. As a result, each country follows its own economic policy; Greece spends, while Germany saves. And markets have been quick to focus on the weakest links, threatening the entire euro by nearly driving countries such as Greece and Portugal to bankruptcy.

War would not have come to Europe, with or without the euro. A prediction made by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein in 1997 seems closer to reality. He argued that the introduction of the euro would lead to major friction within the European Union, because the problems in maintaining a common currency among so many countries would create confrontations and a rebirth of nationalism.

Feldstein was right. The current euro crisis has frayed nerves so much that Europeans have become more aggressive and even nationalistic again.

The polite tone cultivated for decades by E.U. partners has disintegrated into a tirade of insults. Germans have called the Greeks lazy, corrupt and just plain stupid. The news media in Germany gleefully point out Greek billionaires who pay no taxes, workers who retire at 50and harbors filled with the yachts of the idle rich. German politicians have suggested that Greece sell some islands to repay its debt. In return, Greeks have pulled out the Nazi card, claiming that the Germans owe them billions in wartime reparations.

The other fear in 1990 was that, without the euro, a reunified Germany would again dominate the continent. If Germany gave up its currency, France would support its reunification; the euro would help keep Berlin tied to Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel never tires of repeating this mantra — “If the euro fails, the entire European project will be at stake” — when she calls for another bailout of Greece or Portugal or whoever else is on the brink.

But in the past 20 years, the opposite has happened. The Germans reformed their economy. Today, instead of being controlled by the French, they are acting independently as they call the shots in an E.U. of 500 million people.

Without the euro, Germany would still be Europe’s most powerful country, but it would not have the multiplier of a common currency. Using the euro was the equivalent of Americans maxing out their credit cards. Being able to borrow at low German rates helped create real estate bubbles in Spain and Ireland and sent the Greeks and Portuguese on a spending spree.

It is Germany that has profited most from the profligacy of other Europeans, who take 75 percent of its exports. Even if Greece goes bankrupt, those Mercedes and BMWs were bought with cash borrowed from German banks. The profits need not be sent back.

So without the euro, there would probably have been less conspicuous consumption, and Germany might not have become the powerhouse it is today. But there could have been another important consequence. Europe might not have contributed as significantly to the 2008 financial crisis.

European banks wanted to find higher returns for the profits they were making by lending all that money to Greece and their other southern neighbors. So what did they do? They bought hundreds of billions of dollars worth of subprime mortgages and went through a real crisis in 2007 and 2008. European banks are now foundering again as their exposure to the government debt of countries such as Greece threatens further big losses. That is partly why central banks in Europe and the United States promised this month to pump more dollars into European banks to help them pay their debts.

And that’s the reason Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner went to Poland to try to jawbone the Europeans into actually doing something about their problems. He invited himself to one of the many crisis meetings of European finance ministers, who are looking desperately for ways to calm things down. But Geithner severely misjudged the mood. He was sent packing, with instructions to clean up his own act before giving Europeans unwanted advice.

Geithner’s mistake was to think that the ministers were talking about banking or deficits — or about money at all. They were really still talking about the war and the fears that motivated Kohl and Mitterrand. Geithner didn’t understand the secret code. The meeting was not about action but about how best not to do anything drastic.

This is perhaps the most important implication of the way the euro was set up. Rather than being kept free of politics, as was originally intended, management of the currency has become a political football knocked back and forth by the growing resentments between richer and poorer Europeans. The poorer countries reject the austerity measures necessary to meet German standards. The Germans refuse to take the steps necessary to build a true economic community. The result is a standoff.

Instead of acting decisively, as Geithner demanded, European governments feel limited by their commitment to “Europe” to taking small steps that will not endanger the balance within the E.U. This overwhelming fear of internal conflict is the real legacy of World War II, one that has burdened the European Union since its birth in 1957. European politicians may not be experts on finance, but they do know their voters. Doing nothing is better than risking hard-won stability.

Would Europe be better off without the euro? Perhaps. Globalization would have still decimated its weaker economies, and even without the easy borrowing in the euro zone, smaller southern members of the E.U. would probably be facing some sort of economic crisis. But if the euro hadn’t been implemented as a political project in a Europe not ready for a common currency, experts could probably clean up such a situation fairly fast. But now, they can’t. Because in the end, such decisions are still about the war.


A power shift in Asia

Washington is obsessed with decline: the upshot of the worst economy since the Great Depression, the prospect of massive defense cuts that could signal the end of the American military’s imperial-like reach, the collapse of Arab regimes with which the Pentagon and CIA closely cooperated. But nothing of late quite captures what is going on in terms of a global power shift as much as the U.S. refusal to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets.

U.S. officials argue that upgrading Taiwan’s Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B jets will make them nearly as capable as the 66 new F-16 C/D models that the Taiwanese were seeking, and at a fraction of the cost. But the upgrades reportedly do not include the new engines necessary for added speed and will make it harder for the Taiwanese to retire their oldest jets as they had hoped. Clearly, the decision signifies a painful compromise for the Obama administration.

By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.

Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.

Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.

Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.

Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.

This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going.

Robert D. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.”