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Peter van Buren

Stopping ISIS: Follow the Money

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Wars are expensive. The recruitment and sustainment of fighters in the field, the ongoing purchases of weapons and munitions, as well as the myriad other costs of struggle, add up.


So why isn’t the United States going after Islamic State’s funding sources as a way of lessening or eliminating their strength at making war? Follow the money back, cut it off, and you strike a blow much more devastating than an airstrike. But that has not happened. Why?

Donations

Many have long held that Sunni terror groups, ISIS now and al Qaeda before them, are funded via Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, who are also long-time American allies. Direct links are difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to prove them. The issue is exacerbated by suggestions that the money comes from “donors,” not directly from national treasuries, and may be routed through legitimate charitable organizations or front companies.
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Paris: You Don’t Want to Read This

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You don’t want to read this, and I take no pleasure in writing it, and no one really wants to hear it right now. But I believe it needs to be said.

I join the world in grieving for the dead in Paris. I have grieved for the dead from 9/11 forward — the Australians who died in terror attacks on Bali in 2005, Londoners who died in terror attacks in 2005, the French citizens who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year, the Russians whose plane went down over the Sinai a week or so ago. I grieve also for those killed in smaller attacks already smuggled deep into the obscurity of our memory.

And so we Tweet hashtags and phrases in high school French and post GIFs to Facebook. We know what to do; we’ve done this before.

But it has to be said, especially looking at the sick repetition of the same story, that despite fourteen plus years of a war on terror, terror seems to be with us as much as ever, maybe even more. It is time to rethink what we have done and are doing.

Since that day in 2001, the one with those terrible sparkling blue skies in New York, we have spied on the world, Americans at home and foreigners abroad, yet no one detected anything that stopped the Paris attacks. We gave up much to that spying and got nothing in return.
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TSA Trained Disney World in Goofy 'Terrorist Detection' Methods

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The same ridiculed and useless techniques used by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to not find terrorists at America’s airports are now being used at Orlando theme parks, including Disney World, Seaworld and Busch Gardens, to not find terrorists.

The Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, program is TSA’s one billion dollar “behavioral detection” scheme. SPOT requires TSA staff to be on the lookout for indicators, “tells” to you poker players out there, that give away bad guys.
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Tell Us Why We’re At War in Iraq Again, Mr. President

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When I was a kid, three presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.

I was a teenager during the Cold War, and several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, invade Cuba, fight in odd little places and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.

When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

When I was a little older our president told us how evil Saddam Hussein was, how his soldiers bayoneted babies in Kuwait. He told us Saddam was a threat to America. He told us we needed to invade Panama to oust a dictator to protect America. We believed. It was a lie.
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About That Delta Force Guy Killed in Iraq…

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The United States does not formally acknowledge the existence of Delta Force, and rarely mentions the names of any of its members, even after they leave the service.

Unlike the SEALs, who seem to be prolific writers, Delta operators keep to themselves. Most of the unit’s actions abroad are never mentioned publicly, and when an operator is killed in combat, often the death goes unmentioned in the press, or attributed sometime later to a training accident.

So the very public attention given at the highest levels in Washington to the combat death of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was more than a little significant.

Wheeler was not only acknowledged as having fought with Delta, but his photo was widely published. That in itself is usually a no-no, for fear of linking him to others and outing active duty Delta. His place of death, on the ground, deep inside Iraq, on a strike mission, was explicit, with only a little b.s. thrown in about how Delta was present to provide security for the Kurdish raiding forces seeking to free some hostages. Well, well, nobody in their right mind believes America’s finest special forces are sent out to provide security for a bunch of gussied up militiamen.
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America’s Civilian Killings are No Accident

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America and its allies make modern war in a way that assures “mistakes” destroy hospitals, and civilian lives are taken by drones. These horrors are all too often strategic decisions, or the result of the profligate use of needlessly destructive weapons. They are typically far from accidents.

The destruction of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, including the deaths of physicians from Doctors Without Borders, has become the celebrity example of America’s conduct of war. It is the one that made the news, much like a single child dead on the beach stood in for five years of unabated refugee flows out of the Middle East. But Kunduz is more important than just a dramatic news story, in that it stands as a clear example of a sordid policy.
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Yes, There Still are Some Benghazi Questions Worth Asking

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It is very, very difficult to discuss Benghazi and Clinton without almost immediately dipping deep into partisan politics cesspool, and no doubt any hearings she will testify at on Thursday will be ugly and deeply partisan. About half of the people reading this just clicked away to somewhere else. Thoughts on this topic are just that polarized.

But let’s not give up too easily. There are important questions about Clinton’s handling of Benghazi that are relative to her desire to be president. Here are some of them I hope someone will ask her.
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How to Sustain Perpetual War (It’s Easy!)

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Sustaining America’s state of post-9/11 perpetual war requires skillful manipulation of the public at home. The key tool used for this purpose is the bloodless narrative, a combination of policy, falsehoods and media manipulation that creates the impression that America’s wars have few consequences, at least for Americans.

How can the American government sustain its wars in the face of dead soldiers coming home? Why is there no outcry among the American people over these losses? The answer is the narrative of bloodless war.

The Dead

The bloodless war narrative’s solution to the dead is a policy of don’t look, don’t tell.

Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense for George H. W. Bush, helped decide in 1991 the first Iraq War would play better if Americans did not see their fallen return home. He recalled the images of coffins from the 1989 invasion of Panama on television, transposed against the president speaking of victory, and banned media from Dover Air Force Base, where deceased American personnel would arrive from the Persian Gulf.
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The Harsh Lessons of History: Faux Reports of Progress Against IS

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Allegations that American military analysts may have “cooked the books” to skew intelligence assessments about the campaign against Islamic State (IS), providing a more optimistic account of progress, are a sign of bad things to come.

Bad intel leads to bad decisions. Bad intel created purposefully suggests a war that is being lost, with the people in charge that loathe to admit it even as they continue to stumble forward, ever-more blind. And if that sounds like America’s previous war in Iraq, or its earlier one in Vietnam, you are not wrong.

A Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation into allegations of overly optimistic intelligence reporting, first reported in the New York Times, began after at least one Defence Intelligence Agency analyst claimed officials overseeing the war against Islamic State were improperly reworking the assessments prepared for senior policy makers. The focus is on whether military officials changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.
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Why the War on Terror is Failing

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A well-done article in the New York Times reminds us that four years after the United States assassinated American citizen and Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (and his teenage son) in a drone strike, his influence on jihadists is greater than ever.

At the same time, the UK’s Guardian tells us about William Bradford, an assistant law professor at West Point, who argued in a peer-reviewed paper that attacks on Muslim scholars’ homes and offices, Middle Eastern media outlets and Islamic holy sites are legitimate and necessary to “win” the war on terrorism.

Bradford threatens “Islamic holy sites” as part of a war against radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, “even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage. Other ‘lawful targets’ for the US military in its war on terrorism,” Bradford argues, “include law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews, all civilian areas, but places where a causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited exist.”
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