Curmudgeon Me 2.

Nancy Pelosi rules out impeachment as “not worth the trouble” unless Robert Mueller’s investigation found evidence of actual high crimes and misdemeanors.[1]  Mueller has not yet filed his report or possible final indictments.  He might report evidence of impeachable offensives by President Donald Trump, although Department of Justice opinion seems to hold that a sitting president cannot be indicted.  Attorney General William Barr might release the report or a summary of it, or he might not.  Not releasing it would make me suspect that Mueller reported impeachable offenses and Barr sought to cover for him.

On the other hand, Attorney General Barr is a long-time mainstream Republican, as are most of the Republican Senators.  What would damage the long-term interests of the Republican Party more, impeaching Trump and replacing him with Mike Pence or covering-up impeachable offenses and then having them revealed as soon as a Democrat becomes Attorney General?

What Speaker Pelosi may have been doing is trying to warn fellow Democrats that she doubts that Mueller will report either “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russkies or “obstruction of justice.”[2]  What Mueller has achieved so far has been to get the National Security Agency to tell him who were the Russian hackers, then to indict them; to convict George Papadopoulos for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians; to convict Paul Manafort for financial crimes committed before he became Trump’s campaign manager and for tampering with witnesses to avoid subsequent prosecution; to indict Rick Gates, Manafort’s assistant in the financial crimes, and Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen; and to get Michael Flynn to co-operate.  So, it looks like we are waiting on what has been learned from Flynn and anything that Cohen said in secret that he did not say in public testimony.  I don’t know what that will be.

 

Brenton Tarrant, the accused New Zealand gun-man, was a fat boy child of divorced parents who lived with his father, didn’t like school, and acted out in non-violent ways.[3]  Apparently, he was bullied in school.  Also, “he was a heavy-metal fan.”[4]  In short, pretty run of the mill kind of victim-kid in any high school.  They rarely turn into mass murderers.  If they did, most of us would already be dead.  Then, he changed.  After escaping high-school, he remade himself physically.  He lost a lot of weight through changes in diet and exercise, and became a personal trainer at a local gym.  Again, nothing extraordinary here.  Men’s Health is full of stories of similar constructive transformations.[5]  No one recalls him as violent or white nationalist.  Then he went off to travel the world.  Yet again, nothing extraordinary.  British and European youth hostels are full of young Australians and New Zealanders come from the far side of the world.  Same is probably true of Asia.

It looks like he was “radicalized” during his travels.  This will take more digging than ordinary journalists can do.  Wait a year for the story in the New Yorker.

[1] Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane, “Ruling Out Impeachment May Set Far-Reaching Precedent,” NYT, 13 March 2019.

[2] JMO, but it would be hard to call defending yourself against James Comey “obstruction of justice” if there is no underlying crime.  I’m sure that I’m wrong, but there it is.

[3] Isabella Kwai, “Shock and Disgust in Christchurch Suspect’s Hometown,” NYT, 17 March 2019.

[4] Aha!

[5] Look at the “Belly Off” series for numerous examples.

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Indonesian Islam.

Back in the day, Seymour Martin Lipset wrote The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective (1963).  Like most of Lipset’s work, it was about several things at once.  For one thing, it was about the United States as the first colonial territory to gain its independence from a colonial overlord.  Therefore, American could serve as a model for all the Asian and African countries recently or about-to-be liberated from European empires.  For another thing, it was about the related issue of how to create a stable democracy.  (That’s what most of the leaders of new nations said that they wanted, although the historical record now suggests other ambitions.[1])  According to Lipset democracy is intimately connected with economic growth: “[t]he more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy.”  This idea lay behind both the Marshall Plan to aid Western European economic recovery after the Second World War and the First Gulf War (1990-1991).[2]

Time hasn’t fully born out Lipset’s ideas–so far.  China, for example, is an increasingly prosperous autocracy.  In many Muslim countries, oligarchies have gobbled up national wealth, while the vast majority of people have little opportunity.  More importantly, religious belief can outweigh political theory.  It isn’t clear that the beliefs of Islam are compatible with Western conceptions of democracy.  Traditional Islam rejects any separation of church and state, it rejects law derived from legislatures rather than the Word of Allah, and it rejects the very idea of nation-states in favor of the “umma” of all Believers.[3]  Moreover, Islam is socially conservative in ways that Western liberals find repugnant.  Women’s rights and gay rights antagonize social conservatives.

Indonesia provides an interesting case.  It is the most populous Muslim country in the world.[4]  Piled on top of religious conservatism are hostilities related to ethnic or religious minorities.[5]  The very small share of people with Chinese ancestry play an out-sized role in the economy and have long been the target of Muslim hostility.  Women’s rights and gay rights have a salience in Muslim concerns because of Indonesia’s popularity with Western tourists.

Like Turkey, Indonesia has a democratic system.  Can democratic politics can be used to impose an Islamist agenda?  In 2002, Jemaah Islamiya—an Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda—killed 200 people in bomb attacks on the Indonesian island of Bali.  Repression followed.  Recently, however, there have been both a mass mobilization of Muslims against the Christian governor of Jakarta and renewed terrorist attacks.  There is also legislation pending to criminalize public display of affection by gay people.

Will Southeast Asia become the next front in the war against radical Islamism?

[1] A friend insists that there is a scene from one of Ionesco’s plays in which a character says “We will drink wine under the willow trees.  AND YOU WILL BE MY SLAVES!”  I haven’t been able to run it down.

[2] It was a war for oil prices and oil markets, not a war for oil companies.  The historically-minded men and women behind the war were aware that the 1970s “oil shocks” had pitched the world close to the edge of depression and that the Great Depression of the Thirties had been the principal cause of the Second World War.  They didn’t want that to happen again.

[3] We’ll probably hear complaints that the University of Michigan Museum of Art is a sign of creeping Islamization.

[4] Indonesia’s population is 270 million.   87.2 percent Muslim, 9.9 percent Christian, 1.7 percent Hindu, and 0.7 percent Buddhist and 0.2 percent Confucian.

[5] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Islamist Shift Unsettles Indonesia’s Democracy,” WSJ, 29 June 2018.

My Weekly Reader 1 April 2017.

Since 9/11 the imperatives of the war against radical Islamism have imposed an un-true interpretation of the enemy.  The radicals (Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, ISIS) form a minority within Islam, their most common targets are fellow Muslims, and the assistance of Muslim states is essential to victory over the Islamists.  Hence, it has become commonplace to describe the radicals as not truly Muslim, as heretics at best.

To argue differently is to open oneself to charges of Islamophobia.[1]  Nevertheless, radical Islamism diverges from contemporary Islam much more than it diverges from foundational Islam.  Originally, the Prophet Muhammad preached a single community of Believers (the “umma”), led by puritanical religious figures (a theocracy), and living in permanent hostility to Unbelievers (the conflict between the dar al-Islam/House of Peace/Islam and the dar al-Harb/House of War/Unbelievers).  Jews and Christians, the “Peoples of the Book,” were tolerated in return for payment of a tax, bit barred from proselytizing.  Slavery remained a hall-mark of Muslim societies from the time of the Prophet through the 19th Century.  Subsequently, mainstream Islam moved toward what Western observers think of today: fractured into nation states too weak to pull a hobo of their sister; economically stagnant in the face of swiftly rising populations; ruled by tyrannical soldiers and monarchs, and struggling to reconcile “modernization” in all its forms with core cultural values.

Gilles Kepel and others have argued that dissatisfaction with these governments sent people streaming toward a renewed religious commitment in the last decades of the 20th Century.  Some of those people turned back to a fundamentalist version of Islam.  The fruit of this commitment has been harvested in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, France, Germany, Spain, and Britain.

It’s not difficult to narrate the rise and fall of the Islamic State.  It’s just difficult to explain—comprehend really—why people are willing to give their lives in support of it.  Graeme Wood argues that the “foot soldiers [of ISIS] view their mission in religious terms and spend great energy on piety and devotion.”[2]  They are filled with religious passion.  Dexter Filkins isn’t sure this is actually the case.  His own experience as a war correspondent in Afghanistan and Iraq for the New York Times leads him to believe that “the motives for joining a militant organization were varied and complex.”[3]  Psychopaths and sociopaths found a justification, not a motivation, in religion.  Possibly Wood’s response would be to point again to the identity between the theology of ISIS and the theology of early Islam.  In the 7th and 8th Centuries the Arabs over-run vast tracts of the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires.  Historians conventionally describe these armies as fired by a passionate religious enthusiasm.  Would Filkins argue that they actually were madmen and criminals?

The two different strands of interpretation can be reconciled if one understands that religious faith is intended to redeem those who feel themselves to be ruined by sin.[4]  Religion may become a tired and stifling bourgeois convention that upholds the established order.  It doesn’t normally start out that way.  So, perhaps ISSIS recruits a wide range of troubled people who are self-aware enough to embrace beliefs that may heal or channel their flaws.

[1] It isn’t immediately apparent why mouthing ignorance-based platitudes favorable to Islam is less Islamophobic than is mouthing ignorance-based platitudes hostile to Islam.  Both approaches seem to be based on an indifference to learning about Islam.

[2] Graeme Wood, The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State (2017).

[3] Dexter Filkins, “On the Fringes of ISIS,” NYT Book Review, 22 January 2017.

[4] See, for one example: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/24/the-islamic-brigades-1/

The Selective Immigration Pause.

U.S. immigration law grants to the president the right to “by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or as non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”  All s/he has to do is to “find that the entry of any aliens or any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

The portion of immigration law that bars discrimination on the basis of race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence appliers specifically to the issuing of visas.  It appears to not supersede or to limit the right of the president to bar visa-holders from entering the country.

Little-noticed in the popular discussion of the case, Washington’s solicitor-general appeared to narrow the reach of the suit to a sub-set of the affected people.  “The focus of our claim is on people who have been here and have, overnight, lost the right to travel,… to visit their families,…to go perform research,…to go speak at conferences around the world.  And also, people who had lived here for a long time and happened to be overseas at the time of this order…and suddenly lost the right of return to return to the United States.”  In short, people with green cards or long-term visas.[1]  Judge James Robart appeared to accept this argument in his decision.

Washington Attorney-General Bob Ferguson went beyond this claim.  He acknowledged that the “courts generally give more latitude to the political branches in the immigration context.”  However, “Federal courts have no more sacred role than protecting marginalized groups against irrational, discriminatory conduct.”[2]  Are the Arab immigrants a “marginalized group”?  Is President Trump’s executive order “irrational”?

The Washington suit is likely to be sustained by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit.  It is the most liberal of the Courts of Appeal.  If these were normal times, then an appeal to the Supreme Court by the Trump administration probably would end with the Court of Appeal’s judgement being reversed.[3]  However, these are not normal times.  Republican refusal to pass on a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia has left the Supreme Court dead-locked between liberals and conservatives.  When the Supreme Court cannot agree, then the decision of the lower court is affirmed.[4]  So, it would appear that the immigration pause is about to go down in flames.

For most of the Obama administration, Republican attorneys-general sued to block executive orders and rules.   Many times, they won.  Now a Democratic attorney-general has sued to block President Trump’s temporary-for-the-moment ban on some immigrants and refugees.  It is curious that this one suit has brought on “a constitutional showdown that could leave a mark on the law for generations to come…”[5]   A constitutional showdown would arise only if the Trump administration refused to abide by a court decision.  Which it has not yet done.

But I’m not a lawyer.  Obviously.

[1] If this reading is correct, then Washington is not challenging the executive’s authority to bar refugees or new entrants to the United States.

[2] No one who grew up in the Pacific Northwest or California can have any doubt that Ferguson is referring to the criminalization of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast during the Second World War.

[3] A 2010 study by the American Bar Association found that of the small number of the Ninth Circuit’s decisions reviewed by the Supreme Court, 80 percent were overturned, compared for a national median of 68.29 percent.

[4] If I understand what I read.  Hmmm…

[5] Adam Liptak, “The President Has Much Power Over Immigration, but How Much?” NYT, 6 February @017.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 3.

Last week, a team of people from the Trump administration told a number of senior professionals at the State Department that their resignations had been accepted and that there would be no need for them to remain in their positions until the administration’s nominees for replacements had gotten up to speed.  (Is this the case in other Departments[1] or is it unique to the State Department?  If it is unique to the State Department, then was it the decision of President Trump or of his Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson or of someone else who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are Steven Bannon?  If the decision originated with Tillerson, did it reflect previous contact with the State Department while negotiating oil deals with foreign countries?)

Over the week-end, President Trump reconfigured the “principals committee” of the National Security Council.  While this has been characterized as, among other things, a diminution of the role of the professional military, both the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security are retired Marine Corps generals.  Thus, it could be construed—OK, misconstrued—as a shift from the Bureaucratasaurus to the Parrisasaurus Rex.

Currently, an estimated 90,000 people from radical-Islamist-ridden “countries” have received visas to enter the United States.[2]  On Friday, 27 January 2017 (one week after taking office) elected-President Donald Trump issued an executive order imposing a 90-day “pause” on immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.[3]  This disrupted the late-stage travel plans of about 700 people, who were prevented from boarding U.S.-bound planes.  An additional 300 were halted upon arrival in the United States.[4]

Critics quickly pointed out that no one from these countries had ever committed an act of terror in the United States.  Implicitly, this left liberals in the awkward position of defending Sudan, which has waged a war of aggression—that the left has been quick to denounce as “genocide–in western Sudan, and that Sudan provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden until President Bill Clinton launched cruise missile attacks against suspected al-Qaeda terrorist sites inside Sudan.  In contrast, countries whose citizens have engaged in terrorism against the United States—Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia—escaped the ban.

Massive protests followed at airports, in the streets, in Congress, and on editorial pages.  Not to mention that Iran launched a ballistic missile in a “test” shot: Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are Iranian-dominated countries, in the Iranian view.[5]  None the less, a snap poll revealed that almost half (49 percent) of Americans approved President Trump’s order, while 41 percent disapproved the order.  Various courts were quick to block the order.  All the same, neither refugees nor those foreigners seeking visas are protected by the Bill of Rights.  Indeed, that’s why so many people want to come to the United States.

The deep polarization of American politics continues into the post-election period.  However, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton appeared to be much of a healer.  So,,,

[1] This leaves the estimable-I’m-instructed Sally Yates out of the discussion.

[2] The seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.  To be picky, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian-born “underwear bomber” who tried to bring down an airliner headed to Detroit (why?) had been recruited, trained, and armed in Yemen; al-Shabab in Somalia has recruited a number of Somali-Americans from the upper Midwest.

[3] The temporary and limited ban easily could be extended and broadened.  But why would it have to be?  President Trump has already succeeded in scaring the be-Muhammad out of Muslims and potential immigrants.

[4] “Travel ban prompts chaos, protests,” The Week, 10 February 2017, p. 4.

[5] “How they see us: Trapped by Trump’s travel ban,” The Week, 10 February 2017, p. 15.

Trump l’oeil 1.

Just over a third (38 percent) of Republicans are satisfied with Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.[1]  How will they respond in November?  Will they turn out in full force to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House?  Will some sit out the election?  The Republican Party needs a big turn-out.  Even if they don’t want Trump as president, they do want lots of Republicans to vote for all the other candidates down ballot.  The Republicans seem likely to retain control of the House, but control of the Senate doesn’t seem to be a lock.  Then there are all the state and local races.  How to get Republicans to turn out in large numbers?

There are two answers.  First, Clinton is deeply unpopular with all Republicans (and many Independents).  Keeping Clinton out of the White House probably will overshadow putting Trump into the White House as a Republican campaign theme.[2]  This is going to get very ugly, even by current standards.  The foolish Benghazi investigation has been done to death.  However, F.B.I. Director James Comey’s brutally honest assessment of her e-mail issue hurt her on the competence argument that she wants to make against Trump.  Polls run after Comey’s press conference reported a 5 point fall in her favorability rating and a 7 point fall in her honesty and trustworthiness ratings.[3]  This is worth pondering.  The honesty and trustworthy score fell more than the favorability score.  Some 2 percent of the respondents think worse of her as a person, but still prefer her as the candidate.  That’s because Trump is the rival candidate.  However, it also shows that personal attacks can drive down her favorability rate.

Clinton has provided a lot to work with here.  Both the Clinton Foundation and her post-Secretary of State speeches are still ripe for the plucking.  It should come as no surprise if the Republican rage-generators use these topics as a device to portray Clinton as an influence-peddler, or bribe-taker, or even extortionist.  This could end in a scorched-earth campaign founded on fanning the flames of personal animus.[4]  The day after the election, Americans are going to wake up to a legacy of ill-feeling and failure to address real issues.

Second, Republicans have already begun to sell themselves on the idea that a President Trump could be “managed” by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  Solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate would give them control over the Trump administration’s legislative agenda.  In this view, Trump really is just an empty suit who wants to fly around on Air Force One and tell the U.N. to its face where it can get off.  There is a large measure of self-delusion in this view.  Trump is a guy from New York City.  Regardless of anything he has said so far, he probably doesn’t believe in a “right to life”; probably isn’t any more homophobic than most Americans (Republican or Democrat); and isn’t a racist just because he takes a really hard line on both illegal immigration and immigration from Muslim countries “compromised” by Islamist terrorism.  “Because the New York Times says so” isn’t much of an argument.[5]  A guy who has used corporate bankruptcy to force his creditors to write down a lot of debt isn’t going to feel that McConnell and Ryan have got him over a barrel once he becomes President.  What is a Republican Senate going to do if Trump nominates Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 29 July 2016, p. 17.

[2] Probably there will be a lot of work for Trump-wranglers to keep him from saying or doing something that makes her seem the less-repellant candidate.

[3] “Clinton: a wounded candidate,” The Week, 29 July 2016.

[4] There is a certain passing similarity to Democrats’ personality-based attacks on Richard Nixon throughout his career.  None of that did America any good.

[5] See the column by NYT Public Editor Liz Spayd, “Why Readers See The Times as Liberal,” NYT, 24 July 2016.

Chechen jihadis.

The characteristics of the Second Chechen War were the important role played by radical Islamists and their use of terrorism.  Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khatab were important figures.

Shamil Salmanovich Basayev (1965–2006) was born in a Chechen mountain village.  He did a couple of years in the Red Army, but not in a combat unit.[1]  Then he worked on a collective farm; he tried to get into law school, but didn’t make the cut; he studied engineering, but flunked out; and then he sold computers in Moscow.  Basically, a slacker who ought to be recognizable to many young Americans: slept all day, played video games all night.  Then, in November 1991, Chechnya declared its independence from Russia.  Basayev and some friends hijacked a Soviet airliner and took it to Turkey to publicize the cause of Chechen freedom.  Then he became a soldier of Islam, or at least of the Muslim areas of the old Soviet Union that were trying to break away.  He fought in Nagorno-Karabakh (1992), Abkhazia (1992-1993), and then in the First Chechen War (December 1994-August 1996).  The war went badly for the Chechens until Basayev seized a hospital in southern Russia and the 1600 people inside it.  He wanted the Russians to stop attacking Chechnya.  He didn’t exactly get what he wanted, but he did force a pause in Russian attacks, and he did get away, and he did get a lot of publicity.  Which was nice.

Basayev found a kindred spirit in Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem (1969–2002), more commonly known as Emir Khatab, or Ibn al-Katab.  Khatab was born in Saudi Arabia.  He left at age 18 to join the last stages of the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  He was in Afghanistan from 1989 to 1994, although with interruptions.  Here he met Osama bin Laden.  Along the way he lost a chunk of his right hand while handling an IED.[2]  In 1992, he may have fought in Nagorno-Karabakh.  He fought in the Tajikistan civil war from 1993 to 1995.  In 1995 and 1996 he fought in the First Chechen War.

After the end of the war, Basayev tried politics, but his career fizzled out, while Khattab became a warlord in the ruined Chechen republic.  Peace did not agree with them so well as did war.  In 1998, Basayev and Khatab organized the Islamic International Brigade.  Most of its members were from neighboring Dagestan, with a smattering of Arabs and Turks and a few Chechens.  In August 1999 Basayev and Khatab triggered the Second Chechen War when they raided into Dagestan.  Then the jihadis organized a number of terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities.  When the Russians counter-attacked into Chechnya in 1999, Basayev and Khatab led the guerrilla war fought in the Chechen mountains.

Eventually, the Russkies got fed up with trying to kill Khattab by ordinary means.  Khattab was a good son: he regularly corresponded with his mother in Saudi Arabia, using a courier named Ibragim Alauri.  The Russian intelligence service tracked down Alauri and “turned him.”  In March 2002, Alauri arrived in Chechnya with letters to Khattab.  He met with Russian intelligence officers.  They sprayed the letters from his mother with sarin, a fast-acting poison, then sent Alauri on his way.  Khatab died on the night of 19-20 March 2002 from touching the letters.[3]

When the war went badly for the Chechens, Basayev organized acts of large-scale terrorism: the seizure of a Moscow theater, and “Black Widow” suicide bombings by women in burkas from 2002 through 2004.  In July 2006 he was killed in the explosion of a land-mine.

[1] The Red Army didn’t train Chechens to be fighters.  1.) Why bother?  It’s in their blood.  2.) You’re just storing up trouble for later.

[2] A “Khatabka” is a Russian and Chechen slang term for a home-made hand grenade.

[3] Alauri was killed in April 2002 in Baku by agents sent by Shamil Basayev.