Former Intel Chief: Call Off The Drone War (And Maybe the Whole War on Terror)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

ASPEN, Colorado Ground the U.S. drone war in Pakistan. Rethink the idea of spending billions of dollars to pursue al-Qaida. Forget chasing terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, unless the local governments are willing to join in the hunt.

Those arent the words of some human rights activist, or some far-left Congressman. Theyre from retired admiral and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair the man who was, until recently, nominally in charge of the entire American effort to find, track, and take out terrorists. Now, hes calling for that campaign to be reconsidered, and possibly even junked.

Starting with the drone attacks. Yes, they take out some mid-level terrorists, Blair said. But theyre not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, its not going to lower the threat to the U.S. Al-Qaida and its allies have proven it can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign, he said.

The statements wont exactly win Blair new friends in the Obama administration, which forced him out of the top intelligence job about a year after he was nominated. Not only has Obama drastically escalated the drone war thereve been 50 strikes in the first seven months of this year, almost as many as in all of 2009. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the remotely-piloted attacks the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaida leadership.

Plus, American relations with the Pakistani government are at their lowest point in years. And every time Washington tries to tip off Islamabad to a raid, it seems, the targets of the raid seem to conveniently skip town. No wonder the U.S. kept the mother of all unilateral strikes the mission to kill Osama bin Laden a secret from their erstwhile allies in Pakistan.

But Blair believes the cooperation not only with Pakistan, but also with the government in Yemen and with whatever authorities can be found in Somalia is the only way to bring some measure of peace to the worlds ungoverned spaces. We have to change in those three countries, he told the Forum (Full disclosure: Im a moderator on one of the panels here.)

The reconsideration of our relationship with these countries is only the start of the overhaul Blair has in mind, however. He noted that the U.S. intelligence and homeland security communities are spending about $80 billion a year, outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet al-Qaida and its affiliates only have about 4,000 members worldwide. Thats $20 million per terrorist per year, Blair pointed out.

You think woah, $20 million. Is that proportionate? he asked. So I think we need to relook at the strategy to get the money in the right places.

Blair mentioned that 17 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorists since 9/11 14 of them in the Ft. Hood massacre. Meanwhile, auto accidents, murders and rapes combine have killed an estimated 1.5 million people in the past decade. What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem? he asked.

Blair purposely let his own question go unanswered.

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Unity in Diversity

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aysha Jamali

This is the second prize winner in the TMO Foundation 2011 Essay Contest.

AJ_photo

I often look back at my childhood and note the split in my life, as well as in the lives of so many, made distinct after September 11, 2001. Ever since, I’ve had to answer for what I believe or prove who I was to people who had never focused so intensely on the terms “Muslim” or “Islam.” It was tiring knowing that people were looking at me with preconceived notions, and it was tiring always approaching people with the attitude of clearing misconceptions.

But I accepted it. I accepted that if I wanted people to know my Islam, then I would have to be comfortable answering the endless stream of questions – many bizarre and ignorant, but always important.

Then the American people, both Muslims and others, discovered something. While I was explaining what Islam meant to me, someone else was explaining what Islam meant to them. We began to discuss with each other about what we believed, why we believed and how we applied those beliefs to our lives. Our stories were born.

We were forced to compare our Muslim identities to those who claimed to destroy lives in the name of Islam. I was not like those people. My family was not like those people. My community was not like those people. I knew that. So what were we like?

We were diverse. We were diverse in age, in heritage, in interests; but always unified in faith. At first, this vast and intangible diversity I discovered confused me. I thought it would be easier if all Muslims were the same – one religion meaning one type of follower.

Then I uncovered the deception in that statement. I heard different narrations from Muslims, even those who looked just like me, about what Islam meant to them. The true meaning of diversity came out. It wasn’t limited to speaking global languages or swapping samosa recipes for falafels. It was deeper. It was diversity in experiences; diversity in thought.

So Muslims cannot be seen as one programmed, unchanging group – whether we’re from Indonesia or Palestine, the East Coast or the West Coast. Nor was it ever our purpose to be so. As God says in verse 13 of chapter 49 in the Quran, “Oh mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another …” We were created as different groups not for quarreling but for knowing each other.

I’m only beginning to understand diversity in Islam. We’re all only beginning to understand that. But it’s evident in our discussions that this understanding has begun. Just in January, the Islamic Society of North America held its first Diversity Forum in Michigan. It featured sessions on Shi’a-Sunni relations, immigrant versus indigenous experiences and encouraging an appreciation for diversity under the theme of “Realizing The Dream: Finding Strength Through Diversity.”

This forum seemed to have come ten years too late. I thought about how much discussions like that would have benefited me back in 2001. But it’s important to realize that those struggles my community and I faced then, we are still facing now. We’ve almost been thrust back in time with the recent death of United States “Enemy Number One,” having to answer those same decisive and identity-hinged questions again.

However, it’s not a matter of redefining yourself but of defining yourself. We discover our stories and our paths to this one, unified appreciation and understanding we have of God and His message. It is under this unity that when defining ourselves, we also discover our diversity.

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