Wednesday, November 07, 2012

State of the Nation

Yesterday, President Obama was reelected for another four years in office.  The House remained in the hands of the Republicans and the Senate is still controlled by the Democrats.  What this means is that America’s world military and economic dominance is officially over.  China’s rise will eclipse America’s power on her descent.  The troubling notion about all of this is that no one is bothered, the United States has lost her robust confident character, and into mediocrity we fall.

Obama has acknowledged he wants to accommodate China’s rise, and they have been behind him.  The last thing they want is to pick a fight, and the Syria conflict put them on the hot seat, but due to the election no push back could be given.  Jobs continue to be shipped to China, as our economy continues to lag, and more and more talented people in science and business are moving out of business in the US and into hot markets like China, Brazil, Russia, and India.  Why would they stay?  As those countries modernize and the US crumbles, very little incentive to stay remains and with the current trend of attitude in the US, these go-getters don’t want a bleak landscape to do business.

America’s outlook on how things should be has drastically changed.  Gone are the days of meritocracy where hard work and expertise translated into a well paying job and comfort.  The confidence in working for your wage and earning the benefits that come with it have vanished.  Instead, the idea has warped towards the European standard of coming to expect and feel entitled to government programs and funding (just look at the state of Europe’s economy and the EU for any sense of how well that works in the long run).  Poorer people, acting in their own self interest as any economic model would predict, have made great gains that entitle them to have handouts paid for by people making an honest wage.  Do all poor people perpetuate this?  No, but as the incentives dwindle so does the proportion of struggling Americans who see that hard will pay off.  Why not sit around and wait for Uncle Sam to send the checks?

Taxing the rich (and its not just the rich) to pay the poor seems like a morally righteous thing to do.  Problem is, it doesn’t work, poor people have no incentive to get off the couch and do anything when the checks keep arriving.  “But the rich have more money than they need!” cry out liberal opponents, to which I say, “Who cares?”  Didn’t they earn that money?  Even if it was in investments, isn’t that their prerogative to do with THEIR money what THEY want?  Who are we to demand they give their money away?  You would like to discourage investment in business that might turn a profit for wealth Americans so that poorer people can continue to be disincentivized to find work?  I don’t understand how this is sustainable.

Taxing and taxing and taxing only can keep things afloat for so long.  It seems nice to have all these government programs to give out all this free stuff, but it cannot sustain itself in the long run.  Many young Americans will never see a cent of the social security they have been paying  into.  Trying to flatten the socioeconomic curve only acts to hamper any kind of innovation or incentive for talented young people to try and make a change.  It is inherent in any political-economic system that people will be divided based on their socioeconomic status.  Some of this will inherently unfair, but that is the nature of the system and the best alternative is to have as many opportunities, incentivized in the right way, to reward those who choose to work hard, and will sadly leave behind those who decide to get fat, live off measly food stamps, and burden the healthcare system.

The change we need is a change in attitude.  Obama has no idea what he is doing.  Why would he?  He was a one term Senator that spent most of his time campaigning for the president.  He isn’t going to make things better and he isn’t even going to implement many of the promises he made to the liberal contingent that elected him.  He doesn’t know how and when the enormity of the job hit him, he faltered, accomplished nothing with a supermajority in Congress, and floundered trying to moderate his policy to the dismay of everyone.  He will not help America return to greatness, he will be the gatekeeper of our fall.

The Congress isn’t helping much either.  While they need to stand for their principles, they also have to work to find a solution.  Standing tough on social issues like gay marriage and abortion are outdated antiquated notions that no longer have any relevance.  As long as the Republicans continue to be the party that is guided by God and makes decisions based on these fantasies, we will certainly not face the hard reality the choose to ignore.  The time of organized religion has waned, its not coming back, and the Republican party needs to reorient itself to this change if wants to be relevant again.

How to fix all these issues?  At this point, I honestly believe it is too late to make a substantial impact, it will mostly revolve around damage control:

Taxes: Fair, flat, simpler taxes.  More people will be willing to pay when the service is easy to use and transparent.  Look at Netflix – no rental fees, no late fees, easy to use, streams in high quality straight to any device (including phones!).  Do not raise the taxes on the rich to feed the poor, make the taxes easier to understand and incentivize people actually paying them, and increase revenue without a hike

Deficit:  Cut it.  Now.  It stings having to get rid of things we like for free.  Sorry but where these is no money you can’t simply keep paying for things we don’t need.  The budget is bloated and clunky.  Speaking of which, no new budget has been passed because Obama doesn’t want to cut anything.  When your family is a little low on cash and you need to pay rent and utilites next month do you go buy a huge flat screen TV?  No.  Why ?  Because it makes no sense.  You WAIT until you have the financial stability to begin to invest in extraneous things.  Same deal here.

Education:  The easy access to low interest rate loans has exacerbated a trend of obliterating any worth in a bachelor’s degree.  College is a great thing, but by allowing anyone in, you water down the prestige and therefore it turns into just another checkbox.  Increase requirements for college entrance on aptitude and promise, make the hard work mean something.  Increase community college presence for those who didn’t do the work for the grades, who just simply fell into college because it was that easy.

Social issues:  Federal level provisions will not be able to affect any change here.  The problem stems from the older generations sad cling to outdated antiquated ideas of religion.  The modern era is upon us, and religion is on the way out.  Sure people can be spiritual but the place of moral righteousness in determining who other people can choose to love and what women can do to their bodies is absurd.  This is the real problem with the Republican Party, if you want to maintain solvency, you will have to get with the times.  Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann reciting verses from an extremely old, ambiguous book is a turn-off to just about everyone.  Gay marriage legalized, abortion made safe and effective where needed, contraceptive use made easily accessible, and the reduced societal impact of organized religion will help end this entrenchment.

China:  Time to get tough.  They have us in a stranglehold and time to fight our way out of it.  No, not using military force, but starting to confront them on international issues like Syria and Pakistan.  If they want to play with the big boys they will need to make a stand.  We also need to increase our cyber warfare capabilities.  Also do everything we can to make friends with everyone in the region (Korea, Japan, Indonesia) so that their growth in stunted and military might diminished.

Iran:  Time to get real.  No military strike will be undertaken by the US.  We don’t need to.  Covert destruction of progress towards the bomb plus tighter sanctions will bleed them dry.  They can only have the bomb and maintain such foreign pressure for so long.  The Israelis could also strike, solving the problem, but possibly causing conflagration in the region.  Problem is, no other country in the region wants Iran to have the bomb, Iran isn’t even Arab.  The Saudis, Jordanians, and especially the Iraqis have a vested interest in keeping it out of Tehran’s hands.

Foreign Policy (in general):  Reassert out presence worldwide.  This doesn’t mean stationing more troops.  This means protecting our interests, even to the detriment of other countries.  Realistically, we cannot all live in perfect harmony never treading on each other’s interests.  Apologizing for all the mistakes has been done.  Engage other nations, reduce the nuclear weapon count, make sure favorable governments find their way into Arab Spring nations, and cut down on the pervasive infiltration of Russia/China into Africa and the Middle East.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is a No Fly Zone in Libya 'just'?

After recently reading Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars I was interested in applying the Just War doctrine to the intervention of a US no-fly zone in Libya.  Recently rebels have advocated for NATO to get involved and multilaterally establish a no-fly zone to deter the air superiority of Gaddafi's loyalists.  Now, I am not a huge advocate for the Just War doctrine, but just wanted to explore the no-fly zone within its criteria.

Just War Criteria:

1. Just Cause
This is always tricky to decide subjectively, but as Walzer argues, you must observe political autonomy and respect international borders as those embroiled in civil/secessionist conflict need to maintain a balance.  If the US or NATO were to intervene and this tipped the scales in favor of the rebels, if they won decisively because of our entrance, then this would fail this criteria.  Seems strange that this is so rigid but nonetheless it fails.

2.Legitimate Authority
This one is easier to satisfy.  First, the intervention (no fly zone) must be done by a recognized world government.  Check.  Next it must have international approval.  This has been danced around so far, the UN has not determined anything as of yet, perhaps looking at points made in this doctrine.  Also China and Russia typically veto anything they see as meddling in other countries internal affairs.

3.Right Intention
Another sticky point.  It is impossible to say that the US intervening would be to strictly balance the sides and done simply in the interest of the oppressed party.  Sure, that could be part of the argument but why do we care about Libya in the first place? Oil is one, and having a favorable government installed would allow more influence in the region.  Sadly its nearly to truly meet this condition, although if a true humanitarian crisis arose, where the world was convinced of great threatening evil to all Libyan people (and maybe surrounding countries), the intention would be good and therefore just.  It just needs this disinction.

4. Probability of Success
This one is pretty sure.  US air power is vastly superior to what Gaddafi has.  Success is realistic and therefore satisfactory.

5.Last Resort
We are moving closer to meeting this goal.  We have already taken indirect and diplomatic measures to help put pressure on Gaddafi.  Its impossible to tell if you are really on "the last resort" but if the situation because dire in a humanitarian way as mentioned above, this would be met.

6.Proportionality
This is most likely appeased.  By intervening, we would eliminate Gaddafi's air power, and we would have to stop there.  That is what the rebels asked and that would restore "balance."  Introducing land war would over step this boundary, that is, unless another power comes to the help of the loyalists in which case Just War states that counter-intervention is just and nearly necessary.  Gaddafi's influx of mercenaries could be defined as foreign help, but again this is ambiguous and requires deeper analysis.

7. Discrimination
The US has the technology to make civilian casualties limited but not extinct.  The F-22 has the ability to evade Libya's ground-to-air defenses that would need to be bombed otherwise, and cause noncombatant deaths.  Therefore we can meet this criteria from a teleological argument.

Overall it seems that a no-fly zone misses some points that are required to make the intervention "just" but should the conflict degenerate into a genocide or mass executions break out, it would alleviate some of the constraints that formally held back the move, and indeed may call for a more of a response.  Also, we need to weigh the fact that bringing in multiple aircraft carriers would take away from our other conflict (Afghanistan, Iraq) and would also become quite costly; not something that wants to be brought up in the middle of a budget crisis.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Uprising in Saudi Arabia, Sarkozy Makes Statement

I wanted to post today, despite not having a lot of time for in-depth analysis.  The first thing to catch my eye is the trouble brewing in Saudi Arabia.  This has been the big question since these revolutions became pan-arab, what will happen in the Kingdom?  Apparently police used force on a group of protesters, its unknown whether anyone has died although one man is reported injured.  The markets are already tumbling now that the oil giant has failed to keep its people happy. 


What can he do?
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, not just because of the massive implications a Saudi uprising would have, but because this is against a monarchy.  Egypt and Tunisia, along with Libya, are run by dictators, mostly revolving around a cult of personality.  We do have somewhat of a example in Jordan where the king has tried to appease protesters before things get out of hand.  Monarchies are in a unique position, they can claim distance from the inefficient government they normally control.  They can "clear house" to separate themselves from the bureaucracy but just how far can that go?  Keep an eye out, a prince has already called for a relief of ban on women driving, and the Day of Rage planned for Friday will definitely be watched closely.


The other news concerns Libya, and France taking the lead on bringing in outside assistance.  They have recognized the rebels and are deliberating taking military action.  NATO is meeting in Brussels to talk over the issues, and the US is sitting back, which might be the best policy right now.  I want to do a more in-depth post concerning the revolutions in the Middle East but I do want to mention that at a forum the other night, Peter Mansoor (former right hand man of Petraeus)  suggested that a No-Fly zone, done by the US at least, is not desirable.  He pointed out that (1) we don't want to be seen as influencing an internal revolution and (2) a no fly zone needs to be accompanied with an all or nothing strategy, that is, we need to fully commit or abstain from dabbling.  I will elaborate on this and more in a future post.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Proof that this country isn't at its best

I was looking through some headlines online today and stumbled across this:


Congressional Dems Complain about Cups


Now, I understand that there has been research that suggests that styrofoam cups can pose health risks.  Health issues are obviously a big issue in this country right now but complaining about the cafeteria cups? Really?  And not only that but the Dems are turning it into a partisan issue (not that the GOP doesn't).  They want their recyclable cups back they had under Pelosi.  I want congressmen/women who will fix real issues but I guess it doesn't always work out does it?  No wonder absolutely no one believes in the ones we vote to send to Capital Hill.  Partisanship has reached unprecedented levels and the losers are the voters.  Do we really need to put up with this stuff?


Five Things More Important Than the Congressional Styrofoam Cups
1. The Economy/Jobs
2. The Revolutions in the Middle East
3. Government Spending
4. Declining Education
5. March Madness (Do you think the average citizen knows the star player for their local team or their representative? Sad.)


WARNING FROM WASHINGTON:
A threat to us all
IF SEEN PLEASE CALL:
1-800-THIS-IS-WHAT-IT-HAS-COME-TO

Friday, March 04, 2011

Top Countries: Will China overtake the US?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the "rise of the rest."  This phenomena has caught fire because supposedly it threatens US hegemony.  America has been squarely on top since the fall of the Soviet Union but now the rise of developing countries, notably China, have threatened American dominance.


Now, its hard to judge which country is "best," but we can look at notable categorical criteria to see what direction certain political/economic factors are pushing the major nations.  I have compiled some data based on proposed criteria for evaluating what a makes a country strong.  While of course its debateable how important they are, I nonetheless present you with this data table: Click for image (too large to fit this frame)

This is also only a handful of countries.  I tried to pick some of the notable ones: the ones with the hype, biggest economies, economic potential etc.  It is worthy to note that a great many African countries have very promising growth rates in GDP, Population, and Education.  I have not included any as they have a way to go before a geopolitical dominance bid.

Drawing from the data I will first bring your attention to this:
Click to Enlarge
Population vs. Projected Population: No surprise that China and India are the biggest bastions of humans, they will continue this trend.  It is interesting that Indonesia will greatly increase in population, a prime area for economic boom should the policy utilize the manpower.  Some of the European nations included will actually suffer a population decline.  This issue is also prevalent in Russia, much to the dismay of ethnic Russians who would rather not assimilate the influx of immigrants.  The US will grow, and immigration will be a prime factor in the shaping of its demographics.  

Next....
Click to Enlarge
This scatter plot has Population on the X-axis vs GDP Growth Rate percentage on the Y-axis.  I like to contrast these two variable as population is obviously important to economic power, and GDP rate determines who is currently headed down the right track to future economic dominance.  Again China and India do not disappoint with their human resources, and their GDP reflects this, they have the highest rates.  The European Nations are clumped in the bottom left, not a good omen for their respective economic futures.  The US is muddled in with them, distinguished only by its larger population.  This lag behind China is the biggest threat right now, and numerous pundits have expounded on the subject.  Brazil and Indonesia have silently built a strong GDP rate and as long as they continue to grow, and avoid contraction, they will be primed in the coming decades to build an economic power.

While its obvious that many countries have built up their economic power, with China able to dethrone the US as top economy, that is not surely not the only determining factor in achieving worldwide success.  The political theater is also important, and I have included the "Freedom" list to reflect this in part.  Freedom is measured by this scale.  It is based in economic freedom, but also reflects the general rule of political freedom.  I feel that the US's position might be partially politicized, but alas nothing is perfect and they still top the list in the chosen countries.  China and Russia bring up the rear as they are obviously remnants of communist style institutions, and have numerous violations of citizens rights.  China has been under scrutiny recently and is at the time of this article asking that journalists keep quiet about its internal repression.  This is really the only factor holding China back and should it begin to liberalize its citizens rights, it will surely flourish and surpass the United States.

Another note on China's internal policies hurting its growth, as laid out here.  While the one child policy originally it helped to stifle overpopulation fears, its effects while eventually catch-up to the sleeping dragon.  First it creates "little buddhas," essentially a generation of children that have no siblings and therefore tend to get spoiled.  In addition, the rise in the elderly population of China is going to hurt growth.  These people don't have the same pool of labor and will also seek retirement benefits.  It will be interesting to see how these issues get addressed.

The United Nations also can help determine who's at the top of political influence.  The US, Russia, and China all have Security Council status, conveniently for China.  Brazil is also looking to join the club.  While the United Nations is notoriously bad at having any real influence on big powers, it does come into play in instances such as this, where the big powers grasp for regional control.
Top 10 economies in GDP PPP in 2020

The graph to the left was taken from here.  Its a good graphical display of predictions for the future economic battleground.  It shows China edging out the US and India falling in behind.  Japan, another Asian powerhouse that looked primed to topple the US, has withered, and this table outlining the countries with the largest debt further inclines their peril.  They are certainly in rough times and China's rise has hurt their regional control.

The last big point to make here is military power.  Many countries in these graphs/tables are nuclear and therefore are highly unlikely of fighting conventional wars with one another.  Military might is still a top factor and good ol' Wikipedia lists out the defense spending of all nations.  Spending doesn't always translate into the best armies/navies/air forces but I would compare it to candidate spending in US elections, it certainly helps.  The US obviously still holds gold here as our aircraft carrier count alone can attest.  But recent news suggests the militarization of space, and no one has the absolute advantage here yet; spending can help.

I will certainly add to this topic as more information and statistics become available.  Below are some links to other articles that outline other takes on the subject of the "rise of the rest" and I highly suggest checking them out and commenting with your thoughts:


Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Life and Radicalization of Osama bin Laden

After my long absence, I have decided to post a paper I wrote last fall over the book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright found here.  It details the radicalization of Osama bin Laden, using his personal history as the backdrop.  The page numbers reference the aforementioned book.  Let me know what you think:
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     Since the events of September 11th, 2001, no man can claim more notoriety than Osama bin Laden.  The master financer of a global jihad against the United States, Osama’s fervent hatred for all things modern started early and contained a blend of many different influences.  Salafist and Wahhabi sects of Islam, promoted strongly in his former home of Saudi Arabia, laid the foundation of anti-modern sentiment that became nurtured through other radicalized Islamists such as Ayman al Zawahiri and Abdullah Azzam.  Combined with other events and people, this potent mix spit out one of the most hated villains of recent decades.
            One striking irony of Osama’s life is his reverence for his father, who helped usher in a newer, modern Saudi state.  His father had an enduring impact on a young Osama, who, “held him up like a paragon” (Wright 95).  Osama also possessed, “deep currents of longing” (84) for his father, despite the effects his father’s business would hold on his future.  Mohammed bin Laden began his career track as a brick layer and eventually built his own construction empire which helped, “rush [in] a flood of change” that scared the formally primitive ways of the populace who had a, “widespread feeling that this torrent of progress was eroding the essential quality of Arabia” (99).  This feeling would prime Osama for the ideology of Qutb’s anti-modern rhetoric.  Through his contracts, bin Laden was, “increasingly close with the royal family” (75), as well as building up infrastructure that eventually would allow the Saudis to become the main supplier of US oil, a fact Osama would condemn in future rhetoric.  At home, Mohammed was a pious Muslim, setting a model for Osama, although he would bend the rules when it came to women.  Osama would recall that he, “never remembered his father doing anything outside of Islamic Law” and he “always prayed on time” (82).  This rigid piety was bent when it came to sexual indulgences, as Wright points outs, “the extravagant side of Mohammed bin Laden’s nature made itself evident when it came to women.”  He would sometimes marry a woman and simply divorce her the same day, an act his son would shun.  One of these women, Alia Ghanem, would also contribute to Osama’s ideological direction; she was his mother.  Her effects were not as severe but she held sway over his decisions, as when Osama was going to stop his pursuit of education, he decided against it on account of his, “mother’s tears” (90).  The modernization of Saudi Arabia brought in by the hard work of men like Mohammed bin Laden would allow Osama, taught in the vein of Salafism, to become receptive to the ideals of Sayyid Qutb.
            Sayyid Qutb, “was the one who most affected our generation” (91) remarked Khalifa, one of Osama’s friends.  When Osama hit his teenage years he underwent, “a religious and political awakening” (87).  He began to reject elements of western culture such as the old west movies he had loved as a child.  When he got to high school he, “joined the Muslim Brothers” (90) who projected Qutb’s view.  Qutb preached that political Islam was the only solution to purge the immoral strain modernity had cast upon Islamic culture.  This fit right in with the Salafist understanding of living the life the forefathers of the religion had lived. Osama, who was, “frustrated by the situation in Palestine” (87), fell right in line with the notion that the jahiliyya, which Qutb had intended to be cleansed through education, was creating chaos amidst the Muslim world, and that a, “strict imposition of the Sharia” (32) was required.  In his eyes, Israel and the US were forcing their modernity, which could be symbolized as the jahiliyya, upon the Muslim states.  Included in Qutb’s doctrine for the purification was the, “reject[ion of] nationalism because it warred with ideal of Muslim unity.”  This idea became seeded in bin Laden’s vision for al Qaeda and would be nurtured in the searing fatwas of Abdullah Azzam.  It was this international Islamic outlook, driven by the idea of jahiliyya as the pitfalls of modernity, which created a basis for future terrorists like Osama to justify attacks against civilians.
            In 1979, another event would shape the future of the master terrorist: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Bin Laden became, “enraged” (109) and began a multi-nation donation campaign, utilizing his wealthy contacts, a legacy of his father.  Through this process he met a man that had a huge impact on his life, Abdullah Azzam.  Azzam was a proponent of the idea of jahiliyya, and felt that every Muslim, regardless of nationality, was obligated to fight the Soviet incursion, which seemed to literally represent the invasion of modern ideas into the primitive land of Afghanistan.  This was reflected upon bin Laden who “revered” Azzam because he “provided a model for the man he would become” (111).  The feeling of duty was growing on Osama, who was stalled from fighting for years; “I wish I could raid and be slain” (124) he once declared.  Perhaps the most enduring legacy Azzam left upon Osama was his vision of, “eras[ing] national divisions” of Muslims, which he practiced by, “dispers[ing] the Arab volunteers among the various commanders.”  Through this teaching, Osama began to take, “his first step toward the creation of an Arab legion that could wage war anywhere” (128) which would be filled with ranks of fighters who, “found that the door closed behind them” (121) when they left their home countries and, “as stateless persons they naturally revolted against the idea of state.”  This set up the breeding ground for al Qaeda as an international organization.  Azzam’s control over the wealthy fundraiser would soon wane as a new rival sought control: Ayman al Zawahiri.
            While Azzam had preached an international message focused on religious obligation, Zawahiri, “gave direction” to Osama, as “a seasoned propagandist,” (146) seeing him as an ally to overthrow the Egyptian government.  At this point Osama had, “never voiced opposition to his own government or other regimes,” but through Zawahiri’s increasing manipulation he began, “to solicit the views of others in his company” (148).  This was achieved by feeding Osama takfiri propaganda through, “position papers outlining the ‘Islamic’ perspective, which reflected their takfiri tendencies.”  Zawahiri wanted to target fellow Muslims, justified through takfir, and did whatever he could to sway bin Laden to his position including providing bodyguards and becoming his personal doctor (220).  At this point, Osama, along with other Arabs involved in the waning Soviet conflict, came together and formed the initial shell of al Qaeda.  Osama was called an “emir” and the infighting between the Egyptian takfiris, led by Zawahiri, and Azzam continued.  Eventually Azzam was killed in an explosion and Zawahiri was free to feed bin Laden his ideas.  With the Russians retreating, Osama sought a target for his vision of a global jihad (courtesy of Azzam), and Zawahiri pointed inward, suggesting that Muslim governments needed to be replaced, but bin Laden did not, “relish the prospect of war against Arab governments” (150).  This idea would reverse itself and Zawahiri’s influence would gain a solid footing when the Iraqi army decided to invade Kuwait, and “events would soon give bin Laden the excuse he sought to make America into the enemy he needed” (173).
             Osama returned to Saudi Arabia from his Afghan campaigns convinced that, “his Arab legion had brought down the mighty superpower” and had, “unprecedented expectations” for the future (165).  When Saddam decided to invade Kuwait, resulting in a threatening stance against Saudi interests, Osama “brought his own maps of the region and presented a detailed plan of attack” (178).  Prince Turki was, “alarmed” and that “radical changes” he saw in bin Laden.  The Saudi leadership dismissed Osama’s plan, instead relying on the Americans.  This act of letting a foreign power into the Arabian Peninsula ran directly counter to Osama’s belief that the West, “was responsible for the humiliating failure of the Arabs to succeed” (171).  Zawahiri’s calls for purification of Arab governments began to take hold: why would an Arab government invade another and why would a legitimate Islamist government allow the US to fight for them?  When the US failed to retreat from Arabia and instead sent troops into Somalia, Osama decided, “something had to be done” (192).  It was during this time he had taken residence in Sudan under the Turabi regime, and “the lure of peace [was] as strong as the battle cry for jihad” (193).  At this fateful point, with the US projecting its influence in the Arab world, bin Laden’s religious advisor Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, who held “the greatest spiritual authority” (194), determined that the US, the last remaining superpower, “represented the greatest threat to Islam.”  Al Qaeda’s purpose was now, “to awaken the Islamic nation to the threat posed by the modernizing West” (196).    Osama’s hatred for the ills of modernity, along with Zawahiri’s call for jihad against compliant Arab governments now believed to be in the US sphere of influence (which was bolstered when Osama’s citizenship was revoked) provided the justification for new attacks.
            A practical way to look at Osama bin Laden’s radicalization and the influences comprising it is through the Staircase model designed by Moghaddem.  Osama’s “ground floor” impression centers on “perceived deprivation” (Moghaddem 163).  This was likely a viewpoint centered on, “a threat to personal or collective identity;” more than likely the modernization and secular values he views the US purporting in Arab nations, as well as the bloodshed in Palestine as Wright points out: “the tragedy of Palestine was a constant theme in his speeches” (150).  These influences had enough effect to lift Osama to the first floor, which Moghaddem describes as a, “search for solutions.”  Here is where Qutb’s teachings began to have their effect, as a normative political alternative was quashed as, “participatory democracy [is] lacking in Saudi Arabia” (164).  Qutb’s idea of eradicating jahiliyya appealed to Osama, and seemed to be a viable solution within his enrollment with the Muslim Brotherhood.  As bin Laden climbed to the third floor, the time of “Moral Disengagement” (165), he met Abdullah Azzam, whose intense recruitment gave Osama the, “correct interpretation of Islam” which justified his jihad against the Soviets as a symbol of modernity.  It was also at this level that Zawahiri began his control.  He used “isolation”, surrounding bin Laden with his Egyptian takfiri bodyguard, using “fear” stating that, “your head is now wanted by the Americans and the Jews” (Wright 146).  This allowed bin Laden to move onto the fourth floor, which requires an “out-group” to place blame upon.  When the US intervened in Kuwait and Somalia, Osama had a scapegoat for his perceived erosion of Islam at the hands of modernity.  In addition, his takfiri influence, Zawahiri, gave an explanation for the betrayal of the Saudis to use his armies.  Other Arab governments were simply seen as puppets of the US and the takfiri doctrine of expelling Muslims who have lost the faith came into focus.  In order to reach the final step in Moghaddem’s model, bin Laden had to commit to terrorist acts, and sidestep the “inhibitory mechanisms” that could derail an attack.  That act was the bombing of US embassies in Africa, and the justification, according to bin Laden, was, “that the bombings gave the Americans a taste of the atrocities that Muslims had experienced” (Wright 309). Osama bin Laden wanted to, “lure the US into Afghanistan” and defeat them in jihad just like the Russians, a parallel that helped in justification.
            Osama’s ascent up the Staircase and into Islamic radicalism is full of milestones and injunctions that are important in understanding others who may follow.  The threat of modernization in his home of Saudi Arabia primed a young Osama for Qutb’s declaration of a cleansing of Islam.  Abdullah Azzam provided the vision of a Pan-Arab jihad, based in Qutb’s tradition, and Zawahiri added the propaganda for justification of attacks against Arab governments, seen as puppets of the US, through takfiri doctrine.  With so many different avenues of influence it is hard to determine if the path of the most notorious terrorist in the world could have been altered, and history along with it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Arising from the ashes after 5 years

After more than five years Tough Vote has come back from its long period of inactivity. In the past five years my political leanings and thoughts have undergone evolutions and therefore some former posts have been taken down to reflect this. I will likely readdress those issues with a fresh perspective. Stay tuned for new (and hopefully frequent) posts.