Monday, December 28, 2009

MSNBC: Obama's (short) Speech re: Flight 253 and Iran Protests (VIDEO)

Even though I'm in Texas, the chief business of this blog continues. Providing easy access for my Dad (and occasionally Heidi) to get at the Speeches and Pressers than the President gives:

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UPDATE: 12:54pm Pacific: MSNBC cut off the part of the speech that dealt with Iran. He had some choice words for the regime, and I'll try to put them up should I find them online.

UPDATE: 5:45pm Pacific: Okay, here we go.


The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.

For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people who are part of Iran’s great and enduring civilization.

What’s taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It’s about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran’s leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.

As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. Along with all free nations, the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people.

We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I’m confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Does Al-Qaeda even matter anymore??

I know it's a bit of an odd question, given what happened in Detroit just a few days ago. But you've got a piece at saying, in effect, that when it comes to stories about Al-Qaeda, the Arab Media doesn't really give @#$% anymore.

In most of the Arab newspapers which I follow on a daily basis, the failed airplane plot didn't even make the front page -- or, at best, got a small and vague story. Gaza dominates the headlines, as it often does. Yemen continues to command considerable attention because of the ongoing clashes between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement, something which has been of far more consistent interest to the Arab public than to the American. Iran's protests are covered heavily. Most of the better papers also focus on local political issues. One of the only papers to cover the story prominently is the deeply anti-AQ Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat, which leads with "passengers save America from a terrorist catastrophe." It's the same on the major pan-Arab TV stations. On the al-Jazeera webpage, the story doesn't even appear on the Arab news page, while a bland story about the airplane incident is only the sixth story on the international page (the same place it held in the broadcast news roundup; yesterday it was the third story in the news roundup, with the killing of 6 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the lead). It does not crack the top 6 stories on the al-Arabiya website today.

The Arab media's indifference to the story speaks to a vitally important trend. Al-Qaeda's attempted acts of terrorism simply no longer carry the kind of persuasive political force with mass Arab or Muslim publics which they may have commanded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even as the microscopically small radicalized and mobilized base continues to plot and even to thrive in its isolated pockets, it has largely lost its ability to break out into mainstream public appeal. I doubt this would have been any different even had the plot been successful -- more attention and coverage, to be sure, but not sympathy or translation into political support. It is just too far gone to resonate with Arab or Muslim publics at this point.

Following up on that point, Spencer Ackerman asks pretty much the same question, only about Al-Qaeda in general:

For the sake of argument, let’s take the most expansive theory of how Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger jet. According to the Wall Street Journal, Abdulmutallab gets an explosive device from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen; takes a couple of layovers to get on the plane; boards with his device; ignites it; it fizzles; passengers and crew subdue him. And we’re supposed to be scared of this?

As I said, we’re going to assume those direct ties exist for the sake of argument. The Times account is more skeptical. But go with it. What does this say about al-Qaeda?

First, al-Qaeda’s signatures are redundance and simultaneity. Think 9/11, Madrid, London: all used multiple operatives focused on multiple targets, acting in unison. That’s to ensure something blows up if and when something goes wrong. But here Abdulmutallab acted alone. There can be little doubt the operation was intended to go off on Christmas, for the obvious symbolism, so we would have seen evidence of a coordinated attack by now. The inescapable if preliminary conclusion: al-Qaeda can’t get enough dudes to join Abdulmutallab. And what does it give the guy to set off his big-boom? A device that’s “more incendiary than explosive,” in the words of some anonymous Department of Homeland Security official to the Times.

And if Abdulmutallab didn’t have clear ties to al-Qaeda? That he’s part of the cohort of self-starters al-Qaeda is trying to inspire, not train and direct? That’s good news too, because his capabilities weren’t sufficient to bring down the plane. As I reported in this piece, the most salient facts about this recent slew of attempted terrorist attacks is that they either failed outright or they didn’t kill many people.

Combine that, as I did in that piece, with the growth in capability of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement since 9/11 and we have… a manageable threat. As Matthew Yglesias writes, it doesn’t do any good to blow this out of proportion, since blowing things out of proportion to spur an overreaction is Usama bin Laden’s explicit strategy.

Ackerman, to my eternal surprise, follows this with a short burst on Afghanistan:

I saw Dylan Matthews tweet that the conclusion to draw is that the Afghanistan war isn’t worth the money and the effort given the diminished scope of al-Qaeda’s capabilities. And I respect the contention, as it gets to the heart of the question. But I think it’s wrong. As I argued in this very long post, we have a credible approach in place to break al-Qaeda’s strategic depth and core operational capability; box it into a situation where it can’t export significant acts of terror against us or our allies; and we can do this along a reasonable timetable of the next several years, prompting us to significantly draw down our military presence in Afghanistan. And then the “Long War” is… over. And by over, I mean that we can restore our security posture to one where terrorism is primarily an intelligence and law enforcement preoccupation, not a military one, since al-Qaeda will be the 21st century version of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a once-fearsome and now-marginal enemy. If we stop now, we risk unnecessary metastasis of al-Qaeda, giving them a new lease on life at a moment when it really looks like if we fight somewhat further we can be done with this awful problem and this painful legacy of a miserable decade.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nate Silver: Doin' The Terrorism Math...

Greetings from the great (mediocre) state of Texas.

Nate did some math in regards to our collective odds of encountering a Terrorist on an Airline flight. The results are...well, about as startling as you might guess, given the headline of this posting, if not more so.

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.