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  1. #1
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    How Dangerous are the Taliban?

    by John Mueller

    Summary --


    The Taliban and al Qaeda may not pose enough of a threat to the United States to make a long war in Afghanistan worth the costs.





    JOHN MUELLER is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University. Among his books are Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them and the forthcoming Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al Qaeda.





    Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?: The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy
    John Mueller


    Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.





    George W. Bush led the United States into war in Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein might give his country’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. Now, Bush’s successor is perpetuating the war in Afghanistan with comparably dubious arguments about the danger posed by the Taliban and al Qaeda.







    President Barack Obama insists that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is about "making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies" or "project violence against" American citizens. The reasoning is that if the Taliban win in Afghanistan, al Qaeda will once again be able to set up shop there to carry out its dirty work. As the president puts it, Afghanistan would "again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." This argument is constantly repeated but rarely examined; given the costs and risks associated with the Obama administration’s plans for the region, it is time such statements be given the scrutiny they deserve.


    Multiple sources, including Lawrence Wright's book The Looming Tower, make clear that the Taliban was a reluctant host to al Qaeda in the 1990s and felt betrayed when the terrorist group repeatedly violated agreements to refrain from issuing inflammatory statements and fomenting violence abroad. Then the al Qaeda-sponsored 9/11 attacks -- which the Taliban had nothing to do with -- led to the toppling of the Taliban’s regime. Given the Taliban’s limited interest in issues outside the "AfPak" region, if they came to power again now, they would be highly unlikely to host provocative terrorist groups whose actions could lead to another outside intervention. And even if al Qaeda were able to relocate to Afghanistan after a Taliban victory there, it would still have to operate under the same siege situation it presently enjoys in what Obama calls its "safe haven" in Pakistan.


    The very notion that al Qaeda needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable. After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany. Conspiracies involving small numbers of people require communication, money, and planning -- but not a major protected base camp.


    Given the Taliban’s limited interest in issues outside the “AfPak” region, if it came to power again now, it would be highly unlikely to host provocative terrorist groups whose actions could lead to another outside intervention.
    At present, al Qaeda consists of a few hundred people running around in Pakistan, seeking to avoid detection and helping the Taliban when possible. It also has a disjointed network of fellow travelers around the globe who communicate over the Internet. Over the last decade, the group has almost completely discredited itself in the Muslim world due to the fallout from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent counterproductive terrorism, much of it directed against Muslims. No convincing evidence has been offered publicly to show that al Qaeda Central has put together a single full operation anywhere in the world since 9/11. And, outside of war zones, the violence perpetrated by al Qaeda affiliates, wannabes, and lookalikes combined has resulted in the deaths of some 200 to 300 people per year, and may be declining. That is 200 to 300 too many, of course, but it scarcely suggests that "the safety of people around the world is at stake," as Obama dramatically puts it.



    In addition, al Qaeda has yet to establish a significant presence in the United States. In 2002, U.S. intelligence reports asserted that the number of trained al Qaeda operatives in the United States was between 2,000 and 5,000, and FBI Director Robert Mueller assured a Senate committee that al Qaeda had "developed a support infrastructure" in the country and achieved both "the ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the U.S. with little warning." However, after years of well funded sleuthing, the FBI and other investigative agencies have been unable to uncover a single true al Qaeda sleeper cell or operative within the country. Mueller's rallying cry has now been reduced to a comparatively bland formulation: "We believe al Qaeda is still seeking to infiltrate operatives into the U.S. from overseas."


    Even that may not be true. Since 9/11, some two million foreigners have been admitted to the United States legally and many others, of course, have entered illegally. Even if border security has been so effective that 90 percent of al Qaeda’s operatives have been turned away or deterred from entering the United States, some should have made it in -- and some of those, it seems reasonable to suggest, would have been picked up by law enforcement by now. The lack of attacks inside the United States combined with the inability of the FBI to find any potential attackers suggests that the terrorists are either not trying very hard or are far less clever and capable than usually depicted.


    Policymakers and the public at large should keep in mind the words of Glenn Carle, a 23 year veteran of the CIA who served as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats: "We must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are." Al Qaeda "has only a handful of individuals capable of planning, organizing and leading a terrorist operation," Carle notes, and "its capabilities are far inferior to its desires."


    President Obama has said that there is also a humanitarian element to the Afghanistan mission. A return of the Taliban, he points out, would condemn the Afghan people "to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights." This concern is legitimate -- the Afghan people appear to be quite strongly opposed to a return of the Taliban, and they are surely en led to some peace after 30 years of almost continual warfare, much of it imposed on them from outside.


    The problem, as Obama is doubtlessly well aware, is that Americans are far less willing to sacrifice lives for missions that are essentially humanitarian than for those that seek to deal with a threat directed at the United States itself. People who embrace the idea of a humanitarian mission will continue to support Obama's policy in Afghanistan -- at least if they think it has a chance of success -- but many Americans (and Europeans) will increasingly start to question how many lives such a mission is worth.



    This questioning, in fact, is well under way. Because of its ties to 9/11, the war in Afghanistan has enjoyed considerably greater public support than the war in Iraq did (or, for that matter, the wars in Korea or Vietnam).



    However, there has been a considerable dropoff in that support of late. If Obama's national security justification for his war in Afghanistan comes to seem as spurious as Bush's national security justification for his war in Iraq, he, like Bush, will increasingly have only the humanitarian argument to fall back on. And that is likely to be a weak reed.

  2. #2
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    Related FA roundtable discussion of Mueller's thesis.

  3. #3
    Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Viva Las Espuelas's Avatar
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    Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

    that's a little hard to believe. what about those dudes, i think it was 5 of them, that they arrested 'cause they were planning an attack on the sears building? i think it was the sears building. i'm going to have to look it up. to what degree are they saying that no close calls have happened here? it's also hard, for me, to believe that there's no terrorists here already.

  4. #4
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    that's a little hard to believe. what about those dudes, i think it was 5 of them, that they arrested 'cause they were planning an attack on the sears building? i think it was the sears building. i'm going to have to look it up.
    Sting operation. "Seas of David", I think. Bad guys had little snap. Your chosen example backs me up, I think.

    Except the story was wildly exaggerated -- and juries refuse to give prosecutors a conviction. A deadlocked jury led to a second mistrial today.
    Critics have said the administration's efforts to prosecute the men on terror charges undermines its credibility. Miami law professor and civil rights lawyer Bruce Winick said the defeat was a harsh blow to the Bush administration. "It makes them look bad," said Winick, who has criticized the Liberty City Seven case in the past. "They don't have any credibility... you can't see terrorism under every rock," he said.
    The government's case was "more hype than evidence," Neal Sonnett, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told ABC News recently. It was viable to argue, as the men's lawyers did, that the government informant "created the crime."
    Critics' accusations appear to have merit. These alleged terrorists had no weapons, no bombs, no expertise, and no money. They didn't behave or operate as terrorists. They apparently swore an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden, but because an undercover FBI infiltrator suggested the idea. For that matter, despite some reports to the contrary, these guys weren't Muslims, but instead practiced their own hybrid religion that combined Islam and Christianity.
    to what degree are they saying that no close calls have happened here? it's also hard, for me, to believe that there's no terrorists here already.
    Fair enough. This part of the analysis is speculative, but then again, so is the *strategic* threat.
    Last edited by Winehole23; 06-17-2009 at 12:00 PM.

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    Fear-mongering and hyping War-on-<whatever> is great for business.

    Why didn't the Repugs run a War-on-Immigrants during their 8-year Reign of Error?

    Because that war is bad for businesses (that exploit illegal immigrants).

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    Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Viva Las Espuelas's Avatar
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    Sting operation. "Seas of David", I think. Bad guys had little snap. Your chosen example backs me up, I think.

    Fair enough. This part of the analysis is speculative, but then again, so is the *strategic* threat.
    fair enough. what about those dudes they caught with all those cell phones about a year and a half ago and quite a bit of cash. i wanna say it was in michigan. deerborn, perhaps.

  7. #7
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    fair enough. what about those dudes they caught with all those cell phones about a year and a half ago and quite a bit of cash. i wanna say it was in michigan. deerborn, perhaps.
    That was a financing scheme, I think. Not a direct terrorist threat.

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    Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Viva Las Espuelas's Avatar
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    That was a financing scheme, I think. Not a direct terrorist threat.
    i'll have to check it out again and see whatever happened. i remember they were basic cell phones that didn't have sim cards or they had removed all sim cards from them. it was about the same time it was reported that cell phones were being used to detonate bombs.

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    dubya and head let America be attacked on 9/11 and escaped ALL responsibility and punishment for their treason and negligence on security duty.

    I'm sure they are praying for another terrorist attack on US soil now so they, and all the hate-media, can lay all blame on Magik Negro.

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    Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Viva Las Espuelas's Avatar
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    dubya and head let America be attacked on 9/11 and escaped ALL responsibility and punishment for their treason and negligence on security duty.
    and firing a missle from 1100 miles away really shut them up...........

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    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    i'll have to check it out again and see whatever happened. i remember they were basic cell phones that didn't have sim cards or they had removed all sim cards from them. it was about the same time it was reported that cell phones were being used to detonate bombs.
    No terrorism charges were ever filed in this case.

  12. #12
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    Strike two, VLE.

  13. #13
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    Korean peninsula to LA is about 6000 mi. That's Redmond is easier/better target.

  14. #14
    Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Viva Las Espuelas's Avatar
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    yeah, i checked it out. thanks for keeping score.

  15. #15
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    Here's one you may not have heard of before.

  16. #16
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    yeah, i checked it out. thanks for keeping score.
    Not so easy to put your finger on, is it?

  17. #17
    Alleged Michigander ChumpDumper's Avatar
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    The very notion that al Qaeda needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable. After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany.
    Most of the hijackers went to Afghanistan for some time though. That is well-do ented.

    Policymakers and the public at large should keep in mind the words of Glenn Carle, a 23 year veteran of the CIA who served as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats: "We must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are." Al Qaeda "has only a handful of individuals capable of planning, organizing and leading a terrorist operation," Carle notes, and "its capabilities are far inferior to its desires."
    I very much agree with this, but their capabilities would have been much greater had Afghanistan not been invaded. We are in a way lucky that their desires are so grandiose -- if they just concentrated on soft targets or something like roadside IEDs in the the west, who knows what could happen?

  18. #18
    Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Viva Las Espuelas's Avatar
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    Not so easy to put your finger on, is it?
    wow, and still haven't heard about it. the latest article i found was posted back in 2004. i'm surprised being that he is a rightwing extremist which was pointed out thoroughly.

  19. #19
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    .I very much agree with this, but their capabilities would have been much greater had Afghanistan not been invaded.
    Black ops and cruise missiles couldn't have done the trick? I wonder.

  20. #20
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    Black ops and cruise missiles couldn't have done the trick? I wonder.
    Are black ops ethical? They seem to be the opposite of what open and honest societies would strive for. I mean, I personally am in favor of them, but assassination, sabotage and disappearing seems awfully close to murder, terrorism and kidnapping...

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    Alleged Michigander ChumpDumper's Avatar
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    Black ops and cruise missiles couldn't have done the trick? I wonder.
    Well the actual toppling of the Taliban only took a few special forces and a lot of bombs from the US -- the Afghans did most of the fighting. Keeping power has proven to be more difficult than getting it.

  22. #22
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    Are black ops ethical? They seem to be the opposite of what open and honest societies would strive for. I mean, I personally am in favor of them, but assassination, sabotage and disappearing seems awfully close to murder, terrorism and kidnapping...
    IMO, no. There's a reason it's done in the dark. The blowback is a , but it might be *less unethical* in its aggregate effects than invasion and occupation. Certainly it's much less sticky. There's no *Pottery Barn* rule with black ops.

    I wasn't so much recommending black ops as taking issue with Chump's begged question about invasion being unavoidable.

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    IMO, no. There's a reason it's done in the dark. The blowback is a , but it might be *less unethical* in its aggregate effects than invasion and occupation. Certainly it's much less sticky. There's no *Pottery Barn* rule with black ops.

    I wasn't so much recommending black ops as taking issue with Chump's begged question about invasion being unavoidable.
    Yeah, I don't really know whether the ends justify the means there.

    To me, black ops are like Tylenol, they just treat the symptoms. Someone will always step in to fill the role of a disappeared person, and often times they are as bad. Someone always rebuilds that drug farm that was blown up in the dead of night. And thats the thing with Afghanistan, until the root of the problem is fixed, there will always be trouble. Whether that trouble can effect the US is not necessarily proven, but I would tend to believe that it does, and it certainly destabilizes countries that are nominally allies, and nuclear armed allies at that.

  24. #24
    i hunt fenced animals clambake's Avatar
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    I wasn't so much recommending black ops as taking issue with Chump's begged question about invasion being unavoidable.
    we told the taliban to turn the guys over. they wouldn't. i think this pissed someone off.

  25. #25
    dangerous floater Winehole23's Avatar
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    Whether that trouble can effect the US is not necessarily proven, but I would tend to believe that it does, and it certainly destabilizes countries that are nominally allies, and nuclear armed allies at that.
    Drone attacks in Pakistan. Yeah. That's a good point.

    We oughtn't meddle in the internal affairs of other countries unless some vital US interest is at stake. In 2002. it's at least arguable there was. What vital interest is at hazard now in Afghanistan isn't really clear to me. We contained the USSR for 50 years, but couldn't keep Afghanistan in check without invading and occupying? Count me skeptical.

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