TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

TOS’s Week in Review for May 9, 2011

Week in ReviewNoteworthy news and opinion items from the week ending May 8, 2011

Note: Due to a scheduling conflict, the publication day of WiR has been changed from Sunday to Monday.

  1. One Islamist Fed to Sharks, a Few Islamist Regimes to Go
  2. The Keystone-Cops Administration
  3. Navy SEALs: Gods among Men
  4. The Virtue of Torturing Islamic Terrorists—and the Evil of Punishing Those Who Do
  5. Schools Find Ayn Rand Can’t Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses
1. One Islamist Fed to Sharks, a Few Islamist Regimes to Go

Last week, SEAL Team Six shot Osama Bin Laden and fed him to sharks. (The obscene Muslim burial ceremony aside, this is what happened. I’ll take it.) This beautiful mission was expertly executed by some of the most able and admirable men on the planet (see item 3 below), and Americans deserve to celebrate.

But we must also realize that killing Bin Laden is merely a fraction of what needs to be done—and done right. Other major requirements include, as Gerald F. Seib points out in the Wall Street Journal, “getting Pakistan right, getting the Arab spring right and containing Iran.” (We need to do more than “contain” Iran; we need to end the regime or encourage Iranians to do so [see below]. But at least Seib has Iran on the list.)

The Regime in Pakistan
If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is clear now: The regime in Pakistan—to whom the United States gives $3 billion annually—is a full-fledged enemy of the United States. As many writers, pundits, and even politicians have pointed out this week, it is inconceivable that Pakistani authorities didn’t know that Bin Laden was hiding out in Abbottabad for five years in a heavily fortified luxury compound with 15-foot barb-wire-topped walls and no phone or internet service a few blocks from a major military academy.

The United States morally must declare Pakistan an enemy state and proceed to deal with it accordingly. Of course, this administration won’t do so, but Americans can and should demand such a policy from candidates seeking the White House in 2012.

What is feasible now—even under this administration—is the cessation of financial aid to Pakistan, and Americans should demand that we stop all funding immediately. To contact your Representatives, click here.

The Arab Spring
The most important state involved in the Arab Spring is Syria, whose Assad regime is a key ally of Iran and a major enemy of both Israel and America. This week, Assad’s regime arrested hundreds of anti-regime protesters­—on top of the more than 600 it has murdered and some 8,000 it has arrested (or “disappeared”) in the seven weeks since the protests began.

ABC News reports:

Syrian security forces have reportedly stormed a Damascus suburb, arresting more than 300 people suspected of involvement in the recent pro-democracy protests.

Witnesses say security service agents backed by soldiers began sweeping through the Damascus suburb of Saqba before dawn with a long list of names of people they planned to arrest.

Those arrested were reportedly rounded up, boarded onto buses and driven away. . . .

But despite the government’s intensifying crackdown, protesters are vowing to stage more mass protests today against president Bashar al Assad, even at risk of being shot. . . .

The protesters are refusing to be intimidated by the army’s use of force to keep them off the streets. . . .

Read the whole article here.

How has the Obama administration reacted to the murderous efforts of this evil regime to remain in power? Secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued the following statement: “The United States has announced targeted sanctions against key individuals and entities that have engaged in grave abuses in Syria. . . . we have to show the Syrian government that there are consequences for this brutal crackdown that has been imposed on the Syrian people.” Clinton did not mention the evil of dictatorships, the morality of freedom, Syria’s threat to Israel and America, Syria’s alliance with Iran, or the righteousness of those who strive to overthrow tyrants and replace them with rights-respecting governments. Apparently such identifications are too much to expect today from the State Department in the country founded by the likes of Jefferson, Madison, and Adams.

Nevertheless, we need to get Syria right—and this requires morally supporting whatever anti-regime and pro-freedom activists exist there. If the Obama administration won’t do it, Americans had better make clear that any candidates who want our support in 2012 must promise to do it.

The Regime in Iran
Fortunately, America’s number one enemy, the regime in Iran, continues to experience major internal conflicts—which now include allegations of sorcery! As the BBC reports, the conflict between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is heating up and creating greater instability by the day.

Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has enjoyed taking on and defying the West. But he is now playing potentially a much more risky game.

Mr Ahmadinejad finds himself up against his own country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The two men are currently engaged in an unusually public stand-off.

Their argument began on 17 April, when Mr Ahmadinejad decided to fire his Intelligence Minister, Heydar Moslehi. A simple decision, say the president’s supporters, since the constitution gives him the right to dismiss ministers.

But, several hours later Ayatollah Khamenei decided to overrule the president and ordered the reinstatement of Mr Moslehi.

The Supreme Leader’s supporters quote Article 110 of the constitution, which says that the leader is responsible for the “supervision over the proper execution of the general policies”.

But Mr Ahmadinejad did not like being overruled. Reports say that he decided to stay away from government meetings for 11 days. . . .

Mr Ahmadinejad did agree to start attending cabinet meetings again. But the status of the fired or reinstated minister, Heydar Moslehi, is not immediately clear.

Reports from Tehran say that Ayatollah Khamenei has now told Mr Ahmadinejad either to accept the reinstatement of his intelligence minister or step down as president.

The argument between the two men is about much more than the status of a single cabinet minister. Essentially, it is a fight for the control of the future direction of the Islamic Republic. . . .

Read the BBC piece here. For a discussion of the charges of sorcery, see this article in the Guardian.

This conflict is a beautiful thing, as any disarray within the regime drains time, energy, and resources that it could otherwise use to suppress those Iranians working to replace the regime with a (semi-) rights-respecting government. This would be an excellent time for the Obama administration to offer these rebels a few words of moral support. That, of course, is not going to happen. But, once again, Americans can and should demand that anyone seeking the presidency in 2012 embrace a foreign policy that includes explicit moral support for pro-freedom movements—especially the one in Iran.

2. The Keystone-Cops Administration

Although the Navy SEALs pulled off their mission with great precision and competence, the Obama administration proceeded to make a perfect ass of itself following the assassination of Bin Laden. As Jim Treacher writes, the administration’s antics resembled a victory lap in clown car. Excerpt:

First Bin Laden had a gun; then he didn’t. He hid behind one of his wives, who was killed; wait, no, scratch that, she’s alive and wasn’t his wife. Maybe? Now Leon Panetta says he and President Obama didn’t actually see the whole thing go down, after the White House made a point of releasing that instantly iconic picture of the whole gang watching it go down. . . .

If you’re not exactly sure what happened, why give details you might have to retract? How in the world do you screw up a win this big? . . .

And now the Obama administration is showing decisive leadership on the issue of dithering. “Gee, should we show the pictures of Bin Laden with his Navy SEAL makeover? Won’t that make people mad?” The Abu Ghraib pics were in the public interest; visual evidence of the death of the mastermind of 9/11 isn’t. Keeping us from seeing flag-draped coffins was bad; keeping us from seeing a blood-drenched mass-murderer is good. Now they’ve finally decided not to release the pictures, after Panetta already said they would. I’m sure that’s Obama’s final decision unless he changes his mind. . . .

Read the whole tragically hysterical piece here.

3. Navy SEALs: Gods among Men

Whereas the Obama administration’s repeated blunders made them look like Keystone Cops, the Navy SEALs’ awe-inspiring assassination of Bin Laden shows that they come about as close as anyone can to being gods. Unlike the false gods of religious scripture, however, the SEALs are admirable because they earn their power and glory, defend freedom and civilization, and aim to kill only bad guys. Eric Greitens, a SEAL himself, provides an indication of who these larger-than-life men are. Excerpt:

The men who conducted the assault on bin Laden’s compound are part of a proud tradition of service that traces its roots back to the Underwater Demolition Teams that cleared the beaches at Normandy. The SEAL teams themselves were born on Jan. 1, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy commissioned a new force of elite commandos that could operate from the sea, air and land (hence the acronym, SEALs). Though SEALs remain the nation’s elite maritime special operations force, part of what Kennedy wanted and needed from them—and what the nation still asks of SEALs—is that they be a flexible force, capable of operating in any environment.

To be able to undertake such missions, SEALs undergo intense training and practice. As some of my SEAL instructors would say, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.” . . .

The rigors that SEALs go through begin on the day they walk into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., universally recognized as the hardest military training in the world. BUD/S lasts a grueling six months. The classes include large contingents of high-school and college track and football stars, national-champion swimmers, and top-ranked wrestlers and boxers, but only 10% to 20% of the men who begin BUD/S usually manage to finish. About 250 graduate from training every year.

Though often physical in nature, the tests of SEAL training are also designed to push men to their mental and emotional limits. “Drown-proofing” is one of the most famous of these ordeals. I remember it well from my own training in 2001. Standing with five other men next to the ledge of the combat training tank, I put my hands behind my back while my swim buddy tied them together.

“How’s that?”

“Feels good.”

He tugged at the knot to check it a final time. A knot that came undone meant automatic failure. The five of us exchanged glances and then, with our hands and feet firmly bound, jumped into the pool for a 50-meter swim. SEAL candidates are also tested with two-mile ocean swims, four-mile timed runs in soft sand, and runs through the mountains wearing 40-pound rucksacks.

The pinnacle of SEAL training is known as Hell Week, a period of continuous tests and drills during which most classes sleep only a total of two to five hours. . . .

My Hell Week began in the middle of the night. Sleeping in a large tent with my men, I woke to the sound of a Mark-43 Squad Automatic Weapon. The Mark-43 has a cyclic rate of fire of 550 rounds per minute. It is the primary “heavy” gun carried by SEALs on patrol. A blank round is not nearly as loud as a live one, but when the gun is rocking just feet away from your ears in an enclosed tent, it still sounds painfully loud.

We soon started surf torture. We ran into the ocean until we were chest deep in water, formed a line, and linked arms as the cold waves ran through us. Soon we began to shiver. Instructors on bullhorns spoke evenly, “Gentlemen, quit now, and you can avoid the rush later. You are only at the beginning of a very long week. It just gets colder. It just gets harder.”

“Let’s go. Out of the water!” We ran out through waist-deep water, and as we hit the beach a whistle blew: whistle drills. One blast of the whistle and we dropped to the sand. Two blasts and we began to crawl to the sound of the whistle. We crawled through the sand, still shaking from the cold, until our bodies had warmed just past the edge of hypothermia. Then, “Back in the ocean! Hit the surf!” . . .

Read the whole article here. To learn how and why SEAL Team Six (the particular unit that killed Bin Laden) was formed, watch this brief video with Richard Marcinko, the “proud pappa” of this divine division.


4. The Virtue of Torturing Islamic Terrorists—and the Evil of Punishing Those Who Do

In “The Waterboarding Trail to bin Laden,” former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey connects the intelligence that made the assassination of Bin Laden possible with the torture that made the intelligence possible. The article begins:

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said that as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from harsh interrogations.

Osama bin Laden was killed by Americans, based on intelligence developed by Americans. That should bring great satisfaction to our citizens and elicit praise for our intelligence community. Seized along with bin Laden’s corpse was a trove of documents and electronic devices that should yield intelligence that could help us capture or kill other terrorists and further degrade the capabilities of those who remain at large.

But policies put in place by the very administration that presided over this splendid success promise fewer such successes in the future. Those policies make it unlikely that we’ll be able to get information from those whose identities are disclosed by the material seized from bin Laden. The administration also hounds our intelligence gatherers in ways that can only demoralize them.

Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.

That regimen of harsh interrogation was used on KSM after another detainee, Abu Zubaydeh, was subjected to the same techniques. When he broke, he said that he and other members of al Qaeda were obligated to resist only until they could no longer do so, at which point it became permissible for them to yield. “Do this for all the brothers,” he advised his interrogators.

Abu Zubaydeh was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of 9/11. Bin al Shibh disclosed information that, when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydeh, helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the United States.

Another of those gathered up later in this harvest, Abu Faraj al-Libi, also was subjected to certain of these harsh techniques and disclosed further details about bin Laden’s couriers that helped in last weekend’s achievement. . . .

Read Mukasey’s whole article here.

Although the CIA’s torturing of captured Islamist terrorists (who, by being terrorists, have fully forfeited their rights) clearly enabled the U.S. military to gather the necessary intelligence to find and kill Bin Laden, the current Attorney General, Eric Holder, nevertheless persists in his efforts to punish CIA agents for torturing the terrorists. As Daniel Henninger reports:

That’s right, the Americans whose interrogation of al Qaeda operatives may have put in motion the death of this mass murderer may themselves face prosecution by the country they were trying to protect. . . .

In August 2009, Attorney General Holder announced that he was extending the mandate of Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” of terrorist detainees. Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey had appointed Mr. Durham in 2008 as a special prosecutor to look into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes made during interrogations of two al Qaeda operatives. That investigation ended without charges last November.

Mr. Holder decided to push the Durham investigation into a second phase. “I have concluded,” he said “that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” . . .

If Mr. Holder has evidence of an egregious crime, he should step forward and announce it. If not, he should use this moment to put an end to the Durham investigation. Mr. Durham is not an independent counsel, whose hallowed status makes attorneys general loath to interfere. He is a special prosecutor, appointed by the attorney general and under his authority.

On June 18 last year, Mr. Holder said in a Washington speech that Mr. Durham was “close to the end of the time that he needs and will be making recommendations to me.” But nothing has happened. Asked this week about the status of this investigation, a Justice Department spokesman for Mr. Durham, whose office is in Connecticut, said the project is “still ongoing.” . . .

Read Henninger’s whole piece here.

Where does President Obama stand on this matter? Might he suggest to Holder that, given the factually heroic nature of the actions for which the CIA interrogators are being investigated, perhaps the investigation is a tad misplaced? Hardly. As Real Clear Politics reports, Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles Burlingame (pilot of the plane that Islamists crashed into the Pentagon), met with President Obama on May 5, 2011 and asked him to make such a suggestion to Holder. Ms. Burlingame explains what happened next:


5. Schools Find Ayn Rand Can’t Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses

To end the Review on a brighter note, here’s to the continued success of John Allison and the BB&T Charitable Foundation in bringing Ayn Rand’s ideas to college students across the United States. A long article in Bloomberg about how major donors are influencing curricula in various universities is bookended by discussions of Allison and BB&T. The article begins:

John Allison, former chairman of bank holding company BB&T Corp. (BBT), admires author Ayn Rand so much that he devised a strategy to spread her laissez-faire principles on U.S. campuses. Allison, working through the BB&T Charitable Foundation, gives schools grants of as much as $2 million if they agree to create a course on capitalism and make Rand’s masterwork, “Atlas Shrugged,” required reading.

Allison’s crusade to counter what he considers the anti- capitalist orthodoxy at universities has produced results — and controversy. Some 60 schools, including at least four campuses of the University of North Carolina, began teaching Rand’s book after getting the foundation money. Faculty at several schools that have accepted Allison’s terms are protesting, saying donors shouldn’t have the power to set the curriculum to pursue their political agendas, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its June issue.

“We have sought out professors who wanted to teach these ideas,” says Allison, now a professor at Wake Forest University’s business school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It’s really a battle of ideas. If the ideas that made America great aren’t heard, then their influence will be destroyed.”

Allison, 62, is one of a number of wealthy philanthropists who are making bold demands on schools as a condition of giving, says Jack Siegel, a lawyer whose Chicago-based Charity Governance Consulting LLC works with colleges and nonprofit groups.

Seeking to leave their imprint on everything from the direction of scientific research to the performance of sports teams, these benefactors are stirring conflicts when their causes don’t fit with the priorities of administrators and faculty. . . .

The piece ends with this: “As private donors gain more power on campuses, it’s just the kind of shift away from state control that Rand would applaud.” Yes, it is.

Cheers to John Allison and BB&T!

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I hope you enjoyed this edition of TOS’s Week in Review. Feel free to forward the link to others who might enjoy it as well. —CB

Joshua Lipana and Daniel Wahl contributed to this WiR.

(TOS does not necessarily agree with the content of articles to which we link.)

Posted in: Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Foreign Policy and War, Individual Rights and Law

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.