Yes, the Taliban has terrorists in its government (but that’s not unusual)

The Taliban announced the makeup of an interim government the other day, and what should have been to no-one’s surprise, it is made up of figures notable for their close ties to the movement’s late founder, holdovers from the last time the Taliban held power, and a host of hardliners who made their reputations during the last 20 years of insurgency.

In that mix are terrorists.

For example, Sirajuddin Haqqani is the new interim interior minister. He is the head of the Haqqani network (a US-designated terrorist organization), which has been carrying out brutal terrorist attacks across Afghanistan for the last two decades, including a 2017 truck bomb in Kabul that killed and injured hundreds of Afghan civilians. The FBI has a $10 million bounty on his head for information leading to his arrest.

Khalil Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s uncle, is acting minister for refugees. Another leader of the Haqqani network, the FBI has a $5 million bounty on him because of his past ties to al Qaeda. Four former Guantanamo Bay detainees have landed senior government positions as well. These all had been mid- to high-level officials in the old Taliban regime who were captured early in the US war. They were released in a 2014 prisoner exchange.

Interim Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund is under United Nations and European Union sanctions for his close ties to the Taliban’s founders and his role as a military commander. Interim Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar, in addition to serving as a key diplomat, was also a senior military leader coordinating attacks on US and coalition forces during the war.

So yes, the Taliban’s new acting government includes terrorists. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is somehow unprecedented. Let’s look at some examples.

Israel is perhaps the quintessential example of terrorists turned government leaders, at the highest levels. Menachem Begin, who became Israel’s sixth prime minister in 1977, assumed leadership of the Zionist terrorist organization Irgun in 1944 and was the architect of its violent campaign against British occupation of Palestine. Under Begin’s leadership, Irgun was responsible for an escalating series of attacks on government offices and police stations. The most infamous of those attacks was a direct strike against Britain’s administrative and military establishment which was based at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Begin ordered the bombing of the King David, which resulted in the destruction of a wing of the building and the killing of 91 people, mostly British, Arabs, and Jews.

In 1983 Begin was succeeded as prime minister by Yitzhak Shamir, who was himself a former terrorist, a leader of Lehi, also called the Stern Gang, a more militant offshoot of Irgun. Under Shamir’s leadership, Lehi carried out a series of assassinations including that of Lord Moyne, the British Minister for Middle East Affairs. Shamir also ordered the assassination of one of his fellow terrorist leaders, Eliyahu Giladi, the culmination of an internal dispute over strategy.

In January 1947, members of Lehi drove a truck loaded with explosives into a British police station in Haifa, killing four and wounding 140. It is thought to be the first truck bomb in the history of terrorism. A little more than a year later, in a combined operation, Irgun and Lehi terrorists staged an attack on the Palestinian Arab village of Deir Yassin. The resulting massacre left more than 100 Palestinian civilians dead, including women and children.

Northern Ireland provides yet another example of terrorists moving into the halls of government, and at the highest levels. Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorist Martin McGuinness, served from 2007 to 2017 as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. But before he moved into politics, in the 1970s he led the PIRA in his home city of Derry, later rising to head the PIRA’s Northern Command in the 1980s and a seat on the organization’s seven-member Army Council. And in another piece of delicious irony, former PIRA member Alex Maskey, having moved into electoral politics in the early 1980s, found himself some 20 years later with a seat on Northern Ireland’s Policing Board. A former terrorist overseeing the police.

And let’s not exclude ourselves from this discussion. By today’s definitions, the violent revolutionary movement that we remember as the Sons of Liberty was an anti-British terrorist organization that in the 1760s and 1770s carried out attacks against representatives of the Crown, destroyed Crown property, and assaulted and assassinated prominent loyalists in the American colonies. Many of its most notable members went on to play prominent roles in the American War of Independence and the subsequent government of the new United States.

Our patriots of the founding era, familiar names such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Chase, Christopher Gadsden, and Patrick Henry, got their start as members of or leaders in a terrorist group.

So yes, the new government of Afghanistan is loaded with terrorists. But the Taliban are far from the first to make the leap from terrorist to politician to government. As history shows, they’re just a recent example of a pattern in which we ourselves are a part.

What’s a life worth?

(Credit: US Marine Corps/Reuters via BBC)

According to billionaire mercenary kingpin Erik Prince, it’s $6,500, plus expenses. That’s what he’s charging for a seat on one of his chartered flights out of the chaos that is Kabul Airport.

(The situation may be becoming even more dire for those trying to flee Kabul following an apparent suicide bombing attack this morning at one of the entry gates to the airport. The ISIS -affiliated Islamic State of Greater Khorasan claimed responsibility. More than a dozen were reported killed with many more wounded. UPDATE — Apparently there are a number of US service personnel among the dead and injured.)

Of course this is far from the first time Prince has tried to profit from America’s failing military adventure in Afghanistan. Four years ago this Michigan native son, and brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss, proposed a scheme to the Trump Administration in which the Blackwater founder would hire a mercenary army to conquer and pacify Afghanistan on behalf of the United States.

Prince, naturally, would set himself up as Viceroy of Afghanistan, ruling the country in the manner of Britain’s storied East India Company. In fact, this was precisely the model Prince had in mind, a private corporation whose private army would conquer and exploit a country on behalf of the crown. Of course he’d line his own pockets in the process.

As I wrote about in December 2017, one of the ways that Prince sought to profit from his gracious offer to liberate Afghanistan from the burdensome yoke of American bureaucracy was by stealing the mineral wealth of the territories his mercenary army would pacify. According to the pitch he made to the Trump Administration, Prince estimated the value of strategically important minerals at $1 trillion in Helmand Province alone.

It’s a long way from a possible $1 trillion in stolen loot to a measly $6,500 each extorted from people desperate to flee a nightmare, but to Prince’s credit, the vulturine grift goes on. Never say the man stops hustling.

Given this sorry record, it looks like White House press secretary Jen Psaki has captured Prince perfectly:

I don’t think any human being who has a heart and soul would support efforts to profit off of people’s agony and pain if they’re trying to depart a country and fearing for their lives.

As pointed out in The Independent, Prince’s companies made billions of dollars off of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it any surprise he’s found a way to profit from America’s most recent defeat?

Dr. Seuss racist redux

One of the racist images in Dr. Seuss’ If I Ran the Zoo.

A public reckoning with the racist imagery in much of Dr. Seuss’ work has actually been a long time coming. I’ll forgive you if you didn’t read my 2015 post on the topic.

In that piece I focused on the World War II propaganda cartoons he drew in support of the US war effort, and the dehumanized imagery he produced to depict our Japanese foes compared to his much more sympathetic portrayal of, namely, Adolf Hitler.

Those images were completely in line with the race thinking that serves as a foundational element of American foreign policy ideology, how we understood the world and our place and role in it. Anglo-Saxonism is its core, placing America and Britain as a single people standing atop a racial hierarchy in which Germany was a racial close cousin, separated from us only because it had “lost its love of liberty.” Asians fell far down the ladder at whose absolute bottom stood Blacks. As I wrote six years ago:

The wartime cartoons of Dr. Seuss put these [issues] on vivid display. In the images reproduced here, Hitler is portrayed as essentially an aristocrat, his head held high in a posture of contempt of others, almost attractive and noble for all his arrogance. Not so the Japanese, shown here leering with a slant-eyed squint through thick glasses, with buck-toothed grins.  Or as inhuman monsters and insects with caricatures for faces.

The point I was making then, and which I want to reiterate now, is that Dr. Seuss was no outlier in the way that he thought about race compared to other Americans. The racism visible in his work was part and parcel with the systemic racism of his times which we still struggle to acknowledge and overcome.

What has changed is our willingness to continue to overlook it.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the foundation that oversees the artist’s legacy and publishes his works, announced yesterday that it will no longer publish six of his books, most notably And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, and If I Ran the Zoo, from which the image at the top of this post is taken. Mulberry Street holds a special place in my heart. It was the first Seuss book I remember reading (or more likely remember being read to me). And I’ll acknowledge not being aware that, in the words of the announcement, “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

But I can’t say that I’m surprised, and I can’t say that they’re wrong. While conservative culture warriors may race to the airwaves and Twitter to decry the decision as cancel culture run amok, reality isn’t so simple. Nor is Seuss’ legacy.

Because Seuss was on the right side of history on many of the issues of his day. He drew cartoons decrying Jim Crow laws and defending Black rights to equal employment. He drew cartoons lambasting Nazi policies and attacking the isolationism and anti-Semitism of Charles Lindbergh’s America First Movement.

And he drew a lot of things that were and are shockingly racist. We should be mature enough to acknowledge that even as we embrace the lessons of environmentalism in The Lorax and tolerance and acceptance in Horton Hears a Who!

Seuss’ liberalism, and his racism, are his legacy. And they’re our legacy too.

‘Heightened threat environment’

(Credit: New York Times)

If you were wondering whether the United States was going to finally take the threat of far-right anti-government domestic terrorism seriously, it looks like we have an answer.

Earlier today, the Department of Homeland Security issued a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, the first in more than a year. The bulletin was released “due to a heightened threat environment across the United States, which DHS believes will persist in the weeks following the successful Presidential Inauguration.”

If you want to know what a major shift this is in our acknowledgment of the real terrorist threats facing this country, just compare it to the DHS report released last September which, while acknowledging the threat posed by white-supremacist terrorists, buried it on p.27 of a 30-page report while falsely equating it with that from left-wing groups like antifa and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Or compare it to joint DHS/DOJ terrorism analysis released in January 2018, which claimed that three out of four people convicted of terrorist offenses are foreign born while intentionally omitting any mention of the threat of domestic terrorism posed by white supremacist and other right-wing groups.

That past blindness has been a refusal to acknowledge what is the ugly truth about terrorism in America, that the main threat comes from the racist and anti-government far-right wing of our country’s political spectrum. And this isn’t just true now, it is also the case historically, as I’ve written about in this space before.

In case the point needs emphasizing, just two days ago a federal appeals court upheld the conviction of three Kansas militia members who in 2016 plotted to set off simultaneous car bombs targeting a mosque and apartments housing Somali immigrants in Garden City. At their sentencing in 2018, one defendant’s lawyers argued for leniency on the grounds that his client had been radicalized by then-candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.

But back to the NTAS bulletin. DHS assess that “some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.” Here are the details:

Throughout 2020, Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) targeted individuals with opposing views engaged in First Amendment-protected, non-violent protest activity.  DVEs motivated by a range of issues, including anger over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results, and police use of force have plotted and on occasion carried out attacks against government facilities. 

Long-standing racial and ethnic tension—including opposition to immigration—has driven DVE attacks, including a 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 23 people.

DHS is concerned these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021 and some DVEs may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to target elected officials and government facilities.

DHS remains concerned that Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs) inspired by foreign terrorist groups, who committed three attacks targeting government officials in 2020, remain a threat.

Threats of violence against critical infrastructure, including the electric, telecommunications and healthcare sectors, increased in 2020 with violent extremists citing misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 for their actions.  

DHS, as well as other Federal agencies and law enforcement partners will continue to take precautions to protect people and infrastructure across the United States.

DHS remains committed to preventing violence and threats meant to intimidate or coerce specific populations on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity, identity or political views.

DHS encourages state, local, tribal, and territorial homeland security partners to continue prioritizing physical security measures, particularly around government facilities, to protect people and critical infrastructure.