Kenya Attacks Tickle Rightwing Agendas

People say the dopiest things after a terrorist attack. The horrific shooting and hostage taking at the Westgate Mall in Kenya is just one case in point.

Rep. Mike Rogers
Rep. Mike Rogers

According to Fox News, Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican from Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was apparently leading a chorus of "top Republicans" last week who were trying to link the "significant" decrease in US drone strikes to the al-Shabab attack and a "resurgence" of al Qaeda overseas.

"There have been counterterrorism changes made by the administration that have concerned us all, things that we’ve been working on for a period of months that we’re trying to work through that are very, very concerning. This is no time to retreat," Rogers told Fox News.

"If you believe al Qaeda has been beaten and we don’t have to worry about it anymore you will see a lot more Nairobis and other deaths," claimed Rogers, who earlier this year vigorously defended the covert CIA drone strikes program. "This is not the time for the administration to take the posture that we can slow down and take the foot off the gas – that is dangerous."

The Fox News reports, which were scattered over the week, strained to suggest that as the Obama Administration "limited" drone strikes this year, terrorist attacks across the globe spiked. Rogers did not say this outright, he just merely supplied the rhetorical garnish from a "top Republican." The Special Report segment and others provided the rest, including a graph and quote from the Long War Journal website, which is run by the neoconservative and flagrantly Islamophobic Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (think Clifford Mays, James Woolsey, and Reuel Marc Gerecht).

"(Long War Journal managing editor Bill) Roggio … says the US launched 117 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2010, compared to 21 so far this year, which translates into one about every three of four days to about one every 15 days in 2013," Fox News reported on air and on its website Sept. 26, just as the smoke was clearing from the Kenya attacks.

Hawks like Roggio don’t like that the number of strikes have gone down, and that in his May speech at the National Defense University, President Obama signaled a nearing end to the "long war" (of course the reality of that can be disputed) by declaring, "legal and necessary drone strikes will be more narrowly focused to avoid civilian casualties and backlash in Pakistan and neighboring countries."

Are the hawks really trying to suggest this "limiting," which only began this year, has something to do with an increase in global terrorism? This seems to be the case. The "increase" is bolstered by a report released recently by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which Fox describes as offering "new statistics" that "show more than 60 terror attacks across the world since July 1." Yet when one looks more closely at these "recent highlights in terrorist activity," it’s clear that the vast majority are suicide bombings in Iraq, which have been perpetuated, mostly, by the anti-Shiite (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) insurgency that the US played no small part in creating but has little to do with today, and is not considered part of a global Islamist extremist movement.

The other prevailing "terrorist activity" in the report includes Taliban attacks on the Afghan security forces we’re propping up in our lingering occupation in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and other jihadist attacks relating to the war in Syria, insurgent attacks in Mali where the French invaded last spring, and suicide bombings in Pakistan which is suffering from its own homegrown Islamist extremism, but again, is more concerned with wreaking instability there and in Afghanistan than pursuing any "transnational" Islamist movement worldwide. The same goes with Boko Haram, a brutal extremist gang that just killed some 50 students in their beds at a local agricultural college in Nigeria.

But the reality of these regional dynamics does little to stop the rightwing loonosphere from drawing all sorts of shopworn conclusions from the Westgate Mall horror and using it to their own tired political ends, which of course, is all about us. If anything, the attacks have provided fresh opportunities for Muslim bashing, flagrant hyperbole and general anger displacement.

"You moderate Muslims out there, I know I’ve been on this thing for a long time, but the time has come for you to stand up and say something," barked Bob Beckel, the token Democrat on the Fox daily rap show "The Five" on Sept. 23 (the show is Fox’s cable news answer to "The View"). As rightwing news critic Mediate pointed out, Beckel then "took the opportunity to revive his calls to ban foreign Muslim students from entering the United States and prevent new mosques from being built.”

Bob Beckel
Bob Beckel

"I repeat what I said before," Beckel declared. "No Muslim students coming here with visas. No more mosques being built here until you stand up and denounce what’s happened in the name of your prophet. It is not what your prophet meant." …

"The time has come for Muslims in this country and for other people around the world to stand up and be counted," Beckel said, summarizing his point. "If you can’t, you’re cowards."

As when any terrorist event occurs, bloviators like Beckel insist that no moderate Muslims ever come forward to "denounce" their extremist brethren’s behavior. As always, though, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

"This kind of activity, killing innocent people, has no base or any relationship with Islam," said Abdirizak Hashi, an imam at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis, to a Star-Tribune reporter, early last week. Several Somali-Americans are suspected of being part of the Kenyan attacks, but that has yet to be confirmed.

"They do not represent any religion, they do not represent any community, they do not represent any nationality," Ibrahim Baraki, a Kenya native, told the paper. "They are an organized group of criminals who have conspired to kill and destroy innocent lives. They are nothing but criminals. They are not Muslims."

Not this, nor the litany of Muslim leaders who spoke out last week against al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist organization that grew out of Somalia’s power vacuum in the late 2000’s and took responsibility for the recent attacks, truly matters to these harpies and scolds who will never been convinced that Islam anything but a religion of evil.

But let’s put the chattering Islamophoberie aside for a moment to address the more troubling meme to emerge from last week’s attacks – that an apparent drop in the number drone strikes has somehow inspired al-Qaeda linked groups like al-Shabab to become more ambitious, in other words, as the US shows "weakness," the bad guys get stronger. It’s a cliché at this point, but they roll it out every time.

The truth is, while CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in recent months have dropped considerably since they began in 2004, upwards of 4,000 people have already died because of them, including more than 1,000 civilians, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. That doesn’t even count the number of people killed by US military drones, nor does it cover the damage done in Afghanistan, or by non-drone missile strikes or other deadly covert operations in an increasing number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Only a Simple Simon would think that a few months of limited strikes would countenance all of the ill effects – the blowback – festering since the unmanned aerial attacks began during the Bush Administration. The insurgencies flourishing today have not only that to thank for their popularity, but a complicated set of local and regional conditions that in many cases the West has exacerbated with military (and intelligence) interventions, weapon sales, political puppeteering, plus the dangerous power vacuums created when it takes one side against the other and then, as in most cases, leaves a big mess behind.

This is no more evident than in Somalia, where the CIA and US military have been manipulating the landscape since before 9/11. "We are basically back to where we were when Donald Rumsfeld and (Vice President Dick) Cheney and others decided to start arming and backing warlords," said Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, on Democracy Now! Sept. 25.

"Somalia is just in utter hell and it’s some of the greatest suffering on planet Earth and the US has played a very significant role in destabilizing Somalia for many, many years."

The Bush Administration, in its zeal to embark on a worldwide terror manhunt after 9/11, sided with thuggish warlords to bring down other thuggish warlords in Somalia, which eventually gave rise to the Islamic Courts Union. Washington did not like the Islamic Courts Union, so they brought in the CIA and military to violently purge the country once again, allowing space for the growth of al-Shabab, the most brutal of all Islamist militants and would-be rulers in Somalia. Getting rid of them required an invasion force of the African Union (including soldiers from Ethiopia and Kenya) – with US assistance, of course. The Union’s own murderous methods against the civilian population left the already stricken Somalis reeling.

Meanwhile, continued US airstrikes and collaboration with Somali rivals in Kenya and Ethiopia, plus CIA/special operations intelligence operations the Global War on Terror (including a nasty underground interrogation prison right under the airport in Mogadishu, brilliantly detailed by Scahill in 2011), has only fueled extremists like al-Shabab, which have naturally turned to al Qaeda for resources and cover.

What happened in Kenya last week, in other words, should be no surprise. As Scahill says in his book on this very subject, "every step taken by the US benefited al Shebab." Stephen Walt, in his own recent examination, noted:

"Indeed, to the extent that the United States might face a threat from al-Shabab, it might be because Washington has been blundering around in Somali politics since the early 1990s and usually making things worse. The same goes for Kenya too. Al-Shabab attacked the mall because Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 and their intervention had undermined al-Shabab’s position in that troubled country."

Funny how none of the mainstream coverage has included this little primer, nor spoke of the persistent US footprint in the region over the last decade. This is why people like Rep. Peter King, R-NY, and head of the House Homeland Security Committee, can say things like this after such an attack:

"Now, we see, by attacking into Kenya they (al-Shebab) certainly have an international dimension to them,” King said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

He did not go as far as say al-Shebab was a direct threat to the US but we can read between the lines. He wasn’t the only Republican to hint at the old "we need to fight them there so they we don’t have to fight them here" refrain last week, and he surely won’t be the last.

Meanwhile, when I represented on a recent television panel about blowback in Africa, I received this interesting missive via email:

Madame, I saw your interview on the left wing loon Are you a mental case? Blaming the attack where men were castrated, eyes were gouged out, bodies were found on hooks … on “blowback”?? These are not terrorists. This is Islam.  The tragedy is that this did not take place at the offices of Anti-War, RT or the BBC.

Ignorance breeds ignorance, and clearly ignorance can succumb to violence. When the mainstream media allows for an "information vacuum," i.e., it does not provide any background whatsoever on who al-Shabab is, where it came from and what the last 12 years of US meddling in Somalia has wrought – it gives rise to the prevailing attitudes displayed by Reps. Rogers and King, that we need more drones, more prisons, more war. It also provides a stage for the haters, and for the Islamophobes, who seem increasingly more unhinged and desperate for attention.

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Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.