Tag Archives: Religion

Taking Aim at Ames

The Ames Straw Poll was on Saturday, the unofficial first start to a presidential campaign if you’re a Republican. Depending on what your personal view is of straw polls, it has varying degrees of influence on campaigns, as well as what kind of candidate Iowans want to see. This year, over 16,000 participated in the straw poll, with Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) winning in a close contest over Ron Paul (R-Texas). The two candidates combined for more than 50% of the vote, leaving the other seven participants in the dust.

But how much does the straw poll really matter? After all, its a voluntary survey of anybody who is willing to pay $30 can vote in, and big-hitters like Texas governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney decided to not take part in (Mr. Romney was included by vote of the Iowa Republican Party and Mr. Perry made it as a write-in). Yet, the dismal showing by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who had been struggling to stay relevant, led him to bow out of the race the next day, so clearly this poll has enough weight to force candidates out early, and Mr. Perry’s roughly 718 write-in votes was very good considering he declared his candidacy that day.

If you’re a Ron Paul supporter, there are two ways you can look at his second-place finish. The “glass half-full” view is that it’s a big accomplishment to finish within 160 votes of Michelle Bachmann, who is the home-town favorite having been born in Iowa and is widely expected to carry the state in the primary. That kind of performance would make any campaign team happy, and should cement Dr. Paul’s place among the top-tier of candidates. The downside to the second-place finish is that it was in a straw poll, which is Dr. Paul’s best event, and his first second-place finish since last year’s SRLC conference in New Orleans. Also, since the poll wasn’t just for registered Republicans, his vote strength may’ve come from independents who may not participate in the caucus in February, which raises doubts on whether or not he is as politically strong as his second-place finish would have you believe.

Straw polls are all about organizing your faithful followers to make a strong showing, and Dr. Paul supporters are some of the most determined in the field. Ms. Bachmann’s, though, are just as determined, as is evident by the close finish on Saturday, and could potentially close caucus if the straw poll is an accurate indicator of how the caucuses will go. Dr. Paul proved he can place well in straw polls, but whether or not he can parlay that into electoral victory in February is uncertain.

Make no mistake about it, the campaigns are now going to get fierce, but the straw poll has shown who the main contenders are. It may not be an accurate indicator of who the winner will be, but it does reveal who has the grassroots strength to run a long campaign, and who has a devoted enough base to win in February, and maybe even in November.

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“Justice was Done”

The great international manhunt came to an end last night, as the United States finally got their man. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and countless other atrocities around the world, was killed in a daring raid on a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a wealthy neighborhood some 50 kilometers north of Islamabad. This moment, nearly ten years in waiting, touched off jubilant celebrations from New York to Los Angeles and beyond. President Obama remarked that this moment is “the most significant achievement” in the War on Terror, and he couldn’t be more correct. However, amidst the euphoria and celebration of the news late Sunday night, there was a shroud of mystery surrounding the raid that deserves to be addressed. How did bin Laden make his way across Pakistan away from the Tora Bora Mountains without being noticed? Why did nobody suspect anything was amiss in that neighborhood when a giant mansion with 18-foot walls was erected, dwarfing every other house in the area? Most importantly, how did the Pakistani government not realize that the most wanted man in the world was practically in their backyard, and living near one of the largest military bases in the country? Even though he was finally found and killed, new suspicions have arisen, leaving one to wonder how friendly American-Pakistani relations really are, or if we’ve been played like a fiddle for the past decade.

Let’s focus on the mission itself to start with. According to military sources, this raid had been in the plans for the last four years. The reason it didn’t commence earlier was apparently because the units that took part in the mission needed to be trained to handle such a vast, protected complex, and they had to confirm that bin Laden was actually there. This cautious approach was necessary because the neighborhood the house was in is no slum: it’s an affluent neighborhood far from the combat zone, and right on the doorstep of a supposedly friendly government. There was a great risk that this mission would go pear-shaped, and have ruinous consequences for diplomatic relations with Islamabad if the house had held just innocent people. It was a bold decision on the part of President Obama to sign off on such a mission, knowing the risks involved and the political hot-water he would be in if the suspicions were wrong. Luckily for him, and for the soldiers that took part in this historic raid, the intelligence was correct, and the most wanted criminal on the planet was taken out.

Unfortunately, it seems it didn’t matter very much if the mission was successful or not in terms of our partnership with Islamabad. The success of the mission only raised more questions regarding where the Pakistani military and government’s allegiances really lie. We all knew that fraud and two-timing deals are the norm with this country, but the fact that bin Laden had been hiding in plain sight for all these years, in a part of the country that is as heavily militarized as Abbottabad, is troublesome. There might be reason to believe that the Pakistani government knew he was there all along, and was using his presence there for leverage against the United States, especially when it came to coordinating counter-terror attacks on the Afghani-Pakistani border. We now know that bin Laden was nowhere near that area, debunking years of assurance to the contrary, and somebody either on the Pakistani side or our side has some explaining to do. 

A problem I have with the media’s response to this event is that there seems to be a consensus that with bin Laden out of the picture, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will crumble. I find this hard to believe for a multitude of reasons. First of all, al-Qaeda is an elaborate terrorist network, and it would be surprising if they didn’t have a successor-in-waiting in the event of bin Laden’s death. What is more troubling is how the organization will react upon hearing the news, and what consequences will their actions have on innocent civilians across the world. In the US, security has been beefed up at all airports and possible places a terrorist attack may go down, and governments across the Western world are following suit. While nobody expects a repeat of 9/11 to happen again, attacks like the Madrid train bombings and the 7/7 attacks on London’s transportation system are possible, and relatively easy to plan and carry out. These next few days and weeks are going to be some of the most nerve-wracking of the last decade, especially when we don’t know if al-Qaeda is going to be a force anymore without its leader and spiritual guide. As for the Taliban, they will definitely still be around, and still pose a threat to the Afghani government and people, as well as to the troops still over there. Make no mistake; this is no time to let our guard down. These terrorists are battered, but not beaten.

Politically, this moment couldn’t have come at a better time for Obama, who’s foreign and military policies have been much criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as of late, especially in regards to the war in Libya. While the success of the operation can and should be credited to the military commanders and the soldiers that took part in the planning and execution, the President is still the commander-in-chief, and signing off on this mission was a gutsy move. Also, headed into the 2012 elections, he has a huge weapon in his re-election bag of tricks now, and it’s a weapon that we can expect him to use repeatedly in his campaign, especially if the economy is still lagging. His approval rating is going to go through the roof over the next few days, I’m expected it to peak at around 60%, but any wartime spike in approval is usually short lived, and it won’t be much longer before his numbers come back down to Earth, especially since there are still many more problems the country is currently facing and he is still struggling with. Still, he has that one-up on President Bush that nobody thought he would achieve: during his presidency, bin Laden was found, and justice was done.

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The War in Iraq is OVER!!!!!!!!!……kinda

After seven years, billions of dollars, and thousands of casualties later, President Obama approached the podium and boldly declared that Operation Iraqi Freedom was over. Therefore, all non-combat troops would be leaving Iraq, and our presence there will gradually wind down. It’s great news.

Except it really isn’t over.

Sure, we can say “Mission Accomplished” (again) because there has been noticible improvements in that country over the last couple of years. For starters, voters eagerly went to the polls to vote for their representatives in Parliament, as well as their Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the latest elections proved to be indecisive, as both coalitions-in-question, one of which is run by Prime Minister al-Maliki, could get the majority necessary for control. In any other country, it probably wouldn’t be much of a problem (see UK elections 2010), but for a country that is taking its first steps of democracy after decades of tyrant rule, it’s a recipie for instability. Terror attacks, as expected, resurged last month, with devastating consequences, and the government wasn’t there to quell the violence. While this rise in violence is nothing compared to what it has been over the last few years, and owing to the fact that attacks have definately gone down, it is still a concern at this critical junction. The Iraqi army should be up to the challenge of policing the streets and protecting their homeland, but it’s a huge responsibility, and only time will tell if the army can take on the challenge, especially when they can’t use the US Army as a crux.

Also, we aren’t even leaving Iraq to begin with. According to President Obama, 50,000 troops will remain there as advisors, plus private security contractors who will help as well. I’m no expert in military terminology, but I don’t think leaving that many troops behind can really be considered a “withdrawl”. They won’t be fighting or anything, but they will still be there, and still run the risk of getting killed, and then would have to fight. It’s not a bad approach, and we should credit President Obama for taking this withdrawl step-by-step, but don’t call it a withdrawl. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to redeploy troops there.

All in all, it is good to see troops coming home (or reassigned to Afghanistan probably), and it is good to see Iraq beginning to grow as a democratic nation. Who knows, maybe Iraq will become a power player in the Middle East, and a huge ally for the USA. Both President Bush and President Obama can take credit for this war’s progress and its winding down. It’s not a perfect finish, but if Iraq doesn’t go the way of Vietnam, we can proudly put this war in the win coloumn. However, we can only wait and watch to make sure it doesn’t, and in the interests of the 4500 troops killed over there, I really hope all the effort put into this country doesn’t go to waste.

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A Tale of A City and Its Mosque

It seems as though everywhere you turn on network news these days, there are “experts” discussing the Ground Zero mosque, an Islamic cultural center set to be built two blocks from the 9/11 attack site. Proponents of the center say it is an expression of their freedom to worship, which is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Opponents claim it is disrespectful to the memory of those who perished on that faithful day, seeing as how it is the same religion as the terrorists, and the Imam who runs it, Feisel Abdul Rauf, has been critical of American MidEast policy. It has become an all consuming issue today, and like every issue, from the economy to the president’s daily diet, could have an impact in November.

What I have witnessed these past few weeks is that the left-wing media doesn’t really get the argument. They launch attacks of racism, intolerance, and a sweeping condemnation of those who protest such a center without realizing why people are protesting it in the first place. This is not a matter of First Amendment rights; like all other people, Muslims deserve to worship in whatever fashion they seem fit. They also have a right to build a center for their religion wherever they want, and that includes two blocks from Ground Zero. However, just because you have a right to build something somewhere, doesn’t mean you should. I have a right to carry a sign saying “Martin Luther King Jr. is rotting in Hell” while wearing a KKK costume, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to do so.

Building this center near Ground Zero would be like building a German cultural center near Auschwitz, and have it be run by a man who believes the Holocaust could be blamed on the Jews themselves for whatever reason. While it wasn’t all Germans that took part in the Holocaust, it would still be a constant reminder to those who lost family during the genocide, as well as it being run by a man who refuses to condemn the actions of the Nazis, and would be met by an army of very angry, and probably violent, Poles. Even though not all Muslims are terrorists, and that the people responsible for the events are not representative of the Islamic faith, it’s very hard to justify to the numerous families of the victime that a “mega-mosque” for the religon of the terrorists will be placed that close to where your love d ones died. Adding to the controversy, Imam Rauf has spoken repeatedly about how he thinks American culture and policies are responsible for the 9/11 attacks, as well as his refusal to condemn Hamas as a terrorist-supporting organization, so it is very unclear what this man will preach in this center.

The sensible thing to do is to talk to the investors behind this center, and simply say “We recognize your right to build this center, and we agree that it is your First Amendment right to build it. But there is a lot of uproar about you putting your center in this place. Could you consider putting it in another location in the city?” By simply asking that, the investors get their center, and the site remains respected. If they refuse, given the size and intensity of the protests, there is a real chance the center could be attacked, which could impact the safety of everybody in Lower Manhattan, especially those in the immediate vicinity. So it then becomes a safety concern, and no building is worth that.

So the long and short of it is that they should be allowed to builf their cultural center, but every attempt should be made to dissuade the investors and clerics behind the mosque to move the location away from the area, and to a less controversial location.

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