Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 17, 2014

Is Morocco the Antidote to Saudi-Sponsored Extremism?

Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

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Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

De-radicalization may be fashionable among European officials, Western NGOs, and the State Department, but there is little evidence that U.S. and European programs are anything more than an expensive boondoggle.

Increasingly, Morocco appears to be the antidote to decades of Saudi-sponsored radicalism. I have highlighted here before the innovative “Mourchidat” program. Now Morocco is beginning to expand its imam training program to Tunisia and Libya in North Africa, as well as Guinea in West Africa. This follows a similar program conducted on behalf of imams in Mali, which has faced a severe challenge from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

President Obama will soon travel to Saudi Arabia. This is wise, as Obama seeks to repair ties with the Saudi Kingdom undercut by his own diplomatic tin ear. Still, if Obama really wants to support friends, he should move to bolster U.S. ties with Morocco, which is pulling far beyond its weight in efforts to promote peace, stability, and moderation not only among Arab states, but also across Africa, a continent Obama once described as a priority. Rather than throw money at de-radicalization programs that don’t have anything to show for their efforts, perhaps it is time to actually work through allies to support what does work.

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Abbas and the False Hope of Peace

The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

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The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

A shift on the Palestinian stance on refugees would mean a lot. As long as the PA holds onto its demand for the so-called “right of return” for refugees and their descendants, it means their goal remains Israel’s eradication. Similarly, recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn would also herald a redefinition of Palestinian nationalism from a creed rooted primarily in rejection of Zionism to one oriented toward developing their own nation.

But even in this seemingly positive statement, Abbas left himself plenty of wriggle room. Saying that he doesn’t wish to “flood” Israel doesn’t mean he’s renounced the right of return. How many Arabs constitute a flood? The answer is amorphous much in the same way previous comments by Abbas have hinted at a change without really delivering it. The point being that nothing short of a concrete renunciation of this longstanding demand means anything.

But let’s assume for a moment that Abbas is actually interested in giving up the right of return. If he were to make such an earth-shaking turnabout, is it remotely possible that he would do so while speaking to an Israeli audience rather than to a gathering of his own people in their own language? The answer is no.

As it was with Arafat, who would say to Western reporters he had chosen peace with Israel while telling Palestinians that all he had done was to sign a temporary truce that would be followed by more conflict, Abbas is also playing a double game. Far from echoing Abbas’s moderate statements to the Israeli students, the Palestinian media continues to broadcast and publish a never-ending stream of incitement against Jews and Israel in which terrorism is praised. Indeed, as Palestine Media Watch noted, Abbas has recently personally praised acts of terror against Israeli students.

The same point applies to his pledge not to divide Jerusalem since in the same address he told the Israelis that he would never allow Israel to control the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City. In other words, even in the unlikely event of a peace treaty, worship at Judaism’s most sacred places would be dependent on Fatah goodwill rather than Jewish rights.

Another key obstacle to peace is the same one that deterred Kerry’s predecessors from attempting to revive the talks with Israel: Hamas. Though Abbas pretends that the terrorist rulers of Gaza will go along with any agreement he strikes with the Israelis, they continue to exercise a veto over peace that will deter him in much the same way Arafat knew that his signature on a treaty would be a death warrant.

So what is Abbas doing?

It’s not much of a mystery. The Palestinian leader is orchestrating a campaign aimed at diverting Western attention from a negotiating stance based on intransigence rather than moderation. Just as Arafat’s occasional statements about peace distracted both the Western media and the government of the United States from the actual policies he was pursuing as well as the rejectionist culture he had further entrenched via his media and the schools run by the PA, Abbas is trying to do the same thing. In this case, it is part of a game of chicken he’s been playing with Israel’s government to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure.

Israel should remain open to the possibility that someday the Palestinians will undergo the sort of sea change that will enable their leaders to embrace peace with Israel. But until that actually happens, both the Jewish state and its American ally should ignore Abbas’s deceptions.

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The Tea Party’s Gift to American Politics

On Fox News Sunday Senator Mike Lee debated Representative Xavier Becerra over the president’s repeated lawless acts related to the Affordable Care Act. (Mr. Obama has unilaterally changed or delayed the ACA 24 times without seeking the approval of Congress.)

It was a rout, with Senator Lee blowing apart the argument offered up by Representative Becerra. The Democrat from California was misleading in his claims. He ducked the questions asked by host Chris Wallace and kept reverting to pabulum and talking points.

Senator Lee, on the other hand, was terrific. His answers were crisp, direct, and articulate. He was principled without coming across as dyspeptic. He also helped educate both Mr. Becerra and the public by (to take one example) making the point that not all executive orders are created equal, thereby deftly answering the charge that because Ronald Reagan used executive orders more often than Mr. Obama, the latter has violated the constitutional less often than the former.

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On Fox News Sunday Senator Mike Lee debated Representative Xavier Becerra over the president’s repeated lawless acts related to the Affordable Care Act. (Mr. Obama has unilaterally changed or delayed the ACA 24 times without seeking the approval of Congress.)

It was a rout, with Senator Lee blowing apart the argument offered up by Representative Becerra. The Democrat from California was misleading in his claims. He ducked the questions asked by host Chris Wallace and kept reverting to pabulum and talking points.

Senator Lee, on the other hand, was terrific. His answers were crisp, direct, and articulate. He was principled without coming across as dyspeptic. He also helped educate both Mr. Becerra and the public by (to take one example) making the point that not all executive orders are created equal, thereby deftly answering the charge that because Ronald Reagan used executive orders more often than Mr. Obama, the latter has violated the constitutional less often than the former.

This is probably as good a time as any, then, to praise Senator Lee, who has become one of the most impressive lawmakers in the land. I had my disagreement with him on the wisdom of the government shutdown. (I think the record shows that this gambit was foolish and counterproductive.) But overall, Senator Lee has been outstanding. He’s delivered some very thoughtful speeches. Among other things, he said this:

Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative. Outrage, resentment, and intolerance are gargoyles of the Left. For us, optimism is not just a message — it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope.

It is also about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics. This, too, is part of the challenge before us.

Moreover, Senator Lee is at the forefront of advocating a conservative reform agenda on issues ranging from poverty and opportunity to criminal justice and higher-education reforms to changes in transportation policies and tax reforms aimed at helping families with children.

Senator Lee, in both his tone/bearing and the substance of his ideas, is exactly the kind of Republican the GOP and the conservative movement need to be their public face and voice: reasonable and reassuring, a person interested in ideas and governing, a man of clear and right convictions.

Mike Lee is among the greatest gifts the Tea Party has given to American politics.

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Will Tunisia Defy Arab Spring Pessimism?

Many writers at COMMENTARY cautiously welcomed the Arab Spring, myself included, even with a dose of caution about what might happen should the Muslim Brotherhood hijack the popular uprising that caught them as much as the regimes against which they plotted by surprise.

It was not long before the Arab Spring turned chilly. The Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates rose to dominate Egypt and Tunisia. Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria descended into violence. While some analysts pointed out that the monarchies—Bahrain excepted—showed particular resilience amidst the winds of the Arab Spring, this might have less to do with fundamentals and could instead have been sheer dumb luck. Jordan, for example, remains highly susceptible to an uprising that could challenge if not unseat the regime. Stability in Saudi Arabia remains far from assured.

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Many writers at COMMENTARY cautiously welcomed the Arab Spring, myself included, even with a dose of caution about what might happen should the Muslim Brotherhood hijack the popular uprising that caught them as much as the regimes against which they plotted by surprise.

It was not long before the Arab Spring turned chilly. The Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates rose to dominate Egypt and Tunisia. Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria descended into violence. While some analysts pointed out that the monarchies—Bahrain excepted—showed particular resilience amidst the winds of the Arab Spring, this might have less to do with fundamentals and could instead have been sheer dumb luck. Jordan, for example, remains highly susceptible to an uprising that could challenge if not unseat the regime. Stability in Saudi Arabia remains far from assured.

The fundamental problem has been that both governments and opposition movements have embraced the rhetoric of democracy, but not its spirit. Opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have looked at the Arab Spring as an opportunity to seize power and replicate the same dictatorship against which they once fought.

The exception, of course, has been Tunisia. Ennahda, an Islamist party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, won a plurality in elections to form the government which would oversee drafting of a new constitution but, against the backdrop of popular discord with its conservatism, it agreed to step down last month in favor of a caretaker government rather than seek to dominate as have Islamist parties elsewhere in the Middle East. Today, polls show that 70 percent of Tunisians believe their country is heading in the right direction, a sharp uptick since only 15 percent believed it was before Ennahda agreed to step down.

Tunisia isn’t out of the woods yet. Oussama Romdhani, a former communications minister under the Ben Ali government, yet a figure widely respected as a self-made and honest man despite his association with the previous regime, has a must-read column in Al-Arabiya assessing the current state of Tunisian politics and the dangers which lurk ahead. Every post-Arab Spring government, even the best intentioned, has had to confront unrealistic expectations of supporters and the conspiracy theories of critics. Still, rather than give into America’s new isolation trend, it is important to support Tunisia as it moves forward, because if one Arab state can navigate Arab Spring turbulence into a more tranquil future, then it can become a model for others who otherwise might teeter between Islamist dictatorship or regression to more secular authoritarianism.

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NBC’s Cuddly Dictators

NBC has earned some well-deserved scorn for treating Soviet history, as recalled during the Olympic ceremonies, as if it were the political equivalent of New Coke: an interesting idea that flopped. But one is tempted to dismiss it not as leftists’ unwillingness to condemn their efforts to excuse mass murder, slavery, and torture in the name of forced equality but as typical media kowtowing to authoritarian thugs in the name of access.

After all, NBC aired yesterday and today its interview with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov as part of its Olympics coverage. The interview looked as though Kadyrov himself produced the segment. He is portrayed as a deeply devout leader who modernized postwar Chechnya and brought stability where there was chaos. There was the requisite question about accusations that he’s a “dictator,” quickly waved off by Kadyrov and dropped by the interviewer so the segment could move on to neighboring Dagestan, portrayed as mostly rubble where Kadyrov’s Chechnya, especially Grozny, gleams.

The strangest part of the segment was when the interviewer says Kadyrov “has aligned himself with Russia.” Does NBC think Chechnya is an independent country? It’s easy, after watching the Kadyrov interview, to just dismiss the network’s airbrushed version of Soviet history as part of its dictators-are-cuddly pathology. But I think that lets them off too easily. Nonetheless, we can turn this into something constructive–by taking them at their word. As Jonah Goldberg wrote about NBC’s whitewashing of history:

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NBC has earned some well-deserved scorn for treating Soviet history, as recalled during the Olympic ceremonies, as if it were the political equivalent of New Coke: an interesting idea that flopped. But one is tempted to dismiss it not as leftists’ unwillingness to condemn their efforts to excuse mass murder, slavery, and torture in the name of forced equality but as typical media kowtowing to authoritarian thugs in the name of access.

After all, NBC aired yesterday and today its interview with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov as part of its Olympics coverage. The interview looked as though Kadyrov himself produced the segment. He is portrayed as a deeply devout leader who modernized postwar Chechnya and brought stability where there was chaos. There was the requisite question about accusations that he’s a “dictator,” quickly waved off by Kadyrov and dropped by the interviewer so the segment could move on to neighboring Dagestan, portrayed as mostly rubble where Kadyrov’s Chechnya, especially Grozny, gleams.

The strangest part of the segment was when the interviewer says Kadyrov “has aligned himself with Russia.” Does NBC think Chechnya is an independent country? It’s easy, after watching the Kadyrov interview, to just dismiss the network’s airbrushed version of Soviet history as part of its dictators-are-cuddly pathology. But I think that lets them off too easily. Nonetheless, we can turn this into something constructive–by taking them at their word. As Jonah Goldberg wrote about NBC’s whitewashing of history:

What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union? In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.

Agreed. But let’s take the “infomercial treacle” to its logical conclusion. If socialistic governance is a “pivotal experiment,” then we can all agree it’s taught us a valuable lesson, because it’s an “experiment” that failed. (Why the left needs an experiment to learn that gulags and death camps aren’t the way to go is another question entirely.) I would almost be willing to ignore the “pivotal experiment” nonsense if they actually treated it like an experiment.

For example, the violence, repression, and anti-Semitism of the regime of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela could earn him plenty of cogent and accurate descriptors. On the day of his funeral, however, NBC’s news anchor went looking for a phrase to sum up Chavez’s legacy, and landed on “harsh critic of the U.S. who ruled for 14 years.” Proponent of a “pivotal experiment” would have been a step up from that.

Chavez’s successor isn’t an improvement, and as Ben Cohen explained here last week, Venezuela is continuing its descent into misery and chaos. AFP has the latest on Venezuela’s version of the pivotal experiment:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday accused Washington of plotting with anti-government protesters and expelled three US diplomats in retaliation.

Maduro’s order came on the same day that fugitive opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez re-appeared and called for a mass rally on Tuesday and challenged the government to arrest him at the event.

Nearly two weeks of anti-government protests spearheaded by students have become the biggest challenge to Venezuela’s socialist rulers since the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez in 2013.

The oil-rich country is mired in a deep economic crisis critics blame on policies that Maduro largely inherited from Chavez.

Strict controls on currency and prices have created huge bottlenecks that have fueled inflation and emptied store shelves.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the wonder of the socialist experiment. Deprivation, violence, paranoia. Goldberg is correct when he implores readers to “Imagine the controversy” if the Olympics were held in Germany and an opening ceremonial program involved a floating swastika. Would broadcasters, when eulogizing the Nazis, talk of a “pivotal experiment”? Now imagine the controversy if a Nazi leader had been described as a “harsh critic of the U.S.” as his identifying characteristic.

There is moral clarity with regard to the Nazis that there simply isn’t with regard to other socialists, as Goldberg notes. And part of that is because leftists don’t mean it even when they gloss over socialist horrors as an “experiment.” Martin Malia has written that because the Soviet project was conducted on behalf of global socialism, the way those in the West talked about Russian socialism was infused with a self-consciousness about the way it reflected on socialism everywhere.

“It is only by taking the Soviets at their ideological word, treating their socialist utopia with literal-minded seriousness, that we can grasp the tragedy to which it led,” Malia wrote. That advice can be broadened: we should take not just socialists but their enablers, excusers, and whitewashers at their word.

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Kings, Presidents, and Barack Obama

From the first president to our current chief executive, Americans have always chafed against the growing power of the presidency. Having come into existence in protest against the unchecked power of a king and an unaccountable parliament, Americans have always been particularly sensitive to the notion that the executive branch should take on the trappings or the imperial grasp of monarchy. And yet the history of our republic is told in no small measure by the way in which our presidents have gradually accumulated more power. For the most part that involved their conduct of military and foreign policy, the aspects of government that the Constitution made the direct responsibility of the president.

Invariably the exercise of that power, whether it involved George Washington’s decision to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain or Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the conduct of the war against southern rebels, caused critics to accuse these presidents of acting like monarchs. However, such accusations were heard when some presidents acted on domestic issues as well. Andrew Jackson’s “war” on the Second Bank of the United States prompted his Whig opponents to call him a king. In the 20th century the executive branch grew into the modern presidency, and talk of presidents as kings changed to one of an imperial presidency in which the occupant of the White House seemed to have usurped the congressional prerogative to declare war. But as we celebrate President’s Day, Barack Obama has turned that traditional debate about the presidency on its head. In doing so, he has resurrected centuries-old worries about an attack on the rule of law by an out-of-control president.

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From the first president to our current chief executive, Americans have always chafed against the growing power of the presidency. Having come into existence in protest against the unchecked power of a king and an unaccountable parliament, Americans have always been particularly sensitive to the notion that the executive branch should take on the trappings or the imperial grasp of monarchy. And yet the history of our republic is told in no small measure by the way in which our presidents have gradually accumulated more power. For the most part that involved their conduct of military and foreign policy, the aspects of government that the Constitution made the direct responsibility of the president.

Invariably the exercise of that power, whether it involved George Washington’s decision to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain or Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the conduct of the war against southern rebels, caused critics to accuse these presidents of acting like monarchs. However, such accusations were heard when some presidents acted on domestic issues as well. Andrew Jackson’s “war” on the Second Bank of the United States prompted his Whig opponents to call him a king. In the 20th century the executive branch grew into the modern presidency, and talk of presidents as kings changed to one of an imperial presidency in which the occupant of the White House seemed to have usurped the congressional prerogative to declare war. But as we celebrate President’s Day, Barack Obama has turned that traditional debate about the presidency on its head. In doing so, he has resurrected centuries-old worries about an attack on the rule of law by an out-of-control president.

Unlike many of his predecessors, President Obama lacked the confidence and the support he needed to conduct military operations without prior congressional approval. The spectacle of the president asking Congress to authorize a strike on Syria’s chemical-weapons capacity last summer and then withdrawing that request once he realized he would lose illustrated not only his shaky personal standing but also an abdication on his part of the power to react to international threats that his predecessors had acquired. Yet even as Obama has become weaker in the category of foreign and defense policy, he has sought to expand his power elsewhere. The president’s decisions to selectively enforce laws, whether it be immigration regulations or the implementation of his own signature health-care legislation, has created a new kind of imperial presidency. The question now is no longer about the use of clear constitutional authority as commander in chief to conduct wars without much congressional or judicial oversight but about the way this president seems to prefer to govern at home without respect for the rule of law. This is creating a new kind of constitutional crisis that should trouble Americans even more than their past concerns about Mr. Obama’s predecessors.

Barack Obama is far from the first president to come to the conclusion that he should be able to govern on his own. All presidents have at times sought to ignore both the legislative and judicial branches. But the president’s decision to treat ObamaCare as a law that can be enacted according to his whims or political advantage is an extraordinary abuse of power. With more than two dozen delays of various aspects of the law over the past year, the administration has attempted a piecemeal implementation that will frontload its benefits and postpones much of the pain of the law’s provisions for both employers and the economy. While this has been defended as a response to the business community’s problems, that argument falls flat when one realizes that the delays are not so much about rescuing the economy from a massive federal power grab as they are merely putting off the disaster until after first the 2012 presidential election and now the 2014 midterms.

Put in the context of the president’s declaration about the use of executive orders in the State of the Union address, this creates the impression that there is a White House that appears to govern on its own without respect to either the Constitution or the will of the American people. By saying that he will govern wherever possible in the final three years of his term by executive orders rather than wait for Congress to pass the laws he wants, the president is signaling the beginning of a new constitutional order that puts past disputes about the use of force in a different perspective. If his predecessors often overstepped their authority or created new powers out of thin air it could be justified as flowing from their constitutional authority to protect and defend the United States from foreign enemies. But by declaring himself a one-man legislature and executive, this president presents a new threat to the rule of law that can’t be rationalized in that manner.

The American republic and its Constitution have proved that they can survive all manner of threats and political crises. That will also be true of Obama’s selective approach to being the country’s chief legal officer. But just as his predecessors have used past power grabs to justify their own expanding authority, so, too, will the presidents who follow Barack Obama into the Oval Office build on his abuses. That should cause all Americans, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, to fear for the future of the rule of law in this country. Though talk of presidential monarchs is as old as the United States, in this case, the worries may be justified.

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Inside the UAE’s Muslim Brotherhood

I have written a number of pieces recently examining the efforts of the self-described human-rights organization Alkarama (whose head the U.S. Treasury Department designated as a terror financier) to advance the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the United Arab Emirates.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, a one-stop shop on articles and analysis relating to the Muslim Brotherhood (and which regularly breaks news days ahead of other press outlets, such as President Obama’s reception of Anas Altikriti, the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood figure), flags this article from the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News which claims the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in the United Arab Emirates is in decline.

The most interesting element in the article revolves around the Muslim Brotherhood’s recruitment and structure in the region:

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I have written a number of pieces recently examining the efforts of the self-described human-rights organization Alkarama (whose head the U.S. Treasury Department designated as a terror financier) to advance the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the United Arab Emirates.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, a one-stop shop on articles and analysis relating to the Muslim Brotherhood (and which regularly breaks news days ahead of other press outlets, such as President Obama’s reception of Anas Altikriti, the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood figure), flags this article from the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News which claims the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in the United Arab Emirates is in decline.

The most interesting element in the article revolves around the Muslim Brotherhood’s recruitment and structure in the region:

Most members of the movement are recruited during high school or college years and, in many cases, serve in top administrative positions within the Brotherhood’s nationwide structure before being promoted to the Guidance Office, the organization’s top executive authority. They also could be nominated for political office to ensure leaders have all been vetted over the course of decades in their willingness to comply with the internal Shura committee’s decisions, said Tharwat  Al Kherbawi, a  lawyer who has written memoirs exposing the secrets of the Brotherhood after he left the movement, addressing a recent symposium titled ‘Challenges and threats posed by the Muslim Brotherhood to UAE and countries of the Region.’

“Emirati members of the Muslim Brotherhood take a proxy allegiance oath, where these members swear allegiance before another veteran leader in the UAE, who in turn swears allegiance before the Supreme Guide in Cairo,” said Al Kherbawi, who is among the most vocal critics of the organization. He said that young initiates were taught that joining the movement was a religious obligation, like prayer, and that the supreme guide is above any mistakes. “These novices are raised on obedience and allegiance to the supreme guide, accepting no critique of him or his acts. They are taught to regard the movement as their home and that standing to the national anthem of their country is polytheism,” he added.

The notion of recruitment in schools, hierarchy, and demands for strict obedience seem consistent from country to country. Indeed, the strict hierarchy and autocratic internal political culture are what repelled so many young Egyptians who once saw the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative to the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak.

While the transnational nature of the movement is well-known to those familiar with the Brotherhood, the notion of a supreme guide with international reach also depicts the Muslim Brotherhood as in many ways the Sunni equivalent of the political and religious structure which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sought to establish inside Iran.

Recognizing this fact has implications for U.S. policy. First, blanket funding of schools in the region, whether directly or through United Nations organizations, should cease unless those schools can certify they are not beds for Muslim Brotherhood recruitment (especially as teachers often identify targets for recruitment). Second, engaging national Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, for example, as diplomats or NGOs work with political parties in each country, is naive and akin to engaging Hezbollah without recognizing that organization’s ties to Iran. Lastly, the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE suggests that investigating Brotherhood organizations with the aim of driving them underground, if not eradicating them, can work.

That does not mean cheerleading repression, but rather recognizing that not all opposition is legitimate or desirable. There are many flavors of political opposition that do not act as transnational or religious insurgencies. Only those political oppositions that accept national sovereignty, seek tolerance and equality under the law for all citizens regardless of religion, and practice democracy within their own political hierarchies should be engaged and encouraged by the U.S. government.

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What Al-Qaeda’s Departure Says About Iran

In the wake of 9/11, when it became clear that the United States would go after al-Qaeda without mercy, several senior al-Qaeda leaders accepted safe-haven in Iran, often staying under regime control in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bases, for example outside of the Caspian Sea town of Chalus. That Iran would cooperate with al-Qaeda is not news, at least not to anyone who read the 9/11 Commission Report. Al-Qaeda might be Sunni and the Islamic Republic Shi’ite, but sometimes hatred of the United States makes strange bedfellows. That Iran became a transit point for the 9/11 hijackers during the administration of Mohammad Khatami is an inconvenient fact that many forget, for it shows that Khatami was either not sincere in his “Dialogue of Civilizations” or simply did not have the policymaking power that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has. In either case, it raises questions about current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s sincerity or power.

At any rate, according to the Washington Post, senior al-Qaeda officials long sheltered by Iran are now leaving that country:

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, dozens of al-Qaeda fighters, including some senior personnel, fled to Iran. It has never been clear how much freedom of movement they enjoyed while in the country, but for some the welcome appears to be over. In the past two years, up to a dozen notable figures have left Iran, and two — Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, accused in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and former spokesman — have subsequently ended up in U.S. custody.

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In the wake of 9/11, when it became clear that the United States would go after al-Qaeda without mercy, several senior al-Qaeda leaders accepted safe-haven in Iran, often staying under regime control in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bases, for example outside of the Caspian Sea town of Chalus. That Iran would cooperate with al-Qaeda is not news, at least not to anyone who read the 9/11 Commission Report. Al-Qaeda might be Sunni and the Islamic Republic Shi’ite, but sometimes hatred of the United States makes strange bedfellows. That Iran became a transit point for the 9/11 hijackers during the administration of Mohammad Khatami is an inconvenient fact that many forget, for it shows that Khatami was either not sincere in his “Dialogue of Civilizations” or simply did not have the policymaking power that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has. In either case, it raises questions about current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s sincerity or power.

At any rate, according to the Washington Post, senior al-Qaeda officials long sheltered by Iran are now leaving that country:

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, dozens of al-Qaeda fighters, including some senior personnel, fled to Iran. It has never been clear how much freedom of movement they enjoyed while in the country, but for some the welcome appears to be over. In the past two years, up to a dozen notable figures have left Iran, and two — Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, accused in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and former spokesman — have subsequently ended up in U.S. custody.

What the Washington Post doesn’t mention is that it is no thanks to Iran (or Turkey, which refused to release Sulaiman Abu Ghaith to U.S. custody) that any al-Qaeda figures have ended up in U.S. custody. If Iran has really reformed and if it really is serious about coming in from the cold, perhaps it behooves the White House or the press corps to ask why Iranian authorities are not handing al-Qaeda figures over to the United States. Let us hope that the reason isn’t that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry haven’t simply neglected to ask for fear of what the answer might be. Regardless, Iran has every reason to hate al-Qaeda, all the more so since Tehran and al-Qaeda are on opposite sides of the Syria fight. That Iran would rather set al-Qaeda leadership free than allow them to face justice in the United States once again reinforces that there has been no significant change in the mindset of Iran’s leaders.

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