Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chechnya

The Backlash Against Boko Haram

When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

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When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

My brethren in Islam, I am greeting you in the name of Allah like he instructed we should among Muslims. Allah is great and has given us privilege and temerity above all people. If we meet infidels, if we meet those that become infidels according to Allah, there is no any talk except hitting of the neck; I hope you chosen people of Allah are hearing. This is an instruction from Allah. It is not a distorted interpretation it is from Allah himself. This is from Allah on the need for us to break down infidels, practitioners of democracy, and constitutionalism, voodoo and those that are doing western education, in which they are practicing paganism…

We know what is happening in this world, it is a Jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against western education, democracy and constitution. We have not started, next time we are going inside Abuja; we are going to refinery and town of Christians. Do you know me? I have no problem with Jonathan. This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution, Allah says we should finish them when we get them.

According to SITE Monitoring, however, a subscription service which monitors and translates Islamist (and other extremist) websites, Boko Haram’s actions have become too much for even many extremists to accept: It is one thing to talk about religious war in theory; it is quite another thing to see the human toll when it is implemented in practice. Let us hope that the girls are rescued with minimal casualties, both among the hostages and those seeking to free them. And let us also hope that men like Abubakar Shekau will soon join the masterminds of the Beslan attack in hell. But, most of all, let us hope that those who until now might have been following and–in  the case of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar–funding these radical preachers will see in these Boko Haram actions not righteousness, but true evil. Perhaps out of this horror, Nigeria can turn a corner.

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Doku Umarov: Dead or Alive?

Major international events hosted by Putin’s Russia have generally been a time of heightened security as the Russian leadership’s drive for prestige has been matched by that of Caucasus-based domestic terrorists, eager to humiliate Putin and draw worldwide attention to their cause. That was the case when Russia hosted the 2006 meeting of the G-8 countries, and it appears to be true as well of the Sochi Olympics, due to begin next month.

A terrorist attack in Volgograd in December set off worries about security at the Olympics. As I wrote last week, Russia’s expulsion of American journalist David Satter might have been prompted by his warning that the Volgograd attack meant attendees in Sochi “are walking into what effectively is a war zone.” In taking credit for the Volgograd attack, Islamist militants added a message to the authorities: “If you hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for all the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.” Even before the video was released, the New York Times reports, American officials went public with their security concerns:

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Major international events hosted by Putin’s Russia have generally been a time of heightened security as the Russian leadership’s drive for prestige has been matched by that of Caucasus-based domestic terrorists, eager to humiliate Putin and draw worldwide attention to their cause. That was the case when Russia hosted the 2006 meeting of the G-8 countries, and it appears to be true as well of the Sochi Olympics, due to begin next month.

A terrorist attack in Volgograd in December set off worries about security at the Olympics. As I wrote last week, Russia’s expulsion of American journalist David Satter might have been prompted by his warning that the Volgograd attack meant attendees in Sochi “are walking into what effectively is a war zone.” In taking credit for the Volgograd attack, Islamist militants added a message to the authorities: “If you hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for all the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.” Even before the video was released, the New York Times reports, American officials went public with their security concerns:

Tensions rose Sunday over security preparations ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, as several congressional leaders expressed concern about Russia’s willingness to share information about terrorist threats, while President Vladimir V. Putin asserted that he would “do whatever it takes” to protect the thousands of visitors arriving soon for the Games. …

Extremists affiliated with Doku Umarov, a former Chechen nationalist leader who now heads a broad Muslim separatist movement and advocates global jihad, have also vowed to disrupt the Games.

Umarov’s name is of particular interest. Before the 2006 G-8 meeting, infamous Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev reportedly initiated plans for an attack. Those plans were disrupted and led to Basayev’s death, turning his hopes to humiliate Putin on the world stage into a public-relations coup for Putin. In its report on Basayev’s death, the Associated Press included a somber warning from journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed soon after:

“If you look at the situation in the North Caucasus, not just in Chechnya, the ranks of the rebel resistance are constantly being replenished,” she said.

Another rebel leader, Doku Umarov, pledged last month that rebels would step up their attacks against Russian forces.

Umarov’s stock continued to rise, declaring himself leader of the breakaway Islamist network the Caucasus Emirate. Yet now, in an eerie echo of 2006, Russian authorities say Umarov has been killed. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty assesses the evidence here. RFERL notes that one strike against the claim is that it would be—again, like in 2006—a major propaganda coup for the Russian authorities, who would presumably seek to play up the news and perhaps even offer proof.

Another strike against the claim is that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has made a habit of pronouncing Umarov dead. Nonetheless, there is evidence backing the claims of Umarov’s death.

Declaring Chechen terrorist leaders’ elimination is something of a national pastime for the Russian security services. They are not always being intentionally misleading, however. A case in point is the former terrorist Salman Raduyev. In its obituary for Raduyev, who died in a Russian prison camp in 2002, Reuters recalled:

Raduyev had survived several assassination attempts. He kept his face, scarred by the numerous attempts on his life, nearly covered by a beard and sunglasses.

Once, when he was widely believed to have been killed, he reappeared with his features so altered that reporters identified him only by his voice.

Raduyev was nicknamed “Titanic” after talk that his face had been reconstructed in a foreign hospital with titanium implants.

That Reuters obituary hints at another reason Putin might be desperate to tamp down talk of security in Sochi. It calls to mind a time when such stories were published in American newspapers—in this case the L.A. Times—and the exploits and fates of Chechen guerrillas were of wider interest than in recent years.

The Chechen “cause” has of course morphed over the years into an Islamist terror center on the ruins of what was a genuine nationalistic liberation/independence movement. Its integration into the global war on terror has sapped it of its mainstream media allure just when, paradoxically, its expanded role in a global movement made it more relevant to consumers of that media. It’s easy to understand, then, why Putin would trumpet the elimination of Umarov—and also why the lack of official fanfare surrounding the announcement has left it open to some skepticism.

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Does the Chechen Connection Matter?

Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

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Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

I think it’s safe to say no immigration reform proposal–and certainly no such proposal that could pass Congress–would seek to prohibit residents of Chechnya by definition from resettling in the United States, and for good reason. Additionally, the Tsarnaev boys came here as youth, so it’s highly unlikely they raised, or should have raised, any red flags.

But Paul did touch on another element of the Caucasus: it is the home of an influential recruiting, training, and communications center for a major jihadist group, the Caucasus Emirate. But the Emirate denied responsibility for the Boston attacks: “The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims,” it stated.

That statement was carefully calibrated and is a fairly accurate portrait of where you might find Chechen or Dagestani Islamist terrorists–and where you probably won’t. Boston falls into the latter category. The Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov, has no compunction about employing brutal methods in its struggle, but the Emirate is not at war with the United States. That doesn’t mean Americans will never be the target of Chechen attacks; terrorists from the Caucasus have shown up outside Russian territory, but there doesn’t seem to have been any major Chechen presence in Afghanistan, and there is considerable doubt as to whether there has been any Chechen presence fighting the allies in Afghanistan at all.

The Syrian civil war is a more likely place to spot a Chechen militant, and indeed the Caucasus Emirate apparently admitted to the death of Rustam Gelayev in Syria in August. Gelayev was the son of Ruslan Gelayev, a Chechen commander killed in the Caucasus in 2004. Though the Emirate won’t expend serious time, energy, manpower, or money fighting so far from home, fighting in Syria does give them the ability to hit the hated Putin regime from another angle.

Will the Tsarnaevs’ Chechen connection lead to more anti-terror cooperation between the U.S. and Russia? Unlikely. Just as the Emirate tends to carry out operations of which it will brag, rather than deny, so the Russian authorities like to pretend the Caucasus Islamists don’t exist in order to minimize the perception of danger and to sell the line that Putin has pacified the conflict and brought true stability to Russia. Whatever cooperation between the U.S. and Russia was already taking place probably won’t be affected much one way or the other by the Boston bombing, especially with the impending American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

What about the area of diplomacy? Here some, including Amy Knight of the New York Review of Books, are concerned. As Knight phrases it:

Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts?

This is an interesting question for the president of the United States in the parallel universe from which Knight apparently filed her story, in which the Obama administration has not already ignored Putin’s crackdown on protesters and other human rights abuses in order to obtain some mythical national security cooperation. But as anyone who has followed the administration’s failed “reset” efforts knows, for the Obama administration to stop caring about Russian human rights abuses, it would have to start caring about those abuses in the first place.

If the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized, that appears to have taken place here in the U.S. The Tsarnaevs’ background in the Caucasus is interesting biographical material, but it does not seem poised to provide many answers, nor nudge American policy, foreign or domestic, in a new direction.

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The Boston Bombing and its Aftermath

The full meaning of the extraordinary drama of the last week–which began with the bombing of the Boston Marathon and ended with the death of one suspect and the capture of another–will take some time to unravel. Here are some preliminary thoughts on various aspects of the attack and the manhunt:

  • The FBI deserves considerable credit for the speed with which it managed to identify and hunt down Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers who apparently planted the bomb. Quite a contrast from the bungled investigation of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing which first focused on security guard Richard Jewell, who was wrongly suspected of being the bomber. Even after Eric Rudolph was identified as the perpetrator it was another seven years before he was finally apprehended. The lightning speed of the marathon bombing investigation may be a tribute to the greater skill and experience that the FBI has gained in terrorism investigations since the 1990s–or it may be due simply to the ineptitude of the youthful bombers who made no attempt to leave the area and who drew attention to themselves by shooting an MIT police officer and carjacking a Mercedes.

The full meaning of the extraordinary drama of the last week–which began with the bombing of the Boston Marathon and ended with the death of one suspect and the capture of another–will take some time to unravel. Here are some preliminary thoughts on various aspects of the attack and the manhunt:

  • The FBI deserves considerable credit for the speed with which it managed to identify and hunt down Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers who apparently planted the bomb. Quite a contrast from the bungled investigation of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing which first focused on security guard Richard Jewell, who was wrongly suspected of being the bomber. Even after Eric Rudolph was identified as the perpetrator it was another seven years before he was finally apprehended. The lightning speed of the marathon bombing investigation may be a tribute to the greater skill and experience that the FBI has gained in terrorism investigations since the 1990s–or it may be due simply to the ineptitude of the youthful bombers who made no attempt to leave the area and who drew attention to themselves by shooting an MIT police officer and carjacking a Mercedes.
  • The New York Police Department deserves considerable credit for foiling potentially even more deadly acts of terrorism such as the planned bombing of the city’s subway and of Times Square. In recent years it has become fashionable to criticize the NYPD for its intelligence-gathering among the Muslim community; it has been accused of infringing on civil liberties. In fact there is scant evidence that anyone’s liberties were trampled. There is considerable evidence that the NYPD’s highly effective intelligence gathering has kept the city safe. Other cities, including Boston, would do well to learn from the NYPD’s example.
  • The Tsarnaev brothers’ rampage will surely embolden immigration critics who are trying to block sensible, bipartisan legislation that would provide a path to legality for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. In fact the border-control measures being pushed by immigration proponents are utterly irrelevant to stopping such acts of terrorism–all they would do would be to interfere with Latin Americans who are moving here in search of a better life and, as Catholics, are unlikely recruits for Islamist terrorist groups. The Tsarnaevs were not, after all, here illegally–the problem is not with how they arrived but with how they developed once they arrived.
  • Many Americans, myself included, have explained the relative lack of domestic terrorism since 9/11 by pointing to our success in assimilating immigrants–something that we do better than Europe, where there is a much larger and more disaffected population of Muslim immigrants. I still think there is considerable explanatory power in this analysis, but we must realize that even American Muslims can be susceptible to the lure of extremism. The Tsarnaev brothers, as imperfectly assimilated immigrants, were similar to Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010. The answer is not to stop immigration; it is to maintain our surveillance of potential extremists, as the NYPD has been doing, and to do a better job, if we can, of assimilating new arrivals.
  • The Russian government has a lot to answer for because of its brutal and incomplete pacification of Chechnya, the homeland of the brothers Tsarnaev. We don’t yet have all the details of how they became radicalized, but clearly outrage at the Russian brutality–the Red Army has killed more than 100,000 Chechens since the 1990s and turned Grozny into rubble–led them, like many of their countrymen, to embrace the radical doctrines of Islamist groups that have assumed the leading role in the anti-Russian resistance. Al-Qaeda and its ilk have found fertile ground among the Chechens, converting many of them to its Salafist creed which preaches hatred not just of Russia but of the United States and other infidel nations. The likely result of the marathon bombing will be to draw the U.S. and Russia closer together in fighting Chechen extremism, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the driving force behind Chechen terrorism is Russian oppression–even while recognizing that no amount of provocation can excuse attacks on innocents, especially innocents in a place like Boston that has no connection at all with the events of the Caucasus.
  • This terrible bombing has shattered our post-9/11 complacency. There has been a tendency to think that because Osama bin Laden has been killed and there has been no repeat of 9/11 that the threat from terrorism is overhyped. There have been calls to shutter Guantanamo’s detention facility, to stop renditions of suspects, to scale back interrogation and surveillance of suspects, to stop drone strikes and even to repeal the authorization for the use of military force against al-Qaeda. We do not yet know if the Tsarnaevs had contact with any terrorist network but, whatever its origins, their attack shows that the threat from terrorism remains real–and that it is not only our airliners that are in the terrorists’ crosshairs. We cannot afford to let down our guard or to repeal the measures that have kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11. Indeed we may need to step up security around “soft targets,” which abound in our large and open country.

Those, as noted, are my initial thoughts. I imagine there will be more to say once we find out more about the background of the bomber brothers and especially about any links they might have with terrorist organizations. In this regard the extended trip that Tamerlan took to Russia in 2012, when he reportedly visited the Caucasus, is particularly important and suggestive.

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Still Waiting for Answers in Boston

Americans awoke on Friday to the news that one of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing was dead and that the other was still on the run as a massive manhunt shut down the greater Boston area. Reports also indicate that the pair, brothers, turn out to be of Chechen origin. This information does shoot down the preferred scenario of Salon and other liberals that have openly expressed the hope that the Boston terrorists would turn out to be “white Americans” who perhaps could be linked to conservative causes.

There is a long history of Chechnya being a source of Islamist terrorism, both against Russia and elsewhere. But until we learn more, this is not the time to jump to any conclusions about the motives of these killers or whether they fit the model of the Ft. Hood killer, an American who was inspired by Islamist ideology to carry out a deadly attack. An American media that has been bursting with impatience all week hoping to be able to put this tragedy in some perspective or to use it promote some sort of political agenda will just have to keep waiting.

As we watch coverage of the attempts by law enforcement agencies to find the remaining suspect who is still on the loose, our prayers remain with the families of the victims, which now include a police officer who was killed during the night in a shootout with the terrorists. Above all, let’s hope there will be no more casualties before this story is completed.

Americans awoke on Friday to the news that one of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing was dead and that the other was still on the run as a massive manhunt shut down the greater Boston area. Reports also indicate that the pair, brothers, turn out to be of Chechen origin. This information does shoot down the preferred scenario of Salon and other liberals that have openly expressed the hope that the Boston terrorists would turn out to be “white Americans” who perhaps could be linked to conservative causes.

There is a long history of Chechnya being a source of Islamist terrorism, both against Russia and elsewhere. But until we learn more, this is not the time to jump to any conclusions about the motives of these killers or whether they fit the model of the Ft. Hood killer, an American who was inspired by Islamist ideology to carry out a deadly attack. An American media that has been bursting with impatience all week hoping to be able to put this tragedy in some perspective or to use it promote some sort of political agenda will just have to keep waiting.

As we watch coverage of the attempts by law enforcement agencies to find the remaining suspect who is still on the loose, our prayers remain with the families of the victims, which now include a police officer who was killed during the night in a shootout with the terrorists. Above all, let’s hope there will be no more casualties before this story is completed.

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Why the Syrian Rebels Don’t Trust Kerry

In January, as the Syrian civil war closed in on its second anniversary, news broke that was tantalizingly close to a game-changer. Josh Rogin reported that a State Department cable indicated the strong belief that Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons. The next day, Rogin reported a stern denial from the State Department. In the fog of war, the two claims seemed to have roughly equal credibility. But the Obama administration’s denial raised some eyebrows, since President Obama had declared the use of chemical weapons a clear red line that would necessitate intervention in the conflict. Was he moving the red line again, as he had appeared to do just months before, to avoid taking action?

The perception that President Obama was far too willing to find any excuse not to increase help to the Syrian rebels was especially unhelpful for the administration since the president had recently sent another dispiriting message to the Syrian opposition: the announcement of the nomination of John Kerry to be his next secretary of state. Kerry was, of course, one of the least perceptive American senators with regard to the cruelty of the man he called—as aides cringed—his “dear friend” Assad and bought hook, line and sinker the idea that the bloodthirsty tyrant might be ready to reform and moderate his behavior. So it’s not a complete surprise that, as Kerry seeks a meeting with them, the rebels are wondering whether they have any reason to let Kerry use them as props for a photo op to be almost certainly discarded thereafter. CBS News reports:

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In January, as the Syrian civil war closed in on its second anniversary, news broke that was tantalizingly close to a game-changer. Josh Rogin reported that a State Department cable indicated the strong belief that Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons. The next day, Rogin reported a stern denial from the State Department. In the fog of war, the two claims seemed to have roughly equal credibility. But the Obama administration’s denial raised some eyebrows, since President Obama had declared the use of chemical weapons a clear red line that would necessitate intervention in the conflict. Was he moving the red line again, as he had appeared to do just months before, to avoid taking action?

The perception that President Obama was far too willing to find any excuse not to increase help to the Syrian rebels was especially unhelpful for the administration since the president had recently sent another dispiriting message to the Syrian opposition: the announcement of the nomination of John Kerry to be his next secretary of state. Kerry was, of course, one of the least perceptive American senators with regard to the cruelty of the man he called—as aides cringed—his “dear friend” Assad and bought hook, line and sinker the idea that the bloodthirsty tyrant might be ready to reform and moderate his behavior. So it’s not a complete surprise that, as Kerry seeks a meeting with them, the rebels are wondering whether they have any reason to let Kerry use them as props for a photo op to be almost certainly discarded thereafter. CBS News reports:

The Syrian Opposition may boycott their first opportunity to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, despite his efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria and the Obama administration’s longtime support of a political transition away from the Assad regime.

That’s a lot of spin for one opening paragraph, giving the Obama administration credit for hoping Assad spontaneously combusts. But perhaps the reporter misses the obvious point that the rebels’ skepticism might not be despite, but rather because of, Kerry’s “efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the crisis,” which the rebels might suspect means giving up their fight for freedom in return for a superficial personnel change at the top of the regime.

Kerry certainly has done nothing to earn any credibility from the rebels in Syria or elsewhere, and so he won’t be granted it. But at the end of the day, as terrible a spokesman as Kerry is for the cause of freedom, it’s Kerry boss the rebels are speaking to by dissing Kerry. As we learned recently, Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, as well as David Petraeus and Leon Panetta, wanted to intervene in Syria on behalf of the rebels. Obama turned them down. Kerry, therefore, wasn’t selected as secretary of state to set diplomatic policy but rather because he was the perfect representative of the administration’s policy already in place.

Though the analogy is imperfect, the conflict’s trajectory has been reminiscent of another such rebellion: the insurgency sparked in Chechnya and which spread across the Caucasus, especially to Dagestan and Ingushetia. The first Chechen war was one of independence, as the Chechens were eager to exploit the breakup of the Soviet Union and claim a form of long-awaited retribution for the abuses inflicted upon them by the Russian empire–especially under Stalin–and go their own way. They defended themselves from Russia’s troops more ably than expected, and eventually incurred the wrath of Vladimir Putin, who was eager to make a name for himself with the second Chechen war.

But by that time five years later, the nature of the Chechen insurgency had had begun a dramatic change. The cause of Chechen independence would be effectively hijacked by an Islamist core that would go on to found the Caucasus Emirate and lead a band of insurgents easily able to replicate Putin’s brutality. The world could be forgiven for wondering just who they were supposed to be rooting for and turning their attention elsewhere.

The Syrian rebellion formed as part of the Arab Spring, but when the West refused to play favorites and get involved, others–notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia–did. Money and weapons started flowing ever faster to terrorist groups like the al-Nusra Front and other Islamist radicals. The West throws up its hands. And so Ricochet’s Judith Levy’s interview with the journalist Jonathan Spyer, who has reported from Syria throughout the conflict, contains this exchange:

Judith: So is it a foregone conclusion that a victorious rebellion will mean an Islamist Syria?

Jonathan: Well, I think it is more and more looking that way now. I’m not sure if that was the case right at the beginning. To some degree, what’s happened now — and I stress to some degree, I don’t want to say this is the whole picture, but to some degree what’s happening now is the result of Western policy.

It’s a Western policy that Clinton and others opposed, to no avail. And it’s a policy that John Kerry is perfectly suited to carry out, something of which the rebels seem to be well aware.

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A Russia-Brotherhood Rapprochement?

The New York Times reported last week that Russia finally seemed to be ready to give up on Bashar al-Assad. Russia, the report noted, “was making contingency plans to evacuate its citizens from the country, the Kremlin’s last beachhead in the Middle East.” But in the world of aspiring great power politics, “last beachheads” usually become gateways to the next beachhead. In danger of losing its influence in the region, and aware that Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt isn’t especially picky about his allies, Russia is seeking closer ties with Egypt.

There’s a problem, however. “How come you are asking to have a strong relationship with us while you see [us] as a terrorist group?” Mahmoud Ghozlan recently asked Russia’s ambassador in Cairo. Ghozlan is a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood–an organization outlawed as a terrorist group in Russia due to its history of aiding and egging on the Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. In only the latest example of the Muslim Brotherhood’s newfound respectability on the world stage just by virtue of taking power in Egypt, Russia may let bygones be bygones:

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The New York Times reported last week that Russia finally seemed to be ready to give up on Bashar al-Assad. Russia, the report noted, “was making contingency plans to evacuate its citizens from the country, the Kremlin’s last beachhead in the Middle East.” But in the world of aspiring great power politics, “last beachheads” usually become gateways to the next beachhead. In danger of losing its influence in the region, and aware that Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt isn’t especially picky about his allies, Russia is seeking closer ties with Egypt.

There’s a problem, however. “How come you are asking to have a strong relationship with us while you see [us] as a terrorist group?” Mahmoud Ghozlan recently asked Russia’s ambassador in Cairo. Ghozlan is a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood–an organization outlawed as a terrorist group in Russia due to its history of aiding and egging on the Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. In only the latest example of the Muslim Brotherhood’s newfound respectability on the world stage just by virtue of taking power in Egypt, Russia may let bygones be bygones:

Russia may ease restrictions on the Muslim Brotherhood soon to improve relations with Egypt and rebuild influence lost during the Arab Spring revolutions, diplomatic sources say.

The election of President Mohammed Mursi, propelled to power by the Islamist group, offers President Vladimir Putin a chance to improve relations with Cairo that were strained during the long rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011.

It’s easy to forget just how seriously Russia takes its ongoing conflict in the Caucasus–in part because Russian officials pretend there is no problem and in part because Western newspapers rarely mention the name of Doku Umarov, though he is a household name in the intelligence and counterterrorism communities. But every so often the world gets a reminder that Umarov’s boys mean business.

Russian officials tend to brush off the threat from the Caucasus Emirate in public in order to deprive the rebels of publicity, but they take the conflict personally. This is especially true of Vladimir Putin, since his prosecution of the Second Chechen War was his dramatic election-year introduction to the Russian people as he prepared to take over for the ailing Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s identity thus was crafted through his response to the Chechen threat.

Leaders in the Muslim world have been sensitive to this. As Ray Takeyh writes in Hidden Iran, the Islamic Republic’s leaders may have proclaimed their loyalty to the Islamic revolution and to oppressed Muslims everywhere, but Russia’s friendship was strategically important to them, and they watched what they said and did in that regard:

The full scope of Iran’s pragmatism became evident during the Chechnya conflict. At a time when the Russian soldiers were indiscriminately massacring Muslim rebels and aggressively suppressing an Islamic insurgency, Iran’s response was a mere statement declaring the issue to be an internal Russian affair. At times, when Russia’s behavior was particularly egregious, Iran’s statements would be harsher. However, Tehran never undertook practical measures such as dispatching aid to the rebels or organizing the Islamic bloc against Moscow’s policy. Given that Iran had calculated that its national interests lay in not excessively antagonizing the Russian Federation, it largely ignored the plight of the Chechens despite the Islamic appeal of their cause.

There is some evidence that Chechen Islamists joined the anti-Assad forces in Syria as well.

Morsi is reportedly expected to make a trip to Moscow next year. Putin’s Russia has not exactly been a constructive partner for the West in the current Mideast strife, nor is it likely to be any more helpful in Egypt. A developing Egypt-Hamas partnership with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin should continue to disabuse the West of the notion that Morsi intends to be an improvement upon his predecessor, or that fading American influence is anything but a recipe to empower illiberal forces in its place.

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Report: “Free Gaza” Flotilla Organizers Linked to Terrorists

Though the Palestinian propaganda machine continues to dominate much of the mainstream media’s depiction of the “Free Gaza” flotilla as a group of humanitarians, the truth about this organization and its goals is gradually becoming better known. While the weapons on board and the bloody attacks on Israeli soldiers belied the claim that those on board were helpless victims, the Investigative Project on Terrorism offers an instructive report on the Turkish-based organization behind the flotilla. According to the report, the IHH has “deep, longstanding ties” to Hamas and has also been linked to Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a supporter of the group is all the more reason to worry about Turkey’s shift toward the Islamists and away from the West.

This week Sen. Charles Schumer wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and asked the State Department to investigate the ties between the IHH, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. Other members of Congress should second this call. The only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from such an investigation is that the IHH should be placed on the United States list of known terrorist organizations.

Though the Palestinian propaganda machine continues to dominate much of the mainstream media’s depiction of the “Free Gaza” flotilla as a group of humanitarians, the truth about this organization and its goals is gradually becoming better known. While the weapons on board and the bloody attacks on Israeli soldiers belied the claim that those on board were helpless victims, the Investigative Project on Terrorism offers an instructive report on the Turkish-based organization behind the flotilla. According to the report, the IHH has “deep, longstanding ties” to Hamas and has also been linked to Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a supporter of the group is all the more reason to worry about Turkey’s shift toward the Islamists and away from the West.

This week Sen. Charles Schumer wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and asked the State Department to investigate the ties between the IHH, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. Other members of Congress should second this call. The only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from such an investigation is that the IHH should be placed on the United States list of known terrorist organizations.

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Worst Human-Rights Violators Condemn Israel. Your Laugh Here.

The out-of-control international rage against Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident has now entered the realm of farce. It was bad enough to hear the prime minister of Turkey — a country notorious for human rights violations in its campaign against Kurdish rebels — denounce Israel for “state terrorism.” It’s simply ludicrous to have to listen to Vladimir Putin chime in.

The Russian prime minister says he is shocked by Israel’s “crude violation of the internationally recognized norms of international law.” Well Putin certainly knows about crude violations of international law. He’s committed plenty of them himself. This is the same Putin, after all, who has been responsible for Russia’s scorched-earth campaign in Chechnya, which has undoubtedly killed more people than all of Israel’s campaigns against the Palestinians combined. In the process, Russia has committed too many violations of international law to count. As Human Rights Watch reminds us:

In 83 rulings to date, the European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. In nearly every ruling, the court called the Russian government to account for failing to properly investigate these crimes.

What next? Will Kim Jung-il and Robert Mugabe also join the international chorus condemning Israel’s supposedly unconscionable conduct? Or perhaps they already have. When it comes to the Jewish state, no level of hypocrisy can be considered truly shocking anymore.

The out-of-control international rage against Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident has now entered the realm of farce. It was bad enough to hear the prime minister of Turkey — a country notorious for human rights violations in its campaign against Kurdish rebels — denounce Israel for “state terrorism.” It’s simply ludicrous to have to listen to Vladimir Putin chime in.

The Russian prime minister says he is shocked by Israel’s “crude violation of the internationally recognized norms of international law.” Well Putin certainly knows about crude violations of international law. He’s committed plenty of them himself. This is the same Putin, after all, who has been responsible for Russia’s scorched-earth campaign in Chechnya, which has undoubtedly killed more people than all of Israel’s campaigns against the Palestinians combined. In the process, Russia has committed too many violations of international law to count. As Human Rights Watch reminds us:

In 83 rulings to date, the European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. In nearly every ruling, the court called the Russian government to account for failing to properly investigate these crimes.

What next? Will Kim Jung-il and Robert Mugabe also join the international chorus condemning Israel’s supposedly unconscionable conduct? Or perhaps they already have. When it comes to the Jewish state, no level of hypocrisy can be considered truly shocking anymore.

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Media Attack on Israel

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

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Israel Can’t Afford Unforced Errors

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

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It’s the Islamic Radicalism, Mr. Holder

For those still befuddled about the motivation (yeah, we’re talking about you, Mr. Attorney General) for Faisal Shahzad’s bombing plot, his e-mails should put to rest the notion that it was financial distress that was at work:

“Everyone knows the current situation of Muslim World,” he wrote in an e-mail he sent to a large group of recipients in February 2006. …

“Everyone knows how the Muslim country bows down to pressure from the west. Everyone knows the kind of humiliation we are faced with around the globe.”

The e-mail continues: “It is with no doubt that we today Muslim, followers of  Islam are attacked and occupied by foreign infidel forces. The crusade has already started against Islam and Muslims with cartoons of our beloved Prophet PBUH (peace be upon him) as War drums.”

Shahzad was referring to the 2005 controversy in which a Danish newspaper published satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed that many Muslims found offensive.”Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed,” Shahzad asked. “And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows? In Palestine, Afghan, Iraq, Chechnya and elsewhere.”

And then there is another e-mail that includes this suggestion: “If you don’t have the right teacher, then Satan should become your sheikh.”

Now presumably Eric Holder knows about these, and much more. And yet he still couldn’t bring himself to explain the motivation for the bombing plot. This is not simply a case of dimness or confusion on the part of the administration but rather intentional obfuscation. It is determined not to acknowledge who the enemy is and explain what is at stake.

For those still befuddled about the motivation (yeah, we’re talking about you, Mr. Attorney General) for Faisal Shahzad’s bombing plot, his e-mails should put to rest the notion that it was financial distress that was at work:

“Everyone knows the current situation of Muslim World,” he wrote in an e-mail he sent to a large group of recipients in February 2006. …

“Everyone knows how the Muslim country bows down to pressure from the west. Everyone knows the kind of humiliation we are faced with around the globe.”

The e-mail continues: “It is with no doubt that we today Muslim, followers of  Islam are attacked and occupied by foreign infidel forces. The crusade has already started against Islam and Muslims with cartoons of our beloved Prophet PBUH (peace be upon him) as War drums.”

Shahzad was referring to the 2005 controversy in which a Danish newspaper published satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed that many Muslims found offensive.”Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed,” Shahzad asked. “And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows? In Palestine, Afghan, Iraq, Chechnya and elsewhere.”

And then there is another e-mail that includes this suggestion: “If you don’t have the right teacher, then Satan should become your sheikh.”

Now presumably Eric Holder knows about these, and much more. And yet he still couldn’t bring himself to explain the motivation for the bombing plot. This is not simply a case of dimness or confusion on the part of the administration but rather intentional obfuscation. It is determined not to acknowledge who the enemy is and explain what is at stake.

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Kosovo, Russia, and China

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

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The Future of Afghanistan

Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

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Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

So far attempts to seal the borders between Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan have not borne much fruit. This is to be expected because of the difficult terrain involved, and because the same tribesmen are to be found on both sides of the frontier, which has always been more of a theoretical construct than an on-the-ground reality. It doesn’t help that both Iran and Pakistan appear to be involved actively in aiding the Taliban.

The case of Pakistan is particularly vexing because, unlike Iran, it is nominally an American ally, yet its armed forces have been either unwilling or unable to take strong action against the Taliban and their supporters, who have come to dominate the border areas.

This article raises questions about whether the Pakistani military is making good use of some $11 billion in assistance received from the United States since 2001. Much of the assistance has gone for high-ticket items like F-16′s that aren’t very useful for fighting shadowy insurgents; Pakistan wants them primarily for reasons of prestige and for saber-rattling with India. But the primary problem is summed up by a scholar:

“U.S. equipment is not being used ‘in a sustained way,’” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. researcher who recently visited the region. “The army is not very effective, and there have been elements of the government that have worked with the Taliban in the tribal areas in the past,” making them ambivalent about the current fight against those forces, he said.

This really comes down to an issue of Pakistani politics. Pervez Musharraf, the military chief and dictator, repeatedly has promised to crack down on the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups, but he has not delivered enough results. Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned recently from exile, is talking a tougher game. As this New York Times article notes:

Using the news media unabashedly, Ms. Bhutto has been outspoken in particular against terrorism, saying things that few local politicians dare to against the religious and jihadi groups. She is the only politician in Pakistan saying loudly and clearly that suicide bombing is against the teaching of Islam. She has also attacked conservatives in the government, including officials close to the President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accusing them of aiding and abetting extremists, and supporting the bombers who attacked her.

This kind of talk is brave and encouraging. The question is whether Bhutto (assuming she gets that far) would be able effectively to carry out an anti-terrorist agenda in office, given that she would be reliant on the very same armed forces that have so often collaborated with the Taliban in the past and that have repeatedly undermined civilian leaders, including Bhutto herself. American leverage is limited here; we’ll have to let the Pakistanis sort out their own problems.

But we should continue to make clear our commitment to a restoration of democracy and our willingness, à la Barack Obama, to act unilaterally, if necessary, to hit terrorist targets in Pakistan. If we can’t do a better job of stopping the terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s future will not be terribly promising.

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Fighting in the Streets

It may not be worth the billions in dues that we pay, but the United Nations does perform a few useful functions, among them producing some interesting reports. The latest of these is The State of World Population 2007 from the United Nations Population Fund. The news is summarized in the first few paragraphs of the introduction:

In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.

While the world’s urban population grew very rapidly (from 220 million to 2.8 billion) over the 20th century, the next few decades will see an unprecedented scale of urban growth in the developing world. This will be particularly notable in Africa and Asia where the urban population will double between 2000 and 2030: That is, the accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation. By 2030, the towns and cities of the developing world will make up 81 percent of urban humanity.

The report notes, even-handedly, that the implications of this shift for social policy are mixed: “The current concentration of poverty, slum growth, and social disruption in cities does paint a threatening picture. Yet no country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanization. Cities concentrate poverty, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it.” The rest of the report looks at how to alleviate the negative consequences and accentuate the positive.

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It may not be worth the billions in dues that we pay, but the United Nations does perform a few useful functions, among them producing some interesting reports. The latest of these is The State of World Population 2007 from the United Nations Population Fund. The news is summarized in the first few paragraphs of the introduction:

In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.

While the world’s urban population grew very rapidly (from 220 million to 2.8 billion) over the 20th century, the next few decades will see an unprecedented scale of urban growth in the developing world. This will be particularly notable in Africa and Asia where the urban population will double between 2000 and 2030: That is, the accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation. By 2030, the towns and cities of the developing world will make up 81 percent of urban humanity.

The report notes, even-handedly, that the implications of this shift for social policy are mixed: “The current concentration of poverty, slum growth, and social disruption in cities does paint a threatening picture. Yet no country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanization. Cities concentrate poverty, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it.” The rest of the report looks at how to alleviate the negative consequences and accentuate the positive.

But from a military standpoint the picture is much bleaker. Its implications can be summed up in one acronym that our armed forces dread: MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain). And if you want to know why it’s dreaded within the military, simply think of the American experience fighting in cities such as Hue in 1968 and Fallujah in 2004. Both were ugly battles with heavy casualties, because urban environments negate much of our firepower advantage.

The only way to try to avoid a block-by-block struggle is to simply wipe out the entire city, which is what we did to numerous German and Japanese cities in World War II. But that’s not something we seem willing to do anymore, at least not given the stakes in places like Iraq or Vietnam. In any case, even unrestrained use of firepower is not a foolproof strategy—the Germans leveled Stalingrad but still faced a tough fight against dug-in Russian defenders who used rubble as fighting positions. The same thing happened more recently to the Russians in Chechnya—they leveled Grozny, but still had to fight their way into the city.

The U.S. Army knows how unpleasant such fights can be, so it tries to avoid them wherever possible. That helps to explain why the last version of the U.S. Army’s Field Manual 90-10 (Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain) was issued in 1979. A new edition is in the works, and it can’t come soon enough, given these trends in global population. American soldiers in the 21st century will be doing much of their fighting in places that resemble the alleys and streets of Baghdad more than they do the desert where the 1991 Gulf war was fought.

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Putin the Comedian

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

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