Commentary Magazine


Topic: cleric

How To Undo Success

If Iraq falls apart it will result from political unraveling, not car bombs. The latter makes for lurid American headlines, but will not draw a post-traumatic population into another civil war. The country’s ability to absorb attacks and resume the business of statehood is a thoroughly ignored dimension of all the car-bomb stories. As a people, Iraqis have shed the local malady of tribal revenge. It has been replaced, at least in some instances, by a taste for consensual governance. But Iraqi leaders are only first exploring the regional malady of outsized power politics.

After seven months of parliamentary stalemate in the wake of a close election, there is a dismaying report from Baghdad about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki:

Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc, alliance officials said Friday. State of Law, the Sadrists and their allies command 148 seats in Parliament and need another 15 to win a majority and establish a new government. That support is expected to come from the Kurds.

This represents a potential ruling alliance of strong-arm statists and radical Islamists. To get the full measure of how depressing that is, recall that one of the best strategic justifications for the initial invasion of Iraq was to head-off this very same toxic fraternization. There is always the chance that this story is being blown out of proportion in an otherwise static political landscape. But if not, it could mean much greater Iranian influence in Iraqi politics.

Let us not tragically lose sight of the following: This is not even close to the inevitable outcome of Iraqi elections. In the March election, the moderate Iraqiya alliance enjoyed a modest victory. What followed was parliamentary horse-trading Middle East style. Now the moderates are being sidelined.

Washington is far from blameless. In Barack Obama’s eagerness to “responsibly” hand over full sovereignty to Iraq and close the curtain on the Bush years, he has very nearly abandoned the fledgling Mesopotamian democracy to the depredations of regional thugs and radicals. Surely, the Kurds, upon whom the solidification of the next Iraqi government may rest, would be less inclined to submit to extremists out of self preservation if they were reassured of America’s continued support. In no sane reckoning, should the U.S. be done with Iraq’s political future. Americans gave their lives to turn a murderous dictatorship into a struggling democracy. Many Iraqis also gave their lives in service of the same. We still have more leverage there than do any of Iraq’s neighbors; yet, the administration is loath to use it.

Where are the critics of the war who told us that mere elections do not ensure democracy? Is it not time they spoke up to demand closer American stewardship of Baghdad’s parliamentary progress and the Kurdish aspiration. Barack Obama himself said in 2006, freedoms “do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots.” Yet today, he is among the most simplistic, if ironic, defenders of the war’s achievements and also the most dismissive of the need for further democratic nurturance. Here, as on other fronts, the president courts disaster for the worst possible reason: blind political rigidity.

If Iraq falls apart it will result from political unraveling, not car bombs. The latter makes for lurid American headlines, but will not draw a post-traumatic population into another civil war. The country’s ability to absorb attacks and resume the business of statehood is a thoroughly ignored dimension of all the car-bomb stories. As a people, Iraqis have shed the local malady of tribal revenge. It has been replaced, at least in some instances, by a taste for consensual governance. But Iraqi leaders are only first exploring the regional malady of outsized power politics.

After seven months of parliamentary stalemate in the wake of a close election, there is a dismaying report from Baghdad about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki:

Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc, alliance officials said Friday. State of Law, the Sadrists and their allies command 148 seats in Parliament and need another 15 to win a majority and establish a new government. That support is expected to come from the Kurds.

This represents a potential ruling alliance of strong-arm statists and radical Islamists. To get the full measure of how depressing that is, recall that one of the best strategic justifications for the initial invasion of Iraq was to head-off this very same toxic fraternization. There is always the chance that this story is being blown out of proportion in an otherwise static political landscape. But if not, it could mean much greater Iranian influence in Iraqi politics.

Let us not tragically lose sight of the following: This is not even close to the inevitable outcome of Iraqi elections. In the March election, the moderate Iraqiya alliance enjoyed a modest victory. What followed was parliamentary horse-trading Middle East style. Now the moderates are being sidelined.

Washington is far from blameless. In Barack Obama’s eagerness to “responsibly” hand over full sovereignty to Iraq and close the curtain on the Bush years, he has very nearly abandoned the fledgling Mesopotamian democracy to the depredations of regional thugs and radicals. Surely, the Kurds, upon whom the solidification of the next Iraqi government may rest, would be less inclined to submit to extremists out of self preservation if they were reassured of America’s continued support. In no sane reckoning, should the U.S. be done with Iraq’s political future. Americans gave their lives to turn a murderous dictatorship into a struggling democracy. Many Iraqis also gave their lives in service of the same. We still have more leverage there than do any of Iraq’s neighbors; yet, the administration is loath to use it.

Where are the critics of the war who told us that mere elections do not ensure democracy? Is it not time they spoke up to demand closer American stewardship of Baghdad’s parliamentary progress and the Kurdish aspiration. Barack Obama himself said in 2006, freedoms “do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots.” Yet today, he is among the most simplistic, if ironic, defenders of the war’s achievements and also the most dismissive of the need for further democratic nurturance. Here, as on other fronts, the president courts disaster for the worst possible reason: blind political rigidity.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama’s deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to ‘reach out’ to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama’s deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to ‘reach out’ to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

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The UN Human Rights Circus Plays On

Foreign Policy (honest, it’s not the Onion) reports:

Last week just as a senior Iranian cleric declared that women’s un-Islamic garb — meaning a wisp of hair showing — is the root of men’s immorality and the cause of earthquakes, the regime moved to secure a seat on the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW, comprising 45 countries, voted in by regional blocks, is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to the advancement of women. Its mandate is “to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

Hmm. We haven’t heard much about Iran’s atrocities against women from the Obami. But then we don’t hear very much about Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey or any other misogynistic haven in the “Muslim World.” The Obami don’t spend too much time “bearing witness” to the regime’s assault on its girls and women:

In the past year, it has arrested and jailed mothers of peaceful civil rights protesters. It has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere — as wives, daughters and mothers — with threatening national security, subjecting many to hours of harrowing interrogation. Its prison guards have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male civil rights protesters.

The Ahmadinejad government has also initiated systematic discriminatory action against women in every other sphere. In universities where women have represented over 60 percent of the student body, the government is now banning women from key areas of study. Childcare centers are being shut down to hamper women’s ability to work outside their homes. Healthcare and reproductive care services provided to men and women, that had turned Iran into a global success story for family planning, are being withdrawn. Women’s publications that addressed gender equality have been shut down. The regime is attempting to erase decades of struggle and progress.

But really, why not put Iran on the CSW? It already includes such human rights models as Cambodia, China, and Cuba. And this is the international community whose approval the Obami covet. The victims of these regimes? Not so much. Hillary Clinton should put it on her to-do list: stop being mute about the atrocities against women by despotic regimes.

Foreign Policy (honest, it’s not the Onion) reports:

Last week just as a senior Iranian cleric declared that women’s un-Islamic garb — meaning a wisp of hair showing — is the root of men’s immorality and the cause of earthquakes, the regime moved to secure a seat on the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW, comprising 45 countries, voted in by regional blocks, is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to the advancement of women. Its mandate is “to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

Hmm. We haven’t heard much about Iran’s atrocities against women from the Obami. But then we don’t hear very much about Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey or any other misogynistic haven in the “Muslim World.” The Obami don’t spend too much time “bearing witness” to the regime’s assault on its girls and women:

In the past year, it has arrested and jailed mothers of peaceful civil rights protesters. It has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere — as wives, daughters and mothers — with threatening national security, subjecting many to hours of harrowing interrogation. Its prison guards have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male civil rights protesters.

The Ahmadinejad government has also initiated systematic discriminatory action against women in every other sphere. In universities where women have represented over 60 percent of the student body, the government is now banning women from key areas of study. Childcare centers are being shut down to hamper women’s ability to work outside their homes. Healthcare and reproductive care services provided to men and women, that had turned Iran into a global success story for family planning, are being withdrawn. Women’s publications that addressed gender equality have been shut down. The regime is attempting to erase decades of struggle and progress.

But really, why not put Iran on the CSW? It already includes such human rights models as Cambodia, China, and Cuba. And this is the international community whose approval the Obami covet. The victims of these regimes? Not so much. Hillary Clinton should put it on her to-do list: stop being mute about the atrocities against women by despotic regimes.

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Don’t Wait for Obama’s Condemnation

Another day in the Middle East, another vilification of Israel:

A Saudi cleric has announced on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to bolster Muslim claims to the city. … [Sheikh Mohammed] al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on the religious satellite channel Iqra that the next episode of his show would be about Muslim claims to Jerusalem and Palestine. Al-Areefi said he would visit the city next week, though he did not specify when. He said he was not afraid of any “treachery from the Jews,” as he had put his trust in God. Officials in Israel, which is in the midst of the Passover holidays, could not immediately be reached for comment. Al-Areefi is viewed as a comparative moderate among Saudi Arabia’s conservative clergy.

That’s the moderate face of Saudi Arabia. Has anyone told Maureen Dowd? And don’t expect much of a reaction from the Obami either. That’s simply par for the course, the accepted provocation and hate talk as far as the administration is concerned. After all, if they started talking about Saudi behavior where would it end? They’d have to bring up child brides, honor killings, brutality toward women, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Wahhabi school indoctrination, and the like. Makes the whole ingratiation with the “Muslim World” so much more complicated.

Another day in the Middle East, another vilification of Israel:

A Saudi cleric has announced on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to bolster Muslim claims to the city. … [Sheikh Mohammed] al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on the religious satellite channel Iqra that the next episode of his show would be about Muslim claims to Jerusalem and Palestine. Al-Areefi said he would visit the city next week, though he did not specify when. He said he was not afraid of any “treachery from the Jews,” as he had put his trust in God. Officials in Israel, which is in the midst of the Passover holidays, could not immediately be reached for comment. Al-Areefi is viewed as a comparative moderate among Saudi Arabia’s conservative clergy.

That’s the moderate face of Saudi Arabia. Has anyone told Maureen Dowd? And don’t expect much of a reaction from the Obami either. That’s simply par for the course, the accepted provocation and hate talk as far as the administration is concerned. After all, if they started talking about Saudi behavior where would it end? They’d have to bring up child brides, honor killings, brutality toward women, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Wahhabi school indoctrination, and the like. Makes the whole ingratiation with the “Muslim World” so much more complicated.

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Israel Lobby Author Compares Pro-Israel Pastor to Hitler

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

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Sunday Spin on Christmas Day Bombing

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What a difference less than a year of one-party liberal rule makes: “Republicans can take a bit of satisfaction from a new survey by Democracy Corps. … The survey found that voters now say, by a three-point margin (45% to 42%), that Republicans would do a better job on the economy than Democrats. That’s a change from the 16-point lead Democrats had in May on the question of managing the economy, and marks the first time since 2002 that Republicans have had a lead on the issue in Democracy Corps polling.”

The Afghans, I think, have reason to worry: “Afghan officials hope President Barack Obama’s address on Afghanistan won’t be weighted too heavily on an exit strategy — even though that’s the message many Americans and Democrats in Congress want to hear. If he talks extensively in his speech Tuesday night about winding down the war, Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country much as Washington did after the Soviets left 20 years ago.”

The latest on radical jihadism at a taxpayer-supported college: “Siraj Wahhaj, a radical Muslim cleric who authorities in 1995 identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was last week invited to Queens College to speak on the subject ‘How Islam Perfected Thanksgiving.’ Wahhaj testified in 1996 for convicted terror plotter Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the United Nations.” He was invited by the Muslim Student Association, a member of which was reported to have declared after the showing of a radical Muslim film: ‘If I had enough money I would be part of the jihad army, I would kill all the Jews.’ … Another spoke of getting a ‘bomb.'” Read the whole outrageous account.

The CBO’s latest: “Individual insurance premiums would increase by an average of 10 percent or more, according to an analysis of the Senate healthcare bill. The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) also concluded that subsidies provided by the legislation would make coverage cheaper for those who qualify.” And more expensive for everyone else.

The epidemic of BRIs (Bagel Related Injuries): “In 2008, according to an analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1,979 people appeared in ERs with a BRI. Chicken-related injuries (3,463) led the category, but recorded bagel injuries were otherwise exceeded only by potato, apple and onion injuries. Bagels, in fact, were implicated in more finger cuts than pumpkins (1,195) or cheese (1,236). … (Of course, many BRI victims skip ERs and go to urgent-care offices. Or they stay home and eat breakfast anyway.)”

Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that in objecting to building in Gilo, within Jerusalem, Obama “doesn’t seem to understand that all settlements are not created equal. Palestinian negotiators have fairly consistently recognized that Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb built over the 1967 Green Line, but south, not east, of the city, would remain inside Israel in a final-status peace deal.” What’s worse is Obama’ justifying, or at the very least predicting, Palestinian violence. (“Obama’s statement reads almost as a kind of preemptive rationalization for violent Palestinian protest.”) Is there anyone who thinks the Obami haven’t made the Middle East “peace process” worse?

Not so fast: “Senators may have agreed to have the debate; but the parameters of the debate have not been set. The leaders have to agree on which amendments to consider when. The first two amendments were formally introduced Monday afternoon, but when votes will occur remains unclear.” One of those is an amendment by Sen. John McCain to strip out the Democrats’ draconian Medicare cuts: “Stripping the Medicare cost savings (cuts) would essentially kill the bill and send it back to committee.” Because the bill, you see, depends on hundreds of billions being slashed from Medicare. So don’t expect a vote too soon.

Well, he did say he was leaning against running: “The conservative blogosphere unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mike Huckabee Monday after a man whose sentence he commuted as Arkansas governor was suspected of gunning down four police officers in Washington state over the weekend.”

What a difference less than a year of one-party liberal rule makes: “Republicans can take a bit of satisfaction from a new survey by Democracy Corps. … The survey found that voters now say, by a three-point margin (45% to 42%), that Republicans would do a better job on the economy than Democrats. That’s a change from the 16-point lead Democrats had in May on the question of managing the economy, and marks the first time since 2002 that Republicans have had a lead on the issue in Democracy Corps polling.”

The Afghans, I think, have reason to worry: “Afghan officials hope President Barack Obama’s address on Afghanistan won’t be weighted too heavily on an exit strategy — even though that’s the message many Americans and Democrats in Congress want to hear. If he talks extensively in his speech Tuesday night about winding down the war, Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country much as Washington did after the Soviets left 20 years ago.”

The latest on radical jihadism at a taxpayer-supported college: “Siraj Wahhaj, a radical Muslim cleric who authorities in 1995 identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was last week invited to Queens College to speak on the subject ‘How Islam Perfected Thanksgiving.’ Wahhaj testified in 1996 for convicted terror plotter Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the United Nations.” He was invited by the Muslim Student Association, a member of which was reported to have declared after the showing of a radical Muslim film: ‘If I had enough money I would be part of the jihad army, I would kill all the Jews.’ … Another spoke of getting a ‘bomb.'” Read the whole outrageous account.

The CBO’s latest: “Individual insurance premiums would increase by an average of 10 percent or more, according to an analysis of the Senate healthcare bill. The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) also concluded that subsidies provided by the legislation would make coverage cheaper for those who qualify.” And more expensive for everyone else.

The epidemic of BRIs (Bagel Related Injuries): “In 2008, according to an analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1,979 people appeared in ERs with a BRI. Chicken-related injuries (3,463) led the category, but recorded bagel injuries were otherwise exceeded only by potato, apple and onion injuries. Bagels, in fact, were implicated in more finger cuts than pumpkins (1,195) or cheese (1,236). … (Of course, many BRI victims skip ERs and go to urgent-care offices. Or they stay home and eat breakfast anyway.)”

Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that in objecting to building in Gilo, within Jerusalem, Obama “doesn’t seem to understand that all settlements are not created equal. Palestinian negotiators have fairly consistently recognized that Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb built over the 1967 Green Line, but south, not east, of the city, would remain inside Israel in a final-status peace deal.” What’s worse is Obama’ justifying, or at the very least predicting, Palestinian violence. (“Obama’s statement reads almost as a kind of preemptive rationalization for violent Palestinian protest.”) Is there anyone who thinks the Obami haven’t made the Middle East “peace process” worse?

Not so fast: “Senators may have agreed to have the debate; but the parameters of the debate have not been set. The leaders have to agree on which amendments to consider when. The first two amendments were formally introduced Monday afternoon, but when votes will occur remains unclear.” One of those is an amendment by Sen. John McCain to strip out the Democrats’ draconian Medicare cuts: “Stripping the Medicare cost savings (cuts) would essentially kill the bill and send it back to committee.” Because the bill, you see, depends on hundreds of billions being slashed from Medicare. So don’t expect a vote too soon.

Well, he did say he was leaning against running: “The conservative blogosphere unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mike Huckabee Monday after a man whose sentence he commuted as Arkansas governor was suspected of gunning down four police officers in Washington state over the weekend.”

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Research?

When word first came that Major Nadal Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in northern Virginia, we were told he was doing “research.” It was quite a research project, according to ABC News:

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

“It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.”

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

“Hasan told Awlaki he couldn’t wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife.”

The Pentagon has opened not one but two internal reviews and declined to participate, at least for now, in the congressional investigation. But given the exquisite concern for diversity above all else, as so vividly displayed by Army Chief of Staff General George Casey days after the attack (“And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”), one wonders if the Army is capable of sizing itself up.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was at it again. He expressed concern “over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against ‘certain categories of people,’ apparently referring to Muslims. ‘In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other,’ he said.” Hmm. It would seem that the point of an investigation is precisely that — to finger those people responsible and to note their ideological motives. It seems there is great squeamishness about doing that, though. Maybe it’s time for an 11/5 Commission. That’s what we did after the last terrorist attack.

When word first came that Major Nadal Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in northern Virginia, we were told he was doing “research.” It was quite a research project, according to ABC News:

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

“It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.”

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

“Hasan told Awlaki he couldn’t wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife.”

The Pentagon has opened not one but two internal reviews and declined to participate, at least for now, in the congressional investigation. But given the exquisite concern for diversity above all else, as so vividly displayed by Army Chief of Staff General George Casey days after the attack (“And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”), one wonders if the Army is capable of sizing itself up.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was at it again. He expressed concern “over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against ‘certain categories of people,’ apparently referring to Muslims. ‘In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other,’ he said.” Hmm. It would seem that the point of an investigation is precisely that — to finger those people responsible and to note their ideological motives. It seems there is great squeamishness about doing that, though. Maybe it’s time for an 11/5 Commission. That’s what we did after the last terrorist attack.

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A Homegrown Terrorist Attack

The Senate opened hearings (minus co-operation from the administration) under the clear-eyed leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman to look into the Fort Hood massacre. Lieberman described the slaughters as a “homegrown terrorist attack” that had been mishandled by law-enforcement and military agencies. This is a good start: at least some elected officials refuse to turn a blind eye to widely known facts.

In a similar vein, Cliff May asks how it was that everyone missed the obvious. (“Why did none of those who saw something say something? In a culture where the value of diversity trumps the requirements of security, to do so would have been career suicide. There was no way that was going to happen.”) May explains:

The lesson of Fort Hood is not that Muslims in the U.S. military are a fifth column. But neither can we continue to blithely assume that someone like Hasan — American-born, well-educated, apparently sophisticated — could never succumb to the temptations of what the politically correct call “violent extremism.”

And May decries the uninformed political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that those who are on a violent jihadist mission are not outside Islam: “Western commentators sometimes assert that Muslims who preach intolerance and belligerence are ‘heretics’ who have ‘hijacked’ a great and peaceful religion. But no Muslim authority would say that — not even those who denounce terrorism. How, after all, can a fundamentalist be a heretic? How can someone who insists on a literal reading of the Koran be accused of misrepresenting what it says?”

May also points to an uncomfortable reality:

No battles or even protests were ever staged outside the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia where Anwar al-Aulaqi preached a hateful and violent theology. Major Hasan was among those who worshipped with — and was inspired by — al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric who five years ago decamped to Yemen. In recent days, al-Aulaqi has described Hasan as a “hero,” adding: The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.

Unfortunately our president is still on the political-correctness kick, and isn’t for now willing to acknowledge the nature of our enemy. Maybe the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the public’s commonsense understanding of what occurred at Fort Hood, and the persistence of Lieberman will force the administration to open its eyes — before yet another terrorist attack.

The Senate opened hearings (minus co-operation from the administration) under the clear-eyed leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman to look into the Fort Hood massacre. Lieberman described the slaughters as a “homegrown terrorist attack” that had been mishandled by law-enforcement and military agencies. This is a good start: at least some elected officials refuse to turn a blind eye to widely known facts.

In a similar vein, Cliff May asks how it was that everyone missed the obvious. (“Why did none of those who saw something say something? In a culture where the value of diversity trumps the requirements of security, to do so would have been career suicide. There was no way that was going to happen.”) May explains:

The lesson of Fort Hood is not that Muslims in the U.S. military are a fifth column. But neither can we continue to blithely assume that someone like Hasan — American-born, well-educated, apparently sophisticated — could never succumb to the temptations of what the politically correct call “violent extremism.”

And May decries the uninformed political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that those who are on a violent jihadist mission are not outside Islam: “Western commentators sometimes assert that Muslims who preach intolerance and belligerence are ‘heretics’ who have ‘hijacked’ a great and peaceful religion. But no Muslim authority would say that — not even those who denounce terrorism. How, after all, can a fundamentalist be a heretic? How can someone who insists on a literal reading of the Koran be accused of misrepresenting what it says?”

May also points to an uncomfortable reality:

No battles or even protests were ever staged outside the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia where Anwar al-Aulaqi preached a hateful and violent theology. Major Hasan was among those who worshipped with — and was inspired by — al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric who five years ago decamped to Yemen. In recent days, al-Aulaqi has described Hasan as a “hero,” adding: The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.

Unfortunately our president is still on the political-correctness kick, and isn’t for now willing to acknowledge the nature of our enemy. Maybe the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the public’s commonsense understanding of what occurred at Fort Hood, and the persistence of Lieberman will force the administration to open its eyes — before yet another terrorist attack.

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Hasan’s Imam

The Washington Post, through an interview conducted by a Yemeni journalist, has gotten an earful from imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, the radical cleric whom Major Nadal Hasan sought out. Seems that Hasan was seeking “spiritual guidance” and that the two had a chummy e-mail relationship. Why yes, we’ll have to find out how it could be that no one “sensed a potential threat” given that “U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted e-mails from Hasan.”

This should be of interest to those who think this has nothing to do with Islam:

Aulaqi said Hasan’s alleged shooting spree was allowed under Islam because it was a form of jihad. “There are some people in the United States who said this shooting has nothing to do with Islam, that it was not permissible under Islam,” he said, according to Shaea. “But I would say it is permissible. … America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries.”

The cleric also denounced what he described as contradictory behavior by Muslims who condemned Hasan’s actions and “let him down.” According to Shaea, he said: “They say American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed, so how can they say the American soldier should not be killed at the moment they are going to Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Keep in  mind that Aulaqi in now safely lodged in Yemen — where we are now depositing Guantanamo detainees. Maybe it’s time to reintroduce “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic jihadism” into our government’s official lexicon.

The Washington Post, through an interview conducted by a Yemeni journalist, has gotten an earful from imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, the radical cleric whom Major Nadal Hasan sought out. Seems that Hasan was seeking “spiritual guidance” and that the two had a chummy e-mail relationship. Why yes, we’ll have to find out how it could be that no one “sensed a potential threat” given that “U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted e-mails from Hasan.”

This should be of interest to those who think this has nothing to do with Islam:

Aulaqi said Hasan’s alleged shooting spree was allowed under Islam because it was a form of jihad. “There are some people in the United States who said this shooting has nothing to do with Islam, that it was not permissible under Islam,” he said, according to Shaea. “But I would say it is permissible. … America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries.”

The cleric also denounced what he described as contradictory behavior by Muslims who condemned Hasan’s actions and “let him down.” According to Shaea, he said: “They say American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed, so how can they say the American soldier should not be killed at the moment they are going to Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Keep in  mind that Aulaqi in now safely lodged in Yemen — where we are now depositing Guantanamo detainees. Maybe it’s time to reintroduce “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic jihadism” into our government’s official lexicon.

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So Many Red Flags, So Little Action

The Washington Post‘s editors concede that there were “red flags” all around Major Nadal Hasan:

There was his troubling presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Islam and the U.S. military, and questions among colleagues about the psychiatrist’s competence and even his sanity. And there was the e-mail correspondence with a known radical Muslim cleric that caught the attention of the FBI. In isolation, they may have appeared less than actionable.

And so begins the search for an answer to the question that now absorbs the entire country: how could the Army have missed these flags? One clue, the editors note, is a report that “Walter Reed psychiatrists may have been deterred from trying to dismiss the psychiatrist because of onerous procedures; an official on a review committee reportedly asked whether the termination of a doctor who happened to be a Muslim would create an appearance problem.” Uh oh. The diversity police strike once again. Those who might have acted may have had an “appearance problem” — the fear that citing a Muslim for extremist views, aberrant behavior, and “research” with the local imam would bring on a torrent of questions and accusations. Who wants to be accused of being insufficiently “sensitive” to diversity goals?

We will see how the investigation pans out, but if the reaction to the massacre is any indication of the mindset at work here, we may find that we have once again lost our way in the diversity maze, confusing discrimination with common sense. Here the governing elites may find that the public has precious little patience for the cottage industry dedicated to lambasting those who appear “intolerant.” After all, 13 people are dead.

The Washington Post‘s editors concede that there were “red flags” all around Major Nadal Hasan:

There was his troubling presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Islam and the U.S. military, and questions among colleagues about the psychiatrist’s competence and even his sanity. And there was the e-mail correspondence with a known radical Muslim cleric that caught the attention of the FBI. In isolation, they may have appeared less than actionable.

And so begins the search for an answer to the question that now absorbs the entire country: how could the Army have missed these flags? One clue, the editors note, is a report that “Walter Reed psychiatrists may have been deterred from trying to dismiss the psychiatrist because of onerous procedures; an official on a review committee reportedly asked whether the termination of a doctor who happened to be a Muslim would create an appearance problem.” Uh oh. The diversity police strike once again. Those who might have acted may have had an “appearance problem” — the fear that citing a Muslim for extremist views, aberrant behavior, and “research” with the local imam would bring on a torrent of questions and accusations. Who wants to be accused of being insufficiently “sensitive” to diversity goals?

We will see how the investigation pans out, but if the reaction to the massacre is any indication of the mindset at work here, we may find that we have once again lost our way in the diversity maze, confusing discrimination with common sense. Here the governing elites may find that the public has precious little patience for the cottage industry dedicated to lambasting those who appear “intolerant.” After all, 13 people are dead.

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Obama Must Face Iraq’s Truth

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Read Less

Who Has Beaten Whom?

Back in October a cover story by Peter Bergen, author and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, graced the cover of the New Republic. Titled “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush,” Bergen wrote

America’s most formidable foe — once practically dead — is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s resurgence — and its continued ability to harm us — we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it. . . . If, as the president explained in a speech [in 2006], the United States is today engaged “in the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century,” right now we are on the losing side of the battle of ideas.

This week Bergen is back with another cover story (this time written with Paul Cruickshank) gracing the cover of the New Republic. But this time his take is very different. Titled, “The Unraveling: Al Qaeda’s revolt against bin Laden,” the essay examines the turn against al Qaeda by clerics and militants who were once considered their allies. According to Bergen and Cruickshank, “The repudiation of Al Qaeda’s leaders by its former religious, military, and political guides will help hasten the implosion of the jihadist terrorist movement.” Al Qaeda’s new critics, in concert with mainstream Muslim leaders, “have created a powerful coalition countering Al Qaeda’s ideology.”

So it now looks as if al Qaeda is on the losing side of the battle of ideas. In fact, the tide was moving against al Qaeda even when Bergen wrote his original cover story in October 2007. As I wrote at the time

the most important ideological development in the last year is that the Sunni population in Iraq has turned against al Qaeda’s ideology and concomitant brutality. The “Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading to other regions in Iraq, is a sign of Muslims’ rejecting radical Islamist ideology. . . . This doesn’t mean we have decisively won the “war of ideas” in the Islamic world; that clash is still unfolding and will for some time to come. But Bergen’s claim that we are losing is belied by the most significant and encouraging ideological development we have seen in a great long while.

It turns out that on the cover of the current New Republic are excerpts of a letter chastising bin Laden, a letter written by Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom bin Laden once lionized. That letter was written a month before Bergen’s cover story declaring that al Qaeda was winning the war of ideas against America and the West. Bergen did not mention that letter in his original essay, though he devotes several paragraphs to it in this week’s cover story.

In addition, the same month Bergen’s “War of Error” cover story appeared (October 2007) the Washington Post reported, “The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months . . .” It was clear, even seven months ago, that the tectonic plates were beginning to shift. And since then, things have gotten even worse for jihadists–as Bergen and Cruickshank admit:

Most of these clerics and former militants, of course, have not suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States (all those we talked to saw the Iraqi insurgency as a defensive jihad), but their anti-Al Qaeda positions are making Americans safer. If this is a war of ideas, it is their ideas, not the West’s, that matter. The U.S. government neither has the credibility nor the Islamic knowledge to effectively debate Al Qaeda’s leaders, but the clerics and militants who have turned against them do.

That is, I think, correct, as far as it goes. I would add a point I made back in October: Those who believe winning the (figurative) war of ideas is paramount might consider doing all they can to help win the (literal) war in Iraq. After all, the best way to discredit militant Islam as an ideology is to defeat those who are taking up the sword in its name.

In any event , Bergen and Cruickshank, echoing Lawrence Wright in his recent essay in the New Yorker, are onto something significant: the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. This surely ranks as among the most important ideological developments in years.

Bergen and Cruickshank’s piece concludes:

Al Qaeda’s leaders have been thrown on the defensive. In December, bin Laden released a tape that stressed that “the Muslim victims who fall during the operations against the infidel Crusaders . . . are not the intended targets.” Bin Laden warned the former mujahedin now turning on Al Qaeda that, whatever their track records as jihadists, they had now committed one of the “nullifiers of Islam,” which is helping the “infidels against the Muslims.”

Kamal El Helbawy, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who helped bring in moderates at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, believes that Al Qaeda’s days may be numbered: “No government, no police force, is achieving what these [religious] scholars are achieving. To defeat terrorism, to convince the radicals . . . you have to persuade them that theirs is not the path to paradise.”

It looks like Osama bin Laden might not have beaten George W. Bush after all.

Back in October a cover story by Peter Bergen, author and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, graced the cover of the New Republic. Titled “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush,” Bergen wrote

America’s most formidable foe — once practically dead — is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s resurgence — and its continued ability to harm us — we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it. . . . If, as the president explained in a speech [in 2006], the United States is today engaged “in the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century,” right now we are on the losing side of the battle of ideas.

This week Bergen is back with another cover story (this time written with Paul Cruickshank) gracing the cover of the New Republic. But this time his take is very different. Titled, “The Unraveling: Al Qaeda’s revolt against bin Laden,” the essay examines the turn against al Qaeda by clerics and militants who were once considered their allies. According to Bergen and Cruickshank, “The repudiation of Al Qaeda’s leaders by its former religious, military, and political guides will help hasten the implosion of the jihadist terrorist movement.” Al Qaeda’s new critics, in concert with mainstream Muslim leaders, “have created a powerful coalition countering Al Qaeda’s ideology.”

So it now looks as if al Qaeda is on the losing side of the battle of ideas. In fact, the tide was moving against al Qaeda even when Bergen wrote his original cover story in October 2007. As I wrote at the time

the most important ideological development in the last year is that the Sunni population in Iraq has turned against al Qaeda’s ideology and concomitant brutality. The “Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading to other regions in Iraq, is a sign of Muslims’ rejecting radical Islamist ideology. . . . This doesn’t mean we have decisively won the “war of ideas” in the Islamic world; that clash is still unfolding and will for some time to come. But Bergen’s claim that we are losing is belied by the most significant and encouraging ideological development we have seen in a great long while.

It turns out that on the cover of the current New Republic are excerpts of a letter chastising bin Laden, a letter written by Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom bin Laden once lionized. That letter was written a month before Bergen’s cover story declaring that al Qaeda was winning the war of ideas against America and the West. Bergen did not mention that letter in his original essay, though he devotes several paragraphs to it in this week’s cover story.

In addition, the same month Bergen’s “War of Error” cover story appeared (October 2007) the Washington Post reported, “The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months . . .” It was clear, even seven months ago, that the tectonic plates were beginning to shift. And since then, things have gotten even worse for jihadists–as Bergen and Cruickshank admit:

Most of these clerics and former militants, of course, have not suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States (all those we talked to saw the Iraqi insurgency as a defensive jihad), but their anti-Al Qaeda positions are making Americans safer. If this is a war of ideas, it is their ideas, not the West’s, that matter. The U.S. government neither has the credibility nor the Islamic knowledge to effectively debate Al Qaeda’s leaders, but the clerics and militants who have turned against them do.

That is, I think, correct, as far as it goes. I would add a point I made back in October: Those who believe winning the (figurative) war of ideas is paramount might consider doing all they can to help win the (literal) war in Iraq. After all, the best way to discredit militant Islam as an ideology is to defeat those who are taking up the sword in its name.

In any event , Bergen and Cruickshank, echoing Lawrence Wright in his recent essay in the New Yorker, are onto something significant: the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. This surely ranks as among the most important ideological developments in years.

Bergen and Cruickshank’s piece concludes:

Al Qaeda’s leaders have been thrown on the defensive. In December, bin Laden released a tape that stressed that “the Muslim victims who fall during the operations against the infidel Crusaders . . . are not the intended targets.” Bin Laden warned the former mujahedin now turning on Al Qaeda that, whatever their track records as jihadists, they had now committed one of the “nullifiers of Islam,” which is helping the “infidels against the Muslims.”

Kamal El Helbawy, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who helped bring in moderates at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, believes that Al Qaeda’s days may be numbered: “No government, no police force, is achieving what these [religious] scholars are achieving. To defeat terrorism, to convince the radicals . . . you have to persuade them that theirs is not the path to paradise.”

It looks like Osama bin Laden might not have beaten George W. Bush after all.

Read Less

Wright on al-Qaeda

Lawrence Wright, author of the brilliant book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has written an extremely significant essay in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within.”

Wright’s article is devoted to an issue that has fascinated me for months now and which I have written on (see here and here): how the tide within the Islamic world is turning against jihadism and more specifically, the significance of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif–who is more widely known by the pseudonym Dr. Fadl–breaking with the extremist and violent ideology he helped develop and popularize. This is one of the most significant and, until now, unreported ideological developments within the Islamic world. (Wright wisely points out that Fadl’s defection is not the only relevant data point; we have seen key Saudi and Palestinian clerics make similar arguments. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa in October 2007 forbidding Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. And a month earlier, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Osama bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning bin Laden).

By way of background: Fadl, an Egyptian, is a living legend within the Islamic world and former mentor to Ayman Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. In November 2007, the first segment of Fadl’s book appeared in the newspapers Al Masri Al Youm and Al Jarida. Titled “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” it attempted to (in Wright’s words) “reconcile Fadl’s well-known views with his sweeping modifications.” The result is that “Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” Wright argues that Fadl’s book is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology:”

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

There is more:

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians-including Christians and Jews-unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing-“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”-is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. . . .

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing that the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: “Harming those who are affiliated with Islam but have a different creed is forbidden.” Al Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organization; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden’s favorite authority: “A Muslim’s blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.”

Wright’s essay–which includes fascinating details on Fadl’s life, his relationship with Zawahiri, the rift that developed between them, and their recent debate about the nature of meaning of jihad–concludes:

One afternoon in Egypt, I visited Kamal Habib, a key leader of the first generation of Al Jihad, who is now a political scientist and analyst. His writing has gained him an audience of former radicals who, like him, have sought a path back to moderation. We met in the cafeteria of the Journalists’ Syndicate, in downtown Cairo. Habib is an energetic political theorist, unbroken by ten years in prison, despite having been tortured. (His arms are marked with scars from cigarette burns.) “We now have before us two schools of thought,” Habib told me. “The old school, which was expressed by Al Jihad and its spinoff, Al Qaeda, is the one that was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Maqdisi, Zarqawi. The new school, which Dr. Fadl has given expression to, represents a battle of faith. It’s deeper than just ideology.” He went on, “The general mood of Islamist movements in the seventies was intransigence. Now the general mood is toward harmony and coexistence. The distance between the two is a measure of their experience.” Ironically, Dr. Fadl’s thinking gave birth to both schools. “As long as a person lives in a world of jihad, the old vision will control his thinking,” Habib suggested. “When he’s in battle, he doesn’t wonder if he’s wrong or he’s right. When he’s arrested, he has time to wonder.”

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted. “Our opting for violence encouraged Al Jihad to emerge.” He even suggested that, had the Islamists not murdered Sadat thirty years ago, there would be peace today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Only what benefits people stays on the earth.”

“It’s very easy to start violence,” Zuhdy said. “Peace is much more difficult.”

The tectonic plates have been shifting within the Islamic world for many months now. Thanks to Wright’s new essay, many more people in this country will recognize what is unfolding and its ramifications for al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. And while there is plenty of work that remains to be done and this struggle is far from over, what we have seen are heartening, far-reaching, and perhaps even pivotal developments in the history of jihad.

Lawrence Wright, author of the brilliant book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has written an extremely significant essay in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within.”

Wright’s article is devoted to an issue that has fascinated me for months now and which I have written on (see here and here): how the tide within the Islamic world is turning against jihadism and more specifically, the significance of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif–who is more widely known by the pseudonym Dr. Fadl–breaking with the extremist and violent ideology he helped develop and popularize. This is one of the most significant and, until now, unreported ideological developments within the Islamic world. (Wright wisely points out that Fadl’s defection is not the only relevant data point; we have seen key Saudi and Palestinian clerics make similar arguments. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa in October 2007 forbidding Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. And a month earlier, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Osama bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning bin Laden).

By way of background: Fadl, an Egyptian, is a living legend within the Islamic world and former mentor to Ayman Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. In November 2007, the first segment of Fadl’s book appeared in the newspapers Al Masri Al Youm and Al Jarida. Titled “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” it attempted to (in Wright’s words) “reconcile Fadl’s well-known views with his sweeping modifications.” The result is that “Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” Wright argues that Fadl’s book is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology:”

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

There is more:

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians-including Christians and Jews-unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing-“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”-is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. . . .

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing that the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: “Harming those who are affiliated with Islam but have a different creed is forbidden.” Al Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organization; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden’s favorite authority: “A Muslim’s blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.”

Wright’s essay–which includes fascinating details on Fadl’s life, his relationship with Zawahiri, the rift that developed between them, and their recent debate about the nature of meaning of jihad–concludes:

One afternoon in Egypt, I visited Kamal Habib, a key leader of the first generation of Al Jihad, who is now a political scientist and analyst. His writing has gained him an audience of former radicals who, like him, have sought a path back to moderation. We met in the cafeteria of the Journalists’ Syndicate, in downtown Cairo. Habib is an energetic political theorist, unbroken by ten years in prison, despite having been tortured. (His arms are marked with scars from cigarette burns.) “We now have before us two schools of thought,” Habib told me. “The old school, which was expressed by Al Jihad and its spinoff, Al Qaeda, is the one that was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Maqdisi, Zarqawi. The new school, which Dr. Fadl has given expression to, represents a battle of faith. It’s deeper than just ideology.” He went on, “The general mood of Islamist movements in the seventies was intransigence. Now the general mood is toward harmony and coexistence. The distance between the two is a measure of their experience.” Ironically, Dr. Fadl’s thinking gave birth to both schools. “As long as a person lives in a world of jihad, the old vision will control his thinking,” Habib suggested. “When he’s in battle, he doesn’t wonder if he’s wrong or he’s right. When he’s arrested, he has time to wonder.”

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted. “Our opting for violence encouraged Al Jihad to emerge.” He even suggested that, had the Islamists not murdered Sadat thirty years ago, there would be peace today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Only what benefits people stays on the earth.”

“It’s very easy to start violence,” Zuhdy said. “Peace is much more difficult.”

The tectonic plates have been shifting within the Islamic world for many months now. Thanks to Wright’s new essay, many more people in this country will recognize what is unfolding and its ramifications for al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. And while there is plenty of work that remains to be done and this struggle is far from over, what we have seen are heartening, far-reaching, and perhaps even pivotal developments in the history of jihad.

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Good News From Sadr City

The degree of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s leverage over thug cleric Moqtada Sadr is becoming more clear. The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City on Tuesday and, meeting little resistance, claimed key positions deep inside the neighborhood that’s been a hub of Shiite militia violence since March. The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung says this operation is actually being carried out in accordance with last week’s ceasefire arrangement between Sadr and the Iraqi government. The government’s plan to root out criminals and militia members is underway and no one in this bastion of Sadr support seems to be doing a thing about it.

There have been no reported casualties. None. Moreover, “Iraqi troops moved forward without any major incidents.” Virtually every detail in the Times story is encouraging. Not the least of which is the report of Iraqi military self-suffiency:

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

This is not an American operation with an Iraqi face or even a joint-operation. This is simply what allies do.

The Los Angeles Times quotes U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Stover:

I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. . . And it will be because they did it, not us.

And at CBS News, lefty blogger Kevin Drum makes the following acknowledgment: “And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too.” Though, with nothing worrying to write about, he tags his coverage thusly: “It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.”

The degree of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s leverage over thug cleric Moqtada Sadr is becoming more clear. The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City on Tuesday and, meeting little resistance, claimed key positions deep inside the neighborhood that’s been a hub of Shiite militia violence since March. The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung says this operation is actually being carried out in accordance with last week’s ceasefire arrangement between Sadr and the Iraqi government. The government’s plan to root out criminals and militia members is underway and no one in this bastion of Sadr support seems to be doing a thing about it.

There have been no reported casualties. None. Moreover, “Iraqi troops moved forward without any major incidents.” Virtually every detail in the Times story is encouraging. Not the least of which is the report of Iraqi military self-suffiency:

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

This is not an American operation with an Iraqi face or even a joint-operation. This is simply what allies do.

The Los Angeles Times quotes U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Stover:

I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. . . And it will be because they did it, not us.

And at CBS News, lefty blogger Kevin Drum makes the following acknowledgment: “And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too.” Though, with nothing worrying to write about, he tags his coverage thusly: “It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.”

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McCain on Basra and Maliki

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

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Gaza and the Green Zone

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

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About That Basra Debacle . . .

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

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Why Commit Suicide?

One good reason, if you also want to take some Zionists with you, is the prospect of conjoining with 72 virgins in the world to come. Some of the virgins are apparently pretty nice.

Here, courtesy of the indispensable Middle East Media Research Institute, is the Saudi Cleric Omar Al-Sweilem extolling their virtues, which include great skin that remains soft even without any cream — “no Nivea, no Vaseline”:

Harith Ibn Al-Muhasibi told us what would happen when we meet the black-eyed virgin with her black hair and white face — praised be He who created night and day. What hair! What a chest! What a mouth! What cheeks! What a figure! What breasts! What thighs! What legs! What whiteness! What softness! Without any creams — no Nivea, no Vaseline. No nothing! He said that faces would be soft that day. Even your own face will be soft without any powder or makeup. You yourself will be soft, so how soft will a black-eyed virgin be, when she comes to you so tall and with her beautiful face, her black hair and white face – praised be He who created night and day. Just feel her palm, Sheik! He said: How soft will a fingertip be, after being softened in paradise for thousands of years! There is no god but Allah. He told us that if you entered one of the palaces, you would find ten black-eyed virgins sprawled on musk cushions. Where is Abu Khaled? Here, he has arrived! When they see you, they will get up and run to you. Lucky is the one who gets to put her thumb in your hand. When they get hold of you, they will push you onto your back, on the musk cushions. They will push you onto your back, Jamal! Allah Akbar! I wish this on all people present here. He said that one of them would place her mouth on yours. Do whatever you want. Another one would press her cheek against yours, yet another would press her chest against yours, and the others would await their turn. There is no god but Allah. He told us that one black-eyed virgin would give you a glass of wine. Wine in Paradise is a reward for your good deeds. The wine of this world is destructive, but not the wine of the world to come.

One good reason, if you also want to take some Zionists with you, is the prospect of conjoining with 72 virgins in the world to come. Some of the virgins are apparently pretty nice.

Here, courtesy of the indispensable Middle East Media Research Institute, is the Saudi Cleric Omar Al-Sweilem extolling their virtues, which include great skin that remains soft even without any cream — “no Nivea, no Vaseline”:

Harith Ibn Al-Muhasibi told us what would happen when we meet the black-eyed virgin with her black hair and white face — praised be He who created night and day. What hair! What a chest! What a mouth! What cheeks! What a figure! What breasts! What thighs! What legs! What whiteness! What softness! Without any creams — no Nivea, no Vaseline. No nothing! He said that faces would be soft that day. Even your own face will be soft without any powder or makeup. You yourself will be soft, so how soft will a black-eyed virgin be, when she comes to you so tall and with her beautiful face, her black hair and white face – praised be He who created night and day. Just feel her palm, Sheik! He said: How soft will a fingertip be, after being softened in paradise for thousands of years! There is no god but Allah. He told us that if you entered one of the palaces, you would find ten black-eyed virgins sprawled on musk cushions. Where is Abu Khaled? Here, he has arrived! When they see you, they will get up and run to you. Lucky is the one who gets to put her thumb in your hand. When they get hold of you, they will push you onto your back, on the musk cushions. They will push you onto your back, Jamal! Allah Akbar! I wish this on all people present here. He said that one of them would place her mouth on yours. Do whatever you want. Another one would press her cheek against yours, yet another would press her chest against yours, and the others would await their turn. There is no god but Allah. He told us that one black-eyed virgin would give you a glass of wine. Wine in Paradise is a reward for your good deeds. The wine of this world is destructive, but not the wine of the world to come.

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