Commentary Magazine


Topic: Qatar

U.S. Can’t Retreat and Still Call the Shots

Want to know what happens when the U.S. retreats from a leadership role in the Middle East? This is what happens–Egypt and the United Arab Emirates together collaborate to stage air strikes against Islamist militias in Libya. And meanwhile Qatar, which is at odds with its fellow Persian Gulf sheikhdom, the UAE, has been funneling arms to the very Islamist militias that UAE’s air force is bombing.

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Want to know what happens when the U.S. retreats from a leadership role in the Middle East? This is what happens–Egypt and the United Arab Emirates together collaborate to stage air strikes against Islamist militias in Libya. And meanwhile Qatar, which is at odds with its fellow Persian Gulf sheikhdom, the UAE, has been funneling arms to the very Islamist militias that UAE’s air force is bombing.

American officials quoted by the New York Times are said to be fuming about these attacks, “believing the intervention could further inflame the Libyan conflict as the United Nations and Western powers are seeking to broker a peaceful resolution…. ‘We don’t see this as constructive at all,’ said one senior American official.”

But guess what? When the U.S. has abdicated its leadership role, there is no reason for anyone–not our enemies and not our allies–to listen to what we have to say. In the case of Libya, the American failure to do more, in cooperation with our allies, to build up central government authority has brought us to a point where this country is fast becoming a failed state consigned to perpetual civil war. The UAE air strikes, enabled by Egypt, will do little to tilt the balance or restore order but they can be read as a cri de coeur from our allies–a protest-by-bombing against all that the Obama administration has failed to do as it has unilaterally and foolishly pulled back from the Middle East.

Even the president seems to be acknowledging that his chief foreign-policy initiative has backfired–how else to explain his newfound willingness to bomb in Iraq and possibly, before long, in Syria? But a few bombing runs, whether by the UAE air force or the U.S. Air Force, are not a substitute for a strategy of concerted engagement designed to stop the march of jihadist terrorist from Libya to Iraq. And that strategy is still not apparent.

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Why Are We Letting Qatar Play This Game?

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, calls out Qatar in a New York Times op-ed today pointing out how that small, oil-rich sheikhdom has become a leading financier of extreme Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria:

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Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, calls out Qatar in a New York Times op-ed today pointing out how that small, oil-rich sheikhdom has become a leading financier of extreme Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria:

It harbors leading Islamist radicals like the spiritual leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who issued a religious fatwa endorsing suicide attacks, and the Doha-based history professor Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi, whom the United States Department of Treasury has named as a “terrorist financier” for Al Qaeda. Qatar also funds a life of luxury for Khaled Meshal, the fugitive leader of Hamas.

And of course its Al Jazeera TV station regularly broadcasts in favor of extremist Islam.

Prosor, because of the position he holds in the Israeli government, can’t offer much of a solution to this problem beyond “isolating” Qatar, but retired General Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute are under no such restrictions. They have an excellent suggestion: “We have alternatives to our Combined Air and Operations Center in Doha, the al Udeid air base, other bases and prepositioned materiel. We should tell Qatar to end its support for terrorism or we leave.”

It is high time that the U.S. government delivered the ultimatum they suggest. For too long Qatar has gotten away with playing both sides of the street–supporting radical Islam while also hosting the U.S. military. One suspects its wily rulers think they are covering themselves no matter what happens in the region by ingratiating themselves both with the jihadists and the “Great Satan.” It’s understandable why Qatar would play this game. Less understandable is why the U.S. government would tolerate it.

It’s about time President Obama borrowed a page from his predecessor and told Qatar (as George W. Bush never did): “You’re either with us or against us.”

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The Myth of the Palestinian Underdog

One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

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One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

Israel is inordinately condemned for what it supposedly does because its friends are few, its population is tiny, and its adversaries beyond Gaza numerous, dangerous and often powerful.

Or to put it more bluntly, condemning Israel entails no costs and frequently provides benefits, whereas supporting it could invite retaliation from its numerous enemies. So just as Western countries are reluctant to push China on Tibet for fear that China will retaliate by barring access to the world’s largest market, or to push Russia too hard on Ukraine because Russia is a major natural gas producer with no qualms about cutting off supplies to its political opponents, they often find it easier to push Israel than to push its enemies.

Take, for instance, the cases of Qatar and Turkey, currently Hamas’s two main patrons. Qatar is Hamas’s leading financier, giving it hundreds of millions of dollars per year to build its rocket arsenal and tunnel network; it hosts Hamas leader Khaled Meshal; it reportedly torpedoed an emerging Hamas-Israel cease-fire deal by threatening to kick Meshal out if he signed; and according to former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, about a third of all cement imported to Gaza for Qatari-sponsored projects was instead diverted to Hamas’s tunnel network–presumably with Doha’s willing cooperation, since EU-managed projects suffered no similar diversions.

Turkey also gives Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and hosts about a dozen senior Hamas officials, including Saleh Arouri–who, over the past week, has both admitted to being behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in June and been accused by Israel’s Shin Bet security service of organizing a massive terror network in the West Bank tasked with starting a third intifada and overthrowing the Palestinian Authority. Israel has arrested some 90 members of this network and confiscated weapons and funds; the PA took the accusation seriously enough to launch its own investigation.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that without the support Hamas receives from Turkey and Qatar, it could never have built the war machine that enabled it to start this summer’s war, and thus the death and destruction the world is now decrying in Gaza would never have happened.

Since both America and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, one might expect this flagrant support for Hamas to prompt sanctions on Qatar and Turkey as state sponsors of terrorism. But Qatar is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and richest country, as well as home to the main U.S. air force base in the Middle East, while Turkey is a NATO member and major emerging economy. So in fact, far from sanctioning Qatar and Turkey, both America and Europe consider them key partners. In short, it’s simply easier for the West to condemn Israel’s response to Hamas attacks and pressure it to accede to Hamas demands than it would be to condemn and penalize Turkish and Qatari support for Hamas.

Clearly, Israel has many strengths, including a thriving economy, a relatively powerful army, and strong American support. But as Hanson noted, it’s still a tiny country with few friends and many enemies, and anti-Israel protesters intuitively sense this. So don’t be fooled by their pretensions to “moral indignation” against Israel’s “oppression of the underdog.” They’re just doing what mobs have done since time immemorial: targeting a victim they see as fundamentally vulnerable.

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Beware of Qatar’s Mediation

If crises make or break statesmen, the fighting between Israel and Hamas has tried Secretary of State John Kerry and found him wanting. Throughout the crisis, Kerry acted as a simple arbiter rather than a diplomat who believed it was in his interest to defend democracy, freedom, and punish rather than reward terrorism.

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If crises make or break statesmen, the fighting between Israel and Hamas has tried Secretary of State John Kerry and found him wanting. Throughout the crisis, Kerry acted as a simple arbiter rather than a diplomat who believed it was in his interest to defend democracy, freedom, and punish rather than reward terrorism.

Kerry does not simply lead the State Department, but he also reflects its culture. It has been a generation or more since State Department leaders thought strategically rather than simply reacted to crises. Talking, diplomacy, and the desire to initiate and continue processes occur round the clock: Few diplomats understand that sometimes the best option is to stand by and do nothing, all the more so if an enemy’s strength declines as conflict continues.

America’s adversaries understand the mindset of U.S. diplomacy and play the United States like a fiddle. Qatar is a case in point: While Qatar styles itself as a Dubai alternative which punches above its weight on the world stage, the reality is that it encourages, funds, and embraces corrosive forms of radicalism responsible over the last decade for more deaths than the entire population of Qatar itself. This is reflected in Qatari mediation.

Take events in Lebanon in 2008: The United States has long considered Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization for good reason. In interviews with Ash-Sharq al-Awsat in 2008, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s first ambassadors to Lebanon acknowledged that Iran formed the group and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps trained it as its proxy. When I visited Lebanon a couple years back, I toured some Hezbollah bunkers in southern Lebanon in which posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini adorned otherwise blank walls above bedrolls.

While Hezbollah clings to its rhetoric of anti-Israel resistance, Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 denied it its contrived raison d’être. So it made a new one, claiming Lebanese sovereignty over the Sheba’a Farms, Syrian highlands occupied by Israel when Israeli forces took the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War. In practice, however, on the Lebanese political scene, Hezbollah operates like a mafia. It moves in on profitable business, demands protection, and runs the black market. Putting ideology aside, it’s like 1930s Chicago or, perhaps, 2014 Chicago. In 2008, Hezbollah moved into central Beirut and turned its guns on the fellow Lebanese it claimed to protect because it feared central government control over Beirut’s international airport would mean it would be harder to use that facility for the drug and weapons smuggling in which it and its Iranian sponsors engaged.

At the same time, the rise of the March 14 movement in the wake of the Cedar Revolution, no matter how fractious that political coalition was, threatened Hezbollah and its vision of a Lebanon oriented toward the Iranian sphere. Violence erupted. Enter Qatar: It decided to mediate the dispute, a process which then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed. The result was the Doha Agreement of 2008. This ill-conceived compromise, blessed by Rice, the State Department, and its culture of short-term thinking, awarded Hezbollah a third of Lebanon’s cabinet posts, giving Hezbollah effective veto power. That was the end of Lebanon’s democratic spring, and a direct result of a U.S.-endorsed Qatari compromise that privileged the violent and the Islamist.

Now consider Hamas. The magnitude of Qatar’s support for the terrorist group should be enough to get Qatar prime listing on the state sponsor of terrorism list. And yet, Kerry has made Qatar a full partner in the diplomatic process to achieve a ceasefire. America’s goal might be to achieve calm, and Kerry’s goal might be to find some—indeed any—success during his tenure, but it’s essential to recognize that Qatar’s goal is simply to salvage Hamas and allow its rearmament.

It’s always a dangerous thing when militants and terrorists conclude that an American desire for peace means that promoting violence can lead to a deal which privileges the violent over those who follow the rules of diplomacy. Yet, that’s exactly what first Rice and then Kerry did when it has come to Qatar acting as the good cop to achieve the aims of the bad cops in the Middle East. Rather than treat Qatar as a partner, it’s long past time the State Department and Pentagon began crafting plans to disassociate the United States from Qatar, which increasingly should be considered a liability rather than an asset.

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The Democrats’ Qatar Delusion

The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

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The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

Kerry had signaled that he was prepared to replace traditional interlocutors in the region–chiefly Egypt, though Cairo tends to speak for others who prefer to stay behind the scenes–with Qatar. This would be a monumental strategic error, one of the worst (of the many) the Obama administration has committed so far. The strange aspect of this indefensible mistake is that Qatar–a prime supporter of terrorists and of the region’s bad actors who subvert American interests at every chance–has nobody fooled except the Obama administration and its Democratic congressional allies.

Making the rounds the last couple of days has been this clip of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the following about Qatar and Hamas:

“[T]his has to be something where we try to have the two-state solution, that we have to support…(Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud) Abbas and his role as a leader there. We have to support Iron Dome to protect the Israelis from the missiles. We have to support the Palestinians and what they need. And we have to confer with the Qataris, who have told me over and over again that Hamas is a humanitarian organization, maybe they could use their influence to–”

Crowley interrupted her to ask: “The U.S. thinks they’re a terrorist organization though, correct? Do you?”

Pelosi responded: “Mmm hmm.”

Here’s a clue for Pelosi: when you start a thought with “the Qataris … have told me” what follows is likely to make you look extraordinarily silly. Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Of course it is. Pelosi doesn’t seem too sure about that, so she’s asked the Qataris and they vouch for them as a humanitarian organization. Now, it’s true that Pelosi isn’t setting American foreign policy, something for which the universe can be eternally grateful. But the fact that Pelosi even went on CNN to repeat what Hamas’s patrons told her about Hamas’s humanitarianism shows the extent to which the current Democratic leadership–and virtually no one else–has been fooled by Qatar.

It’s tempting to dismiss Pelosi because, well, she’s Nancy Pelosi. But here’s a terrifying thought: if Nancy Pelosi were running America’s Mideast policy, it would look a lot like the pyromania-in-a-dry-forest we’re seeing now from Kerry. And at the center of that diplomatic arson is Qatar.

It’s unclear why the Obama administration and its congressional Democratic allies have fallen for Qatar’s act when no one else has. Criticism of Qatar over its promotion of extremism in the region is not exactly limited to the hawkish right. Here is Foreign Policy chief David Rothkopf this morning: “Expecting Qatar to help solve Gaza crisis is like expecting a tobacco company to help you stop smoking.” He was reacting to a CNN op-ed by Sultan al-Qassemi, who wrote:

The truth is that Qatar’s overall strategy with the Muslim Brotherhood has failed miserably: It resulted in the alienation of the Brotherhood in Egypt — so much so that the group was ousted from power in a popularly-backed military coup, and meant that many Egyptians were indifferent to the bloody massacre of the group’s members that followed.

Qatari support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates elsewhere in the region, such as Libya, Jordan, and Tunisia, has also backfired resulting in them being sidelined from power. All of this adds to quite an unfortunate year for the Gulf emirate.

Qatar’s continuous financial and media support for the Muslim Brotherhood through the once-popular Al Jazeera Arabic, the 24-hour, Egypt-centric Mubasher Misr, which largely reflects a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, and a slew of new Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated news websites based in London, have further poisoned relations between Qatar and Egypt.

Israeli leaders can understand the American president’s desire for an immediate cessation of hostilities, even if they don’t agree with it. But the idea that Washington has decided to run Western policy through Qatar has left anyone who understands the Middle East completely puzzled. It would mark a significant shift and would signal to those in the region who rely on America that they’ll need to start, if they haven’t already, making backup plans.

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Is Qatar Becoming a Rogue Regime?

Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

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Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

The skeptics were right. Qatar has used its tremendous financial resources to become a major regional and international player. Its money speaks louder than words, and what it says suggests that tiny Qatar supports radical sectarian causes if not outright terrorism. Qatar, for example, has become, alongside Turkey, the chief supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups like Hamas. Increasingly, it also seems willing to seek to undermine the stability of those states surrounding it.

The Washington Post (via the Associated Press) now reports that Qatar is seeking the return of two of its citizens which authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested on charges of espionage. The charges seem to suggest that the alleged Qatari agents were seeking to bolster Islah, the Emirati branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a group covered here in COMMENTARY and which has maintained ties with both al-Qaeda and which has sought to overthrow the Emirati government.

The Washington Post references Al-Khaleej, a paper published in Sharjah which, in Arabic, reported:

Al-Khaleej has learned that the news carried by a Qatari newspaper on Qatari nationals detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in fact about the arrest of Qatari intelligence elements operating in the UAE and currently under investigation…This behavior confirms the general impression, consolidated day after day, that Qatar is not sincere in its reiterated pledge to banish the Muslim Brotherhood group from the country… Some observers monitoring Gulf affairs wondered once again about the real goals pursued by the Qatari foreign policy, which threatens to further isolate Doha… The observers, furthermore, highlighted the modus operandi that Qatar resorted to in the past, which manifested itself through the ambiguous relations of Abd-al-Rahman al-Nuaimi with Al-Karama Organization.

And the UAE’s Gulf News, in English, explores the accusations against the Qataris more fully:

“A group of Qatari men, directly overseen and controlled by the Qatari intelligence was arrested in the UAE,” a senior official told Gulf News. The official added the cell had been attempting to re-establish Al Islah group, linked to Egypt’s terrorist designated Muslim Brotherhood. Al Islah was disbanded after more than 65 people accused of plotting an Islamist coup in the UAE were handed prison terms — some up to 15 years — last year. Twenty six of the defendants were acquitted. The official said the Qatari cell had also been planning to recruit members and raise money for Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaida-linked rebel group in Syria fighting troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad.

While some people absolutely love Dubai, a city through which I often transit, I have to admit that I find it boring. There are only so many malls I can take; I much prefer Sharjah or Abu Dhabi, which many people would find even more boring. That said, in the Middle East nowadays, boring is good. Boring is what the U.S. government should strive for. That Qatar, after funding chaos in Egypt and radicalism in Syria, is working for ideological reasons to undermine one of the few stable governments in the region is not something which anyone should take lightly. The new Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has been in his position for only slightly more than a year, but either his promises of reform are hollow or his retired father Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani and his henchmen remain in effective control. It does not matter, however, which of those two scenarios explains current Qatari policy and the emirate’s willingness to fund instability and radicalism. The reality is that while Qatar is transforming itself into some sort of perverse Disneyland, it is using its excess money to bring terror to other states.

As Qatar transforms, the United States should not double down on rotten, but should proceed very, very carefully, lest its presence in Qatar become less a strategic asset and more a hostage to or shield for Qatari bad behavior.

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When Terrorists Tweet

My 1999 Ph.D. dissertation examined the introduction of the telegraph to 19th century Iran. At first, the Shah supported the telegraph: the wires made the Iranian government more efficient in a time of dwindling resources and power. Over the years, however, the opposition learned what a powerful tool the telegraph could be. The late-19th century was a time of battle for the new technology as both the government and opposition fought for the upper hand. Ultimately, the opposition won: the government lost its communications monopoly and the opposition was able to organize a mass movement culminating in a constitution revolution. There was a financial side to the technology as well: For much of the 19th century, Iran did not use paper money. It had done so once under the Mongols, but that experiment had failed. Caravans carried tons of coin over weeks in order to complete transactions. With the telegraph, however, various agents could complete trades in a matter of hours, with money changing hands not in Tehran but in London and St. Petersburg.

Twitter and other social media tools are the 21st century equivalent of that 19th century technology. They have empowered ordinary citizens in their fight for freedom and liberty against oppressive governments like those in Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Twitter was also a powerful tool, of course, in the Arab Spring protests that led to the ouster of dictators like Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Too often, however, Twitter is depicted as a panacea just as the telegraph once was 150 years ago. In the wrong hands Twitter can be used to undercut life and liberty as terrorists embrace the technology to raise funds and solicit support.

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My 1999 Ph.D. dissertation examined the introduction of the telegraph to 19th century Iran. At first, the Shah supported the telegraph: the wires made the Iranian government more efficient in a time of dwindling resources and power. Over the years, however, the opposition learned what a powerful tool the telegraph could be. The late-19th century was a time of battle for the new technology as both the government and opposition fought for the upper hand. Ultimately, the opposition won: the government lost its communications monopoly and the opposition was able to organize a mass movement culminating in a constitution revolution. There was a financial side to the technology as well: For much of the 19th century, Iran did not use paper money. It had done so once under the Mongols, but that experiment had failed. Caravans carried tons of coin over weeks in order to complete transactions. With the telegraph, however, various agents could complete trades in a matter of hours, with money changing hands not in Tehran but in London and St. Petersburg.

Twitter and other social media tools are the 21st century equivalent of that 19th century technology. They have empowered ordinary citizens in their fight for freedom and liberty against oppressive governments like those in Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Twitter was also a powerful tool, of course, in the Arab Spring protests that led to the ouster of dictators like Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Too often, however, Twitter is depicted as a panacea just as the telegraph once was 150 years ago. In the wrong hands Twitter can be used to undercut life and liberty as terrorists embrace the technology to raise funds and solicit support.

Alas, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are together showing how such technology can be used to kill rather than save helpless populations. Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaisani, who regularly uses Youtube to solicit funding for Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Syria, has now taken to Twitter to raise money for an Al Qaeda-style jihad. He is not shy about listing the Qatari and Turkish phone numbers to collect the pledges. That, of course, is simply further evidence that those two nominal U.S. allies are complicit in supporting terror.

(When I was in Syria in January, most everyone relied on Turkish cell phones, as it seemed that Turkey had bolstered its network’s power in order to cover more of northern Syria than it did before the conflict. Turkey therefore has good intelligence on almost everything occurring in that region of Syria, including the activities of the Nusra Front and the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham).

Al-Muhaisani’s feed is illuminating: According to this tweet, 650 Saudi riyals (about $175) buys 150 Kalashnikov bullets or 50 sniper bullets. Muhaisani’s official twitter account has almost 300,000 followers.

In the right hands, Twitter is a wonderful tool that threatens the autocratic monopoly over information and assembly. But, in the wrong hands, it enables terrorists to become more active and more lethal. The answer is not to ban the technology, but to monitor it closely. There is no need to tap it: Simply following it can provide an intelligence trove. Let us hope that the U.S. government and its counter-terror analysts will never be so gun shy, nor American diplomats too language-poor to tune into a source that is far more illuminating than so many of the classified cables that the likes of Edward Snowden dealt in.

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The Consequences of an Assad Victory

Now that we refer to the timeline of the Syrian civil war in years instead of days or months, it can be difficult to perceive singular turning points. But the reports coming today out of Homs Province on the battle over the strategic city of Qusayr seem to be describing just that. As the New York Times notes, the battle, which is pitting the Syrian government’s forces and Hezbollah against Syrian rebels, has resulted thus far in government control over more than half the city for the first time.

The importance of Qusayr can be gleaned from the Washington Post’s essential story from May 11 as well. “All [Assad’s forces] need now,” a Syrian analyst tells reporter Liz Sly, “is to hold the coast, Homs and Damascus, where the institutions of governance are.” The Assad regime has stabilized, and the portrait being painted now is one in which the outcome of the conflict is more likely than not to be a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power controlling most of the country except for some jihadist-run enclaves. But it would be a mistake to consider this a return to the status quo. In many ways, the perpetuation of current trends is going to yield a balance of power very different from the pre-war one.

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Now that we refer to the timeline of the Syrian civil war in years instead of days or months, it can be difficult to perceive singular turning points. But the reports coming today out of Homs Province on the battle over the strategic city of Qusayr seem to be describing just that. As the New York Times notes, the battle, which is pitting the Syrian government’s forces and Hezbollah against Syrian rebels, has resulted thus far in government control over more than half the city for the first time.

The importance of Qusayr can be gleaned from the Washington Post’s essential story from May 11 as well. “All [Assad’s forces] need now,” a Syrian analyst tells reporter Liz Sly, “is to hold the coast, Homs and Damascus, where the institutions of governance are.” The Assad regime has stabilized, and the portrait being painted now is one in which the outcome of the conflict is more likely than not to be a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power controlling most of the country except for some jihadist-run enclaves. But it would be a mistake to consider this a return to the status quo. In many ways, the perpetuation of current trends is going to yield a balance of power very different from the pre-war one.

If Assad does indeed retain power, it will bolster Iran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon because of the role played by the Iranian client Hezbollah. It will strengthen Iran’s hand in negotiations with the West, increase Iran’s threat to Israel, and encourage Iranian adventurism and expansionism thanks to President Obama’s penchant for lobbing empty threats. It will be more difficult to isolate Syria not only because of Iran’s increased influence across the region but because Russia will have taken a more public stance in support of the Assad regime. Additionally, if the U.S. plays any role in an armistice that leaves Assad in power the Obama administration will have endorsed Assad’s continued rule.

The other major difference between pre-war Syria and this vision of post-war Syria is the presence of Islamist extremists. Pre-war Syria was a police state with Assad firmly in control. There may have been jihadists there unconnected to the Assad regime, but not nearly to the extent there will be going forward. If the Post’s story is an accurate preview, post-war Syria will have jihadist carve-outs similar to Hezbollah’s center of control in south Lebanon. That will only further destabilize Lebanon and virtually assure some sustained low-level conflict in Syria even after an armistice is signed. (Ironically, it may bear some resemblance to Russia’s fight with Islamist extremists in the Caucasus.)

Strategically for the U.S., there is a difference between a jihadist safe haven in a country whose government cooperates with us to some extent, like Yemen or even Pakistan (the latter having the advantage of at least bordering on a state with U.S. troops–for now), and a jihadist safe haven operating out of a state like Syria. Such jihadists may be beyond the West’s reach, but they won’t be disconnected from Qatari cash. American strategists may think the Qatari link can stand in for our own, but the Qataris have been playing the U.S. and will continue to do so, and will now have a hand in influencing anti-Western extremists in Gaza, Syria, and, as the Wall Street Journal is reporting, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government.

The Times report closes on this note:

Mr. Assad, according to people who have spoken with him, believes that reasserting his hold in the province is crucial to maintaining control of a string of population centers in western Syria, and eventually to military campaigns to retake rebel-held territory in the north and east. Many analysts say that it is unlikely that the government will be able to regain control of those areas, but that it could consolidate its grip on the west, leading to a de facto division of the country.

Such a division would collapse whatever nominal independence Lebanon has because the Assad regime, buoyed by its military alliance with Hezbollah, would control areas that border on Lebanon. It would give Syria renewed control over Lebanese territory and expand Hezbollah’s reach as well. That might be a fair trade for Assad, but it wouldn’t be for Western interests. If Assad loses territory in Syria’s north or east, those areas may become Islamist operating bases near American allies–Iraq and to some extent Jordan to the east and southeast, Turkey to the north. The latter is a NATO ally with a predilection for funding some Islamic terror groups while fighting others.

Turkey has threatened to invoke NATO’s common defense obligations during the Syrian civil war, but is more likely to join Qatar in funding the jihadists on its border, if only to co-opt them instead of fight them. The danger posed by a permanent, well-funded, battle-scarred jihadist presence near Jordan is quite obvious, though seemingly underappreciated by too many in the West. It may be too late for any resolution that does not leave Assad in power, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking such an outcome would simply turn back the clock to 2011.

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What Netanyahu Understands About Qatar

The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.

The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:

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The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.

The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:

For a reality check, I spoke to two administration officials deeply engaged on the Syria question and on Qatar’s role in supporting the rebels. (They requested anonymity to speak freely.) They painted an unpretty picture. The officials were pleased by the role Qatar is playing in the Arab-Israeli peace process, but they were flummoxed by its support for Hamas — which directly undermines the possibility of achieving an equitable two-state solution (Hamas being, as it is, opposed to Israel’s existence). They were also concerned that Qatar may be supporting the most radical Syrian group, the Nusra Front, which is openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.

American officials who are “pleased by the role Qatar is playing in the Arab-Israeli peace process” while also acknowledging that Qatar funds Hamas–a terrorist government that has both the desire and ability to derail any progress on Arab-Israeli peace while constantly putting innocent lives in danger–are being scammed. And far too easily for people who work for the president of the United States.

Goldberg calls Qatar “an attention-starved teenager.” He puts the country’s foreign policy in context: Qatar supports Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and is believed to be funding the most radical Islamist groups in Syria; but Qatar also funds Brookings and hosts U.S. Central Command forward headquarters. Those are strategic calculations, and they are well-placed and well-played. On the diplomatic front, Qatar publicly claims to support Israeli-Palestinian peace while making certain to undermine it in every possible way.

But appearances–and money–are important, especially in a world with vanishing superpower influence. As Moises Naim notes in his new book, The End of Power:

One of the best examples of smaller countries that have used coalitions of the willing, economic diplomacy (i.e. a lot of money), and soft power to advance their interests must surely be Qatar. It led the way in toppling Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi by supplying rebels with money, training, and more than twenty thousand tons of weapons, and called early for the arming of rebels in Syria. It has attempted mediation in Yemen, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Palestine and–importantly–in Lebanon. Through an $85 billion investment fund, Qatar has bought into businesses from Volkswagen to the Paris St. Germain Football Club. And it is not only behind what is perhaps the most influential new news organization, the network Al Jazeera, but has been building up its reputation as a cultural center with top-rated museums of Islamic and Middle Eastern art as well as high-profile purchases of pieces by the likes of Warhol, Rothko, Cezanne, Koons, and Lichtenstein.

Throwing that kind of money around the worlds of soccer, art, news media, and violent revolution is the mark of a serious player in world affairs. But that doesn’t mean the Qataris are serious about each of those issues, or that the issues themselves are serious. I don’t mean to knock soccer or Cezanne, but simultaneously funding a wave of revolutions and the media on the ground covering them is a far better compass to guide our interpretation of Qatar’s intentions than partying with Brookings or making canned pronouncements that amount to, essentially, “peace is good; the Arabs and Jews should have more of it.”

Thus with regard to the Arab Peace Initiative, Qatar is attempting to play everyone for fools. Netanyahu recognizes this, because he is not a fool. His reaction, then, was to subtly shift attention from what Qatar claims to support–peace–to what it undeniably does support–anti-Semitic terrorist groups and their unending war against Israel, as well as anything that weakens Western influence in the region that creates a vacuum into which Qatar can step. Neither the Obama administration nor the Netanyahu government is put in an easy position by this, but it will not be made any easier by denying the obvious.

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Qatar’s Apartheid Fund

As Jews in America were preparing for their second seder (or perhaps recovering from the first), during which they sang “next year in Jerusalem,” representatives of the states that make up the Arab League were trying to figure out how to prevent that from occurring. Specifically, Mahmoud Abbas–the man some people still fancifully claim is a brave man of peace–was pleading for help from the Arab states to stop Jews from being able to live in their eternal capital and the spiritual center of their universe.

His hateful speechifying was not in vain. Qatar–a country on a singular mission to empower jihadists throughout the region–pledged to establish a special apartheid fund in the hopes of raising $1 billion. It won’t be called an apartheid fund, obviously, but its beneficiaries speak the language of bigotry. The Jerusalem Post reports:

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As Jews in America were preparing for their second seder (or perhaps recovering from the first), during which they sang “next year in Jerusalem,” representatives of the states that make up the Arab League were trying to figure out how to prevent that from occurring. Specifically, Mahmoud Abbas–the man some people still fancifully claim is a brave man of peace–was pleading for help from the Arab states to stop Jews from being able to live in their eternal capital and the spiritual center of their universe.

His hateful speechifying was not in vain. Qatar–a country on a singular mission to empower jihadists throughout the region–pledged to establish a special apartheid fund in the hopes of raising $1 billion. It won’t be called an apartheid fund, obviously, but its beneficiaries speak the language of bigotry. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Abbas hailed Qatar’s announcement that it would establish a special fund for Jerusalem with a $1 billion budget to support the Arab residents of the city and foil Israel’s attempts to “judaize” east Jerusalem.

This has been a Palestinian complaint for some time. Under Israeli control, both Jews and non-Jews are permitted to live throughout Jerusalem. Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan invaded and captured the city, Jews were not permitted to enter Jordanian territory. When Israel regained the Jewish capital, the apartheid policies were of course lifted and worshipers of any religion could live in the city and visit their respective holy sites.

The preferred Palestinian policy is one in which Arabs are permitted to live in any part of Jerusalem but Jews are forbidden from living in certain parts of the city. The State of Israel, obviously, rejects this. It isn’t quite clear how the Qatari apartheid fund is supposed to work. It can’t control housing policy in Israeli territory, but Qatari money is quite often put to violent purposes, so this is sure to raise alarm. On Monday, Haaretz had previewed the conference:

Speaking from his capital city, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani will reportedly commit a large sum of money to the cause and call on Arab states – especially in the Persian Gulf – to chip in. The fund will be managed by an Islamic investment bank and is expected to attract around $1 billion.

Palestinian Authority officials are skeptical, noting the Arab League has made and broken generous promises in the past, including one to provide their government with a financial safety net.

“We hope this time the decisions will be implemented in full,” a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

It is my great hope that one day Palestinian officials will be embarrassed to make these comments to newspapers, and it says something about the West’s bigotry of low expectations toward the Palestinians that it doesn’t express any outrage at the talk of apartheid funds as soon as President Obama leaves the region.

Complaints about “Judaizing” anything reflect the mindset of people with no interest in living in peace with their Jewish neighbors–they, in fact, would like there to be no Jewish neighbors at all. It also offers a good indication of the intentions of the current Palestinian leadership were they to get their own fully sovereign state. And this “Judenrein” mindset inculcates a predilection toward separatism and xenophobia in Palestinian youth. It’s the sort of thing Hillary Clinton used to call child abuse when she was running for Senate in New York. Perhaps we’ll hear such forthright language if and when Clinton runs for president and reclaims the kind of moral leadership anathema to Foggy Bottom.

It also has broader consequences. In his Tablet column today, Michael Moynihan writes of Danish journalist Martin Krasnik’s experiment in which he walked through his town in Denmark wearing a yarmulke. It did not go very well, and he received all manner of threats. Krasnik is a political liberal, but he and other Danes are expressing both sorrow and fear at the anti-Semitism “imported from the Middle East,” especially in more heavily Palestinian neighborhoods and schools. It seems Palestinians, taking a cue from their nominal political leader Abbas, do not constrain their opposition to “Judaization” to Jerusalem or even the Palestinian territories. Abbas feeds and encourages hatred of Jews to such an extent that Palestinians seem resistant to living in peace with Jews anywhere in the world.

And Qatar hopes to encourage this mindset to the tune of $1 billion.

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The Qatari Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy

The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.

And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing:

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The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.

And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is set to appoint a top former Qatari diplomat as his high representative of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, reinforcing the oil sheikdom’s standing as a rising diplomatic powerhouse.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, a former Qatari envoy to the United Nations who served as U.N. General Assembly president last year, will replace Jorge Sampaio, a former Portuguese president who currently heads the organization.

The decision places a trusted Western ally at the head of an organization that aims to bridge the cultural gap between the West and the Islamic world.

As the West fetes this “trusted Western ally,” it’s worth pointing out that Qatar’s growing influence in the Middle East has been almost completely negative and counter to American interests. Qatar funds anti-Western propaganda through Al Jazeera, which just purchased Al Gore’s television station–though the network is more benign than the other projects Qatar throws money at.

As I wrote here recently, over the last few years Qatar has stiffed the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas on its pledges when there was concern Abbas wouldn’t share the funds with Hamas. When the Hamas-run Gaza and Fatah-run West Bank became in effect two separate and distinct political entities, Qatar solved its problem by simply giving the money–at times up to $400 million–directly to Hamas. As Abbas presses Arab states for the money they’ve pledged to his cash-strapped PA, Qatar has continued the pattern. This enables Hamas terrorism, weakens the more moderate Fatah, and decreases the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.

But Qatar’s mischievous ambitions aren’t limited to the Palestinian territories. In October, the Obama White House noticed a trend in Syria that, the New York Times reported, “casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.” And what was this disturbing development in the struggle to help Syrians free themselves from the shackles of authoritarianism and give them a chance at liberty? The Times explained:

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

So we relied on Qatar to distribute aid to freedom fighters and they spent the money on arming Islamist extremist groups. It should be noted that at this point those extremist groups–one of which we just designated a terrorist organization–then took the lead in the Syrian rebellion and made it nearly impossible for the West to do anything to help those we would actually want to help.

There is no question that Qatar has become a serious player in Mideast geopolitics and now worldwide with the surging popularity of Al Jazeera. But there is also no question that “trusted Western ally” is a strange moniker for a country at the forefront of efforts to undermine American foreign policy at every turn.

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Gore Turned Down Glenn Beck for Qatar

The Wall Street Journal reports that Glenn Beck–who approached Current TV about a sale last year–was too right-wing for the network to even consider his offer. But an authoritarian-Islamist government that has criminalized homosexuality, discriminates against non-Muslims, prosecutes journalists, and has a “Not Free” rating from Freedom House? That was fine:

Before Al-Jazeera, there was Glenn Beck.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Glenn Beck’s media company, The Blaze, approached Current Media about a sale last year, but was told in the words of one source that “the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view.”

The Blaze “reached out to them to buy it,” a source familiar with the talks told POLITICO. “They would have replaced Current programming with The Blaze programming, but were told on initial calls that [Current] wouldn’t sell to someone they weren’t ideologically in line with.”

In explaining the reasons for selling to Al-Jazeera, Current co-founder and CEO Joel Hyatt told the Journal that the Qatari-based broadcaster “was founded with the same goals we had for Current,” including “to give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard” and “to speak truth to power.”

Sure, Al Jazeera can “speak truth to power,” as long as the powerful are not in Qatar.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that Glenn Beck–who approached Current TV about a sale last year–was too right-wing for the network to even consider his offer. But an authoritarian-Islamist government that has criminalized homosexuality, discriminates against non-Muslims, prosecutes journalists, and has a “Not Free” rating from Freedom House? That was fine:

Before Al-Jazeera, there was Glenn Beck.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Glenn Beck’s media company, The Blaze, approached Current Media about a sale last year, but was told in the words of one source that “the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view.”

The Blaze “reached out to them to buy it,” a source familiar with the talks told POLITICO. “They would have replaced Current programming with The Blaze programming, but were told on initial calls that [Current] wouldn’t sell to someone they weren’t ideologically in line with.”

In explaining the reasons for selling to Al-Jazeera, Current co-founder and CEO Joel Hyatt told the Journal that the Qatari-based broadcaster “was founded with the same goals we had for Current,” including “to give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard” and “to speak truth to power.”

Sure, Al Jazeera can “speak truth to power,” as long as the powerful are not in Qatar.

Whatever your feelings about Glenn Beck, he doesn’t advocate government censorship of the Internet or crackdowns on dissidents for “insulting” the nation’s leadership. He also isn’t funded primarily by the oil and gas industry, which Al Gore has spent his post-government career criticizing. So the fact that Qatari-owned Al Jazeera is supposedly more ideologically compatible with Current TV than Glenn Beck gives you an idea of how far off the left is from any genuine position of liberalism.

But Al Jazeera’s Qatari funding also raises other questions for Current TV. While foreign, authoritarian government-funded networks aren’t required to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, they often act as propaganda arms for their respective regimes (a prime example being the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, which now goes by the inconspicuous moniker RT). Al Jazeera is no exception, pushing an editorial line that supports the ruling emir’s interests, along with a clear anti-Western and anti-Israel slant. This isn’t something that will play well with advertisers or cable providers–Time Warner Cable dropped Current TV almost immediately after the sale was announced. If outside pressure mounts, others could follow suit. After all, it’s not as if Current TV had strong ratings to begin with.

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Why a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Is Unrealistic

On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.

A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:

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On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.

A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:

While it is unclear if Jordan will ever end up having any sovereign role in the West Bank, support for a greater role for Jordan in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will no doubt increase in the coming months and years if the current decline of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority continues. The one determining factor in all of the discussions will have to come from the Israeli side, which has yet to decide whether it will relinquish sovereignty over the areas occupied in 1967 to any Arab party, whether it be Palestinian or Jordanian.

In fact, that is not case. The Israeli government has publicly committed itself to the notion of two states for two peoples, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly he doesn’t want to “rule over” the Palestinians. The popularity of “Jordan is Palestine” among Israeli military personalities and even some on the right shows that many Israelis are certainly willing to “relinquish sovereignty” over much of the West Bank (and Gaza, which they have already done) if they feel secure in doing so. But the Arab world—now that’s a different story.

Arab states in the Middle East, especially those near the Palestinian territories, have never made any secret of their opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Diplomatically, they have torpedoed the process every chance they’ve had. And the closer the two sides get, or the more time they spend in negotiations, the less money Arab states tend to offer the Palestinian Authority to keep it afloat. At times, the West is lucky if the Arab states even let Abbas negotiate.

In the summer of 2008, as the U.S. tried to re-engage in the peace process, the Washington Post reported that Arab states were not delivering the aid they pledged to the Palestinian Authority. More troubling was why: when the terrorist entity Hamas left the PA unity government (I use the term “unity” loosely here), the checks stopped coming. The Arab states were sabotaging the peace process by funding radical terrorist elements that opposed peace and supported continuous terrorism against Israel, while refusing to support the more moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority. That was under the Bush administration, but almost exactly three years later the Obama administration faced the same problem when it noticed that Arab aid to the Palestinians had fallen more than 80 percent in a two-year span.

States like Qatar continue to undermine the PA and Abbas by flooding Hamas-run Gaza with cash while leaving the PA to beg for scraps. (The Saudis aren’t much better in this department.)

The other problem for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation is that while the Palestinians would have a technically independent state, they would surely have some restrictions that they have always balked at. Israeli negotiators have said repeatedly that the Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and that the IDF would still play a role in security there, including approving the use of Palestinian airspace. A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation would likely have similar Palestinian restrictions, with Jordan playing a larger role than Israel on some of these issues.

And finally, there is another reason Jordan is unlikely to want to join such a confederation. What if the Palestinians decided they didn’t want Jordanian military personnel on their new state’s territory after a few years? Would the Jordanians fight an armed uprising against their military installations? Would they risk re-occupying and absorbing the Palestinians on the West Bank? Once Abbas is gone, would an agreement he signed on behalf of the Palestinians be worth the paper on which it was written?

The fact remains that Arab states do not want the creation of a Palestinian state, and, unlike with regard to Israel, the international community doesn’t much pressure them to take a more proactive approach, despite both Jordan’s and Egypt’s obvious role bringing about the current situation by repeatedly launching wars of annihilation against the Jewish state. An Arab world that played a constructive role in the conflict would be a first.

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Echoes of Afghanistan in Syria?

As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.

The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

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As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.

The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

And it is not only in Libya that those arms have been a destabilizing influence: “Some of the arms since have been moved from Libya to militants with ties to Al Qaeda in Mali, where radical jihadi factions have imposed Shariah law in the northern part of the country, the former Defense Department official said. Others have gone to Syria, according to several American and foreign officials and arms traders.”

The dangers of allowing Gulf states to act as our proxies should have been clear from the experience of Afghanistan in the 1980s where the Saudis empowered the most radical mujahideen groups, some of which are now fighting U.S. troops. Libya reinforces that lesson. Yet, bizarrely, we are making precisely the same mistake today in Syria.

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Outsourcing Syrian Rebel Support to Gulf States Has Consequences

On one level, the news from Syria is encouraging–Bashar Assad’s regime is losing ground. The rebel forces are fighting on the outskirts of the capital and have managed to capture several military bases, at least temporarily. Many analysts think that the Syrian army is cracking–a plausible if perhaps premature conclusion at this point.

But there is still cause for alarm, not only in the fact that the killing continues, but also in the fact that it is hard-line Salafists who appear to be making the biggest military gains on the ground, to the consternation of more secular rebels, thus raising the specter of Syria becoming a Taliban-like state after Assad’s downfall–or, at the very least, the specter of Taliban-like extremists gaining control of substantial territorial enclaves. If that were to occur, the U.S. would have no to blame but itself because the Obama administration’s current policy of not arming the rebels is providing Persian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar with an opening to shape the uprising in their own twisted image.

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On one level, the news from Syria is encouraging–Bashar Assad’s regime is losing ground. The rebel forces are fighting on the outskirts of the capital and have managed to capture several military bases, at least temporarily. Many analysts think that the Syrian army is cracking–a plausible if perhaps premature conclusion at this point.

But there is still cause for alarm, not only in the fact that the killing continues, but also in the fact that it is hard-line Salafists who appear to be making the biggest military gains on the ground, to the consternation of more secular rebels, thus raising the specter of Syria becoming a Taliban-like state after Assad’s downfall–or, at the very least, the specter of Taliban-like extremists gaining control of substantial territorial enclaves. If that were to occur, the U.S. would have no to blame but itself because the Obama administration’s current policy of not arming the rebels is providing Persian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar with an opening to shape the uprising in their own twisted image.

The Washington Post has a telling quote from a rebel leader:

“The lack of support by the international community has led to a situation where support is coming from the gulf states and from Syrian businessmen in those states,” Col. Malik Kurdi, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, said in an interview. “These are people who have the ideology of Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. They started supporting groups who have the same ideology in Syria, and some adopted this ideology to get financial support.”

The newspaper goes on to note that while many jihadist groups have emerged in Syria, the most successful one is “Jabhat al-Nusra, which is thought to have links to al-Qaeda.” It has “asserted responsibility for a series of suicide attacks against military and security targets,” and it has “overrun at least two government military bases in the past two weeks, collecting weapons left behind by Syrian troops.”

Even if Assad appears to be in danger of falling (and such impressions can be deceiving–he has been frustrating predictions of his demise for almost two years now), it is imperative that the U.S. do more to help the opposition so as to shape the nature of the post-Assad regime.

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Hamas’s All-of-the-Above Approach to Regional Alliances

The New York Times has a hopeful but ultimately unconvincing analysis today proclaiming the rise of a more constructive Sunni “axis” in the Middle East. The theory is that Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt are challenging the hegemonic Iran and the civil war-torn Syria, and that this trio’s closer relationship to the Hamas terrorist gang running the Gaza Strip will prize diplomacy and stability over war while weakening Iran.

Of course this is what Western diplomats have hoped–and continue to hope–will one day become a reality. But at this point, not only is it premature to announce this new Middle East, but the thesis has actually taken quite a beating in the last two weeks. Here’s the Times describing the opportunity for a regional shift:

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The New York Times has a hopeful but ultimately unconvincing analysis today proclaiming the rise of a more constructive Sunni “axis” in the Middle East. The theory is that Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt are challenging the hegemonic Iran and the civil war-torn Syria, and that this trio’s closer relationship to the Hamas terrorist gang running the Gaza Strip will prize diplomacy and stability over war while weakening Iran.

Of course this is what Western diplomats have hoped–and continue to hope–will one day become a reality. But at this point, not only is it premature to announce this new Middle East, but the thesis has actually taken quite a beating in the last two weeks. Here’s the Times describing the opportunity for a regional shift:

But uprising, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by a Sunni Muslim alliance of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. That triumvirate played a leading role in helping end the eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza, in large part by embracing Hamas and luring it further away from the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah fold, offering diplomatic clout and promises of hefty aid.

Let’s start with the obvious objection to this theory, which the Times itself offers in the next paragraph, noting that “while these Sunni leaders are willing to work with Washington, unlike the mullahs in Tehran, they also promote a radical religious-based ideology that has fueled anti-Western sentiment around the region.” They certainly do promote this ideology, and this ideology stands at odds with freedom, peace, and human rights–three things needed in the neighborhood much more than guns, missiles and no-strings-attached cash. This ideology prioritizes “resistance”–code for terrorism against Israel–and as such actually spreads support for resorting to violence rather than act as a break on the inclination.

The second problem with this theory is that Hamas never actually “broke with” Iran, which the article claims. Hamas, in fact, gets weapons from Iran. Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s political chief, went on CNN at the tail end of Operation Pillar of Defense to announce his continuing relationship with Iran. Last night, Palestinians in Gaza put up billboards in four languages thanking Iran for helping them attempt to wage permanent war against Israel.

Is it possible to accept long-range missiles from Iran and $400 million checks from Qatar? Indeed it is, and that certainly appears to be what Hamas is doing.

And of course there is reason to believe that the support for Hamas coming from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership and Turkey’s increasingly Islamist (and, at times, approaching fanatical) government may have the opposite of the intended effect. (Or, rather, the opposite of the effect the Times wishes were intended; Turkey and Egypt probably know exactly what they are doing.)

As Jonathan has written, Egypt’s support for Hamas has emboldened the terrorist group. This is only logical, as Hamas now has a major Arab state that shares a border both with Israel and the Strip that is its ideological ally. I shed no tears for the demise of the Mubarak regime, whose fault much of this is, but from Hamas’s perspective the country went from actively suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood to being dominated by it. The belief that this will cause Hamas to moderate seems like wishful thinking–there certainly is no evidence of it.

Turkey, meanwhile, as the Times has recently reported, has marginalized itself with its support of Hamas. Far from being a regional power broker, its extremist drift has been a major factor in its geopolitical divorce with Israel, robbing the country of its previous claim to fame as the only trusted mediator in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab states.

The Times is certainly correct, however, that the fall of the House of Assad would strike a serious blow to Iran’s influence in the region. Unfortunately, reports of Assad’s fall have been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, even a weakened Assad–which is surely what he is now–is good for the region in the long run, though is mostly a source of death, destruction, and instability in the near-term. And it’s hard to argue that Qatar isn’t preferable to Syria as a regional actor. But again, many of these developments have yet to actually happen.

The new Middle East is, for now, strikingly similar to the old Middle East.

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Arab World Chooses Hamas over Fatah in Palestinian Rivalry

It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

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It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

In August, I wrote about Saudi Arabia’s $500 million investment in Gaza. Today, the New York Times reports on the emir of Qatar’s visit to Gaza and the announcement of his country’s $400 million pledged investment there:

“Today you are a big guest, great guest, declaring officially the breaking of the political and economic siege that was imposed on Gaza,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, told the emir and his cohort as they sat on sofas in a white shed in the southern town of Khan Yunis, where they plan to erect 1,000 apartments. “Today, we declare the victory on this siege through this blessed, historic visit.”

In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds.

That last part is actually quite embarrassing for Abbas. Begging for a visit from the Qatari emir is really begging for a visit from the Qatari emir’s checkbook, irrespective of whether the emir himself accompanies it on the trip. If the Hamas-Fatah rivalry is a zero-sum game–and it doesn’t always have to be, but usually is–then what we are witnessing in Gaza, thanks to the supposed friends of the Palestinians, is the construction of an entity that is arguably more of a state than what currently exists in the West Bank.

I mentioned yesterday that Jimmy Carter is making no secret of his attempts to impede the establishment of a Palestinian state by sabotaging negotiations and encouraging Abbas to declare statehood at the UN. In addition to all the obvious problems with this, what would stop it from setting a precedent that Hamas could follow in Gaza? Sure, the PA would ostensibly declare their state to include Gaza, but couldn’t Hamas then secede if it wanted to?

Of course that’s unlikely to happen, in part because the PA’s bid for statehood continues to be opposed by the West. But it’s long past time for Mideast watchers to at least acknowledge that the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, are, like Carter, actively working to incentivize Palestinian radicalization rather than moderation.

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When Israel and the Arab States Agree

The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

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The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

Using the Iran example to touch off this debate is nonsensical. First of all, including Iran in the “Arab world” usually leads to a misunderstanding of the Islamic Republic, since it is not an Arab state (though that doesn’t mean it has nothing in common with its Arab neighbors). But even more bizarre is the fact that the Times thinks Israel and the Arab states are on opposing sides on the issue. They are not. Last year, as Oren Kessler reported, the WikiLeaks cables proved what anyone with any experience with the region’s politics and history already expected: there was “unanimous” support for taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kessler wrote:

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged Washington to “cut off the head of the snake,” and both he and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak described the Islamic Republic as “evil” and untrustworthy.

An Iranian nuclear weapon, Mubarak warned, was liable to set off a region-wide arms race.

“Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb,” added Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate. “Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

In the Persian Gulf, the rulers of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were all reportedly in favor of a strike.

So too was the king of Bahrain, where a Sunni elite rules over a large Shi’ite majority and which officials in Iran have described as the country’s “fifteenth province.”

Mubarak may be gone, but there seems to be no other outdated exception to the story. This wasn’t the only such report, however. Saudi Arabia appears to be making preparations for any oil disruption caused by an attack on Iran. That is in their interest whether they support an attack or not, since they would still need to get their product to market safely, but it would also keep the price of their oil from skyrocketing, which dramatically reduces the harm to the West in the event of an attack or disruption.

And as Shai Feldman wrote with regard to the region’s Sunni Arab states, “None of these countries uttered a word when in 2007 Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Sunni-Arab Syria.”

So contra the New York Times, the Arab states are not only assuming the U.S. would support Israel on the Iran issue, but hoping and lobbying for such support.

As for the Times’s discredited and debunked suggestion that strong support for Israel works against American diplomacy, I suppose it’s worth repeating that Israel has proven time and again to be far more willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the peace process when U.S. support is strong and “daylight” between the two is minimized. But that’s the obvious part of this that everyone knows. The Iran aspect of the debate introduction, however, shows the Times to be strikingly unaware of what the Arab states actually want from the United States.

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Beware Gulf States’ Role in Syria

Every day seems to bring fresh, horrific revelations of atrocities in Syria, which Amnesty International says amount to crimes against humanity. The latest news concerns the Sunni village of Al Heffa in the northwest, where UN monitors found “fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons.”

The Obama administration remains committed, it appears, to staying on the sidelines of this growing crisis, but it is finding it hard to ignore entirely the cause of the rebels. Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives have increased contacts with the opposition. But rather than provide arms directly to the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. representatives are content to let Gulf states do the dirty work. As the Journal notes, the “U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”

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Every day seems to bring fresh, horrific revelations of atrocities in Syria, which Amnesty International says amount to crimes against humanity. The latest news concerns the Sunni village of Al Heffa in the northwest, where UN monitors found “fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons.”

The Obama administration remains committed, it appears, to staying on the sidelines of this growing crisis, but it is finding it hard to ignore entirely the cause of the rebels. Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives have increased contacts with the opposition. But rather than provide arms directly to the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. representatives are content to let Gulf states do the dirty work. As the Journal notes, the “U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”

On the surface this may appear to be “smart power” in action: Why should the U.S. take the lead if allies are willing to do it? But actually this is a fundamentally dumb and dangerous policy which risks repeating the same mistake the U.S. made in the 1980s when we subcontracted the arming of the Afghan mujahideen to the Pakistanis and Saudis. Who did these fundamentalist-dominated states choose to support? Not surprisingly, the bulk of their support went to brutal Afghan fundamentalists such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyr–closely connected to an obscure Saudi financer named Osama bin Laden–rather than to more moderate and pro-Western figures such as Ahmad Shah Massoud. We are now paying the price for building up Haqqani, Hekmatyr, et. al: They have gone from fighting the Red Army to fighting NATO forces and their allies in Afghanistan.

For this reason, I am considerably alarmed by news of the growing Saudi, Emirati and Qatari role in Syria. These are not the countries we want determining the future of Syria. Yet the longer we stand on the sidelines, the more their role will grow. Heaven help us if their proxies come to power in Syria as they eventually did in Afghanistan.

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Bring the War to the Taliban

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made diplomacy with the Taliban the cornerstone of their diplomatic strategy in Afghanistan. Never mind that neither the late Richard Holbrooke nor his successor Marc Grossman have ever bothered to conduct lessons learned from the Clinton administration’s disastrous experience talking to the Taliban.

The Taliban launched another attack on the Western presence in Afghanistan overnight as they attacked the Green Village, a major compound housing thousands of Western contractors and NGOs. Rather than being weak, the Taliban are demonstrating renewed vigor and operational capacity in the heart of ISAF territory. The same Taliban groups with whom the Americans and British now negotiate have, since the beginning of dialogue, attacked hotels in Kabul, the British and American embassies, and Afghan government buildings. There appears to be a direct correlation between the urgency of State Department outreach and the boldness of Taliban attacks.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made diplomacy with the Taliban the cornerstone of their diplomatic strategy in Afghanistan. Never mind that neither the late Richard Holbrooke nor his successor Marc Grossman have ever bothered to conduct lessons learned from the Clinton administration’s disastrous experience talking to the Taliban.

The Taliban launched another attack on the Western presence in Afghanistan overnight as they attacked the Green Village, a major compound housing thousands of Western contractors and NGOs. Rather than being weak, the Taliban are demonstrating renewed vigor and operational capacity in the heart of ISAF territory. The same Taliban groups with whom the Americans and British now negotiate have, since the beginning of dialogue, attacked hotels in Kabul, the British and American embassies, and Afghan government buildings. There appears to be a direct correlation between the urgency of State Department outreach and the boldness of Taliban attacks.

Dialogue is an important tool in the U.S. strategic arsenal, but if misapplied, it can extract a high cost. Before engaging in dialogue with enemies, it is important to set the right circumstances. When President Ronald Reagan engaged Mikhail Gorbachev, he did so only after ensuring he could do so from a position of strength.

Alas, the Foreign Service Institute may preach peace and dialogue, but it fails at its job to inculcate strategy. At present, the Taliban see America as desperate, hoping to strike a deal before fleeing, Obama’s speech notwithstanding. The United States has allowed the Taliban to open an office in Qatar—not only giving the group diplomatic legitimacy but also opening new fundraising opportunities—and has offered a series of unilateral concessions to the group, including releasing terrorists and human rights abusers from Guantanamo Bay. In exchange, the United States has gotten absolutely nothing. It should not surprise that the Taliban do not see the Americans as strong.

If the Obama administration wants the Taliban to take diplomacy seriously, it must convince Mullah Omar that the alternative is far worse. If the Taliban seeks to bolster its negotiating position by launching attacks, it is time for American forces to do likewise—not precise attacks to take out a single high value target, but missions to slaughter hundreds of Taliban fighters regardless of their rank and wherever they seek to hide. If diplomacy is to work—and, with an ideological adversary like the Taliban I strongly doubt it will—it is time to presage it with a slaughter, the likes of which the Taliban has never experienced.

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