On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.
Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:
Last month, I published a lengthy analysis on Iranian activity in Africa for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office. Long story short, while the United States more or less ignores Africa, the Iranians have been quite busy there. The Iranian focus is three-fold: Cultivating relationships with states that have votes on the UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors; expanding ties with countries prospecting for or mining uranium; and making a hard push to find bases along littoral states in order to expand the Iranian navy’s operational reach.
There have been a number of incidents, however, to show that Iranian outreach is more malign:
There is an unfortunate pattern in which countries believe that they can utilize al-Qaeda against their enemies, and never suffer the consequence for such cynicism at home. In the early 1990s, for example, Saudis both publicly and privately donated to al-Qaeda. The extremists’ jihad was fine—even honorable—many Saudis believed so long as they fought abroad and not within Saudi Arabia itself. While al-Qaeda was perfectly happy accepting Saudi largesse, within a decade al-Qaeda terrorists were striking at the Kingdom, targeting not only foreign compounds but also seeking to assassinate members of the ruling family.
Syria likewise played with al-Qaeda throughout much of the last decade, turning Syrian territory into an underground railroad for suicide bombers and other terrorists destined for Iraq. The Sinjar documents (analyzed here in an excellent report by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter) show how al-Qaeda transited Syria with the cognizance if not direct assistance of senior Syrian officials. Today, of course, al-Qaeda-linked radicals have turned their guns on the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad played with fire, and his regime got burned.
In 2007, Cracked devoted one of its beloved lists to “The 7 Least-Faithful Comic Book Movies.” Given the proliferation of comic book adaptations to the big screen, and the famously high standards of the fans of each graphic novel, competition was no doubt fierce. The piece opens: “Look, Hollywood, we understand that film is a different medium than comic books. We realize that changes must be made, storylines streamlined, art design massaged.”
“But,” the author adds, “there are some films that we cannot forgive.” Indeed, high standards for authenticity are one thing, the understandable desire of fans to see a film that shares more than a title with its namesake is quite another. And so some artistic alterations in one version of the new Iron Man film are sure to raise eyebrows among viewers. Even more notable, however, is why those changes were made. The Washington Post reports:
The Washington Times reports on a possible hacker-jihad alliance. The anarchist group Anonymous is launching new cyberattacks against the U.S. government. But “the attacks are being promoted by the moderators of websites and discussion forums that host al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist material, in addition to calls through more conventional hacker channels like the bulletin board Pastebin.” According to the Department of Homeland Security, “This collaboration may signal an emerging trend of Middle East- and North Africa-based criminally motivated hackers collaborating with others regardless of their motivation.”
It would only be shocking if this didn’t prove to be the start of an emerging trend. But it’s not that hackers and jihadists would collaborate “regardless of motivation.” Rather, they share a motivation. Back in March 2011, I wrote about the affinity between anarchist hackers and jihadists:
Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.
The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.
In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.
What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:
Today’s violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories contains some uncomfortable truths for Israel’s detractors, but also serves as a helpful microcosm of the larger conflict. A 30-year-old Israeli man, Eviatar Borovsky, was stabbed to death at a bus stop at Tapuach Junction by a Palestinian man, who was captured by border guards and taken into custody. A few hours later in Gaza, Haitham al-Mishal, a Palestinian involved in the production of rockets, was killed in a targeted strike by the IDF.
But the details that fill in the rest of the picture are a useful guide to the behavior of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
Riding a wave of media-driven indignation and fueled by polls that showed broad popular support for background checks, gun control advocates are claiming they won’t wait until after the next election to try again to pass another version of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s an open question as to whether their arguments will resonate with the red state Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the majority of Republicans against any gun bill, or whether they can persuade some in the GOP caucus to flip. But exploiting the Boston Marathon bombing the same way they’ve relentlessly waved the bloody shirt of the Newtown massacre won’t do the trick.
Guns did play a role in the Tsarnaev brothers’ crimes. And since Tamerlan Tsarnaev had already been placed in the database of the FBI, theoretically a background check on a prospective weapons purchase by him might have triggered an intervention by law enforcement authorities before the tragedy occurred. That’s what motivated Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York to take to the floor of the House on Friday to argue that Boston gives us another reason to pass a background checks law with the inflammatory style we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun crowd:
The pro-gun lobby insists that the next terrorist should still be able to buy all the assault weapons they want and all the 100-round magazines they need, no problem, no background check necessary. And the next terrorist and the next Tamerlan thinks they’re absolutely right.
The problem with Representative Maloney’s argument isn’t just that it’s despicable of her to accuse groups like the National Rifle Association of supporting terror (though that’s a line that probably went down well with most of her Upper East Side constituency), it’s that the facts of the case flatly contradict the pro-gun control narrative. As I wrote last week, the guns the Tsarnaevs used to kill one police officer and wound another did not have legal permits. Neither did their pressure cooker bombs.
Law enforcement officials are touting news that the Boston Marathon bombers acted alone. The source for their conclusion? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has averred from his hospital bed that he and his brother had no links to any terrorist organization. This may or may not be true; it’s possible that even if Dzhokhar is sincere he may not have known about links cultivated by his brother during Tamerlan’s sojourn to Dagestan last year. But even if it’s true that their bombing was not directed by foreign terrorist organizations, it was certainly inspired by them.
In seeking to explain their heinous actions, Dzhokhar cited an alleged war against Islam waged by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming that U.S. troops have been responsible for most civilian deaths in those countries. This is blatantly not true (the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist groups have killed far more civilians and they have done so deliberately, not accidentally as in the case of most “collateral damage” caused by U.S. forces). But it is a standard al-Qaeda propaganda line that the brothers swallowed–along with the more general al-Qaeda justifications for making war on “infidels.” More than that, it appears that the brothers may have gotten bomb-making instructions from Inspire, the English-language magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Despite the most fervent hopes of some writers over at Salon.com, the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing are not “white Americans”–a classification Salon used to exclude Islamists–preferably with a subscription to National Review and COMMENTARY. In fact, the accumulating evidence (see here) points to two young men who were radicalized and became jihadists. Which ought to remind us that even if many people in this nation have grown weary in the struggle with militant Islam, our enemies remain engaged, ruthless and malevolent.
The events in Boston are of course not nearly as traumatic or historic as what happened on September 11, 2001. Since that fateful day, our government has massively degraded the ability of organized groups to attack us, and that counts for a lot.
Still, in Boston last week scores of innocent people were either killed or maimed, a great city was locked down for a day, and the psychological effects of the attacks may last for some time. (The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg refers to this as “the era of the suspicious package.”) If terrorists decide to strike at “soft” targets–sporting events, shopping malls, coffee shops, elementary schools, and so forth–then life in America will change in important ways.
Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.
As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”
It is ironic that the Boston Marathon bombing occurred the same day that a Washington think tank called the Constitution Project unveiled a report, signed by a bipartisan group of retired worthies, excoriating many of the tactics used to fight terrorism. The headline finding, which earned front-page coverage in the New York Times, is that “U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture.”
I cannot help but agree with this conclusion: Bush administration whitewash about “enhanced interrogation techniques” notwithstanding, many of the measures employed by interrogators on a small number of terrorism suspects, such as the use of waterboarding, did amount to torture as commonly understood. Where I part company with the self-righteous commission is in its excoriation of administration officials for ordering steps that they believed necessary to defend the United States and which arguably were necessary if one believes the testimony of former officials that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were responsible for uncovering Osama bin Laden. Instead of showing any understanding for or sympathy toward the mindset of those charged with protecting us after 9/11, however, the commission writes:
As a tragic Patriot’s Day finally comes to a close, we are still left with few answers to too many questions about the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon. All we know is that the death toll has grown to three including one child and the number of wounded is now set at 144. We don’t know who committed this heinous act or why they did it, and those television pundits playing the guessing game as to whether it is the work of foreign terrorists or the domestic killers, Islamists or right-wing extremists, are embarrassing themselves and their networks. But there should be no doubt about the fact that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism.
There is some debate about the fact that President Obama chose not to use the word terror or terrorism in describing what happened. So long as there is so much that is unknown about these events caution is called for, so we won’t quibble about his use of the word on Monday. But with the bombs being described as loaded with anti-personnel shrapnel so as to maximize casualties there is no doubt that what has occurred is an act of terrorism.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of addressing the World Affairs Council of Houston on the question of Turkey. My basic theme was that there has been a transformation in Turkey, and so it is important that U.S. officials recognize that when discussing Turkey as a model. In the question-and-answer session which followed, a young diplomat from the Turkish consulate who was unhappy with both the choice of speaker and the speech pushed back on one part of my talk, in which I suggested that the United States was unhappy with Turkey’s support for the Nusra Front in Syria.
I’ve discussed previously at COMMENTARY both the Nusra Front and its designation as a terrorist group by the U.S. government, as well as Turkey’s willingness to arm the radical Islamist group in the belief that an al-Qaeda affiliate controlling territory in Syria is better for Turkey’s national security than the secular but Kurdish nationalist Democratic Union Party (PYD) doing likewise. When challenged in parliament about Turkish support for Nusra Front, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s increasingly shrill foreign minister, castigated negative descriptions of the Nusra Front as the work of “neo-cons and pro-Israelis in America,” his code-word for Jews.
While I ask that with tongue in cheek, the question really is not so far-fetched, according to the latest report from the inestimable Palestinian Media Watch:
Recently, Palestinian Media Watch reported that Norway’s Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, admitted that the Foreign Ministry had given Parliament “imprecise” information ”obtained from the PA” and from PM Salam Fayyad, denying the PA’s use of donor money to pay salaries to security prisoners imprisoned in Israel, among them terrorists.
PMW exposed these salary payments for the first time in 2011, but Norway’s Foreign Minister had told Parliament that these payments were social welfare to the families, based on the false information supplied by the PA… MP Anders Anundsen, the Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs, stated to NRK TV that he was not satisfied with the Foreign Minister’s answer, specifically questioning when the Foreign Minister became aware that it had passed on false information from the PA to Parliament.
Lest anyone need a reminder of just who was on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship which Israel lawfully stopped in international waters as it tried to run Israel’s blockade, the Turkish press is running a story today about how one of the families to whom the Israeli government is paying compensation are donating the Israeli money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. That money will most likely be used not to build industry or establish scholarships, but rather to subsidize further terrorism. Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad try to hide the fact that their goals are maximalist and genocidal. That these are the people that the Turkish government supports says a lot about the reality of Turkey.
Perhaps Israelis believe that the apology ends the dispute. Not so fast. It looks like the Turks are currently engaged in a bait-and-switch. As the Hürriyet Daily News reports:
On September 11 of last year, as the attacks on the American missions in Benghazi and Cairo developed, the New York Times led with a description of the fate of the American flag at the embassy in Cairo: violent Islamists took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag “similar to Al Qaeda’s banner.” About three months later, the Times ran another story about the fate of an American flag, this one in Illinois: a voter upset about President Obama’s re-election flew his American flag upside down.
Aside from having the American flag at the center of the stories, the two pieces had another element in common: in both, the offenders–a disgruntled Republican voter and violent Salafist Islamists–shared a descriptor. The New York Times regarded both as “ultraconservative.” The Times makes no attempt to justify this latest attack on the English language: it never explains what makes someone “ultraconservative.” The paper is simply content with vague designations that hint at opprobrium and ensure the near-impossibility of learning anything from its stories. Two stories in the news this week brought this to mind.
That may seem like a silly question to those whose memory of Somalia stopped with Black Hawk Down and piracy, but over the past year there has been some real progress in the east African country which has become synonymous with state failure.
Somalia has made surprising progress. Mogadishu Airport is open to real airlines, piracy is on the decline thanks to a robust international military presence and, in January 2013, the U.S. re-established formal relations with the Somali government for the first time in decades.
Responsibility for progress on the ground in Somalia rests not with international diplomats, but with AMISOM, an African Union military mission manned by Kenyans, Ugandans, Djibouti, and Burundi. Sometimes, military force matters far more than the best intentions of diplomats and UN debates.
In recent weeks, the New York Times has been working hard to paint those bent on using violence against Israel in the most attractive light as possible. It memorably used the cover story of its Sunday magazine on March 18 to allow a dedicated opponent of Zionism to falsely portray the architects of the next intifada as civil rights advocates. That polemic eclipses their most recent attempt to humanize terrorists, in terms of the story’s political intent. But today’s feature on the latest pastry craze in Gaza is in its own way just as outrageous.
The piece, slugged under the category of “Gaza Journal” with the headline “Ex-Prisoners Bring Taste of West Bank to Gaza,” concerns the activities of two Palestinians who were released from Israeli jails as part of the ransom deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. The pair opened a beachfront shop in which they sell a particular dessert that is associated with the West Bank city of Nablus, from which they have been exiled. The Times portrays the two as a couple of Horatio Alger-style strivers who are not only working hard but whose efforts illustrate the fact that Gazans no longer have easy access to the cuisine of Nablus because of Israeli restrictions. But anyone seeking to use this as either an illustration of Israeli perfidy or the pluck of the Palestinians needs to sift through most of the Times pastry puffery to the bottom of the piece to see why Nadu Abu Turki and Hamouda Sala were the guests of the Israeli prison service until their Hamas overlords sprung them: they were both convicted of planting bombs and conspiring to commit murder as members of Hamas terror cells.